Unity

Scripture: Psalm 133

Title: Unity

Structure:

  • Introduction – unity is diversity with order
  • The Trinity and us
  • Unity comes down from God above
  • Unity is for sharing
  • Conclusion

 

Introduction:

On the wall here we have a picture of a tapestry of the Lord’s Supper

–         A tapestry is a unity

–         It is not sameness which makes for unity – rather, unity is diversity with order

–         Although there are many different coloured strands they are all woven together in an ordered way to pleasing effect

–         Together the strands form a bigger picture which makes sense

 

In our house there are three women and one shower

–         One of the things that happens with this arrangement is that long strands of hair gather in the drain, causing a blockage, so that the water in the bottom of the shower rises to your ankles

–         Whenever this happens it is my job to unblock the drain, pulling all the hair out by hand – I don’t mind though, it makes me feel useful

 

The hair in the drain is the opposite of unity

–         Unlike the tapestry which has a variety of different strands woven together in an ordered way, the hair in the drain is pretty much all the same and it is clumped together in a tangled mess of soap scum

–         There is no order, no bigger picture, no meaning, no pleasantness with hair in the drain

–         Unity is diversity with order – unity is pleasing

 

This morning we return to our series on the Songs of Ascents

–         These songs were probably sung by Jewish pilgrims as they made their way to the temple in Jerusalem for various religious festivals

–         They are songs for the faithful as they gather together for worship

 

Our focus today is psalm 133

–         This song celebrates God’s gift of unity

–         From the New Revised Standard Version we read…

 

How very good and pleasant it is when kindred live together in unity! It 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.

It is like the dew of Hermon, which falls on the mountains of Zion. For there the Lord ordained his blessing, life forevermore.

 

May the Spirit of Jesus illuminate this reading for us

 

The Trinity and us:

One of the prominent features at the front here is the organ

–         The organ is a unity – it has a diverse range of parts & pipes put together in an ordered way to make music which is pleasing

 

The organ is a metaphor for creation – creation is a unity, a diversity of different matter put together in an ordered and pleasing way

 

Today is Trinity Sunday, when we reflect on the mystery of the triune God: Father, Son and Holy Spirit

–         God is a unity – a diversity of three persons who are one

 

In a limited way the organ serves as a metaphor to help us understand the Trinity’s interaction with creation

–         I say ‘in a limited way’ because I’m very cautious about using any sort of analogy for God or the Trinity

–         God is holy – which (among other things) means he is different from us and indeed different from any created thing

–         God is beyond compare so no metaphor is adequate for describing God

 

Having said that, metaphors can be helpful to help our finite human minds form some concept of our infinite God and how we might relate with Him

 

Anyway, as I was saying, if the organ represents creation then the Trinity (Father, Son & Spirit together) designed and built the organ

–         The organ is not God – creation is not God – it was just made by Him

 

God the Father is like the organist and composer of the music

–         The Father writes the music and plays it on the organ (or through creation)

 

The gospel of John tells us that God the Son (who we know as Jesus) is God’s Word – so the Son is like the music God has composed

–         Just as music is an expression or embodiment of the composer’s soul, in a similar way, Jesus is an expression or embodiment of God Himself

–         Just as the music unites the choir, so everyone is singing from the same hymn sheet, so too Jesus unites the church and indeed all of creation – Jesus shows us which notes to follow

 

If we imagine that God the Father is the organist and Jesus is the music and we (in all our diversity) are the organ pipes, then the Holy Spirit is the wind passing through the pipes, making the sound God wills through us

–         We can’t make the music on our own – in fact we only find our meaning and purpose when we let God’s will be done in our life

–         Nor do we get to hear the whole song in our lifetime – we have to wait for eternity for that

 

Now in some ways this analogy is inadequate

–         Firstly, Jesus is more than just the music (as important as that is)

–         Jesus is a real person – the one who came to redeem & repair creation

–         It’s like the organ of creation was damaged by sin and Jesus (the organ builder’s Son) came to fix it

 

Likewise the Holy Spirit is more than just the wind blowing through the pipes (as important as that is)

–         The Spirit of God is also a real person

–         If we are the organ pipes, each one of us sounding a different note, then the Spirit is like the tuner who comes to adjust us when we get out of tune

 

Of course – an organ is not a living thing with free will

–         Some parts of God’s creation always do what they are supposed to at the right time – not so us humans, we are far more difficult to work with

 

In John 15 Jesus uses the image of the vine – the vine being a living organic unity

–         The Lord says to his disciples: I am the vine, you are the branches and God the Father is the gardener

–         Following this logic we might cautiously suggest the Holy Spirit is the sap or the life flowing from within the vine to the branches

–         As branches we come in different shapes and sizes but we are united by Christ, the main trunk of the vine

–         What’s more we are sustained and made fruitful by the life giving Spirit of Jesus in us

 

Unity comes down from God above:

Returning to psalm 133

–         This song is attributed to King David and it is essentially about unity

 

Although it is short (only 3 verses) psalm 133 uses two quite different images to convey the one idea that unity is a good and pleasing gift from God

 

Verse 1 begins with David describing the experience of unity from a human perspective

–         How very good and pleasant it is when kindred live together in unity.

 

On the sixth day of creation (in Genesis 1) the Lord God saw all that he had made and it was very good

–         Creation before the fall was a perfect unity – it was diverse but at the same time ordered in such a way that was good and pleasing

 

Unity from God is not unpleasant, like tangled hair and soap scum clogging up the shower drain

–         No – unity from God is good & pleasant, like a well ordered tapestry conveying a meaningful bigger picture

–         Or like an organ playing the right notes at the right pitch at the right time

 

The implication of verse 1 is: if it’s not pleasant then it’s probably not unity as God intended it

 

In verse 2 we are given the first image of unity

–         It 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.

 

Now to us this image doesn’t seem all that pleasant

–         It actually sounds messy and inconvenient

–         If someone poured so much oil on your head that it ran down your face and onto your clothes you would probably want to jump in the shower and put your clothes in the wash

 

But in ancient Middle Eastern culture it was customary for the host to greet a guest by pouring oil on their head

–         It was a way of saying welcome, you have a special place of honour among us, we are pleased you are here

–         Oil on the head was a picture of generous hospitality – it was an expression of unity

 

We read of Jesus being anointed in this way on more than one occasion in the gospels, by women (because the men were preoccupied)

 

But the picture in verse 2 isn’t just one of hospitality – for the verse goes on to describe the anointing of Aaron, the high priest of Israel during the time of Moses

–         Aaron was anointed with a special kind of oil – one mixed with perfume

–         So the oil of unity is sacred and it has a pervasive aroma

–         Unity is a pleasant fragrance which cannot be contained and which everyone can enjoy [1]

 

Jesus is our high priest – he is the Christ or the Messiah

–         Christ and Messiah mean the same thing: anointed one

–         Jesus (the anointed one) is the head of the church and we are the members of Christ’s body

–         Although we are quite diverse in many ways we are united by Christ

–         Jesus brings order to our diversity and the oil of his Spirit is a pleasant fragrance which cannot be contained

 

The main thing to note in verses 2 & 3 of psalm 133 is that the oil of unity runs down – it descends from above, meaning that unity comes from God above

–         Unity is not manufactured by us from the ground up – it is a gift (or a blessing) bestowed by God from on high

 

We heard last week about the builders of the Tower of Babel

–         In the end their unity was revealed to be false for they were trying to manufacture it themselves from the ground up

–         That kind of forced unity never lasts

–         True unity is a blessing from God above – not a human achievement

 

Verse 3 offers a second simile for unity

–         It is like the dew of Hermon, which falls on the mountains of Zion.

 

Mount Hermon is the highest mountain in Israel, found in the north near Galilee

–         Hermon is proverbial for its heavy dew

–         The mountains of Zion refer to the much smaller mountains in the south of Israel on which the city of Jerusalem was built

–         Hermon and Zion were diverse geographically speaking (they were spaced well apart) and they were quite different in height

–         Yet little Mount Zion enjoyed the same gift as grand old Hermon – they both share the same dew from heaven above

–         High and low drink the same sweet refreshment. [2]

–         Like the labourers in Jesus’ parable, at the end of the day, we are all paid the same, regardless of how many hours we worked  

Perhaps also, as King of Israel, David is reflecting on what God has done in uniting the different tribes of Israel – bringing the north and the south together

–         David sees a diverse range of people all coming together to worship God at his footstool in Jerusalem and he appreciates the harmony of it all

 

In any case, unity is a life giving blessing from God

–         Just as oil flows down from the head and just as dew comes down from above, so too unity comes down to us from God above

 

The thing is though that God often blesses us with unity in unexpected ways

–         Just last Friday night there was a power cut in Tawa – it was a complete black out

–         But it was also a blessing to our family – it was something a bit different, something fun and unexpected that brought us together

–         We lit candles, gathered close, laughed and talked because there wasn’t anything else we could do

–         It was quite a lovely time of family unity and felt like a gift from God

 

Unity is for sharing:

As well as showing us that unity comes from God above, the two images in psalm 133 also show us that unity is not designed to be contained

–         Rather, unity is for sharing

–         The pleasant fragrance of the perfumed oil on Aaron’s head and shoulders cannot be contained – the aroma is for everyone

–         Likewise the dew of Hermon falls liberally on Zion as well – it is not funnelled off somewhere exclusive – it is for high and low alike

 

Given that unity is a gift from God and given that it may come to us in unexpected ways, when it does come we need to be careful to recognise it and share it, without getting in the way – without creating a blockage

–         We need to ask ourselves how can we be a conduit for God’s gift of unity

 

In Luke 12 Jesus tells a rather sobering parable about a man whose land yielded a bumper crop

–         This blessing from God above created a problem for the farmer

–         Instead of consulting with his neighbours though he ignored his community and tried to figure out the problem on his own

–         He said to himself: ‘What shall I do? I have no place to store my crops.’

–         Still talking to himself he said, ‘I know, I’ll tear down my barns and build bigger ones to store all my grain – then I’ll be able to retire early, put my feet up and take life easy.’

 

But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?’

 

The tragedy is this man didn’t realise he was actually quite disconnected and God was trying to bless him with the gift of unity in the form of a bumper crop

–         If only he had talked with his neighbours he might have realised how his actions would only isolate him further

–         By holding onto the grain the farmer was driving the price up

–         If he had been less greedy and sold the grain at a lower price then the rest of the community would have benefited, especially the poor

–         Everyone would have enjoyed the pleasant fragrance of God’s special anointing on his land

–         High and low alike would have been refreshed by the dew of Hermon poured out on him

–         What’s more he would have enjoyed something far better than money – he would have experienced how good and pleasant it is to dwell in unity

 

By keeping it all for himself the man (ironically) rejected God’s gift of unity

–         He became a blockage to unity and God had little choice but to remove the blockage by taking back his life

 

Jesus told some really sad stories aye. That one was real tragic. I’m more of a happy ending kind of guy so let’s imagine this parable differently

 

Once there was a farmer who worked on his land from dawn till dusk six days a week

–         God had been good to him and blessed his hard work so that he was able to pay off his mortgage about 10 years sooner than he expected

–         But these kinds of gains come at a cost

–         As a consequence of working such long hours he didn’t have time for a wife and family – his was a relatively solitary life

 

He did reserve Sundays as a day off though when he would go into town to attend church in the morning before picking up some groceries from the supermarket on the way home

–         It wasn’t that he was particularly religious – he went to church mostly for the social contact (the cuppa and chat afterwards was his favourite part)

 

As the years went by the city expanded into the countryside and it was just a matter of time before property developers started eyeing up his farmland to build new homes for a hungry suburban market

–         One such developer offered the farmer 5x what he had paid for his land

–         It was a tempting offer – with no mortgage and this sort of cash in the bank he could retire before he was 50

 

That Sunday the preacher at church spoke about the parable of the rich fool in Luke 12

–         The farmer didn’t normally care for the sermon that much but this particular week he hung on every word

–         After reflecting on Jesus’ parable he decided not to get back to the developer just yet

 

The next Sunday, over coffee after the service, the farmer mentioned to one of the bankers in the congregation that he had been approached by a developer who was wanting to buy his land and turn it into a sub-division

–         The banker asked what the developer was offering and, on hearing a figure, explained how the land would be worth a lot more than that after it had been sliced up – The farmer had guessed as much

–         The banker asked if the farmer would consider subdividing the land himself

 

The following Sunday the farmer got into a conversation with a young guy in his 20’s who was saving to buy a house – it was tough to get a deposit together these days, especially with a large student loan

–         The farmer didn’t say anything about the developer’s offer this time

–         He was all of sudden conscious of a great divide between the two of them

–         So he offered the young guy some extra work on his farm

–         The young man was grateful and proved to be pretty good at fencing

–         To his surprise the farmer found he quite enjoyed the company

–         It had been a long time since he had worked with someone, it made the job seem more pleasant somehow

 

A few more weeks went by and the developer returned with an even bigger offer – but this time the farmer said ‘no’

–         Instead he made an offer of his own – not to the developer but to the young guy and his wife

–         He sold them a parcel of his land for half what the developer was offering him – which was about a quarter of the retail rate

–         To make the deal even sweeter he had a lawyer draw up a contract saying as long as they lived in the house they could pay him back interest free over a 20 year period

 

The couple still needed to borrow from the bank to build the house but the reduced cost of the land and the less onerous repayments made getting into their own home more affordable

–         The great divide he had sensed at first, between himself and the young man, was gone – the farmer felt closer to his neighbours

 

He did the same thing for others who were struggling, gradually selling pieces of his farm at below market rates

–         It meant reducing stock numbers a bit and being a bit smarter with his pasture management but it was workable because he was freehold

 

As the farmer shared his land a tight but diverse community developed so he became less isolated and more connected

–         He no longer needed to work 12 hours a day six days a week on his own – there were always willing neighbours ready to lend him hand

–         No one defaulted on their loans – partly because he was discerning about who he helped but also because a bit of grace usually motivates people to do the right thing

 

The farmer worked till he was 65 before taking his super and he lived comfortably in his retirement till his death at age 84

 

When asked by the pastor one day why he had helped so many people the farmer replied…

–         “When I look back on it I realise it wasn’t me who did it. I was isolated and alone before God blessed me with unity. All I had to do was get out of the way so God could do His thing.”

 

Conclusion:

Unity is diversity with order

–         Unity is pleasant

–         Unity comes down to us from God above, often in unexpected ways

–         Ultimately though unity is for sharing

 

Let us pray…

–         Father God, we thank you for your gift of unity through Christ the Son and the Holy Spirit

–         Help us to recognise your blessings when they come and to be a conduit for unity by sharing your good gifts

–         We pray this in Jesus’ name. Amen.

 

https://soundcloud.com/tawabaptist/11-jun-2017-unity

[1] Refer Derek Kidner’s commentary on ‘Psalms 73-150’, page 489

[2] Derek Kidner, Psalms 73-150, page 489.

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