June 26, 2016 Semon Titled: The Source of True Happiness


First Mennonite Church
June 26, 2016

The Source of True Happiness
Text: Psalm 1: 1-6
Beginning today I would like to reflect on a sample of passages from the book of Psalms. The book of Psalms is the testimony of God’s people that God is deeply immersed in the everyday- life not only of his people but of the world too. God cares when his people call for justice. God hears the cry of a childless couple (113:9). God is mindful of the pain and sorrow of the one on his or her deathbed (41:3). But God also rejoices with the famer whose field is heavy with grain (4:7; 65:13). He is concerned for the wild critters and their young when food gets scarce (104; 145:15, 16). God has compassion as parents have compassion for their rebellious child (103:13). In a nutshell the book of Psalm is the testimony of God’s concern, closeness and claim over the whole world.
For this reason the book of Psalms is a collection of reflections and responses to the goodness and sovereignty of God. In the pages of the book of Psalms we find prayers of thanksgiving for God’s deliverance from the enemy, that is, whatever threatens life. We find song of praises for God’s faithful provision throughout Israel’s history. We also find prayers of lament in time of national crisis, as when Israel lost its land and people. We also find prayers of confession for sins committed. All of these evidences and many more found in this book remind us that the book of Psalms, as well as the whole Bible, is the work and words of humans toward God. The book of Psalms is also a collection of God’s invitation, promises, and especially of his offer of deliverance to his people. These activities of God are also evident not only in the book of Psalms but also in the entire Bible. In this sense the book of Psalms, as well as the whole Bible, is the word of God to his people and to humanity as a whole.
As we go along reflecting on some passages we will take time to briefly consider its original context when possible with the purpose of relating it to our own. And although many of these prayers of praise, thanksgiving, and for forgiveness were for communal use, we can also use them as personal expressions towards God.
Let us therefore begin with chapter 1.
1 Happy are those
who do not follow the advice of the wicked,
or take the path that sinners tread,
or sit in the seat of scoffers;
2 but their delight is in the law of the Lord,
and on his law they meditate day and night.
3 They are like trees
planted by streams of water,
which yield their fruit in its season,
and their leaves do not wither.
In all that they do, they prosper.
4 The wicked are not so,
but are like chaff that the wind drives away.
5 Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment,
nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous;
6 for the Lord watches over the way of the righteous,
but the way of the wicked will perish.
It is for a good reason that the longest book in the Bible begins with the Hebrew word “asre,” blessed or happy as the NRSV translates it. The word appears 28 times in this book. Humans crave for happiness from time immemorial. The world hungers for happiness. So let me ask you, are you happy? Are you really happy or just somewhat happy? And if so, what truly makes you happy? And if you are not happy, are you depressed, angry, disappointed, or anxious? Again the question: what makes you feel unhappy?
Benjamin Franklin said, “The Constitution only gives people the right to pursue happiness. You have to catch it yourself.”  And true enough to this rule, the American people have pursued happiness in many ways.
There is a documentary titled “Happy.” Happy is a feature film in which Roko Belic interviews and captures in film the lives of peoples from the swamps of Louisiana to the deserts in Namibia, from the crowded city of Kolkata, India, to a small village in Okinawa, Japan and other places. The film does a great job in portraying how individuals, whole communities, and even a small Asian kingdom managed to achieve a certain degree of happiness that is admirable. Achieving happiness is the ultimate goal in the human existence. Everybody wants to be happy. Being happy is one of the most contagious human emotions. When someone smiles at you, it is hard not to reciprocate!
The book of Psalms begins by laying down the foundation of a superior kind of happiness. Its definition and source are different from what and where we normally think happiness is and comes from. Happy are those who do not follow the advice of the wicked . . . but who delight and meditate in the law of the Lord day and night. If you would ask a group of people to fill in the blank: Happy are those who _____, you will surely get many and various responses. I wonder how many of them will give the answer the Psalmist gives. The psalmist shows that happiness is not self-centered. Happiness does not depend on our state of being. It neither depends on what we have or do not have. Happiness does not depend on how much we can enjoy ourselves. Happiness is centered in God and taking pleasure in his teachings. We should realize that if this statement is true Christians should be the happiest bunch of people in the world.
In Malachi’s time Judah went through a time of spiritual apathy. Although God had blessed them, and although God continued to protect them, they had a heavy heart toward God. As the prophet accused them, they robed God of his tithes, but that was not all. They also started complaining about having to worship and obey God. Therefore God accused them through his prophets saying:
13 “You have spoken arrogantly against me,” says the Lord.
“Yet you ask, ‘What have we said against you?’
14 “You have said, ‘It is useless to serve God. What do we gain by carrying out his requirements and going about like mourners before the Lord Almighty? (Malachi 3:13, 14).
Israel got tired of serving God. They saw God’s instructions as burdensome. Yet, this is not the view of the psalmist nor is it the view of the apostle John who wrote: This is how we know that we love the children of God: by loving God and carrying out his commands.  In fact, this is love for God: to keep his commands. And his commands are not burdensome (1John 5:2, 3).
Is obeying God burdensome to you? Or, do you delight in the word of the Lord? Happiness is found in trusting God and delighting in his instructions.
God offers himself to us. God is the real source of protection, thus the psalmist can sing, “The Lord is my rock, my fortress, and my deliverer, my God, my rock in whom I take refuge, my shield, and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold (18:2). That is why the psalmist prays, “O Lord of hosts, happy is everyone who trusts in you” (84:12).
Happy are those who observe justice, who do righteousness at all times. (106:3)
Happy is everyone who fears the Lord, who walks in his ways. (128:1)
I said earlier, happiness is a contagious human emotion. It is hard to hide happiness. We can tell when our children are happy. They speak fast and excitedly. They sing. Give hugs and are ready to do what you tell them to. The Psalmist paints a beautiful image of how happiness looks. The imagery he describes is even more beautiful if we take into consideration a semi-desert landscape. Those who find happiness in God and who find delight in his instructions are:
like trees planted by streams of water,
which yield their fruit in its season,
and their leaves do not wither.
In all that they do, they prosper.
The imagery of those who delight in God and his word like a tree planted by streams of water does not necessarily highlight its fruitfulness, but more so its rootedness to a secure source of life. Those who delight in the Lord and in his word find their heart steadfastly secure in God. No wonder why the psalmist can also say: Surely the righteous will never be shaken . . .
They will have no fear of bad news;
their hearts are steadfast, trusting in the Lord.
Their hearts are secure, they will have no fear (112: 6-8).
The imagery of a tree planted by streams of water to demonstrate security makes us question the placement of our own security. So often we think of our jobs, resources, or businesses as the ultimate sources for a secure life. And then after so many years these sources simply vanish, dwindle, or are relocated. It is then when we come to realize that nothing is as secure as we might have thought. The Psalmist presents God as the true source of happiness. Those who delight and take refuge in God find the true source of happiness, which nothing else can provide. This brings to our mind the words of the prophet Habakkuk who says:
Though the fig tree does not bud
and there are no grapes on the vines,
though the olive crop fails
and the fields produce no food,
though there are no sheep in the pen
and no cattle in the stalls,
yet I will rejoice in the Lord,
I will be joyful in God my Savior (Habakkuk 3:17, 18).
Let us meditate in the word of God. Let us find the comfort we need in the word of God. Let us respond to God’s invitation and calling. The Psalmist also reminds us, that:
Happy are those whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered. Happy are those to whom the Lord imputes no iniquity, and in whose spirit there is no deceit. (32:1, 2)
Happy are those whom [God] chooses and bring near to live in his courts. (65:4)
In the movie Happy, Andy Wimmer found joy in serving to the poor and dying. Andy was a bank manager and a computer engineer. He said, “Life is more fulfilling than just looking after oneself. There is tremendous sweetness in helping others. But the most important thing is show them that God loves them and that someone cares for them. When you have a dying person in front of you and who wants a cup of water and you can do that for him. It is a symbolic act, but it is all they are asking for.”
Andy discovered what the psalmist also talk about when he says:
Happy are those who consider the poor; the Lord delivers them in the day of trouble (41: 1). Yes, helping others bring joy also and especially when we do it in the name of Christ.
Happy are we because our God is our secure source of life.
Pastor Romero