Fourth Sunday after Pentecost July 2 and 3, 2022
“Unity” Psalm 133
Rev. John R. Larson Ascension Lutheran Church Littleton, Colorado
This psalm, just 3 verses in length, is concise, direct and pointed. Its theme is: “How good and pleasant it is when brothers live together in unity.” (Psalm 133:1)
If ever there is a timely word from God for us, right now, it is this one. On this Fourth of July weekend, we need to hear about unity. I sense the division and discord in our country more and more. Folks on both sides of the abortion debate took to the streets these past few weeks. Negative ads ran in the primary elections, and they will run in the general elections. They are cruel and mean and I don’t think most of them are even true. They aren’t intended to unify but divide. On Facebook and other forms of social media, users either “friend” or “unfriend” others regularly. Others just ignore or “ghost” those they disagree with. Either one gets into one’s circle, or they are left out. You are either in or out.
We have become an angry people. We have become a divided nation. But God’s desire for His people, and I believe the desire He desires us to have, is for something much better. This is one of the Psalms of Ascent (Psalms 120-134) and the Jewish pilgrims would speak or sing these words to one another as they ascended to the Temple in Jerusalem for their most holy days and they would say, “How good and pleasant it is when brothers live together in unity!” How true.
That word wasn’t just true in the Old Testament, but we find that desire in the words of Jesus and throughout the New Testament. In John 17 Jesus had this prayer for the twelve who followed Him, “Holy Father, protect them by the power of your name- the name you gave me – so that they may be one as we are one.” (Verse 11). This call for unity was part of His prayer for more than just those 12, but also for us – for all people who would come to faith through the word of the Apostle’s, “My prayer is not for them [the Apostle’s] alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me.” (John 17:20-21)
I imagine it has been some time since you read the constitution of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod. It makes for some very good night-time reading if you are having trouble falling asleep. When the Synod was formed in 1847, 175 years ago, the constitution said that the first purpose of forming this new church body was to, “Conserve and promote the unity of the true faith, work through its official structure toward fellowship with other Christian church bodies, and provide a united defense against schism, sectarianism, and heresy.”
Unity with God and unity with one another is the very desire of God for us and for all believers. Sadly, St. Paul ran into a terribly divided church when he ministered among the Christians in Corinth. In the very first chapter, the first issue that he needed to address was the discord and divisions that existed. “I appeal to you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another so that there may be no divisions among you and that you may be perfectly united in mind and thought.” (I Corinthians 1:10) With a word to shake them up, just two chapters later, he continues the same appeal, “Brothers, I could not address you as spiritual but as worldly – mere infants in Christ. I gave you milk, not solid food, for you were not ready for it. Indeed, you are still not ready. You are still worldly. For since there is jealousy and quarreling among you, are you not worldly? Are you not acting like mere men?” (I Corinthians 3:1-3)
I have a question, though. Why is so important for Christians to get along? Is it so we just don’t rattle any feathers among us? Is it so we can wear a plastic smile when we are together in public? No. Unity is greater than our division because we have a greater purpose, together, that God has given us. We exist, as a congregation, and as individual believers, not for ourselves but for those who don’t know the truth of Jesus. We live so that others can know the Savior, Jesus. We want many others to come to a living faith. We want everybody to live with the hope and peace and joy that come from God’s hand. We want others to be saved by Jesus. Unity in mission and focus and purpose allows us to do what God wants us to do. Division and discord takes all of that godly focus and turns it toward self rather than toward others. Paul would say about this purpose and work of God, “We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us.” (II Corinthians 5:20) We are able to tell the world that we have peace and unity with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Peace and unity are God’s great gifts to us and to all.
I have another question. You might have asked it yourself. What is this stuff in this psalm about oil running down Aaron’s beard and the section about the dew on Mt. Hermon? The author, possibly David, says that this unity of the believers is “like precious oil poured on the head, running down on the beard, running down on Aaron’s beard, down upon the collar of his robes. It is as if the dew of Hermon were falling on Mt. Zion.” (Verses 2-3a) What is that about?
First the oil. Oil was used during the ordination of a priest in the Old Testament. It is a symbol of the Holy Spirit. To use, lavishly, all this oil, so it runs down the beard, soaking the collar of the robes, is a grand picture of how wonderful this unity of faith and hope is. I liken it to Psalm 23 when we hear, “You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever.” (Verses 5-6b) As God anointed his priest to share the very truth of God’s word and gives that word abundant power, so this unity among God’s people is so blessed and treasured. It just runs over and blesses everything and everyone it touches.
Mt Hermon? Mt. Hermon is the tallest mountain in that region. It was in the northernmost part of Israel, now Lebanon. 9,000 feet high. Snow-capped. And it provided the water that went into the Jordan River and the Sea of Galilee. It took what was desert and made it green and lush. The unity of purpose, and mission, and ministry, and the excitement of what God can do, is like the anointing of His Spirit that can take what is dead and barren and make it lush and lovely. How good and pleasant it is when brothers live together in unity! This unity isn’t just good for us and for our peace, it is good for so many others.
Part of the blessedness of unity is found in the word community. One of the great challenges that the last two years have brought to me and to this congregation is the loss of community among us. Some of our dear folks have not been with us for these past two years and our fellowship has been diminished. Dear friends have become distant. That is just the opposite of brothers and sisters dwelling in unity or about the oil of God’s Spirit soaking all those in contact with Him, or life coming into bloom because of God’s refreshing presence.
Eugene Peterson, writing about Psalm 133, emphasizes the importance of community. He says, “Scripture knows nothing of the solitary Christian. People of faith are always members of a community. Jesus worked with twelve disciples and lived with them in community. The church was formed when one hundred twenty people were ‘all together’ in one place. The Bible knows nothing of a religion that is defined by what a person does inwardly in the privacy of thought or feeling, or apart from others on a lonely retreat.” (Sections of Pages 170-171, “A Long Obedience in the Same Direction”) Peterson has some difficulty with the old gospel hymn, “I Come to the Garden Alone.”
Unity is Community. Faith is our union with God through Jesus Christ. It also demands that we live in a union with others. Jesus was asked what the greatest commandment was. He answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.” He said that this was the first and greatest commandment. And then He continued, “And the second is like it, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” (See Matthew 22:34-40)
When I become discouraged about all the discord and fighting, the lack of unity and community, I take comfort that God is the God who can do the impossible. The Scriptures say, “With God nothing is impossible.” That includes unity. 3000 years ago this word was true, “How good and pleasant it is when brothers live together in unity.’’ It is still true today.
May we desire such a blessed thing. May God work His work among us. Amen!!