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Chaff in the Wind III

Daily Devotional for Thursday, October 15, 2020 from Rev. Eric Douglass


Happy are those who do not follow the advice of the wicked…

their delight is in the law of the Lord…

they are like trees planted by streams of water…

their leaves do not wither….

The wicked are not so, but are like chaff that the wind drives away…

the way of the wicked will perish. (Psalm 1:1-6, abbreviated)

The last couple of meditations have focused on Psalm 1, where David talks about the ends of those who follow the path of God, and those who follow the path of the wicked. David uses the metaphor of ‘chaff,’ which is the husk that is removed from the grain in the milling process. It has no value. No one collects it to sell at market. No one weeps when it is carried off by the wind. This is the path of the wicked. But those who “delight in the law of God” are like trees, with roots running deep in the stream beds, growing throughout the seasons of life.  
 
Only this is not what the world tells us. The world is just convinced that if we have sufficient wealth, that we will be secure: like a tree planted by the stream. But does money create a full and significant life? Edwin Robinson wrote a poem about a rich man—Richard Cory—who was all about money. He tells this from the perspective of the poor folk who watch this man every day as he walks through town. He is impeccably dressed, and walks with a cultured step and flare. Indeed, the poem says that he “glittered when he walked.” Everyone wants to be him. Everyone wants his life:
 
And he was rich—yes, richer than a king—
And admirably schooled in every grace:
In fine, we thought that he was everything
To make us wish that we were in his place.
 
But the poor do not have his wealth. They cannot even afford meat. Their bread is poorly milled and rough. It is as if they live in perpetual twilight…never experiencing the day, for their stomachs are empty and their families are in need and their hearts are weary. They only know that being Richard Cory would make them happy.
 
So on we worked, and waited for the light,
And went without the meat, and cursed the bread;
And Richard Cory, one calm summer night,
Went home and put a bullet through his head.
 
Chaff in the wind. Wealth does not meet the needs of the soul. Money does not provide meaning. When one’s entire focus is on wealth, one fails to address the necessities of the soul. Life becomes hollowed out, empty. If Robinson had taken the time to read the first Psalm, he would have found David’s words insightful.
 
Robinson offers no alternative to the life of Richard Cory. His focus is on showing how hard it is to see the emptiness behind the mask. Cory needed an alternative, but no one could tell. The mask was all that people could see. All except David, for David was also rich and powerful, and knew the mask that Cory wore. He had experienced the emptiness. But instead of giving in to the darkness, he turned to his Maker, and just here found that life could be meaningful again…like a tree planted by a stream.
 
It seems odd that “delighting in the law of the Lord” should provide this kind of meaning. But when we turn to the roots of this law—the underpinnings—we encounter a surprise: it is not about rules! It is not even about policies and procedures! When Jesus addressed this, he said that the law is rooted in two commandments: “You shall love the Lord your God…You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Mt. 22:37-40). These core commitments lie beneath all the Bible’s rules and policies. Indeed, if it cannot be rooted in love, then it is not “the law of the Lord.” So, if you love your neighbors, you will not steal from them or kill them. If you love your neighbors, you will be in community.
 
Loving God and loving one another. Community. So simple. One must wonder if Richard Cory would agree.
 
High in the heavens, the Lord of All looks down upon this world, and smiles that it took the poet so long to figure this out. Then the Lord looks so see if we have.


Our Lord:
 
We long for significance,
for an authentic life.
 
The world has shown us its path forward:
silver and power and position.
Our eyes get caught in its glitter,
the constant barrage of material goods.
But our souls are left as empty as when we
took our first steps on that path.
 
Chaff in the wind.
 
The Lord has shown us a different path forward:
community and caring and love.
There is no glitter here. No shiny objects to chase.
But there is depth of spirit,
a harmony with God and others,
a flourishing of the soul.
 
Leaves that never wither.
 
Amen.

About the Author
Eric Douglass is the covenant pastor at New Hanover Presbyterian Church, where his work emphasizes adult education. Writing meditations is a natural extension of this. During the current pandemic, his goals have been to ensure that the folk at New Hanover see the deep connection that they have to God and the community, even though the community can’t meet in person. This connection is not just one of continued fellowship, but of God’s presence in the community. God stands with us, no matter what path we are on. In this way, God acts like the father and mother who refuse to abandon their child, no matter how wayward that child, or how difficult the situation. Psalm 23 captures this perfectly: “The Lord is my shepherd.” Eric is a graduate of the University of Missouri, initially earning a degree in biology, and then his medical degree from that university’s Medical School. After practicing medicine for many years, he earned a Masters in Divinity and a Masters in Theology from Union Theological Seminary, here in Richmond. Since that time, he has authored two books, frequently delivers papers at the Society for Biblical Literature, and is an adjunct professor at Randolph-Macon College. But the work he enjoys the most is teaching at New Hanover. Whether in casual discussion during the coffee hour, or a structured Sunday School class, or a Wednesday night special event, this is where he finds authentic people engaged in living out their life with God. Eric lives in Mechanicsville, VA, with his wife (Felecia). He enjoys doing fine cabinetry work and hiking. He has two children, Michael and Daniel, who both live in the DC area. His family is especially fond of playing board games, though which they have whittled away many a winter’s evening.