Choose Wisely - A Sermon for Pentecost 21A (Psalm 1)

Psalm 1

Picture yourself traveling down a road. You come to a fork in the road, so which fork do you choose? Which is the wise choice? What resources do you need to choose wisely? What do you need to know?

When it comes to choosing wisely, one of my favorite scenes in the movie Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade has to do with choosing wisely. There is a group of people who have reached the room containing the Holy Grail. The room is filled with cups and chalices, but only one is the cup of Christ, which holds the promise of life. The knight guarding the grail tells the seekers: “But choose wisely, for while the true Grail will bring you life, the false Grail will take it from you.” If you’ve seen the movie, you know the villain goes first and chooses a beautiful jewel-encrusted chalice that was fit for a king. Unfortunately, when he drinks from the cup, instead of gaining life, he loses it in typical Spielberg fashion. Now, Indiana has to choose a cup that can provide life-restoring holy water to his father who is dying of a gunshot wound. So, which cup is the cup of Christ? Which grail brings life? Indiana chooses the simplest cup, believing that this was the cup of a carpenter. It worked, and the knight simply stated: “You have chosen wisely.”

Our Scripture today comes from Psalm 1. This Psalm serves as an introduction to the entire Book of Psalms, and it offers us a choice of two life-paths. There is the path of the righteous and the path of the wicked. We get to choose the path we want to take in life. One path leads to blessing and the other to destruction. Of course, life isn’t quite this black and white. There are many shades of gray to our life experiences. Nevertheless, sometimes it’s good to think in such stark terms. In an age of “alternative truths,” we sometimes need to nail things down with more specificity.

The message of the Psalmist is this:  “happy are those who do not follow the advice of the wicked.” OK, but how does the Psalmist define wickedness? Clinton McCann suggests that  “what Psalm 1 and the rest of the Psalter call ‘wickedness’ is perhaps what North American culture promotes as the highest virtue—autonomy” [McCann, “The Book of Psalms, NIB, 4:687]. 

Our culture seems to value self-sufficiency and autonomy above all else. During this pandemic, we hear people loudly proclaim that the government has no right to mandate the wearing of masks or staying home to prevent the spread of the virus. And so the pandemic rages on, as we proclaim our freedom, gaining steam as we approach the winter months.  

On the other hand, the Psalmist tells us that the righteous delight in the teachings of God. Yes, happy are those who “delight in the law of the Lord, and on his law, they meditate day and night.” The Hebrew word for law here is Torah, which can be translated as teachings or instruction. That should be our delight. So, while the wicked proclaim their freedom to do as they please, the righteous delight in placing themselves under God’s direction. That’s what it means to choose wisely. 

So, when we come to that fork in the road, the best course of action is to follow Jesus. If we’re going to follow Jesus, what does it mean to follow him? What will it involve? I think today’s Gospel reading from Matthew 22 says it best. When Jesus was asked which of the commandments was the greatest he pointed to two of them: Love God and love your neighbor. Then he said:  “On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets” (Mt. 22:34-40). So what does it mean to love God and neighbor? Right now that might begin with wearing a mask when you go out in public.  

If we choose wisely and take the path laid out before us by the Psalmist, there is a promise attached. If we choose wisely and follow this path we’ll experience happiness and blessing. We’ll experience vitality and stability in life. Here is what the Psalmist promises to those who delight in the law of the Lord: They “are like trees planted by streams of water, which yield their fruit in season, and their leaves do not wither” (vs. 2-3). Patricia Tull writes that “because they are grounded in the right place, their leaves and fruit flourish. The wicked, by contrast, are imagined as dried, dead chaff blown abroad by the wind” [Working Preacher, Oct. 26, 2014]. So, which path do you want to choose? Do you want to be like a tree planted by the water that is full of life and fruitful? Or, do you want to be like dried chaff that is blown about by the wind? 

Every day we make choices. Some are small. You know, choices like what will I eat for breakfast? For me, that usually involves a bowl of cereal and a cup of juice. But, sometimes we have to make rather momentous choices. They might include marriage partners, new jobs, moves to new locations. Since we’re in an election season, those of us who vote, have choices to make. I realize some of us have already voted. Some of us might decide to go to the polls on November 3. My question for all of us who have the right and responsibility to vote, what does it mean to choose wisely in this most important election? Now, I can’t tell you how to vote. Nevertheless, I hope that as you make your choices you will let the “teaching of the Lord” be your guide. May the teachings and example of Jesus guide your decision making. If you follow Jesus’ lead, then surely the command to love your neighbor as yourself, a commandment that is drawn from Leviticus 19, will be your guide.

Preached by:

Dr. Robert D. Cornwall, Pastor

Central Woodward Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)

Troy, Michigan

October 25, 2020

Pentecost 21A


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