“Radical Happiness” – Matthew 5
Epiphany 5 – February 5, 2017
- Happiness in our world
A couple of weeks ago we landed on Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, focusing on the spiritual pitfalls that He identified specifically in Matthew 6 and 7. Today, we’re going to go back to the beginning of the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5.
Often when people think about the Sermon on the Mount, the first thing that comes to mind is the Beatitudes – the nine “blessed” statements Jesus made at the beginning of his message. [put them on the screen] The latin word ‘beatus’ literally means ‘blessed’ or ‘happy.’ That means that Jesus began his longest monolog by defining true happiness. The only problem is Jesus’ definition of happiness is not how people today would define happiness. People today would define happiness with phrases like this: financially secure; meaningfully employed; a stable mutually satisfying marriage to an attractive spouse; responsible kids; ample leisure time and toys for fun activities; a nice house with a few more square feet than you actually need; a safe neighbourhood and a peaceful country. If you had all those things, you’d probably be pretty happy.
Simon Sinek talks about the struggle that millennials have to find happiness in life.
https://youtu.be/hER0Qp6QJNU 7:26 – 8:29 – instant gratification – no app for that.
8:45 – 10:23 – impatience… things take time, ends with “best case scenario”
- Jesus’ counter-intuitive happiness
You know the difference between what our society defines as happiness and what Jesus defined as happiness is that our world defines the winners as the happy ones, while the only people Jesus talked about were considered losers by society: the poor in spirit, the mourners, the meek, the persecuted. No one wants to be around people like that. But according to Jesus, the way to be truly happy is to be counter-intuitive, and counter-cultural:
Acknowledging our moral bankruptcy instead of boasting moral superiority,
Mourning over our sin and confessing it rather than claiming to be without sin,
Demonstrating humility – walking humbly with our God – rather than flaunting pride,
Fervently desiring God’s righteousness and forgiveness instead of earthly satisfaction,
Showing mercy to those who truly need it rather than walking by on the other side,
Expressing singleness of heart in our worship of God in lieu of considering a multitude of beliefs,
Working toward peace with others instead of needing to win or to be right,
Accepting mistreatment for the sake of Jesus rather than hiding our faith to be safe.
Jesus loved and ministered to the down and out people, and if we want to be His followers, that’s where we will find true meaning in life, too – going out of our way to include and show compassion to those who are troubled.
- Influencing others
And that’s where Jesus takes us next in His Sermon on the Mount – to the topic of influencing others. Today many people believe that the most important thing about religion is keeping it private. So, you’ll hear people talk about worshiping God in nature rather than in the company of other believers. People will insist on religion being one of those topics that you really don’t talk about… it’s private, personal. For some, privacy is more essential than truth. But how can you check the truth of your beliefs if you don’t talk about them with others? How can you impact people positively, for God, if you don’t talk to them?
Jesus asserted that His followers are two things – salt and light. And He challenged them to be those two things in their world, influencing other people in positive and Godly ways.
- Salt of the earth
You are the salt of the earth, Jesus said. In the Beatitudes, Jesus consistently used the third person plural: “theirs is the kingdom of heaven,” “they shall be comforted,” “they shall be satisfied,” and “they shall see God.” Now, He begins to use the second person plural – you. He’s not just referring to them out there – those meek ones, the merciful ones, the pure in heart. Now, He addresses the disciples directly in the second person – you. And that includes… YOU! Yes, we are to take these words of Jesus personally. YOU are the salt of the earth. What does that mean? Well, salt has a couple of purposes. First, it is used as a preservative. We are not so familiar with that these days because we have refrigerators and freezers in which to store our meat. But in the olden days – some of you have experienced this personally – they used to use salt to preserve meat. They would cover the meat with salt and then hang it in a cool, dry place. You would rinse the salt off before cooking the meat. When we make our home-made sausage, the casings still come covered in salt.
The second purpose of salt is to flavour food. Whether it’s on fried eggs, or cooked vegetables, or that steak on the BBQ, salt somehow seems to make it taste a little better. Too much salt, doctors counsel, is not good for you, so there is this trend toward purchasing low sodium prepared foods from the grocery store. But your body does need some salt. It helps to control fluid balance and the functioning of the muscles and the nerves.
When Jesus says that YOU are the salt of the earth, He’s talking to those who believe in Him, and He includes both those purposes of salt in His assertion. His followers are meant to preserve and flavour the people of the world with Jesus’ own morals and values, with His own love, compassion, mercy, kindness, humility and sacrifice.
Think of your various spheres of influence: your spouse, your children / grandchildren, your extended family, your friends, those you work with, those who live on your street, those you interact with in a sport or social activity. How can you provide a Jesus-flavour, a Jesus-impact on their lives every day? It’s going to be in the words you say and how you say them. It’s going to be in your attitudes to them. It’s going to be in your deeds of kindness. Jesus gave us a hint of what it means to be the salt of the earth in one of his last teachings in Matthew’s Gospel. He said that we are Christ to other people by giving them something to eat or drink, by welcoming them, by clothing them, or by visiting them when they are sick or in prison. That is being the salt of the earth.
- Light of the world
The second image that Jesus spoke of is “You are the light of the world.” Again, this is in second person… YOU are the light of the world. By virtue of your faith relationship with Jesus who – John’s Gospel claims several times – is the true light of the world, YOU also are the light of the world. But here it is best that we think of Jesus as the sun – the source of light – while we are more like the moon – reflecting His light in and through our lives. John’s Gospel begins with that analogy of light. John, the Gospel writer, says that the true light was coming into the world… and he means Jesus. But he also refers to John the Baptist saying that he came to bear witness to the light – Jesus.
The image of salt is about flavour. The image of light is more about vision, and seeing spiritual truth. Light is a universal symbol for what is beneficial to people. We couldn’t exist, we couldn’t live, we couldn’t function without light of some kind. Light enables us to see and to follow a path, rather than stumbling around in moral darkness and shadows. Jesus points to the purpose of a lamp. You don’t hide it under a basket, but you put it on a stand so that it gives light to everyone in the house. There’s a reason why lights most often hang above us from ceilings… to shine down on everyone in the room for them to see clearly. In the same way, Jesus wants our light to shine before others – really it’s His light shining through us – so that they may see Jesus shining in us, see the truth that He is, and join us in praise of our Heavenly Father.
Shining may be about demonstrating the gospel with godly actions, but it is also about illuminating lives with the truth about Jesus being our Lord and Saviour. Shining is especially about telling people that God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have everlasting life. Shining is about telling people that Christ died for our sins, in accordance with the Scriptures, that He was buried, that He was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures. All that was done for you… so that you would KNOW that you are forgiven, that you would KNOW that you are loved, that you would KNOW that you are saved.
Again, think of your various spheres of influence, the same ones. How can you illuminate Jesus for them? It might be praying with a co-worker who has just lost a parent. It could be having a spiritual conversation with a neighbour at an appropriate time when God opens the door a crack. It could be reading a Bible story to your children or grandchildren and explaining to them the deep, deep love of God in Jesus. It might be teaching Sunday School, or helping out with Vacation Bible School or studying the Bible with fellow believers and encouraging them by sharing what you believe about Jesus. Let your light shine. Let the light of Jesus within you shine… to the glory of God.
- An unhappy heart leads to SIN!
Jesus continued the Sermon on the Mount by taking aim at some even tougher topics such as murder, adultery, divorce, oath taking, and revenge. In each case, He pointed back to the ancient teachings of the law, saying, “You have heard it said in the olden days.” But then, He gave His own explanation and interpretation of what God really desired. As He did that, He zeroed in on the source of the problem: an unhappy heart. An unhappy heart may lead to anger and hatred toward your brother, which may result in murder. An unhappy heart may lead to dissatisfaction with your spouse, and a wandering eye that desires someone else instead. That may lead to actual adultery but Jesus says that sexual fantasies are one and the same as adultery. An unhappy heart may lead to greed and taking oaths to improve, protect and increase your possessions. An unhappy heart may lead to revenge against those who have done evil against you – an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.
- Jesus came to fulfill the law and to die for those who can’t
Although we can’t fulfill the law, we can’t live up to all the expectations of those rules, Jesus explained that He came precisely for that reason… to fulfill the law and the prophets. He came to do what we couldn’t do, to live the God-pleasing life that, ever since Adam and Eve, has been out of reach for sinful humans. He came to do more than that… He came to die for the fact that we can’t live up to all the expectations of those rules. And His dying in our place brings us forgiveness for all of our failures to live up to those rules:
An unhappy, angry heart – forgiven!
An unhappy, lustful heart – forgiven!
An unhappy, greedy heart – forgiven!
An unhappy, vengeful heart – forgiven!
- The pursuit of happiness – a Jesus-heart
Declaration of Independence – “We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”
We actually don’t need to pursue happiness, to search for it in financial security, meaningful employment, a satisfying marriage, a more-than-enough house, and ample leisure time and toys to have lots of fun.
Radical, counter-intuitive, counter-cultural happiness (blessedness) comes from a Jesus-heart that has the right motivation: reconciliation, faithfulness, forgiveness and love. All these are found in Jesus, who is the true light of the world, and who sends us out to be both salt and light for our world. Amen.