Aug 17, 2020
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Thanks for joining me today for "A Little Walk with God." I'm your host Richard Agee.
The verses from Psalms in this week's lectionary bring back some childhood memories for me. I thought they depicted a pretty disgusting scene. Here's what the psalmist wrote in the 133rd Psalm:
How very good and pleasant it is when kindred live together in
It is like the precious oil on the head, running down upon the beard, on the beard of Aaron, running down over the collar of his robes.
It is like the dew of Hermon, which falls on the mountains of Zion. For there the LORD ordained his blessing, life forevermore. (Psalms 133:1-3 NIV)
I don't know about you, but I always thought pouring oil on your head sounded a little weird. But both the Old and New Testament use the act as something extraordinary. It's the mark of kingship, the beginning of a priest's official duty, the recognition of God's anointing on a prophet. The pouring of oil indicated something special about a person.
You and I would probably run to the shower to try to get all that greasy stuff off us. Or at least that's what I thought until I started traveling around the world thanks to the Army. My military duties took me to a few countries where people still use oil as a unique mark of distinction. There you saw only the rich and powerful, or religious leaders, or someone paid special tribute covered with oil infused with fragrant spices.
Reading through scripture, you find the oils used for anointing also had fragrant spices mixed with them. And in those countries, and in biblical times, I discovered why pouring oil on someone held such significance. No one used deodorant. Spices were expensive. People's body odor can get pretty rank when soap and water are scarce; there's no deodorant, and nothing to cover the smell.
So, the rich, those in power, special occasions, like weddings, embalming the dead, anointing kings, prophets, and priests with fragrant oils, made them smell good for at least as long as the oil stuck around. It might be greasy and make us turn our nose up at the practice here, but when you've visited a country with plenty of body odor, you relish the anointing oil practice and wish more would participate in it.
Well, I changed my mind about the oil pouring down a person's hair and beard as an adult as I read these and other verses like them in the Psalms. But I haven't changed my mind about that first verse. "How very good and pleasant it is when kindred live together in unity!"
Too often, relatives split apart over the most insignificant things. Infighting among siblings happens over something someone says. Or at the death of a parent fights break out over the distribution of an inheritance. But what do those things matter in the larger scheme of life? Material things disappear. The person who left the stuff behind couldn't take it with them, and neither will anyone fighting over it. It is just stuff, after all. Only relationships last.
Little things get blown out of proportion. We refuse to apologize to each other. Years go by, and we don't even remember what the original issue was, but we're too proud to make a move to restore the relationship, so the divide continues—what a sad state of affairs.
I don't think the psalmist talks about just our immediate family, though. We tend to narrow his meaning to include only those within our that small group, or maybe to our extended family of aunt and uncles and cousins. I think, though, that David extends his thoughts well beyond even that group when he talks of unity among kindred.
David thought of kindred as encompassing at least the nation of Israel, the twelve tribes that descended from Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. I believe David even thought further than that, though. David longed for peace for his nation and his sons, who would follow him on the throne. He wanted unity among all those living not just in the land he ruled, but with all those lands around him.
What a great lesson we could learn by listening to the voice of the psalmist. We experience nothing but violence around the world between tribes and nations. Now we see it in our country. Nightly, a group of radicals damage buildings and destroy businesses men and women spent lifetimes developing. City governments seem either helpless or unwilling to stop the violence in some areas.
Since the 1970s, we have seen the country's party rhetoric divide us further and further apart. The left and right get more egregious and today refuse even to discuss what the nation needs. We no longer hear debates, only deafening screams from one side or the other followed by violent outrage ending in injury and death to innocent people.
I'm not sure what happened to us in the last 40 years. Well, yes, I do. Some will argue it's because we took prayer out of schools. But that isn't the problem. Some will say it's because we compromised and started using "Holiday Season" to describe Christmas. But that isn't the problem, either. Some will argue the problem started with some of the Supreme Court decisions on abortion and other laws Christians oppose. But even those laws are not the problem that pushed us where we are today.
I would argue it isn't even racism or systemic racism or the Jim Crow Laws or the segregation or the Civil Rights movements or any of the things being said by either side in the protest groups today, that caused the problems we face. We are where we are today because we lost prayer in the home. We lost our Christian view. We no longer believe Jesus saves and provides the best answers to life. He says, give all you can to help others; we say, get all you can to help yourself.
How do we go about finding that unity David finds so precious? First, we need to confess our part in the relationship problem. We live in a broken world. Whether we want to believe it or not, each of us holds some responsibility for the brokenness we see around us. All of us, whatever our color or political persuasion hold prejudices we don't even recognize in ourselves. But they exist, nonetheless. So, first, we need to let God shine his light in our hearts and confess our part of the relationship problems to him.
Second, we need to ask his forgiveness for our part in the struggle and accept that forgiveness. Will we change our old habits and thought patterns overnight? Maybe, maybe not, but with confession, true repentance, and God's help, we can begin to change them. We can become less extreme in our views and able to see why the other side thinks the way they do. Then we can perhaps be more understanding. We don't have to agree, but we can be more understanding. And that begins to heal broken relationships.
Third, we need to learn to listen. Both sides of an argument must stop the screaming, cool down, and determine to listen to each other to gain that understanding and come to a mutual agreement, even if it is to disagree. At least after hearing each other, both sides will know why each takes the position they make, and most often, through collegial discussion, some solutions will rise that will resolve the primary issues at hand.
While violence, screaming, refusal to dialog, uncompromising demands on either side exist, dialog and resolution cannot happen. And quite frankly, until we bring God back into our homes, little hope exists for healing in our nation or our world. Our country is not a Christian nation; neither was the Roman world in which Jesus died and commanded his disciples to spread his message of peace and hope.
Perhaps as we watch the events of the past couple of months unfold around us, it's time to pick up the mantle Jesus gave his followers those many years ago. Perhaps it's time we spread the message of peace and hope to those who need it most. It made a difference in the pagan Roman world 2,000 years ago. Perhaps it will make a difference today, too.
You can find me at richardagee.com. I also invite you to join us at San Antonio First Church of the Nazarene on West Avenue in San Antonio to hear more Bible-based teaching. You can find out more about my church at SAF.church. Thanks for listening. If you enjoyed it, tell a friend. If you didn't, send me an email and let me know how better to reach out to those around you. Until next week, may God richly bless you as you venture into His story each day.
Scriptures marked NIV are taken from the NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION (NIV): Scripture is taken from THE HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION ®. Copyright© 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.™. Used by permission of Zondervan