Midweek Lent 2 – 1 Corinthians 1:21-25
While walking through the parking lot of a store on Monday, after what I deemed a largely unsuccessful trip; a woman sitting in a parked car called my attention, and said: ‘Do yourself a favor, and have a good day’.
To be honest, I have no idea who the woman was or what she was talking about.
However her statement does exude a perception in society: it is illegal in the world today, punishable by the incessant nagging of others, not to be happy all the time.
If you are not happy at any moment, for any reason, there is a greeting card available to cheer you up. If you have even the slightest bit of blue in your day; there is a drug to make you feel better. If you are not happy for whatever reason for whatever length of time; society is going to do anything and everything to make you happy; whether you like it or not. Laws will be changed to make people happy; lives will be altered to accommodate the potential happiness of others; and people who dare to disrupt the happiness of others, will be the scorn of society.
This desire to see everyone happy even extends to death. Death is not a part of our original design; death is a direct consequence of sin; death is often gruesome and painful; and yet, what does society tell us? Be happy. Funerals are called ‘celebrations’; mourners are told to control themselves; happiness is demanded, otherwise you should expect a greeting card, or a pill, or a stern lecture telling you to cheer up.
It only makes sense than, that if you are told to be happy outside of church, that you should be told to be happy when you are inside of church. People come to church happy, and are supposed to leave even happier than when they walked in.
What makes you happy in church?
Uplifting hymns make you happy. Learning a new hymn is hard, and might make someone unhappy; and as for those familiar hymns, the ones in minor keys have all been banished.
Sermons are supposed to have golden nuggets for daily living; and if someone is spoken against in the sermon, it had better be someone who is not present, or better yet, someone who does not exist at all. The sermon should never leave you disappointed, and if it does, well shame on the preacher who failed to make you happy.
Lent is complicated in making people happy, because Lent is by definition not happy; so of course, nobody likes that; so what have we done? Well, we emphasize that the Sunday’s during Lent, which is about the only time most people observe Lent anyway, are not really part of Lent; so they are Sunday’s in Lent, not Sunday’s of Lent; so on Sunday it is ok to break the Lenten fast; it is ok to be happy; Lent is really about the other six days of the week when no one is paying attention.
Church has become just another avenue for making people happy. Do not talk about actual sins, as that might offend. Do not sing hymns that are slow and have a lot of verses, as that might hamper the joy. Do not refuse anyone of anything, as that might mean that they will not be happy.
And after all, doesn’t God want you to be happy?
Doesn’t God want you to feel good about yourself? Doesn’t God want you smiling and happy?
But that is the devil speaking there. He comes to you, just as he came to Eve, and asks you a question that makes perfectly good sense: Did God really say that? Did God really say that you must not eat of the tree lest you die? Doesn’t God want you to be happy?
As it turns out, the devil is a drug dealer; and the drug he is selling is more harmful than crack or meth or any of the other drugs you might find on the streets. The devil is selling emotional responses, particularly happiness.
The devil comes to you and says that life, especially your spiritual life, should be a happy one. When you leave church, you should leave church happy; and if you are not happy, than something is wrong with the church, and you need to leave; because after all, doesn’t God want you to be happy?
So if the sermon and the music and the liturgy do not make you happy, go someplace else.
But here is the trick: once you get hooked on drugs, it is harder and harder to get high, and you need more and more drugs to get high. The worship service that makes you happy this week is not going to work next week; next week you need a bigger dose, a bigger show, to get you back to that high.
Now you can do that for a couple weeks, maybe even a year, but eventually, even the biggest churches can only do so much. There are only so many bells and whistles the church has at its disposal, whether liturgical or contemporary, to make you happy. Pastors only have so many touch the sky sermons in their pockets.
And when the church can no longer provide that happiness fix, you go somewhere else for your drugs. The secular world is far more able to produce uplifting music and motivational speeches to entertain and make you happy.
That is where the devil wants you: in the world, getting your fix from patriotism, from politics, from sports, from self-help gurus, from dealers selling everything but the one true God of heaven and earth.
Which brings us back to that one true God of heaven and earth; what does He want?
As it turns out, God does not want you to be happy; nor does He want you to be sad or angry. God provides for you, He cares for you, He wants a great many things for you, but one emotion over another is not necessarily one of them. As a Christian, you may be happy; and there is the promise of everlasting joy in eternal life, but life on this earth does not have to be a happy one in God’s eyes.
What God wants is for you to be faithful. God wants you to be faithful to His Word, which declares that while there may be happy days, and while there will definitely be sad days, God is always present with His Word and with His gifts.
For when you enter the doors of the church, and confess that you are a poor miserable sinner, who cannot free yourself, you will hear the words of the absolution spoken, that your sins are forgiven by the precious blood and the innocent suffering and death of Jesus.
God wants you to be faithful in coming to His altar and receiving the body and blood of Jesus given and shed for you for the forgiveness of your sins.
God wants you to remember your baptism, and to daily live in the comfort and the assurance that you are His chosen and beloved child.
What does that mean?
It means some days you will walk out the doors of the church and be unhappy. It means hearing that your actions are indeed not in accord with God’s Word, and that your actions nailed Jesus to the cross. It means that sometimes, people will see you and wonder why you are not happy like everybody else.
If you are happy, that is great; but God does not need you to be happy; He needs you to be faithful. You can be happy and faithful; but you can also be sad and faithful; and you can be a host of other emotions and you can be faithful.
For if you are faithful, than you will experience the joy and happiness that God desires for you in His eternal kingdom for all time, in the presence of Christ.