Year A Epiphany 4 Matthew 5 2011
The True Nature of Happiness
- His ability to make and conserve money (That lets me out already).
- The cost, style and age of his car.
- (This is my favorite) How much hair he has.
- His strength and size.
- The job he holds and how successful he is at it.
- What sports he likes.
- How many clubs he belongs to.
- His aggressiveness and reliability.
Here’s what happened: Jesus had just started his ministry and was gaining in popularity. Large crowds were gathering. He had just picked out his disciples. And in the quiet of the rolling grassy hills of northern Israel by the Sea of Galilee, Jesus delivered a sermon to a multitude. Acres and acres of human faces. The crowd represented a cross section of humanity.
There were rich and poor, young and old, doubtless varied races, those who were astute business men and those who were failures. In fact, the crowd that Jesus spoke to that day represented the world in miniature.
Yet, as different as they all were, Jesus understood that they were all on the same quest. They were all after the same thing. They all wanted happiness. Well, we are just like them aren’t we? Isn’t that what we want for ourselves. Isn’t that what we ultimately want for our children:
The problem is that we really don’t grasp the true nature of happiness, and because of that it so often seems to elude us. You see, we think that happiness deals with our outer circumstances. We think that the truly happy man is one who has achieved outer success. Thus our beatitudes read:
- Blessed is the man who makes a fortune.
- Blessed is he who earns six figures.
- Happy is the man who has a palace in the city and a summer home in the mountains.
- Blessed is he who has won the applause of his pears.
- Blessed is the woman who is recognized as a darling of society.
(The rest of this sermon looks at three of the verses from the Beatitudes):
- Blessed are the Poor in Spirit
- Blessed are those how Mourn.
- Blessed are the Meek.
Lamplight vs. Starlight
Don't worry about whether or not you are "star material." Instead, turn up your lamp and hold it up to help your neighbor around the unexpected holes and rocks that mark every path.
In the middle of the New Mexico desert, astronomers fume about the "light pollution" from all the sprawling cities that are gradually snaking out across the land. Even on the darkest moonless nights, the stars that used to gleam and twinkle so brilliantly look faded and dim. We who dwell in the middle of cities and suburbs rarely glance heavenward at night anymore - at least not to see stars. The lights that now illumine our nights as brightly as our days read "McDonald's," "Holiday Inn," "Casino Open," and "Twenty-Four Hour Service."
In the glare of all these high-powered night lights, it is hard to remember just how dark and frightening the hours between sunset and sunrise used to be for our ancestors. Light, whether natural or artificial, was a precious commodity. Perhaps the only place where people still tune the rhythms of their lives to the lights in the sky are those who dwell above the Arctic Circle. Despite the modern convenience of the light switch, there is no ignoring the fact that the daylight hours all but disappear for several months. In Tromso, Norway, this period of darkness is called morketida. From mid-November to mid-January, the sun does not rise above the horizon. In fact, from August until mid-November, residents can count on losing 10 to 15 minutes of light each day until the depths of the winter solstice. At best, those high above the Arctic Circle may look forward to only two or three hours of indirect or half-light around midday for nearly two months.
Yet while the stars that light the sky during this morketida period may shine for long periods, they are not enough to dispel the gloom that pervades the streets and can easily poison the soul. Those of us who curse "light pollution" for dimming our stars are disgusted, not at losing light, but at losing a beautiful, heavenly starscape to ponder. Stars are both too distant and too overwhelming to offer us any real nighttime comfort or vision.
During our own periods of morketida, we don't really need more stars - we need more common lights or lamps to light our everyday paths on this earth. Whether in literature, academe, Hollywood or the firmament, stars inspire us, they dazzle us, they entice us to dream. But a star won't keep you from stubbing your toe on a stone as you wander down a dark and lonely road.
In Matthew's text this week, Jesus urges us to serve as lamps for one another, not stars that only dazzle and inspire. Jesus calls us to be lights for the world, not exploding supernovas. Alas, there seem to be a lot more Christians who want to be stars than are willing to be lamps...