Rooted: Psalm 1
Summer Sermon Series
Summer is a great time to slow down and catch our breath. It’s a time to get out into nature and enjoy creation. Go on a hike. Go fishing. Go camping. These kinds of activities do much to replenish our energy reserves in order to get us through the next season.
In a way we are a lot like trees. During the summer, we need a healthy growth of leaves in order to be able to convert the sun’s energy into the sugars that fuel our growth and bring us through the barren months of winter. We also need well-developed root systems that serve to keep us solidly planted and bring life-giving water to our branches.
When we are healthy, we grow and prosper and spread out. Not only do we develop, we also provide shade to the weary and food to the hungry. On the other hand, when we are barren and unproductive, not only do we suffer ourselves but we also adversely affect those around us.
Trees show up repeatedly throughout Scripture. From the story of creation to the final story of recreation, trees serve literally and symbolically to represent good and evil, healing and rest, idolatry and fruitfulness. They serve as reminders of the covenant God makes with his people, and finally they serve as that symbol of sacrifice as Jesus is crucified on a tree.
In this summer sermon series, we will explore the theme of trees in Scripture as we reflect on rest, healing, rootedness, sacrifice, faith, and new life.
We will begin by reading from Psalm 1, because Psalm 1 uses trees as the perfect metaphor to describe what it is to be rooted in relationship with God, and how that relationship leads to being blessed. This is the word of the Lord.
1 Blessed is the one
who does not walk in step with the wicked
or stand in the way that sinners take
or sit in the company of mockers,
2 but whose delight is in the law of the Lord,
and who meditates on his law day and night.
3 That person is like a tree planted by streams of water,
which yields its fruit in season
and whose leaf does not wither—
whatever they do prospers.
4 Not so the wicked!
They are like chaff
that the wind blows away.
5 Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment,
nor sinners in the assembly of the righteous.
6 For the Lord watches over the way of the righteous,
but the way of the wicked leads to destruction.
I love it when the Bible is so straightforward. Black and white. Blessed – or happy – is the one who is this …. Unhappy is the one who does that – happy is the one who does not do this – unhappy is the one who does.
Scripture is rarely this straightforward. In fact, turn the page and you will find Psalm after Psalm that seem to disprove the basic premise of this Psalm. Psalms of lament, where the psalmist complains of suffering – Psalms where the Psalmist wonders why the wicked prosper and why the enemy finds success. Psalms that describe deep pain and fear and darkness. My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
None of that in Psalm 1. Very straightforward –
Blessed is the one who doesn’t walk, stand, or even sit – with sinners.
Notice the movement here. From walking, to standing, to sitting …
That is how temptation works.
Just walking on by minding my own business – but something catches my attention – just out of the corner of my eye- something my eye should not catch – but I can’t help it – a picture I shouldn’t see – a tidbit of gossip I should ignore – the image of something that grabs me and makes my heart jump -
and instead of walking on by, I stop – Instead of running the other way, which is what I should do, I stand still – and then I sit down – and spend some time with it.
That’s called temptation.
James – later in Scripture – describes the movement of temptation in terms of life-cycle.
He says in chapter 1 – When tempted, no one should say, “God is tempting me.” For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone;
but each person is tempted when they are dragged away by their own evil desire and enticed. Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death.
Conception, birth, growth, death – the cycle of sin.
Blessed is the one who does not get dragged away – does not allow the temptation to take root and give birth to desire – nips it in the bud so it does not develop into full-blown sin and lead to eventual death.
Blessed is the one who delights in the law of the Lord, and who meditates on his law day and night.
Really? That’s our choice. Either go through the cycle of sin to death, or meditate on God’s law day and night? Those are the choices?
I don’t know about you, but I am terrible at meditating. When I went to occupational therapy for my concussion, I was told that I needed to rest my brain. You know how ridiculous that sounds, right. It’s like being told to slow down your heart rate – or told to stop worrying. The harder you try the worse it is.
She told me I should meditate.
Breathe in positive thoughts – breathe out negativity. Breathe in life – breathe out the toxins. Repeat a mantra over and over again – listen to the sound of running water - quiet your mind.
So I tried that – and within 30 seconds I am wondering - Am I breathing right? Am I supposed to breathe in through my nose and out through my mouth, or in through my mouth and out through my nose? Why do I feel so light-headed? The sound of running water is driving me batty!
The more I try to quiet my mind, the more noise goes on in there.
Well the Psalmist takes it up a notch. Meditate – not for 30 seconds - mediate day and night– on God’s law, no less!
Have you ever tried to even read the book of Leviticus? Law after law dealing with unclean discharges – blood – sacrifices – what to do when your ox gores a servant – what to do when your neighbour kills your ox – how to wash how to purify how to cleanse how to burn –
I know from personal experience that many an attempt to read through the entire Bible came to a screeching halt when I hit Leviticus.
To even begin to make sense of this, it’s helpful to know how the Hebrews defined God’s law.
They call it the Torah – and it is made up of the first five books of the bible.
Genesis – Exodus – Leviticus – Numbers – and Deuteronomy.
Those five books are about much more than just laws. They are the books that give us the foundation of God’s relationship with his people. Beginning in the garden of Eden with Adam and Eve – continuing with Noah and his family – then Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob and their families – then Joseph and Egypt and slavery and finally redemption out of slavery. That is Torah – complete with the stories of God’s relationship with his covenant people.
The Psalmist says - Meditate on this – day and night –
the promises God makes to his family of believers –
“I am your God and you are my people.” I will bring you up out of the land of slavery- out of the house of bondage.
Let that be the mantra you murmur over all of life. I am your God – you are my child. I am your God – you are my child. In times of sickness – I am your God – you are my child – in times of poverty – I am your God, you are my child. In times of pain – I am your God, you are my child – in times of fear – darkness – say it over and over again.
I just read the book Forgiveness: A Gift from my Grandparentsby Mark Sakamoto. Mark is of Japanese-Canadian descent – his grandparents from his father’s side were second-generation Japanese whose parents had immigrated to Vancouver – his grandfather from his mother’s side was from the Magdalen Islands.
His grandparents on his father’s side were Mitsue and Hideo Sakamoto –
they were forcibly removed from Vancouver during WWII – even though they were second generation Canadians.
they along with 30 000 other Japanese Canadians were perceived as a threat to BC –
They were forced to relocate to Coaldale AB, where they lived in a chicken coop for three years to work as slaves planting and harvesting sugar beets.
In the hardest times, his grandfather would repeat his wife’s name over and over under his breath – Mitsue – Mitsue – Mitsue.
That is how he got through the terrible indignities, injustices, bone-crushing labour and freezing conditions.
His grandfather from his mother’s side was Ralph MacLean.
He signed up first chance he could to go to war –it was his ticket off the island and out of Eastern Canada – he was sent to Hong Kong to fight the Japanese – the Canadian troops were woefully understaffed and within three weeks he was taken prisoner and sent to a POW camp, where he suffered unbelievable hardship, disease, starvation, torture, brutality.
Just before liberation, the Red Cross dropped large oil drums filled with canned fruit, meat, and chocolate into his camp.
When Ralph opened one, he found a Gideon Bible. He took it, went back to his sleeping pallet, got down on his knees and thanked God for sparing him.
He opened the Bible and his eyes fell on Mark 11:25. “And when you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive him, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins.”
He did just that. He forgave his captors, and went back to Canada and lived out of that forgiveness – he married – he had a daughter who eventually met a Japanese Canadian, the son of Mitsue and Hideo Sakamoto.
Somehow these two families ate together, laughed together, talked together. They did not dwell on the injustices of the past but somehow managed to accept one another and live out of the forgiveness they were able to offer.
They were grounded. Rooted.
Even in the harshest conditions, they knew what it was to hold on to hope.
Ralph talks about how he put all of his energy into survival – how he ate everything that was put in front of him, no matter how rotten or moldy or gross it was.
He put his head down, didn’t expend a single ounce of unnecessary energy, didn’t even think about the past or home or anything but survival, and then was able to forgive and move on when he was liberated from his prison.
When we are rooted – we are able to withstand whatever life hurls our way.
Not so the wicked.
Verse 4 tells us that the wicked are like chaff. You know what chaff is. The dry, annoying, irritating, dusty leftovers of the grain. The stuff that blows around and gets in your eyes when you’re harvesting –
There is no weight to chaff – no substance – no rootedness. It just gets up your sleeves and down your back and up your nose - and causes problems.
I remember when some of our kids worked on some of the farms around here. When it was time for haying, they would come home at night with eyes red and allergies in full swing. Runny noses. Sneezing. Scratched arms red. All from the chaff.
The Psalmist says that they don’t have a leg to stand on – in a court of law they have no defence – they can’t even stand still long enough to be in the assembly of the righteous. No roots – no leaves – nothing but dry dust blown about by every breeze that comes their way.
Blessed is the one who does not walk, stand, or sit with them.
Blessed is the one who is rooted in God’s Word, planted by streams of life-giving water – producing fruit and beautiful leaves – you are blessed.
And do you know why? Verse 6 tells us why:
For the Lord watches over the way of the righteous.
That’s right – the Lord – our covenant-keeping God – watches over the way of the righteous.
The verb used here - watches over – in the Hebrew it actually has the sense of knowing – The Lord watches knowingly – he knows the righteous intimately – God knows the righteous in the sense that a husband and wife know each other – intimately – deeply – passionately - completely – lovingly.
God knows our every footstep – he knows our every movement – he knows when we walk – stand – sit with the wicked – and he grieves that. He knows when we break vows – when we claim one thing but behave differently – and he knows when we turn back and repent and seek forgiveness.
He knows because he is not an absent Father or a distant creator but is our loving present Father in heaven.
It’s all because he’s been here. He has walked this earth – he has suffered injustice – he has been mocked and spat upon – he has shed tears and fought against the forces of evil.
He knows because at the end of the day, nailed to the tree, he was able to cry out to his Father in heaven – Father, forgive them, for they don’t know what they are doing.
Not only does God watch over us – he rescues us from the forces of evil. He takes our punishment so that we are forgiven and free. He sent his Holy Spirit to arm us against temptation – so that we are able to resist walking, standing, sitting, with the wicked and can be firmly rooted in the grace and truth of the Word of God.
We are blessed because we are watched – we are blessed because we are known – we are blessed because we are protected – we are blessed because we are loved and we are blessed because we are forgiven. Thank you Jesus!
This summer, find a great big tree with deep roots and spreading branches, and be reminded that this is the way to find blessing. By being firmly rooted by streams of living water.
Take any and every opportunity you can to sit under that tree. Breathe in the goodness of God – and breathe out the tensions and anxieties and stresses that tend to weigh us down. Be restored to the depths of your soul as you meditate on the goodness and faithfulness of your loving God and Father, who knows us intimately through Jesus Christ our Lord and strengthens us immeasurably with his Holy Spirit.
God is so good. Amen.