Great is the Lord and greatly to be praised
in the city of our God.
His holy mountain, beautiful in elevation,
is the joy of all the earth,
Mount Zion, in the far north,
the city of the great King.
Within its citadels God
has shown himself a sure defense.
Then the kings assembled,
they came on together.
As soon as they saw it, they were astounded;
they were in panic, they took to flight;
trembling took hold of them there,
pains as of a woman in labor,
as when an east wind shatters
the ships of Tarshish.
As we have heard, so have we seen
in the city of the Lord of hosts,
in the city of our God,
which God establishes forever.
We ponder your steadfast love, O God,
in the midst of your temple.
Your name, O God, like your praise,
reaches to the ends of the earth.
Your right hand is filled with victory.
Let Mount Zion be glad,
let the towns of Judah rejoice
because of your judgments.
Walk about Zion, go all around it,
count its towers,
consider well its ramparts;
go through its citadels,
that you may tell the next generation
that this is God,
our God forever and ever.
He will be our guide forever. (New Revised Standard Version)
In college, I was a geography minor. One of the interesting things I discovered in looking at old maps from around the world, is that each country, nation, or people group tends to place themselves at the center of the world.
In the 1956 movie, The King and I, the King of Siam (played by Yul Brynner) displays a map with an oversized Siam (present day Thailand) smack in the middle, making sure to impress upon his children’s English schoolteacher, Anna (Deborah Kerr), that the British Empire is not the center of the world.
Our place matters. Being grounded and rooted to a geographical spot helps us establish long term relationships, consistent patterns of living, and attentive service to the community.
I happen to think there is something healthy about having pride of place. It enables us to take some ownership and responsibility of an area. Ideally, as we learn to care for our surrounds, we discover proper stewardship of all creation and the necessity of paying attention to the world that we all inhabit together.
Yet, we know that doesn’t always happen. The pride of place can give way to the wrongheaded belief that we are better than others, that our cultural norms and ethical mores are exactly the way everyone else ought to live. It manifests itself in overzealous patriotism and misplaced allegiances.
In The King and I, the Siamese King and British Anna must both grapple with and navigate the very different cultures of each. Eventually, they discover a deep appreciation of the other, even as they do not fully understand one another.
In their healthiest times, the ancient Israelites not only saw Jerusalem as the center of the world, but also discerned there is a big world with God as the center of it all. Everyplace has meaning. Each particular place has its own sacred quality to be appreciated.
Whenever we are able to be captivated by the beauty of the place we are in, this opens us to see the beauty in other places, as well.
I feel a special connection with Iowa farmland. After all, I grew up on an Iowa farm. Even though I left home for college, a life very different from working the soil, I still found myself becoming a Pastor – someone who tends to a parish and is attentive to the people in that place.
Everywhere I have lived, I established a kinship with the place. Each geographical locale had its own unique charm, as well as its challenges. And, having moved a great deal in my adult life, I discovered that everywhere I go, I’m reminded that this is not my home.
Yes, I long for another home, my true home. The deep connection I feel to the land, to the places I’ve lived, and in the current places I inhabit, help me to get in touch with what shall eventually be my permanent abode. I resonate with the Apostle Paul when he said:
If I am to go on living in the body, this will mean fruitful labor for me. Yet what shall I choose? I do not know! I am torn between the two: I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far; but it is more necessary for you that I remain in the body. (Philippians 1:22-24, NIV)
And perhaps we have felt and share the Apostle’s longing, framed in this way:
For we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. For in this tent we groan, longing to be clothed with our heavenly dwelling—if indeed, when we have taken it off we will not be found naked. For while we are still in this tent, we groan under our burden, because we wish not to be unclothed but to be further clothed, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life. He who has prepared us for this very thing is God, who has given us the Spirit as a guarantee.
So, we are always confident; even though we know that while we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord—for we walk by faith, not by sight. Yes, we do have confidence, and we would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord. (2 Corinthians 5:1-8, NRSV)
In this life, God will guide us, by means of the Holy Spirit. The Spirit testifies and confirms within us, beyond what mere language can communicate, that we belong to God, and we will have a permanent place with the Lord forever.
Our place matters. The ways in which we inhabit where we live, matters.
Mighty God, I give you thanks for sending your Son, the Lord Jesus, to come and be with us. And in our longing to be with him, you have graciously given your Spirit to take up residence within us and assure us of our true home. May our longings in this life help us to be better people, attentive and mindful to those around us, to the glory of Christ, our Savior. Amen.