David A. Davis
Sunday, May 13
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Blessed are those who do not follow the advice of the wicked. Blessed is the one who does not walk in step with evil doers. The one who doesn’t go down that road. The one who does not walk the trail now so well marked by sinners. The one who does not follow the crowd along the jam-packed highway of self-interest and hatred and greed; that wayward path, the easier path, the wider road. Blessed are those who do not tumble down that darkened, worn, crowded pathway of sin.
The ones who choose not to sit in the seat of scoffers. The scoffers. The mockers. The hecklers. That sold out section in the arena of life. Full and getting fuller by the day, it seems. Those who toss insult and disrespect toward the life of righteousness and pretty much all of life for that matter. Scoffers don’t simply ask questions or voice doubt, they sit back and feel good about themselves by putting others down. They have no time for those who strive after a gentle holiness, or those who offer a bold embrace, or those who turn the other cheek. They ridicule those who talk of a more excellent way and mistake being loving for being weak. They make fun of those who dare believe that love for others and love for a stranger is a virtue. They mock those who dare to live like faith is not the stuff of nostalgia. They roll their eyes at any who insist that hope is found in that which cannot be seen or earned or taken or spent. Scoffers shake their heads with disdain when someone tells them life will conquer death, that goodness is stronger than evil, that love wins, and that at the end of the day there is actually something more to life than simply looking out for yourself all the time. Scoffers, mockers, insulters abound. Blessed is the one who shall not find their seat in that crowded row.
For those who do not follow the advice of the wicked, those who refuse to join the scoffers’ mob, for them their delight is in the law of the Lord. Their delight, their joy comes in the Word of the Lord. They celebrate the precious moments of grace and cling to God’s promise in the moments of tumult. Their souls bask in the rising sun of God’s steadfast love which is new every morning. Their deepest fulfillment comes as they remember the One to whom they belong. They remember who and whose they are and they drink of the ceaseless mercy of God. They take sips of the unmerited favor of the Everlasting God. They crave, they have visions of, they lean into the very reign of God.
On God’s law they meditate day and night. Not like one long bible study marathon, not like a constant cram for a bible exam, maybe not even like a disciplined daily and nightly quite time. More like the Word of God being a lamp unto their feet. They are molded by God’s teaching, nourished by the stories of faith, shaped be the very voice of God revealed and proclaimed and heard in and among and through the community of God’s people. They take comfort in familiar words, words often heard, phrases deeply etched, images forever seared. “The Lord is my shepherd I shall not want.” “In my Father’s house are many mansions.” “Rejoice in the Lord always and again I say rejoice” “I am the vine you are the branches.” “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” They live in God’s Word day and night, day and night, day and night.
These blessed of God, these blessed ones. They are like trees planted by streams of living water. Like young trees tenderly plucked from an arid, wind-swept wasteland and lovingly planted in the plush and fertile soil of the water’s edge. These trees, these saplings, they look to stretch and spread and grow and bloom along the grace-filled river banks of the kingdom of God. Their roots are fed by the Living Water of God’s Holy Spirit. They are cultivated, and clipped, and pruned by the hand of God, nourished by the soil of God’s word.
Indeed, there are seasons in God’s time. But these trees, they learn over time what it means it stand in and out of season, knowing deep down that the cycles of God’s creation are sure as God’s promise. For God will remain faithful in the coldest and harshest winter of life, on the darkest of days when it seems the sun never did rise. Even then, and even at the farthest limits, then and there, God is faithful still. Those who stand like these trees know that there will be those mornings, those long nights, when that is all there is to hold onto….the faithfulness of God.
Yet, those planted by the streams of living water, in all that they do they prosper. Prosper. Prosper? To prosper in God’s creation, to prosper in the kingdom of God is not a promise of wealth. It is not the world’s definition of prosperity, not the prosperity that thrives in the world, not the prosperity that fills some while crushing others. A kingdom prosperity isn’t a synonym for success. It is far from a guarantee of a trouble-free life. To get a glimpse of what it means to prosper in God’s eyes, you have to look around at the people of God, the saints that surround you, the great cloud of witnesses, the body of Christ that enfolds you. A glimpse of embodied prosperity. Prosperity redefined.
To prosper in the kingdom God is to bear fruit for the harvest. It is nothing more than leading a life that reflects God’s love. God’s love made known to us in Jesus Christ. God’s love passed forward in and through the lives of those who prosper. To prosper is to live a life that flourishes while sharing faith, doing mercy, rising for justice, and standing strong for righteousness. Those who prosper in the kingdom of God don’t avoid the storms of life. Far from it. Some storms, some seasons, they hold on to the roots of what God has given them with every ounce of strength they can muster. They face into the wind seeking a glimpse of God’s presence in everything that life has to offer, everything the world blows. Like trees planted by streams of ever-flowing water are the righteousness ones of God.
For the wicked? For the scoffers? For those on the other path? It is not so. It never comes to be. For in the kingdom of God, the trees of righteousness shall flourish as the chaff of wickedness blows away. Like dust that swirls into nothingness. Just a speck tossing and turning. Like a dried flower that crumbles in the hand. The evil doers, the doers of darkness, those who work to thwart the ways of God, they shall not stand in judgment, They shall not prevail. That great gathering in the by and by, that great multitude which no one can number, there won’t be any scoffing there, no wickedness there, no crying, no sickness, no darkness, no death there. The world’s brittle leaves of wickedness shall tumble forever, forever tossed by the wind of God. For the Lord watches over the way of the righteousness but the way of the wicked will perish. The way of the wicked shall perish. Perish.
Blessed are those who do not follow the advice of the wicked. Psalm 1.
But sometimes. But sometimes, Lord. But…sometimes it all doesn’t feel that way. Sometimes it all doesn’t look that way. Sometimes its just not that way. Sometimes those on the other way seem to be doing just fine. And those of us, trying to make our way, make our way along your way, God’s way, well….you know. We all know.
Psalm 1. It is not like spitting into the wind of the obvious when it comes to the way things seem to be. It is more like trying to stand up and reach deep and lean straight into the headwinds of life and proclaim the yearning to be in the kingdom of God, along the righteous path. Psalm 1. It is not some simplistic, naïve, description or prescription. It’s more like a prayer. A poem. A longing. An art work of faith. An affirmation of faith. A depiction of belief. That God’s plan of salvation is greater than the complexity of our lives, that God’s abundant love and mercy shall carry us far beyond our ability to see and figure it all out, and that the Holy Spirit shall anoint us, not always with answers, but with the presence of God who shall surely walk with us to the mountaintops and through the valleys. And along the way, God calls us to stand firm, and to lean in, and to mark, to point to, to line the way of righteousness.
Every time we gather here for worship we affirm our desire to commit to and stand in and live in God’s pathway. Every time we gather around the baptismal fount we collectively and symbolically turn toward God’s way and turn our backs on the other way. Every time we come to the Table we yearn for the nourishment that will carry us along God’s way. Through our prayers, our confession, our intercessions we acknowledge that there is another way, a lot of other ways, ways in the world that contradict, that work against, that oppose the way of God….and some of them seem to do quite well, thank you very much. But because we believe ourselves to be called here by God, because we have bathed in the waters of God’s mercy time and time again, and because we have tasted of that abundant grace offered in the heavenly feast, because some days we have little else to hold on save the love and promise of the Living God, we stand together and proclaim, “the Lord watches over the way of the righteous, but the way of the wicked will perish.”
One of my friends and colleagues in town this week last week is the pastor at Black Mountain Presbyterian Church in North Carolina. I asked her how Pat Miller was doing. Dr. Miller taught Old Testament at Princeton Seminary for decades. Together with his wife Mary Ann, they were very faithful members here at Nassau. Mary Ann died last after a very long illness and caring for her for many years took it’s toll on Pat. Pat and Mary Ann taught Sunday School with a few other couples. 6th grade I think. Can you imagine if your 6th grade Sunday School teacher was one of the most influential Old Testament scholars of a generation; a doctor of the church. Cathy and I visited Pat and Mary Ann at their home in Montreat several times. They were so enjoying retirement where the only real task was to work together all week on the Sunday crossword in the New York Times.
I asked Mary Katherine, the pastors, if Pat still got to church from the continuing care community where he lives. “Yes, of course, he does” she said. “He sits every Sunday there in the same pew next to his sister Mary. Every Sunday. He’s Pat Miller for heaven sakes!” she laughed. Meaning, “of course he is there, he’s Pat Miller.” She could have said, “You know, he’s like a tree.”
Dr. Miller once wrote a suggestion for the life of faith. That as we make our way along this path, as the church travels this way of faith, as you and I navigate all the challenges, the complexities, the life and death that will surely come, Pat Miller wrote, “it might be well to sing the psalms as we go.” It might be well to sing the psalms. An understated suggestion from one of those oak trees of faith, one of the oaks of righteousness. It might be well to sing the psalms.
Psalm 1. It’s a song. A song of faith. As you and I seek by God’s grace to tread along this narrow path, the pathway of discipleship, the way of the cross, the way of life, abundant and eternal….it might be well to sing it, to pray it, and to live it. For the Lord watches over that way, the way of the righteousness. It’s God’s way.
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