Better Traveling5 min read

Remember the days of a family headed on vacation? The kids in the backseat excited about the destination? Mom and dad in the front navigating the map, checking the mileage, estimating times for stops along the way?

Then it started. One of the kids looked at one of the other kids “the wrong way.” “He’s looking at me! Tell him to stop.” Then there is a pinch. Maybe a Charley horse to the thigh. Tears. Fighting. Arguing.

“Would you kids stop it?! Can’t you play ‘I’m Thinking Of’ or the alphabet game or track license plates from different states?”

“Behold, how good and pleasant it is when brothers dwell together in unity” (Psalm 133:1).

This Psalm is a Psalm of Ascent, a “traveling psalm” for the journey to Mt. Zion for one of the three annual festivals. It identifies the great treasure unity is. Unity is “good,” a characteristic of God’s intended created order, how things were meant to work. Genesis describes the work of creation as good, except for one thing. It is not “good” for man to be alone, not quite how things should be. So he made a helper, Eve. He created marriage. He created family. He created siblings and extended family. He created others to join together in the experience of life. Life is not to be lived alone; it is to be lived in community, a unity. That is good.

And pleasant. Not everything that is good is pleasant and not everything that is pleasant is good. Unity is both good, part of God’s created plan, and pleasant. It is like the fragrant, perfumed, extravagant oil that is poured on Aaron, the high priest’s head and that runs down his beard, collar and beyond. It fills the air with fragrance that permeates the room.

Ahh. That is unity. Good. Pleasant. A great treasure.

But in human life it is also rare. Sin. Division. Sides. Adversaries. Cain continues to kill Abel with no end in sight.

A Gift

Unity is not only a treasure, but it also needs to be a gift. (That is unity that is both good and pleasant; people can be united for evil on their own.) We cannot generate good and pleasant unity on our own. If comes only through the reconciling work of God in Jesus Christ.

“All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation” (2 Corinthians 5:18–19).

This is the Christian Church. By God’s grace in Jesus, we are united to God through faith in Jesus and thereby united with one another as brothers and sisters. Or as Paul writes, “Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it” (1 Corinthians 12:27).

“How good and pleasant it is when brothers dwell together in unity.”

As a gift from God, we are called to be stewards of unity. The gift of unity is not disconnected from the mission of the Church to share Jesus with the world. Jesus said, “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:25). He prayed to the Father, “May [they] be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me” (John 17:23 NIV). There is a “fructifying” impact of unity. Our Psalm closes with praise to YHWH for the treasure of unity and its impact: “It is like the dew of Hermon, which falls on the mountains of Zion! For there the Lord has commanded the blessing, life forevermore” (Psalm 133:3). The Church’s lived experience of unity is not disconnected from the fruitfulness of the Gospel. We live, move, and have our being before a watching world.

As we consider proper stewardship of unity, let’s keep these three things in mind:

Let’s celebrate the unity we have.

Our congregations, District, and Synod have an amazing unity. We believe, teach, and confess the same things. We believe in Christ alone as the Savior of the world. We agree that Scripture is the sole source and norm for doctrine. We confess the Creeds. We hold to the Lutheran Confessions because they are a correct exposition of doctrine. The unity we have in our fellowship is really quite remarkable and well engrained. We should celebrate it.

Let’s recalibrate our understanding of differences we might have.

Part of our Christian experience includes being people with different personalities, life experiences, and tastes. Some of the differences between us Christians rightly arise out of such differences and do not necessarily work against unity. When we bump up against differences between others within our fellowship, let’s be careful not to cry “out of bounds” too quickly. Let’s approach such differences with greater humility, kindness, and forbearance while putting the best construction on them.

Let’s exercise our unity.

Part of unity is being together physically. Unity includes locality; you have to get together to be together. This includes congregants being together weekly in worship and regularly in shared study and ministry. It includes congregations getting together for Circuit Convocations, Forums, and area-wide ministry projects. It may include congregations meeting together to form greater partnerships, dual congregations, or a church plant. It does include pastors being actively involved in Winkel meetings, conferences, and other gatherings with fellow pastors. And it certainly includes vigorously praying for one another.

Like those who sang Psalm 133 on their way to festivals on Mt. Zion, like kids getting along in the back seat on the way to a vacation, so indeed it is good and pleasant when Christian brothers and sisters are united. It is a foretaste of heaven. It makes for a more fruitful and enjoyable pilgrimage, and it makes our witness to the reconciliation that comes in Jesus more clear.

God grant us ever better traveling.

Based on a sermon given at the pastors’ conferences in the spring.

Photos © Epiximages/iStock and Pearl/Lightstock

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About the Author

Rev. David A. Davis serves as President of the Michigan District, LCMS.

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