Psalm 1 – The Planted Tree – Idylwood Presbyterian Church – 6/5/2016

Theme: Those who trust God bring life to their world while those who don’t become its refuse.


Purpose: Turn members toward a more intentional relationship with God.


Psalms are basically conversations with God.


In each one, the psalmist, oftentimes but not always King David, discusses a matter with God.


There is enormous variety as to the topic, the tone, the setting, and the point of a psalm.


Which is why they carry such wide appeal


Are you grateful to God?  Read Psalm 100.


Are you in love with God and just want to give him a shout out?  Read any psalm from 145 on.


Do you need to confess your wrongdoings to God?  That would be Psalm 51.


Do you feel distant from God?  Lots of help there: try Psalm 42, or 62, or 46.


Are you confused about what God is doing in the world?  Read Psalm 74 or 102 or 137.


Are you standing in awe of God?  Psalm 8 or Psalm 29 will help you express it.


Do you want to remember God’s faithfulness?  Psalm 16, 81, 103 – there are many.


There are psalms that will sound very familiar to you, like psalm 23 or psalm 19.


Other little jewels are less familiar but can be equally cherished, like psalm 30, or 34, or 131.


You can read a two-sentence psalm like 117 or a multi-page psalm like 119.


There is literally something for everyone in any season of their life in this, the songbook of the Bible.



So it’s a little ironic that the very first psalm reads a little more like a proverb than a psalm.


It’s a simple comparison between the righteous person and the wicked person.  To do so, it uses agricultural metaphors which are not uncommon in scripture.


I’d like to think that this simple comparison acts like the Psalter’s preface as a way of saying, ‘here are the folks who are going to appreciate the psalms and here are those who won’t. 


Whatever the case, no two images could bear a more stark contrast than the two in this psalm: a tree and chaff.


The righteous are like the tree and the wicked are like chaff.


The question is less, what differentiates them? And more, what in the world do they have in common?  But more about that latter.


What I’d like to do is take these metaphors seriously in context and see what they show us about the life of faith that we all share.


By looking at these metaphors, we are not suggesting that some of us are perfectly righteous and others wicked through and through.  Most of us have characteristics of both.


But the Bible oftentimes draws black and white distinctions not to judge or condemn but to add clarity, so we know what we’re shooting for.


After all, if you want to be a good basketball player, you’re not going to emulate your next door neighbor.  No, you’re going to try to play like Stephen Currie or LeBron James!



So let me see if I can demonstrate how sharply these two metaphors contrast and concurrently show how different life is for those who trust God and those who don’t.


First of all, a tree digs while chaff is scattered.


Now, you may ask: what do you mean ‘a tree digs’?


Well, that’s really what it does: think about it!


It’s primary agenda is to dig itself into the ground.  The rest is a natural outgrowth of the digging.


If it has consistently and thoroughly burrowed its way far enough into the soil, what happens above ground . . . well, it just happens.  It’s a natural outgrowth. 


Trunks, limbs, branches, leaves – these are simply what happens when a tree is planted, right?


While the tree has been busy digging into the ground, what has the chaff been up to?


Lots and lots of travel.  Here, there, and everywhere.


Why, the chaff, for all we know, has seen the world it’s gotten blown around so much!


Jon Kabat-Zinn:  “wherever you go, there you are.”


Ex. Early Christian monks admonishing apprentices: “stay in your cell and you’ll find the answers.”


While the chaff goes to the ends of the world to try to find its significance, a tree just stays where it is and starts digging.


It’s not glamorous, not sexy, not necessarily bright and cheery. 


But it paves the way for life.  How?


Well, let’s go on to the next aspect of these metaphors.



A tree digs channels, chaff is scattered by wind.


A tree doesn’t dig around because it likes playing in the dirt or because it thinks it’s cool down there.


No, a tree digs in order to build roots.


What are the roots for?  They are simply conduits, channels of nutrients.


They don’t produce.  Rather, they receive.


One of the great fallacies of the Christian world is the concept that we are to give without receiving.  How do you do that?  How do you give when you have nothing to receive?


I know, it’s a common mistake of the young preacher coming out of seminary: they have so much to say to the world!  Then, lo and behold, they get a chance to say it.  And that lasts three months.  And then what??  All of the sudden, they realize that with only one mind to work with, they run out of material.


That’s why I’m spending time at Wesley seminary periodically, reading deeply, studying good theology, filling the channels of my mind so that I have something more to give on Sunday morning.


Roots are designed to take in.  That’s what they do.


People who trust God know how to receive. 


I was a little slow: it took me years to figure out how to spend my free time., to figure out exactly what rejuvenated me, what built me back up, what put energy back in. 


It took me years to figure out how to let people speak into my life, how to be corrected, how to receive discipline from trusted mentors.


I still struggle to let the word of God speak into my heart, to let it penetrate my soul.


Chaff has no conduits; it receives, well, nothing.  From anyone.  Except maybe some blows and bruises as it gets tossed around.  Even if it wanted to receive, it wouldn’t know how.


Chaff observes, watches, feels, reacts, and recoils.  But it never . . . receives.



Finally, because a tree digs, because it digs channels, because it has dug down, grounded itself, and laid the groundwork for conduits to be ready to receive . .


A tree receives life-giving water. 


Because of the way it has structured itself around the very vessels that access resources from the outside, it gets to receive that fluid that engenders its growth, its expansion, its fruit.


A tree digs roots that absorb water, chaff is scattered by wind to waste places.


One is useful, the other is useless.

One is actively engaging life, the other wouldn’t know what to do with life.

One is bearing fruit, the other is barely anything.




So what can we learn from the metaphor of the tree and the chaff?


Well, are you digging or are you being scattered?  How would you characterize YOUR life?


Are you simply watching the world go by or are you getting to know yourself better?


Are you simply taking in events and facts or are you discovering more of your place in the world?


This is why the newspaper is a lousy anchor for your life.


Don’t get me wrong: I read the newspaper every morning while I eat breakfast; it’s important for me to keep up with what’s going on.


A newspaper can inform, educate, stimulate, entertain.  But it can’t transform, it can’t help me grow as a person any more than a journalist is looking to transform him or herself; that’s not the goal of news.


Ex. Eugene Peterson re: U2’s Bono


Are you looking out or are you looking down?


And if you’re looking down, what are you building? 


Are you building a network of fences, walls, security systems, and barriers to keep people and positive influences out?


Or are you building forums, spaces, relationships, and time to let those positive influences . . . IN?


And finally, what are you letting in?


A tree frankly doesn’t have much choice about what sort of fluid gets into its system, but we do!  We can choose!


How are you letting God’s life-giving water, that Living water, into your being?  How does it get in there? 


A person who trusts God is constantly finding new ways of letting God’s grace, mercy, love, peace, and joy flow into their lives.


Because they know that all they have to do is get a healthy dose of God and then they don’t have to “DO” anything – it just happens!!





Now here’s the clincher: you may say, sure, Pastor, but I feel like chaff.  I’m getting kicked around like chaff by my boss, by my family, by the government, by every new piece of legislation that comes out, by politicians, by ad companies.  How in the world could I ever become like a tree?  You might as well ask me to travel to Mars! – it’s not even possible!


Ah, but you’re forgetting: in the case of every tree, there was a time, maybe 200 years ago, maybe 20 years ago, maybe 5, maybe just last year, when that tree was the same size as that chaff!  It’s called a ‘seed.’ 


Remember, the chaff and the seed started out together!  They were one unit!  What happened? How could one become this spiritual giant and the other become a piece of refuse?


Simple.  One clung to life and the other didn’t. 


God was at work inside one and not in the other.


The seed let God grow it.  The chaff would have no part of growth.


In time, the seed became a tree.


Folks, it doesn’t take long, just day in and day out letting God mold and shape and refine and train you to become that tree planted, yielding, sprouting leaves, bearing fruit.


Story: Scholastica Kum


Deuteronomy 30: 15 – 20


Take a cue from the tree and choose life today!