“I came that they may have life
and have it abundantly.”
Jazz Sunday 2015
If you’re happy and you know it, clap your hands…! Is it okay to be happy in church? or anywhere, for that matter? A few years ago, in another city, in another church, there was a man who had been visiting my church, coming every Sunday, and then one day told me he would not be coming anymore. When I asked him why, he said that our church was “too happy.” I had never heard that complaint before. Some might complain if we went overtime, if it was too cold, too hot, too many babies crying. But never before had I heard that we were “too happy.” Were we one of those churches that ignored the suffering of humankind, oblivious to the plight of the impoverished, the reality of the cross? Were we one of those churches that denied the darkness of Good Friday and jumped straight from Christmas to Easter, never passing through Lent? Did I need to inject a hearty helping of doom and gloom, hellfire and brimstone? I didn’t think so.
I think the truth about him, the truth about many of us, is that we don’t trust happiness, we deny ourselves happiness, we self-sabotage happiness, we think we don’t deserve it. We are afraid that if we let go and laugh and enjoy the moment, surely lightening is gonna strike us the very next.
Remember Lucy in Peanuts? She could throw a wet blanket on anybody’s joy, especially Charlie Brown’s. In one cartoon strip she asks Charlie Brown if he has ever known anybody who was really happy. Before she could finish her sentence, here comes Snoopy came dancing on tiptoe into the frame, his nose high in the air, bouncing his way across two frames of the cartoon strip. In the last frame, Lucy asks, “Have you ever known anybody who was really happy and was still in their right mind?” Are we crazy to clap, stomp, shout, sing, laugh, dance, play?
Perhaps it is our Puritan heritage, with its strict work ethic: you gotta earn it, gotta deserve it, gotta first put in that 80 hour work week. Perhaps it is that strain of guilt-based, shame-based, fear-based Christianity that tells us that we are so deeply flawed we deserve only a hair shirt and a bed of nails. Remember that terrible scene in the movie The Da Vinci Code which depicts a monk standing in front of a cross, beating himself with a whip– self-flagellation, the mortification of the flesh. You and I may not use whips, but many of us are pretty good at beating ourselves up. Surely that’s not what Jesus had in mind when he said, “I have come that you might life and have it abundantly.
Are we too happy? If so, we are in mighty good company! Because that’s what they said about our Lord. Remember how his critics said, “Look at John the Baptist’s followers. They go around with long faces, we can tell how serious they are about religion. But look at your followers, they are always at parties, always eating and drinking!” They went so far as to accuse him of being “a glutton and a drunkard.” And what did he say? “When the groom shows up, do the wedding guests look sad? No. The groom shows and laisez les bon temps roulez!” Except he said it in Aramaic.
That’s why we call what he said Good News! Not because we haven’t heard the bad news. Not because we haven’t seen the heartbreaking headlines. We are not blind. We see everything that everybody else sees, but we see something more as well: that we are not alone, that come what may, no matter what, even if the worst thing happens, God will have the last word. What was that wonderful line from The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel?–“In the end everything will be alright, and if it’s not alright, it’s not the end.” For love is stronger than death, and goodness is stronger than evil, the light shines in the darkness, the darkness will never overcome it, weeping may endure for the night, but there will be joy in the morning!
So if you’re happy and you know it then your life will surely show it! (Or as the children sing it here, then your face will surely show it.)
So smile: “Laughter is the best medicine,” said Art Linkletter
Smile: It is “the shortest distance between two people” says Victor Borge.
Smile: “It’s the best kind of make-up, says Anne Lamott.
Smile: “Peace begins with a smile,” said Mother Teresa.
Smile: For “Happiness is the purpose in life,” says the Dalai Lama.
Smile! For life is meant to be lived abundantly, says Jesus.
Smile! It is not a sin to be happy. (I said that).