Where are all my tenors at? If you don’t know how to answer that question. Then welcome to my world. A couple of years ago I got into musical theatre. I remember auditioning and having the musical director tell me that I was “Tenor 1”. Out of fear of looking stupid I didn’t ask “what’s a tenor one?” at that moment. I waited until I was outside and googled it instead. I found out that a “Tenor” is the highest of the ordinary adult male range vocal parts. In the first rehearsal, it was very important that I knew this information. As we began the Music Director said, “Tenors I want you sitting here, Baritones here, Basses here, Altos here, Sopranos here”. Each person had a specific place within the wider group and each group had a part they learned which was different from the other. The result was something beautiful. Oftentimes listening to one part on its own, especially when that part wasn’t singing the melody line, would sound wrong, ugly, harsh or boring. But when all parts sang together the harmony was truly something special. When we put together all the parts and sang through our first song, the room was filled in a way that our lone tenor group could never have achieved on our own.
Harmony doesn’t work alone. It is the combination of different elements which present a whole and complete structure. It’s when the differences come together and make a glorious sound. Harmony is the sound of unity within difference. It’s the result of something that is only possible when people who are different from one another unite together. When this happens it’s always breathtaking.
So often the church sells a lie about unity. One of the most misquoted verses, in the Pentecostal world especially, is found in Psalm 133. The paraphrased quote that is often used by leaders is, “Where there is unity, God commands a blessing.” It’s this beautiful fridge magnet worthy quote. The sort of thing a leader says to inspire teams to work together. It is often quoted in order to have people within the team all have “one thinking” on a topic. This topic is generally the vision or words of a single “God appointed man and woman” who everyone should agree with on every topic for the church to be blessed and grow. Now, there is nothing wrong with this concept, in fact, it’s true, it’s a great leadership technique. But it’s not so spiritual as it is natural.
Unity, a common goal or target, can bring success for the good. But it can also bring success for what is evil. There are several times throughout history where I just don’t think God blessed humanity’s unity, but it still saw degrees of success which could be interpreted as a blessing by some. Take the Nazi regime under Hitler. Their catchcry was “A United Germany”. The newspaper headline on Aug 4, 1934, read: “Today Hitler is all of Germany”. The Nazi regime saw great success for quite some time in their evil efforts because they were great at unity. Another moment in history is found in the Bible. The story is known as the “Tower of Babel”. A story of a united people who wanted to show their power off to the rest of the known world. These people wanted to build a tower that would reach the heavens and make them “like God”. Their oneness, their unity, saw them succeeding greatly. That is until God destroys their tower and divides the people by confusing their language because united, they could achieve much with an evil and corrupt agenda.
God didn’t bless those things, and I dare say it, I don’t think he blesses every united attempt made by humanity, or by the church. The inspirational quote, “Where there is unity God commands a blessing”, is true, but we must understand it in its greater context. Because it’s safe to say that all unity can build something significant and do so with momentum, whether it be good or evil. The strength and the blessing aren’t found in all being the same. It’s not in having the same thinking, the same abilities, the same look, the same everything. No. The melody alone is beautiful. But the strength, the blessing is found in the harmony. It’s the unity within the difference, not the unity around the similar, which is strongest.
Psalm 133 starts with “How good and pleasant it is when brothers dwell in unity!” Our first glimpse into this overly misrepresented bible passage is about the unity within difference. It’s good when DIFFERENT people, brothers, can dwell or live together in unity. If you have siblings you know, we’re different. I have two sisters and the three of us couldn’t be more different if we wanted to be. But we come together so beautifully under the “Kelly” name. Well, now that we are adults that is. There were times growing up where we just wanted to kill each other. But the writer of the Psalm doesn’t say that it is people who are all the same, who think the same, who talk the same, who look the same, who live the same who God blesses. No, it starts with the difference.
In verse 2, it goes on to say, “It is (when different people unite) like the precious oil on the head, running down on the beard of Aaron, running down on the collar of his robes!” This is where many would give up on critically analysing the leadership quote because what does this even mean? Well, it still focuses on the different people being together. Aaron was the High Priest. When he entered the temple, he would wear a robe. On the collar of that robe were 12 different stones which symbolised 12 brothers or 12 tribes. Different people groups who formed the nation of Israel. In the Old Testament, oil is used to anoint people as chosen by God, to mark them as clean. Aaron in this passage symbolises Jesus. The 12 stones on the collar symbolise people coming together under Jesus. The Oil symbolises Jesus choosing them as His own. The church has become a box-ticking enterprise. If you tick the right boxes, you can be in. If you look, feel, smell, walk and talk like us then you’re welcome – if you fit within the box. But Jesus says if you’re centred around Him, and you are moving towards Him, you have put your faith in Him and believe He is Lord, then you are chosen. Then you belong. You don’t have to have it all together. You don’t have to have all the correct theology, because none of us ever will. It’s all about Jesus. Just Jesus.
So, God is saying what He throws His blessing at, what He truly loves, is when diverse, unique, different people can live together beautifully. It’s like the oil running down the beard and onto the collar. That’s what Jesus chooses to bless. We can have differences in so many areas of belief within the church and should be able to live together, with Jesus – Love, Light and Life – being the central focus. This thought alone should empower people. Peter in his letter writes of stones too. He says in 1 Peter 2:5, “you are like living stones, being built up as a spiritual house…” This whole unity found in the difference is all about building each other up. Too often if you’re different, it means you can’t fit, it means you are out. But Jesus takes all the different stones and builds them up. He embraces the diverse and sees strength in the difference. He loved the WHOLE WORLD so much that He came. He gives each person a part to play in his story. It doesn’t matter what colour your skin is, what baggage you bring to the table, what sexuality you are, what clothes you wear, what’s in your bank account, what mental health issues you suffer from, what gender you are. Everybody fits and should be welcome.
Unity is enhanced when different and diverse people all have a part, and all know their part. If people are excluded from playing a part because they are different, then true unity cannot be achieved. In an orchestra, each instrument is quite different, but each instrument knows their part and makes a sound that is beautiful. In the army, each soldier can carry a different title or function, but if they know their role and can play their part they work effectively. In our bodies, each part is very different, but each is vital for health and functioning in day to day life. Unity empowers the difference in individuals to see humanity be built up and filled with life.
The Psalm finishes with, “It’s like the dew of Hermon, which falls on the mountains of Zion! For there the LORD has commanded a blessing, life forevermore.” This picture is beautiful. The dew from one mountain provided a much-needed life-giving source to another. These mountains were different. They were far from each other. But Mount Zion needed the waters from Mount Hermon. The unity that God loves and desires are about different people who are far from each other on thinking, practice, knowledge, skills, values, coming together and giving life to each other. It’s always about building each other up. Encouraging each other. Where self-motivation falls to the wayside for the interests and concerns of all people to rise. Where everyone is welcome, everyone belongs, and everyone has a part to play. That’s what God blesses, and He blesses it with life, life forevermore.