Living the Blessed Life

Living the Blessed Life

Homily for the Sunday of All Saints

November 5, 2023

Living the Blessed Life

Homily for Sunday, November 5, 2023
All Saints’ Sunday
Matthew 5:1-12

In the spring of 2018, Yale Professor Laurie Santos taught“Psychology and the Good Life,” a class about happiness.  Santos’ premise for the class is that we humans are not wired for happiness but wired rather for survival.  If we want to be happy, then, she says, (and not merely survive), we need to be intentional about finding happiness.  But for a number of reasons finding happiness is complicated.  First, Santos says, “We want the wrong things.”  We pursue things we think will lead to happiness – money, material possessions, vacations – but these things do not make us happy because happiness is bigger than getting what we want.  Further, happiness is hard to find because we humans compare ourselves to others – salaries, looks,marriages.  And “as long as there is somebody out there who is doing ‘better’ than we are,” Santos says, “we’re going to feel bad.”  Third, finding happiness is complicated because of what researchers call “hedonic adaptation,”which is:  “Things that initially impact our happiness a lot” – like a new relationship or that new car or that amazing vacation– “stop having the same impact over time” as we get used to them, as we “adapt”to our “hedonism.”  And lastly there is what researchers call “impact bias,” which is… We think an experience that makes us happy is going to make us happy for a long time.  But in reality the happiness we experience disappears quickly, which then leaves us feeling even more disappointed than if we’d never had the experience and expectation of being happy in the first place.

“The bad news,” says Santos, “is that these mistakes seem to be built in;” we are not wired for happiness. The good news, she says, is that we have the capacity to “re-wire,” to “thwart our biases and behave differently.”  And so (depending on which YouTube video you might watch) Santos recommends five (or seven) practices that can help “re-wire” our minds and change our behaviors, practices such as: seeking social connection, becoming “other-oriented,” practicing gratitude, savoring the moment, and regular exercise.  Of course, she says, we still will have moments of being sad or angry or frustrated – these are all part of the human experience.  But, says Santos, if we put these strategies into practice, they can help us to regulate ourselves and “move us… to flourishing a little bit more.”

The Greek word “mακάριος” (makários) does not map onto any one English word but expresses rather a semantic range that includes “fortunate,”“privileged” and… “happy.”  Most often in the New Testament (including in today’s Gospel lesson) “mακάριος” is translated “blessed:”

Μακάριοι, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”

Μακάριοι, “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.”

Μακάριοι, “Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.”

In today’s Gospel, Matthew sets out at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry what makes for what Santos might call “the Good Life” or“happiness.”  But unlike Santos’, Matthew’s is a counter-intuitive list:  Being “poor in spirit,” writes Matthew, makes us “mακάριοι” – “fortunate, privileged, happy…blessed.”  Mourning makes us “mακάριοι.”  Being meek makes us “mακάριοι.”  Being merciful, being “pure in heart,” being a peacemaker… all make us “mακάριοι.”  And –most counter-intuitively – being“persecuted for righteousness sake,” and being “reviled” and having “all kinds of evil” uttered against us on Jesus’ account makes us “mακάριοι” – fortunate, privileged, happy… blessed.  

I want the kind of happiness that Santos describes, the kind of happiness that results from social connections, becoming “other-oriented,”practicing gratitude, savoring the moment and exercise.  (Who wouldn’t want that happiness?)  But Matthew invites us into more.  Matthew invites us into “mακάριος,” which is similar to but bigger than “happiness.”  “Mακάριος” is a mix of fortune, privilege,happiness and blessedness that results from following Jesus and living life in the Spirit.  As today’s Gospel suggests,we find “mακάριος” when we:

·       are “poor in spirit”

·       when we mourn or are meek

·       when we hunger and thirst for righteousness

·       when we are merciful or pure in heart

·       when we are peacemakers

·       when we are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, and…

·       when we are reviled and persecuted, and when they utter all manner of evil about us falsely on his account.

When I was in seminary in Virginia, we were gifted with a visit from Archbishop Desmond Tutu of South Africa.  Tutu at the time was in the States teaching at the University of North Carolina. Aside from his short stature, what struck me most about Archbishop Tutu was how happy he was.  As another of my colleagues put it, “Archbishop Tutu was joy incarnate.”  Tutu was an effervescent, gleeful, mirth-filled, singing, dancing, laughing, story-telling, 5’5” (in heels) dynamo of joy.  I imagine Tutu probably did seek out social connection, was “other-oriented,” practiced gratitude, savored the moment and exercised.  But the joy Tutu exuded was deeper than that.  Much deeper.  We knew that his joy was not the result of a charmed life – a quick read of any biography tells of the horrors Tutu witnessed during apartheid in South Africa. Tutu’s joy resulted rather from his relationship with Jesus and living in his own life the Beatitudes.  Tutu was indeed “poor in spirit.” He mourned;he was meek.  He hungered and thirsted for righteousness.  He was merciful.  In spite of everything during apartheid South Africa, he yet remained pure in heart.  He was a peacemaker.  He was persecuted.  He was reviled.  And people uttered all manner of evil about him falsely.

And, as a result, he was happy but more than “happy” – he was mακάριοι, “blessed.”  It is a noble thing to strive for“happiness;” who wouldn’t want to be “happy” as Santos describes happiness?  Matthew calls us Christians into more.  

Our lives’ situations are different from Archbishop Desmond Tutu, but they are no less filled with opportunities to practice being mακάριοι.  The “blessedness,”the “more” into which Matthew calls us, is to be had in following Jesus, who is all those things he preached about in the Sermon on the Mount and who invites us to commit our lives to following him and to live as he lived.  In just a moment, at the Baptismal font at the rear of the church, we will be invited to renew the vows made at our Baptism, vows to follow Jesus Christ.  Maybe, in the moment of silence before we do, [maybe] ask God for the grace to show us if we really would like to be mακάριοι, “blessed.”   For which – ultimately – we are wired, and which is to be had only in following Jesus Christ. And, if it seems that we really would like to be “blessed,” to then join in renewing our vows and, with God’s help, living them out in our everyday lives.  




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