Preached on Sunday, April 29, 2012
Monday, April 30, 2012
The Jesus Song-Book: Two Roads
Preached on Sunday, April 29, 2012
Scripture readings: Psalm 1:1-6; Matthew 7:13-14
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;
Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,
And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.
I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.
Jesus grew up singing songs about two roads. One of those songs came from the Book of Psalms which was Jesus’ songbook. Well, Psalms was his family’s songbook and the songbook of all his neighbors. It was the songbook of God’s people, and those were Jesus’ people.
The best known “Song of Two Roads” was the Second Psalm. There are two roads in that song, and the choice between those two roads makes all the difference. But the choice is much more serious than the choice in the poem by Robert Frost, “The Road Not Taken”.
In the poem by Frost, you can make a choice between the two roads, and expect to live to tell the tale, “ages and ages hence”. In the song that Jesus and his family and his neighbors sang, one road led to destruction and the other road led to life. You might sing on your way along either road but, in the end, when the roads reached their destinations, only one of them would turn out to be the real singing road.
The roads, or the ways, that the Psalm sings about (and Jesus talks about) have a couple different angles to them. We could say that these roads are the roads of life; that there are basically two ways to live. What kind of decisions do you make day after day, year after year, and where do those choices take you in life? What are the experiences that come from those choices? What sort of story do those choices tell? How have the people around you been influenced by the story of your life?
The other angle is to say that these roads are roads of the heart. Here the road is not where you go, but who you become. You manufacture your self. You process your self.
Well, you don’t do it all yourself. Other people play a part. But, what kind of process is it? Is it a refining process? Is it an artistic process? Is it a destructive process? Are you making yourself a combine, or an all terrain vehicle, or a race car, or a space ship, or a sailing ship, or a kitchen table, or a comfortable chair?
What do you make of yourself, and what is the story of your making? Will your life carry people places, or give them an adventure, or a place of peace? Will you teach them, or give them the gift of seeing or hearing something. Or will the finished product be a caution to others? Even though what you make of yourself is not the end of the story, even though what you make of yourself is only the beginning of some future story, the way to become that finished product is your road.
The choice of the two roads, in the song that Jesus grew up singing, is about the choice of happiness; and this is what Jesus liked thinking about. We might seem to have ten thousand choices to make, but they all boil down to two choices; two roads. One road will lead to happiness, the other road will not.
The Second Psalm begins with the word “blessed”. The Sermon on the Mount, which leads up to Jesus’ short story about the two roads, also begins with the word “blessed”. Both in the Old and New Testaments, these forms of blessing are forms of happiness. And the psalm uses to word “delight” to go along with the road to happiness: “His delight is in the law of the Lord.” The strange thing about this is that the Lord’s people do not always give a clear demonstration of our Lord’s interest in creating happiness.
The idea of delighting in the law of the Lord might not seem delightful. Some people will laugh at the idea of such a delight being a delight at all. We could call those people, here, mockers or scoffers, as the psalm does. They see laws and rules as spoiling all the fun; spoiling their happiness.
There are people who laugh at everything serious, but that is their law. If you don’t laugh with them, then they will laugh at you. The mockers and the scoffers laugh with each other, but only at the expense of someone else.
If you were sitting with them, the way the psalm tells us not to do, and you said, “Let’s stop laughing at other people. Let’s only laugh with them, instead,” they would think something was wrong with you. You would be infringing on their rule. They are people who do not delight in laughing with you but only laughing at you.
There is one of the famous Ten Commandments that says, “You shall not steal”. (Exodus 20:15) The mockers or scoffers steal the value of their fellow humans beings as creatures made in the image of God.
When we delight in the law of the Lord we will look at our fellow humans with wonder, and with prayer, and with concern, and sometimes with great worry and horror. But sometimes we will look at others with great thankfulness and laughter. Our laughter will not steal anything from them. Our laughter will be a celebration of them, and of the God who made them.
Laws as rules for life are delightful things. A lot of traffic laws are rules for life. The law of the road tells us not to pass another car on a curve. It tells us not to pass where you can see another car that is coming your way, in the other lane, or at least not where you can see that it is too close to safely pass.
Don’t pass! It is the road to happiness where people keep it. It is the road to destruction where people don’t keep it.
The Lord created the laws of nature and physics. These are delightful laws. They keep our planet rotating on its axis, giving us just the right amount of day and night. They determine the force of gravity, and gravity keeps us and the atmosphere from spinning off the planet. I like breathing and being on this planet. It makes me happy. I would like to fly through space, but, I want to do that the right way; in a space ship and with air to breathe.
The law of the Lord has a special meaning in the Bible, besides referring to the sort of laws we call rules. The law of the Lord means the ways of the Lord and the teachings of the Lord. The law of the Lord is not only about rules he makes for us to keep; the rules that require us to make the choice between becoming fruitful trees or chaff blown by the wind. The law of the Lord is about the Lord’s own rules. They tell us who God is and how he works.
The first five books of the Old Testament are called the law of the Lord. In Hebrew, they are called “Torah”. So the creation of the heavens and the earth are part of the law of the Lord, because we read about this in the Book of Genesis, the first of the first five books.
The creation of the universe is a wonderful thing. We are surrounded by wonders. Our life of wonder is possible because God is a creator. The nature of God to love creation is a law of his nature; the law of the Lord. It is a law to delight in.
The story of the elderly, childless couple named Abraham and Sarah is part of the law of the Lord. We see God’s ways at work in their story, and it teaches us essential things. The Lord called them to go out into the wilderness and to trust him. They didn’t know where they were going but the Lord knew and he would show them the way.
The Lord called them to trust that he would make a great nation out of them by giving them a son, and by giving them the land through which they wandered. The Lord said, “You are going to have a son. Wait a minute! OK, you are going to have a son. Wait a minute! OK, you are going to have a son. Wait a minute!” This went on for years and years. Plenty of things happened but they waited and waited for that child. Then the promise came true. And God said, “See, I told you so!”
The Lord made his promises happen. The law of the Lord is about grace, and faith, and waiting, and waiting, and being shaped by the long road of the promises of God.
The mockers and scoffers say this: “The heck with waiting; the heck with life being made in the image of God! Let’s make our own laws.”
Jesus calls the two roads the road to destruction and the road to life. The psalm calls the two roads the life of becoming chaff and the life of becoming a fruitful tree.
There is a life that so empties itself of life that it is like chaff or dust that blows away. This is a life that tends to suck the lasting value out of other lives as well.
There is a life that so embraces life that it sends strong roots down and brings up its nourishment from deep, deep down in the love of God. There is a life that so embraces God’s ways that it becomes a life that brings life into being in others. There is a life so full of life that others are fed by it.
There are people who build a marriage that will be a source of happiness for generations to come, even for those who do not know the first happy husband and wife of their family. There is a secret working of good that will last because a man and wife built their lives together with lasting devotion, and gratitude, and faith, and love.
For them, sex was more than entertainment. It was the mystery and the humble playing together of an Adam and Eve in a little world that goes on and on. Maybe you know such an Adam and Eve in your family, or in a friend’s family.
When our friendships are seen as a gift from God they give our lives a weight and a reality that give us pleasure all our lives. Our lives become heavy as a tree full of fruit when we have been faithful friends. We will not blow away like the chaff.
There is a secret for blessedness, or happiness, in the family of God (which is the Church). We see this secret of happiness in the Gospel of John, when Jesus washed his disciples’ feet at the Last Supper.
Jesus said this. “You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and rightly so, for that is what I am. Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s fee. I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you. I tell you the truth, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them.” (John 13:13-17)
This is the secret to happiness in the church. It is when Christians love each other with a humble servant love. This is where law and blessing, law and happiness, law and delight meet in the body of Christ.
There is a choice of two roads. It is a law that you must choose your road. But the purpose of that law is not for us to earn points or to prove ourselves. It is not a choice that allows us to say, “I’m smarter than you. I’m better than you.” It is not a law for earning points and earning happiness.
In my own life I cannot see that I ever chose the straight and narrow road. In my life all the other roads seemed to be cut off from me. In each case the Lord gave me a choice between loving him and loving a false road. That was the grace of God at work. It was the gift of the Lord.
I did not choose my road. The road chose me, because Jesus is the road. Jesus is the way.
I don’t think that the Lord ever tells us something that we don’t already know. We know a false road when we see it. It just feels wrong and we can only take it by wanting what we know is wrong.
The Lord graciously shows himself to us at each fork in the road and says, “Follow me.” It is the law of the Lord, the law of his nature, to keep his own law of grace and empower us through that gift of grace.
Happiness comes from taking time with this. Instead of playing back a bad memory, a destructive memory, in our minds we play back this law of the Lord that led him to wash us by dying for our sins on the cross and rising from the dead to give us his victory. Our life is a gift that comes from his life given for us and given to us. Happiness comes from meditating on this.
In the road that leads to life, it is Jesus’ life as a servant that makes us fruitful trees that will not blow away with the chaff. How Jesus spreads that life and makes it grow in us is a mystery, in many ways. The song Jesus sang, about the two roads, is about choosing the things that count, the things that last; and most of all choosing the laws that are life-giving because they come from the God of life.
There are laws that make our lives fruitful when we love them and follow them. We cannot just make up our own rules along the way, or pick and choose what we will follow. The Lord knows what choices lead to life.
Then there are the laws of the Lord that the Lord himself follows. These define the Lord as the grace giver whose love we do not earn. The Lord is the grace giver who gives us a new heart and a new mind to delight in his ways and set out on the road that leads to life.
The road to life, in fact, is Jesus himself, who is “the way and the truth and the life”. (John 14:6) The road to life is Jesus and we receive his road into our hearts. They become our heart’s highway, and we follow Jesus by trusting what he has shown us.