Sunday, July 7, 2013

How to Find True Happiness

This sermon was preached at St. John's, Henderson, N.C., July 7, 2013 on Luke 10:1-11, 16-20.

After this the Lord appointed seventy others and sent them on ahead of him in pairs to every town and place where he himself intended to go. He said to them, "The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest. Go on your way. See, I am sending you out like lambs into the midst of wolves. Carry no purse, no bag, no sandals; and greet no one on the road. Whatever house you enter, first say, `Peace to this house!' And if anyone is there who shares in peace, your peace will rest on that person; but if not, it will return to you. Remain in the same house, eating and drinking whatever they provide, for the laborer deserves to be paid. Do not move about from house to house. Whenever you enter a town and its people welcome you, eat what is set before you; cure the sick who are there, and say to them, `The kingdom of God has come near to you.' But whenever you enter a town and they do not welcome you, go out into its streets and say, `Even the dust of your town that clings to our feet, we wipe off in protest against you. Yet know this: the kingdom of God has come near.'

"Whoever listens to you listens to me, and whoever rejects you rejects me, and whoever rejects me rejects the one who sent me."

The seventy returned with joy, saying, "Lord, in your name even the demons submit to us!" He said to them, "I watched Satan fall from heaven like a flash of lightning. See, I have given you authority to tread on snakes and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy; and nothing will hurt you. Nevertheless, do not rejoice at this, that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven."

               On Thursday we celebrated our nation’s Independence Day.  Our Declaration of Independence declared that our Creator endowed us with the inalienable right to “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”  A worldwide psychological study found that people believe happiness is more important than “meaning in life, becoming rich, or getting into heaven.”[1]  Today’s passage from Luke shows us how to find true happiness.

At first the Gospel seems to have little to do with finding happiness.  Jesus appoints and sends out 70 of his disciples to prepare the way for him.  They are essentially advance men laying the groundwork for his visit later.  He tells them, "Whoever listens to you listens to me, and whoever rejects you rejects me, and whoever rejects me rejects the one who sent me" (Luke 10:16).  The mission of the 70 is clearly important and deeply personal for Jesus.

Scholars are unsure why Jesus sent out 70 disciples.  This is the only reference that we have in any of the Gospels to the 70.  The 70 might represent all the nations, all the peoples of the world.  Noah had 70 descendants, from whom, according to Genesis 10, “the nations spread abroad on the earth after the flood” (Genesis 10:32).  If you are having a hard time sleeping, read the names in Genesis 10.  Jewish prophets often did what are called sign-acts, symbolic actions, to make their points.  Jesus chose 12 apostles to represent the 12 tribes of Israel, to be a new Israel.  He says in Matthew, "Truly I tell you, at the renewal of all things, when the Son of Man is seated on the throne of his glory, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel” (Matt 19:28).  In sending out 70 disciples, Jesus reveals that his message is for all the nations, for all the people of the world.  Even more dramatically, he initiates the creation of a new world.

The values of this new world dramatically differ from those that dominate our world.     Jesus instructs his disciples to say when they enter a home, “Peace to this house!”  He tells them to cure the sick.  Peace and healing mark the Kingdom of God.  While peace and healing are all good, you might be wondering what all of this has to do with finding happiness!  So far, we haven’t heard anything about it.  I’m about to get there.  Happiness enters the picture when the 70 return “with joy.”  They celebrate that even the demons submit to them.  It is understandable that the 70 are happy about the success of their mission, but Jesus tells them that external circumstances are not the true source of their joy.  He tells them to rejoice because their names are written in heaven.

When Jesus says the names of the 70 are written in heaven, he is referring to the book of life.  According to the book of Revelation, the people whose names are written in the book of life are those who will live eternally with God at the end of time.  The book of life not only refers to the end of time or the next life; it characterizes Christ’s followers in this life.  Paul says at the end of his letter to the Philippians that his co-workers’ names are written in the book of life (Phil 4:3).  The true source of the disciples’ joy is that they are in relationship with and doing the will of the living God.

Scripture repeatedly tells us about the joy of being in relationship with God.  1 Chronicles says, “Honor and majesty are before God; strength and joy are in his place” (1Chron 16:27).  The psalmist tells God, “You show me the path of life. In your presence there is fullness of joy; in your right hand are pleasures forevermore” (Psalm 16:11).  Simply being in a personal relationship with God makes our lives more joyful.

The 70 rejoiced not only because they were followers of the living God, but also because they did God’s will.  They brought the kingdom of God near to those they met.   The 70 lived Christ’s command to love the Lord your God and to love your neighbor as yourself.  According to St. Augustine, the process of learning to love God is a process of learning how to love our neighbors, ourselves and the world, and this process of learning to love brings us joy.  Theologian Ellen Charry describes this as a "healing journey into one's soul, for each step deeper into God heals and strengthens love."[2]  The mission of the 70 was not only healing for others but also for themselves.

               While many Episcopalians have never heard of it, the most popular Christian praise chorus ever written is the 1993 “Shout to the Lord” by the Australian Darlene Zschech.  In the 2000s, this song was sung by an estimated 25 – 30 million Christians every Sunday.  Since you used LEVAS, when I was here last time, which I loved, I thought you might be willing to hear it.  I have the lyrics for you if you want to sing along.  You don’t have to raise your hands in the air! []

This song might not be your cup of tea, but it illustrates the point.  Zschech wrote “Shout to the Lord” when she was at her wits end.  She was struggling to raise two young girls.  Her husband’s business was failing.  Their family was financially strapped.  Zschech says, "I wrote it when I was feeling discouraged. I felt I could either scream and pull my hair out, or praise God.  The line ‘Nothing compares to the promise I have in you’ was something I clung to when our circumstances seemed so bleak. I think that rings true with anyone going through tough times."  It is hard to tell she wrote this song at such a low point in her life particularly when she belts out, “I sing for joy at the work of Your hand/Forever I'll love You, forever I'll stand.”[3]

               Life deals all of us good and challenging times.  In the midst of life’s ups and downs, we can always find joy in the Lord.  This does not mean that we will feel happy every moment of the day.  Far from it, challenging times bring moments of doubt, despair and anxiety.  Our joy in the Lord is not a fleeting emotion dependent upon external circumstances.  Our joy is rooted in our relationship with God who cares for us through thick and thin.   Our joy is found in doing the will of God - in learning to love God, in learning to love our neighbors as ourselves, in finding the healing power of God for ourselves and for the world.

[1] Todd B. Kashdan and Robert Biswas-Diener, “What Happy People Do Differently?“ Psychology Today July/August 2013: 52.
[2] Katelyn Beaty, “Happiness Now!” Christianity Today December 14, 2010,
[3] Camerin Courtney, “The Power of Praising God,” Today’s Christian Woman, March 2001,

1 comment:

  1. Fantastic sermon John. This spoke directly to my heart. Thank you and God bless you.