by Pastor Edward F. Markquart, Grace Lutheran Church, Seattle, Washington
Happiness. Happiness is different things to different people; that's what happiness is.
What are some of the happiest moments in your life? When you think back, when were those times when you were enormously happy? Can you think of such moments? I can. So can you. I can remember those times of wonderful happiness.
It is silly but I remember the basketball game against Fairmont. Fairmont was the local rival against the Jackson Blue Jays. I was a junior in high school. My cousins were there in the crowd with their girl friends. I hit six long shots that night, the only night I ever did that. The ball didn't touch the rim. Pure net. Later that night, I joined all my friends downtown at the local café, The Thompson Café, and I was very happy.
There were other times when you or I were enormously happy. On our wedding day. With all our friends and family to celebrate. Some of the greatest people in the world were there that day, our grandparents, parents, family, and friends. Many of these fine people are now gone, but they were there for one of the happiest moments in our lives.
And our daughter's wedding day to Steve. With her asking me to dance the Father's dance? What memories.
For some of you, it may be the time that your daughter or son was adopted or born. How fond I am of the picture of Jan and infant daughter, Anne, standing by the pine tree, as we get ready to walk into our apartment for the first time. What happiness for us all.
I have another question for you: What places make you the happiest? Not the people but the places. What are places that create an inner smile inside of you? For some of you, it is when you are out in the woods, hiking, hunting, walking. For others of you, it has to do with water such as fishing, swimming or boating. For others of you, it is when you are in your garden, having your fingers in the soil, planting seeds and watching flowers grow. For some of you it is being in the mountains: climbing, skiing, and seeing the views. For others of you, the place is your family room and you are watching TV, the fire in the fireplace or a movie. For many of you, it is where your grandchildren are. Many people have told me it is wherever the grandkids are. For others it is the kitchen, preparing meal, sitting around a table with family, the smell of freshly baked bread in the air. … For me, what is my favorite place under heaven? It is Paradise Park on Mount Rainier. At least, I have told my family that I would like some of the ashes from my body scattered there, right under Panoramic Point, looking out at the Tatoosh Range.
I have another question: what are those ingredients that help you to be a happy person? What are those things or qualities that enable you to be happier and not sadder? Food? Clothing? Good relationships? Roof over your head? Money in the bank? Good family? Good friends? Knowing that you are loved? All of these? Some of these? What are the ingredients that create a recipe of happiness for you?
It is with this mood and theme of happiness that we approach the New Testament gospel lesson for today. The gospel lesson for today is the beginning of the Sermon on the Mount where Jesus says, "Blessed are the…."
In the translation, Today's English Version, the Bible says, "Happy are the peacemakers; happy are those who mourn; happy are the…" and then are listed nine qualities that make for happiness.
The situation was this. In the Gospel of Luke, it is called the Sermon on the Plain because the people are gathered on a plain. But today I am going to use the Gospel of Mathew and that setting. In the Gospel of Matthew, the large crowd had gathered together down by the shore, down by the shores of Lake Galilee. Then Jesus took twelve disciples and left the crowds behind on the shore, down on the level seashore of Lake Galilee. He took his twelve disciples up onto a mountain or a hillside above Lake Galilee. These hills above Lake Galilee are more like the hills of the Palouse Range than mountains like Mount Rainier, Mount Shasta or Mount Baker. They are rolling large hills up above the lake, not mountains the way we think of mountains. I have been blessed to visit there, on the hills above Lake Galilee, at a chapel called the Mount of Beatitudes.
On these remote hills above Lake Galilee, Jesus was going to teach his newly called twelve disciples his fundamental lessons about life with God. What does Jesus teach his newly called twelve? What does Jesus teach his inner core of beliefs? Does he teach them about prayer? About Bible reading? About love and justice? No. Jesus began with something much more basic and simple. Jesus began by teaching his newly called disciples about…happiness, the simplicities of happiness. All people are interested in happiness. Everyone in this room wants to know about happiness. Everyone in this room, rich and poor, young and old, male and female, we all want to experience happiness. We all want it, look for it, and try to find it. Jesus begins his teachings by giving us a blue print for happiness.
Jesus talked about nine different steams that flow into the lake of happiness. Jesus and his disciples were sitting above the Lake Galilee, and Jesus talked about nine streams that flow into a lake that make for happiness. Or about nine different roads that flow into a city called Happiness.
But…it is interesting to me that Jesus didn't use the word for happiness. The Bible translation, Today's English Version, uses the word, happiness, but the Greek text would be better served if the word, joy, was used. This word comes from the Greek word, makarios.
If anyone is a Latin scholar, you realize that the word, happiness, is derived from the Latin word, hap. Hap means hap-hazard. It refers to circumstances that are happy. I am happy today because it is Christmas. I am happy today because it is my birthday and I receive presents. I am happy today because I have enough food on the table for me, and someone else made it and prepared it. I am happy today because I got to sleep in. I am happy because of happy circumstances that have made me happy. How does the song go, from the KING AND I? "Happy happy happy talk. Talking about things you do." The word happy is derived from the Latin, hap.
Whereas the Biblical concept of joy comes from the Greek word, makarious. You can be joyful and unhappy at the same time. You can be joyful even in the midst of unhappy circumstances. Joy has to do with the Spirit of God living inside of you. It has to do with that smile of God living in your heart. Joy is the assurance that God is with you and in you in all circumstances. It is knowing that in all circumstances of life, good and bad, that God is in control and will take care of you. It is knowing that God has a plan, a purpose and a prayer for you, even when the circumstances are unhappy. The net result is that you can be joyful during unhappy circumstances.
Jesus took his newly called disciples, his inner core, and took them up onto a hillside to teach them about his core values, and Jesus began his teachings with that which was most dear to his heart: joy. Today we talk about the beatitudes and we talk about joy, not happiness that is dependent on happy circumstances.
We won't talk about all of the beatitudes today, all nine streams, but three of them.
Jesus said, "Joyful are the peace makers. Joyful are those people who work for peace." Have you ever had the experience where you have walked into a very intense conflict, where you were drawn into a very unpleasant situation and people were not happy at all? In fact, you may have been at the very heart of the conflict. Let's put it this way; has anyone here not been involved in a hostile conflict? It takes great courage, raw guts, be to be peacemaker, to live in such situations.
It takes great courage to get caught in a war between two fighting parents. I remember it vividly, like it was yesterday, when I was caught between Mom and Dad as a young junior high boy. … I takes courage to be in the middle when two friends are fighting and wanting you the peacemaker to take sides. … It takes great courage to step into a conflict when two races are fighting, when the prejudices run deep and hot. … It takes courage to step in when two members of the same family are fighting and even hating each other, and you step in to try to make it better. Have you ever been in the middle between warring parents, warring friends, warring races, warring siblings? It is very hot in the middle and not a nice place to be.
Most of us run away from such conflicts, when our stomachs turn inside out. When you try to be a peacemaker, you can get cut up, you can get hurt, you can get people mad at you. Jesus said, "Joyful are the peacemakers who are in very unhappy circumstances and still work for peace. I will give you my courage and compassion to work to resolve the conflict." Most of us run away from such conflict. We back away from it, avoid it, hope it will dissolve over time.
But instead of running away from nasty conflict, Jesus sends his disciples right into the middle of the conflict with new energy, courage and a clear goal to work for reconciliation. Jesus says to us his disciples today, "Go into these very unhappy situations. I will be with you. I will give you courage. I will give you the words. I will give you wisdom to deal with this. Joyful are those who work for peace, in very unhappy circumstances."
Yes, conflicts are not happy places to be, but that is where Jesus sends us his discples.
In a second beatitude, Jesus said, "Joyful are those who mourn." Isn't that a strange thing to say, "Joyful are those who mourn?" Doesn't this sound like an oxymoron, like a contradiction in terms?
It is not at all, if one understands God and the gospel. Let me give you an illustration of being joyful in the midst of mourning. I see it all the time, during death and funerals. It is a story told hundreds of times in my life where I experience the faith of the deeply believing people of God. They know for sure that their loved one is with Christ, even while they are crying and grieving at a memorial service or funeral.
This is one story but it could be hundreds of other stories. Earl Sheppard was getting ready to die. "Earl the Pearl" is what I always called him. He was a tenor in the history of this church and other organizations. "Earl the Pearl" sang at many a wedding, many a funeral, many a patriotic program during WWII and after WWII. "Earl the Pearl" traveled and sang and sang and traveled. He was also our church electrician, working out the bugs of our sound system. If the sound system didn't work, call "Earl the Pearl" and he would fix it. As Earl came closer and closer to his death, he began to plan his funeral and decided he would sing at his own funeral…in his fabulous tenor voice, of course. He told me the recordings we were to use, the special Christian anthems that were part of his repertoire. The day came. The memorial service was held. "Earl the Pearl" sang. And we were all smiling and happy in the craziest funeral I had been at. After the funeral, the family gathered in the Fellowship Hall and danced to their father's music, as he also played the clarinet in a dance band in the forties. They cried tears of joy as the danced the afternoon away.
I understand those words, "joyful are those who mourn."
There is an Arabic proverb that says, "All sunshine and no rain makes for a desert." I have found that to be true: All sunshine in life and no rain in life makes for a desert.
As one poet has said, "If you do not drink from the streams of sorrow, the streams of sympathy will soon dry up. You will no longer be capable of the finest gift of God: sympathy." Sympathy is the gift from God to feel another person's pain; it is also called, empathy, that is the capacity of knowing another person's pain. That is joy; to feel another person's pain and it may not be under the happiest of circumstances. It is truly a great gift to have the capacity to grieve and feel sorrow. If you don't have this quality, you are a sad person.
If you truly have drunk from the cup of sorrow, you will agonize over the hurts of others. If you have been wounded in life, you will become the wounded healer.
Karl Barth, the famous theologian, said, "A generation that has no great anguish in its heart will have no great music on its lips." It is true. Great music and great art are born in times of anguish and adversity. Great hearts are only born in times of adversity and anguish.
I would like to share an illustration with you. Pretend you are driving down the freeway, perhaps on I-5. As you are driving down the freeway, you come up behind a large mobile home and the sign says, "Wide Load, Danger" and so you have to pass it carefully. Sometimes you come up behind a person who wears an invisible sign on them that reads, "Wide Load." And you know that you have to be careful, gentle, with a soft touch in the way you address that person.
If you are an empathetic, sympathetic person, you have the gift of joy. That is, Jesus taught his disciples the fundamental lessons of life, and one fundamental lesson was, "Joyful are those who mourn and feel empathy with others."
St. Francis prayed, "O Divine Master, grant that I would not seek so much as to be consoled as to console… for it is in giving that we receive." It is in giving love that we give and receive the gift of consolation.
Jesus also taught a third beatitude to his newly called disciples up on that mountain. "Joyful are those that hunger and thirst for righteousness." The Greek word is, diokosynos, that in the New Testament is translated, righteousness. In the Old Testament, this word is translated, justice. So I will use both words, justice and righteousness.
Joyful are those who hunger and thirst for justice and righteousness; joyful are those who crave for justice and righteousness.
This is a story from the Buddhist tradition. There was a young man who wanted to discover the way to truth, goodness and salvation. The young man came to Buddha and asked him to show him the way to salvation. Buddha took the young man down to the river and out into the middle of the river where it was waist deep. Buddha took the young man by the back of the neck and put his head under water. The young man thought, "I am being baptized and Buddha will up my head shortly." But Buddha held his head under the water longer and longer. The young man struggled and pushed his head up, but Buddha used his second arm and hand and pushed on the men's head harder and harder. Buddha's arms and hands were enormously powerful and strong. The young man tried to force his neck and head up above water, but the Buddha wouldn't let him. The young man was coughing under water and Buddha finally let him up and the young man grasped for air. The young man coughed out his words, "Buddha, why did you do that?" Buddha replied, "When you thought that you were drowning, what did you desire most?" The young man said, "Air." Buddha said, "When you crave God's goodness and wholeness as much as you craved air, you will find it."
Jesus said, "He who hungers and thirsts and craves for justice and righteousness and wholeness, like a person craves for air when they are drowning, that person will find it."
Where there is a craving inside of you for justice, for the organization of law and life where the little people and the little countries of the world will be fed; where you have a craving for this, you will find joy inside your soul. A joyful person is a person who craves for justice, who craves for the little people and the little countries of the world that they would have their essential needs met.
Joyful are those people who crave for righteousness, who crave for people around you to live a right life. There are parents in this congregation who crave that their children will walk in the paths of righteousness, in the paths of God's goodness. How we crave for people to love those things that are right and good, and our hearts break when we see our loved ones doing those things that are not good and wholesome for them.
There is joy that comes from craving for justice and righteousness in the world.
I like Sister Mother Winters song. "I saw raindrops on my window, joy is like the rain. Laughter runs across my pane, slips away and is here again, joy is like the rain. … I saw clouds upon a mountain, joy is like the clouds. Sometimes silver, sometimes gray, always sun not far away, joy is like the clouds. … I saw Christ in wind and thunder, joy is tried by storm, Christ asleep within my boat, whipped by wind and still afloat, joy is tried by storm. … I saw raindrops on my window, joy is like the rain." … Mother Winters understood joy and took pleasure in drinking from the waters of joy.
Happiness. Most of the world is concerned about happiness. The crowd at the bottom of the mountain that day were concerned about happiness. They thought that happiness had to do with circumstances such as receiving Christmas presents, birthday presents, and food, houses, and heat. A lot of people spend a whole lifetime of trying to find happiness that is so circumstantial. A goal for many people is to find happiness. The word, happiness, is derived from the Latin word, hap.
But when Jesus took his newly called disciples up onto a mountain, he first taught about the essentials, the fundamentals, the core of his teachings. He began by teaching them about joy, about that inner quality of the heart that comes from knowing God and walking with God. He said, "Joyful are those who work for peace. Joyful are those who mourn. Joyful are those who hunger for justice and righteousness." We understand. Amen.
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