“Finding Happiness”

February 2, 2014

 

Micah 6:1-8

Matthew 5:1-12

 


At our best, we in the Congregational tradition have never been a “whatever” people—suggesting that what we believe or do doesn’t really matter. We live out of a faith that tells us what we believe and how we act makes a difference in our lives and in our world. We are people who follow the advice of Micah—and find ourselves seeking justice, loving kindness, walking humbly with God in a myriad of ways—sometimes well-planned and thought through, sometimes unexpected and unknown until we act.. As such people, we recognize that we don’t have all the answers. Still we invite people into the adventure of action and reflection and discovery.

So what kind of people are we becoming as we live out our faith in the world?

We get some help from Jesus—which is appropriate since he is the One we are seeking to follow, he is the one who extends the offer of new life to us.

This morning we heard the beginning of what we commonly call the "Sermon on the Mount."

Sermons that are only so much religious talk are of dubious value.

But when Jesus begins to speak, we sense that what we hear will be of some worth. And he doesn’t disappoint.

You know, one of the dangers that Christians face is the temptation to make Jesus more religious than he was. We read about him praying and begin to call up those paintings of him with a halo, surrounded by some otherworldly light. We hear stories about voices from heaven that seem far removed from our own experiences.

Then we start to think of Jesus as somewhat alien. He seems removed from our world and our concerns.

How different is the picture of Jesus that Matthew paints. We see Jesus talking with people where they work and where they live—with words they understand. We see him involved with the sick and the sorrowful, with those who are disturbed and seeking to be cured. That is, he seems to be among people that seem a lot like us.

We see a Jesus who brings to weary and broken people the good news that God is close at hand to give strength and to heal. That is, he seems to be speaking the same kind of good news that we would want to hear.

Today we hear this same Jesus bringing a word of blessing—and maybe your suspicions are aroused once more. “Blessing” is an especially religious word, isn't it? And like a lot of religious words, it can be used without really thinking about what it means. In fact, like a lot of religious words, it can be used without really meaning a thing. You sneeze and I say, “Bless you.”

Do you seek to be blessed? Probably not. But the Greek word that we translate “Blessed” also means “happy” or “fortunate.” And we’re more familiar with those concepts.

Most people want to be happy. Indeed our nation is founded on the idea that the pursuit of happiness is an inalienable right.

An issue of Time once had a cover with a big yellow “happy face” on it. Inside there was an article that asked: “Does God Want Us to Be Happy?” Americans seemed to think so.

Most people want to be happy. We might do well, then, to listen when Jesus starts to talk about happiness.

Blessed are you, Jesus says. Happy are you. You are fortunate indeed when:

     You are poor in spirit.

     You mourn.

     You are meek.

     You hunger and thirst.

Do you start to recognize yourself as Jesus talks?

Blessed are you, Jesus says. How happy are those who are:

     Merciful.

     Pure in heart.

     Peacemakers

     Persecuted.

Do you find yourself somewhere in those descriptions?

Listen. The words begin to make sense, don’t they? They aren’t religious platitudes from the dusty past.

Jesus is speaking to us today. We are addressed in our own current reality.

Those who mourn, those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, the merciful, the peacemakers—you know people like that. You might even be sitting next to one of them this morning. Or maybe you would number yourself among those who know what sorrow means, who claim nothing, who make peace.

The concern here is not that we go out and try to become such people. Jesus instead speaks to those who find themselves in these various life situations. Some have been active—making peace, pursuing what is right to the point of persecution, showing mercy. Others passively find themselves sorrowing, hungering, or thirsting.

These are living words, speaking still to living people—speaking to you and me. Our age and our lives are addressed by Jesus.

To our situations Jesus speaks words of promise—words that can be trusted. His words seem to look toward the future. He speaks of fulfillment to come. But Jesus speaks as he always does, as one with authority, as one whose word is dependable.

. . .they will be comforted.

. . .they will inherit the earth.

. . . they will be filled.

            . . .they will receive mercy.

This is the promise of good fortune, of happiness, which might now be lacking in your life. This promise is spoken in the face of deprivation and longing. This promise is spoken in situations that offer no hope in them.

But Jesus speaks of the way in which God is working to redeem our lives—gathering up what falls short.

The message that the realm of God is close at hand is good news indeed because nothing is lost to God. The One who created forgets nothing that has been created. Your sorrow is not lost.

Your hunger for the good is not forgotten.

Your acts of mercy and peace, even though they seem fruitless are held by God, gathered up and made good.

Redemption is promised by the One whose word can be trusted.

The coming redemption of God redefines our lives today. It is said that the various English translations of the New Testament Greek do not do justice to their meaning. The Beatitudes are usually rendered as statements, and so we heard them this morning: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the realm of heaven.” The Greek, however, states them as exclamations, ecstatic utterances of present reality, literally: “Now happiness and the realm of heaven for those poor in spirit!” “Now mercy of those who are merciful.” [i]

Tomorrow has become today. It is now that Jesus calls us “blessed.” And there's that religious language again. Yes, we can say “happy” or “fortunate’ instead. But then we wonder if Jesus knows what he's talking about. Happy? When mourning, hungering and thirsting? When persecuted?

Happiness is never achieved directly. If you set out only to be happy, chances are you'll end up miserable. If a congregation and its leaders worry about making its members “happy” they will never attain anything like the “blessedness” that Jesus announces. But as we become fully engaged—body, mind, and soul—in other efforts, we discover real happiness—the blessedness, or good fortune Jesus speaks about. If you are engaged in making peace, in showing mercy, even if you are mourning—you might find happiness.

More than that, as we engage with the world, we hear the good news that God is breaking into this world with mercy, comfort. The promise of God can be trusted. The promise of God reshapes how we understand the present. It is no longer a matter of waiting for good things. The goodness of God is coming toward us even in the most difficult situations.

God's favor is toward those who live under God's rule. Theirs is the kingdom of heaven. They are part of the new thing that is happening.

This is not about taking on added requirements for living, but about being transformed people. Long ago the prophet Micah spoke to the people: “God has told you what is good—do justice, love kindness, walk humbly with your God.” Salvation—wholeness in life is not about doing more things but following the way that is known.

And this is where God is leading us, I think. Transforming us that we might do what is just, kind, and humble—and in so doing find the happiness that is a blessing to our neighbors, a blessing to the hurting world, and a blessing even to ourselves.



[i] Peter Gomes, Sermons, pg. 116