Psalm 87; Isaiah 41:8–42:9; Philippians 2:5–18

Psalm 87: The psalmist claims that God loves Zion (Jerusalem) more than the rest of Israel. Indeed, God love Jerusalem above all other places on earth: “The Lord loves the gates of Zion/ more than all the dwellings of Jacob.” (2) Of course the fact that the Temple was located at Zion certainly lends some credence to the assertion that “Splendid things are spoken of you,/ O town of God.” (3)

The poet goes on to assert that “of Zion it shall be said:/ every man is born in it/and He, the Most High, makes it firm founded.” (5) In short, by visiting Zion, we become citizens of Zion. (One wonders if the Jewish saying, “Next year in Jerusalem!” has roots in this psalm.)

And our citizenship is recorded by God himself: “The Lord inscribes in the record of peoples: this one was born there.” (6). I don’t think it’s stretching the metaphor too far to assert that as Christians, our Jerusalem is Jesus Christ. We are indeed citizens of the church he founded. And that when we acknowledge through baptism we have can say with “singers and dancers alike: ‘All my wellsprings are in you.'” (7)

 Isaiah 41:8–42:9: This messianic passage abounds with promises to Israel, First the assurance of God’s presence and protection: “I have chosen you and not cast you off”;/ do not fear, for I am with you,/do not be afraid, for I am your God;” (41:10) The theme of “fear not” and reassurance threads through this chapter: “it is I who say to you, “Do not fear,/ I will help you.” (41:13)

God supplies Israel’s needs, particularly of the poor: “When the poor and needy seek water,/ and there is none,/ and their tongue is parched with thirst,/ I the Lord will answer them,/ I the God of Israel will not forsake them.” (41:17) Moreover, God does these things “so that so that all may see and know,/ all may consider and understand,/ that the hand of the Lord has done this,” (41:20). 

I think it is too easy to miss God’s deep involvement in our world today. Even as the culture excoriates–and in some places, torture–Jews and Christians, we must reflect on how God works through us in the world where, as Peter says, we are aliens, mere sojourners. And that without God’s love being expressed in the world through our activities, the world would be in even more desperate straits. This past week demonstrated this verity through the efforts of 30,000 young Lutheran Christians in Detroit that came and made a tangible difference by cleaning up urban wastelands and serving in an enormous variety of ways. And many there have witnessed “the hand of the Lord has done this.”

The qualities of the coming Messiah come into view in the next chapter: “He will not grow faint or be crushed/ until he has established justice in the earth;/ and the coastlands wait for his teaching.” (42:4) And more famously, “a light to the nations,/ to open the eyes that are blind,/ to bring out the prisoners from the dungeon,/ from the prison those who sit in darkness.” Our God is not only steadfast, he is a rescuing God from whatever prison in which we–and others–find ourselves.

Philippians 2:5–18: What can possibly be written about this ancient hymn of the church that has not been said before? But of course the point of this wonderful song of what Jesus Christ has done for us is not that we dissect its theological meaning, but that we revel in it!

This hymn answers Isaiah. Jesus Christ is the long-awaited Messiah:

10 so that at the name of Jesus
    every knee should bend,
    in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
11 and every tongue should confess
    that Jesus Christ is Lord,
    to the glory of God the Father.

And having confessed this awesome truth, Paul comes down to earth, reminding us to “work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who is at work in you, enabling you both to will and to work for his good pleasure.” (12,13) Notice that “working out” here does not mean “seeking” or pretending that our works will result in salvation. Rather, it means now that we have salvation we are to go to work; to put our salvation to work making a difference in the world. Making a difference so that Isaiah reminded us, “so that so that all may see and know,/ all may consider and understand,/ that the hand of the Lord has done this.”

We are sojourners, but we are nevertheless workers for Christ in the world. And despite all the bad things the Church has done, all the scandals, all the unloving words, the balance sheet is still very much on the positive side of the ledger.


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