Psalm 87, Born in Zion (2)
Having a place to belong is important. Being rooted gives us a sense of security, a sense of belonging. That’s one of the things we miss when we’re not able to worship together for so long. We lose our sense of community. We lose our sense of belonging. It’s easy to feel disconnected from our Heavenly Father and the church of all times and all places.
Compare that to the celebration of belonging in Ps 87. For the sons of Korah, the place to belong was Mt. Zion (aka Jerusalem). Why was that the best address in the world?
Mt. Zion is God’s dwelling place on earth. It’s the site of the Temple, with its outer court, inner court, and the holy of holies. There behind the curtain is the Ark of the Covenant. Above the are is God’s mercy seat, between the wings of the golden cherubim. Living close to God’s mercy seat, is the best place in the world!
It was a special thing for the people of Israel to have the LORD live among them. It was an honour to live in Jerusalem. From the sounds of this song, it seems that people claimed bragging rights, “I was born in Zion.”
It might be hard to relate. You get a sense of it when people brag that they’ve lived on a farm for 5 generations or more. Or when they can trace their family to the United Empire Loyalists. It’s the pride of being connected to the land and to special ancestors.
The Jewish people have had that reputation. God’s instructions in the Torah were to keep themselves distinct, separate. Human prided seized on that distinction and made it a dividing wall of hostility. Their pride created an unhealthy sense of superiority.
Every once in a while I detect that sinful feeling of superiority among Christians– even in myself -- as if being a believer makes us better than others.
But the Sons of Korah don’t take Psalm 87 in that direction. Inspired by God the HS, they celebrate the Lord’s grace in adopting people from other nations. This song includes a mind-blowing list of Israel’s historic enemies:
Rahab = Egypt
Babylon – from Isaiah on, a symbol of evil and injustice
Cush = Ethiopia
Despite years of antagonism, these folks claim citizenship in God’s holy city! They acknowledge the God of Zion.
God’s Law provide for this. Deuteronomy 23 has a whole list of instructions about enfolding newcomers into his chosen people. Some of them need to wait 3 – 10 generations to gain citizenship. But that’s disregarded in this Psalm. They celebrate God’s gracious acceptance, “This one was born in Zion!”
I wonder if Jesus was humming this Psalm when he spoke with Nicodemus the Pharisee about the need to be born again. See, Jesus gives those outside God’s covenant people the privilege of being born again; being adopted into God’s household of faith; being included among God’s covenant people.
By rights, all humankind is on the outside looking in. Our first parents were driven out of God’s presence in the Garden of Eden. We still bear the weight of their doom. In all honesty, God has a problem with me. I haven’t lived up to God’s call to holiness.
Although humankind was created good and with the ability to be loving and righteous, Adam & Eve plunged the human race into disobedience when they sinned. We are doomed to death, estranged from God, and driven out of our homeland close to God. In his holiness and justice, God holds me –and you – accountable for our actions, words, and thoughts.
We cannot make it right. Even our best efforts to please God are flawed. We increase our guilt every day.
But God is also full of compassion. In the OT, that compassion is visible in calling the people of Israel into relationship. The Torah was given so they can enjoy atoning sacrifices and live in righteousness. God makes his dwelling right among them – temple on Mt. Zion.
In the fullness of time, God the Son came to live among his people. He was born as a boy. Jesus came to be the substitute for humankind. Completely human and completely divine, Jesus was the only one capable of atoning for the sin of humankind AND bearing the punishment for sin.
That happened on the cross on Mt. Zion. Jesus died in our place. He was buried. His resurrection is evidence that he atoned for sin and conquered death. The resurrection is our assurance that we have been forgiven and given life. We’ve been rescued FROM a live of restless unrighteousness TO a life of acceptance and service among God’s dearly loved people. God the Holy Spirit is poured out on God’s people so that we can love God and neighbour.
In this miracle of forgiveness and adoption among God’s chosen people, there’s ample room for celebration. We celebrate our identity in Christ. We can borrow the phrase from Ps 87, “This one was born in Zion.” That’s what this baptism is about too.
John & Charlene, you have confessed your need for forgiveness and your faith in Jesus Christ. When you professed your faith, you accepted God’s promises. This morning, you’ll be asked to accept God’s grace on Tineke’s behalf too.
It’s one of the responsibilities of parenthood. You accept the child tax credit on Tineke’s behalf from the government. You accept gifts from family and friends. This morning you stand before God’s people to accept God’s covenant promises for your daughter. “This one is born in Zion!”
It’s a phrase in the baptismal form, “we are always to teach our little ones that they have been set apart by baptism as God’s own children.” Sound familiar? Our identity must be celebrated.
But there’s no room for pride. We weren’t born in Zion by our own choice. Our whole confession is that Jesus redeemed us because we are undeserving. We aren’t good enough nor strong enough to save ourselves. We’re saved by God’s grace.
Brothers and sisters, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him. It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God—that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption.
I wonder if that’s what the Sons of Korah meant by that song title, “All my fountains are in you”? Like water from the rock in the wilderness, God’s forgiveness is a gift of grace, not something we earned or found by ourselves.
So our celebration that “this one was born in Zion” is a humble celebration. It’s a celebration of God’s grace; a celebration of the wonders God has done in Jesus’ death and resurrection.
This gift of grace also affects our service. It affects our sense of hospitality. If God can welcome us, if God can integrate people from Philistia and Babylon into his covenant people on Mt. Zion, we might need to stretch a little further in our own hospitality. Extend a sense of belonging to others.
I’ll give you 2 examples of what I mean:
Reserved seat, long ago, far away