True Joy VS Temporary Happiness
Epiphany 4 A
(In Epiphany 4A,
Matthew 5:1-12; also Epiphany 6C Luke 6:17-26; also All Saints Day, Series A;
also All Saints Day, Series C)
Happiness is different things to different people; that’s what
I have some
questions for you. “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 definitely
silly but I can still remember my high school 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.
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. How can one measure the
happiness of that day and the pleasures that she was going to bring
to our lives in the future.
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? Family? Friends? Health? Clothing?
Good relationships? Roof over your head? Money in the bank? 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
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
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
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,
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 today 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.
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
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.
won’t talk about all of the beatitudes today, all
nine streams, but three of them.
“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. … It takes courage to step into
a conflict when two nations are fighting and killing each others
sons and daughters. Have
you ever been in the middle between warring parents, warring
friends, warring races, warring siblings, warring nations? 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, new 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.”
conflicts are not happy places to be, but that is where Jesus sends
us his disciples.
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 I
would like to tell but it could have been 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
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
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
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
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
live within societies where their essential are 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. We Christians
crave for good and healthy and wholesome relationships with other
is joy that comes from craving for justice and righteousness in the
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