Sunday, September 04, 2016

Like a tree planted by water

Deuteronomy 30, Psalm 1, and Luke 12  - Cosmos Sunday 

Who are you?

It’s Labor Day weekend, so we might answer the way so many North Americans answer… with our jobs. I’m a pastor. I’m a lawyer. I’m retired. I’m an artist, a musician, a writer. I clean houses. I work in a hospital. I work for 3M or Boston Scientific. Or maybe since it’s back-to-school time, we might answer, I’m a teacher. I’m a student. I’m a weary parent…

Who are you?

Last Sunday, I was in Decorah, Iowa because a college friend had died and in trying to understand what had happened to her, I realized that other close friends were going through major life changes in that same congregation… the whole Decorah community reeling from horrible flooding, our friends packing up boxes after 15 fruitful years there, their pastor grieving the loss of her best friend. It was a kairos moment—the opportune time to be a friend, to be present, to share a meal, to pack some boxes… to reflect on who we have been over the years, crossing paths with them. And then at Monday’s funeral, I kept looking at the family of my friend who had died suddenly—her husband, her kids—and I kept thinking, “Who will they become in view of this deep loss?” True… people are often so much more resilient than we can imagine, life goes on, but I cried a lot looking over at Sarah’s 16-year-old daughter, Anna, and younger Maren and little Stefan… and I’ve been carrying her little leaflet around in my purse. She selflessly ministered to others… and now she’s dead.

Who are you?

It’s Cosmos Sunday, so maybe our imaginations get a little bigger, imagining who we are on this tiny but (as far as we know) uniquely life-giving planet. Who are we in view of the whole cosmos, all God’s handiwork? In one way, we could see ourselves as no more important than a speck of dust, but then… I think of Madeleine L’Engle, an American writer of young adult fiction who won a Newberry Medal for A Wrinkle in Time, whose writings reflected both her Christian faith and her strong interest in modern science. In some of her novels, the characters travel in time and space. In others, they travel to the most microscopic places of the human body. These books captured my imagination, noticing our God who is not only present in the widest parts of the cosmos but in the tiniest mitochondria.

It is with all this in mind, that I hear in these Bible readings for today questions about our identity, “Who are we?”

Who are we in view of the words from the prophet in Deuteronomy—

“I call heaven and earth to witness against you today that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Choose life so that you and your descendants may live, 20 loving the Lord your God, obeying him, and holding fast to him; for that means life to you and length of days…” and what would that mean to choose life? Well, to this prophet it meant to follow the Torah, the instructive law, the way of God.

Who are we in view of Psalm 1, which is the Psalm for this Sunday and goes like this:

Psalm 1

Happy [“enviable”[1]] 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 God’s 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.

What does wicked mean here? Judging life according to their own standards.

What does it mean to be in the company of the righteous? Being with those who rely on God…. until we get there, too.

And right in the middle of that 1st Psalm—there is an image again (this image that we’ve been focusing on all year, this image that is repeated over and over again throughout the Bible) of the tree, a tree planted by water, roots drinking it in & being nourished, lush leaves, bearing fruit in season…

Who are we? Do we delight in God’s ways? Do we meditate on God’s word day and night?

A Danish Lutheran said, “To meditate on the psalms is … to be ourselves before God, to sing full-throated songs of praise when that is appropriate and to give honest articulation to our despair when we are sad. To present our very ordinary selves, our daily selves, to God, that is the advice of the Psalm.”[2]

Who are we in view of this challenge from Jesus in the words from Luke—

“Whoever does not carry the cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.”

Jesus invites followers to form their identity in full view of death and loss, the loss of everything… but this is not just counting the cost…

Caroline Lewis says this:

“When it’s all about cost, it’s all about what you give up. What you sacrifice. What you deny. When faith is cast as cost, we become rather ignorant of the fact that life itself is costly, not just faith. Life is full of choices, of counting the costs, weighing the costs. The cross is not unique but representative of what life is. To carry your cross is to carry the choices and burdens and realities of a life that has made a certain commitment -- a commitment to a way of life that is committed to bringing about the Kingdom of God here and now. That’s certainly what it meant for Jesus.”[3]

“So, carrying your cross is a choice and ironically, it is a choice for life and not death.”

Who are we today? Who will we be?

[1] Rolf Jacobson, Sermon Brainwave, for September 4, 2016
[2] Paraphrasing Kierkegaard, Paul K.-K. Cho, Commentary on Psalm 1 from, accessed 9/2/2016
[3] Caroline Lewis, Dear Working Preacher, accessed 9/2/2016

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