Feeding the Spirit (Feb 17, 2019)
Psalm 1; Luke 6: 46-49
Feeding the Spirit
The book of Psalms is not a book that is usually read for the sermon. Sometimes it’s read in service at some point, but then I’ll preach on another scripture. But the book of Psalms is not usually the one that’s expanded upon outside maybe funerals, and then only for the 23rd one. And yet, the book of Psalms is strangely human. Usually we can identify with them. They are emotional. They often come from the deepest parts of human hearts. They come from difficult times in the authors’ life, times and situations that we often will face as well. There are Psalms for times of indifference, times of great joy, times of unspeakable pain, times of feeling is if God has forsaken us, times where we’re numb to everything. Like the poetry of today, the poetry of the Bible speaks to us in special ways that just aren’t matched by the narrative sections. Psalm 1 wants to teach us a lesson. It serves both as the introduction to the entire rest of the Psalter, and also as a message of its own; a lesson about foundations and what they can do for our life. It goes well with Jesus’s message in Luke chapter 6 that was read. Jesus talks about how there are two houses. One is built on sand, and one is built upon a rock. And they’re fine; they work just fine; they both are working great. Until the storms come. And the storms blow and the winds come. And the house on sand has the foundation crumble out from beneath it and it falls down. The house that was built on rock is able to withstand the storm. It’s the story of the three little pigs. The three little pigs all build a house. One builds a house of straw, one built a house of twigs, one build a house of brick. And the one who built a house of straw, and the one who built a house twigs laugh at the one who built the house of brick because it takes forever. But then the Big Bad Wolf comes. And he huffs, and he puffs, and he attempts to destroy the houses. And the house built of straw comes tumbling down. And the house built out of twigs comes tumbling down. But the house that was built of brick and mortar survives, and the Big Bad Wolf cannot defeat it. It’s the same lesson, the same story: that foundations matter, that what you build with and what you build upon matters in times of trouble. Psalm 1 has a similar message. It seeks to talk about the foundation upon which you should build your life, upon which you should live. And then it talks about how one of those leads to righteousness and the other one leads to wickedness. And it tells you avoid the advice of the wicked, but rather be righteous. It says to “meditate on the law of the Lord day and night.” What does that mean?
Well first, the law of the Lord was the Torah, and that was the Bible of that particular time. They didn’t have anything else back then. So what the author is saying is to meditate on the Scriptures; to let the Scriptures be your thoughts day and night. And that’s the second thing: the suggestion on meditating day and night on the Scriptures doesn’t literally mean the only thing you’re doing 24 hours a day, seven days a week is meditating on Scripture and having your Bible open on your lap. What it means is that you have a mindset that is thinking about “what does God want me to do in this situation?” A mindset that is thinking back on the Scriptures. It’s the same thing as Paul talking about being up in a constant state of prayer. Paul is not saying pray 24 hours a day, seven days a week. What Paul is saying is that your attitude is prayerful 24 hours a day, seven days a week. You live so that if God needs to speak to you, God can break-in; you’re not so loud that you can’t hear. It’s similar to the children’s message I had last week.
Psalm 1 says that if you do this you will be righteous, you’ll be upstanding, you’ll be living the life that God wants you to live. The righteous are like trees that are planted by the water. I don’t know if you’ve ever been out to the western part of the state. It’s hard to see here; there’s places you can see it around here, but it’s hard to see around here. But if you ever get out to the western part of the state, or even like down in the Emporia area, there are large, vast fields where you can see for miles. And when you enter into one of those you can tell when you’re coming up on a river or creek because there will be this winding line of trees that comes and cuts across the field. And you know that’s gonna be a creek because the trees are living by the water. Trees can survive by water through significant droughts, through trials that they experience. They can survive when trees elsewhere cannot survive in the same climate because they are right by the river, and they can get the water and nutrients that the river brings. In other words they survive because they have strong roots, and those roots are in the right places. Interestingly to me, there’s a sense in this passage that the tree did not just grow by the river, but the tree had been planted by the river. A sense that the righteous are like a tree that’s been planted by the river; transported from somewhere else to the river in order to make it prosper. I’m reminded of Paul’s imagery that we all are branches that have been grafted into the vine of Christ: that we began elsewhere and that we’ve been placed into this new place in order to receive better nutrients and receive the blessings God has for our life. In other words, when we take in the nutrients, yes we are being blessed by the nutrients, but it’s more that we’re just reaching out for the nutrients that God has has made available to us. When we study Scripture, when we pray, when we fast, when we take communion, when we do these means of grace that I’ve talked about; we are receiving the nutrients that God has provided near us so that we can live, so that we can thrive, no matter what’s happening around us. Now the wicked are described as chaff. I didn’t really know what this was, and so I will give you as good a description as I can. But when wheat is grown and harvested, you have wheat and you have chaff in there together. And you have to separate them because the wheat is valuable and the chaff is worthless. So what they would do is they would go to the threshing floor, and they put it all in a big pile there. And then when the wind came, they would take their pitchfork and they would put it into the pile, and they would throw it up in the air. And the wheat would fall down, but the chaff would be caught by the wind and blown away on the whims of the wind. The wicked are like chaff: they have very little or no roots, and they’re sent flying with the least bit of wind; they’re sent tumbling with the least bit of trial and trouble. Psalm 1 goes on to say “do not sit in the seat of scoffers.” The Blessed, those who do right, don’t keep acting in the way of sinners. But the wicked do. In other words, if you’re sitting in the Word, especially in the Law, then you’re not going to be doing the things the Law prohibits; you’re not going to be doing the things God doesn’t want you to do. You’re going to be doing the things of God does want you to do. And that there will be a noticeable change. In other words, you’ve been plucked up and you’ve been placed by the river so grow your roots toward the water. Don’t grow your roots back toward where you were. Then you will receive nutrients.
For me I picture that we come to Jesus. And then, in prayer and fasting, Jesus points out the things we need to change in our life. And our job is to listen for that and the change. And importantly, our job for others is to take them to Jesus so that Jesus can tell them where they need to change in their life, and they can listen to Jesus. Importantly, we cannot listen for someone else. Our job is to bring them to the altar and kneel beside them, and teach them to listen so that then Jesus can tell them where they need to change. Coming to the altar and listening to Jesus is how we become righteous; it is how we survive the storm and remain fruitful in every situation of life. That’s how you build the house on the rock. One of these two things can sustain you during trial because of the strong foundation you have; and the other is the life that is subject to the smallest wind, or an enemy huffing and puffing and attempting to blow them down. Importantly, the lesson of both our children’s story and Jesus’s parable is patience perseveres. It is easier and quicker to build a house on sand than to dig into hard rock for a foundation. It is easier and quicker to build a house of straw or of twigs then to go through the work of putting brick on mortar on brick on mortar. But when the trouble comes, the patience you displayed in building will pay off. Doing it right yields a righteous life, while cutting corners yields a life that is vulnerable. And the lesson of the Psalm is that doing it right is to engage in these means of Grace, particularly in the study of Scripture. So this week, this month, this year be in the Scripture. Engage with the Scripture. Follow the Upper Room or the Our Daily Bread that sits in the back every week. Come to the Bible studies that we’re going to continue to have throughout the school year portions of the year. Be in prayer. Fast, especially during Lent. Draw upon God; reach out toward the river. Then no matter your trial, you will remain strong, and you will remain fruitful. This is how God brings good out of things that look evil to us: because people reach out to God and bring in the nutrients, and God is able to change the world within them. The blessings that are described here are not blessings about our eternal destination. This is about finding joy in the midst of unhappiness. This is about living to find tomorrow. This is about how to keep going. That’s the blessings we see here, that are offered to us through what this Psalm describes, and what Jesus described. Put yourself on a good foundation now, so that when the next trial comes in your life you too will remain strong. Let that be so. Amen.