John Wesley begins the concluding paragraph of his third discourse on the Sermon on the Mount in this way:
“Behold Christianity in its native form; as delivered by its great Author! This is the genuine religion of Jesus Christ.”
When you consider the subject Mr. Wesley has been addressing to get him to this conclusion, it is more than a little unsettling. As the cool kids say, let’s “break it down.”
Wesley, still in the Beatitudes, has just expounded on how we are to respond to persecution: “Blessed are you when people revile you and insult you and say all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account.” “Rejoice and be glad…” (Remember, Jesus is doing the teaching here.) Wesley builds on this point by taking us straightway to Jesus’ subsequent comment about loving our enemies, which, in so doing – we show (we bear witness) that we are true children of the Our Heavenly Father.
Yes, Wesley is saying that the characteristic reaction of Jesus’ followers to ridicule and reviling is to rejoice and be glad AND to love the very ones doing the persecuting and reviling and ridiculing. When we respond with joy and love, we demonstrate that we belong to Jesus.
(In case you’re starting to worry, Mr. Wesley also clearly states that we are not to seek ridicule and persecution. No martyr complex allowed!)
What makes this kind of response normal?!! “Native,” to use Wesley’s word. It sounds completely impossible, unrealistic, naive. Ah, the alien beauty of sanctifying grace! Within our own personal resources, this response is impossible, but with the work of the Spirit in renewing us in the image of God, it becomes the norm. Not just possible. The norm. Eschatology in the making.
There’s no way around it, this is tough stuff, but it is the stuff of the New Creation. We need therefore to attend much more attentively to the workings of the Holy Spirit. We need a more robust, lived, pneumatology.
I fail miserably. I’m weak, vain, petty, hyper-sensitive. Not entirely. But too often and too much.
And now I know I’m repeating myself. We United Methodists collectively likewise fail. We are supposed to be brothers and sisters in Christ. We treat each other as enemies and not the way Jesus treated his. It happens at the local level. It happens at general level. General Conference 2012 damaged our collective witness.
I find it very discomfortingly salutary to read through these discourses on the Sermon on the Mount. If we took essentially just one half of this third one and spent time reflecting on how we’re doing, it would do us all some good. We United Methodists will still find plenty about which to argue and disagree. But, in view of the native religion of Jesus, might we do so differently? In true, Christlike love? How else will people know that we are fellow followers of Jesus?