Happy are those who . . .


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Sometimes we feel like doing a happy dance. Other times we would prefer to lock ourselves in a room and eat an entire pie. God is with us through all of our moods.

John Weems explored the themes of happiness and refuge in Psalm 34. And it was the first Sunday for Michael Conley, Calvary’s new Director of Music Ministries!

 

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This Week’s Sermon Was Drawn From the Following Scripture

Psalm 34:1-8

I will bless the LORD at all times;
his praise shall continually be in my mouth.
My soul makes its boast in the LORD;
let the humble hear and be glad.
O magnify the LORD with me,}
and let us exalt his name together.
I sought the LORD, and he answered me,
and delivered me from all my fears.
Look to him, and be radiant;
so your faces shall never be ashamed.
This poor soul cried, and was heard by the LORD,
and was saved from every trouble.
The angel of the LORD encamps
around those who fear him, and delivers them.
O taste and see that the LORD is good;
happy are those who take refuge in him.

 

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Christians can be really annoying.

Sometimes we cross paths with someone who is going through an awful situation, and tell them that “It is all part of God’s plan,” or that “Everything happens for a reason.”

I know of one church that put a cartoon of Charlie Brown and Snoopy on the cover of its bulletin, with the caption, “What if today, we were just grateful for everything?”

Can you believe that? The nerve!

Charlie Brown is not really a happy dance type of guy most of the time.

In one of Charles Schulz’s famous Peanuts comic strips, Charlie Brown laments to Linus that he worries about school a lot, worries about worrying so much about school, and that even his anxieties have anxieties!

Many here today aren’t in a happy, clappy, dancing sort of a mood.

Perhaps your feelings could be summarized by poet Chanie Gorkin:

 

“Today was the absolute worst day ever
And don’t try to convince me that
There’s something good in every day
Because, when you take a closer look,
This world is a pretty evil place.
Even if
Some goodness does shine through once in a while
Satisfaction and happiness doesn’t last.
And it’s not true that
It’s all in the mind and heart
Because
True happiness can be attained
Only if one’s surroundings are good
It’s not true that good exists
I’m sure you can agree that
The reality
Creates
My attitude
It’s all beyond my control
And you’ll never in a million years hear me say that
Today was a very good day”

 

Pretty uplifting, right?

The reality is that none of us feel happy all of the time.

I’ve been through too many tragedies in my family, and been with too many others in this congregation and beyond to flippantly say that your suffering is “all part of God’s plan.” I cannot claim to know God’s precise plan, but I believe that all things ultimately work together for good (see Romans 8:28). Storms and earthquakes come, and people rally to unify in the aftermath. Tragic health crises bring suffering, and people can circle around to care for one another. Relationships break up for a multitude of reasons, and someone who truly cares for you as you are, will be there to eat an entire pie or bucket of ice cream and to talk about how that guy or gal didn’t deserve you anyway.

Whether you’re feeling on top of the world today, or at an all-time low, I am so thankful you’re here today. God’s people have experienced extreme highs and lows for millennia, and we have some documentation through the Psalms.

For those newer to church, the book of Psalms in the Bible contains 150 prayers in beautifully poetic song form. It was some of the original “praise” music, as one literal meaning of Psalm is “to pluck” on a harp-like stringed instrument. The great sixteenth century church reformer Martin Luther called the Psalms the “little Bible” and said that, “In it is comprehended most beautifully and briefly everything that is in the entire Bible . . . so that anyone who could not read the whole Bible would have anyway of almost an entire summary of it, comprised in one little book.”[1]

Jesus quoted the Psalms extensively in a variety of settings, including his darkest hours. While dying on the cross, he references Psalm 22:1, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

If you want to take on a very realistic and transformative 150-day spiritual discipline, consider reading a psalm a day. You will encounter hymns of praise, wisdom, gratitude, and plenty of lament. The Book of Psalms covers the real spectrum of life, sometimes wondering where God is when the shadow times arrive.

Today we focus on Psalm 34. It brings a message of great joy that does not simply come from our own power. Psalm experts Walter Brueggemann and William Bellinger explain that, “Psalm 34 affirms that such joy is a gift from God rather than earnings from individual achievement or from happy life circumstances. The psalmist expresses gratitude for the gift rather than the desire for more of the ‘stuff’ of life.”[2]

If only it were that simple! “What if today, we were just grateful for everything?”

Psalm 34 provides a pattern that can lead us to a place of centered joy. The third and seventh verses stress the words, “magnify” and “fear.” Put simply, the passage calls us to remember that everything is not all about us. As we magnify God as the center of our lives, we move toward our purpose. Brueggemann and Bellinger explain that, “Fear here has to do with being in awe of the divine or revering or respecting God.” The phrase “God fearing” has been misused through the years, such that we think of a vindictive God who will zap us. The trick here is to remember that our Creator, maker of the universe, is calling us to remember that we are invited to be part of something much, much bigger, than temporary happiness.

We are inundated with messages telling us otherwise.

We are conditioned to believe that we need some thing we do not currently possess, a purchase or a trip or a pill. If you follow the formula offered by the average 30-minute television or radio program, you will need to book a Disney cruise, buy a case of Bud Light, the new BMW hybrid, and pick up a free trial of the pharmaceutical featuring people in two separate bathtubs.

The pursuit of happiness through purchases is as effective as eating piles of cotton candy before running a marathon.

Where do we start to seek long lasting sustenance?

“O taste and see that the Lord is good,” begins 34:8, “Happy are those who take refuge in God.”

According to Brueggemann, taste and see “is the language of experiment, to try out the divine protection and see if God is faithful.”[3]

Most of us in the room have pursued personal happiness in many ways.

What if we replace the translation of “happy” with “blessed,” an alternate for the Hebrew word in Psalm 34:8?

Blessed are those who take refuge in God.

Blessed are those who instead of waking up each day and cursing God for what we don’t have, what parts hurt, who isn’t treating us well, wake up and bless the Lord for the gift of this day.

As it turns out, taking refuge in God is really difficult. It is much easier to take refuge when our financial planner tells us that we have enough to live comfortably until the age of 120, that we can use all of the water we want and that someone else will take care of the refugees.

We like to be in control and predict the future. In a congregation full of type-A, hard chargers, this is not surprising.

Happy are those who ______________?

Blessed are those who _______________?

In a few moments, you will hear an original song by Calvary’s new Director of Music Ministries, Michael Conley, sung by Rev. Victor H. Floyd. “Stand by the Roads” is based on Jeremiah 6:16, reminding us just how difficult it is to stay on the path to good and how we would much rather ask, “When’s that happy day?” as defined by the world than take refuge in God.

Will we wake up each day waiting for happiness on some other day, or will we find it today?

My grandfather on my mom’s side, Grandpa Dick, used to drive me around in his old blue Ford pick-up truck. We would listen to country music—which I didn’t appreciate at the time—and every once in a while, he would ask me “What’s on your mind, Charlie Brown?” Grandpa Dick had been through numerous tragedies in life, including the loss of two of his six children, my mom’s brothers Rick and Randy, before they were 25.

When I was in seventh grade, Grandpa Dick was diagnosed with terminal lung cancer. He could have moped and cursed and gone off into hiding. Here is what I remember. I remember grandpa in the cowboy hat he always wore, sitting at my football and basketball games. I remember grandpa sitting with with my mom, his eldest of six children, having deep conversations. I remember seeing grandpa beaming as he received news that his remaining living son, my uncle Rod, would have a grandson and carry on the Gonsales name. I remember him at a big 55th birthday party, celebrating life with his family and friends, even when he knew that this time on earth would end soon, which it did that same year.

Taste and see that the Lord is good!

Remember the poem I shared earlier, by Chanie Gorkin?

Chanie is a high school senior in Brooklyn, New York. The poem is titled “Worst Day Ever?”

The last two lines I read said, “And you’ll never in a million years hear me say that
Today was a very good day.”

She concluded with two lines that I didn’t read before:

“Now read it from bottom to top, the other way,
And see what I really feel about my day.’[4]

Worst Day Ever?

Today was a very good day
And you’ll never in a million years hear me say that
It’s all beyond my control
My attitude
Creates
The reality
I’m sure you can agree that
It’s not true that good exists
Only if one’s surroundings are good
True happiness can be attained
Because
It’s all in the mind and heart
And it’s not true that
Satisfaction and happiness doesn’t last.
Some goodness does shine through once in a while
Even if
This world is a pretty evil place.
Because, when you take a closer look,
There’s something good in every day
And don’t try to convince me that
Today was the absolute worst day ever.

 

[1] Walter Brueggemann and William H. Bellinger Jr, Psalms (New Cambridge Bible Commentary) (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2014), Location 621, Kindle Edition.

[2] Ibid, Loc. 4661.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Chanie Gorkin, “Worst Day Ever?” http://www.poetrynation.com/poem.php?id=50509

 

 

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