What Does It Take to Be Happy?

Happiness is two kinds of ice creamPsalm 1 banner
Knowing a secret
Climbing a tree

Happiness is five different crayons
Catching a firefly
Setting him free

(From: http://www.allthelyrics.com/lyrics/youre_a_good_man_charlie_brown_soundtrack-happiness#ixzz3eGu08vrV)

***

That tune I butchered a few moments ago is from the musical, You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown. Whenever I think about the nature of happiness that tune flows out of my mouth. Just ask my dog. He’s had to endure my singing of it all week.

You see, my childhood home was often filled with the sounds of Rogers and Hammerstein, with the sounds of Brigadoon, with my favorite Mame, and later with A Chorus Line.

My mother and father loved the Broadway musicals!

I have fond memories of sitting in the free seats in the outdoor Muny Opera in St. Louis watching the likes of Liza Minelli, Pearl Bailey, Robert Alda, Omar Shariff, and Angela Lansbury perform live Broadway musicals.

Music was a part of my home and though I never learned to play my violin with finesse, though I’m not a singer, I know that music is — at least for me — an integral part of a happy life.

PAUSE

***

Literally meaning “songs accompanied by stringed instruments,” (Psalms, Brueggemann, Kindle loc. 611) psalms are meant to be set to music. That’s why many of our Christian kindred in other church traditions sing or chant the words.

That’s why each Sunday of our series focusing on the Psalms, we will be singing the appropriate Psalter found at the back of your hymnal. If we find it meaningful, we may even continue to do so beyond Songs in the Key of Faith.

The Psalms are the unique voice of God’s people. They are poetry. They are song. Like good lyrics and a catchy melody on Spotify or Pandora, the Psalms have the power to move us emotionally.

Why else would we so often hear a psalm at the moment before our deceased beloved are lowered into the ground?

Why else do we often experience them speaking the angst, deep lament, grief, joy, anger or confidence in God, for which we cannot find words?

Scholar James Mays says it this way,

The psalms…comprehend the complexity of human life, the variety in the Bible, the elements of the doctrine of salvation, and the two dimensions of divine-human communication….

quotations from sources spread across history testify to the immense significance of the psalms for Christian thought, worship, and conduct. (Interpretation: Psalms, Mays, Kindle loc. 385)

The Psalms can speak to our guts, our true selves. They have the power to be a balm for broken hearts or a challenge to our faith. They can give voice to our feelings and thoughts which we don’t know how to speak to God.

***

The Book of Psalms is a collection of writings and songs. Collected in the second temple period, it was a part of our rabbi, Jesus’ Bible. This is why we sometimes find the Psalms quoted and referenced in the younger testament, the New Testament.

Hear the first verse of our psalm from the King James Bible,

Blessed is the man that walketh not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor standeth in the way of sinners, nor sitteth in the seat of the scornful. (Psalm 1:1 KJV)

Remind you of anything? The first psalm is a beatitude. We usually think of a beatitude as something God bestows upon us.

But that’s not quite right. The Hebrew word translated in the King James Bible as “blessed” is less about invoking God’s help and more about something that happens as a result of an action.

It’s about cause and effect.

For example, if a cool breeze were to blow into town right now, it would be a blessing. We would receive cool air from Mama Nature.

However, if we turned on an air conditioner, the cool air would be the natural consequence of our action. Yeah, it would feel like a blessing but we would have been the cause of that blessing.

This distinction in how we translate or think about the word translated in the King James Bible as “blessed,”  makes all the difference in how we hear and understand the first Psalm. A blessing invokes God. A beatitude emphasizes the result of our character and behaviors.

Listen now to how the first two verses translated in the Common English Bible, sound different,

The truly happy person
doesn’t follow wicked advice,
doesn’t stand on the road of sinners,
and doesn’t sit with the disrespectful.

Instead of doing those things,
these persons
love the LORD’s Instruction,
and they recite God’s Instruction
day and night! (Psalm 1:1-2 CEB)

This first Psalm tells us that if we focus our lives on God’s beckoning and luring dream for us, we will be happy.

Not giddy happy. Not bad things never happen happy. But if we strive to read and study our Bibles, if we pray regularly, if we meet in community to learn and grow in our faith, the consequence will be a more generalized sense of well-being.

In short, responding to God’s melodious instruction will lead us to happier lives.

As followers of Jesus, we’re called to grow in our faith. We’re called to learn more about God. We do that by living in community, by study, and by justice action.

As the prophet Micah reminds us,

[God] has told you, human one, what is good and what the LORD requires from you: to do justice, embrace faithful love, and walk humbly with your God. (Micah 6:8 CEB)

And when we do those things, we will be happier people.

***

The truly happy person
doesn’t follow wicked advice,
doesn’t stand on the road of sinners,
and doesn’t sit with the disrespectful. (Psalm 1:1 CEB)

But what does it look like, more specifically? What does it mean for us to avoid wicked advice in our day to day lives in Condon? How do we avoid Sinner Avenue?

Sometimes folks allow themselves to get stirred up by one who is bitter and cynical. \It happens within the Condon UCC. It happens in Condon. Sometimes, I’ve allowed myself to get stirred up. 

But I know better and you know better. The truly happy person doesn’t follow wicked advice…

Sometimes folks worry more about the cleanliness or maintenance of things than the justice work for our oppressed and impoverished sisters and brothers.

It happens within the Condon UCC. It happens in Condon. Sometimes, I’ve allowed myself to focus on things instead of people and relationships.

But I know better and you know better. The truly happy person doesn’t stand on the road of sinners.

Sometimes people talk about others. Gossiping. I’ve seen some try to get others fired or mis-tell the facts of an encounter.

It happens within the Condon UCC. It happens in Condon. Sometimes, I’ve allowed allowed my emotions to cloud my good sense, too.

But I know better and you know better. The truly happy person doesn’t sit with the disrespectful. To do so, without correction, is to condone their behavior.

Sometimes folks talk at Sandi’s or Darla’s or the gas station, playing a game of “ain’t it awful?” Sometimes folks berate the oppressed whose strategies in their struggle for justice makes us uncomfortable.

Sometimes we fail to listen and believe anything but our own white, eastern Oregon perspective.

But I know better and you know better. The truly happy person doesn’t stand with the disrespectful on the road of sinners.

***

Hear the words of the psalmist again,

Instead of doing those things,
these persons love the LORD’s Instruction,
and they recite God’s Instruction
day and night!

They are like a tree
replanted by streams of water,
which bears fruit at just the right time
and whose leaves don’t fade.
Whatever they do succeeds. (Psalm 1:2-3 CEB)

***

Our job, the psalmist tells us is to listen to God’s still singing siren call. To love. To do justice. Walk humbly. When we do we will be like a tree which bears fruit at just the right time.

What does it take to be happy?

Does happiness require two kinds of ice cream, as Charlie Brown sings? Is it knowing a secret as Lucy contends? Is happiness found in climbing a tree or five different crayons?

No.

What does it take to be happy?

Well, the prophet Micah, implies that when we do justice, embrace love, and walk humbly (Micah 6:8) we’ll be in tune with God.

Jesus, according Matthew, tells us to“strive first for the kingdom of God” (Matthew 6:33a NRSV) if we seek to find peace and happiness.

And the psalmist? The psalmist tells us that when we focus upon and find delight in all of God’s extravagant teachings (Psalm 1:2 NRSV), that is when we will find happiness.

Amen.

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Tim strives to share God’s extravagant love for all–no matter what & without strings. Seeking to follow the lure of the Spirit, Tim writes about what it means to be a follower of Jesus in an era where Christianity has come to be associated with hatred and political wedge issues. “Heinous things have been said & done (& still are) in the name of the One who breathed in the Divine,” notes Tim, “but Jesus shows us that God loves extravagantly.” Following the teachings and life of Jesus is about inclusion not exclusion. It is about compassion, grace, and admitting no one has all the answers. It is about responding lovingly to the best of our human ability. It is about people not institutions. It is about social justice. It is about caring for creation. It is about being who we were each created to be. Tim is a former early childhood educator, a runner, a hiker, a devoted husband, father of two adult children and their spouses, and a grandfather of two perfect babies. The former pastor of the Condon United Church of Christ, Tim recently began serving the First Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in Albany, Oregon. He writes from home, from the coffee shop, and wherever the trail leads him.

Posted in Old Testament, Psalm 1, Psalm 1:1-6, Psalms, Sermon

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Creative Commons License BY-NC-ND 3.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/3.0/us/

All materials by Tim Graves unless otherwise noted. Creative Commons License BY-NC-ND 3.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/3.0/us/

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