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January 14: The Second Sunday after Epiphany

Blessed is the man
    who walks not in the counsel of the wicked,
nor stands in the way of sinners,
    nor sits in the seat of scoffers;
but his delight is in the law of the Lord,
    and on his law he meditates day and night.

He is like a tree
    planted by streams of water
that yields its fruit in its season,
    and its leaf does not wither.
In all that he does, he prospers.

The wicked are not so,
    but are like chaff that the wind drives away.
Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment,
    nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous;
for the Lord knows the way of the righteous,
    but the way of the wicked will perish. – Psalm 1

Many people consider the Psalms as a kind of hymnal book for the ancient Israelites, and that observation definitely has merit. Within the Psalms, we see notes to the Choirmaster or we might see an introduction that tells us the next Psalm is a song of David. We also find references to melodies using a harp, lyre, trumpet, or tambourine. Yes, there is no doubt that the Psalms are filled with songs for the Israelites. We would be mistaken, however, to flatten our understanding of the Psalms to the point where we simply consider it to be a library of hymns and some liturgy. As the Church, we should recognize that these songs of praise to Yahweh are much fuller than that understanding. These songs are the battle cries of God’s covenant people as we battle against the powers and principalities of darkness in this world.

It is no mistake that the first Psalm sets the line of battle from the very start. These are the most foundational truths for any warrior: “Who is my enemy?” and “For what am I fighting?” This Psalm answers those questions with a call to the path of the righteous. We find this righteous path is compared and contrasted with the path of the unrighteous. The Psalmist tells us that the righteous path leads to a fruitful life of stability and prospering, while the kingdom of the world leads down a path of total insignificance. This unrighteous path is like chaff that the wind drives away and ultimately perishes. The line is drawn in this way between the kingdom of heaven and the kingdom of the world.

From the very first word of the very first Psalm, a division takes place for the reader. How are we to read the word, “Blessed”? There are two ways to read it. Do we read it according to the world where we find material blessings for the ‘good’ people? Or do we read it according to the kingdom of heaven where we find a call to covenantal blessings. A call to be sealed in covenant with God and, therefore, separated from the wickedness of the world.

Interestingly, Christ uses this same call to blessing found in the first Psalm when He preaches the Beatitudes. He takes the worldly perspective of blessing and turns it upside-down. It’s not Blessed are the Rich in material wealth…. No, our Lord says, “Blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”

Not only is Christ associating blessedness with being poor, but he is not even talking about the poor in the same way as the world. He is speaking in terms of the kingdom of heaven which our Lord brought into this world as a shining light into a vast darkness. The poor in spirit have lost all hope in in their self-righteous efforts and with empty hands, they hunger for the bread of life. The poor in spirit seek rest at God’s table, and they find eternal peace in communion with Christ. And that’s the gospel!

Come hear it preached and enacted in the supper with Jesus this Sunday.

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