On my last Sunday as a pastor in Minnesota, my sermon text was from Psalm 1.
It was not my choice, exactly, except that, in a way, it was. The reading from Psalm 1 on this particular Sunday was the result of my advocacy, last fall, that we try an experiment with a new set of readings (lectionary). The Narrative Lectionary runs from September through May, and then suggests that congregations spend the summer doing sermon series'. May 31st is designated for the beginning of sermon series on the Psalms.
So my last sermon introduced this series on the Psalms, even though I won't be around to participate in it. I won't get to imagine the sermons, or write the sermons, or listen to the sermons, either. I won't be arm-wrestling the Psalms (which I love but have never found it easy to preach on), demanding a blessing from them. I won't be lifting them up to the light, in front of my congregation, inviting them to 'ooh' and 'aah' over them.
I also felt the weight of these being my Last Word to this particular congregation. What did I want them to hear, I wondered? What did God want me to say? I have put my roots down deep in this community, and now I would be uprooted. I thought about the tree planted by streams of water, and roots sunk deep, not in any particular place, but in the grace of God, the unearned love of God. I thought that this does not make it easier to leave any particular beloved place. It just makes it possible. I thought about what a tree planted by streams of water looks like, and the lives of sinners and saints who reflected this grace, whose leaves did not wither.
I thought about all that, and said a little of it.
I won't be there to study the Psalms this summer, but I found all of these cut out leaves in a school supply store. I wrote the number of a psalm on the back of each one (but not every Psalm; I selected a few choice ones), and invited everyone to take a Psalm and make that Psalm theirs for the summer.
"Read it. Sing it. Pray it," I said. "Wonder about it. Meditate on it. Memorize a verse of it. Argue with it, even. Just this one Psalm. Because someone told me one: it's not how many scripture verses know, but how well you know them, that matters."
I don't know how many people actually took one of the leaves.
But I took one. So that I can follow along. So that I can bring something along with me, from one place to another, when I uproot myself, and then put down my roots in a new place, with new people, but trusting the grace of God has gone before.
My Psalm is number 43.
So this summer, these are the words I will hold up to the light, meditate on, pray and argue with:
'O send out your light and your truth; let them lead me;
let them bring me to your holy hill and to your dwelling."
May the leaf not wither.