The Hardest Question was an experiment in preaching the Revised Common Lectionary. All posting is finished, but the content will continue to live here in archive form. You can discover new content by former THQ curator Russell Rathbun at Question the Text.


The Road Less Traveled

Where are we walking, standing and sitting?*

by Danielle Shroyer

Psalm Reading:  Psalm 1

For Sunday, May 20, 2012: Year B—Easter 7

If you’re going to compile a collection of poetry, it’s fitting to begin with a poem that will set the overall tone. Psalm 1 works nicely in that role, for it is rich in imagery that tells us right off the bat that there is a way to be traveled, and choices to be made.

And if there’s one week where you may want to bust out the King James Version, this may be your ticket. For although the NRSV sounds fine, the translation not only muffles but completely erases the powerful imagery at work.

A Slow Descent

From the very onset of Psalm 1, we can guess that this is going to be a description of opposites: blessed is the one who doesn’t do this, but instead does this. It’s very “two roads diverged in a yellow wood” and we are clearly encouraged to take the road less traveled. And what will happen if we don’t?

The psalmist gives us a clear picture. The ungodly traveler, when we first encounter him, is walking along his ungodly path. And then he is no longer moving, but standing in the way of sinners. And then he is no longer walking or standing, but sitting in the seat of the scornful, like a child in a corner, donning his dunce cap.  The KJV says, “Blessed is the (one) that walketh not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor standeth in the way of sinners, nor sitteth in the seat of the scornful.”

And as if we thought he couldn’t get any lower, in verse 4 he becomes like chaff, a tossed-aside bit of garbage, carrying not even substantial weight or heft, easily tossed along by the wind. In a few short verses, this traveler has gone from purposeful walking to purposeless chaff, human to dandelion fluff.

Walk This Way

The righteous one, on the other hand, is like a tree planted by the waters. Her roots grow down, sinking into the soil, while her branches grow up, bearing fruit in due season. Her leaves don’t wither and her sod doesn’t stink. While the path of the ungodly leads ultimately nowhere, the righteous one finds growth in all directions- down, out, and up.

The ungodly cannot stand like that. They can’t stand tall, and their argument won’t stand in the court of justice, either.

The psalmist’s message is clear: walk the way of righteousness, for it will be conducive to growth and health. Walking the way of the unjust is like traveling miles down a road only to realize it’s a dead end. All that time and energy will have floated away, and you’ll have nothing to show for it.

The Hardest Question

So there’s no snark in this hardest question—this Easter season:  Where are we walking, standing and sitting? Are we growing up or sinking down?

*I’m thankful to friend and fellow Journey member Chris Schmidt, whose exegesis of this passage brought the best of these insights (and who is at fault for none of the dull ones).

Danielle Shroyer is the Pastor of Journey Church in Dallas, TX. She is the author of The Boundary-Breaking God: An Unfolding Story of Hope and Promise (Jossey-Bass, 2009) and blogs at Danielle lives with her husband, two children, and two wild and crazy dogs in Dallas.


  1. Paul Kennedy says:

    As a Hampshire lad – Hampshire England – The Road not Taken by Robert Frost has a particular resonance. It was read by his friend and companion the Hampshire based poet Edward Thomas. Thomas thought that Frost was goading him about his vacillation regarding fighting in the First World War. Edward Thomas – who was not a nationalist – signed up as a result of his reading of the poem. As a result he died and we lost one of our greatest and most observant poets. Just one more who will never gather flowers with a loved one cf. Easter 1915.

  2. Farleyagain says:

    I am a little disappointed in this summary as the Google link promised a sermon on: Human will is not enough to walk properly through this life; we need a map. The focus of the Psalm, it seems to me, is the immense eternal value of the Word of God, the rewards for diligently following its precepts, and the destruction that comes surely on those who don’t. The word “knowest” (the way of the righteous) is most interesting (ya’da): implying a DESIGNATED path watched over by God for the purpose of benefiting those who choose it: giving them a stable rooted life with growth upward and outward full of fruit and refreshment for all they meet. This is interesting because the focus is on the path chosen, not on the person choosing, as it is in other passages – promises to Abraham, Noah, and David, for example. It presents in the end, a choice of two paths, so the Frost poem is most appropriate.

How do you read?