Sermon: The Rev. Leah D. Schade
Psalms Sermon Series
Psalm 1 - “Be the Tree”
When I think of the writer of this Psalm, I think of a wise, old grandfather - someone who has lived a long life, learned some painful lessons, and wishes to share what he’s learned with the younger generation. And I picture this grandfather taking his grandchild for a walk in the woods. He watches his grandson running to catch a toad, skipping after a rabbit, and hopping up to touch a butterfly. When the child comes back to his side, he puts his arm around the young shoulders and they walk and talk quietly together, hoping maybe to spot a shy deer along the way.
And as they hike along the trail, the grandfather says something like the words in the beginning of the psalm, “Son, I want you to know that I love you, and that God loves you and wants you to be happy. And I also want you to know I’ve learned a thing or two about what makes a man happy, and what makes God happy. Now I’ve learned these lessons the hard way, and I don’t want you to have to make the same mistakes. So listen carefully to me. Don’t go hanging out with bad kids who want to get you in trouble. Don’t follow the wrong crowd down the wrong road. Be careful the company you keep. If you’ve got friends who make fun of you for going to church and believing in God, well then they’re not friends worth having. No, son, I’m proud of you that you actually read your bible, and you’ve learned the Ten Commandments in your Confirmation class.”
The boy listens carefully. He didn’t know that his grandfather had noticed these things about him. And he also wonders how he knew about his friends, the ones that sometimes tempt him to do things he knows he shouldn’t, and tease him for having to get up on Sundays and go to church. While he is pondering this in mind, they come upon his favorite spot, where big willow tree grows along the babbling brook. Many times he and his grandfather have come to this spot to catch minnows and crayfish, build dams with big wet rocks, and float sticks down the stream.
The old grandfather looks up at the tree and says, “Son, when I think about you, I think about this tree growing alongside the brook. You see how tall and green this tree is? Its roots grow deep, and it’s always watered by this stream. It always sprouts leaves in the spring, and gives you these long branches to swing from. It’s a strong tree. Storms come and whip it around, but it’s still standing. And it’s going to be here for a long time.”
Funny, thinks the boy. That’s how he’d always thought of his grandfather - like an old tree. Always there, always strong, always fun to play with, and always willing to provide a shady spot when you wanted some peace and quiet. And now his grandfather is telling him that he sees him like this tree?
His grandfather explains: “When you plant yourself in God’s word, and follow his commandments, and keep yourself connected to a church, it’s like being planted next to a stream. You’ll always be fed by the waters of your baptism, son. Your roots will grow deep, and you’ll be the kind of tree that grows tall and strong. People will admire you and look up to you. You’ll be able to weather the storms of life because you know that God is always with you.”
The boy nods. He picks up a few stones and skips them across the water, just the way his grandfather had taught them. Then they continue their walk. They emerge from the woods and climb up into the field. The grasses grow tall around them. His grandfather pauses and reaches out to grab some of the heads of the grasses.
“Looky here, son,” he says, and crushes the seed heads between his fingers. He throws them into the air and they blow away. “You’re not like those kids. They’re nothing but chaff in the wind. They get blown by whatever impulses come by. And when the storms come, they’ve got nothing to hold onto. Be the willow tree, Son.”
They continue their walk, the boy mulling over his grandfather’s words in his mind. And suddenly up ahead they see a doe standing just off the path. They watch her, and she watches them, until she moves off quietly into the underbrush. And they continue walking. The path brings them to the other side of the field where it intersects with another little trail. Here they stop again, and the grandfather asks, “Remember where that trail goes?“
“Sure,“ says the boy. “It veers off down a steep slope, down to the rocks where the snakes are.”
“That’s right,” the old man says. “And if we stay on this path, where does it take us.”
“Well, it’s the high road looking over the rocks. And then it circles around and takes us back through the pines, down through the little valley, and then back to the hard road to your house.”
“Very good. And how do you know about the snakes?”
“Well, I remember you told me about the time when you were a boy and you went down there and started poking around and a rattler bit you.”
“And then what happened?” the grandfather asks.
“No one knew where you were because you went off the path. You almost died down there.”
“And how I worried my mother and father and sister. They thought they’d lost me.”
The boy, being a sharp one, says, “Let me guess, Grandpa. You want me to keep on the right path and stay safe in life, right?”
The grandfather laughs, “You got it, boy. What I’m trying to tell you is that there is a right way to live life, and it matters what you do and the choices you make. It matters to God. And it matters to the people in your family, in your school, in your church, and in whatever you do in your job when you grow up. I want you to choose your friends carefully. Choose your heroes carefully. And choose your actions carefully. Like I said, God loves you, and I love you, and I don’t want to see you stray from the right path that God has set out for you. If you do, you’ll get hurt, and people who love you will get hurt.”
“I understand Grandpa. You want me to keep God at the center path of my life, right?”
“Boy, your talking like you just came out of your pastor’s confirmation class.”
“I did, Grandpa, just this morning.”
“That’s my boy,” he laughs, putting his arm around his grandson again as they make their way through the pines.
“Just stay on the right path, son. And be like that willow tree. Be the tree.”