Sermon:         Living in Community Scripture:       Psalm 133 Preacher:       Rev. Michael Bodger Location:        First Presbyterian, DeLand Date:               February 25, 2018   So this week we enter into our church-wide Lenten Study, based upon the principles of Living the Five. The small groups have been lined up and there is still time to join one if you haven’t already done so. Some of you have already begun, some of you have yet to start and will do so this coming week, and others will participate through the sermon series each week. As a church though, we will all hopefully benefit from taking a look at a number of aspects of what it means to be church, to be a body of Christ, to be Christ followers in this time and in this place we call First Presbyterian, Deland. Five distinct and yet fully interrelated aspects. You can’t do life alone, Growing people Change, Saved people serve people, Found People find people and worship is a lifestyle. They are all based upon the two guiding commandments given by Christ, Firstly - Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, body and mind and your neighbor as yourself and secondly, go and make disciples of all nations. Putting these two into practice means paying attention to the five principles we will be looking at. We begin by taking a look at what it means that ‘You can’t do life alone.’ The very words stand in the face of a culture and society which says, actually it demands, that we should make it on our own – what’s more if you say you can’t, then you are a failure and you fall short of everyone’s expectations. Approaching life with that mindset brings with it a life approach. You see if we seek to live life that way, then the things we do, the things we say, our attitudes all become focused on me myself and I and all we have to do is to look around at our present world and we shake our heads at all the ugliness, the brokenness, the mess, to realize that it doesn’t work like that. There is always this struggle to simply be one step ahead of the other person and that’s all that counts. It’s the classic image of the photographer and the commentator out on the plains of Africa filming lions. In their desire to get some great footage, they drift a long way from their vehicle. Suddenly the lions begin to take an interest in them. Whilst the lions are still some distance away, but moving in their direction, the photographer puts down the camera and proceeds to put his running shoes on. Perplexed the commentator asks what he is doing. The response comes, “well, if the lions start chasing us, all I have to do is outrun you and I’ll be okay.” Me, myself and I!   As Christ followers there is a better way. Approaching life with the mindset that ‘You can’t do life alone,’ also brings with it a life approach and it is not always easy to do! Open your bibles this morning, if you haven’t brought your own, then there are some in the pew backs in front of you. Our scripture reading comes from the book of Psalms, Psalm 133. Listen to what the Spirit is telling the church this day.   Three short verses – that’s all and the opening line tells it all.   How very good and pleasant it is when kindred live together in unity! Because of the way it is stated, the reverse is also true, when we don’t live together in unity, it’s not good and it’s ugly.   The Hebrew word for good used here is the word ‘tob.’ It is the word that God uses when God reflects during the creation story at the end of each day that it was ‘tob’ it was good and after the 6th day before God rested God saw that all God had created was very ‘tob,’ it was very good. In Genesis, Chapter 2 we see the reverse, the statement is made when God sees Adam on his own, we read, Then the Lord God said, “It is not good that the man should be alone; It is not ‘tob.’ And so we have the arrival of Eve and community begins. From the very beginning, the desire was that we, humanity, should not be alone and our text focuses on living together and as we live together to do so in unity. The Hebrew actually repeats the final word which is yachad twice, yachad, yachad. It highlights the word together. We are to be in relationship, to be together. It’s God’s desire for us to be in relationship with God and it’s God’s desire for us to be in relationship with one another. Why did Christ come? That through his sacrifice, his death and resurrection we would be as white as snow and once again in right relationship with God – we would be together! [1]It’s interesting that anthropologist Margaret Mead when asked by a student what was the first signs of civilization in a given culture responded by saying ‘a healed femur.’ You see in a me myself and I world, there is no capacity or place for someone who can’t pull their own weight or who can’t keep up with the rest. Having a broken femur was a death sentence. Unless, someone took the time to help, to carry them, to bring food and water to them, to stay with them, unless someone cared. The evidence of compassion is the first sign of civilization. It’s a shame as a society that we are forgetting that basic understanding.   As Christ followers, we are to go against the grain of society. To recognize that we can’t do life alone, that it is indeed very good and pleasant when kindred live together in unity! Meanwhile, the reality of the world points to the fact that ‘living together in unity’ does not happen on a regular basis because it’s not easy and sometimes we just want to be away on our own.   When it does, what does that even look like? Our psalmist shares some thoughts about this and we can share many others. 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. Once again the word ‘tob’ is found here and this time it is translated as ‘precious.’ The theme of goodness continues. In the pouring of oil on the head two things are accomplished. One is the function of anointing another, which we today take to recognize that we are all children of the most High God. It was a common understanding back then that those chosen by God would be anointed with oil for specific purposes – Aaron and all his sons, as well as Saul, David, Soloman and many other kings were all anointed. In the New Testament the anointing with oil took on a new aspect with those who were sick being anointed with oil by the disciples and then James in his book encourages the elders to also anoint those who are sick and pray over them.   The other aspect is that oil was used alongside the washing of feet to welcome others into your home. It was a sign of hospitality. Showing an abundance of welcome to the other person so much, that that the oil ran down over the collar of the robe. Do we need signs and rituals today in order to embrace and recognize that we are all children of the Most High God and that we are to welcome one another abundantly? Not put ourselves above others, but to anoint them. The focus could be said to be on the recognition of each other being all adopted children in the kingdom of God. It’s what Bonhoeffer writes about in his book ‘Life Together’ when he talks about the fact that a community that is gathered together, comes together by divine direction, not human design and that it is the Christ in each of us that relates to the Christ in the other that draws us together. When we look upon our relationships in that way, we treat each other differently.   Then there is the dew of Hermon, which falls on the mountains of Zion. For there the LORD ordained his blessing, life for evermore.   Have you ever experienced a dry and arid place? It could be geographical or physical. It could also represent just a part of life’s journey and a place you find yourself in along the way. Mt Hermon was known for its abundant dew as it rarely rained and we are to be there for one another abundantly as we are in relationship with each other, having recognized whose we are. The dew gives life. The dew is present. The dew sustains. Without the dew there is no life, with the dew there is life evermore. Without one another, there is no life, with one another, there is life evermore!   As bothers and sisters in Christ, we need to be in community, in relationship with one another and in so much as we are, there is life evermore.   Our text also stretches the community to embrace all of God’s people as we hear the name Zion, God’s place where all peoples will come and they will gather like the dew on the slopes of the mountains of Zion.   It’s a short Psalm and yet it speaks volumes about how we are to be with one another.   There is one big problem though – it is easier to say, than it is to do. It is easier to recognize in thought, than it is to actually live life out in that manner. In today’s parlance, it’s easy to imagine a virtual world together and in unity, but the realities of life seemingly make it impossible.   As I said earlier, it takes a mindset to be intentional and deliberate in engaging others in community and being a part of each other’s lives. We need to stay on course and not be distracted by the ways the world would have us go.   God is a relational God and we are not designed to live alone. We need to connect with one another and to do so within the body of Christ. It’s easy to hear Jesus’ words in Mark’s gospel when Jesus’ mother and brothers come to see him and he looks around and says ‘Here is my mother and my brothers! Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.’   It’s putting it into practice that is hard. Overcoming our understanding, our sense of what is and isn’t family and broadening that view to embrace others, especially when they are different from us.   When we are not in community, we are isolated and vulnerable to attack. 1 Peter 5:8 tells us, “Like a roaring lion your adversary the devil prowls around, looking for someone to devour.   The understanding of how lions hunted was around then as it is around today. They pick of the weak and isolated. If you didn’t get to see the [2]video for this weeks lesson there was a joke told which was as follows – “What do you call an antelope that gets separated from the herd?” The answer is of course “lunch.” But how much more sobering is it if we think in terms of those we know who have isolated themselves or find themselves isolated for any reason from the body, or who are simply a neighbor or friend we know. Do we give up on them simply as lunch.   Lions rarely attack a group or herd of buffalo. You see the buffalo as the threat is posed, don’t always just run. Instead they place the weakest and youngest members in the middle and surround them with the healthiest animals. The lions rarely, if ever, bring down a full grown healthy buffalo. It makes you think how we should be acting towards one another in the body of Christ. Who do you know today that is isolated and alone? The truth is it is when we are down, depressed, grieving under any number of circumstances that isolate us, that we need the community most.   Does everyone here have a member of the community that knows who to contact if troubles should arise. When things are going well it’s all okay – when they are not, that’s not the time to find out who has what information and who needs to be contacted and what needs to be done.   It’s not just about that though. It’s about sharing life’s ups and downs with each other. It’s about encouraging one another. It’s about holding one another accountable as we journey through life, it’s about recognizing that none of us are perfect and that we are to try and live out life without judging each other. It’s about being there for one another and being present in the moment and others feeling secure in their moment of vulnerability. That if they garner up the courage to reveal something vulnerable about themselves, that they are not going to be judged, but rather helped. That as the body of Christ when a trouble is shared, it truly becomes a trouble halved.   [3]In an August 2012 edition of Our Daily Bread it told the story of Texas Ranger baseball player Josh Hamilton who had battled the demons of drug and alcohol addiction. When his team won their playoff series in 2010, Hamilton was concerned about the postgame celebration. He admitted that it’s not good for a recovering alcoholic to be in the midst of a “rainstorm” of champagne. But something beautiful happened. Instead of champagne, his teammates stocked the locker room with ginger ale so that Hamilton could be included in the celebration. A great picture of community and putting others’ needs above your own.   It’s what Paul meant when he commanded the Philippians to count others as more significant than themselves (2:3-4). Being united to Christ made the Philippian believers members of the same family and gave them a special bond. Paul encouraged them that their attitude toward one another was to be expressed in practical ways: unity in love, sacrificial service, and discovering how to help others even when they didn’t realize they needed help and so it is for us.   It’s not even about everyone agreeing with everything – that’s impossible – it’s about loving one another through our differences – even if we end up agreeing to disagree – it’s love that prevails.   You can’t do life alone – they are very simple words, hard to put into practice, but they have life changing implications in order to live them out. They have societal changing implications if they are brought about and it’s only the starting point. As Christ walked alongside his disciples, we as Christ followers are to walk alongside each other. Take the time this coming week to think about the ways in which we are already trying to do that as a church. Think about the ways that you and I are doing that individually in our lives. Think about the ways we can, together, improve on what it means to be a body of Christ, gathered by Christ in this time and place to make a difference in our own lives, the lives of others, the lives of those in this community and beyond by living into the fact that we can’t do life alone – and all of God’s people said. Amen.   Bibiography   The New Interpreter’s Bible. Complete Twelve Volume Disk. Abingdon Press. 2002   Michael D. Bodger, M.Div. Pastor & Teaching Elder First Presbyterian Church 724 North Woodland Blvd. DeLand, Florida 32720  © 2018 Michael D. Bodger. Sermon manuscripts are available for the edification of members and friends of First Presbyterian Church, DeLand, Florida and may not be altered, re-purposed, published or preached without permission. All rights reserved. [1] 1001 Quotes, Illustrations, and Humorous Stories. Baker Books. 2008 by Christianity Today Intl. [2] Living the Five. Jim & Jennifer Cowart. A Community Group Resource. DVD Video. Abingdon Press 2016. [3] https://odb.org/2012/08/18/living-in-community/