“Good and Pleasant” - Psalm 133 and John 17: 20-26
Politicians argue over the Commons’ floor about whether we live in a “broken society”. I’m not sure how you stand on that question. But there is, almost everywhere we turn, the evidence of lives which are fragmented, communities which are divided in and between themselves (by race, creed, colour, but by tribe and even by post-code!).
Families, which break and re-form, and break down again…
A rampant individualism has supplanted even the idea of community (There is no such thing as society!) so we are encouraged to adopt an attitude of “look out for yourself” or “I’m alright Jack!” – living in times where the young sit at computer screens and conduct their relationships, where being face-to-face or shoulder to shoulder is a rare thing and, for some, a frightening thing – where the loneliest place to be is in a crowd; where memories of leaving the back door on the latch are a distant dream…
Barack Obama reminded the mass of American citizenry gathered in Washington DC that they had pilgrim roots. That gathering was, in some sense, a picture of a people as one….
A new President seems, by comparison, to want to bring about division – to build walls rather than bridges…
Psalm 133 speaks of Jewish pilgrims singing together (IN UNITY) as they journeyed together at festivals to Jerusalem, from many regions, walks of life, tribes – like a river into which all its tributaries had converged & flowed. Here is a picture of true unity - in the Holy Spirit, a unity that provides strength and on which God is pleased to pour out his blessing…the psalm speaks about the benefits of the communion of saints…
UNITY IS GOOD & PLEASANT & ALWAYS EXPRESSED IN COMMUNITY:
Verse one speaks of the substance of unity: the foundation of our unity as Christians is to be found in our brotherhood; in our common relationship to a HEAVENLY FATHER.
In the beginning when man sinned against God the first disaster to befall him (on being expelled from the Garden) was a breaking of fellowship with God AND the consequent breakdown of community when one brother raised his hand against another. (As old as humanity itself)
There have been many attempts through time to establish a brotherhood of man, but the truth is no brotherhood is possible without the Fatherhood of God. The world looks for the practical demonstration of this fellowship: we form clubs and societies and lodges - but True fellowship is to be found only by those who know God as their Father and Jesus as Lord!
David speaks of brothers dwelling together in unity and this is GOOD and PLEASANT. David knew all about disunity; he experienced it in his own family. The AV says, “Behold!” this unity - the very words points out the importance of harmony among the people of God (and perhaps its rarity, too!); pause…and look…how good…how pleasant!
We are pilgrims too with a heavenly destination. We form part of the BODY of CHRIST. The church forms together the visible shape of what God is like; the community we share consists in what Christ has done for us. Isolation for us is not an option…united we can accomplish much for the kingdom of God.
Divisions amongst us will bring a smile to the enemies’ face; if we stop praying and gathering together the enemy will be delighted; scandal and division within the church will hit the front-page every time…
But David is not saying we should all the same. There is a difference between unity and uniformity. Dwelling together does not mean that we look the same, that we mechanically worship the same way. Christian unity is a heart union of believers ready to work together for the purpose of glorifying God and furthering the cause of his kingdom.
Christianity is reasonable and true but it is not purely intellectual or internal – it must be lived out in community…we are the people who say, “WE”, rather than “I”
We are a unity of diverse people, based on their common relationship with God – we all share the same heavenly Father.
UNITY IS GOOD AND PLEASANT AS FAR AS THE WORLD IS CONCERNED:
Although we are not perfect and evil/unpleasantness will intrude into our lives and churches, our unity is good for everyone. For all their faults & divisions the very first church turned the world upside down.
Our unity is like a well of goodness where others can draw. Our unity is like that OIL on Aaron’s beard.
Oil – a symbol of God’s Spirit & presence. It was poured out liberally over the High Priest’s head as he was anointed for office.
Picture it flowing down…and down…and down again. This oil is under gravity, it diffuses; it blesses those beneath its influence. Oil does not stay where it is. It even runs into places and finds people who are not even looking for God or his blessing!
I am reminded of the love of Christ pouring down through the Holy Spirit at Pentecost…unity in the church is always attractive…my experience of church…coming from a broken family as I do - this unity was important to me; I want to smell the fragrance of Christ, not the stink of division. Mistrust and division in the church feels wrong – just plain wrong!
David provides us a 2nd simile for unity: unity is like the dew of Mt Hermon (100 m 2 n of Jerusalem); when unity spreads it brings life; like dew it brings forth plants; travellers in the desert have been known to drink dew to stay alive. So we need fellowship to stay alive and grow in faith. Unity blesses everyone. It brings life.
UNITY IS GOOD & PLEASANT AS FAR AS THE LORD IS CONCERNED:
John 13: 34-35 – a new command I give you; the express wish or prayer of the LJC on the eve of his death.
Unity receives more coverage than heaven or hell in the NT. Jesus places the highest possible value on unity. A prayer for unity constitutes the end (The final red letters) of Jesus’ earthly teaching.
He could have prayed only for himself & only for his disciples (he did earlier in John 17) but the amazing truth is he prayed for you!!
Although (The Chronicler) the hand of God has to be on the people to give them unity of mind, unity is not automatic. We have to work at it. Unity is not easy and it takes not a fuzzy feeling, but a determined act of will among God’s people.
“Do 2 walk together unless they have agreed to do so?” (Amos asks 3:3) Divine power and the beauty of God are expressed in the Oneness and the Threeness of God-in-community. GOD IS NOT A HERMIT! A cord of 3 strands is not easily broken.
The God who is the author of peace (and not of confusion) will bless (eternally) all our attempts to be united. Paul is always honest about the reality of life (divisions): but says we must make every effort (strive) to keep united in the Spirit, binding you together in peace.
That is the task of our deacons (My task). That is the task of every church member. Together we are stronger. Manchester would agree, “United we stand, divided we fall…”
God’s blessing will rest FOREVER upon those who work for Christian unity within our own fellowship and between our churches locally and worldwide.
(Galatians 3: 26-29)