I Deserve to Be Happy!

happyRomans 7:15-25a

Matthew 11:16-19, 25-30

I deserve to be happy.  I appreciate those around me, but sometimes I just need to do things for me.  It’s not that I am saying “to heck with everyone else,” but sometimes I have to get pretty close to it.  If people are going to be insensitive enough to keep me from being happy, then that’s just how it needs to be.  I have the God-given right to be happy and if others don’t like it, then they are just plain wrong.  Lot’s of people understand this, not the least of which was Michael.

Michael was troubled.  He couldn’t figure out what it took to make him happy.  Video games, watching YouTube on his iPhone, new clothes – nothing seemed to work.  The more he tried to be happy, the more angry he became because it almost seemed like people were getting in the way of his happiness.  If his parents didn’t buy him what he wanted, they were of course intentionally trying to keep him from enjoying life.  He deserved to be happy and who was anyone to say what he could or could not do to attain it?  So, he started acting out more and would seek attention from his peers, but it would usually end up in fights when nobody was paying him the attention that he so deserved.  So, he got negative attention instead.  He got mad at himself when he did foolish things, but it was usually someone else’s fault for making him mad.  He knew that he had to stand his ground, though, because happiness was his right and nobody should be allowed to deprive him of it.

This pattern continued and Michael quickly became labeled as a trouble-maker.  He always had a poor attitude and alienated people along the way in his search.  One day, during his sophomore year, he overheard the kids behind him on the bus talking about the girl with cerebral palsy that had her wheelchair strapped down in the back of the bus.  The girl, Lillian, never smiled and always looked sad until her mother came to the bus to help get her off at her home stop.  The kids were making fun of her and Michael was in the regular practice of spiting people, so he went back and sat in the seat across from her and said hi.  She seemed to be struggling with a piece of clothing, so he reached over and straightened it for her and took her hand.  He began talking to her and for the first time, he saw her smile.  Lillian’s mom was amazed when the bus got to her stop and her daughter was beaming.  The cerebral palsy made it nearly impossible for them to communicate, but somehow they figured it out and Lillian and Michael were laughing when the bus pulled up to her stop.  

Michael couldn’t believe it.  He couldn’t remember ever feeling so happy and it came not from seeking things that pleased him, but in doing something for someone else.  Something changed in him that day and he began volunteering with special needs children.  Lillian’s mom quickly developed a great appreciation for Michael and they continue to be friends.  Along with Michael’s great joy came an added bonus.  The school bus camera had recorded the initial encounter and Michael’s name was put in for an award for acts of kindness at a local TV station.  He was recognized on TV and tens of thousands of people were able to see what true and unmistakable joy looks like.  They were able to see that sometimes, what we’re looking for isn’t really what we’re looking for.

I recently heard on a podcast a philosopher and a mathematician.  They noted tongue-in-cheek that a philosopher is like a blind person looking for a black hat in a dark room; a mathematician is one who calculates the probability of finding it; and a theologian is one who is assured that he/she has found the hat.  I kept thinking about that all week and, at first, felt like I was trying to put a square peg in a round hole by using it in this sermon.  While I am probably most like the theologian (go figure), I would posit that there is a person who is missing from this illustration: the wise person.  Like Jesus speaking in Matthew 11, I think some people have the courage and sense to admit that perhaps it is not actually the hat that we are looking for.

In Romans 7, Paul is in a tizzy about what he keeps doing although he knows that there is a guide within him that, should he choose to follow it, would give him peace.  Unfortunately he seems unable to do this and drives himself crazy chasing something that seems beyond his grasp.  Even though it is attributed as spoken about 50 years before Paul penned his letter to the church at Rome, it is as if Jesus is answering him.  Who will save this wretch?  Jesus to the rescue!

Jesus appears to be telling his audience that they are like a bunch of attention-seeking kids.  These people think that they are wise and intelligent, but they are actually no wiser than babies when it comes to realizing what they need.  An infant doesn’t ask for toys or to watch particular TV shows.  An infant just needs its mother’s breast, attention from both parents, the touch of human skin, and the love of it’s parents to survive.  Children are raised to want stuff and develop a sense of entitlement that grows until there is so much junk that nothing could possibly satiate the need for whatever it is we think we need.  As adults, it is often the case that we aren’t any wiser than children.  Rather, we are just better at acting like kids because we’ve had more practice.  

Feel-good preachers will tell us on TV that prosperity is our right and all we have to do is claim it.  We can have our “Best Life Now” if we just trust that everything is going to be alright and maybe throw a few bucks in the kitty for good measure.  Maybe I’m missing something here (wouldn’t be the first time), but it seems to me like Jesus is telling us that, if we’re tired of running around chasing elusive dreams that aren’t ours to begin with and experiencing excruciating cognitive dissonance like Paul was, then we just need to sit, relax, and be.  Look at what Jesus did and do likewise and we will find God.  Our burden will be lightened, our souls will find rest, and in that being, we will experience the peace that surpasses all understanding.

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