How wonderful it is, how pleasant,
for God’s people to live together in harmony!
It is like the precious anointing oil
running down from Aaron’s head and beard,
down to the collar of his robes.
It is like the dew on Mount Hermon,
falling on the hills of Zion.
That is where the Lord has promised his blessing—
life that never ends. (Good News Translation)
Unity, solidarity, and harmony are beautiful blessings. Disunity, division, and fragmentation are ugly curses.
Within every family, faith community, neighborhood, organization, and workplace are a diverse bunch of people – which brings the potential of both wonderful fellowship and disagreeing fights.
Today’s reading is a psalm of ascent. It is one of a group of psalms the Israelites would say and sing together as they made their pilgrimage to Jerusalem, ascending the temple mount to worship the Lord. Their common purpose and shared experience led to a blessed unity among all the worshipers.
The metaphors the psalm uses are meant to convey the feeling and impact of a unified people’s blessing as one harmonious bunch. The reference to oil communicates abundance and extravagant blessing beyond expectation. The dew pictures a giving of life to a dry landscape. The psalm is a celebration of life’s simple pleasures, enjoyed with friends and family.
People created in the image of God are hard-wired for community. Rather than existing in isolation, doing our own thing, and keeping to ourselves, the Lord’s intention for humans is to be close enough to one another to rejoice with those experiencing joy and to weep with those mourning a loss.
True community requires unity and harmony.
To live in harmony with one another means we regard everyone the same way by not playing favorites, being condescending, or giving more weight to one group more than another. It is a willingness to interact, work, and play with all kinds of people – not just those whom we like or help us get ahead in life.
We are designed by our Creator to live and work together in common purposes. And that takes a great deal of effort.
If you’ve gotten anything at all out of following Christ, if his love has made any difference in your life, if being in a community of the Spirit means anything to you, if you have a heart, if you care—then do me a favor: Agree with each other, love each other, be deep-spirited friends. Don’t push your way to the front; don’t sweet-talk your way to the top. Put yourself aside, and help others get ahead. Don’t be obsessed with getting your own advantage. Forget yourselves long enough to lend a helping hand. (Philippians 2:1-4, MSG)
If we long to enjoy blessed relationships, then we will engage in genuine conversation, focused listening, and fair dialogue; simply stating opinions at each other will not do the trick.
Unity and harmony take work because it is easy to have a nasty tendency to think better of oneself than what is true, and of others what is not so good. We might inflate our positive qualities and abilities, especially in comparison to other people.
Numerous research studies have revealed the propensity to overestimate ourselves. For example, when one research study asked a million high school students how well they got along with their peers, none of the students rated themselves below average. Interestingly, 60% of students believed they were in the top 10%; and 25% rated themselves in the top 1%.
College professors were just as biased about their abilities. When they were asked how well they got along with others, only 2% of professors rated themselves below average; 10% were average and 63% were above average, while 25% rated themselves as truly exceptional in getting along with their peers. Of course, this is statistically impossible.
One researcher summarized the data this way: “It’s the great contradiction: the average person believes he is a better person than the average person.”
Christian psychologist Mark McMinn contends that this study reveals our pride. He says, “One of the clearest conclusions of social science research is that we are proud. We think better of ourselves than we really are, we see our faults in faint black and white rather than in vivid color, and we assume the worst in others while assuming the best in ourselves.”
Where sinful pride rules, disharmony runs amok within a community. The acid test of harmonious love is how we treat the lowly.
“If a poor man comes into your church, behave like him, and do not put on airs because of your riches. In Christ there is no rich or poor. Do not be ashamed of him because of his outward dress but receive him because of his inward faith. If you see him in sorrow, do not hesitate to comfort him, and if he is prospering, do not feel shy about sharing in his pleasure. If you think you are a great person, then think others are also. If you think they are humble and lowly, then think the same of yourself.”St. John Chrysostom, Bishop of Constantinople, 4th Century
We cannot function apart from harmony.
A tuning fork delivers a true pitch by two tines vibrating together. Muffle either side, even a little, and the note disappears. Neither tine individually produces the pure note. Only when both tines vibrate is the correct pitch heard.
Harmony is not a matter of give-and-take and compromise to make each other happy or satisfied. Harmony comes through a common mission and purpose which engages in the shared experiences of loving and caring for others.
My Christian convictions and tradition tell me that the Word of God is applied by the Spirit of God through the people of God.
We are to embrace community.
We are to do life together.
We are to view everyone as our brother or sister.
After all, we are our brother’s and sister’s keeper.
So, let us ascend the hill of the Lord together. Let us worship God together with glad and sincere hearts. Let us be mindful of all our brothers and sisters, no matter who they are.
Lord Jesus, who prayed that we might all be one, we pray to you for the unity of Christians, according to your will, according to your means. May your Spirit enable us to experience the suffering caused by division, to see our sin, and to hope beyond all hope. Amen.