Isaiah 49:8-16a; Psalm 131; 1 Corinthians 4:1-5; Matthew 6:24-34
Seems like everywhere I turn these days people are talking about happiness. This past week, for example, I was reading a book called The Geography of Bliss. It’s about the journey of a writer who’s on a mission to find which countries have the happiest people in the world, and to learn why they’re happy.
One of the countries he visits is the Kingdom of Bhutan. Bhutan is only the size of Connecticut and not even included on some world maps.
It’s not just small; Bhutan is remote! It’s tucked among the mountains of the Himalaya Range, between India and China. But here’s the thing that makes Bhutan stand out. The Kingdom of Bhutan doesn’t seem to care too much about money. What I mean is: Most countries measure their national well- being in terms of productivity. We call it Gross National Product (GNP). It’s the total amount of goods and services, measured in money.
Bhutan is the only country in the world that doesn’t measure its well- being in terms of GNP. It doesn’t focus on productivity. It focuses on people. In fact, the Kingdom of Bhutan measures its wealth in terms of Gross National Happiness. Seriously! This is not some advertising scheme from the Bureau of Tourism; it’s written into their constitution; it’s official national policy: Gross National Happiness!
Other nations have noticed. My wife and I saw a TV program this past Friday about the City of Victoria, BC. The City of Victoria is trying to learn from the Kingdom of Bhutan. They’ve started something called the Happiness Index Partnership (HIP), which is an effort to increase the happiness of its people. And now the City of Seattle is studying the example of Victoria, trying to do the same thing! What started as a far-out idea in some far-off kingdom has begun to spread.
Everybody seems to be chasing after happiness. Which brings us to today’s reading from Matthew.
In his Sermon on the Mount Jesus says, 24No one can serve two masters; for a slave will either hate the one and love the other, or be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth.
And then he asks, “Why do you worry…?” Are you kidding me? We do worry…because there’s plenty to worry about. We worry of what we might lose. We’re afraid of what we don’t have or afraid of what we can’t control. We worry about not having enough time, enough choices, enough security, enough health, enough love. It’s hard to be worried and happy at the same time. The answer to less worry and more happiness, we think, is more money.
There is some sense in that, of course. We need shelter, clothing, and food enough to eat. So we need money. Reading the Geography of Bliss, I learned that studies have been done on the connection between money and happiness. Turns out that money does indeed buy happiness…up to a point. But guess what that point is: $15,000! Let me say it another way: A person’s happiness increases as their income increases. But, generally speaking, after $15,000 it doesn’t matter whether you make $16,000 or $1 billion. More money may translate into more choices, more opportunities, more power, more freedom, more stuff, more short-term satisfaction—but it doesn’t translate into lasting happiness!
I know this from my own experience, and maybe you do, too. If money is the measure of happiness, my wife and I should be way happier than we were 20 years ago when our income was $800 a month. But we’re not happier now than we were then. How about you?
Maybe that’s why Jesus said we can’t serve two masters. Even though we Americans are inclined to ignore that wisdom—we want to “have our cake and eat it, too,”–Jesus says we have to choose. “You cannot serve both God and wealth.”
But what, then? Hearing this teaching, I’m tempted toward the two choices we heard about last week: denial or despair. On the one hand I’m tempted to deny that Jesus’ teaching applies to me: “Other people may not be able to handle their relationship to money—but I can.” Or, on the other hand, I might despair. Can’t serve God and money? Who is able to do that? This is a capitalist society. By definition it revolves around money! Denial and despair might leave us feeling anything but happy!
But—there is an answer. Jesus says, 33But strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness and all these things will be given to you as well. What do you think he means by “Kingdom of God?” For me, the Kingdom of Bhutan gives a hint. Bhutan is quite poor in terms of what we call wealth. But where else would you find a nation that seems to take seriously Jesus’ commandment to choose between God and wealth. The King of Bhutan has said that the well-being of every person is his goal. Likewise, for Christians, to seek first the Kingdom of God is to desire the well-being of all people. To include all people.
As we read the newspapers these days we are reminded once again that God’s Kingdom eventually does come. History records the rise and fall of nations and empires, often at the hands of people who are tired of being left out by the rich and the powerful. We’re seeing this today as the people of the Middle East find their voice.
But signs of God’s welcoming kingdom are not usually so dramatic. TheKingdomofGodcomesnearinmorequietwayseveryday. Twoweeks ago, for example, you voted to become a Reconciling-in-Christ congregation. RIC is a simple statement stating as clearly as possible the values of the Kingdom of God.
Could it really be that simple? Could it really be that “seeking first the kingdom of God and his righteousness” is something as simple as providing gracious welcome and gracious space for all people? Might it be that paying close attention to this work could even have something to do with our own happiness?
We as a congregation are constantly tempted to worry about money. Will we have enough? Jesus answers,25Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life…27And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life… you of little faith?
What do you think? In what ways are we a sign of God’s Kingdom? In what ways can we build God’s kingdom by being a welcoming presence to all people? Do we believe Jesus’ words of assurance? Do we believe that when we commit ourselves to being a sign of God’s Kingdom that money and other concerns will take their proper place? And might we one day be recognized among our neighbors and within our communities as a place of welcome and even happiness?
Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness.