Wesley's Sermon 22: Upon Our Lord's Sermon on the Mount, Discourse 2

[This is a post on one of John Wesley's Sermons as part of the Getting to Know John series. See the other posts here.]

This is the second of Wesley's thirteen sermons on Jesus' Sermon on the Mount (Matthew chapters 5, 6, and 7). In this sermon, he continues working his way through the Beatitudes and focuses on Matthew 5:5-7: "Blessed are the meek... Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness... [and] Blessed are the merciful..."

Also, in exploring the meaning of these verses, Wesley incorporates very interesting interpretations of Matthew 5:21-26 ("You have heard it said, 'Do not murder,' but I say to you, anyone who is angry with another is subject to judgment...") and 1 Corinthians 13 ("Love is patient, love is kind...").

Continuing the interpretation of the Beatitudes Wesley began in Sermon 21, presenting them as a process that we go through in our lives with God, he begins this sermon without missing a beat from the ending of the previous one, which concluded with "Blessed are those who mourn..." This sermon then begins with explaining that once the mourning passes, and the believer again is comforted by the Holy Spirit, then they will have entered into meekness and will be able to bear witness of its goodness. Wesley characterizes meekness not as being apathetic or without a passion, but as someone who all of their emotions ("affections" or "passions") in check because of their overriding love for God and others.

Wesley says that Jesus illustrates meekness further down in Matthew 5, in verses 21-26, and so he provides an interpretation of this famous passage of the Sermon on the Mount here, rather than in a later discourse in this series. He provides a compelling argument against allowing anger into our hearts, claiming that it is allowable to be angry at sin, but to be angry at sinners can only cause damage to us and to the others.

With anger's antidote (meekness) now being in place, Wesley says that we can begin to truly hunger and thirst for righteousness, which he defines as the image of God in us and our having the mind of Christ. This hunger and thirst is from God, for God, and can only be satisfied by God. Just as physical hunger and thirst will continue to grow until the need is fully met, our hunger and thirst for righteousness will continue to grow, even to the point of our begging God that they never be taken away so that we may continually be filled with more and more of his life.

Wesley continues and claims that as God's life grows in us, so will our concern for others and we will become merciful toward them. He says that the main characteristic of the merciful is that they love their neighbors as themselves, and this leads him to work through part of St. Paul's famous "love chapter," 1 Corinthians 13. Wesley describes the merciful/loving person by examining the characteristics of love that Paul lists in verses 4-7 of that famous chapter: love is patient, kind, not envious, not boastful, not arrogant, not rude, does not insist on its own way, not irritable, not resentful, does not rejoice in wrongdoing, rejoices in the truth, and covers, believes and hopes all things.

Even if the rest of this sermon were not as valuable as it is, this exploration of what it means to love others is well our time. His explanation of what it means that love "covers all things" is something we should be taught from our first experiences in church. (It provides good, practical guidelines of how to live out my Dad's practice of never speaking badly of others.)

Wesley concludes the sermon with a powerful paragraph which is worth reading even if you don't read any of the rest of the sermon. In it, he concedes that we have ample reason to cry "Woe is me" when we consider what it means to love one another and compare it to what we see in the world around us- particularly the severe lack of love among Christians. But rather than give in to despair, he says that we should continue in hope, because God's work in history is being accomplished and we are currently being given the opportunity to be among the first fruits of God's mission of creating people who have learned how to love.

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