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 Happy? Luke 6:17-26

Bures 13.2.2022

Well, here we are in the middle of February. It’s been a lengthy winter. We’re getting a bit tired of it. We long for warmer weather. So, what would make you instantly happy right now? Where would you rather be?

Perhaps, lying on a beach in the Mediterranean, reading a book, with the warm sun on your back? Would that make you happy? Or maybe, lying in bed at home; the IPhone pings and you hear you’ve won £1,000,000 on the Premium Bonds. That would make you happy. For me, I must admit, a quick trip to Florida does seem very attractive.

In our New Testament reading, Jesus gives 3 secrets to true happiness. But they are certainly not like the ones I’ve just mentioned! Frankly they seem utterly bonkers!

“First of all,”, he says, “To be happy, you must be poor.”

This sounds like total madness! Is Jesus saying that we have to give away all our money and live like beggars? 

No. A superficial glance at some words in the Bible can often give a completely false impression.

An astronomer once spotted a bishop at a cocktail party. “Ah, bishop,” he said, rather pompously, “I know everything about the Bible. All it really says is, ‘Do your best’. Now, tell me, what do you know about my profession, astronomy?”

The bishop, tongue in cheek, looked at him and replied, “Twinkle, twinkle, little star. How I wonder what you are.”

By not looking carefully at the Bible the astronomer got it totally wrong. Here, when Jesus uses this word “Poor”, the full meaning of the word is “spiritually poor”. Something entirely different.

Let’s take a modern example of what Jesus is talking about:

Late in 1945, Erwin Langer was in the German army. He was captured by the French and was being sent to Siberia by train. Somehow, he managed to jump off the train and escape, despite bullets whistling round him.

He eventually returned home. Life was hard. He became a bricklayer, married, and had 3 children. The third child was called Bernhard. Bernhard inherited his father’s courage and determination. Aged 8, he started caddying at the local golf club. Then he discovered that he himself could play the game pretty well. 10 years later he turned professional. He wanted to become the Number 1 player in the World. 10 years after that he was! Before the age of 30 he’d achieved his dream!

But he found that he wasn’t satisfied. He said, “I had all the money I needed – a beautiful, young wife – I had everything! But I didn’t have real peace. There was something missing”.

Bernhard recognised that he was “spiritually poor”.  He knew there was more to life. He was invited to a Bible study group. There he realised that, because of what Jesus had done for him on the Cross, he could have a new life. He gave his life to Christ. He was “spiritually poor”; but then he became “spiritually rich” as Jesus’ new life flooded into him. He now says, “My first priority is pleasing God, second is my family and golf is only third”. 

The second of Jesus’ secrets for happiness: “To be happy you must be hungry and thirsty”. Surely Jesus is joking here! Now, we all know that going on a diet often does us good, but…. Happiness? really….?

Again, we have to look at the key words, “hungry and thirsty”. Here’s a translation which makes it clearer. “O how happy are they who long for total righteousness, like the starving long for food, or the thirsty for water”.

Here’s someone who’d suffered extreme thirst. He remembered his experience:

“A group of friends and I travelled deep into the Sahara Desert by camel. The temperature soared to above 40 degrees centigrade in the shade; but there was no shade. On the way our goat-skin waterbag leaked all of its precious contents.

“We’d run out of water. My mouth became completely dry. Eating was impossible. Swallowing felt like the rubbing of two pieces of sandpaper together. My vision became blurred. 

“As I staggered on, my mind turned to this Bible verse, ‘Happy are those who hunger and thirst after righteousness’. I realised that I’d never sought righteousness with the same passion that I now gave to the quest for water”.

Hunger and thirst are the most basic of human desires. Any of us who have children know that, for the first 12 years of our child’s life, they eat normally. Then, when they become teenagers, it’s almost impossible to feed them enough! However, that’s when they really start to grow. The same can be said of the Christian life. Jesus was the most righteous man the world has ever known. If we hunger to follow him, to be like him. Then we shall grow too. Our lives will flourish – for good.   

The third secret Jesus gives seems the oddest of the lot. To be happy, first of all we have to mourn! How can crying make us happy!?!

Now, it’s great to be laughing and joking all the time. But sometimes we do need to look deeper into ourselves, to look hard at our lives.

One poet put it like this:

“I walked a mile with Pleasure. She chatted all the way.

But left me none the wiser, for all she had to say.

I walked a mile with Sorrow. And ne’er a word said she.

But, oh, the things I learned from her, when Sorrow walked with me”.

Shane Taylor was considered one of the most dangerous men in the UK prison system.  Originally jailed for attempted murder, he had his sentence extended by 4 years when he attacked a prison officer with broken glass.

He was put in a segregation unit inside a maximum-security prison. He was given his food through a hatch. His door was not opened unless there were 6 officers with riot shields waiting outside.

Later he was transferred to a prison where he was invited to an Alpha Course. There he heard about Jesus and about what sin can do. He heard this: “At the crucifixion, sin took the loveliest life in all the World and smashed it on a cross”.

(That “smashed life” is what we will remember in a few moments when Mary leads us in Communion).

When Shane heard about that, he was a broken man.  He prayed, “Jesus Christ, I hate who I am; who I’ve become. Please forgive me and come into my life”.  At that moment he was filled with the Holy Spirit. He went running into the wing to tell anyone he could find, “Jesus is real!”

Jesus’ third secret? “How happy are they whose hearts are broken because of their own sin. For, out of their sorrow, they will find the joy of God”. That was certainly true of Shane.

Here are the 3 secrets of happiness – and that’s what we pray that Charlie will experience in the future. Being baptised here this morning doesn’t make him a Christian. But when he is able to make a decision for himself, those secrets will be what Jesus offers him.

There is nothing wrong with wanting to sunbathe in the Mediterranean, or to win £1,000,000 – as long as we give most of it away, of course; or even a quick trip to Florida. However, they only bring temporary pleasure. 

Being spiritually poor; being hungry and thirsty for Jesus’ life in us; deeply mourning our past wrongdoings – these are the 3 secrets that lead to true and lasting happiness – in this World, and the next.

    

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