The Pursuit of Happiness…

Childrens Sermon (yeah the Children’s message might be harder to follow… but its only a few lines:)

Isaiah 40:31 “But those who wait on the Lord Shall renew their strength; They shall mount up with wings like eagles, They shall run and not be weary, They shall walk and not faint.”

Isaiah listed some examples of what happiness feels like, what are some others?

What can you buy that would make you happier?

What do you buy it with?

Take a crisp new dollar, how much is it worth? 

… crumple it, dirty it, tear it and magically, people still want it.  Even though its been beaten and looks sad, its still worth 100 cents. 

Whats the value of a human?

What about a pro baseball player?    CEO of Apple?   Teacher?     Homeless guy on the corner?       Wheelchair?

Flip the ‘In god we trust…’ to Isaiah’s, ‘those who ‘wait/trust’ on the lord…


For score, seven years,… and some 2 millennium ago, our forefather sent his son into the world; fully human, fully divine, to share a love and forgiveness that would free us from the chains of fear, anger, and hatred… the so-called shackles of ‘sin.’    

This love was spread equally over all men (woman and child) each created in the image of, by the hand of, and carrying the spirit of the divine.

Today, as in many yesterdays, we find ourselves amidst a certain civil war… called to reflect that unconditional love and liberty bestowed upon us as a nation, a people, a flock, a community of disciples and apostles.  

We can not dedicate — we can not consecrate — nor can we hallow this ground, this sanctuary…. 

For the Church is more than a building, its a people, an experience, that embodies the brave saints and martyrs, living and dead, who have given their lives to sanctify it. 

The world (of which we are ‘in’ not ‘of’) can be a tumultuous battle ground, and though its people may little note, nor long remember what we say here today, let us claim our freedom and proclaim our faith!

It is for us, the living, rather to be dedicated to the great task remaining before us — that from the honored and crucified – we take increased devotion to that cause for which many have given their last full measure of devotion — 

We highly resolve the dead shall not have died in vain — that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom — and that the CHURCH of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.  

That we all, housed and homeless, LGTB and/or Q, Democrat or republican, Jew/Christian/Muslim/Rastafarian and/or agnostic, able and ‘dis’-abled, black/white and/or red, blue and/or rainbowed… join together in worship so to bring forth the kingdom, on Earth as it is in Heaven…. 

As endowed by our Creator, we celebrate the certain unalienable Rights of Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

Nothing like a little paraphrase the old Gettysburg Address to get things kicking on a Sunday morning eh??!!

Let it be known, of the list of ‘things I don’t like to speak about on Sunday’ (right between adultery and tithing,) would be anything political (past or present)…

…Given the political tension, id love to live out the old notion of separation of church and state… not to mention,  when I think of happiness, the government aint what first comes to mind!

I usually try to avoid falling victim to trendy holiday reflections as well… but it’s too easy to feign the freedoms of the 4th after the firework filled festivities and flags fade away… thus im gonna break my Self-imposed reverend Rules and dive into the red, white and blue flags of the season…

…ideally with an err of inclusivity that throws in the rainbow hues of the previous month, June (known now as diversity month…) and maybe some the international colors flying at the world cup.

Keep that ‘self-imposed rule’ statement in the back of your mind today as we dance with the theme of ‘slavery,’ because if your anything like me, we are most enslaved by ourself.

All said, I decided to take this Sunday to reflect on ‘ol independence day, because even though firework smoke has cleared; radio ramblings of refugee, religious, and race relations (or lack there of) still remain and remind us that, though Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness were exemplified some 2000 years back by a sandal clad messiah, declared 242 years ago by our friend Thomas Jefferson, and reiterated 4 score and 7 after that by Lincoln…  we still have some ‘pursuing’ to do!!!!

Quick fun facts and History lessons…

-Since 1776, there have been approximately 120 declarations of independence made by different countries and different peoples… and many more before us!

-The prolific battle of Gettysburg (the deadliest battle, but also the turning point for union)   took place on July 1st-3rd of 1863 & inspired Lincolns Address on November 19, 1863, reiterating the theme of the pursuit of happiness in regards to our liberty and liberation (165 years and still counting…)

We’d freed ourselves from the grips of England only to enslave and then go to war with one another.

-The ‘Separation of Church and State’ (or the attempt at such) I’d earlier alluded comes out of Jefferson’s letter to the Danbury Baptist Association in 1802 where he writes:

Believing with you that religion is a matter which lies solely between Man & his God, that he owes account to none other for his faith or his worship, 

that the legitimate powers of government reach actions only, & not opinions, I contemplate with sovereign reverence that legislature should ‘make no law respecting an establishment of religion,

 or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,’ thus build a wall of separation between Church and State. 

Many think the separation was to keep religion out of politics… but actually, the goal was to keep the govt from muddying up the church!    

Jefferson, a deist (one who believed in a detached God that sent the world to motion and stepped out of the chaos thereafter), saw immense value in the ethical lessons of Jesus for the government and society… so much so that he scribed his own bible!

Considering the teachings of Jesus as having “the most sublime and benevolent code of morals which has ever been offered to man,” but seeing that the purity of his teachings of had been appropriated by some of Jesus’ slightly dense past and present observers, Jefferson saw the resulting Bible contained “diamonds” divine of wisdom, tainted by the “dung” of ancient political agendas.

(Hence the separation thing).

Thus Jefferson composed The Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth(the “Jefferson Bible”), which excluded any miracles by Jesus and stressed his moral message…

Turning the gospels into beautifully dry ethics documents…  seeking to promote the pursuit of happiness, but by striping away the bliss, wonder, awe, and hope of, ‘happiness.’

What Jefferson missed was that its the miracle that makes life worth living!

  Thomas Jefferson adamantly avoided defining happiness… as an empiricist, emotions are undefinable and Jefferson saw happiness as a ‘feeling’ only achievable through ‘experience’ (Empiricism is just that, truth gained through experience.)

Following John Locke, FOUNDER OF EMPIRICISM, Jefferson believed that happiness is the natural state of humanity… and it’d seem Isaiah, Paul and ol’ Yeshua may agree…

Our earlier passage from Isaiah recounts the return of the exiles (jews who’d been held in captivity in Babylon) to Jerusalem, refugees claiming their liberation!

“…but they who wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength!”

(The word rendered ‘wait upon‘ here (from קוה qâvâh ), denotes ‘to wait,’ in the sense of active expectation. The phrase, ‘to wait on Yahweh,‘ to trust in him, to put our hope or confidence in him,  thus does not imply passivity…

Far from it actually!

Think a restaurant server ‘waiting on’ God, not the ‘I’m bored and daydreaming waiting for Ryan to shut up.

This ‘waiter’ is ‘mounted up with wings like eagles!’

‘They shall run and not be weary;

    they shall walk and not faint.

This ‘waiter’ is Happy! Because they aren’t ‘waiting for,’ but ‘waiting on’ something greater which provides purpose, hope, and an active progression toward our natural state of ‘happiness.’

Scripture, declaration, nor address claim our entitlement to happiness… that’d be too easy!  We are entitled to the PURSUIT of it… the continual journey towards our natural state!

A pursuit Endowed by God, but often restricted by man… by armies, bullies, border control, terrorist or as earlier alluded, our self…

We are slave to addiction, fear, doubt, hate, our job, and our schedules… based on our color, creed, or culture; social or self-imposed labels, economic status, and perception.

Romans 6:

Don’t you know that when you offer yourselves to someone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one you obey—whether you are slaves to sin, which leads to death, or to obedience, which leads to righteousness? 

17 But thanks be to God that, though you used to be slaves to sin, you have come to obey from your heart the pattern of teaching that has now claimed your allegiance

22 But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the benefit you reap leads to holiness, and the result is eternal life.

 23 For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord….  

Enslavement to the world is limiting, but enslavement to God is exhilarating… Pursue that natural state… Pursue this thing called ‘happiness’! 

Whatever it is 2 things are true:

  1. 1.Its indeed about the pursuit!

 An ancient Jewish Midrash (rabbonic reflection on the scripture for my fellow nerds) found that when the characters of torah (the first five books of the Bible) are literally cut in half they split the words ‘Darash, Darash.’  In Ancient Hebrew, the repetition of words emphasizes importance, thus these two words, translated as ‘Seek, Seek,” remind us that it is our ‘pursuit of’ happiness where we find happiness and purpose.

  1. 2.ALL are equally endowed with the potential for happiness from God, but many have had the ‘in-aliable right to pursue it’ stripped by society:

Over the past several years I have been engulfed in work alongside three distinct populations, each longing for liberation from the limiting labels and misperceptions that enslave them (labeled disabled, addict, and/or homeless).

Diverse stories united by a common proclaimed void for two foundational elements of happiness. Purpose and acceptance…

I’ve learned much from working with these beautiful friends, but what has been most evident is their positive impact my happiness, for though we declare our independence, interdependence remains essential.

The root of the word happy stems from that of the word ‘whole.’

We are all born ‘whole’ (as Locke stated its wholeness/happiness is our natural state) despite our current condition walking this world!

We may not always feel very ‘whole,’ feel like we have things ‘together…’  There are many times when ‘happy’ is the word of choice to describe our state.

But indeed we are WHOLE!    And as our youth taught, valuable!  Despite any crumples, dirtyness, or tiers or tears!

Any Jigsaw puzzle fans?

When a puzzle is dumped out of the box it is pretty intimidating.

However, each puzzle  starts out (and ideally returns to as state of) wholeness… All the pieces are in the box!

We were each created whole, beautiful art of the divine, and though this life may find us broken; scattered; and messy… our pursuit of happiness is our slowly pulling the pieces back together.

Many are Unjustly stripped of this liberty when defined by their brokenness, not their potential…

Plato wrote ‘we are all born whole but we need each other to be complete.’  Our pursuit of happiness can not be a singleminded endeavor, for singleminded pursuits will always leave us lacking…  again, independence and interdependence are far from mutually exclusive!

Putting our pieces together often requires the assistance of, or can be inhibited by the interference of others. Be it fear, anger, resentment, misperception, or the like

A quick confession… as a kid I used to love to hide puzzle pieces when my sister wasn’t looking!

We spent a lot of time on ‘happiness’ but lets touch real quickly on Life and Liberty! 

Life vs living!

– Last time I was here I reiterated a statement of the late John Lennon… “When I was five years old they asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up. I said Happy. They told me I didn’t understand the question, I told them they didn’t understand life.”

  I came so that they may have life in abundance!               Enough said.

And LIBERTY:          ἐλευθερία (eleutheria) freedom from the restraints and miseries of earthly frailty:

Are you a slave to the world or righteousness? Are you ‘IN THE WORLD, our of the world?       Our natural state, our true citizenship, is divine. This world is a training ground.  To be in the world is to be in pursuit, to be of the world is to be enslaved by it.

Liberty is our choice… and aiding in another’s liberation is Pretty simple.  Its an encouraging smile, a looking beyond label, its offering a hand up not hand out, etc, etc, etc.

In closing, it was on October 15, 1858, that Lincoln looked back at the the declaration much as we have done today:

“I think the authors of that notable instrument intended to include all men, but they did not mean to declare all men equal in all respects. They did not mean to say all men were equal in color, size, intellect, moral development, or social capacity. They defined with tolerable distinctness in what they did consider all men created equal—equal in “certain inalienable rights, among which are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” This they said, and this they meant. They did not mean to assert the obvious untruth that all were then actually enjoying that equality, or yet that they were about to confer it immediately upon them. In fact, they had no power to confer such a boon. They meant simply to declare the right, so that the enforcement of it might follow as fast as circumstances should permit.”  

GO, Pursue something beautiful!


Benediction:  Light a match!

As a simple match, whole in itself, carries a light within made visible when stricken against something so it is with you and me: a flame burns deep within awaiting birth kindled when my story strikes another’s, blessing the world with a blaze – mine and yours!

Nameste… ‘Let the light in me brighten the light in you!’      Or ‘Matthew 5:14-16… “You are the light of the world… let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your creator.”

Our goal needs to be to be the kindler of as many flames as possible!     Not the one hiding the puzzle pieces!