Sermon from 16th May 2021 (Easter 7)

Psalm 1 (EHV)

How blessed is the man
    who does not walk in the advice of the wicked,
    who does not stand on the path with sinners,
    and who does not sit in a meeting with mockers.
But his delight is in the teaching of the Lord,
and on his teaching he meditates day and night.
He is like a tree planted beside streams of water,
    which yields its fruit in season,
    and its leaves do not wither.
Everything he does prospers.

Not so the wicked!
No, they are like the chaff which the wind blows away.
Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment,
nor sinners in the assembly of the righteous.

Yes, the Lord approves of the way of the righteous,
but the way of the wicked will perish.

Dear Heavenly Father, send your Holy Spirit upon us so that we may delight in your words of instruction which we receive through faith in your Son, our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.

Imagine the following scene:

You’re walking down the street and you see a group of people sitting together observing those who walk by. You notice the one in the centre is making derogatory comments about the way people walk or how they’re dressed. His friends echo some of his comments and add some of their own. It’s like a verbal feeding frenzy taking place at the expense of those who are just trying to get through the day. This doesn’t mean they all join in. At least not straight away. Some end up being the scoffers and tattle-tales who spread the insults they heard to anyone who would listen to them later in the day.

Or, imagine someone says something on social media which is harsh and un-called for. Before you know it, others have chimed in to add their own two-cents worth at the expense of those under attack. Like most social media sites, there are those who lurk and observe. They may not add to the comments, but they share the postings so more people can add further damage toward the reputation of those under attack.

Or, imagine someone makes a comment about their brother or sister in Christ to a small group after worship. It may have been true, but it may not have been true. Sometimes it doesn’t matter. The seed of discontent and negative opinion about the person being talked about has been sown. The comment questioned the motives and actions of another person and threatens their reputation. Before you know it, others in the gathered group have also chimed in to add their own criticism and judgments toward their brother or sister in Christ. Of course, like the other situations, some people in the gathered group remain silent at this time, but later they spread the juicy gossip and chatter about what they heard to others.

The scenes I’ve mentioned are examples of the picture described in our Psalm.

The psalmist describes three categories of the wicked who mock and criticise and judge and insult and share all kinds of uncaring things about others. The effects of these comments ripple through a community, but also threaten the salvation of those who join in with such sport.

According to this psalm, it doesn’t matter whether you’re the one in the centre who is the chief of mockers, or if you’re one of the apprentices who are learning the art of mocking, or whether you’re a silent observer who goes along with the pack and later spreads the gossip to others. They’re all listed as one of the wicked.

And yet, how many times have you and I been involved with such sport?

How many times have we spoken in judgment of others? How many times have we added further damage to someone’s reputation by adding our own criticisms to what we hear? How many times have we passed on the juicy rumours and hurtful gossip to other people so they too will think badly of the one we talk about?

Whenever we’ve done any of these things, we haven’t just sinned against each other and strained our relationships. We’ve sinned against God! He calls everyone of us ‘wicked’ because we’ve been involved in such a cruel and abusive sport against one of those made in his image for whom Christ has died, which means none of us deserve to be in the assembly of the righteous!

On the other hand, the psalmist mentions the blessed man who would rather meditate on what God says. He should be congratulated because he isn’t found among the counsel of the gossip-spreaders, nor does he stand with the guilty apprentices who like to add their own insults, and he isn’t the one sitting in the seat of the king of mockers.

He should be congratulated because he doesn’t delight in the juicy gossip. Instead, he delights in God’s instructions. He doesn’t dwell on the evil insults and harmful chatter. Instead, he dwells on God’s word.

He gains pleasure from God’s instructive words on how to live and work and worship, including the instructions to love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength, and to love your neighbour as yourself.

In fact, he gains so much pleasure from God’s Word, he seems to mutter it all day long and even at night. This means he doesn’t just meditate on God’s word for an hour of worship once per week, or for a few rushed minutes in devotions every day, or even during an additional time of bible study once per fortnight.

He constantly rolls God’s words around in his mouth: memorising them, chewing them, meditating on them, mumbling them, and munching on them. It’s like God’s instructive laws are an everlasting gobstopper which gives constant pleasure and joy to him! And the whole time the wicked people ridicule him for gaining pleasure from God’s Word.

But this isn’t the only dramatic picture of comparison given in this psalm between the blessed and wicked.

This wise man, gaining so much from God’s teachings, can be compared to a tree planted right alongside an irrigation channel. We all know that trees which have an uninterrupted water source don’t wither during drought. They can be a trustworthy source of fruit and shelter.

In this way, even though this person will experience tough times, this faithful tree-like person, who is constantly nourished by the life-giving word of God, bears his fruit and shade for the pleasure, provision and protection of others.

Enriched by God’s word, he becomes a refuge for the weary, a place of rest and comfort for the abused, and a shelter for the beaten.

This is the picture of a wise man who is constantly immersed in God’s word.

We’re also given another picture of the wicked or foolish.

They’re nothing like this tree, but they’re likened to cocky chaff. They’re like those bits of flaky seed coverings that are picked up and blown about by the wind. They have no substance and are of no use to anyone.

These wicked people, no matter how much they insult those around them and how far they spread their harmful chatter, well, they’re like worthless matter, constantly blown about by the winds of the age.

So, where the wise are unwavering and satisfied by the Lord’s water and words, the foolish are blown about by contemporary opinions, the latest insult, and the negative news. As a result, they wander aimlessly and provide nothing of benefit to those around them. These inconsequential bits of worthless matter will not stand in the court of judgement.

Now we get to that uncomfortable question: Which one are you? There’s only two possibilities!

Are you really like the wise man who constantly delights in God’s instructions and who persistently bears the fruit of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control for the benefit of others?

Or are you more like the worthless bits of cocky chaff who insult and offend and gossip about others?

Now, I’m sure you’d like to be counted as the blessed wise person who is likened to a fruitful evergreen tree, but do you really meditate on God’s Word day and night? Are you constantly receiving those living waters, or are you being blown about by the winds of the age and public opinion? Are you instead one of those cynical ones who have judged and damaged the reputation of others, which means you’re one of the wicked who are considered as worthless and doomed to destruction?

Well, if you haven’t figured it out yet, you’re not the tree!

You see, there’s only who really qualifies as the faithful wise man who is likened to a fruitful tree.

Jesus alone is the blessed one who murmured God’s instructive words day and night and bore the fruit of faith for the benefit of all those he serves. Despite this, the people of the day criticised him, judged him and killed him, including faithful people of God.

Yet, regardless of all this, he still remains steadfast like a tree beside a water channel. He gives life, shade, food, refuge and stability to all those who rest under his branches. Whenever you face storms and troubles in your life, you know Jesus is your place of comfort and strength.

However, while we may not be that one true tree, by the undeserving grace of God, you and I have been forgiven through the suffering and death of our Lord Jesus Christ, and through faith have become members of his body, and therefore branches of that evergreen tree.

You see, God delights in taking worthless and wicked people like you and me into his fellowship so that we may be forgiven, cleansed, and renewed.

Through faith we’ve been taught God’s word, washed in the waters of baptism, joined to the body of Christ, and nourished through our participation at his holy meal.

This means those same lips which have criticised, grumbled, insulted, and gossiped about those around us have also received Christ’s holy body and blood to cleanse our lips, purify our bodies, and renew our hearts.

It’s while we maintain our discipleship to our Lord Jesus Christ by constantly learning from his divine instructions, continuing to enjoy his cleansing of forgiveness, keeping on receiving the benefits of baptism and his holy meal, and as we continue to persist in our loving and caring fellowship with our brothers and sisters in Christ, that we also bear the fruit of our faith to benefit those around us.

So, no, you’re not the tree itself, but as one joined to Christ through the waters and word of baptism, you’re part of it. By faith you’re one of those who gain from his instructive words which gives you direction, hope and life.

While you remain one in Christ, you’re one of his branches who stretches out to serve others in this troubled world. As long as you remain in the Word-made-flesh and continue to learn from his teachings, you’re one of those who offer hope and strength and refuge and safety to those around you.

By God’s grace, may you all continue to be part of that faithful evergreen tree which not only survives, but even thrives despite the storms, tough times, and insults which come your way.

By God’s Grace and through your own dwelling in God’s words of instruction, you may turn from a gossiper to a peacemaker, an insulter to a healer, and a criticiser to a carer.

Remain in Jesus, the true blessed one who is your source of life, light, hope, food, shelter and strength. Rejoice in his words and be counted among the righteous. Learn to love and gain pleasure from God’s living words of instruction so you may bear the fruit of love, joy, peace and patience to those around you.

And may the peace of God, which surpasses all human understanding, continue to guard our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.