Saturday, September 18, 2010
Psalm 133 God blesses Unity
A song of ascents. Of David.
1 How good and pleasant it is
when God's people live together in unity!
2 It is like precious oil poured on the head,
running down on the beard,
running down on Aaron's beard,
down on the collar of his robe.
3 It is as if the dew of Hermon
were falling on Mount Zion.
For there the LORD bestows his blessing,
even life forevermore.
Psalm 133 is a psalm of ascension, a song of going up, used as pilgrims journeyed to Jerusalem: A song from the road a song for the journey. It’s one of a series of Psalms of ascension starting at Psalm 120 and finishing at Psalm 134.
You get the idea of the pilgrim starting their journey from some far off place and travelling to Jerusalem, the temple being their focus and destination a symbol of God’s presence. They may have left their home village or distant city by themselves or in a small group and they come towards the city and they join a stream of humanity, fellow Israelites and Jews and God fearers from round the country, round the world coming together to worship.
Even the urban dwellers in Jerusalem leave their homes, travel the shorter distance down the small streets and out into the crowded pilgrim ways. In the psalms of ascent they remember God’s goodness, his help in distress, his great works in creation and in caring for Israel in the past, they confess their sins. This Psalm, the last one before they arrive at their destination and receive the blessing that appears in psalm 134, changes their perspective. The focus had been on the place: The temple. That was where God’s blessing was to be found. But they look around them and they realise it’s not the place it’s the people, here it is God’s people that had been the centre of God’s covenant relationship gathered together and here, in this unity being this people, this togetherness that is where God will pour out his blessing. God desires and blesses unity amongst his people.
The psalm is attributed to David; it has an older setting an older context that it has been drawn from. It would be great if we had a date at the top of it to tell us the very occasion David would have penned it for, we don’t. But knowing it comes from David helps us to get into the metaphors that are used.
In many modern translations it says ‘ It’s good when God’s people get together and live in harmony’ the image behind that is that it is good when ‘brothers live together in harmony’ it comes from the image of an extended family. In Israel’s culture sons would stay at home with their father and as they grew and got married their wives and later family would come and join the clan. If you read through genesis you can see this in the life of Abraham and more so with Israel and his sons. When you read the story of David’s anointing as King by Samuel the prophet, you also get the picture of all the sons living together. David’s experience of this must have been a good one unlike Joseph’s in genesis where his brothers didn’t like his dreams and his father’s favouritism so they plotted to kill him and eventually sold him off to slavery in Egypt. But from what we know David had a good experience of it. In the end even Joseph felt this bound so tightly that he wanted to be reconciled with his brothers and bless them. So when David is king and finally Israel is bought together as one people no longer as different factions and tribes he can apply this image of brothers living together in harmony to the whole of the nation, after all they are the descendants of Israel’s sons.
From our own nation we might look back and say isn’t in good when brothers work well together; look at the Meads and the Clarks in that great all black era of the 1960’s see what can happen when brothers work well together, look at the Wheaton’s and the Brookes, and the coopers, we even won the world cup when they played together.
And wow look at the Evers- Swindell’s when those sisters work so well together when they get in that skip together, see how they are blessed. What would happen if we were unified and together like that? Isn’t it great when this people of comes together in unity?
This family metaphor is applied to the whole of Israel down through the temple worship even into the Diaspora when Jews were spread all over the known world, it’s a metaphor that we the church, a truly global community use as well we are brothers and sister in Christ, we are this new people bought and brought together in Jesus life and death and resurrection. Where it says in the reading we had this morning from Ephesians that in Jesus we have been made into one people over the great social barriers of the world.
Then David goes on to express what it is like using vivid images and metaphors of God’s blessing.
It is like the precious oil poured on the head running down on the beard, running down on Aaron’s beard down on the collar of his robe.
Perhaps in our post industrial age we don’t quite see the image of having oil poured over us as being a pleasant one. We may think of, leaks in deep sea oil wells,oil spills and their devastating effects. We may think of what comes out of our sump when we change the oil. Those who do the washing probably think whose going to get those oil stains out of the clothes. With the price of petrol and oil based products we may again have a fuller understanding of precious oil.
Maybe we can catch a glimpse of what is envisaged here in the growth of the boutique olive oil industry around New Zealand and the world, creating scented and herb flavoured oils. As the anointing oil would have been one with fragrances like frankincense in it. We are also only used to people having a small amount of oil used in anointing: A figure dipped in and the sign of the cross made on peoples forehead. But the image here is of abundance.
Aaron of course was the first high priest of Israel and the picture is of him being anointed with oil not in a stingy way but lavishly having this expensive liquid poured out all over him. This is a picture of a greater anointing as well, the anointing of the spirit. And the picture is one of that anointing coming down on all people as they gathered together to worship. They all encountered God’s blessing. One of the catch cries of the reformation is ‘a priesthood of all believers’ all of us in Christ are priests: set aside and anointed to minister and to serve God. All of us together have the blessing of standing before God. He pours out his life giving spirit, that fragrant oil, all over all of us. That is the blessing as we gather together to God. Jesus even showed this blessing being poured out whenever people came together in his name ‘for even if two or three are together in my name I am in their midst’. Not the place the people. The precious Oil is poured out in abundance, God is not stingy he is generous and generously gives his spirit and presence.
“It’s as if the dew of Hermon were falling on Mount Zion.
Mt Hermon is the highest peak in Israel it stands over 9,000 feet high to the north of the Sea of Galilee. It stands on the border between modern day Israel, Syria and Lebanon. It commands the whole of the valley below and was bitterly fought over in the 1973 yom kipper war. It is the place in that part of the Middle East that can be guaranteed to have snow on it all year round. The whole of the Jordan river that feeds into the Sea of Galilee and then flows on down the rift valley down past Jerusalem and on into the dead sea has its headwaters in the snow of Hermon. That life giving water course comes from the dew and the snow on Mt Hermon. So for David he sees that our unity our togetherness causes God’s blessing to flow in a way that brings life to the whole of the nation of Israel. It’s as if the pilgrim being together being in unity, is a source of a blessing from God. Just like that river has provided water for the land from the beginning so will unity bring God’s blessing even to eternal life.
Life giving water of course is a metaphor in the scriptures of Jesus. He is the one who can give life giving water. We have that life in us together because Christ dwells in our midst. That is why it’s a blessing of life even life everlasting because of the presence of the infinite amidst us finite beings.
I wonder if the one of the keys to unity isn’t realising that we are all in actual fact pilgrims together. We haven’t made it yet. We haven’t settled down and staked out our territory. We haven’t made it yet. We are all along way off but invited by god to come to him, Weary and heavy laden from the journey. We haven’t made it yet. We are simply on the journey all invited by Jesus to come follow me. We all have stuff to carry and we all have stuff to share, we have a lot to learn and from who we are and where we’ve come we all have treasures to contribute. We all have sources of sustenance and rest to contribute.
Being a pilgrim can change our posture towards each other. Malcolm X was a black activist in America in the 1960’s whose advocating of an armed struggle caused him to get off side or be portrayed as anti white in the media. Malcolm X was a Muslim. One of the pivotal events in his life, as you would expect from a Muslim, was to go on the Hajj a pilgrimage to Mecca. He says that when he got there he realised as he walked with over a million other people from around the world round the sacred sites and did the religious rituals, that that here he was as a brother to people of all different skin types and backgrounds and that they were all brothers (sorry no women on the Haj) and he realised that we are all god’s children and came back with a more conciliatory attitude. He still fought against injustice, still championed civil rights but of all people he had a deeper understanding of brotherhood and unity. The sad thing is that he did not see that unity expressed in the church.
There is a call for unity in this psalm, of being God’s people together. A call echoed by the writer of the book of Hebrew’s. Who says that we have all been invited into the presence of God, not in the temple in Jerusalem, not in a place, but in the person of Jesus Christ: The one who shed his blood for us. Again no trickledown economics here mate! but a wonderful and all encompassing offer of grace, so costly yet freely given. And because we have been given that offer been bought into that relationship with God then we ought to be unified to love one another and spur one another on in the faith. We should meet together for worship, give hospitality to each other and encourage each other. As we journey together gather together as we grow together as we become one God is able to pour out his blessing.
It’s a hope we as the church as God’s people can give to a world desperate for peace. We can be a outpost in the world of a new way to be human together. Óscar Rafael de Jesús Arias Sánchez, who was president in Costa Rico won the Nobel peace prize in 1987 for bringing an end to several civil wars in countries in central America in his Nobel lecture he said
“Peace is not a matter of prizes or trophies. It is not the product of a victory or command. It has no finishing line, no final deadline, no fixed definition of achievement. Peace is a never-ending process, the work of many decisions by many people in many countries.
It is an attitude, a way of life, a way of solving problems and resolving conflicts. It cannot be forced on the smallest nation or enforced by the largest. It cannot ignore our differences or overlook our common interests. It requires us to work and live together.”
Is’nt it great when God’s people dwell together in Unity” It’s hope we can give to the world in Christ