Sermon: Happiness is important and something God intended for us.

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Preached on 23rd January 2011
(Chritian Unity, pulpit exchange)
by Revd Ron Forster

Scripture reading:   Matthew ch. 5  vs. 1 - 12.

Theme:  Happiness is important and something God intended for us.  

 

But how can those people who have been through tragedies such as 9/11, the TSUNAMI, the FLOODS affecting Brazil, Sri Lanka, The Philippines and Australia ever feel happy again?

  - those who have seen their children murdered?

  - those who have lost sons and daughters - taken away disappeared

At the outset, this sermon will never completely answer those questions.

 

One writer reflecting on  Auschwitz: "In the human mind there is no such thing as the past.

Our brains are always working around what's happening in the present.

What we call the past always pours in like molten steel to absorb the present,

to shape what we are doing right now.

 

The way we behave is based largely on our experience and that of others.

The past sets loose the forces that affect the way we see and respond to what's around us."

 

As Antonia says in Shakespeare's play The Tempest:

"What's past is prologue".

Its another way of saying that everything up-till-now introduces the next act.

People's past will affect what is happiness for them.

Everybody wants to be happy. Is there anyone here who doesn't want to be happy?

What are the things that make you happy? How important is it for you to be happy?

What will you give up to get that happiness? What lengths will you go to feel it again?

What does it cost you? Does it drive you and do you know how?

How do you gauge your happiness?  By naming the things that make you happy you will get an insight into what your idea of happiness is, whether it is self-fulfilment, contentment

or a lack of want.

 

Everyone wants it but we have different ideas on what the word means.

It is like a huge bottomless space inside us that is ever-present and demands our attention.

 

We can become quite sure, absolutely convinced even that

if we finally had "this job", "the right relationship", "this possession",

or "this situation fixed" and so on then we would be truly happy

and never need anything more, we would be truly really happy.

 

But over time there is a gradual dawning that that this space or hole for happiness is bigger

than the things we thought would fill it.

We heard the beatitudes. It is a passage that speaks of blessedness or happiness

through the eyes of Jesus.

The word translates into happy or blessed in the sense of being privileged recipients of God's favour, and if you are blessed like this you will feel as though you have "got it made".

Jesus had called a small group around him to be his  "disciples".

They are now sticking close to him, and listening carefully to what he is saying

and watching what he is doing.

 

Rather quickly Jesus and the disciples found themselves increasingly surrounded by crowds of other people, so Jesus headed off up the mountain and he began to teach them.

 

He was speaking largely to poor and disadvantaged people and there was something about Jesus  that drew them to him.

They probably weren't people who felt like they "had it made".  

So Jesus was attracting big crowds of people because he appeared to be offering something

they wanted or longed for.  They are there "all ears" -

          just like the wealth seminar attendees, on the edge of their seats

          close to discovering how they are going to reach their goal of security and happiness.

With no introduction - it seems - Jesus plunges into it:

Blessed  are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed  are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.

Blessed  are the gentle, for they shall inherit the earth.
Blessed   are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.

Lets pause a moment and attempt to feel the impact of these words more keenly

instead of the familiarity we have from them.

 

Even the first hearers were probably a bit disappointed

and wondering how this worked out in their situation.

 

When we are sad and struggling -  feeling weak and powerless over our circumstances with no immediate or even long term chance of any significant change  - we become vulnerable to the next "messiah"  [so to speak] who confidently walks into our life offering relief, change or stability.

The first hearers were in such circumstances.

They wanted to hear something and follow someone who would change this.

 

They didn't come to hear some spiritualising spiel that left them feeling misunderstood.

 

Jesus loved these people deeply:  he had compassion on them,

so what he goes on to teach them somehow in some way would help them through their day-to-day existence and make a difference now as well as in the future.

He begins with "Blessed  are the poor in spirit

What is it like to be poor in spirit? It has an extremely risky feel to it.

It is when someone is finally at the end of their tether and comes to a realisation

that their own resources within themselves have completely dried up,

and it feels like there is nothing left.

It is the bottom of the pit, and nowhere to go, it is dark and boggy and it can feel very lonely.

Have you been there or are you there now ,or are you trying hard not to get there?

What is this like for you? Dare I ask if you feel blessed or happy or that you've got it made?

Probably not. No one in their right mind chooses to be at the end of their TETHER,

 in fact everything in us is intent on staying as far away as we can from such a place.

 

Much of our pleasure seeking activities are bent on keeping us out of such places.

No. 2 is "Blessed are those who mourn

 

There is much to mourn in our lives but mourning isn't.......well....... it isn't comfortable.

When you are in the company of someone who is mourning you probably find yourself trying to relieve it, to make it feel better.

Trying to tell them that Jesus said it was OK and it would make them happy could sound trite and condescending.

 

Even if we let ourselves get close to mourning, there is a strong compulsion to find something to make us happy so we can get out it, get over it or ignore it.

It's another place of vulnerability and truth telling.

 

Mourning over the deep losses in our lives - our innocence, the failures, the loss of hopes and dreams, even having the courage to name them - is risky.

What will it say about me? What would others think if they knew? How would I feel if I started to recognise my own truth?

Not a happy or blessed feeling.



No 3. "Blessed  are the meek [the gentle]

 

The gentle don't get what they want and people walk all over them.

It is "survival the fittest" for us today. If you don't fight for your own cause,-

 if you don't defend yourself - no-one else will do it for you.

But what are we defending mostly?

 

When are the times I feel most defensive? When I snap back or use satire or sarcasm, what is happening for me? What am I scared of?

 

The first person who is longing for your gentleness is you, to turn towards the fear and confront it with gentleness and ask what is happening right now?

We can probably relate to this beatitude and even acknowledge that if it was our experience

 it possibly could make us happy.

 

But real gentleness comes after poverty of spirit and mourning.

We can't just go to one in isolation and try and develop that to make us happy.

The whole point is: genuine gentleness only comes from poverty of spirit and mourning.

No.4 "Blessed  are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness

 

There appears to be a progressive sequence in these statements.

 

By the time you are at the end of your tether, and you know how to mourn over the things

that God brings up to mourn about - which can go on for a very long time and which needs to be revisited again and again, and you discover a new plant beginning to grow within you called gentleness - you are probably desperately hungering and thirsting for righteousness

- and it just happened!

 

There is a new appetite and longing that is for the things of God;

the things that used to make you happy are not as demanding as they used to be;

the shine has faded and you are becoming more discerning of what is real and what isn't.

The Beatitudes continue go on to challenge our view of happiness

with even more confronting situations like treating others better than they deserve,

and allowing others first claim on everything but looking towards a future happiness in a new way of being.

 

 It is the beginning of a community unlike anything that has gone before it -

 a new covenant people in relationship with God at the dawning of a new era:

 

Jesus called it "The Kingdom of God".

But it all begins with the first one: "poverty of spirit".

That is the starting place every time and it is humbling and humiliating.

 

Humility comes from the word humus, which means the earth

 - the place where all living plants begin.

 

That pit we can find ourselves in - the one we fall into when we are at the end of our tether - that pit can become the dark fertile place where the rebirth and the growing takes place.

 

It is returning to the rich fertile soil and  becoming completely dependent on God

for the vital warmth, security and nourishment.

 

Jesus spoke on a mountain to people who were looking and longing for a better life

 and a better future for their children.

 

The words are timeless, and he comes to us with the same compassion

and the same offer of real and lasting happiness.  Will you accept it?

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