Sunday, July 19, 2015

A Happy Place

A Happy Place
Mt. Hermon

Seventh after Trinity

Psalter: Psalm 133 (KJV)

1Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity!
2 It is like the precious ointment upon the head, that ran down upon the beard, even Aaron's beard: that went down to the skirts of his garments;
3 As the dew of Hermon, and as the dew that descended upon the mountains of Zion: for there the Lord commanded the blessing, even life for evermore.

When my wife is stressed, she may close her eyes, and say, “I need to go to a happy place.” She pictures herself alone on an isolated beach where she feels the warm sun and gentle breeze, watches the ocean, and hears the waves breaking on the beach. I note that I never make it into these pictures.

Most can imagine happy scenes - a mountainside, a meadow, a Thanksgiving table, a baseball park. David thought of happy scenes when wrote Psalm 133.

1. Pictures of Unity. David compares the unity of
   God’s people to two happy scenes from the life of

  1. Aaron’s Ordination

He goes back to the scene of the ordination of Israel’s first High Priest, Aaron.  In preparation a perfumer mixed a holy anointing oil, a mixture of myrrh, cinnamon, aromatic cane, caccia, and olive oil. Aaron was bathed and dressed in the High Priest’s vestments. They put a special turban on his head and a crown over it.  Then Moses poured the holy oil over Aaron’s head. It flowed down over his beard and clothes.  It was a joyful occasion, the ordination of the High Priest, who would preside over Israel’s worship, offer sacrifices, oversee the the Tabernacle, and represent the people before God. The impressive ceremony included the delightful smell of holy oil. A very pleasant memory in Israel’s history.
b.  The Dews of Hermon

Mt. Hermon is at the extreme northern border of
Israel and consists of three peaks, the  highest of
which is over 9000 feet above sea level. Hermon
gets winter and spring snows and the top is snow
covered most of the year. (Today it has a ski
resort.) Hermon is very important in this dry part of
the world because of  how much precipitation it
receives. Below the snow line is an important area
for  vineyards and timber. Streams and rivers
formed by the melting snow unite to form the
Jordan Rivwe. The dews of Mt Hermon contribute to
the verdancy of the whole land. Those snow
capped peaks and the water flowing down from
them was a beautiful sight and refreshing thought.

David compares the beauty of the unity of God’s people to two happy scenes, the ordination of Aaron and the dews of Mt. Hermon.

2. Beauty of Unity

We can imagine David watching as members of the tribes of Israel made their way up to the tabernacle on  Mt. Zion in Jerusalem to worship the Lord and thinking to himself, “What a happy and beautiful thing to see!”

This was a recent development. David had been born in the days of the judges of Israel when Israel was not united under a godly king, but everyone did what was right in his own eyes. They were vulnerable to their enemies and sometimes fought among themselves. Then Saul became the first king of all Israel, but worship remained a hit or miss affair, with no central place to make sacrifices, celebrate the festivals, and unite in the worship of God. After Saul’s death, there was civil war, with those still loyal to Saul and those loyal to David battling for control. It took 7 ½ years for David to unify the nation and establish his capital in Jerusalem. It took longer before he was able to move the ark of the covenant to Jerusalem and place it in the tabernacle.

Now he watched the pilgrims from all over the land coming to worship the Lord and thought how good God had been to him and the people to give unity - a unity most clearly expressed and experienced in the worship of the Lord on Mt. Zion. He wrote this Psalm to celebrate  unity - a Psalm that was sung by future pilgrims as they traveled to Jerusalem.

It is a Psalm that  is ours to say or sing with greater meaning because our unity is broader than Israel’s. Israel’s unity was of twelve Jewish tribes; our is of Jews and Gentiles, and “all sorts and conditions of men.”  “For he (Christ)  himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility…for through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father ” (Eph. 2:14,18).  Our unity is not in a mortal and earthly High Priest and King, but in Jesus Christ, who having made the once-for-all sacrifice for our sins, ascended to heaven to present that sacrifice to God, to take his place of authority at the Father’s right hand , and to pour out the Holy Spirit of unity on his church. “But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God…” (Hebrews 10:12).

In Christ there is no east or west,
in him nor north or south,
but one great brotherhood of love
throughout the whole wide earth.

The most beautiful expression and most powerful experience of unity for us is when we gather in worship. Every aspect of worship is essential to our experience of unity -  the hymns, the confession of sins and absolution, the reading and preaching of God’s Word, and the celebration of the Holy Supper. In the Eucharist we eat one bread and drink from one cup because we are one people in Christ. We acknowledge we all are sinners who receive forgiveness through the one sacrifice of Jesus. As we commune with him, we commune with one another and declare our unity.

Our hope is that anyone who  observes our communing should say, “How good and pleasant it is to see these brothers and sisters living together in unity through Jesus.  It’s as beautiful as a bowl of spring
flowers, as refreshing as a mountain stream, as delightful as an evening with good food and good friends.”

3. Maintenance of Unity

Unity is beautiful but not easy and never to be taken for granted. God joins us in marriage, but we must preserve it; in a similar way the Spirit creates unity but we must maintain it  in the bond of peace.

In the church at Philippi there were two good women named Euodia and Synteche (Philippians 4:2,3).  They were sincere Christians whose “names,” Paul said, “are in the book of life.” They were also hard workers who “labored side by side with me in the gospel” and “my fellow workers.”

But something had happened. They had fallen out with each other. Perhaps they did not speak if they could avoid it. The congregation may have noticed their lack of harmony. There was tension in the air when they had to be together. People were feeling pressure to take a side. Church unity was threatened and at a very bad time, for the church had opponents and believers were suffering for Christ.

What were the problems between them? Paul does not tell us but we can be sure that the differences were not over vital doctrine or morals. These must have been the kinds of differences that are common.

Perhaps they had a personality conflicts. Some are extroverts, some introverts; some optimists, some pessimists, some laid back, some hard-driving;  some tightwads, some free spenders; some precise, some muddled.  

Or, perhaps it had to do with different ways of doing things. My wife believes in the theory of handling a pieces of paper once; I believe in putting them in stacks and coming back to them later.  Different ways of doing things creates stress between people.

Or it may have been differences of opinion. People have all sorts of opinions about politics, education, economics, health, art, music. People feel very strongly about these things, and they can fall out about things where no Biblical truth is at stake.

Paul asks them to agree in the Lord, but that does not mean they will come to say or do things the same. He tells them to have one mind, which is the mind that is theirs in Christ Jesus - who did not stand on his reputation or rights, but humbled himself to become a man and servant, willing to go to death to serve his Father and to serve us.

We have a lot stake in our unity. God commands his blessing and life evermore to dwell among his unified people. Do you like to visit a home where there is tension and conflict? Probably not. God doesn’t either. He delights in the harmony and unity and visits them bringing with him gifts of blessing and life.  

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