Blessed is the man
who walks not in the counsel of the wicked,
nor stands in the way of sinners,
nor sits in the seat of scoffers;
2 but his delight is in the law of the Lord,
and on his law he meditates day and night.
3 He is like a tree
planted by streams of water
that yields its fruit in its season,
and its leaf does not wither.
In all that he does, he prospers.
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 knows the way of the righteous,
but the way of the wicked will perish.
I have a vivid recall of only a few sermons I’ve heard over the years. One was a Lutheran Hour sermon by the sainted Oswald Hoffman. Titled, Hang in There Together, it was a welcome reminder to us in our early years of marriage. Marriage is not for the faint of heart. Our commitment was a sacred one; not to be abandoned. Three more were by seminary professors who spoke grace and truth to a bunch of (possibly self-righteous and arrogant?) men who were studying to be pastors.
Then there was the message of which I was reminded today. Not based on this psalm, Pastor Lange’s message to us at our wedding was titled, Rejoicing Along the Way. In that message, he quoted Psalm 1. He recited the psalm from memory. Over the years I’ve leaned into this psalm, and I might be able to recite it from memory myself.
More important than being able to recite it from memory, however, is the warning and promises God gives us here. The warning is two-fold. The first is a warning against the dangerous progression of sinful influence. We are warned against walking in the council of the ungodly. This is more than simply passing through or being in the presence of ungodly people. As Paul reminds us, “ I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people— 10 not at all meaning the sexually immoral of this world, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters, since then you would need to go out of the world.” (1 Corinthians 5:9-10) This is a warning against a stroll with sinful and ungodly people. Taking their advice. Naively traveling their paths. Sadly, I know the danger of that course. My college years were far too often influenced by such a path. The ways of the world can seem so compelling.
Then comes standing in the way of sinners. That is, no longer just walking with wicked people, but actually stopping to look at their wares. It’s a longer exposure to the allure of the world’s ways, and the beautiful bait of the devil. The bait – beautiful as it may be – always hides a sharp barb. Its center is poisonous.
And certainly do not sit down in that place. For example, you walk through Bourbon Street in New Orleans. As you walk, you stop to look and listen to things you know do not honor God. You go into the bar and have a seat. Too soon you will be taken captive to the drink, the dalliance, or the back room poker game.
I’m guessing there are some upstanding and righteous people and places there, but the danger certainly lurks. Blessed is the man or woman who does not follow that dangerous progression.
The alternative is to delight in the Law of the Lord; to meditate on it day and night. God’s law is the way of life. It will always accuse, showing our sin. It often curbs our dangerous inclinations, keeping us from going off the rails to a life of wanton abandon. But it also shows us a way to true life, joy, blessing and abundance.
Even when the law of God accuses us, that brings us to repentance and a return to God. Whenever that happens, God delights to forgive and receive us into his gracious presence. And when we are curbed from gross acts of disobedience by fear of God or consequences, we can thank God for the law that brings that fear to us, and calls us to repent. That was Jesus’ first recorded sermon in Mark’s Gospel, “The time has come. The kingdom of God is at hand. Repent and believe the good news.” It’s a good message for us to meditate on walking, standing, or sitting.