(Young's Literal Translation)
3 ‘Happy the poor in spirit—because theirs is the reign of the heavens.
4 ‘Happy the mourning—because they shall be comforted.
5 ‘Happy the meek—because they shall inherit the land.
6 ‘Happy those hungering and thirsting for righteousness—because they shall be filled.
7 ‘Happy the kind—because they shall find kindness.
8 ‘Happy the clean in heart—because they shall see God.
9 ‘Happy the peacemakers—because they shall be called Sons of God.
10 ‘Happy those persecuted for righteousness’ sake—because theirs is the reign of the heavens. 11‘Happy are ye whenever they may reproach you, and may persecute, and may say any evil thing against you falsely for my sake
There are 150 Psalms in the bible. Today, Jayne read the six verses of the very first Psalm. And the very first word: Happy, in Hebrew, “asre”. And who, according to this psalm, are the “happy”? Those who “do do not follow the advice of the wicked, or take the path that sinners tread, or sit in the seat of scoffers.” The psalmist starts with the negatives; ways that work against happiness: to follow bad advice, live in sin's ways, scoff at God's ordinances. But the psalm gives some specific things to do to be happy. Find delight in the law of the LORD and meditate on God's law day and night. The Hebrew bible is consistent in how it tells it's readers to be happy—to trust in the Lord and obey God's laws.
When I think of happiness, I think of a day like last Sunday. Mother's Day; the afternoon spent at a ballgame with 8 of the grandkids there, supper spent with a son, daughter-in-law and four grandkids. Visiting, playing, relaxing; a perfect evening. But I also think of those family gatherings with all 29 of us gathered with noise and mess and excitement. A perfect commotion. And at the end of one of those days, I lay in bed giving prayers of thanksgiving and I don't use the word happy then, I use blessed. It is one way the Lord has blessed us.
For each of you, there are events or people or gatherings that make you happy. The Greek helps us remember that the happiness we find in this life is indeed a blessing from God.
You know what else makes me happy? Sharing a good joke... or a joke that makes you all groan. And I haven't had a good one for a few weeks so I hope this brings a smile to your face, it comes from our daughter Christa.
“I was out walking with my 4 year old daughter. She picked up something off the ground and started to put it in her mouth. I took the item away from her and I asked her not to do that.
"Why?" my daughter asked.
"Because it's been on the ground, you don't know where it's been. It's dirty and probably has germs," I replied.
At this point, my daughter looked at me with total admiration and asked, "Mommy, how do you know all this stuff, you are so smart."
I was thinking quickly. "All moms know this stuff. It's on the Mommy Test. You have to know it, or they don't let you be a Mommy."
We walked along in silence for 2 or 3 minutes, but she was evidently pondering this new information.
"OH...I get it!" she beamed. "So if you don't pass the test, then you have to be the daddy?"
That hits a little close to home, but brought a smile to my face. And smiles can be hard to come by. For one thing, our faces have been covered by masks for more than a year now. For another, the news of the day is filled with shootings and inflation and political fighting. Plenty of cause for concern. But the scriptures do not tell us to be happy because everything in the world is going perfectly. Sure the mask mandate is gone but Covid cases and deaths continue. True happiness comes not when everything is perfect, but when we recognize the hand of God in our lives and ultimately in the things of the world. And the beatitudes are certainly agree with this. There's persecution, grief, hungering and thirsting, reproachment and evil in this list. But Jesus seems pretty insistent that we can be happy in every situation... if we, as the Hebrew scriptures teach, if we trust in the Lord and obey God's laws.
It is interesting to note that Jesus is not commanding the traits, he didn't say “Be merciful, be meek, make peace.” He is giving us a list of the qualities that identify the way to happiness. And note, it doesn't come from what we buy or where we live or what kind of car we drive. It comes from a focus on God which naturally leads to care for others. As you recognize the hand of God; the gift of grace in your life--then these traits will be yours.
There is an interesting phrase in America's constitution that speaks of the right of “the pursuit of happiness.” The founding fathers suggested that this is a universal human right. But where does this universal right originate? In his book, Dark Agenda David Horowitzs put it this way: “it is only the fact that the basic rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness are seen as gifts of God that they are inalienable. Government did not give them and therefore government cannot take them away. Without the founders' belief in God... America could not exist.” Without the disciples' belief in the mission of the Messiah, the Church wouldn't exist. Without faithful generations of faithful Christians being willing to be persecuted for the gospel, we wouldn't be here worshiping today. We celebrate this week the 100th anniversary of the Lilac Luncheon, a symbol of faithfulness and generosity through the years. We can look at that and see how God has blessed this church. And we can be happy that the focus on God in this community of faith has lead to that happiness.
We are guaranteed the right to pursue happiness, but there is no guarantees that we'll catch it. And if our focus is on happiness rather than God, chances are we'll miss out.
I was fascinated that psalm 1 was our psalm today. I recently gave copies of a devotional based on the psalms to a couple of friends. It has 150 daily devotionals, one for each day for each psalm in the bible. And it is intended for people who are struggling with issues in their lives that get in the way of happiness. Here are the first words of the first day's reading from Psalm 1: “The first psalm begins with a powerful word: Happy! How elusive happiness seemed (to me). I had lost my job, badly hurt the people who loved me most, and turned my back on the very idea of a Higher Power. I was broken, alone, and filled with despair. Yet in these first words of the psalm was a glimmer of hope. And there in verse 2 was a clue that I didn't fully understand yet. Those happy people find their delight in meditating on God's teachings 'day and night'. So I started reading a psalm... and praying every day. It was the first step in...a journey toward happiness.”
Are there obstacles to your happiness? God gives us all a clue to true happiness here. It's not possessions or money or even grandkids. It is God. True happiness; blessedness, comes from trusting God and obeying God's commands. Find a way on your journey to draw closer to God. The psalmist gives us a word picture of those who have chosen to set their trust in God: “They are like trees planted by streams of water, which yield their fruit in its season, and their leaves do not wither.” Picture a mighty tree with branches reaching to the sky. And consider the roots of a mighty tree sent deep and far into the earth anchoring the tree. That can be us. Branches reaching up in celebrating God's place in our lives. Roots sent deep into God's word, God's ordinances; anchoring us in God's power and grace. Send your roots deeply into God's word. Find a system, a habit, a place where God can be your focus. Your pursuit of happiness begins with time with God; learning to trust and obey. And God is faithful. Happy the one who's trust is in the Lord. Amen.
Hymn: Trust and Obey