The Two WaysPsalms 1 (NRSV)
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.
Have you ever looked up at a big old tree and wondered about its story? The weather it has endured over the years? The homes it provided for birds and small animals? The hours of fun it shared with children anchoring a swing or sharing its branches to climb, not to mention the shade that it provides to humans and creatures alike on a hot summer day? Did you ever wonder who planted it or how it got there? Why some of its branches are broken, leaves are gone, or bark is peeling?
Though that tree probably endured hurricanes, droughts, snowstorms, and flooding rains, it also joyfully stretched out its branches on warm spring days and stood humbly under the beauty of the stars at night. It had times when its buds burst open in the spring, and long autumn afternoons when its leaves let go and floated down onto the grass below. It was able to do all of those things because it was firmly rooted and grounded in the Earth.
The Book of Psalms, which is an ancient book of songs and poems that is found in the Old Testament, is not a book filled with numbers, and rules, and instructions on how to live. But rather, it is full of imaginative and creative metaphors for living a life of faith and stories that often connect us to nature or community.
Many of the psalms stand alone like a great tree, and the very first psalm, Psalm 1, tells the story of a great tree–a great tree that is planted by a stream. And because it is planted in the rich soil by the stream, its roots are able to stretch and grow deep underground, not only taking a firm hold but receiving cool refreshing nourishment from the stream. The great tree is healthy, safe, and grounded, and it produces an abundance of tasty fruit in its season. Can you picture it?
Now you may be wondering why we are talking so much about trees today. But the truth is, trees are a wonderful metaphor or example of how to live a life of faith. Because the only way that a healthy and strong tree can grow is when its roots are firmly grounded in the Earth. What happens to the outside of the tree? The wind, rain, snow, and hot summer sun may affect its branches or its blossoms or its bark, but it’s the tree’s roots, being firmly grounded in the earth, that keeps the tree safe, secure, and healthy.
Friends, our faith works the same way. Our faith grounds us, keeping us safe, secure, and healthy. Our faith helps to guide our decision-making and our ways of living, and sometimes it even pushes us to step out of our comfort zone. Our faith encourages us and fills us with hope, joy, and inspiration, even in our seasons of drought when we feel weak and depleted, or on the days when the winds blow, or the great rains fall when we feel overwhelmed by the storms of life. But the truth is if in the midst of the challenges and difficulty of this world, we remain rooted and grounded in our faith like a great tree is in the Earth then we have nothing to fear. For with God’s help, we will be able to find the courage, strength, and nourishment that we need.
However, though we are rooted and grounded in our faith like a great tree is in the Earth, we are not planted in one place or held to a certain area because our faith is not a destination, it is a journey. It is not a place–it is a path. It is not a sprint to the finish line–it is a meandering walk through minutes and days and months and years. And it is not a list of beliefs and rules, but it is a way of life.
When we truly live our lives as people of faith, we do not worry about the storms that come because we know that we are grounded in the goodness of God. We look for ways to share our fruit and the things that we have because we know that only deepens our understanding of love and gratitude, giving us an even deeper sense of groundedness even when the world around us is constantly changing.
Just like every tree has a different story as to when and where it was planted, and what storms and joys it has experienced, we have our own stories too. It is our individual stories of the things that we have experienced in life, along with the stories of faith, that like a tree, keep us happy, healthy, fed, nourished, and most importantly, grounded.