The Blessedness of UnityPsalm 133 (NRSV)
A Song of Ascents.
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.
It is like the dew of Hermon,
which falls on the mountains of Zion.
For there the Lord ordained his blessing,
Friends, it has been almost five months now that we have been physically apart from one another, and I’ll admit–it has been a challenge. But every week, we are learning new and different ways to reach out and support one another as we continue to live out our faith: worshiping online, meeting in Zoom meetings, reaching out through phone calls and emails, and mailing notes to each other–all of which we do as we continue to make good choices, wearing our masks, staying socially distant, and caring not only for ourselves but also for our communities.
But I have been wondering, as I’m sure many of you have as well: has this time of physical separation changed who we are as a faith community? And I think the answer is, “Yes, and no.”
Yes, it has changed the things that once made us comfortable, as we are not able to gather in the sanctuary on Sunday mornings and sit in our favorite pews. Yes, it has changed the way we worship, as we are no longer greeted at the door by our deacons, we are unable to sing our favorite hymns hearing other voices around us, we are unable to receive communion as we usually do, and we are unable to shake hands and hug our neighbors during the passing of the peace. Yes, it has changed the way we share in fellowship, as we are unable to meet in-person for coffee hours and work together in-person on church projects. And yes, it has even changed the way we are able to fundraise, as we are unable to use our building to host church suppers and pet clinics, fairs and concerts, coffee houses and yard sales.
Of course, these changes make us uncomfortable, and they bring with them a sense of grief and loss because worship, fellowship, and fundraising are all important things that we do as the Oldtown Church. But the inability to hold in-person gatherings does not–and it will not!–change who we are as the Oldtown Church. Because friends, we are a community that sticks together through thick and thin. We support one another, and we reach out to help our neighbors, whoever our neighbors might be, sharing the love and light of Christ with the world as we do our best to walk in the footsteps of Jesus, whether we are gathered or scattered.
But friends, there is another thing that has changed over the last five months–something that does not bring with it a sense of grief and loss, but on the contrary, something that calls for utter joy and celebration in our community! Because since we have been worshiping online, we have added to our community. Our church family has grown, with people joining us in worship from across the United States, from Florida to Maine and Tennessee to Washington. We even have people worshiping with us from around the world–a special shout out to our friends in Germany and Rwanda!
Who would have thought, our little church in Oldtown sharing the good news around the world, being connected to something bigger than ourselves and outside of our church walls? But let’s be honest, reaching out like that never would have happened had we not been forced to try something new–to worship online, which may not be comfortable for all of you but at the same time may be the only reason why others of you are worshiping with us today. And let me say that I am so glad that each and every one of you has joined us today. Whether you have worshiped in Oldtown for generations or you just found us on Youtube, know that you are now an important part of our church family, and you will always have a home in Oldtown! Friends, what a sacred community Oldtown has been and continues to be as it stretches and grows–sometimes beyond its comfort zone–to best follow God’s call out into the world.
In our scripture readings today, we heard of another sacred community who also celebrated their unity and the utter joy and amazement that comes from a feeling of being connected to something bigger than themselves. The Psalmist says: “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.”
Luckily, times have changed, because I don’t know about you, but the thought of having oil poured over my head until it drips down my face onto my clothes sounds terrible! What a mess! But the truth is, in ancient times, oil was a symbol of joy and celebration. And sacred oil, which was mixed with fragrant spices, was kept only for the anointing of high priests. Ordinarily, the high priests would be carefully sprinkled with the fine oil. But there was such joy and celebration in the community at the naming and consecrating of Aaron as high priest that the sacred oil was poured generously over his head until it ran down his beard and onto his robes.
Now for those of you that do not know who Aaron was, he was the older brother of Moses. He often spoke for Moses because Moses suffered from a speech impediment. And because he was a faithful assistant to his brother Moses, he was the very first one to be named high priest. Aaron worked with his brother Moses to bring together the twelve tribes of Israel, increasing the community and binding together even more children of God as they traveled toward the promised land, fostering a sense of unity and belonging among the people.
Now it is easy to be a part of a community when things are going well and there is celebration all around. But what about when times are hard? What about when there has been a loss or there is conflict or people are unsure about the future or feeling confused? And what if there is a pandemic and we are not sure what to do or how to do it? Well, that’s when we really need to remember who we are. We need to remember what we stand for and why we do what we do.
Friends, the amazing thing about being a part of a church family like we have in Oldtown is that no matter how you are feeling or what you are facing, you are always welcomed and accepted as you are. We welcome questions and doubts and we do not expect everyone to believe the same things because our differences only make us stronger. We support one another in good times and bad and whether we agree or disagree on politics, music, theology, how to raise our kids, or how to spend our money. We simply pray for one another and love one another because that is what our faith teaches us to do. And folks, that’s what the psalmist was talking about in today’s scripture reading when he said, “How very good and pleasant it is when kindred live together in unity!” It’s when we remember what it is that binds us together: our faith!
The book of Romans tells us that as brothers and sisters in Christ we are called to rejoice with those who rejoice and to weep with those who weep. And that’s what helps us to hold onto–and to continue to build–our sense of unity, even in difficult and uncertain times. But friends, be assured, as long as I’m your pastor, whether we are gathered or scattered, I will do everything in my power to be sure that Oldtown remains a sacred and safe community, where all are welcomed and celebrated, especially our new online friends! A place where we can shout, “Alleluia,” where we can find solace in the storms of life, and where we can look for guidance and support from God and from one another as we strive to live out our faith in the midst of this ever-changing world.
So, brothers and sisters in Christ, as you go out into your week ahead, take a deep breath and pray for one another. Remember what it is that binds us together: our faith, our longing to be a part of something bigger than ourselves, and a warm sense of welcome and community where we rejoice together and weep together, knowing that however far apart we are, we are never alone.
My friends, may it be so. Thanks be to God! Amen.