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,
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.
the Babylonians themselves had been defeated,
and some of the scattered Jews
returned to the land of covenant and promise
That work brought even more suffering.
It brought hardship,
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 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.
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
and re-envision the kingdom.
Isaiah reminds us that God is in the restoration business
and God’s restoration means something
God’s restoration is never a return to business as usual
and it is rarely comfortable or tame.
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 commissions and sends out—
and this great work is never limited
to those people who are
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,
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,
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
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.