Pastor’s September message
Singing by The Waters of Babylon
The scene: tens of thousands of families being dragged from their homes, forced to a foreign destination where they do not belong and do not want to go, and on the way, they are singing a song.
Families, on foot, in wagons, some on donkeys, all against their will, taken from everything that made them feel safe, forced to traverse over 500 miles of deserts, mountains, across rivers, and they sing a song of the home they fear they will never again see.
Being brutally ushered to a city they do not know, by armed soldiers of whom they have no love, to be enslaved to a people whose language they cannot speak, whose religion they cannot bow to, as they near the enemy land, they are singing a song remembering the place from which they have been torn, of which they had received it as a gift that was to never end, a song lamenting the gifts they would no longer receive back there. They are singing a song given to the Church to sing in the Psalms. It was a song of Zion. Psalm 137:1:
By the waters of Babylon,
there we sat down and wept,
when we remembered Zion.
On the willows there we hung up our lyres.
The Lord’s People Exiled to Babylon
They were on their way to Babylon. They were looking back over their shoulders to Jerusalem from which they came, a city now in ashes, with buildings torn down and vineyards ripped up.
Their captors laughed. These soldiers had made quick work of the fortress walls, and now they were taking their prize back to Babylon. As their victims cried on the banks of the river, the soldiers laughed, telling them to get their music instruments out to sing a song. Psalm 137:3:
There our captors required of us songs,
and our tormentors, mirth, saying,
“Sing us one of the songs of Zion!”
Zion is Jerusalem. It’s the place of the Davidic throne that was to have kept them safe. Zion is the location the Lord designated for the Ark of the Covenant—the Ark where he placed his Name and which was topped with a lid called The Mercy Seat, so that all Israelites could come to it knowing that there the Lord was gathering them to his Name to forgive their sins and pronounce them clean.
Zion was the place of the Temple, which housed the Ark of the Covenant, and in front of which Temple the Lord placed a priest to stand at the face of his people, so that as they came to the Lord’s Temple bearing their sins, the priest was given to say one clear word to them: TaHaR. TaHaR is the Hebrew word meaning: You are clean. That’s the word the sinner must hear from the mouth of the Lord’s priest. You are clean—clean of the sin you have committed, clean of the sin committed against you, clean before the face of God in Heaven and his people here on Earth, clean by the blood of the sacrifice the Lord gave to atone for your sin, clean because the Lord has located his Name at the Ark of the Covenant and has now gathered you to his Name, and all because he is the Lord your God who makes you holy—You are clean.
Now these families, locked in Babylon, are looking back over their shoulders to what they used to have back in Zion, and they are singing a song. Psalm 137:
Our captors required of us songs,
and our tormentors, mirth, saying,
“Sing us one of the songs of Zion!”
How shall we sing the LORD’s song in a foreign land?
…there we sat, by the banks of the river, we wept,
and we remembered Zion.
A Song for The Lord to Remember Them
They sing repentance. For they have been taken from Zion due to their arrogance, by which they had treated as cheap the Lord’s gift of atoning blood. They had turned their back to the priest who stood at the Temple to cleanse sinners. Now they sing a song of lament, wishing they had treasured the Lord’s Name when they were being gathered to it, and had rejoiced in being gathered into the Lord’s congregation. And it is a song of prayer, pleading that the Lord would remember them, would somehow gather them back once again to the location of his Name, restoring them back into the congregation of his forgiven, holy people.
Where Will We Find Our Zion?
Fast forward, some 600 years later, the Lord has returned his people back to Jerusalem. The Temple is rebuilt. The priest again stands in front of the people to forgive sins, announcing, TaHar, You are clean. And Jesus, on his way up to Jerusalem to be delivered into the hands of men who would crucify him, said,
“For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them.”
Two or three gathered to the Name. That’s the Name once put on the Temple for God to dwell there, the Name which he located on the Ark of the Covenant so the priest standing in front could pronounce the sinner clean. It’s the Name of the Lord who saves—it is now located at the point of … Jesus. It dwells bodily in him; he is the location of the Name for every sinner.
Where two or three are gathered to my Name, says Jesus. The Greek word for in or to has direction to it, it speaks of location, it speaks of two or three being gathered to the Name. The location to which they are gathered is the Man Jesus. Where he places himself, where he makes himself known, where he is having his Name proclaimed, that is location on Earth to which he is gathering sinners.
The Lord does the gathering. He calls the sinner to the location of his Name on Earth. Where is his Name located? It was at the Ark of the Covenant, the Temple—it was Zion. The Temple stands no more, the Romans having torn it down after the crucifixion. The Ark of the Covenant is destroyed and lost so that even Indiana Jones can’t find it.
Where is the Name located? Jesus stood outside Jerusalem to say, I am the Name. I gather you to me. He is the Zion, where the sinner goes to find the congregation. He is the Ark of the Covenant, in which resides the Law and upon which is set The Mercy Seat—he bears the Name. He is the Priest who shares our suffering with us, so that we may hear his words: You are clean.
Clean, by the word of Jesus. Clean, because in your Baptism, you bear the Name of Jesus.
We still have our own Babylonian captivity. It’s the life we live daily in our sinful flesh—our captivity to our sin, to the devils, to sinful world. These captors of ours accuse us of our sin and test our faith, saying, Sing us a song of Zion. That is, You say you’re a Christian? You say you belong to Jesus, that you’re a member of Zion, which is the church? Then where’s your joy? Let us hear your song of Zion.
We Rejoice in The Name
So we sing the song of Zion—a song of repentance and of prayer for the Lord to remember us and call us back again to his Name, joining us in the congregation of people.
We sing the song. And the Lord hears our song.
“I say to you,” says Jesus, “where two or three are gathered to my name, there am I among them.”
In his kindness, Jesus calls and gathers us with the preaching of his Gospel. He dwells with us in his Body and Blood for the forgiveness of our sin. He speaks to us in the absolving word, saying, You are clean before my Father, you are clean to each other.
Our Babylonian captivity is over. Our captors are defeated. Our song of repentance is heard. Our song to be returned to the Name is answered. All these people gathered in the church here and throughout the world to hear the Name, this is the Lord’s Zion. And Zion, that is, the church on Earth, sings in joy to her Lord.
In the Name of Jesus,
Pastor Warren W. Graff
October 03, 2017
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