What a big day we are celebrating, today. It’s so great to begin our fourth Sunday of Lent with a beautiful baptism and then end it with a marvelous feast. Lent is often a time to fast from the things that keep us away from God.
But as I reminded (B.) at Wednesday’s service each Sunday during Lent is considered a mini-Easter; we are given a day off from our fast to feast on the celebration of the season, and devour the many wonderful things Easter represents in our lives. Which is enough to make (B.) and I happy.
What about you? Do you want to be happy?
It seems like a silly question since happiness is the hunger that drives much of our lives. But it must be asked because we set our ambitions and goals by the level of happiness we expect to receive. In the relationships we seek, the hobbies we love, and professions we choose we put happiness high on our list of priorities.
The more I see of the world, the clearer it becomes that the desire for happiness is a universal goal. Whether we are rich or poor, educated or not, of one race, gender, religion or another, we all want to be happy…it’s in our nature. Social science to social media, it’s hard to escape the subject because happiness is so ingrained in our DNA.
In my father’s book “A Pediatrician’s Blueprint: Raising Happy, Healthy, Moral and Successful Children,” he asked parents this simple question: “What is it that you want for your children?” The most common answer he received was, “It doesn’t matter as long as they are happy.” He then asks them to define what this means to them. As the book points out, happiness can come in many forms; not just in love or success, but also in drugs, alcohol, food, money, and sex.
In spite of our best intentions our pursuit for happiness often leads us in the opposite direction. Too often the things we chase after are nothing more than a short-term release from the real struggles of life; perhaps even covering up deeper problems that we might be suffering from. And this is why it is critical we understand what real happiness is, and why we need it to seek it in order to truly live.
In keeping with our Lenten theme, Psalm 32 defines true happiness as standing firm in the promise of God’s forgiveness. It begins by declaring, “Happy are those whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered.” Notice it doesn’t say happiness comes from being important, accomplished or even optimistic. Instead true happiness comes from being reconciled back into a loving relationship with God.
Other versions of the bible, translate the Hebrew word “ashar” as “blessed” instead of “happy.” But don’t you think they are one in the same? How blessed are we, that we are so dearly loved by God that He takes all the junk in our lives, all the things we have done to hurt ourselves or others, and erases it all. By one blessed event on a brutal cross, our lives changed for the better.
Martin Luther named Psalm 32 among the greatest, for it offers us all an invitation to live a grace-filled life in response to divine forgiveness. But sadly, the church has historically used our sin to shame us, to keep us living in guilt instead of with joy.
I believe there is someone here who has gone through life carrying their shame from their past believing they’re not worthy of God’s forgiveness? Perhaps you don’t see yourself as truly blessed, muchless as beloved. When we tell ourselves we are not good enough, clean enough, or Christian enough to be so loved by God, then we are neglecting God’s grace. And, dare I say, denying Christ’s work on the cross. This only makes it harder for us to find real joy in our lives.
The psalmist calls us to break free of this bondage, by naming our wrongdoings. Rid ourselves of the guilt and shame and allow God to do what God does best…forgive us. Paul understood this gospel of grace all too well. He lived it daily. And preached it consistently. Even in his suffering…he could find joy. And so can we, by standing firm on the promise of Gods forgiveness that comes to us through Christ.
Christ is the new covenant of grace that marks God’s deep love and desire to be with us, no matter what sin we have done. Christ enters into our brokenness and fears. He sifts through the rubble of our shattered relationships. In the living waters of grace, he washes off all the dirt and grime that has clung to us. And then piece by broken piece, he puts us back together…in the way that God had always intended.
Jesus stood firm on the promise of God’s Words; he stood firm on the promise of God’s Faithfulness; he stood firm on the promise of God’s Grace; and on God’s Forgiveness. To be filled with true joy…Jesus invites us to do the same. Lent is a journey of faith that draws us towards a deeper and more meaningful relationship with God. If we want to be truly happy, then we do not want to miss out on the fullness of life that God offers, whether we think we need it or not.
(M.) is too young to comprehend the meaning of Easter or the true joy of her baptism. She doesn’t know the small outward sign of water I placed on her forehead is only a symbol that marks the inward promise of God’s grace within her. But what (M.) knows is this. When she is hungry, she cries out and is fed. And when her diaper is dirty, she cries out and is made clean. She trusts her parents and grandparents will meet her needs. Their love for her has the power to transform her sadness into happiness. So is the way of our heavenly parent who comes to us when we cry out.
God’s love for us existed well before we were born and will exist long after we have died. As we stand on the promise of God’s forgiveness, we stand in the covenant of God’s grace that existed long before creation. This divine mystery can be hard to understand. Yet we come to know it by the pure joy that fills our empty heart. God calls us all to claim redemption for ourselves and to share it as a reflection of God’s eternal love to the world.
If you so desire true happiness, if you feel the Spirit tugging on your heart then empty yourself before God and take a seat at the table of God’s love. Come and get your fill at this heavenly feast…given in remembrance of the sacrifice that was made for you and for me, for the forgiveness of our sin.
The Bible, NRSV. Psalm 32:1-11; 2 Corinthians 5:16-21.
Bartlett, David L, Barbara Brown Taylor. ed. Feasting on the Word: Year C, Vol. 2. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2009.
Macdonald, Donald I. A Pediatrician’s Blueprint: Raising Happy, Healthy, Moral and Successful Children. Petaluma: Roundtree Press, 2013.