We Are United

Pastor Rachel B. Livingston

 I. Beginning

How very good and pleasant it is when kindred live together in unity – it creates a warm feeling that creates imagery of anointing and covering, the rhythmic creation of beauty in words that is written out by our psalmist.  Words that might be able to evoke emotion, that might be able to be placed over a melodic rhythm to birth the feelings of the soul. The book of psalms has put words, in a poetic fashion, that can be used as hymns or prayers for the Christian to verbalize the concept of their relationship with God on this journey which each of us calls life.  The Psalms has provided us with the words of lament when we are sad and broken, it has given us the words to verbalize praise towards our God, it gives us the words of thanksgiving to thank God for all the ways that God has been with us along the journey, it has even been able to give us words of wisdom that allow us to further and strengthen our relationship with the God who walks with us and talks with us and resides with us and tells us that we are God’s own.  This psalm that we point to today is of no exception to this criteria in that it verbalizes the words of wisdom that help us to grow further in this relationship with God, and allows us to envision the beauty present in this action.
The psalmist in our scripture this morning opens up with the encouragement or exhortation of the kindred, people that are connected via some sort of familial connection or common ancestor, and yet the scripture tells these people to come together in unity to bind themselves together under a unified front.  Yet as we expand our minds to the concept of the body of Christ, this family of God, the Kindred of the Most High God, if you will, and the connections of the people within this house, this church, and the church at large, we become quite aware that this definition of kindred, encompasses all those who are connected together underneath the banner of the people that have been called the children of God – those bound together by dedicating themselves to serving the Most High God in the actions that they do everyday – actions that portray a love for God and the love of our neighbor as ourselves.  These kindred are connected together through the common ancestor of God as the ultimate parent.  We are connected as the children of the Most High God, therefore showing that this scripture encourages the Kindred, the children of God, those within this house, this church, and those known underneath the definition of a child of God to live together in unity.  That indeed includes those of us at Cheltenham United Methodist Church and those outside of our walls and congregation that have been affirmed as created in the image of God – encompassing the rejected, the outcast, and all people regardless of race, class, sexuality, or gender – people who have been affirmed in God.  This indeed is a good and pleasant thing, for all people – not separated by age, gender, or any other classification that seeks to divide us – to live in unity with one another.  As I think about the concept of unity I am reminded about a story I heard when I was young that helped me to understand this concept.

 II. What Is Unity?

There was a father that who had three children who always seemed to fight and be at odds with one another which brought pain to the father’s heart. So, in an attempt to get his children to get along, he woke them up early one morning and took them out on a journey a good distance away from home, traveling down a long road that winded and turned and was completely foreign to the children [pause] and once they reached an ending point, he challenged them to find their way back home without his help.  Before the father left and sent them on their journey he provided them with bags and told them that all they needed to make the journey back home was provided for them in these bags.  As soon as the children were left to complete the task they immediately got into an argument and thought that they were better than each other and quickly came to the resolution that they would separate and make the journey on their own.  They didn’t want their siblings to get in the way of making their journey and they all perceived that they could get home faster than each other. They were so boastful they even believed they could do it on their own without the help of what their father provided. As they wandered off on their own they walked and walked and realized they were no closer to their home than at the beginning of their journey.  They then began to check in their bags to know what their father had given them.  One had a map within their bag, but realized that the journey was so long that they would not be able to make it without the energy provided by food and water, another opened the bag and saw that they had food and water but had no way to figure out how to get home, and the third child saw that they had a compass to find direction, but did not have a map to know which direction they should take.  Each sat down and was confused as to why their father would tell them that they had all they needed when it seemed as if they could not complete this journey with just the objects in their bag.  Each had felt as if their father had neglected them and forgot to give them exactly what they needed. [pause] As they wandered, they eventually ran into one another again and were surprised that no one had made their journey back home. Eventually they came together and looked into one another’s bags and realized that they needed each other in order to complete their journey, they must combine the objects found in their bags to get home.  Once they came together they were able to reach the steps of their home with their father waiting with open arms providing them with love and all that they needed.

It is in the unification of the children that they were able to use the gifts given by their father to be returned to his love.  This is indeed how I envision what God desires from our unification, coming together, each person using their gift to work towards the overall need.

 III. United As the Body Of Christ

Unity is an important aspect of our relationship with God, but I wonder if we always understand the principle of unity.  We often feel as if unity is achieved when we no longer publicly have altercations with the people that we can’t stand, or people that we often butt heads with.  In reality unity is bigger than publicly setting aside our squabbles with one another.  Unity is a transforming concept that works and shapes us from the inside out; it must transform the way we see things.  We must truly set aside our problems with one another, realizing that we may not agree on everything, but that the bigger thing at hand is for us to press to the point of being concerned about the well-being of one another and work toward doing what God has called us to do.  That we might effectively function as disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.  This concept is difficult to digest because we have been taught by society that the most important person is the individual self, and that our main concern in life is the central point of me, leading us to neglect all others for our own advancement even if it means we must step on the neck of our brother or sister or sibling in the non-binary. Unity is releasing this concept of self, in order to embrace the we, a concept that can be summed up in the African principle of Ubuntu, that states I am because we are.  If the we fails, I have failed; and if I have failed, so has the we.  I am not an entity by myself that cannot be concerned with you because I cannot function without being in connection with you. The body of Christ cannot function properly without the functionality of all its parts and gifts.  We as the body cannot exist with all of us trying to do the work single-handedly, we cannot have the foot trying to do the eye’s job or the lung trying to do the heart’s job.  Only through each body part doing their job and coming together with the rest of the body can the body successfully work.  We all have a place and the body requires the combination of multiple gifts, or body functions, in order to survive.

So, what does this mean? Well, last week I encouraged each of us to open our eyes and ears to the ways that God is moving because due to our current circumstances, we have been challenged to do ministry in ways that are outside of the box – to do ministry in ways that quite frankly might make us uncomfortable.  However, it does not work if we do not function together as the body of Christ.  It does not allow us to go where God is calling us to, if we do not come together using our gifts in unity, just like the children who had to bring the materials of their bags together to return home.

But it also means that we must also remember that unity also extends to the concern of one another, being aware of issues that may arise in other body parts. You see when the body is harmed or hurt in some way, it is the whole body that recognizes the hurt.  For example even if we are to stub our toe we must admit that there is that one second or moment that we feel the shock of pain run through the whole body making you move your foot, bend over, and scream, possibly not the nicest words in the world because for that one moment your entire body recognizes that something has injured the body and something must be done as that tingle of pain shoots through the body.  It must be recognized that even if it is only for that moment the whole body is affected by that small portion of the body that is harmed.  As the body realizes its in pain it continues to act in unity in that it immediately goes into action to heal the injury. The foot removes the toe from the point of injury, the eye looks to see what has happened and how bad the injury might be, the brain processes this information, and the hand places ice on the wound. It takes the use of other body parts to treat the wound.  This is unity, working together and being concerned about those around us.

 IV. We Need Unity

As we look around our environment and country today it has become clear that in some ways we have neglected the aspect of unity that requires the awareness that allows us to identify the hurt in the body.  We are in need of unification when we can’t seem to stand one another and we have narrowed our identities to conservative and liberal in which neither of the two shall connect, we are in need of unity when we have children failing out of school and reaching high school without being able to read, we are in need of unity when there is still confusion around how schools will proceed this fall in the midst of COVID, we are in need of unity when prisons have become big business and are quick to lock up black and brown people, we are in need of unity when it has become normal practice to disrespect and ignore one another.  As we look around at some of these things we must know that we in this house, this church, we are called to come together in unity for the furthering of the work of God.  As we look around we have become a lot like the children of the story, trying to do things on our own and then becoming frustrated because we feel as if God has neglected our need, yet we choose to forget that God has provided our need and conceived of the problem before it existed, yet we are just too stubborn to see it. God has given us the first step which is the unification of the body, I need you and you need me.

 V. Unity Is An Anointing

As we turn our attention back to the scripture at hand, we see that through the use of the literary device of simile, the psalmist shows us that unification is not just a suggestion that looks good within society, but that it is a blessing within itself.  The psalmist uses poetic imagery to draw us into this passage and paints a picture that is so clear that we can almost see the images jump off the page.  When the kindred live together in unity it is like the oil as it anoints the head of Aaron and flows down his beard and garments, the oil that covers from his head to the bottom of his clothes.  This means that unity among the kindred is like a blessing or anointing from God that covers the whole body.  When we are unified as a people we are covered by the anointing of the Lord completely and cloaked. It covers our entire body and penetrates our soul.

The psalmist however, goes further than just saying that unity is an anointing, and is trying to teach us something within these words about our relationship with God.  You see, Aaron was the high priest, and in order for him to be let into the Holy of Holies to be the intercessor for the people, to speak to God on behalf of the people and vice versa, Aaron had to be anointed by God.  He had to be touched by this precious oil and it had to run down his head and down to the skirts of his garment.  Without this anointing, during this time period,  there would be no connection of God to the people.  You see the bold claim that the psalmist is making when making this comparison, is that part of our connection to God is through our unification with one another. The God that is present in you must become connected to the God within me, and without it, God is plainly a distant deity.

The psalmist reminds us again of the story I heard as a child, in which the children of God must come together in order to return to the place where they can be connected to their father’s love, feel his presence, and know the joy of relationship with him.  We too must join with one another in unity to come to the place of intimate relationship with God.  For on that fateful Friday, Christ was beaten, bruised, crucified, bled, hung his head and died for the church.  What good is the sacrifice if we are separated and at odds with one another?  When there is no unity, our vision becomes cloudy and we cannot see the love of Jesus Christ that flows to us nor can we extend the love of Jesus Christ to others.  Without unity we cannot see the teachings of Jesus that bring freedom to the oppressed, without unity we cannot see the love of the sacrifice given on the cross, without unity we cannot see the victory over death in the resurrection, without unity we cannot see the presence of the Holy Spirit given as comforter throughout our life.  Our vision is completely clouded.  Our unification with one another opens our way to the love of God and allows us to show others the love of God.

Often times we try to shy away from coming together in unity because it is not comfortable or it is just too difficult.  We don’t really want to be connected to this person or that person or we cannot conceive of and are quite scared of what unification can bring.  However the psalmist claims the power of God by saying that unity is like the dew that falls on Mount Hermon.  This dew being a refreshing source that adds to the Jordan River, meaning this moisture is a source of water to the crops in the area, a source that provides life to the people.  The dew is a means of preservation given by God.  Unity is just like that dew, a refreshing source that has been provided by God for our preservation. God has put it in place for our benefit, for our growth, for our preservation, and for the furthering of God’s kingdom.  

 VI. God Gives Us The Provision Of Unity 

I remember as a child when I first learned about the dew that is present on the grass in the morning.  I was out in the country in South Carolina and I remember walking through the grass one morning telling my mother that it must have rained last night because the grass was wet. My mother looked at me and informed me that it had not rained, but that overnight the dew falls onto the grass.  I remember wondering where it came from and how it just appeared on the grass.  I am sure there is some scientific explanation as to how dew appears on the grass, but as I look back on the moment I become well aware of the presence of God because the refreshing dew appears to come without a human thought, yet God has given this provision so that the grass has what it needs to grow. and just like that dew that seems to come from nowhere but has been given as a provision of God, unity too is a provision of God that has been given to us.  The grass knows not how it will receive the refreshing drink that it needs, yet God knows the need and has provided the precious dew of the morning.  God too sees our need and has provided us with the refreshing gift of unity.  While it might be the farthest thing from our mind or something we don’t want, God is mindful of the fact that we need one another and has designed us as beings that must come together in unity.  God is more mindful of the power that comes through the unification of the people. and I am glad that God is more mindful of what I need than I am of what I claim to want.  Because it is the refreshing, important action of unity that meets our needs and moves the work of the Lord throughout the world.

I close with this, we are like the children within this story.  We have separated and thought that we can do things on our own, we have even thought that we are the central point of focus and that no one else is important on this journey.  The reality is that we need each other.  The changing force that is necessary to permeate our communities has already been given to us through the provisions of God.  Like the father of the story, God has given us everything that we need.  God has focused on the meticulous parts of the problem and has given us the tools needed to get the task done.  All we need to do is come together in unity in order to activate them.  When we come together in unity, enacting all the gifts that God has provided us with, coming together to work as  a body, we are then able, to not only travel down that journey that leads us to the love of God, but also allows us to lead others to the love of God – to enact new and unconventional ways of ministry under the direction of the God we serve.

Let us claim in both word and deed this day that we in this house, in this church, are united. Amen.