How To Be Truly Happy  Matthew 5:1-12

Is there anybody in this world who is truly happy? There was a Peanuts cartoon years ago in which Lucy asked Charlie Brown if he has ever known anybody who was really happy. Before she could finish her sentence, however, Snoopy the precocious beagle came dancing on tip-toe into the frame, his nose high in the air. He danced and bounced his way across two frames of the cartoon strip. Finally, in the last frame, Lucy finished her sentence, “Have you ever known anybody who was really happy and was still in their right mind?”

Some years back the editors of Psychology Today magazine sent questionnaires to fifty-two thousand subscribers in an effort to determine what makes people happy. One subscriber wrote back and asked to see the results of the survey. “I think I am happy,” he wrote. “Would you please verify?”

    Some people that I know are their happiest when everyone around them are miserable.  Think about how absurd that is, people either knowingly or unknowingly find pleasure is other people’s suffering.  

And so, I ask again: Is there anybody who is really happy?  Certainly we know that many people are unhappy. In the United States seventy people commit suicide every day and another 1,000 try it. That is 365,000 people every year who are unhappy enough to try to take their own lives.  And the suicide rate is increasing the fastest among young people nearly 300 percent among those 15 to 24 in the last twenty years. 

Is there anybody who is really happy?

The Gospel lesson for All Saints Day is that portion of the Sermon on the Mount that we know as the Beatitudes. Most of us grew up knowing the Beatitudes as “Blessed are the poor in spirit . . .” Bless are those who mourn . . .” etc. However, some modern translators of the New Testament translate the Beatitudes in this way: “Happy are the poor in spirit . . .” “Happy are those who mourn . . .” “Happy are the meek . . .” “Happy are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness . . .”

That says to me that, if Jesus did indeed mean these teachings to be avenues to happiness, we need to know about them, understand them, make them our own. 

However, they seem to be completely out of touch with what we normally consider to be happiness. “Happy are the merciful . . .” “Happy are the pure in heart . . .” “Happy are the peacemakers . . .” “Happy are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake . . .” Jesus seems to go out of his way to turn our entire system of values upside down. What does he mean, 

“Happy are the poor in spirit ” We don’t want to be poor in anything except, perhaps, being poor in trouble.

“Happy are those who mourn” That seems like a contradictory statement. 

“Happy are the meek” Just when you and I had signed up for assertiveness training . . . 

“Happy are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness ” Maybe so, but they aren’t going to be very popular. 

“Happy are the merciful” Not me. I want revenge against those who hurt me! 

“Happy are the pure in heart ” Jesus never saw some of the prime time television shows that our children are watching. 

“Happy are the peacemakers” Jesus never sat across the table from the a terrorist. 

“Happy are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake” Who wants to be persecuted for any reason? 

What is Jesus seeking to communicate to us about the nature of happiness in these Beatitudes?

Notice, first of all, that happiness does not consist in the pursuit of pleasure. 

The preachers of the Prosperity Gospel are wrong. Happiness does not depend on who you are or what you own.

An ad appeared several years ago in USA Today for the BMW automobile. The ad began like this: “Needless to say, you can’t buy happiness. But for a mere $299 a month, you can lease exhilaration . . . Simply visit your authorized BMW dealer before September 30 and lease a new BMW 325.”

But here’s what caught my eye. After extolling the virtues of the BMW, the ad concludes like this: “For a program of spiritual uplift on easy monthly terms, we recommend you visit a participating BMW dealer.” What a promise for a car company to make. Did you know that driving a BMW is a program of spiritual uplift? And on easy monthly terms!

Many of us do everything in our power to go through life avoiding any situation that is potentially uncomfortable or unpleasant.  But some of you just cannot help yourselves and you do not know that you are doing it to make someone feel uncomfortable.  

Some of us will go to extraordinary lengths not to offend anybody. We don’t want any unpleasantness in our lives. We want everybody to like us and we will sacrifice even our self respect and our witness for Christ in order not to ruffle anybody’s feathers.

Then we come to Christ’s words, “Happy are you when men revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account . . .”

Christ is not talking about people who are deliberately obnoxious. He is talking about people who realize that if you have to make a choice between being liked and being respected, choose respect every time. You will stand taller in your own eyes, in your neighbor’s eyes and in God’s eyes. Happiness is neither in the pursuit of pleasure nor the avoidance of pain.  Where then is happiness to be found? 

First of all, happiness is found in purposeful living. In these simple sayings about blessedness or happiness Jesus really gives us a picture of a very special kind of people. They are humble, obedient to God (that is what “meekness” means), people who know what it is to face adversity. But they are also peacemakers. Such a sense of purpose about life.  When we have a great purpose, a purpose that is high and noble, our whole being is enhanced. Happiness is found in giving ourselves to a high and noble purpose.

The second is that happiness is found in being people oriented. Indeed, such terms as meekness and mercifulness and pure in heart suggest a willingness to subordinate our desires to the well being of others.

Please do not misunderstand. We are not talking about becoming a doormat for others to trample upon. There was a time, however, when Christians believed that joy was spelled “Jesus first, Others second, and Yourself last.” Somehow in modern times the order has been reversed.

Jesus Christ has been rightfully called, “the man for others.” If we cannot become men and women for others, too, we cannot hope to extend the influence of Christ’s kingdom.  Studies show such people live longer and are healthier and happier. Happiness is living a purposeful life. Happiness is being people oriented.

Finally, happiness is to be found in a passion for God. Find a humble person with a pure heart, a purpose for living, a love for people and a commitment to God and you will find a happy man or woman. Though that person may have suffered unimaginable ills, he or she will have a peace and a confidence that nothing in this world can defeat.

Do you want to be happy—really happy? There is the formula. It’s not found in pursuing pleasure or avoiding pain. It is found in having something great to live for, in loving other people and in putting God first in your life.

Today is All Saints Sunday.  And thinking back over all the people who have come and gone before us I have to say that the happiest of people I knew were those who had put God first in their lives.  Living out to the very end a life of faith and commitment.