Any of us who have gone on a vacation with our children remember the most famous travel question of them all: “Are we there yet?”
One of my favorite scenes in all of filmmaking is from the Shrek 2 movie when Donkey says to Shrek, “Are we there yet?” … “Are we there yet?” … “Are we there yet?”
To which Shrek responds, “The Kingdom of Far, Far Away is far, far away!”
And Donkey moans, “I’m just so darned bored; there’s no in-flight movie or nothing!”
Finally, Donkey’s “pop, pop, pop (sounds)” leads Shrek to yell “DONKEY, can you just stop being yourself?”
Vacation and travel is supposed to be a fun time for a family – an adventure. Sometimes it is, but sometimes it creates new stresses not seen at home. Everyone is living together in a packed hotel room, or, as in the case of some of my own family’s epic vacation disasters, in a tent.
Living in a tent is not always the greatest of fun—in my humble opinion. My family of origin didn’t go camping; we had the good sense of living in a vacation house or hotel. Diana’s family camped … a lot … even for an entire summer one time – touring the whole USA. So when I married Diana, I knew some camping was part of the deal; we even did it on our honeymoon … bet y’all can’t top that!
Well, we camped a lot with our boys as they grew up. No, it was not always awful, but, there were more than a couple of epic trials, especially with the weather. But it was cheap, and that was the driving motivation for doing it.
So, eight years ago we were in a tent at Yellowstone … in June. And it was so cold that there was ice on the inside of the tent walls. Nobody could sleep … in June! About 3:00 in the morning, I looked at Diana through the darkness and said, “Diana, I have something to confess to you that I’ve kept a secret from you for all of these 30 years that I’ve known you. And I want to tell you what it is … I HATE CAMPING; I’VE ALWAYS HATED CAMPING, and I only ever tolerated it because I love you. But this is the end. NO MORE CAMPING!”
Notice that our short three-verse Psalm for today has the following superscription (and remember that these words are divinely inspired, just like the verses) …
A song of ascents. Of David.
Again, a Psalm of ascent was one that was sung by Jewish pilgrims at the time of the three festivals in Jerusalem when thousands of people flocked to the city for the holy days. There was no place to house them all in town . They were encamped around the hillsides ascending to Jerusalem by the thousands, living in all sorts of make-shift shelters.
Do you suppose there was some need for them to be reminded about unity? Verse one says:
1 How good and pleasant it is when God’s people live together in unity!
These festivals were a time in the calendar for the whole nation to gather together as one people … one family … which they were – all of them descended from Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.
There are two illustrations given as to what this should be like.
The first illustration is about the oil poured over the head of Aaron, the High Priest …
2 It is like precious oil poured on the head, running down on the beard, running down on Aaron’s beard, down on the collar of his robe.
This verse looks back to an event described in Exodus 30 …
22 Then the Lord said to Moses, 23 “Take the following fine spices: 500 shekels of liquid myrrh, half as much (that is, 250 shekels) of fragrant cinnamon, 250 shekels of fragrant calamus, 24 500 shekels of cassia—all according to the sanctuary shekel—and a hin of olive oil. 25 Make these into a sacred anointing oil, a fragrant blend, the work of a perfumer. It will be the sacred anointing oil.
30 “Anoint Aaron and his sons and consecrate them so they may serve me as priests. 31 Say to the Israelites, ‘This is to be my sacred anointing oil for the generations to come.
So this was a very special and expensive anointing that spoke of the unique relationship of God to his people, and of his people to one another.
The second illustration is about Mount Hermon …
3 It is as if the dew of Hermon were falling on Mount Zion. For there the Lord bestows his blessing, even life forevermore.
Much of Palestine is a rather arid and dry land. Mount Herman in the north is the source of moisture for four tributaries that create the Jordan River. Life flows down from Mount Herman with the heavy dews that give vitality for the entire region.
Likewise, life and vitality comes from the unity of God’s people with one another.
In the 1970s, I fell in love twice. Yes, once was with my life-long camping partner mentioned above. The other time was with the institution and family known as the Church of Jesus Christ. My local church family meant so much to me through my high school and college years; I was so blessed by so many people who cared for me and encouraged me in untold ways. They were my family, more than my family was my family. I was never tempted by the allurement of the world and the partying culture of my public high school. I had a family of friends in a youth ministry that was different and so much healthier in every way.
And so, I knew my life was going to be invested in the local church. More times than not, it has been a great blessing. Where it has not been is related to the very theme of this little Psalm. Unity makes for rich experiences; disunity makes for extreme pain and disappointment.
When we come together on Sunday, we are like pilgrims who are all a part of the same family. We have come from our homes to spend time together in our worship of the Lord – the patriarch of our family. His sacrifices for us are so great, that, when you think about it, it is really silly that we not spend our time together in harmony and unity.
Jesus cares about this; he prayed for it in his final intercessory prayer in John 17. We should care about it also.