The verses from Isaiah that we have just heard are very few but very deep. I started by wondering “ What would be an acceptable sacrifice to God? ” and I will return to this question but first I realise that the passage is not about what but about who can offer sacrifices. Our reading as it was set in the lectionary has some verses missing. Verses 3 and 5 speak of the foreigner : “Do not let the foreigner say ‘The Lord will surely separate me from his people and do not let the eunuch say ‘ I am just a dry tree ‘ For thus says the Lord to the eunuchs who keep my sabbaths I will give them an everlasting name. “ I do not know why the lectionary compilers left put these verses, perhaps to avoid talking of eunuchs - which is a pity. Montesquieu gives a description of harem life explaining that ordinarily in a noble's house there would be between six and eight eunuchs whose job is to insist on obedience, order and silence in that strange world. Strange world indeed and it must have been strange for Isaiah’s audience to hear that these too will be welcomed by God and will be brought to the Holy mountain and that their burnt offerings and sacrifices will be accepted on his altar.
Isaiah writing more than 500 years before Christ, so more than two and a half millennia ago would be shocked to discover how little progress we have made. Only a few years ago, a Catholic couple one of who had been divorced came to be married in our Church of England church. Because of the divorce they were not allowed to take communion in their own church. I wondered if they would like a marriage with Holy Communion they were overjoyed so that is what we did. Now they were faithful parishioners coming to our services on Sunday for their own integrity - they did not need to as they qualified to be married by living in the parish - and they went to saturday evening mass with their children to maintain the connection. This carried on for a year. Listen to Isaiah again:
And the foreigners who joined 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
These I will bring to my holy mountain
And make them joyful in my house of prayer.
I do hope and pray that our wedding couple are still joyful.
When will we truly absorb what Isaiah is telling us? That the Lord’s house shall be a house of prayer for ALL nations and that He will yet bring home all that remain to be brought in. …. All that remain to be brought in …. Why are some people’s sacrifices not acceptab;e to some denominations or even some wings of our own churches?
What is an acceptable sacrifice to God? Isaiah and the jewish thinkers who followed and even later Paul make clear it is not about physical descent, or nationality; there is no longer Jew, or Greek, no longer slave or free there is no longer male or female or for that matter EUNUCHS -the covenant outweighs all other considerations. The acceptable sacrifice is
That we should love our God with all our heart, with all our soul with all our mind and with all our strength.
And when we do this we may come to the Holy Mountain and be filled with joy.