May15TuePsalm 1: The way of the wicked and the way of the righteous May 15, 2018
Grace and peace be with you.
The sermon text I’ve chosen is today’s psalm.
The first Psalm is an introduction to the book of the Psalms:
those 150 Hebrew songs, of which we sing one every Sunday.
Psalm 1 stresses three things:
Psalm 1 presents us with a stark choice:
Do you choose to follow the path of God
or the path of mortals?
Do you choose to prioritize time with God’s word,
or time with the wicked?
Whatever your choices,
there are eternal consequences.
Now, this is not an easy psalm to preach on
in our postmodern, grey-area world,
where many people believe that notions of right and wrong are merely matters of opinion.
Some may think (as I do sometimes perhaps,)
that to know or claim what is right or wrong, is a quaint, old-fashioned idea,
ill-suited for our pluralistic, 21st century Western society.
But nonetheless, the psalm reminds us that happiness and blessedness
is about making right and righteous choices!
To be happy and blessed means we have to choose carefully
who to listen and who to follow:
Happy are those who do not follow the advice of the wicked
or take the path of sinners.
Blessed are those whose delight is in the law of the Lord,
and they meditate on it day and night.
The wicked are like wind-blown dust, unfit company for innocent people
the wicked are like chaff that the wind blows away
they have no value, they bear no fruit
they won’t endure
at least not in heavenly time
although perhaps in earthly time they enjoy success.
Who are these wicked people that the Psalm speaks about?
Who are the wicked?
For the first hearers of this Psalm it was pretty obvious,
The historical Ammorites,
or the Canaanites, those who worshipped other Gods
the Assyrians, the Babylonians, the foreigners who didn’t worship Yahweh,
who had other religions.
Even a hundred years ago, it was pretty obvious who were the wicked.
To be a little flippant,
a hundred years ago, the wicked wore short skirts (either men or women)
or used foul language.
Nowadays, who cares?
such things are commonplace.
I’d like you now to think about this:
who for you is wicked?
if you had to name somebody who is wicked, who would that be?
who is wicked?
Perhaps you might think of the disturbed misogynist who rented a truck and killed 10 people in North York a few weeks ago.
I think he could be called wicked.
Now I’m going out a little on a limb today,
this next section might be a little controversial.
I’m going to claim that the 45th President of the United States is wicked.
I think his racism, xenophobia, and sexism is wicked,
along with his approval of sexual assault.
Also, he calls white Nationalist protesters “fine people”.
One way of taking a look at Number 45 is to examine his behaviour in light of spiritual vices.
An opinion article in the USA Today last July even had as a title:
“Trump embodies every one of the Seven Deadly Sins”
Pride, Greed, Lust, Envy, Gluttony, Wrath, and Sloth.
Let’s go through them.
Pride. He definitely is a proud man. “The most intelligent, the most fit,” in his own words. Huge ego, Narcissistic.
Greed. A billionaire with appetite for more and more. He cares about money a lot.
Lust. His multiple affairs, sexual assault of pageant contestants, paying off of porn stars.
Envy. A trickier one to pinpoint. Jealousy for rivals is huge (like Obama and Clinton).
Gluttony, self-indulgence. He Doesn’t smoke or drink. But he has gold fixtures in his private jet and can’t control his impulses
Wrath. He advocates violence against protestors. he’s known to lash out in anger at “allies he perceives as enemies”
Sloth, laziness. Spends a quarter of his presidency playing golf, exhibits mental laziness as he doesn’t bother to read briefing reports or do proper research on issues.
And then there’s the counted and countless lies and half-truths…
Episcopal Bishop Curry also says that “America first is theological heresy.”
meaning that as Christians we have to say “God first”.
[“Reclaiming Jesus Movement”]
So I think there’s a strong case that if you had to pick a person today who exemplifies the word wicked: you could choose Donald Trump.
And to understand what the Psalms mean when they talk about the wicked, we need a picture for ourselves of who the wicked are.
Otherwise, talk about the wicked becomes so abstract as to be meaningless.
What I think is more crucial though,
is the claim that some of the important US evangelical Christian leaders who support him are wicked.
By following and supporting someone who is wicked, you are wicked too, especially if you’re in a position of authority.
There is an inherent hypocrisy in Trump’s mantle of support from evangelical Christians.
80% of white evangelicals voted for Trump.
Their stance against abortion and same-gender and transgender rights (among others)
made them see an ally in Trump,
but theirs is a deal with the devil for a common cause.
Franklin Graham, son of Billy Graham, stated that
Trump “understands the power of prayer”
and that Trump’s victory was “God’s hand … at work”
Ignoring all the sinful behaviours I mentioned before.
Graham’s hypocrisy increased in downplaying Trump’s affairs while in the past he sharply criticized Bill Clinton.
According to Isaac Jessmore,
Franklin Graham is “moral leader who no longer believes in morality”
Graham was also a proponent of the racist birther conspiracy, which accused Obama of not being born in the US, and being a Muslim.
Franklin Graham, and other evangelical leaders like Jerry Fallwell have lost their moral compass and can be characterized as wicked, I would argue.
Now you may disagree with me, that’s fine.
But the fact remains, if we want to take Scripture seriously,
and especially passages like this first Psalm,
we need a picture in our mind of who the wicked are
if we want to avoid their ways, and not spend time with them.
Some people might say the wicked are atheists,
or Walt Disney and the so-called Illuminati,
past leaders like Hitler or Stalin, members of the Church of Satan,
or people with antisocial personality disorder, the promiscuous or those who use substances.
Some would say the wicked are
“those who manipulate others for their benefit,
or those who are experts at fooling others with their smooth speech.
those with no conscience or remorse,
or experts at creating confusion and contention.”
If you look at the Bible
what is clear is that
the wicked sin.
(where sin is defined as
acting against God and God’s will.)
At the heart of sin is idolatry, that is, replacing God with something else,
putting something else, oneself, or money, or country or whatever in first place, instead of God.
Other ways of describing sin would be
for example missing the mark (not being good enough,
there are political and social sins,
spiritual sins (for example rejecting Christ as Saviour).
Sins of ignorance, and omission
such as failure to do right (help the needy)
failure to use our God-given abilities (our talents)
and there is a sin that Jesus particularly criticized,
the hypocrisy of religious leaders (which brings us back to Franklin Graham).
While it’s good to look at and acknowledge sin and wickedness
“out there/ and in others”
we also need to acknowledge that in a way,
we all are wicked (and I include myself in this).
We are wicked: Luther says we are at the same time “saint and sinner”,
so yes we are wicked too,
and Jesus reminds us not to look at the speck in a neighbour’s eye,
if you have a beam in your own.
There is an inner conflict within ourselves,
we want to do good, but we don’t do it
we are all: saint and sinner
we are all: wicked and righteous
to a certain point.
But we have a choice, enabled by grace:
do we trust in mortals or God?
Not to say that there’s an easy fix, which would be too simplistic:
be Godly, and you’ll get rich, with a life of ease and comfort
We must remember Job, who did everything right in God’s eyes,
yet lost everything.
Real life is complicated,
and the Psalm doesn’t promise Easy Street,
but talks instead about happiness and blessedness!
Follow God’ instructions, Blessings will follow.
perhaps that’s a little too simple but we’ll leave it at that.
The Psalm invites us to be righteous by spending time with God’s word.
The Psalm invites us to rich, deep and challenging reading of the Bible.
Ideally it should be a thrill to hear God’s Word,
for “to open one’s heart to God’s Word is to encounter God (himself)!”
So what is the way of the righteous?
You will find out it if you read the psalms.
it’s a narrow and difficult way:
>pray in times of distress
trust in God.
Spend time with scripture daily
the psalms are a great place to start
Follow God’s instructions, and Blessings will follow.
Don’t be wicked.
Read the Bible!