Truth in Happiness

Readings for the day (6th Sunday after Epiphany – Sunday, February 17, 2019):

Jeremiah 17:5-10

Psalm 1

1 Corinthians 15:12-20

Luke 6:17-26

 

Dear friends in Christ, grace to you and peace from God our Father, and our Lord and Savior Jesus the Christ.  Amen.

 

So apparently we make enough purchases on Amazon throughout the year that they decided that we were deserving enough to receive their holiday toy catalog this past fall.  As I was getting back in the car from picking up the mail, my boys instantly noticed the catalog and immediately began asking to see it.  They didn’t even know what it was.  All they saw were the toys on the cover and they assumed that the catalog had to have been for them.

As soon as we got into the house, they threw off their coats and shoes and ran into the living room with the catalog to begin oohing and awing over all of the nice shiny toys.  With each page they turned, they pointed at almost every single toy (basically any toy that didn’t have the color pink on it, they pointed to).  And as they pointed to a toy, I heard them say, “I want that, and that, and that, and that…”  This continued on for a good 20-30 minutes as they diligently examined every page of that amazing Amazon toy catalog.

So why it is that children instinctively desire to possess whatever they view as cool and fun?  Is it because they think that they are entitled to it?  Is it because they think they deserve it?  I don’t think so.  For the vast majority of children, I don’t think their desire for these toys comes from a sense of entitlement.  I think it is simply a longing for happiness.  The young ones don’t have a concept of money or how much something actually costs.  They see a colorful image on a page and begin dreaming and imagining how wonderful it would be to play with and enjoy that toy.  If you think back to your own childhood, isn’t that what you did when the Sears or the JCPenny catalogs came in the mail?  I didn’t look at the price tag.  I just looked at the image and pictured playing with that toy, and how happy I would be playing with said toy.

As an adult we do the same thing; it just looks different.  Because walking around and pointing at everything that we want that we think will make us happy and saying, “I want that, and that, and that.”  Is not socially acceptable.  But our ultimate goal is to be blessed or to at least consider ourselves to be blessed.  In Jesus’ sermon, He looks at His disciples and gives them four ways of being blessed, and four ways of not being considered blessed according to God.

To be blessed though, according to God, is not the same type of blessing that the world wants us to think that a blessed person looks like.  To be blessed, according to the world, means that we get to have all of the riches and all of the happiness that we want.  To be blessed though, doesn’t mean that we are going to have everything that we want.  Because if we view our blessedness through the lenses of needing to acquire so many riches and possessions, it becomes a never-ending cat and mouse chase.  We think that if only we would have a little bit bigger house, then we will be happy.  If we only get a little bit higher wage, then we’ll be happy.  If we can just get away for a nice relaxing vacation (where there is no snow or cold), then we’ll be happy.  When our happiness is rooted in the possessions and other stuff of this world, we will be striving to reach something that seems to always be just out of reach for us.  And if we play this game long enough, eventually we just give up and give in.  And that is when we figure that the “woes” that Jesus talks about, actually fit us better than the “blessings.”  Because reaching a state of blessedness is simply unattainable.  And by the world’s standards, none of us here are going to reach that ultimate state of blessedness.

But to be blessed actually isn’t all about being filled with riches and happiness.  Being rich in this world does not equal happiness.  Rather, to be blessed means that we are at peace with our current status.  To be blessed means that we are satisfied with what we currently have.  To be blessed means that we are unburdened by the world’s capitalist and consumerist tendencies.  And maybe you already know this.  Maybe you already know that you don’t need the biggest house, the fanciest clothes, the latest gadgets, in order to view yourself as blessed.  But did you know that to be blessed doesn’t mean that there will be an absence of struggle in your life either?  That just because God considers you blessed, doesn’t mean that instantly your life is going to be easy and that there will be no issues or problems coming your way.  That you have one big force field surrounding you.

There is this movie that I enjoyed watching as a child called The Little Giants.  It is about these children who are not good enough to make the elite peewee football team.  The world would say that are not “blessed” with football skills.  But they really want to play, so they form a team and prepare to play against the elite team.  One of the “unskilled” players gets hurt in practice.  The next day his mom allows him to come to practice again, but she wrapped him up completely in bubble wrap.  Being blessed by God does not mean that we are going to get all of the riches we want, but it also doesn’t mean that we are going to walk around wearing bubble wrap to shield us from any danger.  In fact, Jesus suggests that as we move towards God, that movement is going to create struggles for us.  That because of our belief in Jesus and being associated with His name, struggles will arise for us.  To be blessed, is to live aware that these struggles, on account of Jesus’ name, are only temporary.  The struggles that we face will not last forever.

All of this boils down to where you locate your trust and your happiness.  Do you put your trust in the things of this world?  Do you put your trust in mere mortals, as Jeremiah says?  Or do you put your trust in the Lord?  Jeremiah tells the people that they put their trust first and foremost in God, and God alone.  And it is out of that trust that stems happiness.  Riches don’t create happiness, but trust does.  Trust creates happiness.

Children create and invent and dream.  Their dreams are not rooted in the financial realm.  Their dreams are rooted in pure happiness.  So when they see a toy in a catalog, their dream is not that the toy will create happiness for them.  They trust that happiness comes from the activity itself – the creating, the inventing, the dream.

Jesus says that we are blessed not by the physical possessions or personal worth that we have.  Rather, we are blessed and receive our true happiness from the Lord.  That no matter how many struggles or obstacles we face from day to day or week to week, we can trust that our Lord is with us, now and forever.  Amen.

 

 

© 2019 Anthony Christoffels.  All Rights Reserved.

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Don’t Hoard the Good Stuff

Readings for the day (4th Sunday after Epiphany – Sunday, February 3, 2019):

Jeremiah 1:4-10

Psalm 71:1-6

1 Corinthians 13:1-13

Luke 4:21-30

 

Dear friends in Christ, grace to you and peace from God our Father, and our Lord and Savior Jesus the Christ.  Amen.

 

Shortly after we got married, my brother-in-law came to live with us for a few months.  I was a recent college graduate looking for a job and Stephanie was still in school.  So we didn’t have a lot of money and when we were at the grocery store and we would treat ourselves with a small bag of treats like M&Ms or something similar, that was a big deal for us.  Normally we only got the essentials that we needed.  Candy and other sweets were not necessary.  So we usually didn’t purchase any.  And when we did splurge a little and treated ourselves to something sweet, I would hide and protect our recent purchase like it was gold.  I would hide these snacks in our bedroom closet instead of leaving them in the kitchen.  I didn’t want to share them.  I certainly didn’t want to share them with my brother-in-law who nearly polished off a box of Girl Scout cookies that was accidently left in the kitchen.  I wanted to keep these treats all for myself.  Any sweets that we had, we hoarded.

When Jesus visits his hometown of Nazareth, the people are left amazed by Him.  They questioned if this man standing before them who read the scripture reading during worship was really Joseph’s son.  He did such a wonderful job that they all spoke well of Him and were amazed by His words.  This Jesus was their hometown boy.  In that moment, they were so proud to say that they were from Nazareth and remember Jesus when He was a child growing up.  They would be famous.  Plus they figured that since Jesus was theirs, He was from Nazareth, that they could keep Him all for themselves.  And He would be able to cure their sick and perform miracles like they heard that He did in neighboring towns.  “Hey Jesus, do that water into wine trick you did in Fairmont.  You’re from Ceylon/Welcome/Trimont.  This is your hometown.  Don’t you think you could give us something too?”  The people of Nazareth thought they could hoard Jesus for themselves.  That God’s promises were exclusively for them and no one else.  They wanted to hoard this Good News.  They liked what they heard in this sermon from Jesus about this Good News that God will be releasing those who feel they are in bondage or who are oppressed or who are unable to see clearly.  The people approved of what they heard.  This was good stuff they were hearing.

Later though, they didn’t like Jesus anymore.  They didn’t like what they heard.  They disapproved of what they heard so much that they got up, drove Jesus out of town, and led Him to a cliff to hurl Him over the side of it.  They turned on Him because Jesus told them that God’s promises reach beyond themselves.  That this Good News is not just for them.  It is not something that they can hoard for themselves.  Rather it is intended to be shared, and shared abundantly.

Now as we are called to share this Good News abundantly, we tend to resist this call like Jeremiah did.  We come up with excuses, one after another.  Back in the summer of 2006, I was doing some office work at the campus ministry that I worked at.  The phone rings in the office and on the other end of line is the senior pastor at the neighboring church just a few blocks away.  He asks if I would be interested in being the high school youth director at his church.  Without any hesitation at all, I flat out told him no.  I told God no to doing His work.  And you know what my excuse was?  Besides not having a clue as to what to even do as a youth director, my excuse was that I was already working two jobs – one at the campus ministry (which I enjoyed doing), and the other was a job at a local grocery store (which I despised doing).  So I told God no to doing His work because I preferred to keep a job that I was unhappy in rather than do ministry that I enjoyed.  About a week and a half later I did accept the job offer and terminated my employment at the grocery store.

The excuses that we come up with are usually ridiculous when we take a step back to look at them.  Jeremiah told God that he couldn’t be God’s prophet and messenger because he was just a boy; too young to know how to speak.  Peter told God that he couldn’t follow Him because he was a fisherman.  Moses told God that he couldn’t lead His people out of Egypt because he didn’t have a very eloquent speaking voice.  So Moses pleads with God, “Lord, please send someone else.”  How many times have we said that phrase?  Or even just thought that phrase to ourselves?  “Lord, please, please, please send someone else.”  What are your excuses?  I’m too old.  I’m too tired.  I’ve done my time.  I don’t have enough money.  I don’t have enough experience, or knowledge.

Putting all of our excuses aside, Paul tells us all that we need to know.  Instead of focusing on what love is, Paul focuses on what love must do or not do.  The way Paul describes love is through verbs, words that describe action.  Not just a concept, but actual action.  Love is not just something that is spoken; it is shown through our actions.  Eight out of the fifteen actions that Paul lists are things that love must not do.  If we have love for one another we do not envy or boast.  We aren’t arrogant or rude.  We don’t seek our own way.  We aren’t irritable or resentful when we don’t get our way.  And we don’t rejoice in the wrongdoing of others.

Paul says that if those are the things that love does not do, then to love is to be patient with other people, including your spouse.  To love is to be patient with children.  To love is to act kindly to others.  When we have love for one another we rejoice with each other. We share in the struggles of today and we share with one another our hopes for tomorrow.

Where is God calling you today?  Who are you being called to love today?  What is God calling you to stop hoarding and to let go of today?  When God calls us to do (or not do) a certain thing, He does so with a purpose.  And that purpose is for the betterment of His kingdom on Earth as it is in Heaven.  May we continue to serve Him joyfully with faith, hope, and love.  Amen.

 

 

© 2019 Anthony Christoffels.  All Rights Reserved.