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The Road Less Traveled
based on Psalm 1
by Rev. Thomas Hall

What makes you happy? What moments or events give you real pleasure? I’ll 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 245,000 miles

Getting my sermon done on Friday afternoon-instead of Sunday morning just before you arrive

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."

It’s 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, I’m going to read this psalm in a new translation.

How happy you are!

How well God must like you-

You don’t hang out at Sin Saloon,

You don’t slink along Dead-End Road,

You don’t go to Smart-Mouth College.

Instead, you thrill to God’s Word,

You chew on Scripture day and night.

You’re a tree replanted in Eden,

Bearing fresh fruit every month,

Never dropping a leaf,

Always in blossom.

Your’re 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; they’d lived a long life and were standing on the sunset of their life looking back over the years and thinking deep thoughts about life. They’d 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 . . .


I’m going to play between the lines of this poem. Let’s say that the poem could be about a jogger out doing her morning jogging stuff in a woods that she’s never jogged in before. She’s 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 that’s just the problem, isn’t it? Which path should she choose? If you’ve heard about the many muggings in Central Park in Fairmount Park, it’s 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 jogger’s 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 she’ll come back later and try the other one out. But she never will. She’ll 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 won’t fall out; her thoughts fading in and out. She’s 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. He’s 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. He’s now completed his Master’s in counseling and is back at it, talking sense into young Willis out there making some dumb choices.

We’ve had men and women from Teen Challenge, a Christian drug rehab organization in our church tell us all about Psalm 1; they’ve 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 I’m not in it. Preach against the Willy types; those drug people, those bad lifestyles. But that’s not me. Good thing too. Why, I thank God that I’m 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 God’s saving help. What’s really at stake here is us. Blessed, happy are those who delight in God’s 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; I’m 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 don’t need help; I’m okay."

Our problem is that we think we have no problem; we are self-sufficient. In "A Good Man is Hard to Find," Flannery O’Connor describes the "way of the wicked." When a character called "The Misfit" is asked why he does not pray, he replies: "I don’t want no hep,’ he says. "I’m doing all right by myself." The Misfit represents what Psalm 1 calls wickedness-the allusion that we don’t need no hep,’ that we’re doing just fine by ourselves, we need no help. Interesting that at the end of the story, The Misfit says, "Ain’t no real pleasure in life." He’s 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 don’t 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 God’s Law look like." Those who constantly open their lives to God’s instructions always have a resource to sustain their lives-no matter what. They are connected to God and therefore connected to life. That’s stability. That’s 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! It’s flying off in all directions! The psalmist is trying to tell us that those who are not open to God’s instructions lack spiritual stability, they have no connections to the source of life. The choice is ours-to open our lives to God’s constant instruction, to be changed and transformed, or to be self-sufficient and perish.

The choice is ours. Amen.