Scripture can be found here...
You may have heard it said, “There are two kinds of people in this world…” followed by some sweeping and hard-to-back-up claim about the nature of life, the universe, and everything, such as:
There are two kinds of people in this world…People who love fireworks and people who don’t!
Or, maybe: There are two kinds of people in this world…People who believe in freedom and people who don’t!
Or, maybe even: There are two kinds of people in this world…People who believe there are just two kinds of people, and people who don’t!
Our psalm—the first in our series of “Songs in the Key of Faith”—may be the earliest recorded evidence of this claim. It may also be the truest. There are two kinds of people in this world: Those who are happy, and those who are not.
Since we will be spending most of this summer sampling the book of Psalms, I’d like to fill in some background before we explore the particulars of that claim.
First: Psalms are songs… composed over the course of about five centuries, beginning about three thousand years ago.
Psalms are songs, and their original purpose was to be sung during worship.
Psalms are songs, and so, here at UPC, we mostly sing them, rather than reading them—though today, we did both—and this summer, we have the added joy of singing beautiful original settings of each psalm by our own Chris Bartlette.
Psalms are songs, and thus, a thoughtful minister from Indiana came up with the idea of pairing each psalm with a contemporary song, to give us yet another angle of approach.[i]
And finally: Psalms are songs, and like the songs we listen to on the radio or maybe hum or sing as we move through our days, the psalms contain a deep and rich exploration of the human experience. John Calvin wrote,
I have been accustomed to call this book, I think not inappropriately, “An Anatomy of all the Parts of the Soul;” for there is not an emotion of which any one can be conscious that is not here represented as in a mirror. Or rather, the Holy Spirit has here drawn to the life all the griefs, sorrows, fears, doubts, hopes, cares, perplexities, in short, all the distracting emotions with which the minds of men [sic] are wont to be agitated. … here the prophets themselves … laying open all their inmost thoughts and affections, call, or rather draw, each of us to the examination of himself in particulars in order that none of the many infirmities to which we are subject, and of the many vices with which we abound, may remain concealed.[ii]
There it is, straight from the mouth of Presbyterians’ Great-Grandpa Calvin: Psalms are inspired by God to tell us the truth about what it means to be human beings.
So, lets go back to today’s psalm, which that Indiana pastor paired with the song that was arguably THE song of 2014, Pharrell Williams’s “Happy.” The kind of happiness described in the song seems to need to break out into dance… in the video, Williams sings as he and others dance through the streets of Los Angeles,
Because I'm happy… Clap along if you feel like a room without a roof
Because I'm happy…Clap along if you feel like happiness is the truth
He is simply and sincerely happy. The given reason is “love,” but without any specifics, even that doesn’t seem to account for happiness that makes the whole world feel like even the sky’s no limit. The happiness described in the song is immune to things like bad news. Bring it on, the singer challenges. Love is too happy to bring me down.
Psalm 1 has a very succinct and clear definition of what it is to be happy. There are two kinds of people in the world, and the happy ones know when to say “no.” The psalm—which really stands as an introduction to the whole book of psalms—tells us we need to say “no” to the advice of the wicked and to walking the paths of the sinners. But that alone is not enough. We also need to turn our backs on the “whatever” crowd—the scoffers, those who can’t take anything seriously, even the ultimate things, things such as life, and death, temporal and eternal.
After our negative example—describing the ones who are not happy—we have the affirmative description: the happy ones are the ones who delight in God’s law, for whom God’s ways become their daily bread, as well as their bedtime snack. These happy ones,
…are like trees
planted by streams of water,
which yield their fruit in its season,
and their leaves do not wither… ~Psalm 1:3
To meditate on God’s law, to contemplate God’s ways so that it becomes a constant part of our awareness, is part of what it means to feed on the bread of life, and to drink of the living water. Things like bad advice from silly people can’t hurt us because God’s ways are rooted in us, and we are rooted in them. It might seem crazy, what I’m about to say. But this is exactly what it means to feel like a room without a roof: there is no barrier between God and us. Love is too happy to bring us down.
Does that mean that we are 100%, dance-down-the-street, sing-out-loud happy every minute of every day? I’m glad you asked.
The newest Disney/ Pixar film, “Inside Out,” is about the inner life of an 11-year-old girl named Riley. It’s about her emotions—joy, sadness, disgust, fear, and anger. And it’s about how those emotions have an impact on her memories, and how her memories, in turn, help to construct her sense of self: who she is, deep down inside. You can be happy the way Psalm 1 describes—which is to say, rooted and grounded in the love of God—and still have feelings of sadness, or fear, or anger. In fact, the movie, like Calvin, makes the case that we must make peace with all kinds of feelings—just as they are describe in the Psalter, in some messy and at times shocking detail. If we try to head them off, deny, them, manage them, bury them, or hide them, we run the risk of compromising our very humanity. The Book of Psalms knows and shows the wisdom of this. And by diving deep into the psalms this summer, by letting ourselves experience their wisdom, we can perhaps get a sense of how very ok God is with our very messy, at times joyous, sad, angry, and fearful selves.
There are two kinds of people in the world. There are those who embrace their humanity—including their feelings—and there are those who run, run, run away from it all. God loves both/ all kinds. Our question is, can we, God’s people, learn to love and accept ourselves with the same gentleness and tenderness with which God accepts us. Thanks be to God. Amen.
[i] The Rev. Tim Powers, pastor of Griffith United Methodist Church, Griffith, IN.
[ii] John Calvin, “The Author’s Preface,” Commentary on Psalms: Vol. 1, translated from the French by Arthur Golding, ccel.org, 2009.