A New Song “Happiness of Heart”
“Happiness of Heart- A New Song” sermon for 2/17/19 at Harbor Church
“Are you Happy?” my wife Carrie asks me that question every so often. It used to bug me. A lot. I used to think to myself, “Happiness is not one of my goals in life” and “Life is serious business . A- life is not about the pursuit of happiness!” “Humpf!” But it made me think. “Why does that question bother me so much? – Is it because it seems frivolous, or is it that I don’t’ think I deserve to be happy?” or is it something else?
Faith and Asceticism. There are some faith traditions that seem to teach that you aren’t a good practitioner of religion unless you are miserable. Some people flagellate themselves over sin. Literally. Stoicism influenced Christian theology. Creeds taught us that God was dispassionate, and unemotional and so his people should strive for this also. In the history of the first church I served, there was an account of a great controversy about whether or not to heat the sanctuary!
Puritans in colonial America lived a harsh, ascetic life. And there are probably still some churches around that prohibit dancing and playing card games.Pleasure was confused with sinful passions and indulgence. But pleasure is not the same thing as carnal desire. Pleasure in fact, comes from God and is a good thing when expressed appropriately.
Author John Piper has written two whole books on the subject. The first is called, The Pleasures of God- It is a treatise on what causes God pleasure. It asserts that God finds delight in what he has made; in his creation, and in interacting and relating to and with everything that he has formed for his own pleasure. Remember the end of the Genesis account of creation? “God looked at all that was made, and behold, it was VERY GOOD!” Well, almost everything. There were probably a few things that he wasn’t happy with- “This avocado pit is way too big” or “This turnip tastes terrible- St. Peter, go bury it” Then someone dug it up and cooked it for Thanksgiving dinner. Or Kale- no one eats just kale they talk about how delicious it is when you bury the bitter taste with tons of spices . All kidding aside, God is happy with what he has made, and he formed all that has been made for his own delight. Piper’s second book is even more provocative: its title is Desiring God: Meditations of a Christian Hedonist. He supports his premise with Bible verses like “Delight yourself in the Lord and he will give you the desires of your heart” and Psalm 16:11 “You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.” Our readings today reflect this as well: “Sing for joy to the Lord” and “Make melody to God in our hearts”. Ephesians likens the happiness we can find in God to the good feelings that wine can produce. Drunkenness, he says is no good, but in the same way that a drink can bring a mellow sense of well-being, even mild euphoria, being filled with the Spirit of God can put a song of gladness in our souls, a melody to the tune of a ‘happy heart’. He describes music and specifically singing as a natural outpouring of this God-given gladness.
BUT, you don’t have to be able to sing to make music to God and melodies in your heart. First of all, not all of us can sing well. Or at least, Some of us prefer to sing SOLO (so low that no one else can hear us) or we like to sing TENOR (ten or twelve miles away from the nearest pair of listening ears. Of course this can be uniquely difficult when you live on an island only 7 miles long!!! But what if people could hear the joyful noise that we are making… What would it sound like?...-à a Melody of the heart doesn’t have to be composed of musical notes or played on an instrument. There are as many different ways to make melodies of the heart as there are people in the room.
Think for a moment about all the different Creative expressions of worship through art – Through the ages, people have celebrated their relationship with God through sacred paintings, music, poetry, drama, and dance. In music we think of Bach’s sacred Cantatas, and Handel’s Messiah. Paintings of the Last Supper by DaVinci and The Ascension by Raphael. The depiction of the creation account on the Sistene Chapel by Michealangelo. And in architecture Cathedrals have been designed to lift up people’s focus and spirits upward, to the heavens, to promote the praise and adoration of God. The Oxford Handbook tells us that dance has been a part of religious ceremonies since pre-historic times. Throughout all time artists have found artistic expression of worship for them as individuals, and it has also inspired countless others in adoration of the Lord. At the funeral for our friend Willis Dodge on Friday, I observed a woman gazing up at the stained glass in the St. Andrews Catholic church, and she had a rapt expression on her face; as if she was being transported through that window into the light of God’s very presence.
- Bu it isn’t only accomplished artists who are able to find creative .ways to celebrate God in their life. Creativity is not the purvue of artists along, and they don’t have to have a ‘corner on the market.’ The Psalmist says if you can’t sing, make joyful noise! Even artisans working with their hands can do so as an expression of worship. Creativity can be an expression of God’s image in us. We can’t all be painters, or singers, or dancers or sculptures or poets. But we CAN all be creative in the ways we express a celebration of God’s reality in our lives. And as we discover new and different ways to express our praise and gratitude for God, happiness and joy can well up in our souls and overflow into the lives of those around us.
The trick is to figure out your what your own melody is , and then to make joyful noise with it. What ‘instrument’ has God given you to play? It might be darning needles or a weavers’ loom. But it could also be a drafting table or a surveyor’s transit. It could be a sports or fitness activity. We can use the same creative approaches that we take in problem solving and apply our mind and hearts to finding fresh new expressions in our ways of relating to God. This morning in our children’s adventure hour Jamie is showing our young ones how to use their body positions to invite the light of God into their hearts, to open themselves up to God’s blessings. A chainsaw can be used to cut down trees for lumber, but it can also be used to create a sculpture from a tree trunk. A campfire can be built simply to produce heat, but it can also produce warmth of heart as we gaze into its flame and embers. Liking falling into the right cadence when we hike or stride, or finding the perfect rhythm as we paddle a canoe or kayak, any activity we engage in can afford us an opportunity to invite God in, or to enjoy God’s presence in the company of others. We can find joy in cooking a fine dinner for friends, find happiness in being able to bless them with a delicious meal at the same time that we meet their basic needs for nutrition.
Happiness of Heart can be found anywhere, doing anything.
Any routine daily activity we can engage in can also be transformed into a means for worship, for drawing nearer to God and experiencing the gladness of heart that can result.
Not only that, but any place can become a sanctuary where we can find happiness of heart because we know that the Lord is there with us. Author Barbara Brown Taylor has written a book called, An Altar in the World: A geography of faith. In it, she asserts that all of life can be a holy celebration, full of gladness and pleasure if we only pay attention to the possibilities. Here is what she says: read highlighted excerpts from p.9-12.
“[What is saving my life] What my life depends on today is the conviction that there is no spiritual treasure to be found apart from the bodily experiences of human life on earth. My life depends on engaging the most ordinary physical activities with the most exquisite attention I can give them. My life depends on ignoring all touted distinctions between the secular and the sacred, the physical and the spiritual, the body and the soul. What is saving my life now is becoming morefully human, trusting that there is no way to God apart from real life in the real world.
In a world of too much information about almost everything, bodily practices can provide great relief. To make bread or love, to dig in the earth, to feed an animal or cook for a stranger—these activities require no extensive commentary, no lucid theology. All they require is someone willing to bend, reach, chop, or stir.
[and here’s the crux of her writing] Most of these tasks are so full of pleasure that there is no need to complicate things by calling them holy. And yet these are the same activities that change lives, sometimes all at once and sometimes more slowly, the way dripping water changes stone. In a world where faith is often construed as a way of thinking, bodily practices remind the willing that faith is a way of life.
. Whoever you are, you are human. Wherever you are, you live in the world, which is just waiting for you to notice the holiness in it. So welcome to your own priesthood, practiced at the altar of your own life. The good news is that you have everything you need to begin.”
For greater spiritual felicity, Each of us needs to find our own ways to make melody in our hearts or joyful noise with others: Sometimes, it’s a personal melody, or a rhythm we can fall into in solitude.
At other times it can be found in harmonizing with others; in shared activities in the company of others that bring delight to our hearts and joy to our souls…
So what is your song? What melody can you make to make your heart glad and to draw you nearer to the Lord? Write it, practice it, the make it into a joyful noise that bursts forth from the top of your lungs to the bottom of your soul.
The melody of our hearts can make us glad, and ultimately our gladness can be so contagious that it attracts other people to seek the God in whom we find delight as well.
So go out there and find a new song, your song, and sing it out loud. Or simply Make joyful noise with the melodies inside your heart, and allow them to bursts forth in expressions of pleasure and joy that produce happiness of heart in your own life, and inspire gladness in the lives of all those around you.