Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Psalm 133 and the ellusive delight of unity.

Just over a year ago Psalm 133 was used as a devotion at the local minister’s association. It seemed relevant and poignant as here were a widely diverse group of church leaders gathering together, meeting regularly for fellowship over lunch…

It got me thinking, is this really what the Psalm is saying is the unity that commands God’s blessing? Or does it call for something deeper? It got me thinking about the psalms of ascent and what they might have to say, how they build to the point where this psalm about unity and community is the last, the climax, before there is a benediction and the collection finishes. They are important questions because as EM Blaiklock says, ‘humanity has seldom known Unity.’

The underlying image for unity in the first line of Psalm 133 is adult brothers with their own families living together, working the family farm, tending the family flocks. That was the corner stone of the Jewish agrarian society…  But even then, scripture tells us that this image of brothers together isn’t always ideal. Just think of  Cain and Abel, Jacob and Esau, joseph and his brothers, even Jesus had his brothers and family come and try and take him away from his messianic ministry, as they were concerned about his mental health.

At the heart of it of course is the realisation that our faith is not a private individual thing, rather that being called into a relationship with God is being called into community. Jesus was asked what is the greatest commandment, to which he replied to love the Lord Your God, with all our hearts and minds and souls, and was quick to add, before anyone could make it a private devotional thing, and love your neighbour as yourself. We proclaim that each time we gather together for worship, and demonstrate it as we show love to each other between times.

When you look at the Psalms of ascent there is a progression, a spiritual journey that lays the basis for that picture of unity amongst God’s people. It starts with a common discontent. A common journey, taken with the common protection and guidance of God. The realisation that we individually share the common experience of dependence on God, on his saving us from the traps and trials, We share common pains and sorrows and the common hope of God’s abiding presence and grace, that all good gifts come from God and his providence. Eugene Peterson sums it up by saying “how great to have everyone sharing a common purpose, travelling a common path striving towards a common Goal, that path and purpose being God.’

AS Christians we share a common spiritual poverty, a common saviour, in Christ we from all over and everywhere have become sons and daughters of the most high God,  we are filled by the same spirit, as Dietrich Bonhoeffer says, “our community with one another consists solely in what Christ has done.’

Of course, you just have to look at Church history to see that keeping that pleasant living together in unity takes hard and arduous work. Paul writes to the church in Corinth, which is beset by divisions and factions, He writes to the church in Philippi in part to encourage two church leaders who have fallen out to be reconciled. The Epistle to Philemon is asking for a runway salve to be reconciled to his master, because know both are beloved brothers and partners in the gospel. The rest of church history seems to follow a similar pattern and struggle.

Eugene Peterson suggests the two word pictures that psalm 133 uses to describe God’s people living together in unity give us insight in how to hold on and work at that Unity…

The image of oil being poured over the head of Aaron comes from Exodus 29, and is Aaron being ordained and anointed as a priest. We are a priesthood of all believers When we view the other person as a priest set aside for God and as God’s anointed our relationship is profoundly changed. They become people that God has bought into our lives to minister God’s grace and word to us. A source of God’s grace given in Christ.

If you’ve woken up on a camping trip and unzipped the tent and every blade of grass glistens and shines with the dew that has fallen over night, you are aware of the freshness and newness that the image of dew falling on Mt Hermon has. When we have the expectation that God will do new things in people’s lives there is the ability to have unity. In Christ’s abiding presence by the Holy Spirit that God is moving, making it possible to produce Christlike fruit, just as the dew on Hebron provides the water for the fertile parts of Israel.

The final line of this Psalm says the lord bestows his blessing even life for evermore… in our community of love in Christ we can catch a glimpse of life lived in eternity with God. We read the conclusion to Acts chapter 2 and the coming of the Holy Spirit and the result was a community where peace was established because right priorities and relationships were established. There was no want, there was shared joy and hospitality, God moved in their midst and people from outside came to know Christ. It’s a glimpse a foretaste of what eternal life is like. The best way to describe our triune God, our three in one, is as a community of love, three beings so in unity they can only be described as one, and salvation and eternal life is that we are welcomed into that community of love, with God and with each other, here on earth and for all time.

So my prayer is that we may grow in our love for one another as we grow in our love for Christ, and people will catch the vision of the kingdom of heaven in our midst.

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