A Song of Ascents
How very good and pleasant it is
when kindred live together in unity!
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 for evermore. (Psalm 133)
“How very good and pleasant it is when kindred live together in unity.” Isn’t this a nice, comforting, friendly statement? Yet, how difficult, especially when our communities both local and global face such differences, divisions, and threats. We are politically divided, geographically divided – and for a time socially distanced – and we are threatened by a disease that is attacking our health, our well-being, our employment, and our security. Oh, peaceful, graceful unity – where art thou?
I believe we make a mistake with Psalm 133 when we read an English translation and interpret through modern Western eyes. What appears to be a very sweet, yet passive passage of scripture for many of us was intended differently in the ancient Hebrew context. The purpose and celebration was still unity, but hearers might have heard the words of this hymn/song and thought “Uh, oh…” You see, for this song to have meaning, it was an expression of expectation and responsibility. It is both “good and pleasant,” and it is the responsibility of the whole congregation to make it true! This isn’t a precious wish or even a passive observation – it is the will of God, what God has “ordained” for us all. It isn’t an option, and heaven help the person who sows discord, division, or disharmony. The purpose and goal of our life and faith is to work together to create, sustain, and strengthen unity.
This is an important word for our church, for our families, for our congregations, our country, and our world. There are all kinds of forces at work to divide and destroy; the witness of our Christian faith is to prove a better way – the way of unity, harmony, grace, and love. In other words, the way of God. And from this unity that we work so hard to maintain, we raise our voices in singing, celebrating the liberating truth of God’s ordained will for our lives and for God’s people.
Prayer: Great God of Amazing Grace, unite our hearts, minds, and spirits. Where we struggle for unity, strengthen and guide us. Where we find division and discord, heal us. When we are ready to throw up our hands in disgust and walk away, renew and restore in us commitment to stay. Help us to be a witness to the world that we can be a strong and faithful body, even in the challenges of our diversity. Make us one, Lord, make us one. We pray in the name and the Spirit of Jesus the Christ. Amen.
May this devotion provide you with a moment of faithful reflection and care. You are involved in ministries of justice and witness, in ministries of standing up and standing with people working to create better systems and communities, in ministries of learning and searching and researching to become more aware and awakened, more technologically savvy and proficient, more virtually and personally present in your churches and communities and world. Each of us who serve as members of your Wisconsin Cabinet write these devotions in grateful prayer for you – for sustenance and buoyancy, for strength and courage, for safety and just actions, and for faith and love to be full and fulfilled in your daily lives. God’s grace and blessings, God’s challenge and healthy discomfort, God’s Spirit and energy be with you, in the hope Christ offers us all.
Bishop Hee-Soo Jung has served as resident bishop of the Wisconsin Annual Conference since September of 2012. Prior to leading the Wisconsin Conference UMC, Bishop Jung served eight years as bishop of the Northern Illinois Conference (Chicago area).