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09.23.12 Practical Meditation, Psalm 1, Sermon Summary

by on September 25, 2012

Psalm 1 tells us to avoid spending time with the “wicked, sinners, and scoffers.” Isn’t the fact that Jesus spent time with these folks a problem?

Summary Points

  • Who are the wicked, sinners, and scoffers?
  • The literal reading of Psalm 1
  • Life, Jesus, and another reading of Psalm 1
  • What happens when Jesus (and we) meditate on God’s Word
  • Three lessons on choices in life, judgment, and what it means to be blessed
  • Three applications: finding guidance, how to meditate, finding God’s presence

To help us understand just what Psalm 1 is saying, some definitions are in order. Who are the “wicked?” According to common Older Testament usage the wicked are those publically declared violators of Torah (the Law) understood in its most specific definition as actual laws. So if a court of religious authorities found you guilty of violating an OT law, you would be counted among the “wicked.”

“Sinners” are those people who made such a grievous violation or a lifestyle out of their violations that they are known by them. So if you routinely cheat in your business dealings, you would be known as a “cheater;” a specific label to your being a “sinner.”

But the Bible speaks most specifically of the “scoffers,” especially in the wisdom literature to which Psalm 1 belongs. Scoffers are unteachable and incorrigible. Here are some references to “scoffers” from the Proverbs. “Scoffers do not like to be rebuked; they will not go to the wise. . . The proud, haughty person, named ‘Scoffer’ acts with arrogant pride. . . The scoffer who is rebuked will only hate you; the wise, when rebuked, will love you” (Prov. 15:12; 21:24; 9:8). Ever had an argument with a drunk person? You’ve had the experience of trying to talk to a scoffer: “Wine is a mocker (same root as “scoffer”), strong drink a brawler, and whoever is led astray by it is not wise” (Proverbs 20:1).

Psalm 1 says blessed are those who do not associate with the wicked, sinners, and scoffers. It comes as a promise, or at least as advice, and also as an invitation. “Enter this program of prayer,” the first psalm says of the rest of the book, and you will be blessed.

As with all scriptural promises, advice, and invitations, some interpretation is required. One could read the promises of Psalm 1 literally. In this case, either you follow the laws of Torah and receive blessing, or you will experience curses. This is the theology reflected in the book of Deuteronomy, the best example of which is Moses’ final sermon to the people in which he says, “See, I have set before you this day, life and prosperity, death and adversity, and you must choose which you will follow” (see Deuteronomy 30:15ff).

It doesn’t take long, however, to realize that in life, you can live faithfully and still experience curses, and you can live irreligiously and still receive blessings. The psalms know this. By Psalm 13:1 the book is already asking, “How long, O LORD; will you forget me forever?” This lament reaches a climax in Psalm 89:46 where, after rehearsing all the faithfulness God has shown his ancestors, the author accuses God of reneging on the covenant promises and asks, “How long, O LORD?!”

Jesus must have questioned the formulaic literal interpretation of Psalm 1, for he regularly enjoyed the company of the wicked, sinners, and scoffers. Yet he was blessed. Jesus modeled for us that it is less the company we keep that is the concern and more the influence they have upon us. How could Jesus remained blessed despite befriending the prohibited relationships of Psalm 1? He was blessed because he remained faithful to God’s will for him. Rather than being influenced towards evil, Jesus influenced evil with good. Jesus saw blessing where others did not.

Perhaps this is why Jesus defines the “blessed” as including the poor, persecuted, mournful, pure in heart, and peacemakers (Matt 5:3ff). These kinds of people are not experiencing the kind of blessing envisioned by Psalm 1, at least in a literal reading of the psalm. But they are experiencing the kind of blessing Jesus did, because they are living according to God’s will.

Psalm 1 does say that the blessed ones “meditate on God’s law.” Maybe what Jesus shows us is rather than being concerned with the law says, we should be attentive to what the law is saying. Anyone can know what the law says and do it. Few people get what the law is saying. To do that, one has to meditate on it. In his heart, Moses understood this also, for he said the word of God is not far from us, but on our lips and in our mouths (Deuteronomy 30:14).

When Jesus meditated on the law, on what it was saying, he summarized it as follows: the greatest commandment is to love God and to love neighbor (Mark 12). James called this the royal law of love (James 2) and Paul said love of neighbors, not avoidance of them, is the fulfillment of the law (Romans 13).

Even Deuteronomy shows us that to love God means to love our neighbor (see chapters 6 and 10). The way of God is the way of love. The way of love is the path of blessing, and one doesn’t have to obey the laws of the Torah to understand this.

So Psalm 1 invites us to make a choice, either to live according to God’s ways or to live according to our own. One is a fruit-bearing tree life. The other is a chaff life. The tree life is stable; the chaff life blows away on the wind. Hosea 13:3 offers two other metaphors for the chaff life—it is like morning mist or dew, or like smoke disappearing out the window.

There is a judgment implied, but it is less the active judgment of a God who keeps score of our law-abiding behaviors. Instead, our outcomes judge our paths, the ends judge the means. If we live according to God’s path, we will discover ourselves a fruit-bearing tree. If we live according to our own paths, we will discover ourselves blown away and forgotten.

And along the way, when we are poor, persecuted, mourning, or working for peace, we will indeed discover that we are blessed as Jesus promised because we will discover that God is with us because we are on God’s path.

So as we listen to Psalm 1 today, here are some things we might apply.

First, there are two paths in this life, a wise one and a foolish one, a tree path and a chaff path. Very much like Psalm 1, Jesus concluded his Sermon on the Mount promising that those who listen to his words and practice them are like the wise builder on the rock. Those who hear and do not practice are like the foolish builder on sand (see Matthew 7:24ff). Both Jesus and Psalm 1 invite us to live our lives on the wise, tree, rock path.

Second, we walk that path by meditating on God’s Word. It isn’t the simple formula of doing what the Bible says as much as it is meditating on what the Bible says to discern what God is saying to us. We meditate on God’s Word when we read and study the Bible. We meditate on God’s Word when we study and know more of Christ. We meditate on God’s Word when we gather in community to bear witness to one another how God has been at work in our lives. And we meditate on God’s Word when we listen within, where Moses and Paul (see Romans 10) remind us God’s Word resides, and where we are assured in the resurrection of Christ and the presence of the Spirit God’s Word is speaking to us still.

Finally, we can trust in the assurance of God’s presence with us no matter what our present circumstances are, so long as we are delighting in and meditating on God’s Word. God’s presence is assured us in the promises of Psalm 1 and of Christ. God’s presence is manifest to us in the presence of the community of saints present and past. And God’s presence is manifest to us at the table of the Lord where we remember the blessed life of Christ and the path of his life, the path of wisdom, of fruit-bearing trees, of a rock-founded life of faith—the path he and Psalm 1 call us to walk as his disciples.

Questions for Discussion or Reflection

  • According to the formal definitions, you can’t really be a wicked person, and hopefully you’re not a habitual sinner. What most of us struggle with fundamentally is being a scoffer. Are you humble before God, soft in God’s hands? Or are you someone who believes you don’t need instruction from God or the church? What can you do to no longer “sit in the seat of scoffers”?
  • How are you relating to the promise, advice, and invitation of Psalm 1? Do you believe the promise? Do you heed its advice? Are you responding to the invitation by living according to God’s ways?
  • How do you feel about Jesus’ reinterpretation of what it means to be “blessed”? Are you meditatively discerning God’s will for your life and following it, even if it brings hardship? How can you find blessing in this?
  • When you meditate on God’s Word, does it lead you to a deeper and more active love of God and your neighbor? Does it lead to a more active love of yourself?
  • As you look over your life, how has your life been judged? Is it a tree-life or a chaff-life? How have the choices you’ve made led to the answer you just gave?
  • Try meditating on God’s Word as it comes to you in scripture, Christ, through the church, and within your spirit. What do you hear? What are you to do?

 

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