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!

"Like the dew"

Message preached February 20, 2005
Long Green Valley Church of the Brethren
Glen Arm, Maryland USA

based upon Psalm 133

Order of Worship

            Our time in San Juan was almost over. All too soon we would say goodbye to our newfound friends and board the bus for Santo Domingo. It was Sunday morning. Pastor Miguel dispensed with Sunday School and instead opened up a time of sharing. As often was the case during our visit, I sat in the pew next to my friend, Irv, who provided a running translation of what was said. Izzy was also good at this, but many times he got so caught up in the event that he forgot to fill the rest of us in on what was being said.

            Pastor Miguel noted that the theme for our week together was Psalm 133. Until that moment, this fact hadnít dawned on my awareness. During worship nearly every night of the week this scripture had been read, but I was so intent on trying to understand the Spanish that I didnít recognize the repetition of the same Bible verses. Iím a little slow at times. "How many of you have this Psalm memorized?" he asked. "Anyone willing to try reciting it from heart for the rest of us?"

            If I were to ask the same thing here and now, given a week of living with this scripture, would any of you be so bold as to stand up in front of everyone and speak it from memory? One woman there sang a verse of it, which just happened to be the chorus to a popular song. Others tried also. Then Luzidania volunteered. Sheís the 12-year-old girl in my host family who gave up her bedroom so I would have a place to sleep. Someday she wants to be a doctor to children, and sheís bright enough as an eighth grader to accomplish this, if opportunity swings her way.

            Luzidania stood and recited the Psalm, only missing a few words, and we marveled. Among the items some of you sent along with us was a book, translated into Spanish - The Purpose Driven Life. Pastor Miguel presented that book to Luzidania as a prize for memorizing and sharing from heart this Psalm. Heís gifted at cultivating leadership in that church, and I have no doubt hers will be a name we will hear more of in the years to come.

            Iíve never been all that good at memorization. Growing up in Bethesda First Baptist Church, my favorite activities were not the Bible memorization competitions periodically held during Sunday School. Never been good at it. Today, I marvel at those who have that gift. Fred Craddock, for instance, is one of my favorite preachers. Heís a master interpreter of the Bible and a down-to-earth storyteller who has taught the art of preaching to many in his seminary classes, his workshops around the country, and through his books. He was once asked to name the most influential person, aside from his parents, to his development as a minister. After much thought, he recalled "Miss Emma Sloan."

            As a Sunday School teacher in his church growing up, he writes, she "taught us for years. She gave me a Bible. She wrote in the front: ĎMay this be a light to your feet, a lamp for your path. Emma Sloan.í She taught us to memorize the Bible; she never tried to interpret it. I donít remember her ever explaining anything. She said, ĎJust put it in your heart, just put it in your heart.í... I canít think of anything," he writes, "anything in all my life that has made such a radical difference as those verses (she had me memorize). The Spirit of God brings them to my mind appropriately, time and time and time again." (Craddock Stories, Chalice Press, ©2001, p. 34).

            Psalm 133 was an appropriate scripture for God to have brought to mind for our time with our sister church. Itís a good text as well for today. "How very good and pleasant it is when brothers and sisters live together in unity." A month from this Thursday, many of us will gather for Love Feast, to remember what God has done for us in Christ, to do what Jesus called us to do, and to celebrate our unity in him. Long time ago, during the month leading up to Love Feast, the Deacons would visit every household to see how folks were doing. One of the questions theyíd ask to check the spiritual temperature, so to speak, was this - "are you at peace with your brothers and sisters in the fellowship?" If not, some peacemaking was in order so that this would truly be a feast of Love, and not a table divided.

            "How very good and pleasant it is when brothers and sisters live together in unity." Repeat that out loud, would you? "How very good and pleasant it is when brothers and sisters live together in unity." Hey, Iíve an idea. Letís see if by the end of this sermon someone might have the three verses of Psalm 133 memorized. I donít have a book to give as a prize, but then Luzidania didnít know ahead of time she was going to receive one for doing so. Her reward will come down the road as these verses come to mind when they are sorely needed. You see, putting something to heart is more than squeezing a few words into your brain.

            "How very good and pleasant it is when brothers and sisters live together in unity." Thatís what the Psalmist says. "It is like precious oil on the head, running down upon the beard." Isnít that a marvelous metaphor? Unity is like anointing oil. The imagery goes back to the Exodus experience, when the first priests were ordained for ministry in the wilderness, according to the law of Moses. In the tent of meeting, Aaron and his sons were to be dressed up with the vestments of the priesthood - tunic, robe, ephod, breastpiece, turban, diadem (items that I donít find listed in my Pastorís Manual). Then it says, and I quote, "You shall take the anointing oil, and pour it on his head and anoint him" (Exodus 29:7).

            Please note, it says "pour" not "dab." That is, crack open the jar of aromatic oil and just pour it all on the head. If it spills on the floor, donít get all in a huff. Probably was a dirt floor, anyway. Could you imagine what kind of stain that would leave on our carpet? The important point is that this act of anointing was a consecration for ministry. Later in Israelís history, theyíd do something similar to anoint kings to be leaders of the people. Thus, a king was an "anointed one," the oil of consecration literally poured over the head.

            To our modern ears and eyes, this image is both intriguing and disturbing at the same time. In Bible times, it was also a supreme act of hospitality. Remember that verse which hopefully resides in all our hearts from the Shepherdís Psalm? "Thou anointest my head with oil" (23:5c). Do you think it was only a little dab of oil that would make the psalmist respond, "surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life?" Hardly. What made it good was the volume, poured out, running down. A guest, welcomed to the Shepherdís table "in the presence of my enemies" was being consecrated to well-being, to peace even "in the valley of the shadow of death."

            To be honest, though, Iíve got to say that Iím not sure how comfortable a jar of oil running down my face would make me feel today. Sort of like the cooler full of ice water poured on a football coach at the end of a successful game. Comradery? Yes! But wait Ďtil I get you back on the practice field... A few years back a dear sister in our fellowship spiced up my anointing oil with a bit of perfume, which was great ... until I used it on another dear sister in preparation for her hospitalization and the healing process to follow. I didnít pour it on her head, mind you. Just used a little bit. Even so, some of that oil managed to slip down into her eyes and the perfume stung a little. Notice that Psalm 133 mentions the beard and the collar, but not the eyes.

            Repeat after me: "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" (Psalm 133:1-2). Are you taking it to heart? These are words of consecration. Now, I know that this Psalm does not mention Jesus, but we claim that he is our "Christ," the Greek word for "Messiah," which means "anointed one." And the brothers and sisters in San Juan, like their kindred here in Long Green have the audacity to call ourselves "anointed ones" ... Christians.

            Being a Christian can be a messy process, you know. The carpet of our lives can get stained with things that we might not at first think of as precious, as a blessing from God. Like this unity we have as brothers and sisters in Christ. If you think living together in peace is a piece a cake, youíre in for a rude awakening. For one thing, we are all different. That seems obvious when we talk about unity between these sister churches in San Juan and Long Green. Next week I plan to share a bit about how their experience of worship is quite different from our own. Can we be one in Christ with such a difference? Not only can we, but praise God for that difference!

            Our differences are not only between Dominican and American. Even right here in this valley, we donít always agree with each other. Furthermore, we can really tick each other off. Our unity in Christ, however, runs deeper that our differences. Even when our relationships grow stale and dry, there is a blessing that refreshes. We can depend upon it. Unity, the psalmist says with another metaphor, is "is like the dew of Hermon, which falls on the mountains of the Lord."

            San Juan de la Maguana is located on the dry side of this island nation. It doesnít rain much there. In many ways itís a desert environment with mountains on either side. The home of Pastor Miguel and his wife Maria is equipped with water piped from the mountains. They pay a little extra for this, but in a land where the water system can carry all sorts of harmful bacteria, itís worth it. As a visitor more vulnerable to water-born pathogens, I knew I could rely on the mountain-fed water in their home. Every day I filled my water bottle there. It was safe for quenching my thirst, for brushing my teeth, for taking my pills. I could count on it.

            Likewise, we can rely upon this unity we have in Christ. Repeat after me, "it is like the dew of Hermon, which falls on the mountains of the Lord." While we are called to share Godís peace, to become peacemakers, ultimately the peace we share with one another, our unity as brothers and sisters, doesnít depend upon us. It is a blessing from God, like the dew in a dry land.

            I went to the Dominican Republic and was blessed by the Lord with a strange sort of unity which transcended all the differences between us and them. I return home seeking that same unity here. I am thirsty for this dew. Are you? This life in Christ we share is good. Can you "amen" that? "It is like the dew of Hermon, which falls on the mountains of Zion. For there the LORD ordained his blessing, life forevermore" (Psalms 133:3). Repeat that. "It is like the dew of Hermon, which falls on the mountains of Zion. For there the LORD ordained his blessing, life forevermore."

            Our time together for worship this morning is almost over. I laid out a challenge earlier about memorizing this Psalm. I know you havenít walked with these three verses for the past week, but is anyone bold enough to stand and recite them for the rest of us? Iíll let God, through you, have the final word.

online resources for this scripture text

For commentaries consulted, see Psalms.


©2005 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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