Ways to True Happiness

I love that a verse from the Prophets this week closely resembles the first words in the Psalms. There must be an important idea here. Let’s give it a close look and delve into its significance.

“Blessed are those who trust in God. They shall be like a tree planted by the water, sinking its roots in a stream, and will not notice when the heat comes, its leaves green, not anxious in times of drought, never failing to bear fruit.”

Psalm 1 teaches that such blessed persons are happy.

So, the question is: what do the passages before us, from Leviticus and Jeremiah, teach about the path to blessing and ways to happiness?

First, worshipping the work of our hands is incompatible with trust in God. We are, yes, to work hard and enjoy the fruit of our labor. But crossing the line to devote most or all of our being to (i.e., worship) the enterprise of the material is wrong. The discussion of “turning the machine off” for the Sabbath and periods of time associated with the Sabbatical and Jubilee years is all about teaching this important lesson. It seems simple, but we so often forget a fundamental truth about blessing and happiness: It’s hard to be truly contented when we are never contented.

Second, the the text emphasizes that we should do what is honorable. Why? It pays off in the end, perhaps in ways we don’t always understand. And being dishonorable tends to deplete us of another attribute of blessing and happiness – a justified feeling of honor. The Biblical simile is powerful: “Those who gain wealth by unjust means are like a partridge hatching eggs it never laid; in the middle of life, their riches will forsake them, and in the end they will be known to be fools.”

Third, we should not let the destitute fall. There are powerful lessons the sages teach on this. Here are a couple: If we let the destitute fall, it is far less possible for them to get up, and it is far less likely that we will help them up. Also, if loving our neighbor as ourselves is the watchword of living in blessing and happiness, we must remember that we, too, could become destitute, and in need of a helping hand ourselves.

The fourth takeaway from our text involves the care we should show for those who labor for us. We’re ALL made in God’s image. We’ve ALL been liberated to serve God. When we act as gods to others, lording our power over them, we have forsaken “the Foundation of Living Waters,” losing our stake in blessing and true happiness.

Fifth, we must give of ourselves, even sacrifice of ourselves, to others and to God to honor and sustain our blessed life and the principles by which it is blessed. A truly happy life doesn’t just happen. We do have God’s gifts and others’ generosity, but our offerings and contributions are an essential piece of the fabric in making a life of blessing.

Sixth, we are to make vows with a whole heart and show care in honoring them. When we pledge of ourselves to others and to God, we must be accountable and follow through. If we are to trust in others and God, they must be able to trust in us. Surely, such trust is part of the streams that flow through a blessed and happy life.

And, seventh, we bear consequences for our actions. There’s no hiding out. Happiness does not tend to be associated, or at least for long, with wrongdoing. While we all err, though, our straying need not lead to ongoing “drought.” Our faith tradition makes a promise: The road of repair and return is always open. Blessing and happiness lie at the end of that road, too.

To paraphrase the reaffirming verse that closes our reading: Guide me and heal me, O Source of blessing and happiness, save me and I will be saved: for You are the One I trust and praise.

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