Sermon: Happiness

I invite you to open your Bibles with me to Psalm 1. The book of Psalms is in the Old Testament, about halfway through the Bible, with Job on the left and Proverbs on the right. The name Psalms comes from the old greek title for the book, psalmos, which is the word for a song sung to music. The book of psalms is a collection of 150 songs that have formed the backbone of the prayer and singing of the people of God since they were first given to us.

This morning we will be listening to Psalm 1, the first psalm. As always, you are invited to leave your Bibles open as we read and study God’s word together. But before we hear God’s word this morning, please take a moment to pray with me.

Come Holy Spirit, dig out our ears so we can hear your word well and receive it in faith. Take our hearts of stone and replace them with hearts of flesh, so we might be filled with your love and grace and pour it out to others. Open our eyes to see you at work. Open my lips to speak your Word to our people. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

If you are able, I invite you to stand to hear God’s Word. Listen well, for these words are trustworthy and true.

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,

but their delight is in the law of the LORD,

and on his law they meditate day and night.

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.

The wicked are not so,

but are like chaff which the wind drives away.

Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment,

nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous,

for the LORD watches over the way of the righteous,

but the way of the wicked will perish.

This is the Word of the LORD. Thanks be to God.

Happy. It is the first word of this psalm, the first word in this whole book of prayers God has given us. Happy. It sets the tone for what we are searching for, what we are hoping for, what we expect when we come to these words – words that are both God’s word to us, to you, to me, as well as God-given words for us to speak back to God. Happy.

Happy perks up our ears and makes us wonder. Could it be? Happy. We are not talking about the momentary happiness that comes when our team wins the big game, when you smell that first cup of coffee in the morning, or when she smiles at you for the first time.

No, Happy – as we hear it here in psalm 1 – is something deeper than emotion. It is that deep, lasting happiness that comes from living in right relationship with God, yourself, and the world and that could only be called blessed. Happy, truly happy – the deep wholeheartedness and peace.

Happy sets our hearts to wonder because we are all looking for it. Turn on the television or scroll through your ads on Facebook and this is what it is promising. True happiness, if you buy a Lexus. The good life can be yours, if you drink Coke. Life will finally be good, if you wear these clothes. The ads work and we buy all sorts of stuff because it is speaking to something deep in our hearts. We want to be happy. We want to be happy in a way that reaches beyond the momentary pleasures and cuts through the veil of our distraction. We want to be happy in a way that knits us together since we are pulled apart by everything that demands our time and loyalty in this world.

Happy is the first word of the first psalm, the first word in the prayer book of God’s people. Psalm 1 leads us into the deep waters, filled to the brim with expectation. Happy. Could it be so?

As Psalm 1 draws us in, it does so with an action and an image, while it is also honest about the shadow side that comes if we reject God’s invitation in psalm 1. An action, an image, and a shadow. Meditation is the action. A tree is the image. Chaff is the shadow.

The action is in verse 2: but their delight is in the law of the LORD and on his law they meditate day and night. In Psalm 1, God invites us into the happy life, into true, deep happiness, by inviting us to find delight in His Word and to meditate on it. The invitation is not first to think the right thoughts, get to know all the right ideas, but to delight, to take pleasure in God’s Word. The invitation is not first to do the right thing, to make sure your feet on the right path, but to delight in God’s Word. Grasping the truth and walking in faith are important, but the invitation of God begins with the heart. It begins with delight.

And the kind of delight that will lead us to true happiness is found in God’s Word. God’s Word is like a javelin launched that strikes us right in the heart. God’s word strikes us right where we are, in all our humanness. His speech to us is direct, intentional, and personal. And it never leaves us the same. Christians believe, with good reason, that when the Bible is read God speaks to us. The Bible is not flat words on a page, but God’s Word to us. This is why we pray for the Spirit to open our ears before the Bible is read and why afterward we proclaim, “This is the Word of the LORD.”

God speaks through his word, and we who hear are never the same. The invitation of God in Psalm 1 is to delight, to find our joy, in this word from God to us.

But this delight does not come naturally. It must be cultivated. but their delight is in the law of the LORD and on his law they meditate day and night. What does Psalm 1 mean when it tell us to meditate on God’s Word? Maybe a picture will help us.

We have a cat at home named Julian. She’s named after Julian of Norwich, because Olga told me I was allowed to name pets after theologians so I would not be tempted to name children after them. Shortly after we got Julian, Olga crocheted some mice out of yarn for her to play with. During the day, she pretty much ignores them. But at night, we can hear her halfway across the house. She has picked one up in her mouth and is parading it around, meowing in pride and delight in herself. She carries it in her mouth all the way through her house, noisy as can be. That active, bodily activity to taking it into her mouth and bringing it with her everywhere as she wrestles with it – that is biblical meditation.

You see, the word translated as ‘meditation’ in psalm 1 is the same word Isaiah uses to describe the sound a lion makes over its prey. It is an active wrestling with the word of God and what it means for our life. It is the intentional and sustain chewing upon, salivating over, and hungering for a word from God. Meditation on God’s word is not really about withdrawing from all your distractions and finding quiet time with God, though there is nothing wrong with that. Meditation is about taking God’s word and getting it inside you. It is the image of eating and chewing on God’s word, getting it inside our mouth and into your bones. There is a reason both the prophet Ezekiel and the apostle John were instructed by angels to take a scroll – the word of God- and eat it.

If you want to find true, deep happiness, if you want to find your joy and delight in God’s Word, the invitation is to eat it. Meditate upon it by taking it into your heart, into your body, into your soul. Let it become not just something you think about from time to time, but a very part of your life.

This is not really about me, but you may have noticed if you have been with us recently that I memorize our scripture passage for each week. I don’t do that to impress you. I do it because, 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, but their delight is in the law of the LORD and on his law they meditate day and night.

I memorize and recite out loud every day the scripture passage for the week because it is my way of taking the word and meditating upon it. Whatever method works for you, maybe it is memorization, take time to take God’s word into your heart and let it impact your life. Do it daily and, I can tell you from personal experience, you will not regret it. If you don’t know where to start, here are two places. First, you could begin with the psalms. Pray them. Psalm 1, 16, 23, 51, 113, 130, and 150 are all great places to root ourselves deeply in God’s Word. Second, you could take one of the gospels and read it through again and again. Be shaped by the person and word of Jesus.

So the invitation of Psalm 1 into the happy life includes an action – meditation – an image – a tree- and a shadow – chaff.

The image of the tree is from verse 3: they are like trees planted by streams of water which yield their fruit in its seasons and its leaves do not wither. The tree is rooted, benefits others, and thrives in difficult condition.

When we are in right relationship with God through Jesus Christ and are drinking deeply of God’s Word, we will have deep roots. The type of tree mentioned here in psalm 1 does not get a lot of rainfall. It is a desert tree, a wilderness tree. But it is a tree with deep roots. What you see above ground is fairly normal, but below the surface, it taps into water dozen of meters underground. Meditating on God’s Word and finding delight in it gives us deep roots so that we are able to draw life from the living water, Jesus Christ. Just as a tree with deep roots doesn’t survive because of how much rain it gets, our life is not determined by the rain of our circumstances, but by our connection to Jesus Christ, the living water.

When God sends the rain, we soak it up, but when the rain is sparse, we do not wither, because we know the true source of living water, Jesus Christ. Meditating on God’s Word sends our roots deep, making us like trees planted by streams of water.

But the tree also benefits others. Psalm 1 says those who delight in God’s Word will be like trees that ‘bear fruit in their season.’ When the time is ripe, our life in Christ, our life rooted in God’s Word, will make an impact on others. The fruit the tree bears is not for its own benefit, but for the blessing of others. Our lives, too, when we are rooted in God’s Word will bring blessing to others. Maybe it will come from meditating on Jesus’ call to care for the poor that leads us to become passionate about feeding the hungry. Maybe it will come from meditating on Jesus’ call to make disciples of all nations that creates in us a desire to share the gospel with others. Maybe it will come from meditating on how God’s grace takes us, who were outside of God’s people and makes us a part of his people, that will lead us to a passion for the stranger in our midst, that those on the outside would be brought in. Maybe it is something else, but our rootedness in God’s Word will sustain us in the dry seasons of life, but also make us a blessing to others.

Happy. This is the invitation of Psalm 1 – to find true happiness by finding our delight and joy in God’s Word and meditating upon it. We are told that if we do, we will be like trees planted by streams – trees with deep roots during the dry seasons of life, that soak up the blessings of God when the rains come, and that become a blessing to others.

Happy. This is the invitation. But there is a shadow side to all this. The first step on the road to happiness that Psalm 1 indicates is that we must learn to say ‘No.’ 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. We must learn to say ‘No.’ In this life, there is advice you will be given that you should not take. In this life, there are paths we should not walk down. In this life, there are places we should not set up camp and live.

As much as Psalm 1 is about showing us the right way, showing us the right place to find our delight and joy, it is not naive. There are other ways we can seek to be happy. There are other places we can turn to in order to look for happiness, for wholeness, for joy.

We can turn toward money and success, looking to them for our hope and security. But we will find that when we do, we have no peace. There is not a big enough house that can be filled with enough stuff that will give peace to your heart. Norman Rockefeller, one of the wealthiest men in the world in his day, was once asked how much money was enough. He responded, “just a little more.” When we turn to money and success we will never have enough, never have peace, never find that happiness we were looking for.

Or we can turn to distraction. Whether it is mindless scrolling or surfing or binge-watching, or drinking or shooting or whatever else we feel we need to do to numb the pain, we can hide behind distraction to avoid the deep questions of our hearts. While money and success are ways we can seek to find happiness, distraction is a way we try to avoid being sad. But it isn’t an answer, it just holds off the questions.

Psalm 1 likens all of these other paths, other places we turn for wholeness and happiness other than God, it likens them to chaff. Chaff, the useless leftovers after the grain has been harvested. Unlike a tree which is rooted and alive, chaff is dead and carried away by the breeze.

The ways of chaff, the way of the wicked as psalm 1 calls it, the way of looking for life and happiness and joy anywhere but in God, is dead and useless. In saying this, Psalm 1 is not trying to be mean or offensive, but honest.

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,

but their delight is in the law of the LORD,

and on his law they meditate day and night.

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.

The wicked are not so,

but are like chaff which the wind drives away.

Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment,

nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous,

for the LORD watches over the way of the righteous,

but the way of the wicked will perish.

When the winds of the Spirit comes in judgment, the tree will stand, but chaff will be scattered. Both now in our day to day pains and struggles and in the age to come, the way to joy and happiness is by being rooted in God’s Word and receiving life from the living water, Jesus Christ.

May each us be like trees planted by streams of water, yielding fruit in its season. In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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