BLOG 1/28/20. “MY HOUSE SHALL BE CALLED A HOUSE OF PRAYER FOR ALL PEOPLES.”
At the height of the civil rights movement I was pastor of a church in New Orleans that had this text from Isaiah 56:7 sculpted in the limestone arch over front entry. When some members and neighbors protested our welcoming admission of black men and women, I had to remind them of that text over our entry and insist that if we refused people on the basis of race, then we would need to remove that handsome archway with its text. (We received them, and over the years this has been vindicated, so much so that Canal Street Church defines itself as a “mosaic community,)
But the battle goes on. On this 75th anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz concentration camp, anti-Semitism surfaces continually, along with anti-Islamic prejudice, anti-immigrant prejudice, and many other forms of prejudice. All the way back to God’s promise to Abraham and Sarah is the promise that in his seed should all the world be blessed. That promise would embrace every kindred and tribe and people, it would include the homeless, the hungry, the unjustly imprisoned, and the immigrants.
Then there is the astounding definition of the church in II Corinthians, that God was in Christ reconciling the world unto himself, and giving to us the ministry of reconciliation. We are called n Christ to be ‘reconcilers’ … not dividers or expressions of prejudice. That same church which I pastored in New Orleans took a devastating blow with the hurricane Katrina, which destroyed a vast number of the homes, and left the community in a state of re-evaluating what was God’s purpose. What took place was their building (which survived with little damage) becoming a community center, and the re-founding of the church as what they call a mosaic community that is non-denominational, which gathers a very diverse group of Christ’s people around worship and the teachings of Christ—and it has grown into a beautiful community of reconciliation, i.e., a house of prayer for all people.
Yes, and in our nation, the church must never be anti-Islamic, or anti-anything. We are to be reconcilers. Add to that the issue of sexual orientation. Jesus came to seek and to save the lost, and that includes all of us: the self-righteous, the morally confused, the those of different sexual orientation, the ethically struggling, every ethnic group— “a house of prayer for all people.”
This is not said lightly. There are complicated issues at stake here, … but if we are to fall off on the side of prejudice and exclusion, … or on the side of grace and reconciliation through Christ, … then I choose falling off on the side of grace, of being reconcilers.
Anti-Semitism in the Protestant church, began back at least to Luther’s day, and is was never confessed as a violation of God’s design, … and it emerged in all of its tragic ugliness in Nazi Germany, … and for the most part, the church remained silent. We dare not remain silent in all of the evidences of prejudice, especially in the church. “My house shall be called a house of prayer for all people.”
We are to be reconcilers. It is a critical and urgent calling in a society that harbors all too much prejudice.