St. Mark's Episcopal Church

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Epiphany 4 2011 Sermon
Rev. Lorraine Dierick

There's the story of a little puppy that noticed whenever he felt happy, his tail wagged, so he thought he had discovered the secret to happiness.  One day he shared his secret to happiness with an older dog.  He said, "I have learned that the best thing for a dog is to be happy, and that happiness is in my tail.  So I'm going to chase my tail, and when I catch it, I shall have happiness."  The older dog replied, "I too, believe that happiness is a marvelous thing for a dog and that happiness is in my tail, too.  But I have noticed that whenever I chase my tail, it keeps running away from me, but when I go about my business, it follows me wherever I go."  

Many of us may be like that little puppy chasing his tail trying to find true happiness which is always just out of reach.  What we need to do is learn that if we just go about our business and trust in the Lord, happiness or better joy, will follow us wherever we go.

Today, we find Jesus up on a mountain with his disciples gathered around.  This is but a short time following the call of his first disciples after which he went about Galilee proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and ministering to the sick and suffering.

The Sermon on the Mount is a serious teaching on what will be the business of a disciple and follower.  Jesus lays the foundation of his vision and ministry to bring the Kingdom of God into that time and place.  And this is no simple or easy plan of action.  There is no recorded response from those hearing this message for the first time.

Don't you suppose that someone in the crowd would have at least muttered under his breath, "You must be kidding, Jesus."  The expected Messiah was supposed to come to Israel, restore the nation and bring peace and prosperity to all people.  It's no wonder that so many just didn't get it and yet, isn't it nothing short of miraculous that so many did get it and followed him faithfully for the rest of their lives.

Essentially what Jesus says here, as I understand it, is you are the means by which the Kingdom of God will come, here and now.  If you chose to follow me, if you chose to trust me/you will forever be changed.  The values you now hold will be turned upside down.  The kind of world God desires for you is completely different from what you now know.

In the Kingdom of heaven this is how it is; the poor in spirit will be blessed with joy, not the confident and powerful; mourning and deep sadness will not destroy or overcome, it will help one discover the comforting love of others; beneath gentleness and meekness there can be found grace and holiness.

Society tends to honor and approve attitudes of aggressiveness, ambition, independence, self reliance.  Just take care of yourself and let others fend for themselves. 

"Oh no", says Jesus.  Imagine people going about the business of God loving with a changed attitude.  Imagine a kingdom where the very inner being of all is centered in kindness, compassion, truthfulness, where people live in peace and reverence the environment and speak for those with out power or voice.  Imagine what kind of world it would be if God's holy and loving will were fully reflected in human thought and action.

In some translations this scripture reads like this – “Happy are the poor in spirit, Happy are those who mourn, Happy are the meek, Happy are those who hunger and thirst for God's justice, etc.”  I'm not convinced Jesus was overly concerned about one's state of happiness. The Latin word "hap" is the source of our word happy) meaning, the circumstances upon which our mood depends.  In other words we are happy depending upon the situation where we find ourselves.

Being poor, sorrowful or hungry are not happy occasions, yet inner joy can be found in the midst of difficult times.  How often Jesus takes the wisdom of the world and flips it upside down.

Effective commercials cleverly tempt us into believing that we will be happy if we buy their product.  There are cosmetics that promise to erase the signs of aging, the latest diet to magically take off weight or the newest tech toy that offers even more functions with the ability to multi task at even greater speed.

You've all heard those empty promises.  The trouble is the pleasure of acquiring something new lasts for a very short time and then we'll be searching for the next great product which promises something newer and better.  And how easily we can be attracted to those promises.

Jesus points us in the opposite direction.  He's not promising happiness as we go about God's business; instead he offers blessings, he offers joy, he offers good fortune and God's divine favor.

This scripture, titled the Beatitudes, talks about the real world.  There is bad news in the world and in our lives all the time.  My mother would often Say, "Life is hard."  Many years later I realized she knew what she was talking about.  Jesus climbed a mountain and said, "There is Good News notwithstanding."  The Beatitudes describe for us the attitudes and qualities that are ours in Christ.

Whenever Bonnie and I (and before that, Dorothy and I) go into the County Jail to offer a Sunday service, we have seen the love and support these women offer each other.  When you've lost all your freedom and are separated from children and family, those women are poor in spirit yet their attitude with each other is compassion.  They have created within that small space a breaking in of the Kingdom of heaven.  Yes, they are sad and full of remorse, yet at the same time they choose to extend a spirit of love to their fellow inmates and in that way they are blessed.

Sarah, our seminarian, recently sent out an email update of the three weeks she spent on the US-Mexico border.  It was much worse than she imagined and it affected her deeply. She traveled the back roads with humanitarian groups trying to bring food and water to the struggling immigrants.  She describes the place as a battle zone with tracking devices, low flying helicopters and border patrols carrying machine guns.  She ministers with an attitude of kindness and compassion and in her words she "feels blessed to be doing what God has called her to do."  Where God's will is being done, there is the Kingdom of heaven.

The most important thing we can do for ourselves as followers of Jesus is decide the way in which we will be and think and feel in whatever situation we find ourselves.  As we go about the business of God we will inevitably be spiritually depleted, discouraged, hungry and thirsty for justice.  When we find ourselves at the end of our rope, God promises, “it's ok, I am with you!” and in that moment we are blessed.   AMEN