3rd Sunday After Pentecost
5 When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain; and after he sat down, his disciples came to him. 2 Then he began to speak, and taught them, saying: 3 ‘Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 4 ‘Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. 5 ‘Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. 6 ‘Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled. 7 ‘Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy. 8 ‘Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God. 9 ‘Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God. 10 ‘Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 11 ‘Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. 12 Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.Matthew 5:1-12 (New Revised Standard Version)
In this series, we are exploring the five marks of a Methodist. As mentioned in the last message these marks are not doctrinal beliefs (this is what a United Methodist believes). These are actually practical applications of faith that we are called to live by.
In his writings, John Wesley wanted to convey that if there was a doubt that a Methodist was a Christian these were the five characteristics that you could look for. In some ways, we may have forgotten these, or chosen to carve our own path of a lived faith. However, I think reconnecting to these characteristics, helps to define the doctrine we live by.
Last week we began by exploring what it means to “love God.” It may seem pretty simplistic and in this case, we have a characteristic attached to the primary point of doctrine that unites every Christian under the sun. We love God, with everything we are and everything we have. Therefore, it is the place to begin our discussion of the characteristics we have as Christians who identify themselves in the United Methodist tradition.
The Second Mark of A Methodist
As we move on, we continue to examine this embodied relationship with our creator and dive into the second character in this series. John Wesley continues and identifies the second mark saying,
“[A Methodist] is therefore happy in God, yea, always happy, as having in him ‘a well of water springing up into everlasting life,’ and overflowing his soul with peace and joy…[A Methodist] cannot but rejoice, whenever he looks on the state wherein he now is; ‘being justified freely, and having peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.’”John Wesley, The Character of A Methodist, found at: https://quod.lib.umich.edu/e/evans/N20188.0001.001/1:3?rgn=div1;view=
The second mark of a Methodist is; “A Methodist Rejoices in God.”
Like many of these marks, it seems simple at the onset. We can rejoice because we know God has done good things for us, but consider (as we did last week) if we come to blame God in times of bad. We may scoff at the idea of fair-weather Christians, but it can become a very dangerous sentiment in our faith. This fair-weather ideology is often attached to a theological upbringing that spreads the toxicity of God being there to serve us.
This is what makes this kind of mark difficult. Why!
Joy is difficult for us to talk about because sometimes we don’t feel joyful. In fact, I would hazard a guess that for most of us here there are quite a number of moments where joy is the farthest thing from my mind (including right now).
Talking about Joy
Joy is one of those things that may seem tedious to talk about. When we talk about joy we always think that joy means we have to always be happy. When we think happy we think of smiling, being in a good mood, and being “satisfied” with life. The truth is that most of the time we don’t feel any of these things.
However, what if I told you that joy could mean we do sometimes get sad, frustrated, or have any emotions other than happiness?
Steve Harper asks the question, “What role does joy play in following Christ?” Or we could ask God for that matter, and his answer said,
“Simply this: discipleship is a whole-life response to grace. We make a mistake when we define the spiritual life only in terms of its religious dimensions…Joy is the word used by Christians in every age to describe the comprehensive response we make out of our whole being to God’s love.”Steve Harper, The Five Marks of A Methodist, pg. 16.
As humans, we always try to define joy as a completely human emotion and often detach it from religious feelings. To name joy as a mark of a Methodist says that this is not the case. It says that we define it as more than just a human emotion and we then turn it into a religious experience. Even John Wesley said that joy is more than superficial human emotion, and goes on to define joy and how we experience it using another specific human emotion in a way that we are unfamiliar with.
More Than An Emotion
For Wesley rejoicing in God begins with happiness, but not personal happiness with how we perceive how our life is going. Wesley says we cannot help but rejoice in God, and that a Methodist is “happy in God…” However, in our culture, we have this idea that you can only have joy if you are truly and outwardly happy. However, to be true to this sentiment we must understand that our joy comes from our relationship with God and not any other external human locust. So when Wesley says, “[A Methodist] is therefore happy in God…” it is noted that this is a type of classical happiness from a Greek concept and not the happiness we are familiar with today that is dependent on our self-satisfaction. Harper writes,
“The bond of being loved by God and loving God in return produces a quality of life that can only be found in relationship with God.”Steve Harper, The Five Marks of A Methodist, pg. 17
So Wesley believes that if we love God we will be more joyful. Not because our life is necessarily going to be great, but because we believe in a God who loves us and we rest in the assurance that offers us. Not even Jesus latches onto this superficial happiness that we observe in our contemporary society, and we see this concept expressed in scripture.
That is why when Jesus speaks beatitudes, in most translations the word that is used is “blessed.” However, if you were to look at the more contemporary, Common English Bible translation, the word the translators use is “happy.” Some of these listed persons that Jesus refers to have few reasons to be blessed or happy, but Jesus does so anyways.
“Happy are people who are hopeless…Happy are people who grieve…Happy are people who are hungry and thirsty for righteousness…Happy are people whose lives are harassed because they are righteous…”Portions from Matthew 5:1-12 Common English Bible
It is in these teachings that we learn the true base for our happiness. We learn that happiness or blessedness is not found in the people who get everything they want, happiness is not in those who feel the most important, or even those who continually seek self-satisfaction.
These classifications of people that Jesus lists do not seem very happy or even have a reason to be, but Jesus says they are. Maybe it is because we have been looking at happiness all wrong.
Blessed and Happy
There is a very interesting Greek word used in the Beatitudes for “happy” in this passage, makarios. This word often being translated as happy or blessed. In the Beatitudes this word conveys not a human emotion that comes when we are feeling good, but a state of being we have from God and from our relationship with God.
Therefore, when Wesley says, “[A Methodist] is therefore happy in God…” he doesn’t mean that superficial happiness, or that we have to put on a mask of happiness to show people. Rather it is a state of being in which our love of God is reflected no matter our external feelings and emotions. We get sad, angry, or anxious, but it is living in God that the joy we receive from God goes beyond these human emotions we experience. Happiness is not just an outward emotion, but one that takes place in the heart, and is rooted in our love for God.
How do we experience joy with God?
Jesus closes the Beatitudes saying,
“Be full of joy and be glad, because you have a great reward in heaven. In the same way, people harassed the prophets who came before you.”Matthew 5:12 New Revised Standard Version
Our joy and our happiness are meant to be with God, and founded within God’s love. And it may seem tough to come to the realization that, as Wesley says, “[A Methodist] cannot but rejoice…” because we may not feel like it. However, when we reflect on the love we have from God, how can we not be joyful knowing there is a God who loves us that much?
It is not meant to be about the state of our lives. Things happen around us, good and bad, and yet the constant of the one who is there to comfort us is God. This goes back to a conversation we had back during Easter, and we tried to understand more about how we treat God. Do we look for God to answer all our questions or solve all our problems? If so, we will never be happy.
When we expect miracles, they are no longer miracles. However, when we live our lives in God’s love, the things that are difficult can become manageable. Our joy is not in how God answers prayer or the state of our lives. Our joy is in God’s love, in the very nature of God present through every aspect of our lives.
I am joyful because God is there when I am sad. I am joyful because God is there when I have had a rough day. I am joyful because God is there when other people hate me. I am joyful for God’s love that gives me strength in the midst of all of these difficult situations.
Reflect This Week
So I ask you again how do you experience joy with, in, and through God?