The Tie That Binds

Sunday, July 19, 2020
Intern Teleen Saunders

Psalm 133

A few months ago, a video of an unlikely friendship between a badger and a coyote circulated around social media.  The video, originally posted by the Peninsula Open Space Trust near the bay area in northern California shows a coyote and badger playing together for about an hour before crossing through an underground culvert together.  Now, I’m certainly not a wildlife expert. I know more about God’s ancient people moving across the Sinai desert than about how animals traipse about northern California. But I do know that coyotes and badgers are both predators. So, I would think each animal would be highly territorial and aggressive as to protect its own food source. But this video reveals something different all together.  The coyote is lively and playful acting like a family pet more interested in catching a frisbee than a ground squirrel.  It finds its way into a manufactured culvert leading under a busy highway.  As it enters the culvert, it hops in a circle, stops to crouch on its front paws and wags its tail in the air to tell its friend, the pokey badger, to hurry up.  The badger, in a whole-body waddle, comes into view and trundles into the culvert behind the coyote like it was nothing more than a game of follow the leader – two unlikely friends, making the most of life.  And in reality, that’s exactly what is happening.  It turns out that coyotes and badgers have been known to hunt their prey together in a two-pronged attack: underground for the badger and overland for the coyote.  When they work together, they can team up to catch their next meal.  They can also safely cross under a busy highway as kindred spirits on the same journey with the same goal.

Our Psalm today is an expression of just this type of experience.  You see, Psalms 120-134 are known as the “Ascent Psalms”.  For the Jewish people in ancient times, “going to church” was more than simply hopping into the car or clicking a link on a website.  For these people, “going to church” meant a long journey from homes across Israel and Judea to the Temple in the city of Jerusalem for special celebrations. It is believed that pilgrims sang these Psalms as they literally “ascended” to the Temple, where God promised to meet them.  Although they came from all over the kingdom, their one common faith tied them together in a mutual journey of love.

Psalm 133 is an expression of joy in coming together for God’s promised blessing.  And it proclaims oneness in faith as themes of abundance and unity literally flow like priestly oil or dew as it trickles from the highest mountain into the arid land below.   We as readers get a sense of movement not only by the images within this Psalm but also knowing that God’s pilgrims are literally moving toward the Temple.  It’s a journey, and just like the journey of coyote and badger, there is a sense of kindred ties.

So, I’m wondering here.  If a badger can get along with a coyote, maybe a Badger get also get along with a Gopher.  I’m not talking about animals anymore.  And for those of you who are not from Minnesota or Wisconsin, this is a reference to our University mascots.  Now I understand this rivalry is friendly but in reality, our society has become so divided and so dysfunctional that the very idea of moving through life as kindred spirits is almost impossible to conceive.  Aren’t we all on the same journey?  Aren’t we all like the coyote and badger just trying to survive in this crazy world? Then why are there so many divisions among us?

  • Urban vs. Rural
  • North vs. South
  • Republican vs. Democrat
  • Black lives vs. All lives
  • Economy vs. COVID
  • Industry vs. Environment

And even…

  • Old Lord’s Prayer vs. New Lord’s Prayer

The battles lines have been drawn, the teams have been established, and our journey to the Temple has come to a halt because we as a society can’t get along!  Just look at social media.  There is an overwhelming trend towards “share if you agree.”  It’s too easy to point fingers and call names.  There is no room for nuance, no room for real discussion, no room for basic courtesy.  Divisions in our society spill into our institutions and into our homes.  It’s getting us nowhere.  I’m sure you are as frustrated as I am.  Don’t we want the “good” and “pleasant” that they sing in the Psalms?  Don’t we want to live together in “unity”?

I’m not suggesting that we are all the same.  We do not need to all think alike, look alike, or worship alike.  In fact, I believe that our differences are a gift from God.  Our differences make us stronger.  We need a variety of experiences, ideas, and opinions.  And we are certainly entitled to our own emotions.  These differences make our world stronger like balancing the chase of the coyote with the dig of the badger.  So, with all our differences, how can we also be “kindred”?

Well, according to the New Interpreter’s Bible, the word “kindred” (which may also be translated “brothers”) does not mean blood relatives, but a people joined by God’s grace[1].  The grace of God given so freely to all, encompassing the world in love.  This grace that we as followers of Christ know intimately.  The grace that binds us together as one mind in spite of our many differences.

In his letter to the Philippians, St. Paul writes,  “If then there is any encouragement in Christ, any consolation from love, any sharing in the Spirit, any compassion and sympathy, make my joy complete: be of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind.  Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others. Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus.”  (Philippians 2:1-5)

This love-for-the-other is the tie that binds.  It’s like an invisible thread that holds us together in one humanity.  And as Christians, we are called upon to share this grace-filled love with our neighbors, not through coercion or some sort of Holy War, but through the example of Christ.

Following the metaphor of Psalm 133, what starts as a small trickle of dew soon covers the side of a mountain bringing much needed water to the parched ground.  Christian love is that dew.

This is not to say we shouldn’t take a stand against evil.  And as Lutherans, we are certainly no stranger to protest.  It’s why we are called Protestants after all!  But we need to know our enemy and it’s not a who, it’s a what.

Let our fight be against:

  • Poverty not people
  • Injustice not immigrants
  • Racism not race
  • Covid not community

Let’s be of the same mind against sin and evil.  Let’s be of the same mind to love our neighbor.  Our time on earth together is a shared journey whether we like it or not.  And now, more than ever, we desperately need to hear God’s call to “live together in unity.” Psalm 133 offers hope and the promise of kinship in the tie that binds us, the grace of our savior Jesus Christ. Augustana, our Temple is not in Jerusalem.  Our Temple is in Christ. Let us be the oil, the dew that flows towards uniting in justice, peace, and love.  For as our Psalm says, “there the LORD ordained his blessing, life forevermore.”  Amen


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