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Bible

Do We Have A Right To Be Happy?

A sermon by Rev. Jan Croucher

Matthew 5:1-12, 7:24-28

INTRODUCTION

You have probably heard of Galileo and how, about 400 years ago he argued that Aristotle was wrong about gravity. If you took two objects with one heavier than the other, Aristotle argued that the heavier one would fall faster. Well Galileo said ‘No. They will fall at the same speed.’ But nobody paid any attention to him. They thought he was a bit crazy. They simply dismissed it, because he was obviously wrong. But when he climbed up the leaning tower of Pisa, taking two objects, one heavier than the other and dropped them, the crowd was amazed to see them land together.

Now this morning we are not in a Science class, but the point is that there have been times when we have each heard someone say something which we have thought to be just plain wrong, misguided, naive, even stupid, so we have dismissed it. And we later came to find out that what they said was actually true.

Today I want to look at “The Beatitudes” as recorded in Matthew’s Gospel. But there will only be time to give an introduction and ask whether or not we have a right to happiness. In future sermons I want to deal with each one specifically because I believe they are pivotal to Jesus’ overall teaching.

MATTHEW 5:1-12

In this morning’s Scripture, Jesus said something that just doesn’t seem right. In fact if it had been said by someone other than Jesus, we would be tempted to dismiss it as said by someone off the planet – someone who is a bit extreme…

So we ask: whatever do these sayings of Jesus mean? He can’t really mean what he seems to be saying. Take for example Jesus’ statement: ‘Blessed are the poor.’ Does it mean that we all should be choosing poverty in life? Does it mean we should wish poverty on others so that they can be blessed? Does it mean that rather than giving thanks around the table we ought to apologise and repent that we are about to fill ourselves and end our hunger? Could it even mean that God actually loves the poor more than He loves the rich? Because it sure sounds that way.

BLESSED – What does it mean?

Some translators use the word ‘Happy’, conceding that ‘Blessedness’ goes deeper.

BEATITUDES – the ‘Be-attitudes’ or ‘Attitudes for Being’.

QUESTION – Do we have a right to happiness?

CONSIDER THIS COMMENT

‘The trouble with you Americans ‘, said an Englishman, ‘is that you have to be so confoundedly happy. You boast about it as an inalienable right, as though happiness were the supreme and absolute goal of all existence. Surely there are more important things in life than just being happy.’

Thomas Jefferson, the brains behind the ‘Declaration of Independence’ borrowed his ideas from the Englishman John Locke, who specified as fundamental human rights – life, liberty and property. Jefferson considered that list inadequate and substituted ‘happiness’ for ‘property’.

Does this represent the truth? Have we a right to happiness? The advertisers believe we do, and so do the song-writers. Most of us dream of happiness, we plan for it and live in a never-ending search for it. In search for happiness one person buys half-a-dozen homes, another goes into the wilderness. In the same search one woman becomes a nun and another a harlot. Some of us search for happiness in night-clubs, the casino, in race tracks, in bingo or even in drugs.

And it seems our nation is turning to witchcraft with frightening speed. And not just our nation. If you received an e-mail from the Newmans this week you will have read of their sitting having coffee and watching the sales pitch of a witch in the market place, profiting from people’s gullibility in their search for happiness.

A middle aged man came to my husband and me just recently saying he was walking out of his marriage because he was no longer happy, and since everyone has a right to happiness he was giving that priority over his responsibility as a husband and father.

Have we a right to happiness?

MATTHEW 5 has an entire discourse from the lips of Jesus with happiness as its theme.

THE SCENE

What an audience this is that Jesus faces. The inner circle of his special friends, and beyond them stretch acres of human faces. It’s a vast throng, made up of all kinds of people. It’s a cross-section of humanity. There are the successful and the failed, those who have conquered and those who have felt defeated, the rich, the poor, the literate, the illiterate, varied races and religious creeds. Jesus is in fact speaking to a miniature world. As He looks into their faces He looks beneath to their hearts and sees that they are all out on the same quest, all seeking for the same thing, though blunderingly, and the pathos of their blind gropings lays hold of Jesus’ heart.

The heart of humanity remains unchanged and if Jesus were speaking in the Bourke St Mall today He would still be moved by that same compassion. He would still find us doing a thousand things to try to be happy. He would take little account of our scientific discoveries and inventions. He would tell us that the roadway to happiness is the same today as it was 2000 years ago.

And Jesus can speak with authority about happiness because it was His constant possession. Yes He was a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief. But in spite of that His was the gladdest heart that ever beat and the sunniest face that ever looked out on the world. Sorrow comes for sure but it is only temporary because ‘Joy comes in the morning’. It is happiness that ‘abides’ and sorrow and sighing flee away.

WHO THEN ARE THESE BLESSED PEOPLE?

Jesus makes it plain at the outset that our happiness does not come from any outward circumstances. Yet we still seem to feel that the happy person is the one who achieves outward success, who makes a fortune, who can write a cheque in seven figures, who has a mansion in an expensive suburb and a holiday house by the sea, who has won the applause of many. But Jesus says happiness is not the result of possessions.

Neither is it the result of no possessions. When Luke reports this sermon, he says: ‘Blessed are the poor.’ But poverty is not in itself a blessing. Neither is wealth a non-blessing.

Happiness depends not upon what we have, or what we do, but on what we are. If we seek happiness on the outside we will miss it forever, because happiness comes from within.

How utterly ridiculous this must have sounded to those people Jesus was speaking to and how utterly ridiculous it sounds to us today. Happiness does not depend on the kind of house we live in, but the kind of person who lives in it. It does not depend on the quality of the garments we wear but the kind of person that is dressed.

These ‘Be-Attitudes’, these ‘Attitudes of being’ make it very plain that happiness is a state of mind. ‘Let me tell you,’ Jesus said, ‘who the blessed, the truly happy people are.’ He goes on to enumerate the poor in spirit, the mourners, the meek, the righteous, the merciful, the pure in heart, the peacemakers, the persecuted.

Jesus was able to see from his own experience that, while the good things in life may accompany happiness, they do not necessarily produce it.

DO WE HAVE A RIGHT TO HAPPINESS?

Yes, we do, but the surest way not to find it is to start looking for it, because that engenders in the pursuer a self-concern. Jesus is saying that happiness, the feeling of inner contentment and well-being that we all seek, and to which we have a right, comes as the by-product of the search for something more important.

Albert Schweitzer summed up the truth of the Beatitudes with these words: ‘One thing I know. The only ones among you who will be really happy are those who have sought and found how to serve.’

‘I think I must be the happiest man in the world! I have never met anyone who has had as much fun as I have had!’

What sort of person could have possibly said these words? A world traveller? An adventurer? A mountain climber? Leighton Hewitt?

No, none of these. It was a Christian missionary, Dr Frank Laubach, whose life was dedicated to the cultivation of literacy among the backward people of the world. Laubach never went looking for happiness but he found it as a by-product of a search for something more important. He declared: ‘You cannot describe the delight of people when they first discover that they can read. Men go hysterical and women weep for joy. No other work in the world could possibly have brought me so much happiness.’

ANOTHER TRUTH FROM THE HAPPY ATTITUDES

The secret to happiness lies in a right relationship with God. The pure in heart shall see God, the peacemakers will be called the children of God, the persecuted and the poor in spirit shall inherit the Kingdom of God. So we must preserve that term ‘Blessedness’ which denotes something deeper than the feeling of undisturbed contentment that many of us seek.

Jesus was a supremely happy man, and there is no doubt that some of his inner joy came from earthly relationships. The creature comforts of life, the opportunity to teach and heal, fellowship with disciples and friends – all these doors were open to him. But people closed these doors one by one. All through the final months of his life you can hear the click of closing doors. It was when shut in that upper room, his brief ministry a seeming failure, the Cross only hours away, his closest friends about to betray, desert and deny him that he bequeathed the most astonishing gift to his disciples: ‘These things have I spoken to you, that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be full.’ Just think of it. A man about to die the most terrible of deaths, talking about his joy, his gladness, his happiness. He had either gone mad or he had fallen back on resources the world knows nothing about.

The supreme resource of Jesus’ happiness was the assurance that God and only God would decide the outcome of his life. The world had snatched all the creature comforts from him and was about to break his body, but his soul, his inner essential self was secure in God, and in that security he found contentment and peace.

That is the happiness he covets for each of us who is willing to be his. In fact, the multitudes were distant and this teaching on the mount reached the ears of the twelve and the other disciples who were serious about following him. The crowds were the ones who like the followers of Aristotle’s theory dismissed it all as unbelievable, totally against the philosophies of the day.

Jesus is calling each of us to trust him, not in a casual way but in a radical way. In a world where all seems to be chaos and the old values which we have treasured as a nation seem to have vanished, and the fastest growing religion is now witchcraft, we must listen deeply to Jesus words and find joy as he did not in fleeting temporarily satisfying distractions but in God alone. He offers us the resources to live a full and satisfying life, one which knows sorrow but is anchored in Jesus Christ.

The term ‘miserable Christian’ should be an oxymoron, shouldn’t it? And yet… and yet… some Christians have expectations which are not fulfilled, and they ‘re not happy. In fact, in the year I’ve been ministering here I’ve found that even in this happy church there are some people who are not happy. My task as a pastor is to figure out why that is so, to understand the reasons and to help with the process of healing from those negative thoughts. Perhaps there are some who are finding it hard to cope with the new pastoral team we have in place now. I hope I can understand that. There’s a kind of grief associated with change which is difficult sometimes. But in the process of ‘accepting what we cannot change’ (as the serenity prayer has it) we grow into serenity. That is my prayer for all of you.

You might even identify with this story, about a boy who desperately wanted recognition. Little Jamie Scott was trying out for a part in a school play. He’d set his heart on being in it, but was scared he would not be chosen. On the day the parts were awarded, Jamie rushed up to his mother after school, eyes shining with pride and excitement. “Guess what Mum,” he shouted, “I’ve been chosen to clap and cheer!”

~~~

(Overhead):

Matthew 5:1-12, 7:24-28

INTRODUCTION (Galileo)

MATTHEW 5:1-12

BLESSED – What does it mean?

BEATITUDES – the ‘Be-attitudes’ or ‘Attitudes for Being’.

QUESTION – Do we have a right to happiness?

MATTHEW 5 – THE SCENE

WHO THEN ARE THESE BLESSED PEOPLE?

Again: DO WE HAVE A RIGHT TO HAPPINESS?

(Albert Schweitzer) (Frank Laubach)

ANOTHER TRUTH FROM THE HAPPY ATTITUDES

The Challenge for us: Jamie Scott.

Discussion

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