Psalm 133
The Rev. Dr. Robert S. Langworthy, preaching
February 11, 2024

Because they shared the same passionate love of God and the same fervent zeal to share the good news of Jesus, a Protestant pastor and a Catholic priest, serving in a rural area, grew into close, lifelong friends.

Because the Protestant had no family and the Catholic had a lovely graveyard next to his church, the pastor asked whether, if he died first, he could be buried in it.  The priest said he’d love to have his friend ever near, but first he had to ask permission of the bishop.  The bishop refused, declaring that the graveyard was reserved for Catholics.  Yet, because he also admired the pastor, he allowed for him to be buried just outside the graveyard wall, however near to it the priest wished.

The Protestant did die first, and his Catholic friend did bury him a few feet outside the wall.

Several years later, the bishop visited the church.  While strolling about its beautiful grounds, he noticed the pastor’s gravestone a few feet inside the wall.  He immediately called over the priest and sternly said, “I told you to bury him outside the wall.”  “I did,” the priest protested.  “But you never told me I couldn’t move the wall.”

God cares about people more than the walls we erect, and God wants the community of His sons and daughters to do all it can to include new and different folks into the circle of its loving fellowship.

The adult Sunday School class of this church has been studying in Acts the history of the first church.  The participants have seen how God kept moving the church to become, in its evangelistic outreach, more and more expansively encompassing and thereby embrace a greater and greater diversity of folks.

This was but the continuance of the trajectory of God’s first people, the Israelites.  Though the chosen people had to be differentiated from all other people so as to bring all people the unprecedented revelation of ultimate reality and values entrusted to their care, those differentiated people integrated all kinds of people in their cities.  The Bible shows that Moses, led by God, gave place and privilege to foreigners as well as to Israelites, regardless of socio-economic status, legal background or cultural heritage.  Even back then God’s unique community was a unity of diversity.

This social mix of the “integrated differentiated” was like the integration of the Hebrew priest and his priestly garments, two distinct differentiated creations of God.  God laid out in specific detail how the priest should dress.  Though the man and his clothes were distinct, the consecrated clothes made the consecrated man by God’s grace, and the consecrated man made the consecrated clothes by the holiness of them all.  Each helped fulfill the other’s God-given identity, while both remained differentiated even in their being integrated.

Furthermore, when Moses anointed Aaron as the first high priest, he poured so much oil on Aaron’s head that it ran off his scalp “upon [his] beard” and “over the collar of his robes”, thereby anointing Aaron’s entire outfit and person.  The oil’s fragrance then not only enveloped Aaron with its sweet smell but also everyone he came in contact with wherever he went.  That liquid perfume expansively encompassed many in its blessing!

This is like what happens with “the dew of Hermon”, Israel’s highest point.  It also spreads its sweet, blessed and blessing liquid afar, even to such an extent that it “falls on the mountains of Zion” many miles away.

How expansively encompassing are God’s blessings!  No wonder then this Psalm exclaims with exuberance:  “How very good and pleasant it is when kindred live together in unity!”  When the differentiated sons and daughters of God are integrated in His love, they bless both everyone already inside their circle of loving fellowship and those yet outside who are open to knowing it.

Another way to put this is to say that God wants the church to be penguin-like.  Let me explain.

The movie, The March of the Penguins, documents how emperor penguins reproduce in the supremely inhospitable environment of Antarctica.  After they’ve traveled from the sea 70 miles across ice and snow to their inland mating grounds and after the females have each laid their one egg, every mother turns over her egg to its father’s care.  While she goes off to feed and to gather food for the new generation, he stays put there, for two full months, without ever eating.  He secures the egg on top of his feet and under a flap of belly skin to keep it warm against the cold that can drop to 80 below zero and to shield it against the winds that can top out at a 100 miles per hour.  He saves his chick from the elements by making his body its living nest.

While at other times male penguins are aggressive with each other, out of their common concern to protect their chicks, they override their competitive, often hostile nature and unite into a cooperative team of dads.  They huddle together, body tight against body, and morph into a single mass of a thousand or more penguins.  And because those on the outer edge of that single mass might otherwise freeze to death, they all step aside for all to take a turn enjoying the sheltered, warmer positions at the center of their huge huddle.

The church reproduces and brings forth its new generations when its members, united in a common love, take care of each other and of those yet to come.  In other words, like a priest and his garments, faithful fellowship and faithful evangelism, two integrated but differentiated things, make each other what they’re meant to be, that God might see what He is meant to see: the expansive encompassing of more and more folks in the blessing of His great grace.

This Psalm concludes: “There” – “there” referring, I think, to God’s mutually supporting but outwardly reaching community – “the Lord has ordained his blessing, life forevermore!”

Let us share God’s life of love and give it to everyone else we can, east and west, north and south!

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