Where are you from?

Psalm 87

…the LORD loves the gates of Zion more than all the dwelling places of Jacob. Glorious things are spoken of you, O city of God….The LORD records as he registers the peoples, “This one was born there.” 


If you grew up in the Church like I did, it’s difficult to read this psalm without hearing Haydn’s tune to “Glorious Things of Thee are Spoken” playing in the background.  In fact, sometimes the hymn plays so loudly in my head that it’s difficult to actually read the words–it all gets tangled up with John Newton’s poetry. This morning, however, I was able to quiet the music long enough to hear the refrain “This one was born there,” which appears three times in a brief seven verses.

“Where are you from?” I expect we’ve all been asked this at one time or another.  It’s a line we use to start a conversation, to get to know someone, and to try to establish some kind of connection.  It can be a way to identify something intriguing you’ve noticed–a curious accent, an ethnicity you can’t quite place, a distinction that you need to locate geographically. “Where are you from?”

“Oh, you must be from Texas!” While our place of origin may be a point of pride for us, it’s not always so for others. Think about the story of shibboleth, and Nathanael’s mocking, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?”  In this psalm, however, it seems like everyone would want to be from Zion.

Zion is complicated in the Bible. It’s Jerusalem, it’s Solomon’s Temple, it’s the holy habitation, it’s the world to come. Zion, like Hollywood or Beijing, is a place that stands for an idea–in this case, an idea that as complicated as very the notion that there is a place where God dwells. Zion is the city of God and everything that can mean.

Amid all the complication, what we do know is that God loves Zion, and that love makes Zion glorious. Everyone who was born there shares in her glory. People from other places sit up and take note: “This one and that one were born in her.”  And they’re not the only ones.  The psalmist includes the curious and lovely image of the Lord writing in the heavenly census, “This one was born there.”

Like Joseph and Mary in the days of Caesar Augustus, God’s people know their house and lineage; and when the decree goes out, we will return to our city of origin, to Zion. For next to our names, there is a note: “This one was born there”  This is where we belong.  This is our beginning and our end. This is home.


“Glorious Things of Thee are Spoken” words: John Newton; tune: Kevin Twit



One comment

  1. Bob says:

    You hit the music box button with this Psalm. Up came “I’ll Fly Away” and “Can’t Feel at Home In this World Any More” Not that I feel I’m going just yet, Just like the Idea of a permanent HOME

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