"Say Amen"      Psalm 1   May 24, 2009

 
 God is not a continent, like Antarctica, lying off somewhere, inert, without relation to human life till some Scott or Admundsen or Byrd finds him.

God is not a mountain peak to which travelers must go and which they climb step by step.

God is like the air we breathe or the earth beneath our feet.

To discover God is simply to awaken to reality. It is like a plant discovering the sun and the rain that drew it from the earth or like children discovering the parents who gave them birth and love and nurture.[1]


Psalm 1 occupies one of the most pivotal places in all of Scripture. It is the introduction to the Psalter, which is, undeniably, the premier devotional text in Judeo-Christian tradition. It is in the form of an extended Proverb, and serves as a template for all the psalms that follow.
           
In some mss. Ps. 1 is not numbered at all and treated like a prologue, or preface. In some mss. it is combined with psalm 2. Some scholars attribute Solomon as the author of psalm 1 because of it's proverbial form, the fact that Jeremiah quoted it in his writings, and other observations (Perone, 86).
 
Psalm 1 introduces the whole theme of happiness,-- the state of blessing that surrounds those who are righteous and just. The psalmist acknowledges the existence and influence of the wicked in this world but chooses to begin by focusing on positive pronouncements. "Blessedness" or "happiness" is the ongoing state of the just. Jesus begins the Sermon on the Mount in the same way as Psalm 1: "Blessed are . .. ."

 
Throughout Scripture, God's people are reminded to praise and glorify God This is not because God needs to be told how wonderful he is, but because we need to tell God how wonderful God is.
 
Cranky, unhappy people don't praise much of anything. Healthy and happy people do a lot of affirming by praising of all kinds of things. C. S. Lewis observed: "Readers [praising] their favorite poet, walkers praising the countryside, players praising their favorite games _ praise of weather, wines, ... colleges, ... children, flowers, ... rare beetles, even ... politicians or scholars." "Praise almost seems to be inner health made audible"[2].

For the psalmist, faith originates in praise and affirmation. If our walk with God doesn't originate in praise, it doesn't end in praise. A favorite line in Abraham Heschel's writings asserts, "The beginning of prayer is praise. The power of worship is song. First we sing, then we understand" [3] By praising we are affirming; by affirming we are encouraging ourselves and those around us.

Whatever happened to the practice of proclaiming "Amen" at the sound of some good news? Psalm 1 begins with such an Amen with the affirmation, "Blessed are those ...." Indeed, most people are desperate for affirmation in their lives. Newsweek not too long ago did a feature story on the second largest publishing market in the country _ second only to the Bible _ "bedside bucker-uppers." These are the so-called "affirmation books," or "affies" for short, that assure people that they are doing okay in life. We used to call them self-help books

The church needs to reclaim its own affirmative tradition _ its "Amen" heritage.
With Moses came the commandments _ but the laws, the annointings, the prophets and kings needed to be ratified with an affirmation: Amen; and all of God's people said Amen.
 
With the new Moses, Jesus, came grace _ but the grace and the community of grace need to be ratified with an affirmation ‘Amen.’ The ‘Amen’ is not some rubber stamp, some automatic stop. It is rather the precise ratification of the statement. An ‘Amen’ means an affirmation: Yes--I agree—may it be so.
 
In order to shout an ‘Amen,’ we've got to start offering up (on a regular basis) some positive statements worthy of earning an "Amen." It's time to get critical of criticism _ not to the exclusion of thinking critically, but to the inclusion of thinking celebratively. Don't see the glass half empty, -see the glass half full!

Instead of always joining "protest movements" (things we are against), why can't we (in the church) head up "profess movements" (things we are for)? Why not support movements for justice and peace based on positive professions, not pious protests?
 
God can make all the promises He wants but unless we affirm them in our own lives they mean nothing. The Hebrew term ‘ashrei, which begins the psalm, can mean “fortunate,” “rich,” “blessed” or “prosperous,” as well as “happy.” All of these adjectives are idioms used in Old Testament wisdom literature to describe the person who has discovered what it means to live a life in harmony with God.
 
But becoming wise takes more than a sheer acquisition of knowledge. Israelite wisdom tradition does not value knowledge for its own sake; rather it values wisdom, which combines piety, humility and a right reverence for God with a deep understanding and appreciation for how God intends the world to work.

This concept of wisdom, gratitude and praise might be best described by a quote from CH Spurgeon's classic "Treasury of David," commenting on verse 2:
 
 ""His delight is in the law of the Lord" he is not under the law as a curse and condemnation, but he is in it, and he delights to be in it as his rule of life; moreover, he meditates in it, to read it by day and think upon it by night. He takes a text and carries it with him all day long; and in the night-watches, when sleep forsakes his eyelids, he muses upon the Word of God. In the day of his prosperity he sings psalms out of the Word of God, and in the night of his affliction he comforts himself with promises out of the same book. "The law of the Lord' is the daily bread of the true believer" (Spurgeon 2).
 
What are we believing? What are we affirming? What are we praising? 
           
In Prov. 23:7 we read "For as the man thinketh in his heart, so is he"—as the meditation is, such is the person. Meditation is the touchstone of a Christian: it shows what metal he is made of. It is a spiritual index; the index shows what is in the book, so meditation shows what is in the heart.[4]
           
Biblical scholar Walter Brueggemann observes that "The words with which we praise God shape the world in which we shall live." [5]  
           
According to verse 2, the ‘happy’ person will not choose the path of the unwise, but rather, choose a life of continual study and meditation on God’s law” (Hebrew torah). Here the psalmist introduces another key tenet of Israelite wisdom philosophy — namely that the Torah is the first source for acquiring wisdom.
           
Without the revelation of God’s law, which literally means God’s “teaching” (from the Hebrew verb yrh, “to teach”), one cannot be wise. The verb which is translated here “meditate” (Hebrew hgh) literally means “to mumble,” such as one might do were one quietly reading the Scripture over and over to oneself aloud.

Throughout the psalm the image of traveling on the right path in life recurs. In verse 1 the phrase in the NRSV which instructs, “do not follow the advice of the wicked,” literally means in Hebrew “do not walk (Hebrew halak) in the advice of the wicked.” The NRSV phrase which reads, “or take the path that sinners tread,” literally reads, “or remain (Hebrew ‘amad) in the sinner’s path” (Hebrew derek).

This psalm, and other wisdom writings that describe a holy life as a “way or path,” are the background to the gospel image of Christ as the Way (John 14:6). By describing Christ as “the way,” the apostle John connects faith in Jesus with Torah faith.Unlike the purely intellectual philosophies of late antiquity, Christianity offers real wisdom: Truth which leads to eternal life by following God’s Way.
 
Be grateful and give praise. Affirm what is good and right. Stay on the right path. Amen.
 
Rev. Rosemary Stelz
 
 
 
 


[1] —Luther A. Weigle, quoted in The Sun Magazine, October 2002, 48.
[2] (C. S. Lewis, Reflections on the Psalms [New York: Harcourt, Brace, 1958], 94)
[3] (Abraham Heschel, "On Prayer," Conservative Judaism 25 [Fall 1970], 7).
[4] Thomas Watson's Saints' Spiritual Delight (Spurgeon 7).
[5] --Walter Brueggemann, Israel's Praise: Doxology Against Idolatry and Ideology (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1988), 27.
 
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