The Two Ways
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.
~ Psalm 1 (NRSV)
Why do you do things the way that you do them? How do you make the decisions you make? What is the reason why you are who you are and not just like the person sitting next to you? My friends, one of the great gifts that we receive from God is our uniqueness. We are all created in the image of God, and yet we are all different. And what an amazing blessing that is! Can you imagine if we were all exactly the same? If we looked the same, and acted the same, and thought the same, and spoke the same? That would be boring, wouldn’t it?
Today, I want to talk a little bit about “roots and reasons,” which explain a little bit about who we are and why we do what we do. Two weeks ago, I spent several days helping one of my husband’s cousins do a little genealogy work. She was interested in finding out more about our family history, so I shared with her some of the information that was shared with me years ago. You see, she has young kids, and she wants to teach them about their roots, their family background, and how they fit into the big picture.
We all have biological roots, family heritages, that describe where we have come from, and some people don’t pay much attention to their biological roots. But for others, that information is very important. It actually distinguishes who they are, because knowing more about the roots of their family tree gives them a name and a place to belong.
But there are other roots that strengthen the foundations on which we live: our experiences, the groups of people we spend time with, our economic status, our jobs, where we live, what we eat, where we go to school, how we spend our free time, the books we read, and the tv shows that we watch. All of those things affect our roots and help to guide our decision making, ultimately making us who we are.
Although all of those things are important, our faith outweighs them all because our faith affects our moral compass. It is what guides our understanding of good and bad, and hopefully steers us to living lives of compassion and love. The stronger our faith is, the stronger our roots are, and ultimately the firmer the foundation we stand on is.
In the book of Psalms today, we heard about a tree planted by a river. Let’s think about that tree for just a moment. We can imagine that its roots are reaching down into the cool soil and because of the river, it has plenty to drink, even in the summer when it’s hot and dry. Its root system is so resilient that even when the winds and the storms blow, the tree stands firm because its roots are so strong.
The truth is, the tree can weather all the seasons. It can survive in the sweltering heat of summer and the freezing temperatures of winter. Its branches can sway in the gentle breezes, and it can even stand strong in a hurricane!
Just think about a strong tree. One of its branches can break, its bark can peel, its leaves can fall off, but none of that matters. Because as long as its roots are strong and healthy, the tree will be okay. And folks, the same is true for us. When we stand firm in our faith, we can face anything. But please let me be clear. When I say we stand firm in our faith, I don’t mean that we never question or doubt, because sometimes questioning and doubting actually strengthen our faith. That doesn’t mean building a wall and only allowing people in that think and believe like us. No! Standing firm in your faith means knowing that God created you to be exactly who you are. It means using the gifts that you have been given and knowing that you are loved unconditionally and that you are never alone.
Folks, we all face difficulties in our lives. We all struggle sometimes, and we all feel empty and lonely and lost sometimes. Our jobs and our families, and our financial situations aren’t always what we want them to be, because that’s simply a part of being human. We can let those things get the best of us. We can let that worry and concern and struggle overwhelm us. And we can even act out against it. We can bully others and spread gossip. We can say hurtful things and make other people feel bad. After all, sometimes the world teaches us that we need to bring others down to build ourselves up, make them look worse, then we’ll look better, right?
But folks, thank God our faith teaches us something very different! Because when we have strong roots and a faith foundation to stand on, we don’t need to worry or struggle or be overwhelmed, because, in our hearts, we know that we are never alone. In our hearts, we know that we are loved unconditionally and that even in the most difficult times, we are called to love others.
In our reading today, it says that the wicked are like chaff that the wind blows away. They have no roots to hold them in times of trial and no assurance of God’s unconditional love for them. I have to be honest, that is the thing that I struggle with the most in this world. I work with all kinds of people and families all the time, and it doesn’t matter to me what their faith backgrounds are. They definitely don’t have to believe just like me, but nothing breaks my heart as much as meeting a family with absolutely no faith background. Now I don’t say that as a judgment but as an overwhelming sadness. Because I don’t know what I would do if I didn’t have a faith foundation to stand on. I don’t know what I would do if my roots weren’t strong and day after day I felt all alone in the world. I don’t know what I would do in the most difficult times if I wasn’t assured that hope and possibilities were just around the corner. It must be awfully scary to blow around aimlessly without strong roots to keep you feeling safe.
So, brothers and sisters in Christ, as you go out into your busy week ahead, remember who and whose you are. Take some time to nurture your roots and keep them healthy. Know that your roots are the reason you are who you are and the reason that you do the things you do. And if you meet someone who is blowing around aimlessly, reach out to them with a word of kindness, and teach them by your own example what it is like to live firmly rooted in your faith, knowing that you are loved and that you are never alone.
May it be so, thanks be to God, Amen!