It's been awhile

I haven't posted on my blog in awhile. Lately, my blog posts seem to be limited to my Sunday sermons. I'd like to write more and about other topics, but sermons seem to be all I can produce. And, since the middle of July I've been on vacation, and then for the entire month of August I was facilitating sermon dialogues with the parish. This is the third year I have facilitated congregational dialogues during the sermon time for each of our three Sunday morning services. They are always a bit risky, will people be willing to be vulnerable and speak? What will they bring up? How much should I talk? We seemed to have hit our stride this year, with the congregation being more confident in speaking up and me being more adept at facilitating the conversation and keeping it going. The congregation brought up many good, insightful points, and really dug deep to listen and comment.

Now I am thick into preparations for launching the fall season and program year. One of my areas of focus is creating a Bible study on the Psalms. Each Tuesday we have a weekday Eucharist followed by a Bible study. Over the years we've study the parables in Luke and other Gospels, read the book of Revelation,  and read and discussed the book, Bible Women, All Their Words and Why They Matter. This year we read the book of Genesis and used Bill Moyer's book and accompanying DVD from his PBS series, "Genesis, A Living Conversation." It's been a terrific year of exploring these great stories.

This fall we'll start a new Bible study, delving into the Psalms. I am re-reading all my seminary books on the Psalms, Walter Bruggerman and others. It's curious to reread these books and experience how much more meaningful they are to me now, twenty years of preaching on the texts later, than they were when I first read them. Here is what I wrote for the September newsletter announcing this Bible study:

Tuesday Bible Study: praying, singing, learning from the Psalms

Psalm 1

Happy are those who do not follow the advice of the wicked, 
or take the path that sinners tread, or sit in the seat of scoffers;
but their delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law they meditate day and night.
They are like trees planted by streams of water, 
which yield their fruit in its season, and their leaves do not wither. 
In all that they do, they prosper.
The wicked are not so, but are like chaff that the wind drives away.
Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment, 
nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous;
for the Lord watches over the way of the righteous, 
but the way of the wicked will perish.


Most Tuesday’s, following the 11am Eucharist, a group of women gather with Pastor Terri for a Bible study. We meet for about 35 minutes, from 11:40 until 12:15. Over the years we have studied the parables in the Gospel of Luke, we have read and reflected on the book “Bible Women: All their words and why they matter”, which is a book that discusses every word spoken by a woman in the Bible. This past year we read the book of Genesis along side Bill Moyer's 1990’s PBS series on Genesis. In this series Moyer's invited a large number of people, from artists to theologians, actors to professors, to read and discuss the main stories in the Genesis. The series is recorded, available on DVD and in a book titled, “Genesis: A Living Conversation.” These thirty-five minutes are formative and informative as we learn and grow, being shaped by the instruction of God revealed to us in this study time. It’s a collaborative time with opportunities for each person to comment, question, wonder, and draw conclusions about the meaning of the text as it applies to our lives today.

This year the Bible study group will read and reflect on the Psalms. The very first Psalm lays the foundation for what we will be pondering. The interpretation of Psalm 1 leaves much to be considered. For instance, the interpretation of the Hebrew word “Torah” as “law” reflects a bias of the interpreter to direct people toward the idea that if one follows a set of rules one will live a righteous life as God requires. But the word law is not the most helpful interpretation of Torah. A more accurate interpretation would be “instruction.” Likewise “righteous” is a term that points to rule following. In a more meaningful way it might be understood as “being open to following God’s instruction”.

Hear the psalm this way:

Psalm 1

Happy are those who do not follow the advice of the wicked, 
or take the path that sinners tread, or sit in the seat of scoffers;
but their delight is in the instruction of God, 
and on God’s instruction  they meditate day and night.
They are like trees planted by streams of water, 
which yield their fruit in its season, and their leaves do not wither. 
In all that they do, they prosper.
The wicked are not so, but are like chaff that the wind drives away.
Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment, 
nor sinners in the congregation of those who listen and follow God’s instruction
for God watches over the way of those who listen and follow God’s teachings, 
but the way of the wicked will perish.

The point of Psalm 1 is found in the center of the psalm: The righteous are “like tress planted by streams of water” - the righteous have a place to be grounded, take root, be nourished, and grow. The righteous “yield their fruit in its season…in all that they do, they prosper.”

The psalmist is not naive, but knew that the wicked appear to do very well for themselves. And the psalmist knew that obedience to a set of rules does not guarantee that one will be happy and satisfied in life. The righteous, those who follow God’s teachings, suffer. Psalms of lament and complaint are the dominant type in the Psalter and the wicked/foes/evil doers feature prominently. However, the psalmists repeatedly states that if the wicked can experience prosperity and a kind of peace, then the “prosperity” of the righteous must also contain a peace - but the kind of peace “not as the world gives.”

To be “happy”  or “prosper” from the central metaphor of Psalm 1 is to have a solid foundation, to have a place to stand. That foundation is to delight in and meditate upon torah, to be constantly open to God’s instruction. 

Delighting and or meditating on God’s instruction, God’s guidance for one’s life, means being open to God’s presence and the capacity to listen, trusting in God’s power to transform the most hopeless of situations. Psalm 1 encourages a deep dependence on God, an openness to God’s instruction, as one faces the wicked. This is similar to Paul’s call for “maturity.” Paul’s metaphor is the human body instead of a tree. For Paul maturity involved both fruitfulness/growth and a grounding that prevents one from being driven as if by the wind. (Ep. 4:11-16) - 

The fruits Christ gave were that some would be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until all of us come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to maturity, to the measure of the full stature of Christ. We must no longer by children, tossed to and fro and blown about by every wind of doctrine, by poles trickery, by their craftiness in deceitful scheming. But, speaking the truth in love, we must grow up in every way unto him who is the head, unto Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by every ligament with which it is equipped, as each part is working properly, promotes the body’s growth in building up itself in love. 

Psalm 1 teaches us that meditating on God’s instruction is similar to what Paul means by reaching the measure of the full stature of Christ. Failing to be open to God’s instruction, to learning from others, to thinking that one can do it all one’s self, that one is all right by one’s self, is essentially wickedness as described by the Psalter and by Paul. 

We are living in a time when autonomy is our highest value and we strive to be self-reliant and self-made. Increasingly we are a people focused on individuality, on being self-fulfilled and self-actualized, on entitlement and opinions. Wanting or needing help is often interpreted as a sign of weakness. As a society we view it as a sign of maturity and emotional health when one can say, I am doing all right by myself. The Psalms help us understand why one of the most highly developed, healthiest, wealthiest an intellectually sophisticated countries in the world consistently fails to produce people who are “happy.” 



The condition of the church and of the culture of these times reinforces a need to recover the book of Psalms for what it can teach us. To embrace an openness and  develop the capacity to have a “teachable spirit” - open to God’s instruction. How do we hear God’s instruction? The stories of the Bible are one way. Learning from others, the leaders and teachers in our midst, is another. Just being willing to listen to another and be open to what they offer can afford opportunities for the Spirit to move and for God’s instruction to be heard. True, not every person necessarily brings or opens up the instruction of God. But there are learned, prayerful, skilled leaders in our midst who can and do, if we are open to hearing and learning. Thus, with the hope of creating the interior condition, of a willingness and openness to grow, may we move toward the full measure of the stature of Christ, toward a mature faith. May we be like trees planted near a river, with solid roots, leaves that do not wither, and fruit that nourishes souls.

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