Now that both of my adult children live in Denver, Colorado, my wife and I more regularly travel the 600+ miles of Interstate 70 from our home just east of Kansas City, Missouri, to Colorado’s Front Range where the Rocky Mountains rise impressively from the plains. The standing joke of many in my neighborhood is that crossing Kansas and eastern Colorado is a journey best undertaken at night (unless you take an airplane). There is some wisdom buried in that advice, I’m sure, but I have yet to follow it.
Kansas, as it turns out, is not nearly as pancake-flat as its stereotype would have one believe. And there is a peculiar beauty to the Flint Hills, starting west of Topeka and stretching to almost mid-state. True, from that point on and including much of eastern Colorado, there is a noticeable amount of “non-hilliness” (I know that’s not really a word, but bear with me). I say that because I’ve driven across southern Manitoba on the Canadian Prairie and know just how flat a landscape can get.
There are no forests along this stretch of I-70 in Kansas and Colorado. But there are trees. Occasionally trees are planted around isolated ranch houses and in the towns and small cities along the way. Most trees outside populated areas, however, grow along creeks and riverbeds. The reason is obvious: that’s where the water is. Without access to water, trees will simply not grow. Even with creek water, many trees still can’t handle the harshness of cold, windblown winters and blistering summers.
This is a long, roundabout way to get to the suggested lectionary psalm for this week. Psalm 1 is not just the first one but serves as a kind of introduction to the theological understandings that unfold later on. I can’t help but think of driving to and from Denver when I read the psalmist’s words:
Happy are those who do not follow the advice of the wicked, or take the path that sinners tread, or sit in the seat of scoffers; but their delight is in the law [torah, which means teaching or instruction rather than legal code] of the Lord, and on his law they meditate day and night. They are like trees planted by streams of water, which yield their fruit in its season, and their leaves do not wither. In all that they do, they prosper. 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 watches over the way of the righteous, but the way of the wicked will perish. –Psalm 1
The trees growing by creeks and rivers all along that long stretch of prairie are, most likely, descendants of trees that have grown by those same waterways for who knows how long. Within the worldview of trees, they prosper through the seasons and years and decades.
The psalmist offers us this wonderful metaphor of the choice between prospering and perishing. Life is filled with choices and, as a result, consequences. And that’s a sermon all by itself.