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Exiles and outcasts

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Read Isaiah 56:1-8

Do you remember the movie, The Dirty Dozen?

Major Reisman, played by Lee Marvin, rounds up a dozen convicts for a very special and very high risk mission to take out several high ranking German officers.

This is not just a dozen convicts. It is a dozen misfits or outcasts if you will. One is a little on the slow side. One is short of a gentle giant until you push the wrong button. One hates women and is probably insane to boot. One can speak German but rejects almost every form of authority, as do most of the rest to some extent.

What a bunch of oddballs, but this bunch forms a team. In this bunch, all are accepted in spite of their less than desirable social status.

Before Major Reisman came on the scene, each of these men were just wasting away in some prison, probably bitter at the world that put them there and without much hope of being of any value to anyone.

They might be called outcasts or exiles or non-desireables.

If you know the movie then you know that they accomplish their mission but with many casualties. They performed as well as any of their traditional counterparts who were not considered outcasts.

Isaiah was preparing his people to return to their homeland. They had been captives in a foreign land under two different empires but the time to go home was approaching.

But who could go home?

Who would be a part of God’s Chosen People as they were restored to their homeland?

Would there be blood tests to make sure that Abraham’s DNA was present in all?

Isaiah proffered a different standard. God saw those who acted justly and who did what was right. He called such people blessed.

Salvation and the righteousness of God were just around the corner. The prophet spoke of a return to the homeland that had been conquered and reduced to rumble almost 70 years earlier and he spoke of a time to come.

In God’s time, both were at hand.

The prophet called one who held fast in keeping the Sabbath without desecrating it a blessed man. Realize that the people lived in a country that did not know the one true God, though some of these pagans did come to worship him through the witness of men like Daniel.

But keeping the Sabbath in such a place ran counter to the culture. Maybe that strikes close to home in post modern America.

How rare is it for people to maintain a day of worship and rest in a culture that calls out to us to worship money and things and busyness?

How rare is it for people today to forsake the god of this age and be faithful to the God of all eternity. You don’t have to get up on Sunday morning to worship the god of this age.

Enough for 21st century America, let’s get back to Babylon. God through his prophet calls a man blessed who has kept his hand from doing any evil.

We still haven’t gotten to the part about the DNA test. Isaiah still hasn’t mentioned anything about sons of Abraham.

On the contrary, the prophet becomes inclusive of those often excluded from the heart of Jewish society—foreigners and eunuchs.. The prophet reveals the heart of God that we have eyes to see today.

That heart calls those who are seeking God’s kingdom and his righteousness to be a part of the family.

God will bring them to his holy mountain.

They will have joy in his house.

Their offerings and sacrifices will be accepted.

The exiles were going home soon but the outcasts of society were to be a part of that homecoming as well.

Isaiah concludes this section with these words.

The Sovereign Lord declares—
he who gathers the exiles of Israel:
“I will gather still others to them
besides those already gathered.”

Isaiah is talking of those exiled rejoining those left in the land that God had promised to Abraham’s descendants long ago.

He is also talking about gathering those who were looked down upon by the Jewish society and bringing them into the family.

Then he says, I will gather even more than those already gathered.

This could speak to the fact that not everyone would come home in one trip, but more likely he is conveying more of God’s heart.

God’s chosen people had been punished for their apostasy. The ungodly empires of the day were allowed to conquer and enslave the Jewish people, but that time was coming to an end.

God’s people would be restored once again but in this restoration to come we see that God is already reaching beyond the blood and borders of his Chosen People.

We get a hint of the salvation that would come in Christ.

We get a taste of the call to life through Christ that would be sent throughout the world.

This is not an isolated message. Previously God spoke through the prophet saying:

“Come, all you who are thirsty,
come to the waters;
and you who have no money,
come, buy and eat!
Come, buy wine and milk
without money and without cost.
Why spend money on what is not bread,
and your labor on what does not satisfy?
Listen, listen to me, and eat what is good,
and you will delight in the richest of fare.
Give ear and come to me;
listen, that you may live.
I will make an everlasting covenant with you,
my faithful love promised to David.
See, I have made him a witness to the peoples,
a ruler and commander of the peoples.
Surely you will summon nations you know not,
and nations you do not know will come running to you,
because of the Lord your God,
the Holy One of Israel,
for he has endowed you with splendor.”

Seek the Lord while he may be found;
call on him while he is near.
Let the wicked forsake their ways
and the unrighteous their thoughts.
Let them turn to the Lord, and he will have mercy on them,
and to our God, for he will freely pardon.

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
neither are your ways my ways,”
declares the Lord.
“As the heavens are higher than the earth,

so are my ways higher than your ways
and my thoughts than your thoughts.

Isaiah’s messages are full of challenge and support.

They were for the people of his time and for the people who would see the Messiah walk the earth.

They are for our time to the end of the age.

God’s ways are not our ways but we are being made in the image and likeness of Christ.

We have the mind of Christ.

For the disciple with ears to hear and eyes to see, God’s ways are becoming our ways.

OK, just what does that mean in 21st century America.

It means that we no longer regard others as we once did. We see God’s children all around us. Some of them are lost and rebellious for sure, but they are God’s children.

It means that we do not look down on anyone because of who he or she is in the eyes of the world.

It means that God, not us decides who is in the family.

What actually transpires among Christians of this age is often very different.

We read our Bibles selectively and decide that if God finds homosexuality to be an abomination, then we will shut those folks out for sure.

We read our Bibles selectively and key in on the words that God hates divorce, then ignore the single mother who can’t take care of her kids without shacking up with a man she doesn’t love.

We read our Bibles selectively and key in on verses about our body being a temple of the Holy Spirit, then condemn those using illegal drugs or alcohol to excess. All the while we pollute our lungs with nicotine, over work our internal organs with excess calories, and then starve ourselves to fit into clothing that makes us look good.

Some might think that, “Hey, I don’t smoke or drink or shack up with another guy or even bother to get married or overeat or call in sick to go fishing or take too many pain killers or any of a hundred other things that might not fit the mold of what we call a good person. C’mon, I don’t even have a tattoo.”

But we must all remember that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

We have all fallen short.

We were outcasts and exiles at one time.

We were outcasts and exiles at one time.

Exiles and outcasts.

Exiled from where?

From the Kingdom of God and from righteousness and from justice, that’s from where.

We were outcasts and exiles, but God called us home. Through Christ we came home.

When we did, we were no longer a scorecard of our sin and shortcomings.

When we sought God and his righteousness, when we longed for his kingdom to live within us, when we were compelled to come and worship God time after time after time; God said:

Your offerings are acceptable.

Be filled with joy in my house.

Come into my holy place.

Let us remember that we were once sinners and we were saved by grace. Does that make us a sinner saved by grace?

That is our journey, not our identity. We are a child of God. Regardless of where we were born or what mutilation we have incurred on our bodies, we are a child of God.

No matter where society places us in its hierarchy, we are a child of God and welcome in the family.

Recently, I visited a home for Children north of Branson. I took some pizza and pop. This wasn’t my first rodeo talking to young folks.

When I arrived, I was very pleased to hear that the children were as excited about the fact that they were all going to have church together as much as they were worked up over the pizza.

In the course of our time together, our talks included the topic of a covenant relationship. At Jacob’s House, every child is told that they will always be a part of that family. They can’t outgrow it. They can’t disqualify themselves from it. They can’t do something so bad that they are never welcome back home.

In God’s family, there are no outcasts.

Yes, some may refuse to answer the call to come and take the free gift, but no member of God’s family is disqualified for where he came from, what he did, the things she is ashamed of, or the fact that he or she is an outcast of society.

In God’s kingdom there are no lepers, eunuchs, foreigners, or illegal aliens. The boundaries imposed by the world are ignored by God.

God is no respector of persons or the social orders that we constitute among ourselves.

Isaiah spoke to a people who longed to go home but they were not so different than us.

We are the very few who come and worship in this land of wealth and abundance.

We are the very few who seek God’s kingdom in the midst of a culture that says seeks personal gratification.

Our prayers are received.

Our offerings are acceptable.

We know joy in God’s house.

We will meet God on his holy mountain.

And when we see others whom society has discarded on the way to the same place, we will welcome them and seek God’s kingdom and his righteousness together.

For we have all fallen short and have all sinned and been sinners. We have all been exiles and outcasts at some point, but now we know the joy of the Lord and we rejoice as the Lord gathers those who love him from all over.

There is a huge gathering on the horizon. Instead of judging those we think don’t belong in God’s kingdom, let’s be thankful that the blood of Jesus has covered our sin and we will be welcomed and joyful and one day soon meet God on his holy mountain.

Amen.

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