Upcoming Sermon: Isaiah 56

I’m filling the pulpit for two Sundays this month, and I’ve got the outline down for 8/17.  Actually, to be honest, the lectionary text from the Old Testament (I always preach the lectionary–it keeps me from returning to my own “pet texts” every time I preach) pretty much writes its own outline.  It’s the first passage in what scholars call Trito-Isaiah, the section that deals with life after the exile.  And in the face of a bitter ethnic purity movement that emphasizes continuation of a pure bloodline above all else, the prophet serves up this bit of dabar from the LORD:

56 Thus says the Lord: Maintain justice, and do what is right, for soon my salvation will come, and my deliverance be revealed. 2Happy is the mortal who does this, the one who holds it fast, who keeps the sabbath, not profaning it, and refrains from doing any evil.

3Do not let the foreigner joined to the Lord say, “The Lord will surely separate me from his people”; and do not let the eunuch say, “I am just a dry tree.” 4For thus says the Lord: To the eunuchs who keep my sabbaths, who choose the things that please me and hold fast my covenant, 5I will give, in my house and within my walls, a monument and a name better than sons and daughters; I will give them an everlasting name that shall not be cut off. 6And the foreigners who join themselves to the Lord, to minister to him, to love the name of the Lord, and to be his servants, all who keep the sabbath, and do not profane it, and hold fast my covenant— 7these I will bring to my holy mountain, and make them joyful in my house of prayer; their burnt offerings and their sacrifices will be accepted on my altar; for my house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples. 8Thus says the Lord God, who gathers the outcasts of Israel, I will gather others to them besides those already gathered.

The passage echoes, of course, in the New Testament all over the place (even if only verse seven gets quoted directly), and John 3:16, probably the most-memorized Sunday school verse of the last twenty years (I’d venture it’s more commonly committed to memory even than Psalm 23), pretty well summarizes its revolutionary idea in the pronoun “whosoever.”  (I do dig those old King James pronouns.)  I make a point to remind the folks I teach just how different “whoever” is from what came before and (perhaps more importantly) from Jesus’ own contemporaries.  Here in Isaiah, just as in John, it’s loyalty, not history, that matters, and I can imagine Isaiah’s getting just about as warm a reception from the officials in his Jerusalem as Jesus did centuries later.

The sermon’s tentative title is “That Radical Whoever,” and I imagine that I’ll have the outline ready to transmit to the worship team (we do that powerpoint thing) by Monday at the latest.

On August 31 the Old Testament text is Exodus 3, another fun text that I haven’t preached.  But first thing’s first–I’ve got to do some more doodling on Isaiah.


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