Read This Page in My Language
Sermon: Psalm 1
Epiphany 6 – February 17, 2019 – Rev. Steven J. Radunzel
If you listen carefully to news reports and the comments that guests make on the various news shows, you’ll begin to hear certain words that seem to become rather trendy, sometimes to the point of being overused. For example, consider the word nuance which means a subtle distinction or shades of meaning. Someone might say that a certain statement or idea has a lot of nuance, meaning that the statement has various levels of meaning or it can be understood in different ways. Often in trying to defend the statement of a politician a commentator will say that their statement has a lot of nuance. In other words the statement could be understood in different ways.
Another word that we’re beginning to hear on television or in social media is meme. A meme is a virally-transmitted symbol or idea. It might be a captioned photo that goes viral on the internet or in social media that often publicly ridicules or makes fun of human behavior.
Another word that we hear often especially in political news is binary. Binary is not a new word. It’s been around a long time. But often today we hear people on news programs talking about binary choices. In other words a person has to make a choice between just two very different, very clear options. In the 2016 presidential election it was said that we had a binary choice, a choice between two very different political positions.
Our text today, Psalm 1, presents us with a binary choice. We have a choice between two very clear options on how to live our life – the way of the wicked or the way of the righteous. Today we consider
OUR BINARY SPIRITUAL CHOICE
Actually all of our scripture readings today present binary options or realities. Jeremiah the prophet writes words that sound very much like Psalm 1 when he says that a person can trust the wisdom of God or the foolishness of man. In our Second Lesson Paul writes that if Jesus didn’t rise from the dead then we have no forgiveness and no hope of rising from the dead ourselves. But if Jesus did rise from the dead then we do have forgiveness and the hope of eternal life. And in our Gospel Lesson Jesus says that those who are poor in spirit and ridiculed for their faith are truly blessed. But woe to those who are rich but don’t love God and are praised by the world. They will face the judgment of God.
Psalm 1 emphasizes a binary choice about how to live your life – the way of the sinner or the way of the righteous. “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.” I have a terrible fear that way too many people, including confessing Christians are choosing to walk in the counsel of the wicked and stand in the way of sinners. In other words they’re choosing, carelessly and thoughtlessly choosing, to live in very sinful behavior, to live like the unbelieving world.
I will admit that people living sinful lives is nothing new. In the very beginning Adam and Eve chose to listen to the counsel of the wicked. And ever since then all the children of Adam and Eve, including you and me, live sinful lives. But my fear today is that more and more people, including those raised as Christians and who confess to be Christians, are listening to the counsel of the wicked. They’re listening to, being influenced by, and following beliefs and behaviors that violate God’s will written in the Bible.
And the counsel of the wicked is very available. The counsel of the wicked, sinful philosophy, is as close to you and me and everyone else as our phone. We mentioned memes, those virally-transmitted symbols. They go viral for all to see very quickly. So does the counsel of the wicked. So does sinful philosophy and belief.
And those who walk in the counsel of the wicked are soon standing in the way of sinners and sitting in the seat of mockers. And who are they mocking? People who go to church, especially a conservative, Bible-believing church. Recently the wife of our nation’s vice-president was severely criticized for taking a teaching job at a conservative Christian school – doing exactly the same thing that our called teachers at Immanuel Lutheran School do each day. People who live sexually moral lives get mocked. Conservative, Bible-believing Christians in Texas are currently opposing legislation from the LGBT community that they fear will forbid Christians from teaching what the Bible actually says about immoral lifestyles. People who defend the life of the unborn get mocked. Conservative Catholic high school students on a field trip to Washington, D.C. to defend life get charged with racism and hate.
Contrast those who defend the life of the unborn with the New York state legislature that stood and wildly cheered last month when they passed a bill allowing late-term abortion, or the governor of Virginia, a physician himself, who advocated the right of a doctor and mother to allow a child to die following delivery. These are extreme and grotesque examples of the counsel of the wicked, but they are very real examples that are being imposed on our society by mocking those who stand for biblical truth.
I especially fear that it is our young people and young adults who are tempted to walk in the counsel of the wicked and stand in the way of sinners and sit in the seat of mockers. Their lives are enmeshed with social media and all the evil it promotes and encourages. And as young people who were raised as Christians encounter the world more and more and listen more and more to the counsel of the wicked, the wicked don’t seem to be so wicked anymore. The deception is that the wicked sometimes can be the nicest people you meet.
I’m sure that the governors of New York and Virginia are very nice, cordial men. But their beliefs and legislation are wicked because they contradict what God’s word says. Most people who live immoral lives are going to be good, pleasant people, but their lives are wicked because they violate God’s commandments. Most people who don’t believe in God or don’t believe in Jesus or don’t go to worship on Sunday morning are going to be good, decent people, but their lives are wicked because they don’t honor and worship God.
That’s why Psalm 1 presents us with a binary spiritual choice. Either you chose to live a life directed by the counsel of the wicked and the world or you chose to live a life directed by the will of God. And if we and our children are going to live as righteous people of God, we have to more and more make that conscious choice and decision every day. And it is a binary choice – wickedness or righteousness. There’s no in between.
And choosing to live as a child of God has temporal benefits. The person who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked or stand in the way of sinners or sit in the seat of mockers “is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not with. Whatever he does prospers.” When a person lives according to God’s will he’s continually nourished by the word of God and lives and grows and is blessed by God.
“Not so the wicked! They are like chaff that the wind blows away.” Is the writer of Psalm 1 correct? Does the child of God always prosper while the wicked are like chaff that the wind blows away? There are lots of people who will argue the opposite, and it often appears as if they might just be right. As a matter of fact there’s a man in the Bible who once told God that the wicked are the ones who succeed in life. It’s the naïve child of God who doesn’t succeed. That man’s name was Asaph. He wrote Psalm 73. He said, “As for me, my feet had almost slipped; I had nearly lost my foothold. For I envied the arrogant when I saw the prosperity of the wicked.” But by the end of his psalm he comes to his senses, to an understanding of the truth: “Those who are far from you will perish; you destroy all who are unfaithful to you. But as for me, it is good to be near God.”
That’s why the writer of Psalm 1 finally says as well, “Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment, nor sinners in the assembly of the righteous.” In the end the wicked “are like chaff that the wind blows away.”
So what choice are you going to make? And it is very clearly a binary choice. Either you chose to live as a child of God or you join the ranks of the world’s wicked. And this choice isn’t just a matter of being a church member and coming to church on Sunday morning. It’s not just a matter of saying the words of the Nicene Creed or saying, “I believe in Jesus.” It’s a daily choice to think, speak, and act like a child of God, as God wants you to think, speak, and act.
So how do we make that choice to live as a righteous child of God and avoid the wickedness of our world? We learn to know God and who he is and what he has done for us. We learn to know Jesus and who he is and what he has done to save us from our sin and wickedness. And we learn to know Jesus from the Bible. “Blessed is the man . . . [whose] delight is in the law of the LORD, and on his law he meditates day and night.”
The gospel tells us that God loved us so much that he sent Jesus in to this world to die on a cross and atone for our sins. God has forgiven our sins. The child of God believes in Jesus. The child of God wants to thank God by doing God’s will. The child of God learns to and chooses to not walk in the counsel of the wicked or stand in the way of sinners or sit in the seat of mockers.
A child of God? A child of the wicked world? It’s a very clear binary choice. And remember: “The LORD watches over the way of the righteous, but the way of the wicked will perish.” Amen.