Come on-a my House

The Sixth Sunday of Easter

Acts 16:9-15

During the night Paul had a vision: there stood a man of Macedonia pleading with him and saying, “Come over to Macedonia and help us.” When he had seen the vision, we immediately tried to cross over to Macedonia, being convinced that God had called us to proclaim the good news to them.

We set sail from Troas and took a straight course to Samothrace, the following day to Neapolis, and from there to Philippi, which is a leading city of the district of Macedonia and a Roman colony. We remained in this city for some days. On the sabbath day we went outside the gate by the river, where we supposed there was a place of prayer; and we sat down and spoke to the women who had gathered there. A certain woman named Lydia, a worshiper of God, was listening to us; she was from the city of Thyatira and a dealer in purple cloth. The Lord opened her heart to listen eagerly to what was said by Paul. When she and her household were baptized, she urged us, saying, “If you have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come and stay at my home.” And she prevailed upon us.

 Come on-a My House


Lydia is mentioned only twice in the Bible, both times in the 16th chapter of the book of Acts. Yet, she has grabbed the attention of generations.  She is venerated as a saint with her own feast days.  The Eastern Orthodox Church calls her “Equal to the Apostles.”   In Philippi an outdoor baptistry was built on the site where she was baptized by Paul.  The Catholic Church has deemed her the patron saint of dyers.  She is recognized as the first European to be converted.  Modern authors continue to be intrigued with her, writing autobiographical religious fiction of her life as they would imagine it. 

The baptistry in Philippi in honor of Lydia

For me personally, I’ve been fascinated with her since childhood.  Perhaps it was her beauty and success and the deep purple veil and shawl she wore; or that she lived the life considered to be the Way:  Worship the Lord. Work hard. Take care of your family.  Give back by giving to those in need.

Of course, I was only ten back then, so it was probably her clothes and jewelry.  I do like those things. 

I can see however how others have been equally taken with Lydia.  You don’t hear frequently about women in Biblical times being well-to-do entrepreneurs and here we have one.  She was a seller of purple, a cloth dyed with expensive Tyrian purple dye derived from shellfish.  It was a dye reserved for the robes of rulers.  The higher Roman officials in Philippi may well have been her customers.  She wasn’t selling gingham, folks.  And she wasn’t selling fabric out of Wal-Mart.  Her customers were among the wealthiest and most powerful, willing to pay top dollar for her product. With it, she supported a household that likely included servants and slaves, all dependent on her.   She was the head of the household.  When she converted, they did as well and were baptized with her.

Now that we’ve met Lydia, let’s return to today’s scripture.  Paul, Timothy, and Silas had embarked on their Second Missionary trip.  It is thought they were later joined by Luke, author of Acts, considering the first-person singular that falls into use at this point.  Paul had a vision in which he is told that they were needed in Macedonia in northern Greece.  They changed course and made their way to Philippi, a Roman colony in Macedonia. Once there, they found lodging and stayed awhile.  When it was Sabbath they walked to a place where they heard that people gathered for prayer.  There they met Lydia. She was a Gentile who worshiped the God of Israel but was never formally converted.   Paul spoke to her. God was with her; she listened and believed. 

Here is where Lydia speaks to us today.

She didn’t just say, “I believe,” and went back home to do laundry.  She took action!  And in a heartbeat, she and her household are baptized.  Then comes the punchline, “’If you have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come and stay at my home.’ And she prevailed upon us.”

Think about it.  Here she is in the presence of the great Paul, accompanied by Silas, Timothy, and Luke, all learned miracle masters, powerful, saints and martyrs in the making, and she challenges them.  She challenges them even to consider not accepting an invitation to her house.  

 Implied in this challenge come the questions.  If you think I’m faithful enough to baptize, why would you not accept my hospitality?  Am I not faithful enough? Or am I unacceptable because I’m not a Jew?  Or because I am a single woman?   Anticipating any one of those arguments, she does not slip away quietly.  She does not back off.  She does not plead.  She does not whimper.  She does not cry.  She does not beg.  She does not offer a weak, “Well, if not, maybe drop by sometime?”  No. “She prevailed upon us.”

To my way of thinking, that one sentence tells us more about Lydia than any commentary or Biblical fiction author ever could.  Intriguing how a single word can be so revealing.  Prevail.  To prove more powerful than opposing forces. To be victorious.  To prove to be superior in strength, power or influence.  To predominate.  To persuade successfully.  That was Lydia.

She was an independent successful woman of means.  She did not get that way by not getting her way!  She was not to be deterred when she insisted that the men were to come to her home.  She was more powerful than any doubts or prejudices they may have. She knew they were angels of the Lord and she would be the one in charge of their care and keeping.  Come on a-my house!  Come on, come on!  She understood the ritual importance of hospitality, and whatever dis-inclinations Paul and his friends might have had, they would not prevail.  She would prevail.  And she did.  They stayed with her.  And later, when Paul and Silas were released from jail where they were beaten and chained, they returned to her home to find it the gathering place for the followers of Jesus.  And again, they stayed with her and she gave them a place to rest while their wounds healed; she gave them food and drink and safety.

To my way of thinking, she shows us how to do it.  No more weak, half-hearted invitations to a new neighbor like “We should get together sometime?”  Rather, “Come on-a my house!  I just bought a bunch of ribs. I’ll cook them up for you.  You have to come.”  Prevail upon them. 

Or prevail upon yourself.  Let’s say that God has extended to you an invitation to his house, promising music, prayers, acceptance, coffee and doughnuts, even something good to think about.  Rather than saying, “I should go back to church sometime, maybe one of these Sundays?” try this. “Hey Lydia!  I want to go to church with you this Sunday.  Can you pick me up?”

Have you ever considered extending an invitation to God to visit your house? Is it a weak, “Drop by sometime God, when you’re in the neighborhood?  I’ll try to be here.”   Or do you start your morning, thanking him for a new day  and insisting that he strengthen you for whatever temptation or adversity you encounter?   Do you stand up to God and insist that he pick you up when you are weak, insist that he strengthen you when you struggle?  At the end of your day, do you pray with determination, “Visit this place, Oh Lord and drive far from it all snares of the enemy!” Do you fall asleep with a song in your heart, “Come on-a my house!  Come on, come on.”

Lydia did not back off in her demands on the men of God.  I’m sure she didn’t back off on God any less as she spearheaded the growth of the new church in Philippi.  She set the bar for us in communicating with a God who will listen, a God who loves us, a God who never leaves us even in sickness and death.  Trust her.  Sing out, “Come on-a my house, come on, come on and I will give you figs and dates and grapes and cakes.  And I’m gonna give you marriage and ring and Easter-egg too.  Just come on-a my house.  Just come on!”

 Your song will prevail.  You will prevail, and God will come to your house.  He will come and eagerly listen to your words and accept your gifts.  And he will give you apple and plum and apricot and Christmas tree too.  He will give you life and a reason to live it.


The Dusty Road to Damascus

We pray:  This is another day, oh Lord.  I don’t know what it will bring but make me ready for whatever it may be.  If I am to stand up, help me do it bravely.  If I am to sit still, help me to sit quietly.  If I am to lie low, help me do it patiently.   And if I am to do nothing, let me do it gallantly.  Make these words more than words and give me the Spirit of Jesus.  Amen

(This prayer is adapted from The Book of Common Prayer, Ministration to the Sick)

Acts 9:1-6

Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest and asked him for letters to the synagogues at Damascus, so that if he found any who belonged to the Way, men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem.

Now as he was going along and approaching Damascus, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. He fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” He asked, “Who are you, Lord?” The reply came, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. But get up and enter the city, and you will be told what you are to do.”

The Dusty Road to Damascus

The first thing that occurred to me when reading the scripture assigned to the third Sunday of Easter was, “What happened to the rest of the story?”  You know it.  After the conversation between Saul and Jesus, Saul was able to stand up, but was blind.  His friends took him to the home of Judas in Damascus.  After three days, not eating or drinking and still blind, he was visited by Ananias.  Now Ananias was not thrilled to drop in on Saul.  Saul’s reputation preceded him.  But in a vision, Ananias was told to go anyway.  He did, and once there, laid hands on Saul, prayed over him and Saul’s sight was restored.  He was filled with the Holy Spirit, baptized, and took off to the Synagogue to proclaim Jesus as the son of God.

It’s a great conversion story, so why stop before getting to the good part? 

Rather than stew over it, I read the truncated version again, this time out loud.  Then like Saul, the scales fell from my eyes.  It was so clear. The first six verses were all that was needed to drive home a point that anyone in the second half of life would understand.  If you’ve lived long enough, you’ve had that moment, perhaps on your way to work, or to the grocery store, or to wherever was your destination, your Damascus.  In that moment, something happened that changed everything, and forever altered your life.  Just like that moment in Saul’s life.

Here we see him, most assuredly the captain of his ship, a man in control, a man of action, a take charge kind of guy.    He was a Pharisee, at the top of his game.  He had a deep commitment to his church and to protecting it at all costs.  When he saw a threat, he took action.  He had Stephen, a follower of Jesus arrested and stoned to death.  When he heard that Damascus was a hotbed of religious fervor and a gathering place of men and women of the Way, he set out to take control of the situation.  He had his paperwork in order and was authorized to arrest anyone spreading and perpetuating rumors that Jesus was raised from the dead and was the resurrected Lord.  When he finds these people, he will bind them, and march them to Jerusalem where they will be incarcerated.  He is in charge.

Until . . .

He is struck down, helpless, blind, lying in the dusty road to Damascus.

And then, he hears the voice, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?”

Let me step in here.  I must admit that this question makes me cringe.  I wouldn’t have wanted to be Saul at that moment, and I certainly would not want to be on the receiving end of questions Jesus might have for me, lying flat on my back in the middle of the road.  “Why do you spend so little time in prayer and meditation in your day?  Why do you put me at the bottom of your list of priorities when it comes to important decisions in your life?  Why do you let your mind wander during worship?”  It is an interesting if unsettling exploration, putting oneself into these situations.  You might try it.  Take a moment to consider what questions Jesus would have for you.  Now, try it.  Hmmm . . . . See what I mean?  Makes you cringe, too?  

 Oh well, back to our scripture.

To Paul, Jesus asked, “Why do you persecute me?”

We know that a Why question is not a true question.  It is typically asked to make a statement,  to express criticism, or disapproval; therefore no answer will be adequate.  It is no surprise then that Saul does not attempt to answer.  That would have been foolish and Paul was not a foolish man.  Instead, he asked a foolish question, to which he already knew the answer, “Who are you, Lord?”

Jesus identified himself to eliminate any doubt as to his living presence.  He was not dead; he was alive; and he gives the orders.  Which is what he does next. The tables have turned and Saul is no longer in charge.  Now, he will be told what to do.

I imagine most of us are familiar with this turning of tables.  As I said earlier, it has probably happened to every one of us.  Here we are, walking our own dusty road to Damascus, thinking we are in control of our destiny, the captain of our ship, when suddenly, our world is turned upside down.  The rug is pulled out from under us.  Our life is profoundly altered and forever changed.  It may come with a phone call in the middle of the night.  An accident.  A deadly diagnosis. The violent or unexpected death of a friend, a child, a sibling, a parent, a spouse.  A sudden loss of function like Saul’s blindness.  The loss of health, or mobility or fertility.  Maybe a devastating financial downturn and its resulting loss of means, security, and safety.  A devastating fire, flood, hurricane, tornado.  Or the words seemingly out of nowhere, saying, “I don’t love you anymore.” 

Prior to that moment, we may have thought, as did Saul that we were in control, but in Damascus others will tell us what to do.  For Paul, it was Ananias. Our Damascus may be Hospice, a hospital, rehab, a shelter, or a court, where suddenly someone else is in charge, and we are being told what to do.

Because we are a society that believes we should be in control at all times, we will either blame others for our adversity; or we will search for a way that makes ourselves responsible. Paradoxically, we understand that if we caused the problem then we can fix it.   We will assume guilt gladly if it means that it allows us the control to make the problem vanish. There may be folks ready to agree with you.  Check out Job!  He was surrounded by friends and family who urged him to confess sins that caused God to pour down punishment on him

 Even more discouraging words come from those who tell you that you can change the outcome of your problems if your faith is strong enough.  The implication is loud and clear that it is your fault you are dying.  Add insult to injury, there are others who insist we can control the course of life simply by focusing on a goal to make it a reality.  Really? Focus, and your child will magically recover from leukemia?  Focus, and your son killed in Afghanistan will return unharmed?  Focus, and your home that burned to the ground with all your possessions will be restored? Focus, and a million dollars will show up in your checking account?” I don’t think so.  

Don’t misunderstand, the ability to focus on the content of a goal is necessary to make some goals a possibility.  Only, some goals.  For example, you need to focus to finish studies and graduate with a diploma.  You need to focus to run daily to prepare for a 10K. There is a place for those concepts in life, – understanding that they still do not guarantee outcomes.  They are a way of planning and preparing and hoping for the best.  That is what we do because we are not in control of our trip to Damascus. We can pack wisely.  We can eat healthy and exercise daily.  We can attend church every time the doors open.  We can strive to be good parents, good employees, good bosses, good neighbors, good children, good citizens and that is all good.  It doesn’t take away the reality that in a heartbeat, there may come a flash of light that changes everything.

At that moment, we like Saul find ourselves flat on our back on the dusty road to Damascus, blind as to what happened and helpless to see what will happen next.   All we can do is speak and we hear ourselves ask, “Lord, who are you?”   It is Jesus, he reassures us and speaks gently, “I know that accidents happen.  That circumstances beyond your control interrupt lives every day.  I know that it is God’s will that his children would never suffer, but that is not the way of the world in which you live.  It is why I offer you strength that you like Saul, can get back up on your feet and somehow move again, and with time come to see what you need to do to go on. I offer you wisdom and perseverance to discern anew your purpose in life, and the courage to love once again.  I offer you my Spirit.”  

This is how Jesus operates and this is what we need, because “Oh Lord, it is a new day, and we don’t know what it will bring.”  Amen

Touch Heals

A word of explanation.  Yes, I’m posting a Lenten (pre-Easter) meditation long after Easter has come and gone.  However, some of us never want the party to end, so we celebrate not just Easter day, but Easter Season, all seven weeks of it!  So, despite what it might appear, I’m not really late getting these Lenten and Easter meditations posted.   I’m still celebrating!                                                                He is risen!  He is risen indeed!  Alleluia!
The 4th Sunday of Lent

John 12:1-8

Six days before the Passover Jesus came to Bethany, the home of Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead. There they gave a dinner for him. Martha served, and Lazarus was one of those at the table with him.

Mary took a pound of costly perfume made of pure nard, anointed Jesus’ feet, and wiped them with her hair. The house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume.

But Judas Iscariot, one of his disciples (the one who was about to betray him), said, “Why was this perfume not sold for three hundred denarii and the money given to the poor?” (He said this not because he cared about the poor, but because he was a thief; he kept the common purse and used to steal what was put into it.)

Jesus said, “Leave her alone. She bought it so that she might keep it for the day of my burial. You always have the poor with you, but you do not always have me.

(John tells us:  Six days before the Passover Jesus came to Bethany, to the home of Lazarus, Mary and Martha.)

Matthew 26: 6-13

While Jesus was in Bethany in the home of Simon the Leper, a woman came to him with an alabaster jar of very expensive perfume, which she poured on his head as he was reclining at the table.

When the disciples saw this, they were indignant. “Why this waste?” they asked.  “This perfume could have been sold at a high price and the money given to the poor.”

Aware of this, Jesus said to them, “Why are you bothering this woman? She has done a beautiful thing to me. The poor you will always have with you, but you will not always have me.  When she poured this perfume on my body, she did it to prepare me for burial.

Truly I tell you, wherever this gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has done will also be told, in memory of her.”

Luke 7:36-50

When one of the Pharisees invited Jesus to have dinner with him, he went to the Pharisee’s house and reclined at the table.

 A woman in that town who lived a sinful life learned that Jesus was eating at the Pharisee’s house, so she came there with an alabaster jar of perfume.  As she stood behind him at his feet weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tears. Then she wiped them with her hair, kissed them and poured perfume on them.

When the Pharisee who had invited him saw this, he said to himself, “If this man were a prophet, he would know who is touching him and what kind of woman she is—that she is a sinner.”

44 Then Jesus turned toward the woman and said to Simon, “Do you see this woman?

I came into your house. You did not give me any water for my feet, but she wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. 45 You did not give me a kiss, but this woman, from the time I entered, has not stopped kissing my feet. 46 You did not put oil on my head, but she has poured perfume on my feet. 47 

Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven, as her great love has shown.”

Touch heals

One might think with the number of stories in the Bible involving this ritual of water and washing and oil and anointing and touching that it was commonplace back then. And if you thought that you’d be right. Indeed, it was practiced at every level of society and event from the loftiest to the everyday ordinary. It was the anointing ritual that transformed a young shepherd boy in the field into the powerful King David. It was the same ritual that transformed a grieving young prince into the wealthy, wise and most honorable King Solomon, son of David and Bathsheba. It was the treatment of choice to move illness back into health.  It was the service of Last Rites to prepare a person for death, and the ancient ritual of preparing the body of the dead for burial and life in the hereafter.

And then there was the everyday ordinary. This ritual was central to the code of good manners for a host. Think about it.  Back then you didn’t know if those strangers walking down the road towards your tent might not be angels. So you better do something that would transform them from strangers into honored guests, right?  You provided oil for their their dry cracked feet and dusty, windblown hair.  You put out basins of water with a few drops of perfumed oil to wash their feet.  Just a few drops to freshen the air; one never wanted to be wasteful. The Torah was clear about that; just as it was clear what was the expected of the good host.

In our three stories today, we have a host, a guest, and the ritual. Three stories, three women, three different locations and times, and one opening scene. Jesus has been invited to dinner.

In the first two that take place the week before Passover and Jesus’ arrest, Jesus is in the homes of good friends: Lazarus, Mary and Martha; and Simon the Leper, forever identified by his disease that Jesus healed.  These were homes of friends and undoubtedly good hosts.  Even before our heroines enter the room with their alabaster jars of expensive perfumed oil, I’m confident that our guests have already washed their feet in basins of water.  Up to this point, everything appears kosher. It was when Mary and the unnamed woman at Simon’s house made the scene that the plot thickens.  Both women ignore the Torah’s admonishment to avoid extravagance.  Mary opens her jar holding an entire pound of nard, pure essential oil, estimated at the cost of a full years pay and pours all of it on to the feet of Jesus!  Then she rubs it into his feet and toenails and ankles.  The woman at Simon’s home pours a lavish helping of extravagant oil onto the head of Jesus and rubs it into his hair until it glistens in the candlelight of the darkening room.

It was for that over-the-top extravagance that both women were criticized soundly by the men in the house. And for good reason.  It did violate the Torah. Funny how Jesus paid no attention to that.  The first thing he told the men was, “Leave her alone. Why are you bothering her? ” He stopped the criticism on the spot and then addressed the true nature of what the women had done.

This was not a light-hearted welcome ceremony.  It was a transformational blessing on many levels. It was the ritual preparation for his death and burial.  It marked the end of his ministry on earth and his transition into rulership from a heavenly throne.  It sadly and profoundly marked the end of his physical presence among them.  Never again would they feel the warmth of his embrace.  Their relationship would be with a purely spiritual being.  I am also convinced that as a ritual of healing, Jesus was comforted in his own anxiety knowing what was to come.

And then we have a story from Luke.  This dinner party took place in the beginning of Jesus’ ministry. Jesus has been baptized, he’s enlisted his disciples, headed out to the countryside.  Before long, he is the newest superstar on the horizon.  Wherever he goes, there is a crowd of followers clamoring to hear what he has to say.  And standing on the edge of the crowds are the pharisees. They have come to watch and see.

One of them invites Jesus to his home to get a closer look. Jesus arrives and is seated.  Quietly, a woman with a rather sketchy reputation downtown, slips into the room. She stands behind him and begins to cry.

I’ve wondered over the years of reading this story, what triggered her tears.  Was it that the mere presence of Jesus was simply overwhelming?  Or if she could feel the chasm between her life and the darkness it had become in sharp contrast to the light and holiness of this man.  Maybe they were tears of remorse and shame, alienation and estrangement from her family and community.  Maybe it was helplessness rooted in a never ending despair.   What it was, in that moment, she realized she was not helpless!  She knew what she could do.  Remorse, guilt, and grief had given her the tears to wash the feet of this holy man.  She fell to her knees in front of him.  Filled her hands with her own tears and washed his feet, drying them with her hair, and kissing them and pouring perfume on them.

And then there was silence.

We know Jesus can read our thoughts, and he read the thoughts of the pharisee, “If this man were a prophet, he would know who is touching him and what kind of woman she is—that she is a sinner.”

In the ensuing heavy silence, Jesus turns and looks at the woman at his feet. When he speaks to the Pharisee, he doesn’t look at him.   Looking at the woman, he asks, “Do you see this woman?”

Now, that’s an interesting question. Do you see this woman? We all have our little private prejudices, don’t we? Those things that keep us from really seeing somebody. Maybe your prejudice is driven by status or the lack of it, by wealth or the lack of it, or the kind of job a person has or the lack of it.  Maybe yours is driven by lifestyle or attire, gender or race. I don’t know what yours is, but I do know this.  Prejudice forms a cloud over our eyes and it prevents us from seeing God’s holy creation standing right in front of us.  Instead, we see an object that we use to identify an entire group of people.  If a member of that group stands before us and we have labeled them, we have stripped them of their humanity.   Once a person is dehumanized, it justifies anything that we want to say or do or think about that person, without ever truly seeing them.

Jesus asks, “Do you see this woman?” And then he turns to the Pharisee and says “I came into your house. You did not give me any water for my feet, but she cleaned my feet with her tears. You didn’t give me a kiss, but she hasn’t stopped kissing me since the moment I walked in here. You didn’t give me any oil for my head, but she has poured perfume on my feet.”
Jesus made it clear to the Pharisee that it had not escaped his attention, that the Pharisee had done nothing to welcome him into the home.  He made no attempt to transform this visitor into a valued guest or friend.  Jesus knew exactly what was going on. He was not there to be a guest. He was there to be observed and evaluated for his usefulness or his danger to the established church.  After his blistering critique, Jesus delivered the coup d’etat “Therefore, I tell you, this woman’s many sins have been forgiven as her great love has shown.”   Unspoken, we hear the implication, “And yours have not.”

Through this ritual, the woman was transformed from a sinner to the forgiven, from the shunned to the loved.  Jesus gave us a clear statement of the relationship between love and forgiveness. Where there is love, we are capable of forgiving, and where there is forgiveness, love will thrive.

Now, these stories of transformation in the Bible don’t stop there.  With every baptism, babies, children, adults of all ages are transformed with the washing of water, the laying on of hands, the anointing with oil on the head, and the words, “You are anointed by the Holy Spirit and sealed as Christ’s own forever.” That’s transformation.

In many churches even today, we have healing services where people gather to pray for their own healing and the healing of loved ones.   In this quiet, prayerful service, the priest puts his hands on your shoulder, and says,” I lay my hands upon you in the name of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ that you may know the healing power of His Love.”

The laying on of hands transforms children into Christ’s own forever, confirmands into full members of the church, seminarians into priests, empty buildings into churches, and people like you and me into agents of transformation.  Isn’t that what we have all been called to become?  Here’s how we do it.  Start with the current accepted and practiced ritual of hospitality and transformation.  Introduce yourself and shake hands.

When you do, be aware of the powerful ritual of touch.  When you take that person’s hand, look at him.  Look at her.  Don’t look away.  Stay locked for a moment to make sure you see the person.  I don’t want you waking up in the middle of night hearing Jesus ask you, “Did you see that woman?  Did you see that man?”  Don’t let anything block your vision of God’s creation standing right in front of you.  Then speak words of welcome, whatever ones come to mind.  You can do it.  It’s that simple.

With this ritual of simple kindness and hospitality, with or without a basin of water and a little perfumed oil, we can transform strangers into friends, and friends into family and family into community, a Christ community where love and forgiveness, healing and acceptance live.  It may sound a bit daunting.  However, if those three women could do it back then, we can do it now!   And who knows? Maybe like the guests in the house of Simon the Leper, we too may hear Jesus say these words about us,  “Truly I tell you, wherever this gospel is preached throughout the world, what they have done will also be told, in memory of them.”  Now wouldn’t that be something!!  Amen

The Pursuit of Happiness

Psalm 1
Psalm 1: 1-6
Happy are they who have not walked in the counsel of the
wicked nor lingered in the way of sinners, nor sat in the seats
of the scornful! Their delight is in the law of the Lord, and
they meditate on his law day and night.

They are like trees planted by streams of water, bearing fruit in
due season, with leaves that do not wither; everything they do
shall prosper.  

It is not so with the wicked; they are like chaff which the wind
blows away. Therefore the wicked shall not stand upright when
judgment comes, nor the sinner in the council of the righteous.

The Pursuit of Happiness  

As a rule, we are a generally unhappy lot, are we not? 
If you don’t think so read on.

Today, the self-help industry promises untold numbers of
quick, cheap easy paths to happiness, while it nets around
$10 billion dollars a year.  And that is in the United States

Add to that, most people buying a self-help book will buy
another one within eighteen months, followed by workbooks,
classes, and videos.  And another self-help book!

We may be tempted to see this desperate search as the collateral
damage of a loss of purpose or meaning in life, caused by materialism,
 toxic political unrest, environmental toxins, global warming, or

Lest we do so, we must remember that brilliant thinkers including
 our Psalmist have been addressing this very topic throughout the
ages. Generously, they have provided us a wealth of happiness
theories, all having in common four basic tenets.

The first tenet in the search for happiness is to Know Yourself,
which is exactly where David starts in the first verse of the first
chapter of his extraordinary collection of wisdom, “Happy are
they who have not walked in the counsel of the wicked nor
lingered in the way of sinners nor sat in the seats of the scornful!”

Take your pick!  Which are you? One of the wicked? Or are you
one of those who take delight in the law of the Lord?  David makes
it clear that we are what we do and with whom we do it.  If we
linger in the halls with sinners, take advice from the wicked, and
place ourselves scornfully above others, we become what we do. 
We become one of those who are ultimately crushed by guilt,
unable to stand before God when the judgement comes; who are
as meaningless as chaff blowing in the wind.

So why would anyone consider wickedness as their path to
happiness? Because at first glance, the ways of the wicked
are seductive! They promise a short cut to happiness
with quick access to the desires of the heart.  Unfortunately,
not all desires of the heart are good.  Some are evil and
ultimately destructive!

Which brings us to the second tenet, Manage your Desires.  
We are encouraged in Ecclesiastes to pursue happiness, even
given directives! Here they are: Seize Life!    Eat Bread with
gusto! Drink wine with a robust heart! Relish life with the
spouse you love!  

The often-blunt writer of this controversial book explained,
“Each and every day of your precarious life is God’s gift.  It’s
all you get in exchange for the hard work of staying alive.
For there’s neither work to do nor thoughts to think in the
company of the dead where you’re most certainly headed.” 

He wanted the people of God to know that God takes pleasure
in the pleasures they enjoy from their hard work, not from
extortion. God also takes pleasure in the good sense his
people exercise when it comes to desires.  When desires are
evaluated far away from the dark halls of the wicked, and in the
light of moderation, they become our joys, not our addictions. 
Manage your joys well and you are on your way to happiness.

Tenet three: Take What is Yours.   Whatever is yours, own it.  
Take care of it, whether profession, home, relationships,
spouse, or children. Treat each precious possession responsibly,
always conscientious, faithful, and consistent.  When you do,
David promises you will be like trees planted by streams of water,
bearing fruit in due season, with leaves that do not wither. 
Everything you do shall prosper and you will have a good shot
at happiness on earth.

And finally, tenet four:  Remember in the end, you will die.  
When we keep that in mind, we keep the world in perspective. 
We don’t let possessions become obsessions; we don’t put
objects above relationships.  Rather, we make the law of
the Lord our delight.  With that, we are assured that when
we face judgment, we will stand before our Maker upright, in
confidence and great happiness.

It may appear that the pursuit of happiness is an odd topic to
ponder during the time of Lent.  Is this not a somber,
contemplative time as we walk the road to Golgotha with
Jesus?  Yes, it is.  So why pick Psalm One as a Lenten
scripture?  Perhaps, because its four-step path to happiness
is strikingly similar to how we do Lent.    

A sound Lenten discipline calls us to remember who we are!
Followers of Jesus, who gather in prayer and meditation to
focus on the word of God, who manage our desires in a way
that is unique to Lent, who take our journey seriously, and who
remember on Good Friday that we too will die in the end:  We are but dust and to dust we shall return.

Only of course, that is not where our story ends. For us as
followers of Jesus, we get Easter!  That day when we burst into
a resurrection of Happiness, when we join with a multitude of
believers, standing upright before God and singing joyfully,

“Jesus Christ is risen today!  Alleluia!  Alleluia! Amen and Amen!