The Blessedness of Unity
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,
Psalm 133 (NRSV)
Friends, on this second Sunday after Easter, we still have a lot to celebrate! The tomb is still empty! And we continue to rejoice in the fact that Christ is still risen, that death does not have the last word, and that, though our old way of being may have died, we are constantly being born into new ways of living and being. Because it is never too late for us to start again.
Folks, last week, we heard the story of doubting Thomas, and we reflected on the struggle that Thomas faced because he was not there when Jesus appeared to the disciples after his resurrection. But we quickly turned our eyes from judging Thomas for his shortcomings to watching and learning from Jesus and how he handled the situation. We quickly learned that Jesus didn’t judge Thomas or try to tell him that he was wrong in his disbelief, he simply reached out to him, caring for him, listening to him, and loving him. Through the unconditional love that Jesus offered, Thomas was finally able to understand and believe.
It’s hard to believe when you don’t have all the facts, isn’t it? It’s easy to become frightened, confused, and filled with worry when you don’t know the whole story. As we have discussed before, the Easter story is a story of great joy for us because we have heard it before. We know what happens next, and we are filled with joy because we know that through it all God never lets us go. But we have to remember that the disciples were filled with fear and confusion over what had happened because they were caught in the midst of it and they didn’t have the bird’s eye view that we do.
Friends, I wonder, when you were a child, and you were feeling frightened, where would you go? Would you hide under your bed or behind the clothes in your closet? I want you to imagine with me for just a moment. Imagine that you are a child and that there is a thunder and lightning storm going on, and you are afraid. What do you do? Do you go somewhere alone? Or do you find someone to hold you and to support you in your fear? For many of us, the place we would run might be into the arms of a family member or a close friend. Because when we are afraid or hurt or struggling, we long for the comfort of a place where we aren’t afraid to show our emotions – a place where we find unconditional love and support.
In a situation like that, we would never look for a place of judgment, but on the contrary, we would look for people to comfort us and places where we are always welcome, no matter what. Now, though we may not have realized it at the time, those people and places became sacred space for us- space where the noise of the world was muffled, the flashes of lightning were hidden, places where we could be as vulnerable as we needed to be and where the warmth of another human being insulated us from the coldness of the outside world, even if only for a little while.
So I wonder, where is your safe place today? Do you have a sacred space where you can go whether you are feeling happy or sad or confused or broken? Have you found a person or a group of people who invite you to come as you are, in whatever condition you are in, who will love and care about you no matter what, and who, when you are strong enough, will challenge you to be the best you that you can be?
In our scripture readings today, we heard about the “unity” part of “community.” But the reading talked about a lot more than simple unity. It spoke to the utter joy and amazement that comes from a feeling of unity and from a place where all are welcomed and all are celebrated. 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.”
Now to many of us, the thought of having oil poured over our head until it drips down our face and onto our clothing 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. Ordinary 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. If you remember, Aaron was the brother of Moses and the very first one to be named high priest. He was the one that brought together the twelve tribes of Israel, and what an amazing way for Aaron’s community to show their love and support for him.
Now it is usually 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’s conflict or people are unsure about the future or feeling confused? Many times, when people become filled with fear, or when they are upset by something that has happened, they step back to protect themselves, and they stop showing hospitality to others. They fail to welcome others just as they are. They start to focus on their neighbors’ shortcomings rather than their gifts. They complain about what their friend does or doesn’t do, and they start talking behind each other’s backs. And believe it or not, sometimes that even happens in the church!
Friends, the amazing thing about being a part of a church family like we have here in Oldtown is that we support one another in good times and bad. That’s what it means to “live together in unity.” As the Book of Romans tells us, as brothers and sisters in Christ, “we rejoice with those who rejoice and we weep with those who weep.” But sometimes, when we start to worry or feel afraid, or when we are frustrated and lose our patience, we start to lose that sense of unity. Because when we start to worry, we start to complain. And when we start to complain, we start to point fingers. And when we start to point fingers, we start to gossip. And little by little, the unity part of community starts to break down. That’s why communication is so important. That’s why it is so important as a community to share our joys and our concerns, so that we can understand what our brothers and sisters are going through, rejoicing with them or weeping with them, whichever is appropriate at the time.
Well, friends, as you all know, for the past eight years, I have rejoiced in serving as you pastor here in Oldtown. I have been blessed beyond measure to be a part of this sacred community, and I want to assure you that that is not going to change. Did you hear me? That is NOT GOING TO CHANGE!!! I am not going anywhere, I am staying right here. For, as today’s scripture told us, “How very good and pleasant it is when kindred live together in unity!” And our church family will continue to live together in unity. But I do have a celebration to share with you. Because as I said earlier, being a part of a sacred community takes rejoicing with those who rejoice and weeping with those who weep. And friends, I want to share this rejoicing moment with you. Because as word begins to travel around town, I want to make sure that no one becomes worried or nervous or afraid. Next week, my husband Dan and I will be moving. We will no longer be living in the town of North Attleboro because we are moving to Middletown, Rhode Island. It is a dream that we have had since before we were married almost thirty years ago. But the important part, that I want you all to understand, is that though I will be living in Rhode Island, I will still be serving the church here in Oldtown. I have NO plans of leaving, and as a congregation, we will continue living in unity with one another. Though I will not be physically living in the town of North Attleboro, things will not change. I will still be here for office hours during the week and worship on Sundays. You can still call me, and text me, and email me if you need something. You just may not see me in the grocery store as much as you used to.
But friends, be assured we will remain a sacred and safe community where all are welcomed and celebrated. Where we can gather to 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 this ever-changing world.
So, brothers and sisters in Christ, as you go out into your busy week ahead, I pray that you will rejoice with Dan and I, and that you will be assured that the Oldtown Church will remain a safe and sacred place where we will all continue to live in unity. But if you begin to feel nervous or worried, if someone begins to annoy you and you start to lose your patience, or you find yourself complaining about the people and things around you, don’t get frustrated, but instead focus on living out your faith. Talk about your concerns, and reach out to your neighbor, and remember that though the psalmist said, “It is good and pleasant for kindred to live together in unity,” he never promised that it would always be easy!
My friends, may it be so, thanks be to God! Amen.