Sunday, October 18, 2009

"A House of Prayer for All People" -a Biblical Base

And so the question may arise; "We call ourselves 'A House of Prayer for all people', how do you figure that means gay folks too?
The simple answer to that question is that I understand that "all" means "all". But if that does not satisfy you, lets dig a bit deeper. If we go to the 56th chapter of the book of the prophet Isaiah, we will read that proclamation in the following context.
Isaiah 56
1 Thus says the Lord: Maintain justice, and do what is right, for soon my salvation will come, and my deliverance be revealed.
2 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.
3 Do 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." 4 For thus says the Lord: To the eunuchs who keep my sabbaths, who choose the things
that please me and hold fast my covenant, 5 I 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. 6 And 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— 7 these 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.
Please note first that the main concern here of the prophet is that the maintenance of justice be uppermost in the mind of the faith community.
Secondly the concern is for the foreigner (note verse 3) who is justifiably concerned about being "separated" from the faithful. Foreigners often were separated out in the Law Codes of Israel.
Thirdly, and this I find stunning, the eunuch is concerned about the fact that his (her) lack of offspring leaves him (her) without lineage. (see verse 3). But to both the foreigner and to the eunuch Isaiah, proclaims a compassionate theme. To the eunuch first the prophet proclaims that a memorial will be established within the holy wall of God's dwelling place an everlasting name that shall never be cut off. And to the foreigner God will gather them into the mountain of God and make them joyful in God's holy house of prayer!
What a stunning proclamation! This is especially so since in the Levitical Code we have clear prescriptions against both the foreigner and the eunuch about how closely they may enter the holy place.
Foreigners are pretty straight forward. We all know who they are. Each succeeding group of them have received a mixed if not chilly or even hostile welcome here and abroad, and not for just religious reasons.
But eunuchs; who are they? Are these folks just the ones who tend the sultan's harems in the Ancient Near Eastern world? Or are they perhaps more than that. When Jesus mentioned eunuchs, he mentioned those a) born that way, b) those made that way by man, and c) those who make themselves that way for the sake of the service of God.
You can read that for yourself in Matthew 19 verse 12 and following;
"12 For there are eunuchs who have been so from birth, and there are eunuchs who have been made eunuchs by others, and there are eunuchs who have made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. Let anyone accept this who can."
Note that Jesus talks about eunuchs who have "been so from birth". Isn't that interesting? How many folks are there who can make that claim? I suspect that we're talking about a classification of people who transcend mere physical deformity in the genitalia. I suspect that there have always been people who have just not been interested in folks of the opposite sex, and they were that way from the beginning. Note that Jesus presses the point by pointing out that not all may be able to accept this particular teaching, when he says "Let anyone accept this who can." In other words, if you cannot accept this level of compassion, so be it; but with God, there is room for love even here.
Note too that much of the Levitical Code enumerated all kinds of folks who are simply not able to get near to the Temple. Of course, maimed people could not offer gifts. Neither could sinners, prostitutes, lepers, the unclean, tax collectors and the like. In other words, the very people that Jesus sought out to include within the embrace of God's love were the ones held at arms distance by much of the Mosaic Law.
Thus we come to the Cleansing of the Temple! AND I find it interesting that it would come to be called that by the biblical scholars.
Catch the scene if you will; Jesus enters the holy city and approaches the Temple precincts with his band of outcasts; lepers, tax collectors, prostitutes, lame, halt, blind beggars, looking for the healing touch of God. And they are so excited by his approach to the holy place that they spread their garments and palm branches at his feet. They sing Hosanna in the Highest Heaven!
But when Jesus enters the Temple precincts, does he find there a place dedicated to the sanctification of those who look for justice, and the healing touch of God? No! He finds traders in pigeons and money changers. You can read for yourself what happens next;
Mt 21:12Then Jesus entered the temple and drove out all who were selling and buying in the temple, and he overturned the tables of the money changers and the seats of those who sold doves.
Mr 11:15 Then they came to Jerusalem. And he entered the temple and began to drive out those who were selling and those who were buying in the temple, and he overturned the tables of the money changers and the seats of those who sold doves;
John 2:14 In the temple he found people selling cattle, sheep, and doves, and the money changers seated at their tables.
John 2:15 Making a whip of cords, he drove all of them out of the temple, both the sheep and the cattle. He also poured out the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables.
And with that he proclaimed with all the authority of God; "My house shall be a house of prayer for all people, but you have made it a den of robbers".
You know what happened after that. The Temple Authorities and the Government got together (as they often do) and brought about a mock trial and had then Jesus was crucified.
I submit to you that Jesus crossed the line in many ways. He healed the lame and the blind, he consorted with sinners and prostitutes, tax collectors, lepers, and a whole bunch of other unsavory characters. We even have some evidence that he knew about and embraced the reality that there were foreigners and eunuchs abroad in the land and that there were those who would find it difficult to hear about that, and might prefer to stop their ears from such talk.
When I read that God's church should be a "House of Prayer for All People", I Honest to God feel as though that ought to be understood as ALL PEOPLE!!!"
In the Episcopal Church I believe that we are honestly trying to take this teaching of Jesus seriously. I realize that we are but one tiny corner of the Christian world that teaches this to include the LGBT community. We are in fact one tiny corner of the entire world of faith that teaches so.
The biblical literalists of his time had difficulty with the approach too, no doubt. For to say that you mean "ALL PEOPLE", means just all people.
To put ourselves under that degree of biblical authority may be difficult for many, but for me and my house, we embrace it with joy!
Fr. Paul

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