Toorak Uniting Church

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How good it is to live in harmony?

Psalm 133
Rev. Ian Brown
14 August 2005

Welcome to Psalm 133. If you have ever begun reading the Psalms or tried using them as a prayer guide and started at Psalm 1, you may not have met this little gem very often! At just three verses in length it is one of the shortest Psalms, but it tells us some very important things about the one to whom all these prayers are made and it says something of fundamental importance about the context of God’s blessing.

If I sound a little obscure, forgive me, I hope, with only three verses to deal with, that I can make some sense!
The Psalmist makes some incredible affirmations about the place of us humans in the context of God and our community.

"How wonderful it is, how good and pleasant for God’s people to live together in harmony." Now I think this is a wonderful piece, and I’m tempted to wax lyrical about the beauty of the poetry and the magnificent ideas expressed in such richly polished form, but instead I want to contrast the image of reality developed for us here with some images of reality from our world today.

In our own country, like many others at this time, our leaders grapple with and argue about what to do to respond to the division, hatred and terrorism which has polarized much of our world.
People who come from certain backgrounds are nervous.
I was at the West Melbourne Mosque a little while ago, and a friend jokingly introduced me as a "recruitment officer for Guantanamo Bay" - I looked different, and felt in that context.
I think I can confidently say that none of us here are indigenous to this land, we all need to recognise our indebtedness to the traditional Koori caretakers of this land.
We, or our forebears all came to this land with high hopes for a new life of opportunity, and we have had to learn to get along together.
There have always been tensions in our land;
Irish with English and Scots,
Newcomers with indigenous peoples,
Greeks, Macedonians and Yugoslavs, and Cypriots
And on it goes….
Tensions based on stereotypes, imported conflicts from the annals of history that flare up at a soccer match or in a schoolyard, daubed in graffiti or in the undercurrents of power where some cannot get a fair chance because of name, race or religion.

They are not new themes of course, and in the first line of this Psalm, "How wonderful it is for God’s people to live together in harmony" we can feel the palpable yearning for this to be the way we experience our society.

The history of Israel is one of continual wars.
Tension and trouble between peoples could have been invented there, it seems to have been going on for so long!
The Middle East has always been a hotbed of conflicted claims for land and power, a sorry history of one fight after another bloody battle. "How good it is to live together in harmony" was penned out of the bitter experience of the opposite reality. I’m sure this prayer is much more a hopeful one, than a smug prayer of thanks.
There is a particularly tragic line in the book of Kings, part of David’s story, where the writer dates the season by remarking, "in the spring, when Kings go out to war."
Peace and harmony, dear God, we know are a precious blessing! But it was not one Israel enjoyed often.

The troubles are not just between identifiable groupings either. Conflict can reach into our most personal relationships and even into our own psyche.
In our society today we suffer one of the worst suicide rates amongst young people of any country in the world. Healthcare professionals talk of one in three of us suffering a mental illness in the course of our lives and depression being like the common cold of mental illness now.
I don’t want to make cheap or glib claims about a complex and sensitive area which is not my expertise – but don’t these realities speak volumes about our society, about the way we value or don’t value each and every member.

Is each one valued as part of the rich harmony of God’s community? We so value success and achievement, an ideal of beauty and purpose that when even top performers can no longer keep up, many of them suffer terribly.

What hope do the rest of us have in such a system?

Palestinians are fenced out of land they have owned and occupied for generations. Sudanese villagers massacred because of their faith in a decades long civil war, Zimbabweans bulldozed out of their homes.

I believe that the contrast between the world view of the Psalms and what we see around us can be defined more sharply with an old Biblical term. It is idolatry that we suffer from.

In the world of the Psalms, God is sovereign and majestic, it is God who gives all and God to whom the thanks and praise is given in heartfelt gratitude. More and more in our world we are at the centre, as individuals. It is we who give or take, we who bless or fail to give our blessing and we who have slipped ourselves into the role of God, taking God’s place. We focus on ourselves, on what we have, personally – not on the quality of our community, the need for harmony with all our brothers and sisters is only now receiving some attention because the bombs that so clearly show our lack of harmony.

The other side of the contrast must be held up to the light, examined, learned from more than it is. The Psalm simply affirms that the true place of God’s blessing is in harmonious community – this is where God’s blessing is, says the Psalmist! Abundant, rich and overflowing blessing – life that never ends – for God’s people living in harmony together.
Not God’s blessing in the biggest heap of goods,
Not God’s blessing for those with the most power, deadliest weapons or most money;
No, the biblical truth is that God’s blessing is for those who live by a different value set, for those for whom it can be said, "How wonderful it is, how good and pleasant for God’s people to live together in harmony."

Plain and simple then, but sorry it’s not easy!
We have to get on together.
We must learn to live in harmony with each other – for example, here in the church.
But we who call on the name of God also have to get along harmoniously with others who call on the name of God.
That is of course exactly why we are part of an ecumenical movement – a movement that needs your involvement and support.
It is also the reason for seriously engaging in interfaith dialogue. We need to know and understand each other and learn to live in harmony – it needs your involvement and support.

There is much that we can do, and I believe, must do, to work at finding God’s blessing by making a harmonious community of God’s people,
It is like a precious anointing oil,
Like the dew on Mount Hermon,

Precious and abundant – this is the blessing we need in our world today, and we can do much towards it.
May such a vision take root in us and grow to bear wonderful fruit! Amen.

© Rev. Ian Brown, 2005

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