September 1, 2002
The community of believers brings refreshment to our spirits.
I. As a family (Psalm 133:1)
II. As a priesthood (Psalm 133:2)
III. As channels of Gods blessing (Psalm 133:3)
MessageSomeone recently reminded me, as I guess pastors are often reminded, that you dont have to be part of a church to be Christian. My response was, No, you dont. And you dont have to go to bed to sleep, but its better if you do. Sleep has been designed by God for our refreshment. On a good night in your own bed you go down exhausted and wake up refreshed. On a cool, fall morning youll wake up and say it was a good night for sleeping.. Youll wake up warm, cozy, lazy - refreshed.
On the other hand there are many places its hard to sleep. Our first night camping this year, the air mattress we depend on had a leak, and part way through the night we were sleeping on the rocks. That was not a refreshing sleep. I talked to Joanne Whittington the day after Laurens surgery, and she had tried to sleep on a four foot long bed in Laurens room. That was not a refreshing sleep. One Saturday a few years ago we drove back late with the Kittles from a wedding in Tyler. Though Frank was driving and I was free to nod off, I got almost no value from that sleep. You can sleep in places other than a bed, but its a lot less refreshing.
In the same way, you can be a Christian without any fellowship. You can be a Christian without coming to church, or being part of a small group or worshiping with others or being associated in any way with believers. But you will miss a great deal of refreshment. One of the reasons God has created the church in this age is so that his people, believers in Jesus, might be refreshed and strengthened. The community of believers doesnt always refresh you, just as a night of sleep even in your own bed doesnt always refresh. But thats what its designed to do, and more often than not thats what it does do. The community of believers brings refreshment to our spirits. The Psalm were looking at this morning is about spiritual refreshment. It is about being renewed, restored, invigorated, in the community of God's people.
Psalm 133 is the next to the last of the Psalms of Ascent, these songs of pilgrims going up to celebrate in Jerusalem. By the time we get to Psalm 133 we are, as it were, on the steps of the Temple. Were about to enter in and worship. This Psalm of David was sung at that point, because it reflects the joy of fellowship in the community of God's people. The pilgrims sang out the truth David had known, that life in community brings refreshment to believers.
I. As a family (Psalm 133:1)
Psalm 133 illustrates this three ways. The first is that refreshment is like being a family: How good and pleasant it is when brothers live together in unity! 2It is like precious oil poured on the head, running down on the beard, running down on Aaron's beard, down upon the collar of his robes. 3It is as if the dew of Hermon were falling on Mount Zion. For there the Lord bestows his blessing, even life forevermore.
The church is a family, a community of brothers and sisters. Trinity Fellowship is a family. And this verse addresses family: how good and how pleasant it is when brothers dwell together in unity. Brothers is typical Hebrew shorthand for an adult extended family, like the families of the sons of Jacob or the sons of Jesse. In the same way the church is a community of families, an extended family. In fact, thats one of our goals at Trinity - we want to do things the way a family would do them: we want to be family for one another. David says: it's good for a family to dwell together in unity. That word "dwell together" has the same root as the word "Sabbath." It means rest together - dwell in peace. How good and pleasant it is for a family to Sabbath in unity. And the word unity does mean "community" It is a being together in place, time, thought and spirit.
So the picture is of an extended family, at peace with each other, and joined in one spirit. But we all know that in families and churches, unity isnt easy. Eugene Peterson talks about this in A Long Obedience. He says: If living in community is necessary and desirable, it is also difficult. Families fight. The first story in the Bible about brothers is the story of Cain and Abel - and it ends in a murder. Living together like brothers can mean endless squabbles, murderous quarrels and angry arguments. So if were going to live as this Psalm suggests, we will not do it by following our natural bent. That would only lead to a big fight, and the only delightful thing would be the pleasure the spectators get in watching us bloody each others noses. Too often thats the way Christians do get along - as Chuck Colson points out in a chapter of his book The Body which he calls, The Right Fist of Fellowship. Its an account of a church dispute that ended in a fistfight at the front of the sanctuary.
But Jesus never intended us to live that way. Out of everything Jesus could have prayed for us the night he was betrayed, the thing he asked for was unity. John 17: I pray . . . that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me. Unity is one of the key goals Jesus has for the church, since it is evidence of his presence and of love for one another.
So what does it mean to live together like a healthy family? A number of years ago I read about a study in which the researcher identified 15 traits of a healthy family. Let me give you a few of these to spark your thinking. First - love in a healthy family is unconditional - you don't have to earn love, you are given it as a gift. When one of us doesn't perform or behave the way the rest of us expect, we dont stop loving and caring, even when we have to show tough love.
Second - A healthy family affirms the different gifts and roles of each person. The church is strong when we celebrate our different gifts, abilities, and ministries. We have some in our body who are visionaries We have some who are pragmatists We have some who are go-getters We have some who are behind-the-sceners.
Each of these kinds of people, and each of the spiritual gifts youve identified in working on your ministry pledge is to be recognized and celebrated. Each person with their own unique gift mix should make a unique contribution to the life of the body.
Third - A healthy family doesn't pretend to be perfect - we admit our weaknesses, and we help each other deal with them. In the church each one is a sinner, struggling by grace to grow in righteousness. We need to be able to admit those struggles, and not feed some kind of false image that we are perfect, or hide behind walls of faked sinlessness. A healthy family expresses feelings and emotions - we rejoice with those who rejoice, we weep with those who weep. One of the beauties of being part of the people of God is that we can share our feelings - we can share joy, we can share sorrow - we are not alone, there are others who care how we feel.
II. As a priesthood (Psalm 133:2)
Are we a healthy church family expressing our needs, sharing our weaknesses, affirming our ministries and showing unconditional love? If we are, then dwelling together in unity is not so big a challenge. It really is good and pleasant to be together. But theres more. Verse 2 says that we refresh each other by being a priesthood to one another. It is like precious oil poured on the head, running down on the beard, running down on Aaron's beard, down upon the collar of his robes.
David's thought here is that the pleasantness of fellowship is like the pleasantness of having oil poured on your head. Its not something we find pleasant. We read the 23rd Psalm, we say that God anoints our head with oil, but we really hope its just a metaphor. How is this a blessing? How is this refreshing? We have to recognize that oil was a very special substance in ancient cultures. It was used in cooking, it was used as medicine, it was used in lamps for lighting, it was used cosmetically, as the carrier for various perfumes and dyes, and it was used ceremonially in anointing kings, and especially priests, even in anointing the furnishings of the tabernacle, as an act of worship. Yet it was not a tremendously common substance.
If we look at these things together, we sense that oils, especially the fragrant oils mixed with rare spices, were an evidence of wealth. They were a rich and valuable gift to give somebody. We see this in the life of Jesus, where various people anointed his head and his feet with oils, and Jesus saw this as an act of devotion to him. So no matter how yucky it sounds, we have to see this oil as evidence of rich blessing.
The incident referred to here is the anointing of Aaron to set him apart for the first time as a priest. In Exodus 29 and 30 Moses is given instructions on how to establish the priesthood. He is given a formula for anointing oil, pure olive oil spiced with cinnamon and myrrh, and something that appears to be mint. It was only to be used for service in the temple, and to anoint Aaron, the high priest, to his office. So the fellowship of brothers is like the rich blessing of God symbolized by this picture of Aaron's priesthood.
I don't think its going too far to say that David sees us acting as priests to one another. Remember, this is a Psalm for the festivals of Israel, and part of the blessing the people experienced at those festivals, was being ministered to by the priests. There is a great example of this in 1st Samuel 1. At that time Eli was the priest. A man named Elkanah came with his family to the festival, but one of his wives, Hannah, wept because she had no children. When she encountered Eli the priest, and poured out her heart to him, he prayed for her, and the Lord gave her a son - Samuel.
That kind of interaction between priest and people is one of the things God uses to refresh us. He lets us act as priests for one another. We remember from 1st Peter that we are a royal priesthood, all of us chosen by God to act as priests in the kingdom. Taking responsibility for those priestly roles, is key to the fellowship of the body. One of our roles is to pray for others, as Eli did for Hannah. Hebrews teaches us that Jesus as our high priest prays and makes intercession for us. In the same way, we have the privilege of praying and interceding. Thus we refresh one another in a supernatural way - beyond our own abilities.
When God answers these prayers we rejoice. I remember an incident in Illinois. There was a family whose baby was born premature, weighing less than a pound, on the point of death several times. The church prayed and prayed for this family, and the baby lived. Later Gail talked to the mother, and asked if shed been able to pray during that time. She said she hadn't: she was too distracted and tired and busy. But she said she could feel the prayers of the church holding her up. When I cant pray for myself, I depend on my brothers and sisters, to intercede for me. We all do.
Years ago we studied the New Testament to find a list of things we should do since we are a priesthood of all believers. We found that just as priests in the Old Testament offered sacrifices, so we should offer four different kinds of sacrifices. First, in Romans 12:1, we are to offer ourselves as living sacrifices. This means we no longer do what we please, but what Jesus desires us to do, what pleases him.
We also offer the sacrifice of praise: Hebrews 13:15 Through Jesus, therefore, let us continually offer to God a sacrifice of praise the fruit of lips that confess his name. Praise binds us together. Worshiping with others is tremendously refreshing to our spirits, as well as honoring and glorifying to God. The Christian who tries to make it on his own is missing the refreshment of corporate worship.
We offer another kind of sacrifice when we give. Philippians 4:18 I have received full payment and even more; I am amply supplied, now that I have received from Epaphroditus the gifts you sent. They are a fragrant offering, an acceptable sacrifice, pleasing to God. Giving is a sacrifice acceptable to God. Your generous giving, toward the building in Friendswood, toward the budget of our church, and toward the needs of individuals is a refreshing gift to everyone else in the body.
And finally, as priests, we do good and share with others: Hebrews 13:16 Do not forget to do good and to share with others, for with such sacrifices God is pleased. It is not only the work we do on Sunday morning that pleases God. He is also pleased when we reach out in love and compassion, whether in formal church programs or the informal care we show from day to day. We have a great opportunity to refresh one another by taking up this role of the priest we have been given, and we miss the opportunity to be refreshed when we are not part of a local church.
III. As channels of Gods blessing (Psalm 133:3)
The community of believers brings refreshment to our spirits. We refresh each other by being a family and by being a priesthood. Finally, we refresh each other by being channels of God's blessing. Verse 3: It is as if the dew of Hermon were falling on Mount Zion. For there the LORD bestows his blessing, even life forevermore.
Let's say that another way in light of the whole Psalm: When brothers dwell together in unity, it is as if the dew of Mt. Hermon was falling on Mount Zion. For when there is unity God bestows his blessing, even life forevermore. You have to know a little about Israel to understand the picture David is painting. Hermon is the closest high mountain to Israel. It is located north and slightly east of the Sea of Galilee, and is over 9000 feet tall. The elevation means that the snow which falls on the mountain in the winter takes most of the summer to melt. This is the source of the dews of Hermon. Throughout the spring and summer moist cool air rolls off the mountain, and every night it condenses as a heavy dew at the mountains feet.
One 19th century visitor described it this way: The vapor is precipitated in the evening in the form of a dew, the most copious we ever saw. It penetrates everywhere and saturates everything. The floor of our tent is soaked, our bed covered, our guns dripping, and dewdrops form everywhere. No wonder the foot of Hermon is clad with orchards and gardens of such marvelous fertility in this land of droughts.
So this is literally a picture of a life-giving dew, a dew that turns a desert into a garden. It is a picture of refreshment. Imagine David, having fled to the wilderness of Lebanon, comes to the foothills of Hermon, and finds it to be a garden, drenched every night and shimmering every morning with this life-giving dew.
In Psalm 133 David is saying that what is physically true of Hermon is spiritually true of Zion. The hill called Mt. Zion, is not especially high. Jerusalems elevation is only 2500 feet. But spiritually it was the place where the dew fell. It was the center, the place where God bestowed his blessing. To come to Zion for her great festivals was to enjoy Gods refreshing. David says of Zion: here God bestows his blessing - even life forevermore. The dews of Hermon might be life giving for a day or a season, but the blessing of Zion is life forevermore.
But David is further saying that what is true spiritually on Zion, is also true spiritually whenever brothers and sisters in the Lord fellowship together in unity. God uses community to spiritually refresh his people, to give them a foretaste of the blessings of eternity he has promised. Therefore you and I need to become, for one another, channels of God's blessing. We need to become the place, like Mt. Hermon, or Mt. Zion, where blessing happens, where God's blessing falls on those around you in a life-giving way.
How can we be channels of God's blessing? The practical answer is simply by serving and encouraging. For example, we can encourage those who have not yet trusted in Christ to find his blessing. The water used in the image of Mt. Hermon is a great Biblical picture of what it means to find eternal life. You remember Jesus sitting with the woman at the well in Samaria, and he said to her: Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give him will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give him will become in him a spring of water, welling up to eternal life. Later Jesus went up to the feast of tabernacles, and he said: If any one is thirsty, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture says, streams of living water will flow from within him. Jesus himself is the ultimate source of the refreshment we find in the church. You and I rejoice to be refreshed by him, and we should long for others to be refreshed.
There may be someone here who is thirsty for meaning, thirsty for acceptance, thirsty for the forgiveness of sin, and parched by a world that doesn't care. And the message of Jesus to you is this, Come! Whoever is thirsty let him come. and whoever wishes, let him take the free gift of the water of life. If you trust in Jesus, if you believe that he died for your sins, and if you place yourself in his hands, you will have eternal life - the refreshment you seek, the water you thirst for.
But the refreshment you receive from Jesus is often channeled through his people. He intends us to be a community where people intentionally refresh each other. This is what we learned in Hebrews 10:24-25 Let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds. Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another, and all the more as you see the day approaching. When someone is tired, when someone is overwhelmed, when someone is facing sickness or financial struggle or parenting problems, you may not be able to solve their problems. But you can offer them a word of encouragement, and point them toward God. You can remind them of the refreshment found in the community of believers. Youd be amazed how much difference a simple word like that can make.
But encouragement is only one of the one another commands of the New Testament - and each can bring refreshment. Two weeks from now well begin a series looking at the one another commands and applying them to the church and to our families.
Well wrestle with very general commands like love one another and well apply very specific commands like be devoted to one another, accept one another, serve one another, be gentle to one another and show humility toward one another. Each of these, when done with the Holy Spirits leading, is a sure-fire way of refreshing your brothers and sisters in Christ.
What weve seen in this very brief Psalm is that as believers we have the privilege of being refreshed in this community, the church. We dwell in unity by being family for one another - a place of unconditional love, safety and affirmation. We act as priests for one another, people who pray and offer themselves sacrificially for the sake of others. Finally, we are channels for Gods blessing - his water of refreshment offered through our encouragement and our one another service.
But there is one more thing we have the privilege of doing in the church: as a community we have the privilege of sharing in communion. Both those words indicate that we have a common unity - something we all share together. What is it? The common denominator in our lives is that we have been rescued by Jesus. We were all slaves of sin, broken in our relationships with others, without hope and without God in the world. But as we trusted in the fact that Jesus sacrificed himself for our sin we became part of a new community, a new covenant. Jesus is the one at the center of the church, at the center of our community, and thats why we call the meal he gave us communion. He intended it to be a shared, community remembrance of what he has done. The communion table is the place we gather to be refreshed, not by the water of Hermon, but by the bread and the cup, by sharing the memory of his sacrifice and his love. Lets spend a few minutes preparing through worship to join our brothers and sisters in that memory.