Monday, August 24, 2015

Yes, God Does Want Us to Be Happy

Brad Sullivan
Proper 16, Year B
August 23, 2015
Saint Mark's Episcopal Church, Bay City, TX
Ephesians 6:10-20
John 6:56-69

Why did so many of Jesus’ disciples leave him when he told them they had to eat his flesh and drink his blood?  Perhaps some thought that was kinda gross, taking him a little too literally.  Others, perhaps knew what he was talking about and didn’t want to put in the time and effort. 

Jesus talked about the manna from heaven which Israel ate during their 40-year journey in the desert after the exodus from Egypt, and when Jesus mentioned that, some of his listeners started to get a hint that following Jesus was not a one and done kinda deal.  They didn’t get to be baptized by John, follow Jesus, and be fed every day with miraculous loaves and fishes from Jesus.  That’s not the bread he was talking about when he said eat my flesh and drink my blood.  It’s not like the manna; it’s not simply getting a miraculous physical meal every day. 

Jesus had just fed the 5000 with the 5 loaves and 2 fish, so for a minute there, it seemed to some of the disciples that if they followed Jesus, they wouldn’t have to work anymore, wouldn’t have to strive or put forth effort.  Stick with Jesus, and we’ll get food. 

So, when they realized he wasn’t a vending machine giving out free lunches, they left.  What they missed was that they could work in their daily jobs and laboring for physical food, but they couldn’t work in their daily jobs for the food Jesus was offering.  They could only get that food through Jesus, and while unearned, the food Jesus was offering did come with the cost of discipleship.  The twelve knew that cost and still stayed by Jesus’ side, because they knew who he was and they wanted the bread that he was offering them.  "Lord, to whom can we go?”  Peter said.  “You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and know that you are the Holy One of God."

The twelve understood the words of Psalm 84, which we prayed this morning:
For one day in your courts is better than a thousand in my own room,*
and to stand at the threshold of the house of my God
than to dwell in the tents of the wicked.
For the LORD God is both sun and shield; *
he will give grace and glory;
No good thing will the LORD withhold *
from those who walk with integrity.
O LORD of hosts, *
happy are they who put their trust in you!
Psalm 84:9-12
Happy are they who put their trust in Jesus.  We hear cost of discipleship, and it may sound like a rather less than joyful affair.  Cost and discipleship are not particularly happy words, and yet, “happy are they who put their trust in Jesus.” 

Paul seemed rather happy in his letter to the Ephesians.  He was in prison at the time that he was writing the letter, jailed because he was a disciple of Jesus.  That is something we fortunately don’t have to worry about, but for Paul, even in prison, he seemed joyful and happy in his love for Jesus.  His love for Jesus is what got him imprisoned, and yet he called his love for Jesus armor.   

Therefore take up the whole armor of God, so that you may be able to withstand on that evil day, and having done everything, to stand firm. Stand therefore, and fasten the belt of truth around your waist, and put on the breastplate of righteousness. As shoes for your feet put on whatever will make you ready to proclaim the gospel of peace. With all of these, take the shield of faith, with which you will be able to quench all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.  

Darkness, hard times, the flaming arrows of the evil one.  Amidst all of the swirling darkness around us which we know is there, armor up, Paul tells us.  Armor up in your discipleship of Jesus, and be not afraid, but happy. 

What does this happiness look like, well, it varies, but I’d say it isn’t the happiness that comes from the acquisition of stuff.  There was the wealthy man who had many things, and he wanted the happiness of the kingdom of heaven.  When Jesus told him to sell his stuff, the man went away sad.  His stuff didn’t bring him the happiness his soul was longing for, and yet he still trusted in his stuff to bring him the happiness for which he longed, and Jesus looked at him with pity and said, “how hard it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God.” 

How hard it will be for those who seek happiness in stuff to receive the happiness for which their souls are longing, the happiness that comes through abiding in, trusting in, and following Jesus.  I think of the happiness of my kids when they get a new toy.  It makes them happy for a while, but not for long.  Even if it’s a cool toy and the play with it, they don’t get continual soul-deep happiness from a toy.  Now a cuddling hug from their mom, that comes a lot closer.  As a child longs for his mother’s arms, so long our souls for God. 

We have relationship and discipleship with our parents, with those who love and raise us.  A child loving and being loved by his mom is a life-long journey and relationship.  So too, abiding in Jesus is not just a quick fix.  To eat Jesus’ flesh and drink his blood, we must abide in him, follow him, trust in him.  Eating Jesus flesh and drinking his blood is not a pit stop. It is continual driving and striving.  A long road of discipleship, studying and taking seriously Jesus’ teachings.  Staying in community with our fellow Christians, making sacrifices to do so. 

Eating Jesus’ flesh and drinking his blood is a long and often a difficult road of discipleship.  He promises us that it will be difficult, that people may hate, revile, exclude, tell lies about us.  Does God even want us to be happy?  Absolutely he does.  That’s why he sent Jesus to us. 
Discipleship is a difficult road at times, and sometimes it’s not so difficult, but in all times “happy are they who put their trust in Jesus.”  Amen.

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