The 16th Sunday after Pentecost; Proper 18C (9/8/2013)

Lessons:Deuteronomy 30:15-20 Psalm 1 (3) Philemon 1:1-21 St. Luke 14:25-33

Semicontinuous Series: Jeremiah 18:1-11 Psalm 139:1-6, 13-18 (1)

Prayer of the Day: Direct us, O Lord God, in all our doings with your continual help, that in all our works, begun, continued, and ended in you, we may glorify your holy name; and finally, by your mercy, bring us to everlasting life, through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord. Amen.

The Two Ways

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;

2 but their delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law they meditate day and night.

3 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.

4 The wicked are not so, but are like chaff that the wind drives away.

5 Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment, nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous;

6 for the Lord watches over the way of the righteous, but the way of the wicked will perish.

St. Luke 14:25-33. New Revised Version Bible ©1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America.

The Two Ways

An old friend of mine was fond of claiming that there are two kinds of people: those who tend to divide the population into two kinds of people, and those who don’t…

I’m not big fan of the titles that some versions of the Bible, including the NRSV, add to the text. None of them were in the original documents of the Bible. (Many of the earliest copies that still exist don’t even have paragraphs, punctuation or spaces!) I trust and believe that there is a power in this book, and that when we turn to it we can be inspired in profound ways. So I’d prefer to know that we are being inspired by God’s word, not some title that was arbitrarily inserted into the text by a present-day editor. But I kind of like the title given to the first Psalm. In the NRSV, the title for the opening verses of the Psalter is: “The Two Ways.” The Psalmist begins this grand book of poetry with the acknowledgement that God calls us down a certain path — a path that not every member of the human family will travel. (In other words, the Psalmist believes that there are two kinds of people…)

What are these two paths? One path has to do with following the advice of the wicked. The other with delighting in the law of the Lord; meditating on it day and night. And not only are two paths defined in this Psalm, so are two destinations. Those who follow the advice of the wicked end up like chaff that is blown away in the wind. But those who delight in the law of the Lord end up like trees planted by streams of water. They bear fruit at the appointed time, and their leaves do not wither.

I’m struck by the fact that the promise associated with delighting in the law of the Lord is that the believer will bear fruit. And not just a little bit of fruit here and there, but the kind of fruit that nearly explodes off of a tree planted near a stream of water.

This weekend we are celebrating 25 years together as the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. As I join the celebration, I’ll be thinking about all the fruit that has been born by our denomination over the past two-and-a-half decades. I’m thinking about grade schools and preschools. Seminaries and universities. Social ministry organizations. Hospitals and foster/adopt agencies. International relief and disaster response organizations. Overseas missions and the planting of new congregations here on our home soil. Men’s Groups, Women’s Groups and Youth Groups. Wrestling with the Spirit’s call, and how it relates to contemporary social issues. Materials to help congregations nurture Christian discipleship among members. Outreach initiatives to connect with new believers. “Like trees planted by streams of water, which yield their fruit in its season…”

We are blessed to belong to this tree, and the water is nothing less than the good news of Jesus Christ. His death and resurrection stand at the heart of what our denomination is all about. His commitment to a life of service is what inspires us to bear such fruit. Because of the nourishment we receive from Christ, we have become a community of believers who are rooted in grace, committed to forgiveness, and enthusiastic about serving the communities in which we live.

I am glad to be connected with you, dear followers of Jesus Christ, and we are fortunate to belong to a fellowship like the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. May we always be rooted in the One who gives us life. And may we always be fruitful, as our hands continue to do God’s work.

Happy Anniversary, ELCA! May God continue to make all things new, in you and through you.

David J. Risendal, Pastor

Exploring This Week’s Gospel:

  1. Why do the Psalms begin with this motif of two ways?
  2. What does this indicate about the content of the Psalter?
  3. What stories in the Hebrew Bible remind us of these two ways?

Connecting with This Week’s Gospel:

  1. Where or when have these two ways been obvious in my life?
  2. When have I chosen in the wrong direction?
  3. How have I been called back toward a delight in God’s ways?