Sermon for Sunday, September 4th, 2022, the Twelfth Sunday after Trinity
The Lessons: Deuteronomy 30:15-20; Psalm 1; Philemon 4-21; Luke 14:25-33
The Text: Psalm 1
The Topic: The Two Ways
Though the stock market boasted in 2006 that it had 150 “socially responsible” mutual funds that invested in meeting the ethical standards of managers, a new investment fund quietly surfaced in 2002. It’s the Vice Fund.
According to its prospectus, the Vice Fund favors “products or services often considered socially irresponsible.” These include companies linked to alcohol, tobacco, gambling, and military contracts. The Vice Fund and another fund, the Gaming and Casino Fund, exploit the dark side of human nature, which is a great investment during times of economic downturns…Investors in vice have profited; the Vice Fund has returned positive monetary gains, some reaching beyond 20 percent over five years.
– “Would You Invest in Human Vices?”
Omaha Sunday World-Herald, July 16, 2006
Today’s Psalter reading advises us to invest our time and our lives in God’s law, his word, and not in a sinful, ungodly way of life.
Some medieval manuscripts of the Book of Psalms do not number this Psalm as the first but appear to regard it as a psalm introducing the whole Psalter. The psalm itself is both a wisdom psalm expressing the doctrine of the two ways, and a Torah psalm emphasizing the value of reading, studying, meditating on, and obeying the Law of God, which is best understood here as both the first five books of the Old Testament and the wisdom of the prophetic writings and psalms. It will be helpful for us to take note of the concept that Psalm 1 not only introduces us to the psalms of the Psalter, but also presents a way of approaching all of life through meditating on the Lord’s ways as we find them in the Book of Psalms and in the rest of Holy Scripture.
A BLESSING ON AVOIDING SIN
Psalm 1 begins by pronouncing a blessing on the person who has not listened to the advice of the ungodly, nor stood in the way of sinners, nor sat in the seat of mockers (Psalm 1:1). These actions could represent stages of increasingly sinful conduct. The first stage is listening to sinful and persuasive talk and acting on it, the second stage is habitual persistence in sin, and the third is being so hardened in sinful ways that one mocks those who are living according to God’s word. By pronouncing this blessing on the person who has avoided these stages of becoming immersed in evil and controlled by it, the Psalmist warns the faithful against becoming involved in any of these stages or practices of sin. We are reminded of the Lord’s teaching on the narrow gate and the wide gate (Matthew 7:13-14), and of the Gospel as turning away from sin as well as believing in the Lord Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sin (Acts 2:38).
THE BLESSING OF BEING FOCUSSED ON GOD AND HIS WORD
Now the second verse of this Psalm shows the focus of the person who is blessed by God, and this focus is on the law of the Lord. We might say today a Christian’s focus must be on the word of God, his law, his wisdom, his prophecies through the prophets, and on the teachings of the Lord Jesus Christ. The verse highlights two aspects of this focus. The first one is delight in the word or law of God. This is important, for if one does not appreciate the benefits of studying the word of God, and actually enjoy reading and meditating on it, how will one be motivated to study it? We must love God with our whole being, and then we shall delight in studying and meditating on his word. The second aspect is exercising oneself in God’s word day and night. What does this mean? Surely it means that when we study God’s word, we remember portions of it and reflect on them, pray over them, and apply them to ourselves as we face various situations in life. The Essenes, a Jewish sect living in the Qumran caves in the first century A.D., interpreted the practice of meditating on God’s Law very seriously. At every hour of day or night, one of the Essenes would be meditating on the Torah. What does it mean for us to exercise ourselves in God’s word day and night? Well, instead of neglecting the reading and study of God’s word, which will lead to more uncertainty about its meaning and applicability to our lives, we must meditate on it to the extent that it really becomes an integral part of our thought and behavior.
There are blessings promised to the person who delights in the Lord and in his word and meditates on it with the goal of obeying it. Verses 3 and 4 compare such a person to a tree planted by the waterside, which produces fruit and whose leaves never wither. Whatever such a person does, it will prosper. The same comparison is used in the Book of the prophet Jeremiah:
Blessed is the man that trusteth in the Lord, and whose hope the Lord is.
For he shall be as a tree planted by the waters, and that spreadeth out her roots by the river, and shall not see when heat cometh, but her leaf shall be green; and shall not be careful in the year of drought, neither shall cease from yielding fruit.
(Jeremiah 17:7-8, KJV)
This flourishing fruitfulness our Lord promises to all who abide in him by keeping his commandments:
Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, except it abide in the vine; no more can ye, except ye abide in me. I am the vine, ye are the branches: He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit: for without me ye can do nothing.
(John 15:4-5, KJV)
THE WAY OF THE UNGODLY
By contrast, the ungodly, who have not made the Lord and his word their delight, are compared to the chaff, the light and useless part of the grain that is blown away by the wind when it is winnowed, while the grain falls to the ground and is gathered into the granary (v.5). This is tantamount to saying that the lives of the ungodly cannot stand up to the wind of God’s judgement, and that sinners will not be able to stand in the congregation of the righteous. The irony of this is that the godly have avoided standing on the road that sinners take, while sinners have avoided standing on the road that the righteous take, and therefore will not stand among the righteous in the Messianic age.
The antithesis at the end of this Psalm sums it up: the Lord knows the way of the righteous, but the way of the ungodly shall perish (Psalm 1:7). The Lord’s knowledge of the way of the righteous is not merely an intellectual knowledge, but knowledge by relationship and experience.
Will you so delight in the Lord and meditate on his word, so that all that you do may prosper in God’s sight?
 Quoted on p.490, Craig Brian Larson & Phyllis Ten Elshof (General Editors): 1001 Illustrations that Connect. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, Christianity Today International, 2008.