21 OT C ~"The Restoration Business" ~ Susan McGurgan


I come to gather nations of every language.


God will call them

from hard luck towns

the highway commission ignored.

God will gather them

from homeless camps scattered like driftwood along the river.

God will invite them

from tenements overflowing

with crime and despair.


God will bring them from lands decimated by famine and war.


God will go out

to the places we view as derelict and dangerous—

God will gather in

the people we overlook as lost and unimportant—

and create priests.


This is the message of Isaiah.


It is a hard message—

for the Israelites and ultimately, for us, too.


Isaiah is speaking at a time

when Jerusalem had been destroyed by the Babylonians--

the temple leveled,

the people scattered,

exiled,

defeated.

A time when Israel herself

was abandoned and unimportant in the eyes of the world.

A time when hope was dim,

and God seemed far away.


Now,

the Babylonians themselves had been defeated,

and some of the scattered Jews

returned to the land of covenant and promise

to re-build.

That work brought even more suffering.

It brought hardship,

disagreements,

fear.


They struggled to rebuild the temple

and bind up the frayed edges of their culture and faith.

Morale was low and anxiety high.


And in the middle of this crisis,

the voice of the prophet proclaims the shocking news

that God will go to the extremities of the earth

and gather the nations.

God will call the despised and the unclean

from north, and east, and south and west,

from Spain and Africa,

from the shores of the Black Sea,

from scattered Greek settlements,

and these strangers—

these aliens—

these unholy foreigners—

will be made into priestly people

and sent out to restore Israel and declare God’s glory.


Time and distance

have smoothed over Scripture’s rough edges—

familiarity has poured cold water

on the passages too hot for us to touch.

We sit and listen to these shocking proclamations

with polite stares and blank faces--

as if we are hearing the pastor’s grocery list

or a recitation of the garden club minutes.


But imagine—

just imagine your reaction next Sunday at the 10:00 mass,

if you hear the announcement that

some men living under the viaduct,

a few families from the refugee resettlement center,

a woman from the divorced group at the mega church down the road

and a handful of teens from the skateboard park

have been made priestly people and commissioned

to lead your parish into glory.


It’s enough to make you clutch your pearls and re-think your annual pledge.

It’s enough to make you

stop

and re-envision the kingdom.


Isaiah reminds us that God is in the restoration business

and God’s restoration means something

new

is coming.

God’s restoration is never a return to business as usual

and it is rarely comfortable or tame.


Rather,

God’s restoration is a return.

It is a return to what was intended.

A return to what is merciful and just.


In this work,

God summons.

God gathers.

God commissions and sends out—

and this great work is never limited

to those people who are

already

members of the club.


It is not limited

to people sitting comfortably in familiar pews

listening with half an ear

or to those who put on the garments of power.


God’s mission expands outward

to include people we might never even notice—

people scattered like driftwood

along the edges of our vision.


This work of restoration is the work of survivors,

refugees,

migrants,

sojourners,

strangers in strange lands,

as much as it is the work of the powerful, the safe, and the known.


God will call outsiders

and move them into the center.

God will gather up remnants

and weave whole communities from the strands of their lives.

God will take outcasts and create priestly people

for our salvation.


Isaiah reminds us that God is not confined.

God is not bound by our fears,

our prejudices,

our fences,

or the lines we draw on our maps

and etch into our hearts.


What does this mean for us?


I think for me,

it means I will have to dig deep—

to be courageous and take risks—

to accept that things in my protected corner of the world

might never be as safe or as easy as I wish.


It means that God will lead me

outside

of what I find comfortable ;

God will challenge me to open my eyes and heart to people

who don’t look, or think, or act as I do--

yet, people who may play a priestly role in my salvation

and perhaps I, in theirs.


I think Isaiah is reminding us

that when God takes on the work of restoration

all bets are off.

All boundaries are erased.

All hands are called on deck.


I come to gather nations of every language; they shall come and see my glory.

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