Psalm 1 (Sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost/Proper 18—Series C)
“Delight in the Word”
Lutheran Church of Our Redeemer, Enfield, CT
September 4, 2016
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Our text this morning is the psalm appointed for the day, Psalm 1:
1Blessed is the man who does not walk in the council of the wicked, and stand in the way of sinners, and sit in the seat of scoffers, 2but his delight is in the instruction of Yahweh, and on His instruction he meditates day and night. 3He is like a tree planted by channels of water which gives its fruit in its proper time and its leaf does not wither; and all which he will do he will prosper. 4Not so the wicked, but they are like the chaff, which the wind drives away. 5Therefore, the wicked will not stand in the judgment and the sinners in the congregation of the righteous, 6because Yahweh knows the way of the righteous, but the way of the wicked will perish.
If you and I lived in wheat-growing country, we would know what chaff is all about. We would hear the word and immediately get a mental image of the grain husks left over from the wheat after threshing. It is very fine and very dry, easily picked up by the breeze and blown away. When I hear the word “chaff” I think of the grass this summer that was so brown and dry because of the lack of rain, the grass that was easily picked up by the wind along with the dry, dusty earth and blown around. Dry, brown, dead grass isn’t good for anything. Chaff isn’t any good for anything. So what would you think being compared to scaly, dry plant material means for us?
“Chaff,” scaly, dry plant material, is how God the Holy Spirit inspired the Psalmist to describe the wicked, the sinners, and the scoffers in Psalm 1. The ungodly are like chaff in that they have no root, no fruit, no vigor or freshness of life, lying loose on the threshing-floor waiting for the slightest breeze to dispose of them as they are utterly worthless and unstable. Thank God that He’s not talking about us, right? I mean, He clearly means other people, really bad people—sinners—right? But wait a minute. What was confessed about ourselves not too long ago? Let us first consider our . . . unworthiness. Let us confess before God and one another that we have sinned in thought, word, and deed, and that we cannot free ourselves from our sinful condition. We prayed, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner.” We are, by nature, chaff, dry and scaly with sin and wickedness.
Oh yes, dear friends, that is who and what we are by our very nature. We are the very ones who do walk in the council of the wicked. You and I possess the state of mind of the ungodly who so quickly fall into temptation and sin in our thinking, speaking, desiring, and doing. We stand in the way of sinners when we associate with and indulge in the life of those who live contrary to the Word and will of God. At times, we even sit in the seat of scoffers, delighting in the company of those who ridicule religion in general and Christianity in particular. As one commentary suggested, maybe the idea here is that sin is a temptation that we first try out, walking in the council of the wicked. Then we become accustomed to the sinful words and actions, standing in the lifestyle of sinners. Finally, the sin becomes habit as we make ourselves comfortable in the seat of the scoffer who has no regard for God and His Word.
In this way we are like the chaff which the wind drives away. The wicked cannot stand in the judgment. The evidence is completely against us. There is no way any other verdict can come down from the bench other than GUILTY! And the only sentence that can be carried out against guilty sinners is the death penalty, the everlasting, eternal death penalty of hell. The way, the lifestyle, and the sinner himself or herself will perish. As Yahweh spoke to the people of Israel in today’s Old Testament reading, “If your heart turns away, and you will not hear, but are drawn away to worship other gods and serve them, I declare to you today that you shall surely perish” (Deut. 30: 17-18a).
So we must wait for the verdict to be delivered to us sinners who have worshiped gods of our own making, whoever or whatever we have placed first in our lives to receive our fear, love, and trust. We must wait for the verdict to come down against us who have sinned in our thoughts and actions, with our words and desires, who have failed to love God and obey Him perfectly, who have also not loved others as ourselves.
Now the Judge of all speaks. . . What? Did I hear Him right? What did the holy Judge just say? Not guilty? He just declared you and me not guilty! All our thoughts, word, and deeds make us “guilty as sin” before God, but He declares you and me not guilty of any of the crimes of which we have been charged! The case is closed; court is adjourned. You and I are free to go. Is this because God ignored our sins or overlooked them? Not at all. You and I are declared not guilty of our sins because God the Judge punished His own innocent Son, Jesus, instead of us. Jesus suffered the wages of your sin and mine in our place when He suffered on the cross the penalty of sin, which is hell and death.
Because of the perfect life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, a sentence different from the one we deserved has been handed down. We deserved condemnation, death, and hell. Instead, on account of Christ and because He perfectly fulfilled the Law in every respect, and suffered and died for our failure to keep the Law, we have been sentenced to eternal life and freedom through the forgiveness of sins. But our innocence is not really ours; it belongs to Christ. His innocence has been credited to us by God through faith. Christ’s obedience to the Law is credited as our obedience to the Lord’s commandments. Christ’s suffering death and hell for us on the cross is credited to us as if we have been punished. Our sins were indeed punished, but it was not us who received the penalty. It was Jesus, on the cross, who suffered and died in our place so that we might live eternally by grace through faith with sins forgiven.
God the Father through Christ by the working of the Holy Spirit has planted us, like a tree, into the source of forgiveness and life which is His instruction, His Word. Jesus walked and stood and sat among the wicked, the sinners, and the scoffers. He took their sins upon Himself and hung on the tree of the cross, enduring hell itself, and death itself, so that all the wicked, the sinners, and the scoffers the world over, yes—you and me, should have the forgiveness of sins and eternal life.
To give to us the gifts that Jesus purchased and won for us with His death and resurrection, the Lord has given us His Word that delivers to us exactly what He promises we should receive in Jesus Christ. The Word delivers to you the righteousness of Christ through faith. “For in [the Gospel] the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, ‘The righteous shall live by faith’” (Rom. 1:17 ESV). The Word delivers to you the forgiveness of sins. On the first Easter evening, the living Lord Christ said to His disciples, His Church, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them” (Jn. 20:22b-23a ESV). So the called pastors of Christ exercise this Office of the Keys publicly on behalf of the Church, speaking the Gospel Word of Absolution to you in the stead and by the command of Christ, “I forgive you all your sins in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.”
It is this Word of Gospel, this Word of righteousness by faith, this Word of forgiveness which releases you from sin and guilt. It is the Word of God in the Gospel that creates new life in you so that you are now able to fear, love, and trust in God above all things. It is a new life that produces the very fruits of faith that are seen in both love toward God and toward our neighbors. What a richly flowing brook is to the tree that is planted by it, such is the Word of God to you who are in Christ by grace through faith. The Word makes you ever fruitful in good and well-timed deeds. It keeps you fresh in your life of faith and in your life of good works.
What is key in this new life is your connection to the irrigation source. In Psalm 1, the stream of water is God’s instruction, His holy Word. Like a tree that quietly, invisibly, constantly receives strength and life through its roots, so you are given God’s Word as a steady source of strength and life. Take away the water, the leaves wither and the fruit dies. Take away the Word, your faith withers and your love dies. But, O the blessedness of the person who abides in the Word of God! The Lord declares this blessing to you as He gives you His Word of forgiveness and life, a Word that strengthens faith and empowers holy living, a life lived in love toward God and others.
In Jesus, you are like a healthy, vibrant tree that is firmly planted in the Word of Christ. You are not dry and scaly chaff. The water of the Word of Life gives you strength and produces fruit which ripens so that you may scatter the blessings of the Lord around by what you do and by what you say.
By the power of the Holy Spirit, continue to delight in the Word of God. Continue to hear His Word, to read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest His Word. You will receive forgiveness from Christ when temptation to sin overcomes you. You will receive strength from your God and Savior so that you are able to resist walking, standing, and sitting among the sinners as a matter of lifestyle or habit. The Spirit will call you to repentance and faith so that He might refresh you again with the forgiveness of your sins through the Word of the Gospel.
May the Lord Jesus grant His blessing upon the Word spoken to you. By the Holy Spirit, may He increase your saving knowledge of Him, that day by day you might be strengthened in the divine truth and remain steadfast in His grace, giving you the strength to fight the good fight and by faith to overcome all temptations of Satan, the flesh, and the world so that you may finally receive the salvation of your souls. Amen.
 Jacob A. O. Preus, Just Words: Understanding the Fullness of the Gospel (St. Louis: Concordia, 2000), 113-114.
 From the Collect “For blessing on the Word” (Lutheran Service Book page 308)