Tuesday of Pentecost 12 – Isaiah 56:1-8 

Thus says the Lord:
“Keep justice, and do righteousness,
for soon my salvation will come,
    and my righteousness be revealed.
Blessed is the man who does this,
    and the son of man who holds it fast,
who keeps the Sabbath, not profaning it,
    and keeps his hand from doing any evil.”

Let not the foreigner who has joined himself to the Lord say,
    “The Lord will surely separate me from his people”;
and let not the eunuch say,
    “Behold, I am a dry tree.”
For thus says the Lord:
“To the eunuchs who keep my Sabbaths,
    who choose the things that please me
    and hold fast my covenant,
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.

“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,
everyone who keeps the Sabbath and does not profane it,
    and holds fast my covenant—
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.”
The Lord God,
    who gathers the outcasts of Israel, declares,
“I will gather yet others to him
    besides those already gathered.”

He was a wealthy man, important, the sort of fellow who had a driver. He sat in the back of his vehicle with a book open on his lap and he pondered what it meant. Suddenly a fellow had come up beside him on foot. Leaning in, he asked, “Do you know what you are reading?”

“Not really, I need some one to help me,” replied the rich man.

He opened the door and the stranger sat down beside him and began to explain what the book said.

It was not a limousine but a chariot the man sat in. The fellow who leaned in to talk to him was Philip, one of the first of seven deacons appointed by the apostles in Acts 6. You are likely familiar with this story, but you might want to read it again in Acts 8.

The book which the rich man had open was the prophet Isaiah and he was reading chapter 53, the great servant song which provides a profoundly meaningful framework to the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. Acts records that Philip started at that point and explained what Isaiah meant. As he explained “from that point,” Philip must have unrolled that scroll a few turns until he came to this spot in the reading for today. It is the only explanation for what happened next. Remember, the man Philip is talking to is Ethiopian – an official of the Ethiopian queen. He is a very black man, a foreigner. He is also a eunuch, having been rendered above reproach as he served his monarch. His castration had allowed him to be a servant of the queen but at a terrible cost. He would have no children. In the ancient world this was perhaps an even greater sorrow than it is for people today.

What does it mean that Jesus was led like a lamb to the slaughter and that he gave his life for the sins of many? It means that the eunuchs and the foreigners are not isolated and kept out of the kingdom. God gathers them as well. They have a place in the kingdom and a legacy better than sons and daughters, a name that shall not be cut off. Can you imagine being that foreign eunuch who heard those words? It was like Isaiah was talking straight to him.

It was that same love of God which welcomed my tree-worshiping Saxon forebears into the Kingdom of God more than a millennium ago. There are many today who express outrage and despair at persistent racism and disparity in our nation. It is right that we remember God has a vision of inclusion as well. It began when a Jewish man died on a cross long ago and rose on Easter. It embraced the whole of humanity, every race and every individual and every sort of person, even the one of whom I am afraid or with whom I disagree. Jesus has room in his kingdom for that person and that means I see in every human being a fellow citizen of heaven.

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