Monday, June 12, 2017

Sermon: Psalm 1 #Blessed

What does it look like to be blessed? As I pondered this question, I had a little look on Twitter and Instagram. There, you find all sorts of suggestions from people who are saying that they’ve been #blessed (hashtag blessed). Although sometimes, it seems as if they’re boasting about their great holiday, or their achievements, or their new clothes or whatever. But it’s ok so long as you include #blessed.

Now maybe you haven’t heard of Instagram, and you’ve never been on Twitter, but you’ll still have some idea of what it looks like to be blessed. How would you define the life of blessing? Good job (or even better, not having to work?)? Friends and family? Good health? Fine food? What does it take to be blessed?

Far better than us coming up with our own ideas, though, is to discover what God says about what it looks like to be blessed. And that’s what our Old Testament reading is all about. In fact, the very first word of the very first Psalm is ‘blessed’. It’s as if the Psalms are all about being blessed, and Psalm 1 stands as the gateway, the entrance to the life of blessing. If you want to know how to be blessed, then you’re in the right place. Let’s discover together what it looks like to be blessed.

Verse 1: ‘Blessed is the man...’ Now, ladies, please don’t get upset or throw anything. The Bible isn’t saying that only men can be blessed, that women don’t get a look in. Rather, it means the one, anyone, male or female. So what does the blessed one look like?

Perhaps surprisingly, we’re told first of all what the blessed one is not like. Here’s what it says: ‘Blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked or stand in the way of sinners or sit in the seat of mockers.’

So the blessed person doesn’t walk in the counsel of the wicked. They don’t walk along listening to the advice of the wicked. They don’t take their guidance or direction from the wicked.

Neither do they stand in the way of sinners. They don’t stand with sinners, doing the same things the other sinners are doing.

Neither do they sit in the seat of mockers. They haven’t made themselves comfortable, sitting and mocking other people.

Do you see the progression here? There’s walking, then standing, then sitting. There’s going from the counsel of the wicked to the way of sinners to the seat of mockers. One leads on to the next, and not in a good way. It’s a bit like the slippery dip that used to be in Newcastle. You got on at the top, sitting on something like a doormat, and in two seconds flat, you’d be at the bottom. But it wasn’t just straight down: along the way you went down a bit, then it levelled off, then down a bit more, then levelled off - just like the walking, standing, sitting. Before you realise it you’re at the bottom, you’re in too deep.

The counsel of the wicked, the way of sinners and the seat of mockers. These don’t feature in the portrait of the blessed life. So what does feature? What does it look like to be blessed? We see the contrast in verse 2:

‘But his delight is in the law of the LORD, and on his law he meditates day and night.’

Rather than listening to the counsel of the wicked, the blessed person listens to the law of the Lord. In fact, it’s more than just listening to his law, it’s delighting in God’s law; taking time to think it over, meditate on it - to chew it over and over, just like a cow chews the cud.

Now, maybe you’re thinking to yourself - delighting in the Bible? Why would you do that? Or maybe you really do try to delight in it, but it’s hard to get excited about it when you’re just so busy, or you can’t get peace to sit down and read it. Or you just don’t understand what you’re reading. So for a while you persevere, but it feels more like a duty than a delight...

Verse 3 gives us some encouragement. Here’s a picture to help us see what the blessed one is like. ‘He is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither.’

I’m not much of a gardener. When I was still at school, I decided to buy a couple of little cactus plants at our church fair, to keep in my bedroom. After all, I reckoned, it would be easy to care for them: if a cactus can survive in the desert, then it could survive in my bedroom. But there was one thing I forgot. The cactus only survives in the desert because its roots go down deep to find water. Without that life-giving water, the cactus would die. Mine did too, because I didn’t think to water them.

But the tree in the psalm? It has all it needs. It’s able to flourish with fruit in season and leaves that don’t wither because it’s planted beside the streams of water. If we want to see the fruits and the shoots, we need to feed the roots. It’s the same with us - we need to be nourished and sustained in our spiritual lives. The blessed one prospers not because he is rich, or successful, but because he is well watered by God’s word.

Imagine a tree. Can you see it in your mind’s eye? (In one of our psychological tests during selection for theological college we had to draw a tree - and seemingly you get all sorts of insights into your personality depending on what you draw...) But imagine your tree. Strong, tall, fruit, leaves. As you look at your tree, then picture a bit of wind blowing, and you can just make out some specks of dust blowing past (you’ve very good eyesight) - but then they’re gone with the wind (sorry!).

This is the contrast that we find in the Psalm - the blessed tree, rooted and bringing forth fruit; and ‘not so the wicked! They are like chaff that the wind blows away.’ That’s a picture of harvest, of threshing, when the grain is thrown into the air - the chaff, the useless strawy bit is blown away, while the heavier grain falls where it is to be gathered in. And that image of harvest leads to the image of judgement in verse 5.

‘Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment, nor sinners in the assembly of the righteous.’

Earlier, we saw that the blessed one doesn’t walk, stand, sit with sinners - now here the wicked don’t get to stand in the judgment, or in the assembly of the righteous. There are two categories of people in the world - wicked and righteous. We’re all either one or the other. The question is - which are we?

If we’re honest, by nature and by choice, we’re part of the wicked group. We listen to the counsel of the wicked, we go down that slippery dip of sin and mocking. We don’t really delight in God’s law. And so we wouldn’t be able to stand in the judgment. We wouldn’t be allowed in to the assembly of the righteous.

And that goes for all of us, for everyone who ever lived. Well, everyone apart from one man. The one person who did delight in God’s law, who day and night meditated on it; who consistently and persistently obeyed, resisting temptation, who prospered in all he did. Only Jesus could stand in the judgment.

Yet the good news of the gospel is that Jesus stood condemned in our place. He took the judgment we deserved. He was cut down, blown away by God’s wrath, so that in him, we could be counted righteous.

As Paul says in 2 Cor 5:21 ‘God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.’ As we confess our wickedness, and place our trust in Jesus, he gives us his righteousness. He makes us righteous. He gives us a place in the assembly of the righteous - the gathering of his people in eternity.

Then, we’re truly #blessed. As Jesus changes us from the inside out, he grows that delight for God’s word in us; he leads us to listen to his counsel; and he produces in us the fruit of the Spirit that we heard of in our second reading - love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.

Psalm 1 shows us that there are two ways to live. There’s the way of the righteous - delighting in God’s word, prospering like a tree, gathering in the assembly of the righteous. Or there’s the way of the wicked - plenty of fun, plenty of company, but it’s a dead end. It leads to perishing.

Which way are you on tonight? Which path are you pursuing? Which end are you speeding towards? It’s as if we’re at a motorway junction, a fork in the road. If you’re on the wrong track, there’s an opportunity to change course. Get off the way of the wicked. Get onto the way of the righteous, before it’s too late.

This sermon was preached in St Matthew's Church, Richhill on Sunday evening 11th June 2017.

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