1How very good and pleasant it is when kindred live together in unity!
2It is like the precious oil on the head, running down upon the beard, on the beard of Aaron, running down over the collar of his robes.
3It is like the dew of Hermon, which falls on the mountains of Zion. For there the Lord ordained his blessing, life forevermore.
*********************************************** “How good and pleasant it is for kindred to live together in unity.”
Let’s let that one sink in for a second. I know. It's the “U” word… “Unity.” So go on, everyone who is thinking, “Oh NO, not another sermon on unity!” ...take a second to get past that….
“How good and pleasant it is for kindred to live together in unity.”
And now, take another second, anyone who lives (or has ever lived) with their relatives and is now thinking, “She should come over to my house for about ten minutes and she would find out exactly how ‘good and pleasant’ MY life is….”
Well, we can’t change Scripture. And one of the things we profess to believe about the Bible is that it is a living thing; that the Spirit works through it and makes Scripture as relevant for us as it was for the people it was originally written for. We should be able to glean something more from this Psalm than a hearty eye roll.
So, let’s looks at it…
First, this is one of the Psalms of the Ascents. Interestingly, the Ascent Psalms are grouped together in the book of Psalms.(120-134) Some scholars think they are put together in one group for organizational purposes. Some think it's because they were used in special worship activities. Howard Wallace says, “The most popular view today among scholars is that the word translated ‘ascents’ draws on the use of the verb calah, ‘to go up’, especially for pilgrimage (cf. Ps. 24:3; Isa. 2:3). That is, these psalms were songs for pilgrims in worship, either on the way to Jerusalem or returning from there. Psalm 133 is the second last of the collection.”[i]
Well, if this psalm was a pilgrim psalm, and the people were traveling together, sometimes for weeks or more in order to get to Jerusalem, guess who they would be traveling with? Family! And their families would be traveling with extended family, and community members and neighbors and friends. So it would be like our whole church taking a journey together for several weeks, living together, sharing the same space, the same belongings, the same food, the same facilities… 'good and pleasant?'
“How good and pleasant it is for kindred to live together in unity!”
What did the ancient Psalmist know that we maybe be missing? Maybe verses two and three can help. “It [unity] is like the precious oil on the head, running down upon the beard, on the beard of Aaron, running down over the collar of his robes.”
The psalmist is describing a ritual; when Aaron, brother of Moses was anointed to be a priest to the people. And the oil used in that ceremony is the focal point. Oil was used in many rituals to turn something or someone holy or sacred. But in this picture, the sacred making oil is flowing over not just Aaron's head. There is so much oil being poured out that it is flowing over his beard and down onto his collar. What a beautiful metaphor of abundance; flowing without limits!
And there is more "flow" in verse 3: “It [unity]is like the dew of Hermon, which falls on the mountains of Zion. For there the Lord ordained his blessing, life forevermore.” Mt. Hermon is a huge mountain noted for its snow and ice caps- it’s “dew” supplies several valleys and normally dry areas with much needed water, and it flows again, in abundance.
Now, if we apply both of these images back to verse one, it’s easier to understand what the Psalmist means by good and pleasant. “Just as the dew falling on the mountain brings life to all the land, a blessing from the Lord, so the anointing of his priest is a blessing to the people.”[ii]
But notice that Psalmist is talking about a blessing originating from the source- from God.
We speak this idea in our churches every week as we take up the offering: “Praise God from whom ALL blessings flow.” And that idea is the key to living in unity... as one; it is the only way that we can attain “good and pleasant” in community. All we have to do is embrace the knowledge that everything we have (and all that we are) comes from God. Simple, right?
In theory, yes. But moving from theory to application... well, that becomes a little more difficult. Because if everything we have comes from God and there is enough for everyone, then why do some in our community have more (or less) than we do? We tend to think, "Am I doing something wrong that I’m not being blessed financially, or spiritually, or physically?" or worse, "God surely has blessed me! If others had as much faith as I, they could be blessed too!" (UGH)
But in Ancient Israel, 'community' meant something far different than it does today. To them, being “in community” was everything. Any number of things could get one "out" of community, from cleanliness, to minor and major crimes, to just plain being selfish, but once "out," there were ceremonies and rituals that would allow the offender to come back "in" to community- to be restored to the kindred…
We love to think of our church as that type of community- all churches do. A church where the goal is to reach out and bring everyone back into the fold... no matter what. When we can think of ourselves that way than we can feel good about coming to church every Sunday, and plopping our envelope in the offering plate. And actually, when we think of ourselves that way, we can do so much good for people in the name of and by the grace of God- it’s astounding really.
And the church does do a great job of living out caring for one another, and helping one another, and bringing each other back into community when someone is left out… well, that is, someone we like.
Most of the time we sound more like this...
"Come on Pastor, some people we just can’t get along with. Some people, well... they just don’t pull their weight... you know what I mean, financially… and some of them haven't signed up for a work day in ten years.... so we don’t have to try to pull them back... do we?... And people of other denominations- we don’t have to worry about them, right? Because they aren’t in our church, so maybe they aren’t part of our community… or did God really mean everybody?"
"And Pastor, what about those people of different faiths, or who have different moral beliefs than us? God didn’t mean that the oil runs over them too, right? Because that would just be offensive, and why would we waste our time, especially if they aren’t going to ever see the light, or even want to come around to our way of thinking? And what about those people who have real problems… not like being sick or something, but the other ones… the ones who have problems we can’t understand… or problems they brought on themselves. Shouldn’t they have to pay for what they’ve done? Lay in the bed they’ve made? Besides, we only have so much time and money and energy to give… why is it up to the church to fix it all?"
Good Question... Why is it up to the church? Because everything we have comes from God. Because all oil flows in abundance from God as a blessing to all people; because the dew on the mountain top melts to give water to the places and people who have none.
Because we are all here together, and are responsible for one another; to love and care for and nurture one another… all of us… and to love and care for and nurture creation… because everything we have comes from God... and there is no shortage of grace for any of us. And trust me, we need that abundance of grace every single day… thank God for mercies that are new every morning!
Jesus illustrated this again and again. Did everyone see Jesus in the same way? Not on your life. People saw and remembered and related to Jesus in different ways, and even had different outcomes… But then again, Jesus didn’t act the same to everyone either, did he? One was healed by touching the hem of his robe... someone else had to go wash in the river, someone else got mud put in his eyes... someone else just had to have faith and his daughter was healed with no touch at all...
Jesus met people exactly where they were. He didn’t tell them how bad they were, or they should fix their own problems, or that they were slackers or low life’s… Instead he gave them grace… and mercy… and healing. He didn’t offer handouts; instead he poured out hope, and acceptance, and redemption.
And he offered it in the name of God, from whom all blessings flow. That one truth, by the way, were it to be inserted before every word you say, every action, every judgment you make, would change the way you see the world.
My prayer is that we can come to internalize this and live this out. And I truly believe that we are put here together for primarily this purpose… so we can learn to love better, to learn to live in unity... as one… so we can encourage each other to push beyond where we think we can go, and give and live deeper and wider than we thought we could. How good and pleasant it is…