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Love is Life

Sermons

The Means of Happiness

June 02, 2002

Bible Reading

Blessed is the man
     That walks not in the counsel of the ungodly,
     Nor stands in the way of sinners,
     Nor sits in the seat of the scornful.
But his delight is in the law of the Lord;
     And on his law does he meditate day and night.
And he shall be like a tree planted by the rivers of water,
     That brings forth his fruit in his season.
His leaf also shall not wither;
     And whatsoever he does shall prosper.

The ungodly are not so,
     But are like the chaff that the wind drives away.
Therefore the ungodly shall not stand in the judgment,
     Nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous.
For the Lord knows the way of the righteous;
     But the way of the ungodly shall perish.

(Psalm 1)

Reading from Swedenborg

In this Psalm the words "walk," "stand," and "sit," are used because each follows from the one before. "Walking" relates to the life of our thought from intention, "standing" to the life of our intention from the will, and "sitting" to the life of our will--which is life's being. Further, the "counsel" in which the person is said to walk relates to our thought, the "way," in which the person is said to "stand" relates to our intention, and "sitting in a seat" relates to the will, which is the very being of our life. (Apocalypse Explained #687)

Sermon

The Psalms are a very special section of the Word of God. In the Jewish Church they were not considered to have the same authority as the Law or the Prophets. They were bound together with other books referred to as the Sacred Writings.

As such, the Psalms were highly regarded by the early church. Because of their poetic form, and because at the beginning of many of the Psalms there are directions for musical accompaniment, the Psalms were used in worship much in the same way in which we use our Book of Worship and hymn book. If you look in our Book of Worship you will discover that many of the chants, anthems, and selections from the Word are from the Psalms. These we most often read responsively, but they have music in order that they could be sung.

Read or sung, the Psalms have a way of getting right to the core of our thoughts and feelings. On many occasions we may feel particularly good about something, and also often we may be troubled or just plain feel low. I have found that on such occasions the Psalms help me to put into words those particular feelings of joy or despair. And what is wonderful, the good feelings are enhanced, and the bad feelings are most of the time soothed. Perhaps the reason this happens is that whatever the feelings, the Psalms aid us in opening our inner self to the Lord.

While the Psalms may be more poetic, and thus different in style than the rest of Scripture, they are nevertheless very important to our well-being. They do indeed contain a continuous internal sense which on the highest plane involves the Lord's own life in the world, and on a lower level involves the feelings we have in our own regeneration, or rebirth process.

David the shepherd, to whom many of the Psalms are attributed says that the words are not his, but "the spirit of the Lord spoke by me, and his word was on my tongue" (2 Samuel 23:2).

The very first Psalm provides a wonderful assurance for a happy life, if we can learn to heed and trust in the promise it holds out to us. The first thing it brings to my mind is the passage from Micah: "What does the Lord require of you, but to do justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God" (Micah 6:8). Notice how the Scriptures often share a common theme, which is direction given to us in order that we may receive a joyful life. Everything in the Word seems always to refer to three very distinct planes of our one life: our love, our thought, and our deeds.

"Blessed," the Lord says. This is a word often read in the Scriptures. What is it to be blessed? The root meaning of this word in the Hebrew is "happy." What more is sought after in life than to be happy? Isn't all that we do in some way seeking after happiness? No one that I know of likes to be sad and downcast. As human beings, happiness and joy is essential for our well-being, and we all diligently pursue after it.

In this Psalm, the Lord provides us with some direction for real happiness and inner joy. But first, I think we have to say something more about our pursuit of happiness. We all know that as often as not, happiness as it is here described often eludes us. Many things that occur in our everyday circumstances bring unhappiness, at least temporarily. I think we all also know full well that there are many things about natural life that we must certainly have, or that we think we just cannot live without. Material things, prestige, power, recognition, are but a few. The only problem with these things is that most of the time we never get enough of them. Or we soon tire of them, and then we "have to" have other things. We get temporary gratification, but we do not find true happiness or contentment.

You see, the kind of inner happiness and joy the Lord speaks of does not happen instantaneously. It does not happen without soul searching and struggle. I am reminded of the Lord's words, "Gather for yourselves treasures of heaven" (Matthew 6:20). This is important; for you see, we all leave behind the things of this world--not just the material things, but also things like power and prestige. What we do take with us is who we are as a person. And who are as a person determines our inner happiness.

The direction for this inner happiness is found in the words of the Psalm. Blessed is the man (or person) who walks not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor stands in the path of sinners, nor sits in the seat of the scornful; but his delight is in the law of the Lord.

Sounds simple doesn't it? That is, until we try to determine what it is to walk in the counsel of the ungodly, or stand in the way of sinners, or sit in the seat of the scornful. Talk to any two people and you will get some very different ideas of what these things mean. As human beings, we are in some ways all in the same boat: simply struggling along life's road of regeneration. Being such, we have a tendency to want to justify our own actions. So one person--or one religious denomination, for that matter--may have very different ideas of what ungodliness or sin or scornfulness is. In saying this, I do not mean to imply that everything is up for grabs. Is this not why the Lord gives us the Commandments? The person who is to find real inner happiness and peace will delight in the law of the Lord.

The Commandments, like all other parts of the Word, certainly have deeper meanings within them; but the inner meanings are no more true than the surface meaning. The Commandments are basic laws of order, and anyone who reads them can understand them. To practice them all we need to do is to use them as a guide to examine our intentions, thoughts, and actions. If these cannot measure up to the law, then we will know what we must do. You see, the Commandments were not given to us to keep us in check, but to provide the means of being blessed.

Something else must be said about what we take with us after our life in the world. I will stand by what I said, but there is more. Being blessed, or having inner happiness, isn't reserved for a future reward--something we will get by and by, if we are good. It is something we develop and acquire through our everyday life in this world. Good or bad, we forge for ourselves the life we desire to live for eternity; and the groundwork is done in this life.

A story is told of a blacksmith in medieval times who was taken prisoner and thrown into a dark and dirty dungeon. There he would remain, his legs and arms chained to a wall the rest of his days. In desperation he examined the chains that bound him for some flaw that might make it easier for him to break the chains and escape. But immediately he realized that they were chains he himself had forged--and it had always been his boast that he could forge chains that no man could break.

In life we can wear chains that we ourselves have forged and are not easily broken, or we can pursue the life that the Lord wants to give us--the life that the Lord created us for.

The values we choose are important. We do have a choice; we are given the freedom to choose our priorities. But in doing so we should also pay close attention to the results of our choices. This, I think, becomes quite clear in this Psalm. "Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of the scornful. But his delight is in the law of the Lord."

Walking, standing and sitting are used in to Word to describe our life as it pertains to our actions, our thoughts, and our feelings or loves.

Walking corresponds to our actions. What do we actually do that enhances or restricts our life from the Lord? Do we treat people fairly and justly? Are we honest and forthright in what we do?

Standing corresponds to our life of thought and understanding: where does our life come from, and how we should live it? What is our understanding of spiritual values?

Sitting corresponds to the core of our life: the life of our loves. This is the real description of who we are, and of our relationship to our God. You might say, "What is our set purpose in life?" This is really what is meant when it is said that love is the life of a person; and its seat is in the will--the desires.

The end result for all who choose what the Lord gives for direction is likened to a tree that is planted by a river, bringing its fruit in its season. This is the same tree described in Revelation as the tree of life, with a root system that draws its life force from the river of God that flows continually from his throne. It is a tree that bears all manner of fruit (that is, goods) and whose leaves (that is, truths) are for the healing of the nations.

What beautiful imagery we are given of life as it can be for us if we use our God-given freedom to choose the spiritual priorities God offers us!

The Psalms do have a way of strengthening us in our purpose. We may sometimes doubt the certainty of principles we adhere to, but in the Psalms we also have encouragement. We may not be able to change the world, but we can make an impact on it. And we can do this with the Lord's help, as we seek to follow him. There is a very powerful and positive message here for us--something that can truly provide the happiness that we all seek after. Life can be truly blessed.

Prayer

Dear Lord, lead us away from walking in the counsel of the ungodly, or standing in the way of sinners, or sitting in the seat of the scornful. Plant us by the waters of your divine truth, so that we may meditate on your law day and night. Clothe us with the leaves of your truth, and fill us with fruits of goodness. Amen.

Rev. David Rienstra