Sunday, February 17, 2019

Psalm.1.1-6; Sixth Sunday after the Epiphany; February 17, 2019

Life in Christ Lutheran Church, Grand Marais, MN.
It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way—in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.
That is the opening paragraph from what many consider to be a great classic work of literature.  The book is called “A Tale of Two Cities,” by Charles Dickens.  I don’t know if you’ve read the story or not, but it’s a book about contrasts.  The whole story takes place during the upheaval of the French Revolution and is centered on two characters that look alike but are actually quite different.  One exhibits the best qualities of the time, the other the worst; one is wise, the other foolish, etc.  Dickens uses the contrast between these two men to build a story life and death, darkness and light, and good and evil. 
The psalm for today also talks about the same kind of contrasts.  It paints for us a very vivid picture of two ways of life; two ways that humans can live.  The way of wisdom, the way of the person who is blessed by God, and the way of wickedness, the way that perishes. 
Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers; but his delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night. He is like a tree planted by streams of water that yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither. In all that he does, he prospers. The wicked are not so, but are like chaff that the wind drives away. Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment, nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous; for the Lord knows the way of the righteous, but the way of the wicked will perish. (Psalm 1:1-6, ESV)
The author of the Psalm paints these pictures with two strong images.  The first is the image of a strong tree flourishing by a stream.  This tree has great leafy green branches that spread into the sky.  Each leaf receives the moisture it needs from the stream, they “never wither” the poet says.  The tree is a fruit-bearing tree.  In season the fruit is heavy on the branches, a good crop at the proper time.  “And all that he does prospers,” the Psalm says, in conclusion, that is it grows and bears fruit just as a tree should do.  Oh how blessed is the tree that has been so planted that it can grow and prosper in the way that tress should grow and prosper. 
Oh, how blessed is the man… The picture of the tree is a picture of a righteous person.  You can see the contrast set up again by the psalm.  A person grows and prospers by the instruction of God, not by the counsel or wisdom of the wicked.  A righteous person meditates “day and night” on the things of God not living the way that wicked people live, not by sitting with them to learn from their foolishness.  Instead the blessed person goes to God with the questions of life.  He listens to the wisdom of God and considers what it means for the way he lives.
That isn’t the way with the wicked people described by the psalm.  They are like the chaff the wind blows away.  In contrast to the planted tree, the chaff is the throw away part of the harvest.  The newly harvested stalks of grain are stacked on the threshing floor.  Oxen trample them to release the grain.  When evening comes and the gentle breeze begins to blow, the farmer tosses the mixture in the air.  The wind picks up the chaff and carries it away, but the heavy grain falls back to the ground.  The grain is collected and moved to storage.  The chaff isn’t given any further thought, the wind has disposed of it, and it has no value anymore.  The way of the wicked person is just as the chaff.  It ends in nothing, accomplishes nothing and easily disappears in the breeze.
The best of times, the worst of times, foolishness and wisdom, light and darkness, these are two ways of life.
It’s easy for us to think that we are the ones who are blessed ones.  Look around you at all that is here around us: A wonderful property, a wonderful congregation that God has been preserving.  For years his congregation has gathered together every Sunday to sing beautiful music, and hear God’s Word proclaimed.  Children are born and baptized and bring life and hope.  We have watched as they confessed their faith and become responsible adults.  We have wonderful places to live and food enough.  And our community that often helps and nurtures those who are hurting.  We are truly very blessed people. 
But are our leaves always green?  Do we bear fruit when we should?  I must admit for myself, when trouble comes into my family, when I face the prospect of death and pain, I don’t feel very green.  I’m sure it’s the same for you.  There are struggles we all face every single day; insecurity at work, struggles with people you don’t like, questions about the future of the church and community; the future of the economy; the future of our country.  Often what we see in the future more feels like what’s blowing away in the wind than anything else.  And our fruit always seem to be tainted.  Oh, we want to do the right thing, but issues always seem to come down to money and time.  We don’t want to be selfish, but we’ve got to take care of ourselves first.  At least that’s the advice you get from television, and movies.  At least that’s the word we get from self help books and our friends and family and our own sinful hearts.  We do have fruit, but lots of time it seems kind of wormy and quite a bit rotten.  And that’s the problem with rotten fruit.  You can’t eat it.  It’s just no good.
It seems that Psalm 1 describes our lives very well.  We are blessed and yet we do things that wicked people do.  So where does that leave our future?  Is God going to watch over us or shall we blow away like so much straw?
The truth is that the Psalm isn’t just talking about us.  We really fit in the wicked category better than with the one who meditates on God’s Word day and night.  An hour a week seems to be our limit.  A little to long on Pastor’s sermon and we’ll threaten to drop off to sleep.  No, the good part of the Psalm really describes Someone else a lot better than it describes us.  It describes Someone who’s fruit is never tainted.  It describes Someone who always got that green leaf thing going on.  It describes Someone who has God’s Word as the very nature and center of His life.  He walks in God’s ways not ours.  He does whatever He sets out to do.  There’s that contrast again, it’s very strong in this Psalm.  There’s us and there’s Him… and the Him is Jesus.
Everything Jesus did was blessed.  God watched over Him and protected Him.  When King Herod wanted to kill Him, God sent Jesus family to Egypt.  After Jesus was tempted in the wilderness, angels came and helped Him.  Jesus didn’t take the counsel of wicked people; He stood up to their lies and confronted their hypocrisy.  Jesus was caring and compassionate.  Everywhere He went people walked away different.  He ended suffering from disease, and weakness.  Just remember the reading from Mark.  He cast out an unclean spirit.  He gave people hope for their future, and He even gave them food when they needed that.  Remember how He fed 5000 people in the wilderness with 5 loaves and 2 fish?  It’s easy to see Jesus as the strong tree, His arms heavy with good fruit stretched out for the people that flocked to be with Him.  He was green and growing, bearing fruit and prospering.  He was blessed and watched over by God.  He was everything we should be and can’t be. 
And yet, there’s another part of that Psalm that describes Jesus, too.  He wasn’t a wicked person.  He lived His life perfectly in the will of God, He never sinned, but still He suffered the death of a wicked person.  Everything He did was right and yet He suffered and died, as a wicked person deserves.  What happened to God watching over Him then?  God was watching, in fact, Jesus whole life lived for that very moment.  Someone had to be punished for the wickedness of people, someone had to be punished for the evil things that you and I do.  Someone had to die for our rotten fruit.   And that’s just what Jesus did.  He bled and died for the wickedness of the whole world.  He willingly gave His perfect life to satisfy the need for punishment… to perish for wicked people.  And God was watching and approved of it and accepted the sacrifice of Jesus for you and me and all the wicked people of the whole world.  And all that He did prospered.  When the payment was paid in full, Jesus Christ rose from the dead again, in victory over all evil.
“Pastor,” you say, “I know what Jesus did, but my life still seems a lot more like the chaff in the wind.  I don’t feel like the tree by the water.”
Look right here at this font.  That’s your stream of water.  That’s the one you’ve been planted by.  It was at your baptism that God made promises to you to watch over you, and to make you a blessed person.  It was there that you were “clothed with Christ.” You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.  (Galatians 3:26-27) That means that everything Jesus Christ did He did for you.  Everything from the punishment He paid, to the good things that He did.  The green leaves and the abundant fruit that He grew are yours.  That’s what the passage means when it says, For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, (Ephesians 2:8, ESV) That gift of God is faith in the good works of Christ.  Not trusting the “good things” you’ve done to impress God, because we know that no matter how good they are they just don’t measure up.  Listen again to the familiar words of Isaiah: We have all become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment. (we could replace those words with “rotten fruit”!)  We all fade like a leaf, and our iniquities, like the wind, take us away. (Isaiah 64:6, ESV) Sound familiar?  Sure, that’s just like the Psalm.  Well then if all our “righteous deeds” are “rotten fruit” what are we to do?  That’s what our faith is all about we trust in the good fruit of Someone else.  The good works of Jesus are yours.  That’s as true for you as the fact that right here at the “stream of living water” your head got wet.  You have been transplanted by (by means of) streams of water, from the way of wicked people to the way of the blessed.  You don’t need any good works, to make yourself right with God.  But do you know who needs those good things you do?  Your neighbors!  Your family!  You co-workers!  Your community!  Your school!  That’s what changes everything.  Instead of trying to impress God with our good works (they don’t anyway… remember) we can do them to serve others.  We don’t need them, but they do!  And that too is what the Psalm is talking about.
We are blessed people, planted by streams of living water, to bear good and abundant fruit, in season.  Serving the people God has placed right before us to serve.  The future for us isn’t like chaff in the wind.  Our future is a blessed future just as God has promised through Jesus Christ.  For us it is the best of times.  Time to grow and flourish where God has planted us.  Time to bear fruit right here in the ways God has given us to bear it.  And just as he promises, in Jesus Christ all that we do will prosper.  Amen.
The peace of God that passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.  Amen.

No comments: