s037g93 Somerton Park 31/1/93 Sunday 4

"How happy are the poor in spirit; theirs is the kingdom of heaven." - Matthew 5.3

Happiness is the universal goal to which we all aspire. We live our lives in search of happiness; we earn our living in order to spend on our holidays; we hope for health and sufficient material possessions to make our lives comfortable.

The television advertisements for the Cross Lotto - the ones I have noticed have featured what one could do if you won. The first was to get a satellite dish to pick up 68 channels of television, the second was to quit one's job in a really spectacular manner - telling one's boss where to go and where to stick the job!

Yet, when we really look at what makes us happy, in fact what does, is our sense of what we can contribute to those around us, and the love in which we are held by others. That is - our happiness is intimately linked to the job we do and the relationships we enjoy. The real tragedy of unemployment is more frequently not hunger or other deprivation - we have an excellent social security system to help here - it is really the loss of self esteem that unemployment so often brings. We are not valued because we don't have skills others appreciate, either vocationally or personally. The fact that a television with more channels is proffered as a source of happiness betrays the fact of which we are all aware - that the five channels we already have are not sufficient for our entertainment now. Entertainment might bring fleeting escape but it would never be asserted that it does the slightest to raise our self esteem as a relationship does.

Neither a job or friendship can be bought, as we might buy the correct toothpaste from the supermarket. Both are functions of our relationships with others.

It is in this light that the beatitudes really show us the way towards happiness, for each of them deal with the way we approach others.

Those who are poor in spirit, are not those who are likely to dominate and oppress others. The gentle likewise would treat others with courtesy and respect. Those who mourn, mourn the loss of a loved one, and their comfort will come from another human relationship. Those who hunger and thirst for what is right have concern for all people in mind. The merciful are prepared to forgive others and not let the past ruin the relationship. Those who are pure in heart are to be trusted. Peacemakers by the very name are concerned with human relationships, and those who are persecuted in the cause of right are not prepared to let an injustice to anyone be perpetuated.

The final blessedness is uttered toward those who stand up for their relationship with Jesus. When every other relationship has past, our relationship with Jesus will still be going strong.

To me it is significant that only the last of these concerns our relationship with Jesus, whereas the first eight concern our everyday relationships with those around us. Here I see Jesus concern for those who do not know of his love, yet through a sense of what is right and wrong do as Jesus would have them do. As such he pronounces his blessing on them despite the fact that they may not know him or the worth of that blessing. And by blessing them, he calls us as Christians to similarly applaud their actions even if not done "for God".

Jesus, as always, is prepared to be put last, as any poor, gentle, mourning, merciful, pure, peacemaker - hungry for, and persecuted in the cause of, right. We too are therefore called not to portray Jesus as different from this. In our enthusiasm for the cause it is easy (and I have no doubt what so ever, unintentionally) to give the impression that Jesus is only interested in how many converts he has. Any sort of evangelism which gives this impression, however unintended, has missed the mark.

One commentary puts it - "it is God's happiness to make (people) happy." (GM p378) God's commandments therefore as with these guide-lines by Jesus, are designed for our happiness not God's pleasure or glory. If we break a commandment, it is not primarily an offence against God, it is first and foremost an offence against ourselves and our happiness or against another and their happiness.

But does this mean that there is no evangelism? Does this mean that there is no Good News? Is it unnecessary to hope that others who do good yet do not recognise the actions of God in their lives will come to see it? Precisely the opposite - because Jesus here blesses them, and so acknowledges all who are thus occupied as his brothers and sisters.

So the Church as the body of Christ, and we as individual members of his body, are similarly called to bless those around us; these beatitudes are good news to those around us, even if they do not share our faith. For all are able to identify with at least one or other of them, if only in intention. I believe there would be very few who would not have most of these ideals for their lives, and as such we can indeed bless them, and acknowledge them as our brothers and sisters - as they are not when they change and become like us.

So in one sense the Church can well do with less talk about God, and more about blessing others in God's name. By doing this we put God last, as God would have it, yet curiously at the very heart of our lives and actions, where God really is. By doing this we effectively demonstrate our trust in God to be powerful in the lives of others through ourselves.

In 1983 an Anglican, Bruce Wilson, wrote a book called "Can God survive in Australia?" It was one of those classic texts like JAT Robinson's "Honest to God". In it he quoted a lot of statistics like: in 1969, 87% of Australians answered "yes" to a Gallop Poll question: "Do you believe in God?" whereas in 1949 the same poll was answered affirmatively by 95% of people (p14).

But these sorts of considerations, true though might be, are really irrelevant to the Church's understanding of the situation. The fact remains that God believes in 100% of Australians in 1949, in 1969, in 1993 and will continue to do so whether anyone believes or not.

We need to be careful that we are not lured into the trap of thinking that everything's going off the rails - it isn't. The world needs desperately to hear the good news that God believes in them, and if it doesn't then, perhaps God doesn't expect people to reciprocate as much as we think.

The very first lesson that the Bible seeks to get across to us, is that we, female and male are made in the image of God as the pinnacle of creation, far above every thing else God created. We are called simply to be humane one toward another, not to be as the animals, to kill or be killed.

As Christians, the very core of our faith is that God wants us so much to realise the fact and the extent of his deep and personal love for each and every one of us that God's own son Jesus was sent to live, to die and to rise again for us, surely has precisely the same message. This message is as vital as it ever was, for all some might wish to deny it.

We are indeed blessed, even though we might think we are also "poor in Spirit", for Jesus' words apply as much to ourselves as to anyone else. We are blessed because we know something of the love of God and the inadequacy of life without the knowledge of that love. We can be sure that no one has got anything more of which we could be envious. But also we are blessed because we like Jesus, can see in all sorts of people around us, brothers and sisters, people who can contribute to the richness of our lives.

Links to other sites on the Web:

About the author and links.

To a Lectionary Index of Archived Sermons.

To a Scriptural Index of Archived Sermons.

Back to a sermon for next Sunday.