May 30, 2021
Our son has been off his game since the pandemic began.
It’s been more than a year since he has been able to participate in the sports that marked his weekly routine throughout the year.
Wednesday nights were for floor hockey and Saturdays were for five-pin bowling. Since the pandemic’s effects became part of life, he hasn’t been able to go to the gym or to the bowling alley.
Add to that the move into a new home, and it has been a pretty stressful time of disconnection for him.
Autistic people crave routine and the familiar … familiar practices, familiar places and familiar faces. Without them, people on the spectrum can be disoriented … frustrated … which sometimes leads them to act out.
The length of the pandemic and its protocols means new routines have replaced some of the pre-pandemic ones … of course, that means when the restrictions of the past year-plus are lifted … those new routines might be replaced by the ones that existed pre-pandemic … and the disconnection continues.
As disoriented as we can feel by the health protocols and restrictions and the current “normal,” … it’s nothing compared to what some people with special needs must be feeling during the past year and change.
We can empathize … and understand … or we can choose to look to ourselves.
Two choices … two roads…
We’ll be looking at the Psalms over the course of the coming weeks.
As we do … we’ll move from orientation … to disorientation … to reorientation. One way to think of it is going from pre-pandemic … to pandemic … to post-pandemic life.
Today’s Psalm .. Psalm number one … is an introduction to the Book of Psalms. It offers instructions in how to approach the messages offered in the psalms that follow and … by extension … they are instructions in how to be in a proper relationship with God and with the world.
The first Psalm looks to the past for affirmation and it looks forward … to the rest of the book … in anticipation of a better life. The Psalm calls on the audience to consider … to meditate on what will follow.
The first Psalm doesn’t speak to God … as others do … as the writer laments … or offers praises or gives thanks. Today’s Psalm speaks directly to the listener or the reader.
Martin Luther encouraged people to read the Psalms, calling them a handbook that summarizes all the Scripture. Luther believed that the Psalms spoke honestly about the human condition with its grief and sadness, its hope and anticipation.
He believed that the Psalms served as a mirror that shows people what they are, calling each person to know themselves in relation to God and helping guide them toward a right relationship with God.
The translation we usually use in this congregation mutes the Psalm a bit.
The first word we are greeted with is the word “happy.”
Some scholars believe the Psalms were composed during a time after Jerusalem had been destroyed and the Jews were taken into captivity in Babylon.
Those who managed to escape were scattered through the region, living in what is known as the Diaspora. It was a time of disconnection … of disorientation.
It’s easy to understand that for Jews living in such circumstances, happiness was hard to come by and it would be easy to take the wrong approach in an effort to gain a measure of happiness. For a people surrounded by enemies and enslaved, there must have been a strong urge to listen to the advice of scoffers and join them in criticizing God. The disastrous events they lived through and the pressure to conform to their new communities could have easily shaken their faith and distorted it.
Old Testament scholar Walter Brueggemann says that Psalm 1 is “the voice of a community that is familiar with risks, dangers, costs and boundaries.”
And that Psalm 1 illustrates a community that “fully appreciates the givenness of God’s world and has confidence that the Torah is the only thinkable response to the givenness of creation.”
So, it’s understandable why … in the midst of such a world … that the first word of the Psalm is the word “happy.” It’s a good word … after all, who doesn’t want to be happy?
But other translations use the word “blessed” rather than happy.
It’s a word that … I think … carries a bit more heft.
It’s a word that looks outward and that carry benefits that extend to others more than simply being happy in your life.
The Psalm … as well as a handful of others in the psalter … describe a blessed state made possible through a well-oriented faith that keeps a person balanced against the trials of the world.
Today’s Psalm presents listeners and readers with two choices … two roads … one doing what’s pleasing to God … the other … following the direction of the world and allowing that to shape relationships.
There are no other options.
One choice leads to blessedness … the other to destruction.
The writer notes the three ways that the conformity with the world can lead to disaster by pulling people away from God and away from blessedness … through acceptance of its advice … through being party to its ways … and by adopting its most fatal flaws.
Instead, … the Psalm invites its audience to meditate on God’s teachings … to look to the Torah … to the Scriptures … as they make their life choice. Following this course would allow a person to flourish during uncertain times
… to be like a tree next to a stream … deep-rooted and deeply nourished … anchored against winds of uncertainty … while those who take their lead from the desires of the world are blown away like chaff because they aren’t connected to anything of substance and certainly not connected to one another.
Today’s psalm makes it clear that following God is an active pursuit. If there is a basic instruction … to follow … it’s that we need to choose to love God with all our heart and our neighbours as ourselves … to be connected.
If we are deep-rooted in the life-affirming promise of the gospel and following the instructions of the Psalm, then we are better able to face the challenges that are sure to come … and to minister more effectively to the diverse needs of the community. We are better able to re-orient ourselves as the pandemic passes into memory.
So, what has kept us anchored during the months of the pandemic?
Have we remained connected … anchored … through God’s call to serve others … by the grace we’ve received? In short, what has oriented our lives during a disoriented time?
Which choice have we made?
To paraphrase the Psalm … it’s something meditate upon.