Did you know that March 20th is International Happiness Day? I don't know who invented the holiday, maybe Hallmark card? It's certainly not on the list of holy days in any Christian calendar that I've ever seen. But how perfect for us Americans. Another day in the pursuit of happiness. How about buy-more-stuff day? Or Feel-good day? Or stuff-yourself-silly day? Here is a day dedicated not to any role model or meaningful issue but simply to the idea that you should be happy. Oh, and by the way, what do you do on international happiness day if you are grieving or sad or just in a bad mood? I guess that you should just crawl back in bed and pray for tomorrow?
The truth is that we have become a bit ill in our consumerist world. We have fallen prey to the myth that to be happy is the greatest goal in life. And even more than that, we have come to believe that you can buy happiness, or exercise it onto you somehow, or vacation into it. By golly, if you look good and you're beautiful then you will be happy! And worst of all, if by some reason all of this self-absorption and feelings-centered reasoning still leaves you moody, the implication is that there is something wrong with you. You should be happy! Our ads scream. MAKE YOURSELF HAPPY!! We have become plagued by The Happiness Illness.
Jesus said these words two thousand years ago. Up until this week, I ran away from these words because I didn't really understand them. He said, "those who love their life lose it and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life."
We are supposed to hate our lives? That just never sounded right to me. Our lives can be frustrating and sad and full of pain but to HATE them? Could that really be what Jesus meant when God created us and gave us life? Why would God want us to hate what he had made? It made no sense to me.
So I spent some time studying the Ancient Greek of the gospels. The word Jesus used is m-i-s-e-o. It is a word whose meaning is to hate in the sense of renouncing, to give up, to hand over.
Renounce. Let go. Reject...We are supposed to renounce our lives. And then Jesus is very specific by including three key words IN THIS WORLD. You are supposed to renounce or give up your life IN THIS WORLD and live for heaven, live for God, live for the life eternal...live for the real deal.
Have you ever thought about the symbol of our faith? A cross. They are everywhere in our world, on top of buildings and on graveyard stones, engraved in rings or suspended on a chain around a persons neck. The cross is the ultimate symbol of Christianty. How strange that a symbol of torture would embody a faith...the symbols of other religions are all more upbeat- a six-pointed Star of David, the crescent moon of Islam, a lotus blossom for Buddhism. And for us--an instrument of execution.
Would you put a firing squad on your business card? Wear a tiny electric chair around your neck? Suspend a gold hangman noose on your wall? Don't forget what a cross really is. It is a symbol of death.
The cross reminds us of what Jesus is talking about here. That we must be willing to die to ourselves, that our lives are not first and foremost about making ourselves happy.
My son Luke got his drivers license on Friday. And I am a nervous wreck. I want to hold onto him. I don't want him hurtling down the highway at 60 miles an hour. I don't want him to risk his life. I want him home. But he is going to drive. And I have to let go.
And if I don't let go and give him the freedom, he will not grow into the man that God wants him to be. I will crush him. I cannot hold onto his life any more than I can hold onto mine. I want him safe, I want him happy. But I must let him go and renounce all my motherly instincts, send him him out onto the highway of life.
When you wonder what to do with your life, most of us ask first and foremost if this thing will make us happy. Luke is already thinking about college about a career and people ask him all the time, "what do you want to do?" Not "what is God asking of you" but "what would make you happy?" No wonder our young people don't know what to do with their lives. We are asking them to pursue happiness and no one can make themselves happy.
What if we asked, first off, how can I serve God? How can I renounce my own pleasure and give it away instead? What does God ask of me? Where does the world need me?
Brad Dowling, neurofibromatosis...
Kimberly Ham, a reporter, did all kinds of research on how to make yourself happy. And guess what she found? It had nothing to do with your looks, your health, your money, or even your family situation. The number one thing that makes you happy is...giving.
GIVING. Do you mean doing something for someone else? Yes. The best way to make yourself happy is to try to make someone else happy. How ironic. How paradoxical.
In other words, you have to give up your life if you want to really live. You have to let go of making yourself happy and give your life away to be happy. Give your money. Give your time. Give yourself to things not because they will make you happy but because God needs you. The goal of your life cannot be your own gratification, that is a recipe for disaster. No, you must lose your life for God, give it all to God.
God really wants your help in this crazy, broken world. And it is the forces of darkness that distract us into thinking we can't do anything unless it makes us happy. Was Jesus always happy? Most of the time he was totally exhausted, actually. He fell asleep on boats and climbed mountains to get some peace. And I'm darned sure that he was not happy on the cross but that was the best thing that he ever did!
Things are changing. People are going to church now when it is convenient, just enough to make themselves not feel guilty, when they are not doing something like vacations and hobbies and sports and eating out. One lady came up to me on Christmas Eve in the receiving line and proudly announced, "I come here every year!"
It is easy to go to church for the purpose of making yourself happy. Did the sermon feed me? Did I feel moved? Was the music good? But none of these are the reasons to come to church. Christians have been going to church on the morning of the first day of the week for thousands of years because it is a concrete way of saying to God, "My life belongs to you. I put you first. I will worship you in the first hours of the first day of the week. I DIE to self and LIVE for you!"
I want you to combat The Happiness Illness. Don't buy into the myth. Your happiness is not the most important thing in the word. There is something so much more important and so much more meaningful and that is your salvation, your heart's growth, the journey of your soul.
The crowds have poured downtown for these basketball games. It is awesome. I wish people would pour into church that way. I wish our problems had to do with crowding and people screaming and lack of parking. What if we came to church with the same enthusiasm that we come to a game? Cheering for GOD!
You know, the evangelicals have something with that altar call. It gives people the invitation to hand themselves over to Christ, again and again and again. To hand your life over, hand over your happiness. You don't need to worry about your mood anymore. It is just not that important.
I told my evangelical friend something recently that I truly believe. We at the cathedral, we do an altar call every week. And everyone comes up. Everyone!
So when you walk forward to receive Christ's body and blood, hand over your very self. No more worry about the mindless chasing of happiness. No more cheering for the wrong team. Fight the Happiness Illness. Your first priority is no longer your own pleasure. Give yourself over to the mystery of the cross.