The Beatitudes

 ‘I want to be happy but I won’t be happy till I make you happy too!’ words not from scripture but from the musical ‘No, No Nanette’, a musical that I took my Nan to see in the 70’s, at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane, with Dame Anna Neagle – I remember thinking how wonderful that someone so old could still dance on stage (that’s before 90 became the new 70!)

The Beatitudes – basically God wants us to be happy and he won’t really be happy until we are all happy too! More than anything in life most of us just want to be happy but how we find happiness is something that quite often eludes us!

The Lent edition of ‘Walk with me’ that many of us have been using this year to guide our daily thoughts and prayers takes up the pursuit  of that happiness based on  the Beatitudes, those simple teachings of Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount. We are urged to use Lent as an opportunity to have a fresh encounter with God and discover again, personally , the height, length and  depth of God’s love for us – a love that means He only wants what is best for us – He wants us to share His Happiness, his Beatitude or Blessing in our daily lives and so find his  joy and peace.

In the Lent Study course some of you are following with me, the Dalai Lama is quoted as saying when asked about life’s meaning, that ‘the meaning of life is happiness’, an easy question for him to answer, but the difficult question he says,  ‘is what makes happiness, is it money, a big house, accomplishment and success, friends or is it compassion and a good heart?’ What makes for true happiness- this is the question, he says, all human beings must try to answer! (1991)

Yes more than anything else we all want to be happy – what the Dalai Lama says is nothing new of course. St Augustine of Hippo (5th century) once said:- ‘We all want to live happily – in the whole human race there is no one who does not assent to this proposition even before it is articulated’, in other words it’s in here in each of us, that desire to be happy.’ It’s what God wants for us and He has placed that feeling inside us.

How we discover happiness for ourselves will like the Dalai Lama indicates, be a matter of personal choice, but for the Christian we have no choice –it’s God and this Lent it’s the Beatitudes – if we want to find happiness, God’s happiness, in our lives- it’s in living out the Beatitudes. The Beatitudes are at the heart of the Christian Gospel, ‘they reveal the goal of human existence, the ultimate end of human acts – God calling us to his own beatitude, his own happiness. The Beatitudes outline the way to God’s happiness for us.  Reflecting on the Beatitudes we will come closer to God and his son, Jesus Christ, and we will find our own happiness.

From his birth in the stable at Bethlehem until his death on a cross and his rising from the dead, Jesus showed  us what those Beatitudes he taught actually mean. It is in living the life of Faith that we learn not only to scrape by but learn to really live and be happy. The Beatitudes confront us with decisive moral choices. Above all else God teaches us that our happiness and the happiness of others is found in him alone.

If you remember Moses came down from the mountain bringing with him God’s commandments, chiselled out on blocks of stone, so we were taught in Sunday school- simple rules to live by, sign posts that have guided people for thousands of years; break them and well we know what happens – we live the consequences!

Jesus delivered his Beatitudes from a mountain or hill too, by the shores of Galilee- a new Moses helping us to understand those commandments of God as they need to be lived out – not just about rule following rather Jesus lived out the Beatitudes with his whole being and we are called to live them too! The 10 commandments and the Beatitudes go side by side.

For the Christian, at the heart of our happiness is a love for God and a love for our neighbour as ourselves - step by step those everyday acts lead us onwards to the Kingdom of Heaven, acts that start within the lives of our own families and radiate outwards!

A few weeks ago the Bishops of the Church of England issued a pre-election pastoral letter ‘Who is my neighbour? In which they ask the nation to seek ‘a fresh moral vision’ and ‘a new kind of politics’. The letter was criticised by some politicians and  in the press, The Times saying that the Bishops ‘should stick to soothing and saving troubled souls,basically accusing them of being a bunch of lefties. Coming out firmly in favour of welfare reform The Times and a good number of politicians don’t want the Bishops to remind the nation about the likes of the working poor, the low paid workers struggling to bring up families - where are their pay rises we keep hearing about, and what about their bonuses—that’s me not the Bishops! Of course how much you agree with  what the Bishops say- and you can look it up on line- will depend on how you read the Gospel!

Whether we think the Bishops should stick to their prayers or knitting or whatever they do is a matter of opinion, but there is no getting away from the fact that the Church has an obligation to engage with the political  process however much some politicians may not like it! We know that the Church’s mission is much more than ‘soothing and saving troubled souls’. As well as engaging in social action as witnessed up and down the country, food banks, clothing banks, drop ins, credit unions, parent and toddler groups you name it somewhere is doing it! As well as all this the church needs to regain her prophetic voice however much criticism that elicits. As one Latin American archbishop once remarked ‘When I give food to the poor, they call me a saint; when I ask why the poor have no food, they call me a communist! (Helder Camara)

God wants everyone to be happy and He won’t be happy until he makes all of us happy, not just the privileged few or the prosperous west, everyone. The Church in our own land must continue to engage with society, politics and national life not because we are all a load of lefties or liberal do gooders but because we believe in the fundamental truth that every human being is created in the image of God- and like the Bishops we should want to build what they call ‘a better kind of world, a better society and a better politics.’

For me there is no better place to start than learning and living the Beatitudes, (the prayer card) and for some of you well may be its time to dust down those bibles and reacquaint yourselves with the Ten Commandments. And on this Mothering Sunday, as we recommit to family life, we remind ourselves that it’s up to us to teach God’s Beatitude to our children, The Beatitudes and The 10 commandments and while we are at it let’s not forget the Lord’s Prayer, for where else will they learn it other than from us!