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In days to come the mountain of the Lord’s house shall be established as the highest of the mountains, and shall be raised above the hills; all the nations shall stream to it.
If you’ve ever traveled in the Middle East, and sometimes in other areas of Africa and Asia with dominant Muslim cultures especially, you may have noticed persons of the same gender walking arm-in-arm or hand-in-hand. It is common enough of a practice in Western nations to see persons of differing genders coupled-up as it may be, and occasionally see women ambling about together as well. Still, it is not so common to see men or boys walking thusly. But in much of the Middle East it is perfectly regular to see it. Much more out of the ordinary would be to see a differing gender couple especially if they were unmarried walking arm-in-arm. This is simply an observation—while it is certainly connected to cultural and religious notions of gender and sexuality and what may be considered normative behavior or otherwise—here it is not intended as commentary or analysis.
Last Sunday afternoon while walking my dog down my street I came upon two teenage boys walking arm in arm. Chatting away with one another in Arabic, I assumed that they like many other folks I was passing were coming from worship service at the Egyptian Coptic Church just a few blocks away. Families with young children smiled pleasantly to me and some of them who know me from Vacation Bible School stopped to pet my dog. Asking one family how they’ve been the mother replied, “Good. But busy. Coming and going, back to Egypt, back to New York, back to Egypt, back to New York…”
My neighborhood is no “Little Cairo.” But it is deeply enriched by what various cultures bring to it. Along with the food and faith that my many Egyptian neighbors bring, I am happy that teenage boys feel comfortable enough—at least on a Sunday afternoon—to walk down the street arm-in-arm.
I have been captivated by thoughts of Gentiles.
It sounds silly, I know, but if you’ve been following along the Revised Common Lectionary readings for the season of Advent perhaps you can appreciate at least in part some of my preoccupations.
Last week’s Epistle lesson for instance, Paul’s exhortation in Romans:
Welcome one another, therefore, just as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God. For I tell you that Christ has become a servant of the circumcised on behalf of the truth of God in order that he might confirm the promises given to the patriarchs, and in order that the Gentiles might glorify God for his mercy. As it is written, “Therefore I will confess you among the Gentiles, and sing praises to your name”; and again he says, “Rejoice, O Gentiles, with his people”; and again, “Praise the Lord, all you Gentiles, and let all the peoples praise him”; and again Isaiah says, “The root of Jesse shall come, the one who rises to rule the Gentiles; in him the Gentiles shall hope.” May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit. (Romans 15:7-13)
Counting, that’s six Gentiles in a mere four verses! Which I suppose we should expect coming from the Apostle to the Gentiles.
Now to be fair, my real interest has been less to do with the notion of Gentiles per se and much more with the similar and broader term of nations used by the prophet Isaiah.
In days to come the mountain of the Lord’s house shall be established as the highest of the mountains, and shall be raised above the hills; all the nations shall stream to it. Many peoples shall come and say, “Come, let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, to the house of the God of Jacob; that he may teach us his ways and that we may walk in his paths.” For out of Zion shall go forth instruction, and the word of the LORD from Jerusalem. He shall judge between the nations, and shall arbitrate for many peoples; they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more. (Isaiah 2:2-4)
Isaiah speaks a vision of what God promises, of a time that is coming, that we believe has come in Christ, of a peaceable kingdom that is in-breaking into our reality of wars and destruction. He paints a glorious picture of a variety of creature living together in harmony, of lions and lambs, of a little child leading them. (Isaiah 11:1-10) But part of the fullness and beauty of this scene is the place and role of the nations.
“They will not hurt or destroy on all my holy mountain; for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the LORD as the waters cover the sea. On that day the root of Jesse shall stand as a signal to the peoples; the nations shall inquire of him, and his dwelling shall be glorious.”
Which is why I’ve been captivated by the thought of Gentiles, of the nations, of the peoples of the nations, gathering on the mountain of God learning war no more. And I wonder as we learn the knowledge of God, as Christ teaches us his ways, I wonder how he uses the nations to share learning and ways with one another?