Thursday, December 10th Isaiah 40:9-11

Get you up to a high mountain, O Zion, herald of good tidings; lift up your voice with strength, O Jerusalem, herald of good tidings, lift it up, do not fear; say to the cities of Judah, “Here is your God!” See, the Lord GOD comes with might, and his arm rules for him; his reward is with him, and his recompense before him. He will feed his flock like a shepherd; he will gather the lambs in his arms, and carry them in his bosom, and gently lead the mother sheep. Isaiah 40:9-11

The first congregation I had the great pleasure of serving was named “Zion Lutheran Church.” It didn’t take long to discover how handy the name “Zion” was. No trouble at all finding Bible verses or hymns for special occasions. When I finally realized that there really wasn’t a significant mountain in Israel called “Zion” – it was a metaphorical name for the site of the temple in Jerusalem – it was actually better.

I wish I could talk to those pioneers back in 1914 who chose the name. What were they thinking? Was it merely marketing? Did someone have a memory of a previous church home with the same tag? Or was there a deeper vision, a more profound hope, of creating a space for people to discover God?

The one problem I had with “Zion” as a church name was the inevitable lean toward being a place for gathering up those who were already on the team. People who aren’t much interested in religion don’t catch the biblical allusions of Zion. They don’t consider the psalms of ascent sung by the Jewish pilgrims of old as they lugged it up the hills for yet another annual religious celebration. “Oh Zion haste, your mission high fulfilling” wasn’t the kind of ditty one might whistle while walking through the mall.

Which, of course, was also a problem with Mount Zion itself. God had been crystal clear to Abraham. The blessing God extended to Abraham was not simply about declaring Abraham, Sarah and their descendants to be terribly special, the blessing was to be extended to all people, all nations, for all time. There were specific provisions in God’s law for the care of strangers and outsiders. Solomon remembered those provisions in his prayers for the dedication of the first temple.

How easily, though, we forget.

The good news to be shouted according to this message from Isaiah is both God’s power and God’s love but especially God’s presence. God is the One who comes among us. Who comes among us, not to establish a holy throne before which we bow, but the announcement of God coming among us who would rule with justice, who would feed and gather us, carry us and be gentle with us. One like a shepherd.

The great corrective lies in the definition of “us.” If “us” is an already identified flock like the “people of Israel” or the “members of Zion Lutheran Church”, then we have missed the point. Do that and our temples become boxes (cages?) and we worship ourselves (See what fine buildings we have built?)

But if “us” includes those sheep who are lost, those sheep who have been hoodwinked by thieving shepherds, those sheep who are in peril whether they realize it or not, then Zion becomes a new kind of safe refuge and those of us who have found a home there now have a mission to reach out and gather in those who have not.

How often have we realized that the utter destruction of the magnificent temple in Jerusalem didn’t hinder God’s mission in the world for a second?

Let us pray: Gather us in, Good Shepherd of the lost sheep. Bring us home to yourself that we might find all that is needful. Protect us from those who would steal our lives, from the alluring voices which tempt and divert us from finding ourselves in you. Fill our mouths with praise, our hearts with joy and our days with your purpose. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

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