Topic: Biblical Verse: Psalm 1:1–1:6
Sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost / Kick-Off Sunday ï‚Ÿ September 8, 2013
St. John's Lutheran Church, Alexandria, VA
Do you feel like it’s a burden or do you feel like it’s a joy?
Now that school’s back in session for most of our area, how would you answer that question? (To be fair, students and parents probably have some differing perspectives here.) The start of a new school year has its fair share of changes. You’ve got new teachers and new classmates. There’ll be new routines and new activities. Some of you have started at new schools and are learning your way around, figuring out your schedule for each day of the week. Some are starting a new year of homeschooling, having to move from vacation time to class time without much of a change of setting. And many of you might not have thought about being in school for years, now having seen your children or grandchildren off to grade school, or even college. But almost all of us have faced the start of school and the mix of experiences that it brings.
You might have really looked forward to the new school year. It can be exciting: you get to do things you haven’t done before. You get to spend time with friends you haven’t seen all summer. You get to learn more about the world in all kinds of different classes. You get homework! Well… that might be something you don’t really think is all that exciting. There’s work involved. You have to spend time doing things that you don’t think are as fun as other things you could be doing. There are classes and teachers that you don’t like as much as others. And then, there’s the cafeteria.
How many of you had to eat lunch at school? Some schools have big cafeterias with different kiosks and dozens of options from which you can choose what to eat. Others have a simpler setup with a lunch line and fixed menu. You’ve probably also had the option to (or just simply needed to) bring your own lunch to school. Regardless of which of these might be most familiar to you, you’ll know from experience how much a difference that lunch can make in your day. Maybe there’d be a special meal once a month, something like pizza or fish sticks or grilled cheese sandwiches, or a favorite treat that Mom packed for you, and you’d be looking forward to that all through the morning. There were probably days, though, where your lunch seemed like it just torpedoed the rest of your time at school. You might have found last night’s dreaded meat loaf in your brown bag, or nothing in the cafeteria line other than a mysterious chicken-gravy-and-toast concoction, so you end up not eating much at all. Or maybe you had too much of something that seemed good at the time: a couple of hamburgers, lots of chocolate cake, and an extra-large soda. When you go to class later that afternoon without the right nourishment to support you, you’ll probably find yourself fading fast. The day won’t be what it could have been, all because of what you were eating.
Food is fuel that you need to get through the day. When you don’t have enough, or if what you’re consuming isn’t really nourishing, you’ll fade fast. Think about those times when you’ve skipped a meal – something that wouldn’t usually keep someone from getting through the rest of their day – and remember how that felt. Or those times when you tried to make a meal of candy and caffeine instead of something healthier. When you choose to eat something just because it sounded good at the time, and don’t think about how nourishing that food actually is, you’ll end up feeling the consequences later. That’s the case with school lunches. That’s the case with life.
At St. John’s this weekend, we’re marking the start of a new year of Christian Education in our congregation with a Kick-Off Sunday for our Sunday School, Youth, and Adult Education programs. As a community that has been called together by the Holy Spirit to live the life that is ours in Jesus, St. John’s needs the nourishment that God provides in His Word. The Scripture readings for this weekend set the stage for that new year of learning – both for our life as a congregation and for each of our lives as Christians.
Our psalm today, Psalm 1, gives us a pretty clear picture of that life as God’s people, life which is rooted in His instruction. If you’re living from day to day without spending time in God’s Word, you are malnourished. You’re not getting food that you need to live the life that you could be living. As a pastor, I get discouraged when I see people in my congregation skipping our Sunday morning classes each week. I’m concerned when our members are not connected to a small group Bible study. I feel convicted about the biblical illiteracy that is becoming more and more commonplace. People who call themselves Christians are neglecting that very Word who became flesh for us in the person of Jesus of Nazareth. And I’m not really all that surprised about it.
You and I usually live like we’re having lunch in the school cafeteria. Whether we’re picking out what to consume from the fancy kiosks in front of us or deciding what we’d like to put in our brown bags, we’d usually prefer the dishes that look delicious. We’re not usually thinking about nourishment. We want the stuff that promises to feed our craving for a fix, the sugar-encrusted experiences that are sweet on the tongue and in the mind. But that empty enjoyment can’t sustain us. When you’re living primarily on the insubstantial offerings of the world’s wisdom, it’s like you’re trying to make a meal off of junk food. You’ll fade fast, for that kind of stuff doesn’t have what you need to keep going. We see all the distractions and diversions – the junk food – that the world puts in front of us, trying to get our fill on all of it. In comparison, we see God’s instruction as a burden because it requires us to put aside the quick fix for our cravings. We don’t know what we’re missing, and it really is a matter of life and death.
Life that neglects and rejects God’s instruction is only a shell of a life. As the psalmist puts it, it’s chaff, the empty, dry husk that’s left behind when grain is harvested. It gets caught up in the wind and blown away. Such a hollow life ends in destruction, and that’s a hard truth. It withers, fades, and floats away. There are consequences to living at odds with God’s design for life. Some of those are more immediate – kind of like how you’d crash in the afternoon if you only had candy for lunch – and can serve as a call to consider if what you’ve been doing is really the best thing for you. The ultimate consequence comes in the judgment when God calls time to an end and demands an account of us all. Every one of us needs the nourishment that God offers now in His Word, His Son, in order to live, both now and then.
Psalm 1 stands at the beginning of the Psalter for good reason. It tells us and everyone who would learn from the psalms just how important God’s instruction – His torah – really is. In most English translations of the Bible, we read torah as “law,” but “instruction” might give you a better sense of what’s really the focus here. God’s instruction for His people is a means of His grace, delivering His love for people like us who would otherwise be malnourished and fading away. Psalm 1 is called a “wisdom psalm,” for it points us to where real, substantial life can be found. God gives it, and He gives it in His Word.
Real, substantial life is blessed. Now, “blessed” doesn’t mean that someone has an abundance of material possessions. It’s not about the surface. A blessed life like the one we hear about in Psalm 1 is a life that enjoys God’s beneficent (generous and gracious) support in each and every day, including those hard times with the surface seems harsh and hostile. God’s nourishment continues even in those times and sustains the life of righteousness. The psalmist describes that life as a tree that has been planted – intentionally transplanted, really – and is now being irrigated by a canal of water brought to it by the planter’s design. You are God’s planting.
In the psalm, we hear that real life is rooted in the constant meditation on God’s instruction, His torah. Unlike much the meditation you’ve heard of, meditating on God’s instruction isn’t about emptying yourself; instead, it’s about intentionally spending time contemplating God’s Word and allowing it to shape your entire life. Time spent enjoying God’s nourishment will guide your decisions and actions. It leads to a life that is blessed, regardless of what’s on the surface.
While the hollow life fades and blows away, God knows the way of the righteous. He remembers His people, and this is why He sent His Son to take our place under His judgment. Jesus continually pointed his disciples to the Scriptures, God’s Word, to show them the full and nourished life that God wanted them to have, the life that He makes possible. Rather than filling us with insubstantial offerings and empty enjoyment, Jesus, the Word made flesh, fills those who follow him with a life that is rooted and nourished by the endless stream of God’s love.
As we go “back to school” in this new year of Christian education, know that God offers you His Word to give you nourishment. His instruction is not meant as a burden, but a joy that will sustain you through every season. Through God’s instruction, you will be blessed.