WORSHIPPING TOGETHER — Pete Bauer
This sermon was preached at Peace Hill Christian Fellowship on August 4th, 2013. To listen to the audio, just click on this link – Ps 133.
This is one of the Psalms of Ascent, meant to be sung by the Israelites as they came to the Temple (the three annual feasts). It is a Psalm about the beauty of unity, written by King David. It is a Psalm of encouragement written for the 12 tribes of Israel (whose tendency to split and divide and go their own way is a constant problem in the OT), and is meant to encourage them and to frame their understanding of the importance of making the 2-3 week pilgrimages to the Temple three times a year.
This morning, we want to look at this Psalm, and talk, briefly, about the beauty and importance of worshipping in unity.
We Worship Together Because We Need Encouragement.
The Image of Precious Oil: “Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brothers to dwell together in unity! It is like the precious oil upon the head, coming down upon the beard, even Aaron’s beard, coming down upon the edge of his robes.”
To modern ears this sounds gross – the idea of having oil in our hair and on our clothing makes us want to wash it off. However, the association would have been quite different for the ancient Israelites. Anointing oil was an aromatic mix of spices, like myrrh, fragrant cinnamon, fragrant cane and cassia with olive oil (see Ex.30:22). The mixture was poured on the head of the priest to anoint him for service – and it would have made him smell amazing.
So what is David getting at with this image? Good smells transport us. Think about the smells of Christmas – or of a garden in spring. Smell is the sense connected most powerfully with memory. Smell can affect our whole demeanor, can conjure up memory and affect our emotions. David is making a connection here between the amazing smell of anointing oil and its associations in people’s minds – and fellowship. His words would conjure, for these worshippers, making their way towards the Temple, memory of fellowship with old friends and past times at the Temple in Jerusalem.
Worshipping Together Strengthens Our Faith: David is doing more than just trying to conjure up good memories for these pilgrims – he is supporting his opening statement about unity – that it is good and pleasant. In fact, David is saying that the support, kindness, love, encouragement, faithfulness and fellowship that we experience in unified worship is good for us. We need it! Why? Because it encourages us to see that God is good – that his way is joyful – that there are others who care about us.
There is something that happens in corporate worship – something we don’t have when we are just by ourselves. The presence and encouragement of other believers in worship as we celebrate the Gospel of Jesus, blesses us. We see the faith of other believers – their joy or struggle – their love or their need. These things engage us, pull us out of ourselves, wake us up and encourage us. Worship with other believers can create a healthful, healing, encouraging, joyful atmosphere that builds up our faith. This, in part is the blessing that God intends by calling us together to worship.
Therefore Worship Intentionally: This being the case, David intends to build in these traveling pilgrims, an anticipation as they move towards Jerusalem and the Temple. He wants the to get caught up. Why? Because he wants them to arrive prepared to worship – ready to fully engage in the worship of God. In a sense, David’s song helps them to leave behind those things that would distract and claim their attentions – and to enter into this state where they joyfully anticipate the presence of God and the joy of worship.
So also we need to anticipate worship. We should come in the hope of hearing the good news of forgiveness of sins and new life in Christ. We should come to celebrate these things – to celebrate with brothers and sisters who also have received grace and new life – the things that we have in common which make for peace. Worship is to focus on the Gospel as that which unifies us and makes us joyful – as that which encourages us.
We Worship To Show God to Others.
The Image of Dew: “It is like the dew of Hermon coming down upon the mountains of Zion; for there the Lord commanded the blessing—life forever.”
This second image of “dew” on mount Hermon is again, a statement about the way in which brothers living together and worshipping together in unity is both good and pleasant (lovely). In an arid land dew would be a great blessing, allowing plants to get some life sustaining moisture. In the Middle East, “… the early-morning hours — and not those of midday — are the period of maximum growth for plants. [This is] all due to the dew. “In the early morning, dew surrounds the leaves of a plant with moisture, and the plant does not close its stomata. Therefore, it can grow.”
So what is David getting at with this second image of Dew? He is saying that brothers living and worshipping together in unity is life producing, like the dew. In other words, there is something about seeing brothers live together graciously in unity – and worship together graciously in unity – that becomes the most creditable witness of the presence and power of God. Anyone who has had brothers, and who has seen the way family dynamics work themselves out – and who has seen the way brothers and sisters and family scheme and fight and manipulate and grumble and simmer with anger – will be amazed and take note when, rather than doing these things, brothers gather together in unity and worship.
Worshipping Together Makes Us a City on a Hill: The NT says the same things about unity. Jesus tells his followers – all very different men from different backgrounds (tax collectors, zealots, fishermen), that they are, together, a city on a hill – the light of the world. Paul, who wrote the entire first letter to the Corinthians about unity, speaks specifically about unity in worship. Confronting a church that was using their gifts of tongues and prophecy to compete with one another. He tells them that when they all prophesy and there is unity rather than division, “… an unbeliever or an ungifted man enters, he is convicted by all, he is called to account by all; 25 the secrets of his heart are disclosed; and so he will fall on his face and worship God, declaring that God is certainly among you.” This is because there is no more profound argument for the Gospel than the presence of God in corporate worship. The presence of God is experienced In unified worship – where brothers and sisters are together lovingly, supportively, believingly worshipping.
Therefore, Continue to Worship in Unity: We have had people come into our worship and say that they experienced the presence of God in this place – among us as we were worshipping together – fellowshipping – hearing the word.
This should be encouraging, because it suggests that there is unity in this place. But unity is not something that we can take for granted. We have the meal together as a way of working for unity – conversation around the table is enjoyable, but also important work.
In the same way, what we declare and celebrate together in worship, if we do so with a willing heart, creates unity. This is a pleasant experience, but it is also important in creating, as Paul says, “[a] building [which] is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. 22 And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit.”
This morning we are celebrating the Lord’s supper – another way in which we express unity, through fellowship, eating together, and affirming what we believe about the Gospel. What Psalm 133 shows us about our celebration of the Lord’s supper is that it is meant to be enjoyed. We are meant to enjoy one another’s fellowship – and doing so is a sign of the presence and power of God – and an encouragement to our own souls.