Mt. McKinley in Alaska, originally known as Denali, "the Great One." .... "Lead me to the rock that is higher than I; for you are my refuge..." (Ps. 61:2-3)

       "Who do you say that I am?" Jesus asked.  Simon Peter answered, "You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God."  And Jesus answered, "Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah! ... You are Peter (petros), and on this rock (petra) I will build my church..."  Jesus then began to speak of the rough road ahead. And Peter took him aside and rebuked him... "Get behind me, Satan!" Jesus replied. "You are a stumbling block..."
                                                (Matthew 16:13-23)

May these words of this Peter be like a rock,
not a stumbling block!

"Living in harmony"

Message preached December 5, 2004
Long Green Valley Church of the Brethren
Glen Arm, Maryland USA

based upon Romans 15:4-13, (& Isaiah 11:1-11)

Order of Worship

            "May the God of steadfastness and encouragement grant you to live in harmony with one another, in accordance with Christ Jesus, so that together you may with one voice glorify God..." (Romans 15:5-6).

            Live in harmony. Christmas is a time of harmony. "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, goodwill toward all people!" the angels told the shepherds so long ago (Luke 2:14).... Peace on earth ... good will ... harmony.

            Websterís dictionary defines "harmony" as "a tuneful sound," or as "the combination of simultaneous musical notes in a chord." Another definition found there is that "harmony" is "the structure of music with respect to the composition and progression of chords," or simply a "a pleasing or congruent arrangement of parts."

            Turn with me to #211 in your hymnal. There are so many beautiful Christmas carols, and a relatively short time in the year to sing them. "Lo, how a Rose eíer blooming" is filled with rich musical harmony as it links the prophecy of Isaiah with the coming of the Messiah. Letís sing it together, paying attention to the harmony of this carol, how soprano, alto, tenor, and bass voices tie together the music and the message.

            Weíll start with the sopranos on the first stanza ("Lo, how a Rose eíer blooming from tender stem has sprung!"). Then would the altos join in on the next stanza, which begins "Of Jesseís lineage..." Tenors, you jump in on the third stanza ("It came a floweret bright..."). Us basses will then bring up the bottom on the final phrase, ("when half-spent was the night"). All parts will then sing the second and third verses.

            If you arenít musically inclined enough to know one part from another, thatís okay - just listen to how the harmony slowly builds, as voice joins voice in the first verse. Then hum along, or add your voice as the Spirit draws you into the harmony on verses two and three. Letís try it without benefit of the organ.

"Lo, how a Rose eíer blooming"

            What beautiful harmony! ... You know, if we dig deeper in Websterís dictionary, among all those abbreviations which we have to look elsewhere to see what they mean, we discover that the word "harmony" and the word "arm" come from the same place. That same place is a word that means "joint - you know, that intersection where bone meets bone. An arm cannot function as an arm without a joint, actually several joints, working in harmony with one another.

            Likewise, we canít sing together without a joint, something which joins us together so that our music is pleasing and congruent to the ear. Such is harmony. Much of the music in our hymnal is in what we call "four part harmony." Not everyone is singing the same note at the same time. Some sing the melody, which can be woven through higher and lower womenís voices, or higher and lower menís voices, even as sopranos sing one note, altos another, tenors a completely different note, and bases bring up the bottom. All can sing a note distinct from the others, yet we can still say we are singing with a common voice - our different notes joined together in harmony.

            "May the God of steadfastness and encouragement grant you to live in harmony with one another, in accordance with Christ Jesus, so that together you may with one voice glorify God..." (Romans 15:5-6).

            Live in harmony. This morningís reading from Isaiah provides us a vivid picture of what "harmony" looks like. Predator and prey live together - wolf and lamb, leopard and baby goat, lion and calf, bear and cow, poisonous snake and nursing child. They live together as one flock ... harmony.

            This picture of true harmony is often called "the peaceable kingdom," for it refers to the promise of a day when harmony will reign. This picture from Isaiah helps us to better understand what Biblical harmony is all about. Within this vision of harmony is not the unreal expectation that wolves shall become lambs, or vice versa. Lions will continue to roar their notes of triumph, and calves will continue to moo (or "low," as in "the cattle are lowing" - #194, vs. 2) their notes of encouragement.

            However, within this vision of Isaiah comes the expectation that these notes of triumph and contentment will resound in harmony with one another. Together, though their notes are different, they will sing with a common voice in unity, and not work malice against one another. "And a little child shall lead them," their harmony will be such that even a child could direct the joining of their very different voices - a child rather than a powerful leader, standing with whip and chair.

            "And a little child shall lead them..." Approaching the birthday celebration of Jesus we can also hear in these words of Isaiah a prophecy of a child who would be born to bring harmony, to be that joint who will link men and women to God, as well as to one another, that altogether there might resound "peace on earth and good will toward all people..."

            "May the God of steadfastness and encouragement grant you to live in harmony with one another, in accordance with Christ Jesus, so that together you may with one voice glorify God..." (Romans 15:5-6).

            Live in harmony. These words of Paul were not intended for some distant day when conflict will cease. It is not a vision of the peaceable kingdom that Ďsome dayí will reign. Paul was speaking to his own day, as well as to ours. "Live in harmony," he wrote. How desperately we need those words, especially within the church. Live in harmony.

            Many voices sing out in a church. We donít always agree with each other. Is that such bad thing? Without variations on the theme, where would we be? Very bored!, probably. We donít have to always all sing the same notes in order for there to be harmony. We can disagree and still glorify God with a common voice.

            Our differences are not a threat to the well-being of our church. We need the voices of triumph, as well as the voices of contentment. We need a melody line to give us a sense of direction, but we also need variations which continue to help us question whether we are headed in the right direction. Our differences are not a threat, for harmony is not something which is imposed. No one is forced to sing a particular way. No one is forced to agree. If harmony is forced, it is no longer harmony.

            We need the many differing voices that sing out in our church. However, harmony can be destroyed if we do not sing together. In the church, harmony can be destroyed if differing voices only sing their differences outside of the sanctuary - out on the parking lot, or out where we live the rest of the week: at work, school, store, highway, home - yet continue to sing the melody within these walls. The Brethren way has taught us that it is one thing to talk about our faith, but quite another to actually live it. Our denominational by-line mentions our emphasis upon peace, simplicity, and community. However, living "peacefully, simply, and together" on a 24/7 basis is not an easy route. As Brethren, our goal is live out that "peaceable kingdom," not to just sing in harmony, but also to live in harmony, for all of life is a sanctuary, not just this meeting room.

            "May the God of steadfastness and encouragement grant you to live in harmony with one another, in accordance with Christ Jesus, so that together you may with one voice glorify God..." (Romans 15:5-6).

            Live in harmony. As Paul wrote, harmony means bearing with otherís failings. It means seeking the good in and for the other person, searching for ways to edify, to build up the other person, rather than tear them down. Harmony means bearing some of the reproaches - the barbs and thorns - which others may throw at us, knowing that Christ accepted the crown of thorns for us, that no thorn thereafter would have power to destroy us.

            Harmony means hoping for the day when lion and lamb will live together in peace, and allowing this hope to shed light upon today. Harmony means listening to the variations that others sing, hearing within them new possibilities, rather than a bag-load of more problems. Harmony means treating others as expected guests, welcoming them into the song we are singing, knowing that it was Jesus who first welcomed us to sing along.

            Most of all, harmony mean allowing this God of all steadfastness and all encouragement; this God of all truthfulness and all mercy; allowing this God, our God, to grant us the power to live in harmony. For if we do not allow God room in our inn, those places where we live each and every day, there will be no harmony.

            Harmony. For our final hymn, letís turn to #174. The tune is familiar, though we donít often link it to this Advent time of year. As you sing, "Bless'd be the God of Israel," pay attention to the harmony. But, please, donít leave this blending together of voices behind when you exit the sanctuary. Allow God to be the "joint" which connects these arms and voices to stand up for and with Jesus everywhere you go. Live in harmony!

online resources for this scripture text

For commentaries consulted, see Romans.

©2004 Peter L. Haynes
(you are welcome to borrow and, where / as appropriate, note the source - myself or those from whom I have knowingly borrowed.)

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