The Road Less Traveled
based on Psalm 1
by Rev. Thomas Hall
What makes you happy? What moments or events give you real pleasure? Ill
volunteer first, then I hope to hear from some of you. Happiness, for me is . . .
Getting a cup of hot flavored coffee delivered to me in bed
Making that final payment on the van-and discovering that it still runs after
Getting my sermon done on Friday afternoon-instead of Sunday morning just before
When my dog finally goes to that great kennel in the sky
Finding my three missing snakes
When a certain member of my family gets a broom and sweeps the avalanche of grunge
and junk from under their bed
Your turn. Happiness is . . . [take responses from your listeners.] Crotchety old
George Burns used to say that three things in life made him truly happy. First, happiness
is having a large loving, caring, close knit family-especially if they live in another
city. Second, happiness is being stopped by a nasty-looking 240 pound motorcycle cop and
having him compliment you on your driving. Finally, George said, happiness is hearing your
teenaged kid say, "Ya know, dad, you were right."
Its time to let the Bible in on our discussion this morning. See if you can
guess what happiness is in Psalm 1. But to make things interesting, Im going to read
this psalm in a new translation.
How happy you are!
How well God must like you-
You dont hang out at Sin Saloon,
You dont slink along Dead-End Road,
You dont go to Smart-Mouth College.
Instead, you thrill to Gods Word,
You chew on Scripture day and night.
Youre a tree replanted in Eden,
Bearing fresh fruit every month,
Never dropping a leaf,
Always in blossom.
Yourre not at all like the wicked,
Who are mere windblown dust-
Without defense in court,
Unfit company for innocent people.
God charts the road you take.
The road they take is Skid row.
Happiness is-according the psalmist, choosing the right path in life. Saying yes
to the right things and saying not the wrong. I suspect that whoever wrote this wisdom
poem had gray temples; theyd lived a long life and were standing on the sunset of
their life looking back over the years and thinking deep thoughts about life. Theyd
watched their kids, their neighborhood, their spouses, long enough to make one simple
observation: real happiness has a whole lot to do with choosing the right path in life.
Robert Frost also summed up life as making a choice, choosing a path . . .
Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;
Then I took the other as just as fair . . .
Im going to play between the lines of this poem. Lets say that the
poem could be about a jogger out doing her morning jogging stuff in a woods that
shes never jogged in before. Shes going along the path when suddenly she comes
to an abrupt fork in the road-the path breaks off into two directions. So she stands there
on that crisp autumn morning trying to decide which path will offer her the greatest
advantage, the happiest, the safest journey. But thats just the problem, isnt
it? Which path should she choose? If youve heard about the many muggings in Central
Park in Fairmount Park, its not a far stretch to wonder whether a mugger might be
lurking along one of these path-just waiting to do her harm. But which of the paths should
she avoid? The two paths themselves are not much help. Both look about the same, both are
lush and grassy; both are covered with brilliant untrodden leaves. So this traveler has a
real tough decision to make - to choose one path over the other. I can see her running in
place-a joggers idle-as she squinnies her eyes down the one path as far as she can,
way down until it turns, then she takes the other path, trying to convince herself that
shell come back later and try the other one out. But she never will. Shell
never return to face this choice again.
Remember how the poem ends?
I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I-
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.
This last stanza fast forwards through life; that young jogger is now bent with
age, tied to a wheelchair so she wont fall out; her thoughts fading in and out.
Shes very tired. The years have left her wrinkled and chilled. Yet she remembers
about those two paths-and the choice that she made on that chilly autumn morning. Still
wonders about the other path.
Which path offers us the greatest advantage? Which path promises us real
happiness? Our psalmist friend says, be careful-very careful-when it comes to making
choices. The Bible says that "there is a path that seems right to us, but it leads to
destruction." Jesus once said that whoever listened to his words and cherished them
was like a builder who built a house upon the rock. They had made a very wise choice.
Taken the right path in life. But Jesus continued, "whoever sits within earshot of my
teachings," yet does nothing with them, well, they are very foolish.
We can all agree that wrong choices lead to wrong places and wrong results.
William Reyes made a bad choice. Was supposed to be a good choice. The best choice. Sure
looked okay. The choice led him into fabulous wealth as a delivery boy for a Philly drug
dealer. But further down the path, he became arrogant and rebellious. Ended up shooting
someone and getting shot himself. Hes laying on the street and realizes that what
his gramma had told him about "coming to Jesus" might have been the right
decision all along. I know this because I met Willy at college. He was sitting in my
class-first semester after serving thirteen years behind bars. There he was starting over
again. This time he got smart and chose a better path. That was several years ago.
Hes now completed his Masters in counseling and is back at it, talking sense
into young Willis out there making some dumb choices.
Weve had men and women from Teen Challenge, a Christian drug rehab
organization in our church tell us all about Psalm 1; theyve found out the hard way
that happiness does not come in bottles, needles, or puffs or addictions. Thank God, they
trying to get back on the right path, but all of the suffering and addictions they endured
to get back to God and happiness is mind-boggling.
Phew!!! Good sermon-because Im not in it. Preach against the Willy types;
those drug people, those bad lifestyles. But thats not me. Good thing too. Why, I
thank God that Im not a swindler, a drug- dealer, a cheat or a thief.
I think our biggest problem is much closer than the drug dealers. Something much
closer to us than the Willy Reyes that occasionally experience Gods saving
help. Whats really at stake here is us. Blessed, happy are those who delight in
Gods Law and meditate in it day and night. A paraphrase of that might sound like
this: "happy are those who are willing to say that they need to be adjusted, need to
change as God instructs them." In other words, happiness is in allowing God to shape
us, to change us, to transform us through the words that come to us in Scripture.
Happiness is saying "I need you, God; Im not okay, I need your constant
guidance in the weighty matters of life." The 16th century reformer, John Calvin
called it having a "teachable frame." Do we have a teachable frame? Our culture
calls it "rugged individualism;" the psalmist calls it wickedness when we say,
"I dont need help; Im okay."
Our problem is that we think we have no problem; we are self-sufficient. In
"A Good Man is Hard to Find," Flannery OConnor describes the "way of
the wicked." When a character called "The Misfit" is asked why he does not
pray, he replies: "I dont want no hep, he says. "Im doing all
right by myself." The Misfit represents what Psalm 1 calls wickedness-the allusion
that we dont need no hep, that were doing just fine by ourselves, we
need no help. Interesting that at the end of the story, The Misfit says, "Aint
no real pleasure in life." Hes telling the truth. Failing to trust God and to
make connection with God as our Source of life does not lead to happiness. To be cut off
from God - because we dont need no hep is to be alienated from God, to perish.
The psalmist concludes by holding up two images for us. The first is a towering
tree, lush with bushy, green leaves on the banks of a river. "That," he says
"is what those who delight in Gods Law look like." Those who constantly
open their lives to Gods instructions always have a resource to sustain their
lives-no matter what. They are connected to God and therefore connected to life.
Thats stability. Thats the path that leads to happiness.
The other path? Well the old farmer-psalmist reaches down and takes some of the
papery grain shells from his overall cuffs. Chaff is a waste product. It is not connected
to the source of life-the grain. Just blow on it and poof! Its flying off in all
directions! The psalmist is trying to tell us that those who are not open to Gods
instructions lack spiritual stability, they have no connections to the source of life. The
choice is ours-to open our lives to Gods constant instruction, to be changed and
transformed, or to be self-sufficient and perish.
The choice is ours. Amen.