The Two Paths

If you would like to watch the full service.

Rev. Stephen Milton
Lawrence Park Community Church
Mother’s Day, May 12 2024
Psalm 1

One of the challenges of being a mother is having children ask tough questions. When they are little, kids can ask mind twisting questions like what’s inside of flies? Or, why do I have two eyes if I only see one thing? When kids get a bit older, the questions get less surreal, and more difficult. At restaurants, mothers have to field questions about fairness. “Why do those kids at that table get to use their phones, but we don’t?” 

And those fairness questions get even harder when kids go to school. Mothers have to be ready for kids who come home upset about being teased at school. Moms have to listen as their children say that other kids are lying and cheating and getting more popular. Some kids have always lied at school, but nowadays the stakes are even higher thanks to social media. Lying kids can spread falsehoods about your kid on social media which can spread far beyond just the grade nine hallway at school. Lying has been put on steroids. It appears to be more effective than ever. And that means that some children are going to ask their mothers and fathers a very tough question: Why can’t I do that? Why should I be honest? 

That moral question is at the heart of today’s scripture reading. This psalm addresses a simple question: is it better to be good or bad? It contrasts these two paths. And it is written in a way that seems designed to appeal to children as well as adults. It uses very striking visual imagery to make its point. It suggests that whatever choice we make in this life, to be good or bad, we will do it not just with our minds, but with our entire bodies. 

So, I would like your help in hearing this psalm again. But this time, we are not just going to hear it, but act it out, like a child would. So, I’d like you all to stand as you are able. We’re going to do some actions, which are built into this psalm to help people remember its message. We’ll act it out once, then talk about what it means. Just follow me and my actions. Ready? The psalm starts saying we should not consort with dishonest people.

1 Blessed is the one
    who does not walk in step with the wicked [ mime walking]
nor stand in the way that sinners take. [ arms crossed]
nor sit in the company of mockers,
[fold hands as though praying]

2 (Blessed is the one) whose delight is in the law of the Lord,
    and who meditates on God’s Law Day and night.
[stand up] (Now for this next part, please stand and put your hands up like branches of a tree. Imagine your feet being like roots that dig into the ground)

3 That person is like a tree planted by streams of water,
    which yields its fruit in season
and whose leaf does not wither—
    whatever they do prospers.
[now, bring your hands down, and place one hand flat]

4 Not so the wicked!
    They are like chaff
    that the wind blows away. [ blow the chaff away]
[ sit down]

5 Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment,
    nor sinners in the assembly of the righteous.
[binoculars, wave, and smile]

6 For the Lord watches over the way of the righteous,
    but the way of the wicked is doomed.

That’s the first Psalm, well done. It draws a strong contrast between the two ways of living. At the beginning of the psalm, the good are told to avoid standing, nor walking, nor sitting with the dishonest. Nor, nor, nor – it is like a cloud of negativity surrounds dishonest people. And at the end of the psalm, we are told that the way of the wicked is doomed. But is it? Can mothers say to their children that dishonesty always fails, that crime does not pay? Can we say in all honesty to our children that they shouldn’t worry, dishonest kids who grow up to become dishonest adults meet ruin and never get ahead?

Lately, we have been given lots of examples of what happens to dishonest people when they grow up. In New York, the trial of Donald Trump has been a spectacle of what happens when dishonest people get together. Trump is accused of covering up some of his extra-marital sexual affairs before the 2016 election. He paid people to keep quiet, with the help of the National Enquirer. Many of the people in this case have broken promises. Many of them signed non-disclosure agreements to keep silent, and then told their stories anyway. Some were lawyers and advisors to Trump who were supposed to keep his secrets but talked anyway. And Trump himself denies any wrongdoing at all, despite mountains of evidence against him. Liars lie, and liars break promises. Liars turn on each other when they get in trouble and face jail time. There’s no honour among thieves, nor among liars.

But is the way of the wicked doomed, as the Psalm suggests? Trump’s career trajectory suggests you can do very well being dishonest. His trials, and the trials of his inner circle, show that men and women who lie can get very rich, and often get away with it. There is no guarantee you will get caught, and it costs a lot of money to bring someone to trial. Prosecutors and citizens who have been cheated or harmed need to decide whether the cost of a trial is worth it. And often, they decide it isn’t, so the cheater gets away with it. Women who have been sexually assaulted often decide not to go through the trauma of a trial, which is understandable. And even when people are convicted of cheating, lying or sexual assault, convictions can be appealed and overturned for legal technicalities. Recently, the accused sexual predators Bill Cosby [1] and Harvey Weinstein had earlier convictions overturned [2]. Many of the wicked never go to trial at all, and many go to their death beds rich from the spoils of their lying and cheating. 

Now, the Bible knows this, too. There’s an entire book of the Hebrew Scriptures devoted to this. In the Book of Job, four men argue that all the wicked will be punished in this life by God, and the innocent have nothing to worry about. But Job ridicules this idea. He says:

7 Why do the wicked live on,
    growing old and increasing in power?
8 They see their children established around them,
    their offspring before their eyes.
9 Their homes are safe and free from fear;
    the rod of God is not on them….

13 They spend their years in prosperity
    and go down to the grave in peace.

(Job 21) 

The Bible knows that the wicked do prosper, they are not always caught and punished by the law or even by God in this life. And that agrees with what we see in the news even today. So, what should a mother say to her crying child who has been the victim of liars? That crime and dishonesty don’t pay. That the wicked always get caught? That might be comforting, but it isn’t true. There must be another reason to tell our children to be honest.

Fortunately, modern psychology can help here. Studies have found a correlation between self-esteem and the likelihood a person will lie. It turns out that pretty much everyone lies, but there are two different kinds of lies. Most people lie only a little, and most of the time, they are what are called altruistic lies. These are little white lies we tell to make other people feel better.[3] Moms tell their kids that they are terrific dancers, even if they weren’t the best in the school play.  Spouses say you look terrific in that outfit, even if it might not be true. No harm is intended with these lies, and they are done for someone else’s benefit. People who stick to these kinds of lies tend to be people with good self-esteem. They are confident in who they are – they are firmly rooted.

But there is another kind of lie, which is less common, but more problematic. These are lies that are told to advance a person’s self-interest. Lies that make us seem more important than we are. Lies that seek to cheat someone else for our own gain. Those kinds of lies are usually told by people with poor self-esteem.[4] People who do not feel firmly rooted in who they are. Who are afraid that if they told the truth about who they really are, they would be rejected, or blown away. 

And it turns out that people who tell these kinds of lies live in a kind of psychological funk. Diaries kept by people in these studies revealed that when people tell self-interested lies, they experience more negative emotions. Anger, fear, depression. Lying helps them get ahead, but it makes them feel bad.[5] Feeling bad and having low self-esteem can reinforce each other, becoming a vicious circle. 

What these studies tell us is that being honest and being dishonest feel different. When people are dishonest, they feel more negative emotions and have lower self-esteem. Lying may help people get ahead, but it also makes them feel bad. Lying can often be a way to compensate for the feeling that if people knew what we were really like, they wouldn’t respect or love us. 

And that is consistent with what our psalm is saying. I’d like to ask you all to stand again as you are able. The psalm tells us that honest people who follow God’s way are like trees, planted by a flowing stream. I’d like you to close your eyes.  Imagine that your fingers are leaves that never wither. You can wiggle them a bit in the wind. Now imagine that your feet are roots that extend deep into the ground, several meters. They soak up life giving water from God’s stream. This is what it is like to be firmly rooted, with no need to be dishonest. Each of us a tree, well-loved and well-watered by God. Strong in being loved. Cared for, no two trees alike, each of us unique. Strong enough to withstand any wind, come what may. We are loved and supported with no need to lie.

You can open your eyes. God is our mother, who loves us for who we are, and takes care of us each moment. The honest path is safe and fulfilling and gives us confidence to be who we are. May all mothers be able to encourage their children to keep to this honest path, so their children may have strength and believe in themselves. And may those who try out dishonesty see that this way of living is too hard, and not good for them, or the world. May they come back to the stream where God will feed them and love them, just as they are.




[1] Jordan Moreau, “Supreme Court Declines Appeal to Bill Cosby’s Overturned Sexual Assault Conviction,” Variety, March 7, 2022

[2] Taijuan Moorman, "Harvey Weinstein's rape conviction overturned by New York appeals court," USA TODAY, April 25, 2024

[3] Christian L. Hart, et al, "Personality Traits Associated with Various Forms of Lying."

Psychol Stud, Sept 1, 2019,

[4] Christian L. Hart, et al, "Personality Traits Associated with Various Forms of Lying."

Psychol Stud, Sept 1, 2019,

[5] Sanne Preuter, Bastian Jaeger, Mariëlle Stel, “The costs of lying: Consequences of telling lies on. 

liar's self-esteem and affect.” Br J Soc Psychol. 2024; 63:894–908