Blessed Are the Pure In Heart
Matthew 5: 1-8, Matthew 18: 1-5
Well, I hope you enjoyed the break from our normal weekend routine last Sunday. It’s good to get out of normal patterns from time to time. When things become normal, we run the risk of missing out on divine surprise. And so changing it up a bit, like an outdoor service, can help us see and experience God differently. And that’s what we’re going to talk about today, how to see God as we continue in our sermon series called “Blessed: Finding the Good Life.” Would you read with me?
In 2008, musician George Strait released a song called, “I Saw God Today.” Anybody ever hear it? In this song he sings about average, every day scenarios, things we see all the time…flowers poking through the ground, a young couple holding hands, a new baby staring back at him through the hospital glass…but this day, he sees those every occurrences in a different light. I saw God today, says the song. Somehow in that flower, in the joy of a couple and in the cry of a newborn, this man saw the good and gracious activity of God. And then he recognizes his problem. I’ve been to church. I’ve read the book. I know He’s here, but I don’t look near as often as I should. In other words, even though God is all around, he doesn’t see God as much as he’d like.
I don’t know if you’ve heard that song, but I guarantee most of us would like to see more of God in our daily lives. Would you agree with that? We go to church, we read the book, we do our things, and yet we still have those days when we struggle to understand how God was a part of what we’ve done. From time to time we’ll ask the question, “How did you see God today,” and we’ll stammer and struggle because we know God was somehow there, with us all along, but we can’t put our finger on just how it was we saw God. And we need to see God. When we see God, our lives make sense. When we see God, we have hope. When we see God, we know we can make it through those difficult days because we’re not alone. Seeing God changes our perspective of the entire world. We need to see God!
Thankfully for us, Jesus fully understands that need. And even more so, he demonstrates the value of seeing God in our daily lives. It’s his ability to see God’s presence that allows him to love the difficult people, to press on in the midst of adversity and to be patient with people as they learn what it means to be a disciple. And Jesus wants the same for us. Jesus wants us to be able to go to bed at night knowing we saw God today. So how do we begin to see more of God in our daily lives? How do we begin to notice more of what God is up to in our little corner of the universe? Well, Jesus gives us the answer: We need to have pure heart. A pure heart, says Jesus, leads to the beautiful blessing of being able to see God. That’s the promise we have. Now if only we could get there… If only our hearts could be pure, then we’d see more of God.
Purity is defined by Merriam-Webster by the phrase “not mixed.” And that’s a good way to describe what Jesus is referring to. When something is pure, it’s not mixed with anything else. It’s clean. Without contamination. In reference to our hearts, that’s the vision Jesus lays forth: a heart that is not contaminated or mixed with anything outside of God’s good will. So…that’s all we have to do. Make sure our hearts aren’t contaminated.
Now, I’m going to be completely honest with you. I’m not sure how a person becomes more pure. But it has to be possible. It would be harsh and irresponsible of Jesus to give us an impossible vision for life. But it sure feels like it at times. I’ve heard lots of teachings about purity, lots of serious sermons about purity, but they always leave me disappointed. When I was in high school, sexual purity was a big deal. And all the rage to curb our youthful minds was something called a purity ring. Ever hear of one of those? Well, a purity ring was meant to be a tangible sign of a commitment made to remain sexually pure until marriage. The hope was that every time a 16-year old boy or girl would look at their ring, they would think about their commitment. But most of the time, it had the opposite effect. It actually made the teenager think more about the funny business they promised not to do! Those old purity rings might have helped control the body, but they couldn’t change the heart! And that’s always been our problem.
Our heart, the realm of our motives and passions and thoughts (that’s what was meant in the Bible) has always been our most challenging arena to control. We can avoid the fried foods, but we can’t convince ourselves it doesn’t look good! Even the first disciples struggled with this. They worried about the same things we do, things like success and reputation and greatness. And one day, they just spilled their guts and asked Jesus, “So, who do you think will be the greatest?” Saying that out loud makes me want to laugh. Here is the greatest person who has ever lived, the very Son of God, and they’re worried about being great? They are witnessing miracles and healings before their very eyes, but what are they preoccupied with? Their own path to greatness! Talk about not seeing God! And that’s why Jesus points them to the children.
Children hold a special place in God’s heart, and they hold a special place in our hearts, as well. If we would identify any group of people as pure, it would be the children. It doesn’t mean they’re flawless- they aren’t. It doesn’t mean their mistake-free- they aren’t! But it does mean that their hearts are usually pointed in beautiful direction. You could almost say children “see” the world differently. With two young girls, I have the opportunity to watch this in action every day. And I’m never disappointed! They live with awe and wonder. The smallest bug catches their attention like it’s the coolest thing in the world. And they could play with that thing all day! Or what about delight? I look out the window and complain about the rain; they look out and with big eyes ask, “Can I jump in that awesome puddle? Then there’s the matter of trust. They get hungry, they get tired, they have real needs, but they honestly believe that someone who loves them will provide for their every need. Children see the world differently because their hearts are in a certain posture. And posture has a lot to do with purity.
I remember a particular evening in Zimbabwe when I became a child again, when I regained something God never meant for me to lose. Bob and I happened to go outside and look up at the night sky… and we were stunned. We had never seen anything like it. Without the presence of ambient light, the southern sky lit up the country in sheer beauty, and we just sat there for 45 minutes, hardly able to speak. I was able to see so clearly that night because I was in the right place at the right time, but I was also in the right posture. My mind, my heart, my will had no other place to be, no other thing to do, no other worry to consider, and for the first time in a long time, I was simply able to be and I saw.
You see, the biggest hindrance to our struggle with purity is not the seemingly impossible nature of it, or the seemingly impossible vision Jesus gives us, but ourselves. We are the biggest hindrances to our own purity, because we think we can make ourselves pure. So we put on purity rings. We avoid certain places. We try harder and harder. But as valiant as those efforts are, they just don’t work. In fact, they usually work like a bad mirror and show us more imperfections. And if we feel imperfect, we’ll always strive to prove we’re not. And if we’re preoccupied with proving ourselves, we’ll not see God. If we feel unlovable, we’ll spend all of our time trying to convince others that we can be lovable, and we’ll not see God. If we are convinced we’re unimportant, we start to occupy our time with proving our importance to the world, and maybe to ourselves. And if we’re so busy trying to convince ourselves that we’re important, we’ll miss out on grace. Grace is the gift that opens us up to purity of heart. We can’t make ourselves pure; but we can respond to God’s initiative. That’s how we become pure.
This is why Jesus tells us to look at the children. They’re not perfect, but they usually know how to be led. Every Easter, I watch my girls try to find their well-hidden baskets filled with all sorts of goodies. And they start out with so much confidence. So they look up and down, behind every curtain and every shelf, and as the time passes (and still no baskets), you can almost hear the “adult” coming out of them: “I don’t have time for this; I have places to be; I have important stuff to do. I need to find this thing now!” And then when they’re about ready to give up, they stop, look at us and ask to play at game called “hot and cold.” If they go in the right direction, we tell them “hot.” If they go in the wrong direction, we tell them “cold.” And eventually, they “see.” They find what they’ve been looking for. And most of the time, those well-hidden baskets were right under their noses.
Most of the time, God is right in front of us. But we can’t see because we don’t have the right posture. We can’t go back to our childhood days, but we can learn from their beautiful way of life. That’s how we become pure. Purity of heart happens as we commit to an unhurried way of life, because only outside of the flurry of activity do we have the time and capacity to let God show us what we need to see about ourselves. An unhurried life gives God permission to tell us if we’re “hot” or “cold.” Purity of heart happens when we find ourselves “letting go.” We must let go of our efforts and needs to “fix” things- ourselves, the world, others and instead let God “fix” us, let God sanctify us. We’ll “see” differently when this happens. And like my children on Easter morning, we’ll eventually enjoy purity of heart, not because we “find it”, not because we look longer or put all the right pieces together, but because we let God lead us along the way. This is the promise God has for you. You can’t change your heart. But God can. And when you let God change your heart, you will see. Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God. Amen.