February 17th, 2019, Pastor Galen
A Recipe for Happiness or a No Good, Very Bad Day?
What is something that makes you happy?
Perhaps it’s being around friends and family, or when your favorite team wins the Super Bowl. Maybe it’s getting a raise, promotion, positive performance review, or good grade at school, or curling up under a blanket on a cold winter day with a cup of hot tea and a good book.
It’s not surprising that none of us would say that we’re happiest when we’re hungry, or when people don’t like us, or when we have no money. And yet, Jesus told his disciples,
“Blessed are you who are poor” (Luke 6:20), “Blessed are you who are hungry” (Luke 6:21), and, “Blessed are you when people hate you” Luke 6:22).
This word “Blessed” can also be translated “happy.” So Jesus is essentially saying, “happy are you who are hungry,” “happy are you who are poor,” and “happy are you when people hate you and, and when they exclude you, revile you, and defame you on account of the Son of Man.”
I don’t know about you, but this does not sound like a recipe for happiness — it sounds much more like the perfect recipe for a “Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day” (the title of a children’s book)!
If Money is a Curse…
And then Jesus then turns around and tells his disciples, “Woe to you who are rich…Woe to you who are full now…Woe to you who are laughing now…Woe to you when all speak well of you” (Luke 6:24-26).
The word “woe” an expression of grief, pity, or concern. It’s kind of like saying, “I feel sorry for you” or “Be warned/Be Careful!”
I don’t know about you, but when I hear Jesus telling people who are rich that he feels sorry for them, it reminds me of that famous exchange in the musical Fiddler on the Roof, where Perchik says, “Money is the world’s curse,” and Tevye (the milkman who is always wishing that he were rich), responds with, “May the Lord smite me with it. And may I never recover”!
Why does Jesus express pity for those who are rich? I mean, who among us wouldn’t like to be rich? Who doesn’t dream of winning the lottery, or inheriting millions of dollars from a wealthy relative we didn’t know we had, or stumbling upon some sort of get rich quick scheme that actually works? And even though we know those dreams are probably far-fetched, we’d probably settle for living comfortably for the rest of our lives and never having to worry about money ever again. And of course we all want people to like us.
So why, according to Jesus, should a lack of money make us happy, and why does Jesus feel sorry for those who have money? Why should we be happy if we’re hungry, and why does Jesus grieve for those who have food? And why in the world should we be glad when people hate us on account of Christ?
There’s So Much More
Before we try to answer some of these questions, it’s important to note that Jesus is not telling us that we should actively try to make people hate us. Nor is he saying in these verses that we should aspire to be hungry or poor. He’s not saying that it’s good to be poor or that it’s necessarily bad to be wealthy.
Jesus is addressing those who are already hated and those who are already rich or poor. In those days people really didn’t have a lot of control over their class or status. It was pretty much impossible for poor people to work their way up and become rich. People weren’t just poor because they happened to be temporarily out of cash. They were poor because they lacked resources, opportunities, and social connections. At the same time, wealthy people usually didn’t become rich simply by working hard — they were born into wealthy families and were not only given resources, but also education, connections, and social capital that helped them maintain and grow their wealth.
So Jesus isn’t saying that everyone should be poor. What Jesus was inviting everyone to do was to shift their perspective, to look at whatever situation they found themselves in through the lens of eternity. Jesus wanted them to know that this life is not all there is, that the story is not over, that things are not always going to be this way.
Life Is But a Vapor
The Bible consistently reminds us that this life is short in comparison to eternity. Psalm 90:4 tells us that “A thousand years in your sight are like a day that has just gone by.” And in James 4:14 we find the words, “What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes.”
A thousand years are like a day, and our lives are but a mist. Looking at our lives in the light of eternity puts things in a completely new perspective.
It’s so easy for us to become so consumed with our everyday lives that we forget that there is more than this life. We can get so caught up in just trying to survive that we forget this is just the tip of the iceberg. This life is fleeting, but eternity lasts forever.
Trouble Won’t Last Always…
Many of the people listening to Jesus that day were poor and lacked even the basic daily necessities of life. Many of them felt probably hopeless, marginalized, and oppressed. Jesus wanted them to find comfort in the reality that this life is not all there is, that there will come a time when Jesus will return and he will renew and restore things to the way they are supposed to be.
On that day persecution, injustice and oppression will cease, and every wrong will be made right. All who have put their faith and trust in Jesus will be raised to new life to spend eternity with Christ. Sickness will come to an end, there will be no more mourning and grieving. God’s righteousness will endure forever.
Jesus wanted those who were suffering to find hope and comfort in the reality that trouble will not last forever, that it won’t always be this way.
…But Neither Will Possessions
But there were also those listening to Jesus that day who were incredibly wealthy. They had cushy, comfortable lives, and they went around thinking very highly of themselves. They thought that God must be pleased with them, that they were wealthy because they were favored and blessed by God.
But Jesus felt sorry for them because they were wrong. They were no more blessed or favored by God than anyone else. But in fact they had been given that wealth as a responsibility, to steward well and to share with those in need. And Jesus was warning them that there would come a day when all that they had would disappear.
We have a saying that “he who dies with the most toys wins.” But it isn’t true! The reality is that we can’t take any of this with us when we go.
And so Jesus warns those wealthy people who were putting all of their time and attention into amassing more and more things on this earth, that they’ve already had their reward, and that there will come a day when everything they have will be wiped away, and all of us will be held accountable for how we have used the resources we have been given here on this earth.
If we are putting all of our hope in this earthly life, then we are to be pitied, because this life is short in comparison to eternity. And if we think we have it made because we have stored up enough stuff to last us forever, then we should be careful, because we are probably looking at our lives from an earthly perspective, rather than in the light of eternity.
Living in Light of Eternity
And so this morning I believe Jesus is inviting all of us to adopt an eternal perspective — to look at our lives in light of eternity. And I believe that no matter our status in life, no matter what we’re going through, Jesus is inviting us to cultivate a spirit of true happiness — a happiness that is not bound by our present circumstances, but that is shaped by the reality of Christ’s death and resurrection and the promise that one day we too will be raised to newness of life to spend eternity with God.
How do we remind ourselves that this life is not all there this, that there is more to life than gaining material wealth or prosperity? There are many ways we can do this, but here are a few suggestions that I have for us this morning:
- Interact with people who have less than you. It doesn’t matter how bad you have it, there’s always someone worse off than you. Our culture is obsessed with reading and hearing stories about the rich and powerful and elite. Instead, look for those in our community who don’t have a bed to sleep in or food to eat and to compare ourselves with them. Interacting with those who are less fortunate than us is a great way to remember to be grateful for what we have.
- Look for fun things to do that don’t involve spending money. Shopping ranks at the top of the list of America’s favorite pastimes. We need to find new ways to decompress and spend time with those we love, rather than constantly pining for all of the things we want but cannot afford.
- Take time to enjoy the beauty of creation. If possible, get outside and go for a leisurely walk every day. Stop and look at the flowers, the grass and the trees. Studies have shown that adding a 20-minute walk to your day can increase your happiness more than getting a pay raise at work! If you can’t go outside, look at pictures or watch shows about nature. Looking at God’s creation reminds us that our life is short in the light of eternity.
- Read books or watch movies about people who have sacrificed their own comfort, safety, or resources for the good of others. Many people have sacrificed not only their comfort, but their lives as well. Reading and hearing their stories reminds us that there’s more to life than money and possessions.
- Give generously. Even if you don’t have a lot to give, you can still give something. Acts 20:35 reminds us that Jesus said, “It is more blessed to give than to receive.” In other words, you’ll be happy when you give! Try it out. Give away something that is special or meaningful to someone in your life who will enjoy and appreciate it.
This morning as we seek to view our lives in the light of eternity, I want to leave us with this verse from the hymn Be Still My Soul:
Be still, my soul: the hour is hastening on
when we shall be forever with the Lord,
when disappointment, grief, and fear are gone,
sorrow forgot, love’s purest joys restored.
Be still, my soul: when change and tears are past,
all safe and blessèd (happy) we shall meet at last.
Amen! I’m glad that there is a day coming when disappointment, grief and fear will be gone. Let’s put our hope and our trust in Jesus, and let’s live in light of eternity!