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Publish Date: May 21, 2012  ::  Author: Pastor Steve DeFields-Gambrel

The Way

Psalm 1
“The Way”
 May 20, 2012
The Circle Church - Santa Cruz, CA
Rev. Steve DeFields-Gambrel

Imagine that today I opened up that red hymnal and picked a song, and that was our scripture for today. You could do that. There are some great songs. But it would be different. The Book of Psalms is a collection of sings, it’s the hymnal of the Jewish people. Today’s scripture is the first song in the Jewish hymnal, And this first song jumps right into the heart of the Jewish religion, it sums it all up in a couple of stanzas.
 
There are two paths you can take. What was it Robert Frost said, “Two roads diverged in a wood, and I, I took the one less travelled by, and that has made all the difference.” “Happy are those who do not follow the advice of the wicked, or take the path that sinners tread…But their delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law they meditate day and night.” There is the path of the wicked, and there is a path which follows the law of the Lord. “Two roads diverge in a wood…”

“The law of the Lord” is the Torah. Torah is the Hebrew word for “law.” But Torah is not just a bunch of rules. Torah is the first five books of the bible, a group of writings sometimes called “The Books of Moses”: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy. There are some laws in there, some do’s and some don’ts. The Ten Commandments show up a couple of times. But except for Leviticus the Torah is not primarily a set of rules. It’s stories, and a way of life.
 
Jesus came to fulfill the Torah, to go deeper into the Torah. “You have heard is said that you should love your friends and hate your enemies, but I say love your enemies.”  Jesus called his Torah, his way of life “the kingdom,” so we might combine the terms and call it the “Kingdom-Torah,” but whatever you call it, it’s more than rules, it’s a way of life, a path through life.

There was this kid, he’s tall for his age, so in sixth grade he was put on the basketball team. They explained the rules to him. Don’t run out of bounds, don’t foul anybody. They explained what dribbling is, and what a double-dribble is. Before the game this kid prayed the prayer astronaut Alan Shepherd prayed just before he went into outer space. “Dear Lord, please don’t let me screw up.” And the boy didn’t screw up. He didn’t break any rules. Nor did he do anything else. He ran up and down the court, but he never touched the ball, never defended any of his opponents, never jumped up to grab a rebound. He didn’t do anything. He didn’t even play the game. But he didn’t break any rules.
 
It’s not enough to follow the rules, you’ve got to get in the game, live out the way of life the bible calls Torah. Today our God is waiting for many Christians to get into the game.

 
Sometimes we think that there is one path through life, and one set of rules. The choice is whether we walk that path the right way or the wrong way. But that’s a misunderstanding. It’s important to understand that there are two very different paths, “Two roads diverge in a wood.”  In the concluding words of the Torah, as Moses neared death he said, “I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Choose life so that you and your descendants may live.”  There is a way which leads to life, and there is a way which leads to death. Two very different paths through life, and each path has it’s own set of rules. Each path has it’s own, unique set of rules.  
 
Jesus created a dramatic contrast between these two paths. According to the way of the world, life is hard, it’s a struggle, you have to worry and compete for everything, fight to get ahead. But the way of kingdom-Torah invites us to trust God, to consider the lilies of the field and not to worry about what we will eat or drink.
 
According to the way of the world we must love our friends and hate our enemies. But according the kingdom-Torah of Jesus we should love our enemies, do good to them, pray for them. Or even better, transform enemies into friends and neighbors. According to the way of the world it’s only natural to defend yourself when attacked. But the way of the kingdom-Torah is to turn the other cheek.
 
According to the way of the world, people of wealth and power and have earned greater respect and special privileges. But in the kingdom-Torah, it is the poor, the needy, those who have suffered, the losers of this world who get the special privileges and go to the head of the line.

According to the world, death is the ultimate thing to fear. But in the kingdom-Torah death is but the doorway into eternity. “Take up your cross and follow me.”

Two roads diverge in a wood, and we sometimes try to walk the Christian path according to the rules of the other path. It’s kinda like bringing a basketball to a baseball game. Or trying to shoot a free throw with a baseball glove on your hand. Torah is just a very different path than the way of sin, and it can be frustrating trying to live a Christian life without understanding how this way is so very different from the world.
 
And so the Psalmist sings to us, “Happy are those who… delight…in the law of the Lord, and on his law they meditate day and night.” What it takes to get the hang of this Torah way of life is to meditate on it day and night. Meditate on the language and images of the kingdom. Go beyond just following the rules and get in the game and get into the whole world of it.

You know, great athletes never stop drilling on the fundamentals. NFL All-Star football players spend hours running through tires. NBA All-Stars basketball players shoot hundreds of free throws, and practice running sideways for hours. Concert pianists still practice those boring scales. It’s all about practice, practice, practice. What are the fundamentals of the Christian way of life, which the Psalmist calls Torah and we call the kingdom? We need to drill constantly on the basic fundamentals of our way of life.

Practice, practice, practice at prayer.  You know, prayer is not magic. It’s an act of concentration, a fundamental discipline of applied mental concentration which opens us up to the presence of the Holy Spirit. Prayer is a skill which requires practice, practice, practice, so that when game time comes and the challenges of life hit us, we have the mental, spiritual strength, the power of concentration, to pray our way through.

Practice, practice, practice engaging in the stories which teach us this way of life. Those stories happened a long time ago. At first they seem too far away, from too strange a culture. At first you may not know how to internalize biblical stories so that they becomes a part of you. So we need to drill ourselves on these stories so that they get become a part of us and guide us even at an unconscious, instinctive level.
 
Practice, practice, practice forgiving those who harm us. Because forgiveness is not easy. But the Christian life is a life of continually offering and receiving grace and forgiveness. Practice, practice, practice forgiveness, especially on the little things, so that you know how to do it when the big betrayal comes along.

Practice, practice, practice resisting temptation. That’s what fasting is, you know. You fast, you do without some food, skip some meals, or deprive yourself of something else as a way of drilling on one of the fundamentals of the Christian faith. Learning how to resist, how to say no. Resistance to temptation is a muscle which can only get strong through exercise.
 
Practice, practice, practice faith. Like the power to resist temptation, faith is a muscle which gets stronger the more you use it. If we practice trusting God with the little things, we will have faith when life throws us a big challenge.
Practice the fundamental practices of the way of the Kingdom-Torah, practice until it becomes second nature. And always be on guard against confusing the rules of the two paths.
 
Two roads, two paths, two contrasting ways of life. And they do not mix well. “Happy 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; But their delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law they meditate day and night. 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…for the Lord watches over the way of the righteous.”
 
Two roads diverged in a yellow wood
and sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveller, long I stood
and looked down one as far as I could
to where it bent in the undergrowth...

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I --
I took the one less travelled by,
and that has made all the difference. (Robert Frost)

Two paths…
two contrasting ways to get through life…
and a choice must be made.

 


 

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