The readings on which this sermon is based can be found at: http://frsparky.net/a/r086.htm


s086g14 All Saints 2/11/2014 Hororata s037g93 modified

"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.

A long time ago the television advertisements for Lotto in Australia featured what one could do if you won the big prize. 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 - like telling one's boss where to go and where to stick the job!

Yet, when we really look at what makes us happy, 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 a social security system to help here. It is really the loss of self esteem that unemployment so often brings. We think that we are not valued because we don't have skills others appreciate, either vocationally or personally.

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 a 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 when others Ďrevile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against youí because we do these things and put God last. To me it is significant that only the last of these concerns what might be termed 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 Godís 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, would. We too are therefore called not to portray Jesus as different from this. In our enthusiasm for the cause it is easy (perhaps unintentionally) to give the impression that Jesus is only interested in how many converts we can make. Any sort of evangelism which gives this impression has missed the mark.

One commentary puts it - "it is God's happiness to make (people) happy." (1) God's commandments therefore, as with these guidelines 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 that 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 being friends with 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.

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 (2).  But these sorts of considerations, true though they might be, are really irrelevant to the Church's understanding of the situation. The fact remains that God believes in 100% of humans in 1949, in 1969, in 2014 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 doesnít, then perhaps God doesn't expect people to reciprocate as much as we think. Just last Monday morning I heard the journalist Simon Kuper interviewed on Radio NZ - that the world is in fact getting a safer place. (3)  Life expectancy in Africa is actually increasing.

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, to not live like animals, to kill or be killed, the survival of the fittest.

As Christians, the very core of our faith is that God wants all to realise the fact of Godís belief in humanity and each and every one of us. I contend that it was precisely because Jesus proclaimed Godís belief in all of humanity that so riled the devout and orthodox that they had him killed. This message is as vital as it ever was, for all some might wish to deny it. But I must admit I donít often hear the church proclaiming clearly that the God they worship believes in others too - others who might call God by a different name - others who work for the common good in so many ways.  

Are we in the Anglican Communion happy?   The answer is to be found not in defining who we are and who isnít one of us, but in our relationships with other faiths, and in our relationship with others of no faith.   Our happiness as a Communion will come when we are poor in Spirit, when we cease to try to manipulate others, when we are gentle with other faiths.   We might mourn the loss of our Anglican identity, yet we will be blessed in the new relationships that follow.   We will find purpose when we hunger and thirst for justice towards (for instance) gay and lesbian persons.  We will be merciful toward those who call God by a different name.   We will be blessed when others see the pureness of our hearts, that we are not concerned with the perpetuation of our own personal monument or ministry.   We are blessed when we are seen to be peacemakers and not just another cause of continuing division in society.   And we are blessed when others, most often religious people, revile us for putting God last.

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 as we seek to contribute to the richness of theirs.

1. GM p378
2. p14
3.  http://www.radionz.co.nz/national/programmes/labourday