17 January 2021

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Sermon - 24 May 2009
Bible Verses: Psalm 1 & John 17: 6 - 19
(click the verses above to read the passages online)

Do not follow the advice of the wicked

Its good to see all those who slept over last night for the world vision famine - and you all look surprisingly awake.

I was at a function the other day where one of the topics of conversation was about the pharmacist in Papakura, who was known to some of those there as a pillar of the local community. The question they puzzeled over was, Why had he totally thrown away all that he seemed to stand for and for the previous six years had supplied the base ingredients for making P?
Why had he gone into work at 6am and opened the shop and sold common medicines at inflated process knowing that they were the ingredients to make P?
A pharmacist- like others in the medical professions has pledged to care for the welfare of people and is trusted to give good advice.

The psalm for today might well say do not take the advice of the wicked, but what about when a source one would have trusted to be good, gives wicked advice? How could someone so lose sight of their direction that they knowingly cause extreme harm to others, many of whom are vulnerable.

If you doubt the effects of P and of any other drug on people, read the daily accounts in the NZ Herald. And do not underestimate who take this drug which causes such enormous personality and physical change as its grip tightens on its addicts.
Our question was being asked by his peers. They could not believe it was for money, there had to be more to the story. What is it that happens when people who should know better, when children who have good parents , and parents who have everything to loose succumb? Its scary because it could be you or me. We can't push it away and pretend it’s a them in South Auckland problem.

One of the Herald's stories is Jackie's story - "Prior to P I had a beautiful family and a husband who loved me. I was married and had three children.
We lived in a lovely home out in the country and we were happy. We spent every weekend camping and surfing as a family.
My husband adored me and told me all the time that I was the most beautiful woman in the world. There was a voice in my head that first time I tried it telling me that I was choosing a dark road. I ignored it.
Now I live in a tiny apartment. My marriage fell apart and I don't have enough money to pay the rent until my next client - she is now a prostitute…..

We know that P works by giving intense pleasure, mimicking the sensations, the physiology, that makes us feel good. We like to feel good, We have a God-given ablity to feel good and celebrate and know joy. It is a consequence of other actions. But these drugs peddle an illusion that we can totally indulge ourselves and cut us off from other humans and in fact Turn us against those trying to help suspecting that others want to attack us. Like a dog guarding and salivating over a bone that is too big to eat, and turning on any who come near in case they take it.
We can set up progrmmes, both treatment and prevention but the key really is in that one sentence of Jackie's
"There was a voice in my head the first time I tried it telling me that I was choosing a dark road… "

There is nothing new. The writer of Psalm 1 knew about that dark road even if they were writing about 2,500 years ago. Psalm 1 is a teaching psalm and is talking about choosing the way which will bring life,
"Do not take the advice of the wicked, or sit with those who scoff."

The Psalmist knew about those who say , come on don't be a wimp, or whatever words that will get their target. They tell us to ignore that voice that is telling us that this is a dark path. Try this, everyone is doing it, come with the crowd. Come this way and make lots of money just give me yours first. All sound familiar?

When there is an easy path or quick solution be suspicious. We can be seduced so easily if we don’t know what direction we are walking in or if we have no direction. Or if we are teased or put down what we do hold to be true and right. We know how it goes. "Why are you doing that?" We are torn by the wish to be the same as everyone else and not stand out- to be happy with the crowd, with friends.
With friends like these you don't need enemies. The psalm is a warning and gives an alternative way.

And don't think we can never be tempted - That we are immune - that I will not be caught by the tempting or swayed by the ridicule? Peter never thought he would deny and betray Jesus - but he did, the disciples said they wouldn't ever leave Jesus and they all fled at the first sign of danger.
One protection is to have the humility to know everyone of us is vulnerable at some time.

I would guarantee that everyone here has at some time gone in the wrong direction. We have come back, we may have scars to show, we often will have a stronger faith in God and a deeper understanding of ourselves. This psalm is not written lightly. It's saying to us please don't listen to the advice of the wicked, don't be led by those you know in your heart of hearts are telling you the wrong things. They do not have your best interests at heart. Turn to the ways of God who loves and wants us and those who are trying to lead us astray to have abundant life. Say no to death and choose life.

The psalm gives us two pictures. One is of a tree in a dry desert, but its roots are deep and it has water to keep going in the dry, it is green and it bears fruit at the right time.
The other is of dry dead plant material which is blown with every wind, rootless and dried up. It is scattered and disappears.

When we are rooted in God, the winds and storms will cause damage but renewal and new life will come again because the roots are deep and hold firm.
This is echoed in the letter to the church at Colossae " As you therefore have received Christ Jesus the Lord, continue to live your lives* in him, 7rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving."

The Psalm says Walk in the direction of God, Be immersed in the whole ethos, way of God.
Years later, Jesus prayed for his disciples and us that we know the way of God and that we are one in him.

The psalmist says know where our roots are, where we are fed from and Jesus says know whose we are. If we do not know whose we are, we can be anybody's or belong to anything. We are vulnerable and open to any offer that promises to make us feel good. And if we keep doing that we gradually get numbed and not see that real life, life that is lasting and good for us and those around us is being missed. Its like getting entranced by the movie and missing out on the real thing. Or living a virtual life on the internet and not seeing that you are sitting in a room rather than being outside in the sunshine with a gentle warm breeze on your face.
Or like seeking drug induced feelings which are intense at the time but destroy us mentally and physically and relationally.

Somewhere and somehow that pharmacist has lost his way, as have all those he encouraged to produce drugs to destroy others.
the Herald's Jackie is finding the hold of the drug to be stronger than her will power. For any of us to turn back to life we need to know there is an alternative, a way to life.
We need to remember or discover whose we are and to whom we belong.

That is what we do here each week. We are reminded and encouraged that we travel within the deep love of Christ, who gives life to us far more abundantly than any illusion we are offered.

And we pray that we bear fruit. That we might be willing to be used as agents of Christ's love in the world. That we be like a green tree in the desert, giving shade to the tired traveller and producing fruit, good to eat, fed by the word of life, living and sharing the way of Jesus.

Rev. Margaret Anne Low


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