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August 14, 2017

And foreigners who bind themselves to the Lord . . . and who hold fast to my covenant—those I will bring to my holy mountain and give them joy in my house of prayer.” (Isaiah 56: 6-7)

Welcome! It is a joy to be welcomed at the door of a home by the host with a welcoming hug or greeting. Travelers coming from long distances especially appreciate a warm welcome in their native language, even in an international airport where travelers from around the world are welcomed in a variety of languages.

The Scripture texts this week emphasize that all are welcome in the family of God. People from all nations can come into God’s presence and enjoy his fellowship.[1]   Isaiah confirms that all who love the Lord are welcome where he will be found (“my holy mountain”) and into his family (“my house of prayer”)[2]: “And foreigners who bind themselves to the Lord . . . and who hold fast to my covenant—those I will bring to my holy mountain and give them joy in my house of prayer” (Isaiah 56: 6-7). St. Paul knew that people of all nationalities and backgrounds are welcome in God’s family. Before planes, trains, and cars, he traveled to at least 50 cities and towns spreading the gospel message between 45 A.D. and 58 A. D.

The psalmist composed a song confirming that salvation is available to all people on the face of the earth, not just a select few: “May God be gracious to us and bless us and make his face shine on us—so that your ways may be known on earth, your salvation among all nations . . . may all the peoples praise you . . . May God bless us still, so that all the ends of the earth will fear him” (excerpts, Psalm 67: 1-7).

People from different parts of the world and in different Christian denominations have practices and customs that may differ from our own. In the lengthy epistle lesson, Paul explains that we should overlook unimportant differences between us relating to customs such as what we eat, what day we worship, etc. (Romans 14: 1-9). What matters is how you live out your faith (Romans 14: 8) and your commitment to the five core beliefs: the diety of Christ, the Trinity, Jesus’ atonement for our sins, Jesus’ bodily resurrection, and salvation by grace through faith.   We shouldn’t pass judgment on others based on secondary, unimportant issues. And we shouldn’t let inconsequential matters separate us from fellowship with other Christians.

In his epistle to the church in Rome, Paul discusses his travel plans, including his plans to bring the gospel to Spain, Greece, Jerusalem, and elsewhere (Romans 15: 23-29). He extends his greetings to many in the Roman church who came from far- flung places to join together to worship the Lord (Romans 16: 1-16).

Jesus emphasized the importance of showing compassion to even ancient enemies. He helps a Canaanite woman whose daughter was suffering terribly. The fact that the woman was a Canaanite was not lost on Jesus’ audience because the Canaanites were ancient enemies of the Jews. Yet he consented to healing her daughter. Have you called or dropped a note to someone against whom you have a long-standing grudge? If not, do it today. Follow Jesus’ example.

God does not respond to his children according to earthly labels of religion, denomination, churched, unchurched, skin color, family affiliation, place on the socio-economic scale or nationality. He responds to a heart seeking truth.  He promised to find all who seek him.  He promised to open the door of salvation to all who seek him.

Open the door of your heart to Jesus. Invite him in, and he will find a permanent place in your life. And when you open your heart to Jesus, welcome those around you as well, who need a warm smile, a hug, a kind or encouraging word or a helping hand.  When you open your arms to welcome others, you answer the question, “What would Jesus do?”  When you open your arms to welcome others, you give feet to the gospel.

Diane Cieslikowski Reagan

[1] The Scripture texts for the Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost are Isaiah 56:1, 6-8; Psalm 67; Romans 11:1-2; 11-15, 28-32; Matthew 15: 21-28.

[2] J. Alec Motyer, The Prophecy of Isaiah (1993) InterVarsity Press, p. 467.

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