Heresy of Happiness and Bum of God!
Two weeks ago I stood up here and made you all do Yoga for a call to worship… and we are going to do a different style today…
I also challenged y’all to pick the hardest topic you could think of for today’s sermon. I got a few recommendations (adultery, sex, money, etc…) but two stood out in particular.
First, was in regards to a joke I made about ‘Heresy…’ “I’m sure that joke was funny,” this lovely individual said (no naming names) “I just wish I would have known what Heresey was. You should teach about that?
The second was a little simpler… or sounded that way…
“Preach about something happy!”
After a little pondering amidst a soundtrack of not so happy rhetoric around some not so joyous topics flooding this week’s airwaves, I came to the conclusion that the most difficult topic in our faith tradition may indeed be that of happiness…
Happiness, it seems, is almost heretical! So today I took upon the challenge of intertwining the two… hence get ready for Rev. Ryan’s attempt at demystifying the “Heresy of Happiness!”
A tell tail sign of that we need some practice in joyousness can be found at Yoga Studios around town where the newest trend is laughter Yoga… we have to pay and be taught how to laugh!
PRAYER FOR ILLUMINATION:
If you have come to this service craving laughter, may you find it.
If you are here to be offended, may your ire rise and your blood boil.
If you hunger for adventure, may this time be one of blissful escape.
If you entered this sanctuary battling doubts, may you reach comfortable conclusions; and if you came with too much certainty, may your beliefs be tested…
We come to this space with voids to be filled, questions to be answered, fears to be tamed, and love to be multiplied. Let the our time together today lead us closer to the abundant life we crave. Let us leave today one step closer to perfection.
Old Testament Reading:
Exodus 3:14- God said to Moses, “I AM WHO I AM. This is what you are to say to the Israelites: ‘I AM has sent me to you.’”
Old Testament… Continued: Exodus 3:17-22
And the Lord said to Moses, “This very thing that you have spoken I will do, for you have found favor in my sight, and I know you by name.” Moses said, “Please show me your glory.” And he said, “I will make all my goodness pass before you and will proclaim before you my name ‘The Lord.’ And rI will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy. But,” he said, “you cannot see my face, for man shall not see me and live.” And the Lord said, “Behold, there is a place by me where you shall stand on the rock, and while my glory passes by I will put you in a cleft of the rock, and I will cover you with my hand until I have passed by.
Sermon: (if you want to call it that…)
For our Gospel reading today we turn to our tried and true friend John who says…
“Christianity will go, it will vanish and shrink. I needn’t argue about that.”
Geez! Heretical off the get go! If that didn’t wake up any daydreamers passively padding our Presbyterian pews this morning nothing will!
“I don’t know which will go first, rock ‘n’ roll or Christianity… We (the Beatles) are more popular than Jesus now.”
If you ever infused with a playful spirit while meandering by one of those megaphone-ministers atop a street-corner soapbox or bored by a commonplace congregational coffee-hour conversation, simply proclaim those prophetic words of the late John Lennon, declaring yourself “more popular than Jesus,” and hang on for the ride!
Honestly, given Christianity’s decades of decline following Lennon’s heretical hiccup, maybe we need to re-open the old ‘Gospel of John’ and take advice instead of offense.
In his defense, Lennon’s slightly derogatory dirges were not directed towards Jesus (he went on to acknowledge, “Jesus is ‘all right.’ )
Instead they were a jab at the past and present disciples whom he labeled “thick and ordinary.”
Lennon was far from the first to poke fun at us prescriptive pew people. He just happened to have a couple billboard hits to amplify his voice.
Centuries before the like-minded Saint Thomas Aquinas addressed the same ‘thickness’ when he wrote:
“It is against reason to be burdensome to others, showing no amusement and acting as a wet blanket.”
In this discourse labeled “the Pleasantness of Witty Gaiety” the Catholic Priest provides a playful message for generations of Christians, united in the sinful act of taking ourselves too seriously.
“Those without a sense of fun who never say anything ridiculous,” says the wise saint, “are cantankerous with those who do. They are vicious and are to be called grumpy and rude.”
Well when did we grow grumpy?
Show of hands… who looks forward or pays more attention to the children’s sermon than the ‘grown up’ version.
No condemnation here y’all, the kids are often much more fun… and way wiser!
Calling the kiddos to his side, Jesus spoke to the masses, ‘Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.”
I called the kids to my side earlier and asked what they wanted to be when they grew up to which dreams filled with optimism, hope, excitement were shared.
“When I was 5 years old, my mother always told me that happiness was the key to life.” wrote our Beatling buddy Mr. Lennon.
“When I went to school, they asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up. I wrote down ‘happy’. They told me I didn’t understand the assignment, and I told them they didn’t understand life.”
If Jesus is indeed ‘alright,” why do we seemingly ignore this call to childhood gaiety and focus instead on ‘thick’ messages like Paul’s call to the church of Corinth, to ‘put away childish ways.’
Given the Gospel’s gloss over the playful years of our Messiah’s youth and dive into detailed narrative of the crucifixion, the plethora of strained Pauline or prophetic calls to suffrage, an Old Testament packed with lineage lists, laws, and locust plagues, Sundays satiated with prescriptive pew-practices, and a secular society’s recent rampage of racism and rioting… we start to see just how ‘happiness’ has been tinted by a hue of heresy in our Christian tradition.
A bit of etymology will help us understand (and add a little irony) to that statement.
The word ‘heresy’ carries a rather negative connotation, misdefined as rebellious, sinful, or blasphemous… (Lennon’s earlier remarks picked up a few of these adjectives) However, heresy simply means ‘to chose,’ thus a heretic is quite simply ‘one who choses.’
The word is ‘Epicuric’ in Greek vernacular and derived from the name ‘Epicurious,’ the 3rd century bc philosopher famous for his teachings that the purpose of life was found through enjoying it to the fullest. Blasphemy! That sounds far too pleasant!
Sidetone: skeptics often condemn Epicurious’ for not being Christian… but can you really use that against someone who lived 3 centuries before Jesus?
You may be familiar with the adjective, Epicurean, as it is used to describe aesthetically rich or abundant food and art…
This may be where the true Gospel of John aligns with Lennon’s…
“I came so that they may have life, and have it in abundance.”
Christ didn’t come so that our hearts would beat, he came so that we may live… Its the life that Lennon’s grade school teachers the didn’t understand.
Here in America the ‘pursuit of happiness’ is a right and for Epicurious it was indeed a ‘choice’ we were responsible to make… but for such a simple word it sure is hard to figure out what we are pursuing or choosing?
Maybe because all that time we spend dissecting, defining, pursuing and perusing the idea of happiness keeps us from simply experiencing it.
The root of the word ‘happy,’ ‘Macaros,’ or ‘blessed’ as used throughout the new testament, is one of two words for ‘time.’
‘Chronos’ refers to the minutes your counting wondering how long I’ll babel before we get to go enjoy a sunny Sunday afternoon.
‘Cairos,’ on the other hand, references an ‘undefinable & unquantifiable’ instant of substance in life.
Happiness, Macaros, is undefinable and only experienced when we disconnect from the Chronos, the temporal and worldly, and get lost in the pleasures of the present…
‘Cairos’ is the time of eternity.
For as Epicurious’ philosophical successor Ludwig Wittgenstein wrote, “Heaven (happiness) is given to those who live in the present.”
This shouldn’t sound strange to a people who pray weekly that the will of God preside “on earth as it is in Heaven.”
Nor should the call to be present seem outlandish in a society where ‘mindfulness’ books fill the self-help and spirituality sections of the library.
Thus, Epicureans, those happy heretics, may agree with ancient rabbonic labels imposed upon them as ‘those who do not have a share in the world to come, because their pursuit of happiness was dependent on detaching from thoughts of the world to come so as to soak up the fullness of the present.
In ancient times philosophers were often also physicists (they bunched together everyone who spoke with large goofy words so the rest of us didn’t have to listen to em I guess.)
Epicurious was actually a pretty profound (and as true to his character, controversial) physicist at the precipice of the metaphysical movement and molecular biology.
Mention metaphysics in church and we think of people swinging crystals around cultish circles, but meta (beyond) physics (physical matter) is really the foundation of faith.
Bored by the academy of traditional philosophy, Epicurious started a school of his own based on the pursuit of pleasure and acknowledgement of free will.
For a classroom he chose a flower garden… it’d be hypocritical to sit in stuffy rooms on uncomfortable chairs when conversing about the beauty of life.
His teachings defended philosophy with physics in taking a contrarian stance on ‘free will’ and religious regiment.
While his predecessors theorized about atoms in a way that depicted life and existence in terms of rigid molecular building blocks, Epicurious saw something unique.
A phenomena deemed the “swerve.”
He theorized that occasional unpredictable atomic ‘swerves’ opened doors for change, newness, and excitement.
Thus after a longwinded detour, we finish up by looking at the Israelites swerve from pharaoh that provides the setting for today’s readings from the book of Exodus…
“Tell me your name” said Moses, needing to define the divine and prove to the Israelites his own authenticity.
“I am who I am,” declared the Lord…
And we took this literally.
Whereas, God was basically saying, don’t worry about labeling me for the people, just go be with them and share my spirit, we decided to focus on the words ‘I am,’ Yahweh, to the point that Jews still hold the name too sacred to pronounce.
“Show me your glory,” Moses continued some 30 chapters and many exodus miles later.
And the Lord said to Moses, “This very thing that you have spoken I will do… I will make all my goodness pass before you and you will proclaim the name, ‘Lord.”
Again we went literal… “A physical figure is going to float by and we are to label it Yahweh.”
The Hebrew actually suggests more of a sarcastic connotation from God who continues, “You cannot see my face, for man shall not see me and live…”
“I’m here, right infront of you already… but because your so focused on a confined image you limit your ability to see and experience me.”
We cannot truly experience God while attached to the physical world… Gods beyond, meta, the physical.
Our focus on the physical conceivable God is fine for those who see life as a heartbeat, but again Jesus declares, we are called to live a life of abundance.
I told them I want to be happy… they told me I didn’t understand the question. I told them they didn’t understand life.
You see, Lennon, Epicurious, Jesus and Aquinas were talking about a different life. An abundant life.
Depression is common in this life, I personally dance with it at least once a week. Its not leprosy… its reality…
So happiness? Truly seeing God? Experiencing the Divine? Fulfillment? Whats the formula?
Epicurious’ idea that life is about pleasure is so controversial because we see it through worldly lenses…
The philosopher actually condemned selfish pursuits of momentary bliss, saying “Single-minded pursuits are always self defeating (seeking pleasure for pleasure’s sake is empty.) Those who focus on the pursuit of pleasure as reward will never reach it.
We live in a society based on the pursuit of happiness and the many means through which we pursue or define it (60+ hour weeks, big homes, fancy cars, the 200 channels on our TV, letters before our name) so often shade our eyes from experiencing the simple and divine happiness passing right infront of our faces.
I struggled a lot with this sermon and made it obnoxiously wordy and overly philosophical on purpose as a demonstration of our absurd analysis of something which should be simple.
Yesterday, after staring (unhappily) at a pathetic computer screen all morning I decided id go surfing to clear my head. Id catch that perfect wave and WALA!
I’d not only find my missing happiness, but be able to put it into a sermon!
Perfect wave, clean and overhead… perfect placement… Paddle, Paddle, Paddle… feeling the water take hold the board I jumped to my feet as the wave started to curl. This was it! My wave!
But a chunk of sea kelp disagreed, launching me into a dizzying stream of somersaults that culminated with a nose full of saltwater and soggy ego.
I sought the perfect wave, it was how i defined happiness; however, no matter how good a ride i could have had, it would never match the blissful joy and divine message of a good wipeout!
The heart of today’s passage lies in a verse that always seems to get overlooked…
This passage has been used for centuries to emphasis our inability to see God; however, our creator may have had a more playful prerogative!
“After I pass by I will take away my hand, and you shall see my back!”
You can seek perfection and await the face of God, but be prepared, Yahweh has a sense of humor…