We just heard Psalm 1. We often forget that the Psalms are the songs of Israel. Songs of the joy they experienced, both as individuals and collectively as a people. Songs of praise sung to a gracious and benevolent God. Songs of lamentation sung in times of vast despair. And many other types of songs that come out of the lived experience of a people.
We also often forget as one theologian has noted that much of scripture comes out of lived experience. And particularly, out of trauma. Out of people trying to make sense or make meaning of their traumatic experience. Beginning with the banishing of Adam and Eve from the garden, through the flood and its aftermath, to the enslavement and eventual freedom for Israel, to the first destruction of the temple and the Babylonian exile, even to the time of the Christ, living as a subjugated people and the second destruction of the temple - over and over and over again, God’s people have attempted to make meaning of it all and to understand where God might be working in the midst of it.
So, beginning today with Psalm 1 seems right - this song placed at the beginning of all of Israel’s songs. A song that talks about two ways. Two paths. And about what happens to a people when they stray from the path of life, from God and the ways of God.
This is also a similar theme in the book of Jeremiah. Jeremiah - a prophet called by God to help Judah survive. Sometimes harsh and bitter. Sometimes a predictor of the terror to come. And, yet, a prophet and a book that is a quest for meaning and about how, even in the midst of communal disaster, the people of Judah (and we) we might find both the human and the divine.
And so, today, we begin in Jeremiah.
“Before I created you in the womb I knew you;
before you were born I set you apart;
I made you a prophet to the nations.”
“Ah, Lord God,” I said, “I don’t know how to speak
because I’m only a child.”
The Lord responded,
“Don’t say, ‘I’m only a child.’
Where I send you, you must go;
what I tell you, you must say.
Don’t be afraid of them,
because I’m with you to rescue you,”
declares the Lord.
Then the Lord stretched out his hand,
touched my mouth, and said to me,
“I’m putting my words in your mouth.
This very day I appoint you over nations and empires,
to dig up and pull down,
to destroy and demolish,
to build and plant.”
Jeremiah received the Lord’s word: Stand near the gate of the Lord’s temple and proclaim there this message: Listen to the Lord’s word, all you of Judah who enter these gates to worship the Lord. This is what the Lord of heavenly forces, the God of Israel, says: Improve your conduct and your actions, and I will dwell with you in this place. Don’t trust in lies: “This is the Lord’s temple! The Lord’s temple! The Lord’s temple!” No, if you truly reform your ways and your actions; if you treat each other justly; if you stop taking advantage of the immigrant, orphan, or widow; if you don’t shed the blood of the innocent in this place, or go after other gods to your own ruin, only then will I dwell with you in this place, in the land that I gave long ago to your ancestors for all time.
And yet you trust in lies that will only hurt you. Will you steal and murder, commit adultery and perjury, sacrifice to Baal and go after other gods that you don’t know, and then come and stand before me in this temple that bears my name, and say, “We are safe,” only to keep on doing all these detestable things? Do you regard this temple, which bears my name, as a hiding place for criminals? I can see what’s going on here, declares the Lord. --Jeremiah 1:10-10; 7:1-11 (CEB)