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Isaiah 56:1, 6-8

This is a moment of reckoning for the church regarding our commitment to diversity, inclusion, equality, and justice. The recent deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Elijah McClain have sparked a national outcry over police brutality and systemic racism. The COVID-19 health crisis has fueled a global rise in anti-Asian sentiment and xenophobia. Immigrants continue to be unfairly scapegoated for rising crime rates, a sagging economy, and other societal ills. Sadly, the divisions that characterize our culture also exist – often to an even greater degree – within the church. White evangelical protestants, for example, “express substantially different views about police officers’ treatment of black Americans. More than six in ten (62%) white evangelical Protestants say that police officers treat blacks the same as whites, while 75% of minority Protestants do not say police treat white and non-white Americans equally.”[1]

Many Christians are uncomfortable with conversations surrounding social justice. Some even claim they distract us from our primary calling to preach the gospel and make disciples of Jesus. But discipleship is the process by which the church joins God in forming people into the image of Christ and helps them become active citizens in God’s kingdom. Therefore, if God cares about justice, then so must we. If inclusion and equality are hallmarks of heaven, then we must join God in making this world look more like the world that is to come. “The Lord loves righteousness and justice;” writes the psalmist, “the earth is full of his unfailing love” (Psalm 33:5). God cares deeply about those who are marginalized and oppressed and calls us to create a society in which all people may be welcomed, valued, and loved, for this is the gospel. Jesus is Lord. The kingdom of God is near. All things – individuals, institutions, systems, even entire nations – are being made new in Christ.

“Thus says the Lord: Maintain justice, and do what is right, for soon my salvation will come, and my deliverance be revealed.” (v.1). Isaiah challenges the community to live in a manner consistent with the character of God and the ethics of heaven. He goes on to say, “Happy 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” (v.2). There is a way of Sabbath-keeping, of religious activity, that is deeply offensive to God. What behavior could be so evil that it would be considered a desecration of God’s holy day of rest?

Isaiah is not afraid to get specific. Elsewhere in the text, the people of God are condemned for ignoring the needs of the poor, neglecting to care for orphans and widows, failing to defend the oppressed, exploiting their workers, and engaging in quarreling and violence. What contaminates our spirituality is not a failure to participate in the rituals of the church, but rather our willingness to participate in the cruelty and injustice of the world. It does no good to listen to God’s word if we have no intention of obeying Him. It does no good to praise God with our lips if we have no intention of praising Him with our actions. It does no good to proclaim the good news of God’s coming kingdom if we have no intention of helping to build it in the present.

Human beings, including Christians, are prone to tribalism. In the church, this manifests as binary in-group vs. out-group thinking. We are the saved and sanctified people of God; everyone else is a lost, reprobate sinner. Isaiah challenges this assumption, commending those who have been excluded from the community of faith. He prophesies that outsiders will become insiders: eunuchs will be welcomed into God’s family; given a name that better than sons and daughters, an everlasting name that will never be cut off (v.5). Foreigners will be brought to God’s holy mountain and His house declared a place where people from every tribe and tongue may bring their concerns before God and be heard – a house of prayer for all nations (v.7).

Who are the true worshipers? Who is included and celebrated in God’s family? Those who join themselves to the Lord to minister to him, who love His name, who serve Him, who do what pleases God and who hold fast to His covenant, who do not profane the Sabbath by participating in cruelty and injustice, whether overtly or covertly (v.4,6). There is no nation, tribe, or race that is inherently superior to another, more deserving of blessing or position or power. No people group is privileged in such a way that they may excuse themselves from obeying God’s commands while condemning others for lesser infractions. God did not choose the people of Israel to represent Him because they were more special than others; they were special because He chose them. Isaiah is not suggesting, therefore, that we can earn God’s favor through acts of piety. Rather, he is naming the observable qualities of those who belong to the Lord. God bestows favor upon whomsoever He desires, freely and generously and lovingly. And as a response to His extravagant grace, some choose to bind themselves to God and His cause. These people may come from anywhere; in fact, they often come from the most unlikely and surprising of places. This, again, is the gospel.

Isaiah says something important about what it means to live as a citizen of God’s kingdom, regardless of our earthly ethnicity, nationality, or sexual identity. Foreigners and eunuchs – outsiders and misfits – are to be welcomed into the community of faith. Who else, as a result of our prejudices, might we be excluding from full and equal participation in God’s already-but-not-yet kingdom? Who needs to take their place at God’s table so that we can bear witness to a different kind of family? In what ways do our churches fail to reflect the values of heaven, and what will we do about it? “The Sovereign Lord declares – he who gathers the exiles of Israel: “I will gather still others to them besides those already gathered.” God’s vision of the kingdom of heaven is far more inclusive and expansive than we dare to hope or imagine. As the late Rachel Held Evans once said, “What makes the gospel offensive isn’t who it keeps out, but who it lets in.”[2]

[1] Deep Divide Between Black and White Americans in Views of Criminal Justice System. (n.d.). Retrieved July 01, 2020, from

[2] Evans, R. (2014, October 27). What makes the gospel offensive isn’t who it keeps out but who it lets in. #ERLC2014. Retrieved July 01, 2020, from