We have stepped over a threshold and into the happiest season of the year. Halloween is over, and it is now a sprint to Christmas. Our stores are shoved full of decorations, gifts, and material goods to ensure a “successful” Christmas. This idea of success is something our society tells us is important, is necessary, and is how happiness is grounded in our lives. The more successful we are, the happier we are! or are we? Yet there remains this underlying feeling of being ungrounded in this happiness. It feels like this unrelenting quest for an ideal, like Christmas morning, that kind of never turns out the way we thought it would. The landscape of Christmas, with its parties and fun, presents and cheer, are reduced to 15 minutes of emotional bedlam. A house full of wrapping paper later, we are still looking for that deeper happiness, fulfillment, and contentment when we look around Christmas morning under the tree now stripped of its gifts thinking, is this all there is? This morning, Matthew points us into the true heart of that happiness; a heart, which beats with a passion so deep, it calls us by our name into life beyond our imagining.
We sit this morning on a mountain, with thousands of our friends. Jesus had just been baptized and recently gathered the first of his disciples around him. It is clear that this man is becoming a force within Israel, coming here today to tell us our role in the Kingdom and how to live into that role in the world. Matthew, you see, was writing for a Jewish Christian people, still resident in their homeland. For Matthew it is as much Jesus’ acts as it is his teachings that matter because they point towards his divinity. This divinity is something that Christ holds open to all of us, presented with the grace of God through the beatitudes, gifted to use through blessing which this morning we translate as happy. The term happy is easily simplified to mean emotional and sweet. Happy can feel like a hallmark card in a world where happiness comes in pill form, isolation is bought via headphones and privacy screens, and leadership suggests the ability to attack and defame your opponents. Happiness can feel as elusive as the moment after we open our last Christmas present and realize that’s all there is. Happiness can feel unobtainable in the face of poverty, inequality, sexism, homophobia, violence, and war. I offer that this is exactly the contradiction that Christ is speaking to from the mount this morning. This idea that happiness is an achievement to gain, rather than a life to live, stands in the face of what it means to be happy. Happy, my friends, is a process of internal development, a process of turning ourselves over to Joy, a nature of being grounded in our truest identities which Christ calls us to this morning. A call, which is focused through and clarified by the monastic wisdom of St. Benedict.
The idea of living a happy life is one that feels fake to me, fake because its not grounded in something larger or broader than what it is I find makes me happy today. I am often reminded that what makes me happy in the short term, might not always make me happy in the long term. Remember the days of our youth when we’d go out drinking all night, work to afford a social life? The next morning often had some regret involved, and the struggle at the end of the month when we were broke often brought the idea of short-term happiness into question. St. Benedict was doing this same kind of work for his monastic brothers when he wrote his rule, or way, of life. Obedience, stability, conversion of life was among the man tracts of his daily experience of happiness. Obedience suggests a willingness to listen deeply for the wisdom coming before us. When in our lives we are presented with choices, Benedict would suggest we pray with them and ask for guidance, rather than react to an event or idea. Obedience, therefore, is the deeper listening to God's will for our lives. Obedience is the beginning to seeking the happiness which gives life, over the fleeting happiness of the moment. Obedience is about letting go of our pretense of control over our lives, and listening more deeply for God’s will; God's will in our jobs, love life, finances, passions, everything. Obedience takes time, takes practice, and takes an acceptance of God's grace to know that we are never alone in our listening. God is never absent from us as we listen, and listening takes an understanding of how we are rooted to move from the head and into the work of the heart.
Stability, is the rooted nature of what it means to be in community. It means that we are choosing this group of people, this person, this way of life, as our pathway to God. We choose not to run from the challenges of life, looking for the momentary happiness elsewhere, but invest in the present moment by leaning into our discomfort within safety to learn more about what God is doing to call us here. Happiness in stability is an awareness of our own gifts, limitations, abilities, and passions, within a growing ability to use them as God calls us to use them. It is allowing our No’s to be No’s and yes’s yes. Just like when we said yes to our partners invitation to marriage, or signed the lease on our car, house, or apartment, we were saying yes to a vision of life that meant other things were now closed to us. We were choosing this yes, because we saw that it gave us a grounded place to call home- a place where we were able to be happy and whole, a place from which we can grow into community. A community which calls us to a deeper self. Happiness takes time to unwrap from the garbage that society lumps onto it, with its pressures and material wealth. When we unwrap happiness for ourselves, we see the layers of our developing conversion- or understanding of self- into the image and nurture of Christ. This conversion is about finding the truth about who we are and what we are here to do with our lives and integrating those two perspectives into one. In these conversions, which are the small ways we die to our egos and desires for quick and fleeting happiness, we find ourselves starting to live the beatitudes, not as a persona to put on or hollow words to say, but as a way of life- a way which calls us into the fulsome happiness God desires for our lives. We start to see ourselves in the faces of the peacemakers, the meek, the poor, those who mourn, the merciful, the pure in heart. We start to see ourselves in their faces because our lives begin to overlap, we see a shared identity, a common humanity, and our role in the kingdom which the beatitudes call us to, work which is grounded in baptism.
This morning we celebrate one of the great baptismal feasts of our calendar, and in a few short minutes we will renew our baptismal vows. In baptism we are invited into the work of the beatitudes, for a world which struggles to understand them or even accept them. In water, and by the holy spirit, we are awakened to our journey of happiness, which is our grounded vision through obedience, stability and daily conversions of life. In baptism, and our re-affirmation of that baptism, we stand once more at the shores of the Jordan river and reflect on our lives and seek the strength, wisdom, and guidance of the holy spirit to move our lives for the living of a beatitude kingdom. So dwell on the beatitudes in your life through the lens of our baptismal promises.
Let the beatitudes inform how it is we live our faith in this world, because of our baptism. You and I have a role in this world. You and I have a vocation in this world to love, bring peace, comfort, find joy, mourn, and show mercy because in Baptism we were shown all those things first. Happiness is not a moment to buy, but a life time to embrace. God is calling you to his grounded vision of the kingdom, born in the waters of baptism as a way of life which gives abundant happiness. How will you live into this happiness this week?