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Happy Are Those ...

Lessons: Psalm 1; Matthew 5:1-12

A woman on Facebook posted what she said was an actual conversation with her seven-year-old son:

Mother: Why do you look grumpy?

Child: I can’t tell you.

Mother: Um, why?

Child: Because then you’re going to ask me if that was a good decision.

This brief exchange between mother and son is practically a complete sermon on Psalm 1. Why do you look grumpy – why aren’t you happy? Because I did something that wasn’t a good decision.

When we first hear Psalm 1, we might be put off by some of the language. It refers to the wicked and to sinners, over and against the righteous. That sounds like the kind of black and white, fire and brimstone way of thinking that ignores the complexity of the human condition and forgets that love and forgiveness are God’s defining characteristics. It’s just too easy to label people as sinners or as wicked when you simply don’t agree with them.[1] But the psalmist isn’t trying to draw a stark line between so-called righteous people and so-called sinners or wicked people as much as saying that we have choices to make. We all have choices to make. Life is a journey, and again and again we are confronted with choices about what path we will take on that journey.[2] We can make choices that help make the world, our lives and the lives of others better – or worse.

Sometimes the better choice is obvious; other times a situation is complex, nuanced, and anything but clear. The psalmist tells us we’ll find clarity in following Torah, or as our Bibles translate it, “the law.”[3] A better translation of the word “law” might be God’s “teaching” or God’s “instruction.”[4] In the broadest sense, it suggests God’s will – God’s will for the world.[5] So Psalm 1 doesn’t point to a mechanical process of following a set of rules for which we’re then rewarded with happiness. Instead, the psalmist describes a dynamic process. The psalmist prescribes meditating on God’s will “day and night” – in other words, constantly – in order to discern what God would have us do in a