Lectionary Readings: Proverbs 31:10-31 or Jeremiah 11:18-20; Psalm 1 or Psalm 54; James 3:13-4:3, 7-8a; Mark 9:30-37
Theme: Choosing a Way of Life
Message: “Life’s Alternatives”
“The two ways”. A wisdom psalm, used as a preface to the Psalter, intended as a guide to the Psalter as a repository of divine instruction. Wisdom characteristics include the introductory assertion that the virtuous are happy (e.g., Pro. 3:13); it continues with the language of the way, and the sharp contrast between the righteous and the wicked. 1-3: The psalmist’s non-association with the wicked and devotion to the Torah. 4-5: The wicked are like worthless, insubstantial chaff; this contrasts with the righteous, who are like flourishing trees (v. 3; cf. Jer. 17:7-8). 6: The final verse brings the righteous and wicked together for a sharper contrast. (The New Oxford Annotated Bible, New Revised Standard Version with the Apocrypha, 3rd Edition)
- Planted and Nourished by God
“Look where you will in God’s Book, you shall never find any lively member of God’s house, any true Christian, compared to anything but a fruitful tree. (Charles J. Ellicott, British preacher)
In the lively poetry of the Bible, a ‘righteous person’ is often likened to a tree. Let us see how the varied qualities of different trees are made to picture forth the nature of a person who ‘delights himself/herself in goodness.’ In the first Psalm, for example, one is described as a tree planted by the rivers of water, bringing forth fruit in season and maintaining foliage unwithered.
Isaiah, speaking of those blessed by the spirit of God, said that they spring up with the tenderness and grace of willows by the watercourses. The prophet Jeremiah said, ‘Blessed is the person that trusts in the Lord, and whose hope is in the Lord, for they shall be as a tree planted by the waters and that spreads out her roots by the river…not careful in the year of drought, neither shall cease from yielding fruit.’ In the fifty-second Psalm, the person who ‘rests in the Lord’ is contrasted with one who trusts in riches; he/she is portrayed as a green olive tree, fair, and of great beauty and goodly fruit. The Ninety-second Psalm depicts the good person as flourishing like the palm tree, growing like a cedar of Lebanon, and bringing forth fruit in old age.
In the Bible, too, there are ancient traditions of sacred trees, under whose boughs a person could rest, breathe in prophetic insights, see visions and dream dreams. The grace of the palm, the strength of the cedar, the stability of the oak and the fruitfulness of the olive were all familiar to the people of Israel. The plumy imperial palm, symbol of victory and eternal life, enhanced the splendor of palaces and temples. The olive tree could continue bearing for twenty generations and still surround itself with vigorous young shoots. The evergreen oaks were opulently beautiful. The cedars of Lebanon, said to have been growing since the Flood, had their timbers built into temples. No other figure of speech could express more beautifully the steadfast, vital and serene; unperturbed by transient drought and storm, enduringly influential, comforting to those who reposed themselves against its strength. Such a person, like a tree, is ‘planted,’ and draws unfailing nourishment from high up and deep down.” (Original source unknown, BGL)
A television news report indicated that a very serious and apparently widespread form of ‘forest death’ is afflicting forests throughout the Appalachian mountains, especially noted on Mount Mitchell, where scores of trees are dying with no new trees to take their place. The cause of ‘forest death’ is not yet known for certain but it is believed to be the result of environmental pollution that has simply been more than the trees are able to tolerate. There is no evidence that insects, or weather, or other reasons are the cause for this condition. Is it possible that Christianity is also experiencing a form of ‘forest death’ which, though uncertain, may possibly be the direct result of moral and spiritual pollution? (BGL)
“This is My Father’s World,” “Ancient Words,” (Lynn Deshazo, CCLI#654479), “How Great Thou Art,” “Psalm 1” Meditation C.M., John H. Gower, 1890
Call to Worship
Each of us comes here today with our own needs, our own strengths, our own weaknesses,
our own joys, our own sorrows, our own place on the journey of life. We come in faith,
knowing that you will meet each of us where we are.
O Lord, our God, grant us the grace to desire you with our whole heart;
so that in desiring, we may seek and find you;
and in so finding you, we may love you;
and in loving you, we may hate those sins from which you have redeemed us,
for the sake of Jesus Christ.
—St. Anselm, 1033–1109
Now to him who by the power at work within us is able to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and even. Amen (Eph. 3:20 NRSV)