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August 10, 2020

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!  Hopefully, within the next few months the word “welcome” will be spoken around the world to friends, family members, colleagues, beauty shop patrons, gym rats, churchgoers, and others who are longing to gather together again. It is a joy to be welcomed at the door of a home by a host, church member, shopkeeper, etc. with a welcoming hug or greeting.   We are hopeful that we will also be able to travel safely and be welcomed in different languages around the world. 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 for next Sunday emphasize that all are welcome to join 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 were invented, he traveled to at least 50 cities and towns spreading the gospel message between 45 A.D. and 58 A. D.  Saul, the great Jewish scholar who later was called Paul, is known as the Apostle to Gentiles.

Isaiah recorded what God told him about reaching out to unbelievers: “The Sovereign Lord declares— he who gathers the exiles of Israel: ‘I will gather still others to them besides those already gathered” (Isaiah 56:8). His reference to “exiles” and “others” is to unbelievers, not to those in Babylonian captivity.[3]  One of many scientists and medical professionals who have been working 15 to 16 hour days for the past six months is former atheist, Dr. Francis Collins, the Director of the National Institutes of Health.  In addition to authoring numerous books and articles on science and medicine,[4] he published the New York Times best seller, The Language of God: A Scientist Presents Evidence for Belief in 2006.  He recently told the Wall Street Journal that “science answers the ‘how,’ whereas religion answers the ‘why.’[5]

God welcomes everyone, including unbelievers, into his family.  All who seek God will find him. He just asks that you open your heart to him and spend some time with him in prayer and in the Word.   The psalmist composed a song confirming that salvation is available to all people on the face of the earth, not just to 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 his epistle to the church in Rome 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 deity 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.

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 even to 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 healed her daughter because she exhibited great faith by being bold and by being persistent.  Follow her example and be bold and persistent in appealing to God for help.   And follow Jesus’ example by reaching out to someone from whom you are estranged.  Call or drop a note to someone you held a grudge against.

God does not respond to his children according to earthly labels of religion, denomination, churched, unchurched, family affiliation, position on the socio-economic scale, or nationality.  He responds to the belief that springs up from a heart seeking him.  He promised to find all who seek him.  He promised to open the door of salvation to all who seek him.  We are all exiles until we join the family of God.

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 and when it is safe to do so, 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 give feet to the gospel.  When you open your arms to welcome others, you answer the question, “What would Jesus do?”

Prayer: Sovereign Lord, we are waiting. We are waiting for tests. We are waiting for test results from our maladies including the coronavirus. We are waiting for a vaccine and for effective treatments.  We are waiting for shops, schools, and churches to reopen. Yet we know that you are our Sovereign God and that your power is perfected in our weakness.  Anchor us, guide us, reassure us, help us during these troubling times.  In your Holy Name we pray, Amen.

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. Another version of this blog was published on this website in August 2017.

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

[3] Id

[4] Collins earned a B.S. in chemistry from the University of Virginia; M.S. and PhD from Yale in chemistry, and his M.D. from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

[5] “Francis Collins,” by Emily Bobrow, Wall Street Journal, August 8, 2020.

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