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Psalm 133 1
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.

Background

This psalm was a song of assent, to a  high place, the Temple in the city of Jerusalem. The purpose of the assent was to worship God in this “high and exalted place.” Psalm 133 is an expression of joy in coming together for worship at the Temple, where God promised to meet them. The psalm is about  blessing received and life provided to God’s people. It is about a united people.

Unity in God is the major theme in Psalm 133. “How very good and pleasant it is when God’s people  live together in unity” (verse 1). The psalm, though short, is calling all people of the world to worship God. It begins at one very particular place but goes out from there. It starts with a few people but flows outward as a blessing for many.

Only liquid can flow. So the psalm (in classic Hebrew parallelism) gives us two liquids: oil and dew.

First in the text comes the “precious oil poured on the head” (verse 2). This is the fragrant, refreshing oil used to consecrate a priest. The priestly intent is clear because the Psalm refers to Aaron, part of Israel’s priestly tribe. “Moses ordained Aaron to the priesthood by anointing his head with oil,” (Leviticus 8:12).

The imagery we are asked to create in our minds is of a generous God. He is not stingy with the oil. It is poured out so that it runs down Aaron’s beard onto his collar. This is fragrant, sweet oil signifying a pleasant gathering of God’s people. Oil was also used by a  generous host for a guest for anointing before a meal (Luke 7:44-46). For Christians, the oil signifies worship, feasting, celebration in unity. Death separates people, but resurrection promises that we will dwell in unity forever in Christ. We can conclude, therefore, that God is in the business of bringing the faithful together, as a community of saints across time and distance.

The second liquid in psalm 133 is the “dew of Hermon” (verse 3). Mount Hermon is far to the north of Jerusalem. Mount Hermon rises above the upper Jordan Valley.The mountain forms one of the greatest geographic resources of the area. Because of its height it captures a great deal of precipitation in a very dry area of the world. Therefore, it had its share of heavy rainfall and snow. The melting snow, or dew, flowed down into the valley. It fed the Jordan River and reached as far as the oasis of Jericho. In dry country, where the rain is scarce and the rivers dry up, the land and the people depend on water that comes from a distant source. It is the scarcity of water in the dry lands, which makes Mount Hermon’s dews so precious.

The people that the Jordan River fed with water recognized that they needed to look beyond what they could see in Jerusalem to faraway lands. The origin of this life sustaining liquid came from afar. In the same way, God’s generosity calls people from afar to worship and in worshiping God together, we enjoy His abundant life and love. We become one family. Like water, we cannot live without God.

People who are divided and culturally, politically or economically separated from one another need God’s call to “live together in unity.” This hope offered to us comes in our generous gift of undeserving grace and in Christ. While people in our world suffer scarcity in everything from food and housing, to justice and love, our message today is that God loves us abundantly and holds nothing back.

Items for Discussion

  • What does it mean to you to live in unity with others?
  • Knowing the power of unity and the corrosiveness of disunity, Jesus prayed that his disciples (including those yet to be born) “may all be one; even as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be one in us; that the world may believe that you sent me” (John 17:11, 20-21). Yet, today, our country seems more divisive than ever. What should we do?
  • How do two people who disagree, unite with one another? What is the role of prayer?
  • What is the role of repentance in unity?

 

Galatians 5:1, 13-18, 25
1 It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.

13 You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love. 14 For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” 15 If you bite and devour each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other. 16 So I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. 17 For the flesh desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the flesh. They are in conflict with each other, so that you are not to do whatever you want. 18 But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law.

25 Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit.

Background

The Jewish law (613 commandments) prescribed in great detail exactly what a person could and could not do. The Talmud (thousands more rules) tried to specify the exact limits of commandments, such as the prohibition of work on the Sabbath. Even Biblical scholars had problems remembering all the rules. The ordinary person of those days, even if they could read, had little access to the Biblical text and could have only a vague idea when they actually broke the law. It was an impossible situation. We struggle today in the United States with a similar lower case “law” called the Federal Registry.  Here are a few bits of information:

  • The Federal Register is a daily digest published by the federal government since 1936. It contains proposed regulations from agencies, finalized rules, notices, corrections, and presidential documents. The 1936 Federal Register was 2,620 pages long. It has grown steadily since then, with the 2012 edition weighing in at 78,961 pages (it has topped 60,000 pages every year for the last 20 years).
  • Since the first edition was published in 1993, a touch less than 1.43 million Federal Register pages have been published as either new or revised regulations (laws). That’s an average of 71,470 pages per year. Considering that an average year has 250 workdays (the Federal Register is not published on weekends or holidays), that roughly averages out to 286 pages per day.
  • Here is just one example: Obamacare Regulations Are 8 Times Longer Than thr Bible. These regulations add up to 10,516 pages in the Federal Register—or more than eight times as many pages as there are in the Gutenberg Bible, which has 642 two-sided leaves or 1,286 pages.

People today are no different than the Sadducees and Pharisees of Biblical times.  Leaders love rules. However, when the rules become overwhelming, unity, working toward a singular common goals or objectives becomes but a distance dream.  Society just does what it thinks best. Here, differing ideas create division. To the Israelite of Christ’s time, the Jewish law as nothing more than a “Federal Registry.” Growing, changing and impossible to understand. But Christ set us all free by subjecting us to one rule, the rule of grace rather than the rule of law. Christ also gave commandments (“Love God…love your neighbor” Matthew 22:37-40), but He was “full of grace” (John 1:14)—meaning that sinners who are also believers can expect Christ’s sacrifice on the cross to make them whole in God’s sight. Even if you do not know all of the “laws” and make a mistake, Christ’s sacrifice has made us “right with God.”

Paul is also telling us that our freedom from the law isn’t an invitation to live a wild life. It is not a license to sin. Paul expanded on this in his letter to the Romans, where he said that, at baptism, we became new creatures—no longer suited to sinful behavior. If we think of ourselves as united with Christ in Hs death, we will part of His resurrection too.

Christians are called to love God and to love others and do it with humility. By doing so we show we are obeying Jesus. One could address the notion of freedom in our culture as license to do “whatever I want” or to gratify every desire, “As long as I am not hurting anyone.” Yet unbridled self-indulgence is rarely harmless to one’s self or others. It inevitably leads to using others for one’s own ends, while the sinful self is never satisfied, always unfulfilled.

Paul offers a radically different understanding of freedom. The freedom Christ gives is not freedom for self-indulgence but freedom from self for service to others. It is the freedom in which life in community flourishes. The usual Greek word for “walk” is peripateo but now Paul uses the word stoicheo, which conveys the thought of standing or proceeding in an orderly fashion. In this verse, stoicheo conveys the thought of allowing the Spirit to direct our lives in an orderly, God-approved manner.

Items for Discussion

  • How do you define freedom?  How do you think the world defines it? What are the differences if any?
  • What is the human response to overwhelming rules? 
  • What is Jesus saying about these rules?
  • What does it mean for you to “live by the Spirit?”
  • What is the difference between joy and happiness?  See Psalm 5:11

Discussion Challenge

  • How do you think we should address the issues dividing our congregation today? In other words, what should unite us today?

 

Notes:

  1. NIV New International Version Translations
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