As you will be aware, we've been going through the beatitudes. They're called the beatitudes because the latin for 'blessed' is 'beatus'. And the thing that has struck me quite forcefully this time is the fact they are about a present state, 'of being blessed', in view of what is going to happen in the future.
Imagine a baby born to a wealthy and loving family. Imagine the baby is hungry. Her hunger is taking her over. She has worked herself up into a state. She is screaming. You have a very unhappy baby. But an observer looking on, who knows the child's background, knows the child's destiny, knows that in a few minutes time mum is going to walk through the door, pick up the baby and feed her, could say, "What a blessed baby".
Blessing is not just about what we are feeling or experiencing now. The blessing that is being spoken of here is the blessing that comes when we see the complete picture.
At the moment we may be mourning – literally mourning the death of someone who we love. We may feel totally empty and abandoned. But we are blessed because there is a bigger picture. We may feel, be, the trampled ones in society – that was certainly true for the first Christians and it is true for many Christians today – but we are blessed because there is a bigger picture. We may be falsely accused by others, discriminated against, we may be the persecuted ones (I pray with all my heart that if there is ever a choice, the church will be the persecuted one and not the persecuting one) now – but we are blessed because there is a bigger picture.
In a few minutes time, the door is going to open, and mum is going to walk in. She will pick us up, bring us close to her and feed us. Isaiah 66:13: "As a mother comforts her child, so will I comfort you; and you will be comforted over Jerusalem."
And at least three of the beatitudes are explicitly fulfilled in the last two chapters of the bible. The promise of 'a new heaven and a new earth' (Revelation 21:1); of a place where there will be 'no death or mourning or crying or pain" (21:4); and specifically – with our verse in mind today – Revelation 22:4 – "They will see his face".
So is it to be 'Pure in heart'
We are talking here about inward stuff
The word 'pure' in the bible is mainly used of silver or gold: pure silver, pure gold. It is authentic. Through and through gold. It is like an onion. If you peel of one layer of onion, what do you get underneath? Tomato? No! Onion!
And someone who is pure of heart is undivided. They are someone whose heart, whose inner being, total self, is totally authentic. There is no separation between heart and mind. The guts and the head work together: there are times when I act from here (the guts) and not here (the head) or vice-versa. Someone who is pure of heart, lives here and here. They are undivided. They are free from, as someone said, 'the tyranny of a divided self'. There is a call to prayer in the service for daily Anglican morning prayer that goes as follows: "The night has passed and the day lies open before us; let us pray with one heart and mind".
And someone who is pure of heart is utterly sincere. "Their very heart – including their thoughts and motives – is pure, unmixed with anything devious, ulterior or base". There is a transparency about them, an innocence; they are not one thing with one person and another thing with another person; they are not one person in the bedroom or on their knees and another person in the boardroom or behind a steering wheel.
And someone who is pure of heart has clarity of vision. We look at the world with a vision that has been made grubby with sin, self-centredness, self-interest, fear and pride.
Andrew asked us yesterday, "What's the right way up for the world?" How do you answer a 7 year old when he asks that? I said the world was like a football, and asked him where the top of the football was. He said, "It doesn't have a top". And yet, we live as if we are the top of the world.
I look at the world and at people from my perspective: do they threaten me or promise me good. I judge them by my standards. I evaluate them by their significance to me.
Jesus speaks about this quite a lot. He rebuked people for trying to take a small speck out of the eye of another person, without taking out the beam that was in ours. He challenges us to see right: to get the eye right (Matthew 6:22-23)
And that I think is why purity of heart and vision of God are put together: "Blessed are the pure in heart for they will see God".
Jesus, as with all the beatitudes, is the one who shows us what it means to live the beatitudes. He was pure of heart. There was nothing dark in him. He had complete clarity of vision. And he saw God: he spoke with God, his father, face to face
It is when a person is pure in heart that they see reality as it really is. The grubby spectacles are taken off: we begin to see the universe not just as a space filled with floating balls, but as God sees it – as part of his creation, an expression of his power and love. We begin to see other people as God sees them – as men and women, girls and boys made in the image of God, uniquely precious and valuable. We begin to see situations as God sees them.
Oswald Chambers wrote, "Faith is the inborn capacity to see God behind everything, the wonder that keeps you an eternal child. Wonder is the very essence of life. Beware always of losing the wonder, and the first thing that stops wonder is religious conviction. Whenever you give a trite testimony, the wonder is gone. The evidence of salvation is that the sense of wonder is developing."
So how are we to become pure in heart?
- A recognition that we are not pure in heart: Psalm 51 was written by David after he had murdered Uriah the Hittite because he desired his wife.
The prophet Nathan challenges David. David could have said to Nathan: "I am the ruler here. I do what I want". Many rulers have said that. But David recognised the truth that he has done wrong. And he is broken. And in Psalm 51 he confesses his sin before God.
The first step towards purity of heart is a willingness to take a long hard look at ourselves. David does not, in Psalm 51, simply say, "I did wrong in ordering the murder of Uriah". He looked deeper. He simply says, "Surely I was sinful from birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me".
That verse has carried far more weight and far less weight than it should have done.
It has carried far more weight, because people have built on it doctrinal towers about the sinfulness of the act of conception and about the sinfulness of babies. And they have no foundation.
It has carried far less weight than it should have done, because this is about an experience of an individual who has been convicted of sin. He looks back over his life and he makes no excuses. He does not justify himself. He does not compare himself with others. Instead he sees that the pattern of sin, of disobedience, of self-centredness is repeated and repeated and repeated. And he is broken.
This verse is not here so that I can point the figure at someone else and say, "You are sinful from birth because in Psalm 51:5 David says, 'Surely I was sinful from birth'. This verse is here, in the Psalter, so that I can kneel alongside David, with no excuses, no self-justification, and say with him - from the earliest of days, I have sinned against God and I have done evil. I acknowledge that I am far from pure, and I seek forgiveness and mercy and the power to change.
- Asking God for purity
David does not leave it there. He goes on to pray, "Create in me a pure heart, O God" (Psalm 51:10). It is the recognition that he cannot change himself. It is the recognition that only God can change his heart.
And to ask God to give me a pure heart, is the same as to ask God to give us his Holy Spirit, wisdom, grace, love, salvation. But we need to ask.
- Living the word of God
Psalm 119:9 asks, "How can a young person keep their way pure?" And the answer comes, "By living according to your word."
And this is not just a question of obeying God's commands – but also of trusting his promises.
But a person who is serious about desiring a pure heart will, like the Psalmist, have a growing love for the word of God. They will have a desire to read it and to understand it and to encounter the God who speaks through it.
- Looking to Jesus
We cannot see God this side of heaven. Some people may have part visions of God: Moses ('You cannot see me and live'), Isaiah, Ezekiel ('saw the likeness of the glory of the Lord'), Paul, John the divine.
We cannot see God fully this side of heaven, but we can still see God. Jesus says to Philip, 'Whoever has seen me has seen the Father'. So as we look at Jesus: as we seek him, discover about him, learn from what he said, trust him, commit our lives to him, obey him, come to him in prayer, wait for him – so he will come and live in us: and he will purify us from the inside.
I would like to say one final thing. I am not suggesting that as we grow in the Christian life, as God does purify our heart, we will have a clearer and clearer vision of God. There will be times when that vision does grow very bright True for people throughout the history of the church
[Aquinas: "All that I have written seems to me like straw compared to what has now been revealed to me."
Blaise Pascal and his famous note:
In the year of grace, 1654,
On Monday, 23rd of November, Feast of St Clement, Pope and Martyr,
and others in the Martyrology,
Vigil of St Chrysogonus, Martyr, and others,
From about half past ten in the evening until about half past
God of Abraham, God of Isaac, God of Jacob, (Ex 3:6; Mt 22:32)
not of the philosophers and scholars.
Certitude. Certitude. Feeling. Joy. Peace.
God of Jesus Christ.
"Thy God and my God." (Jn 20:17)
Forgetfulness of the world and of everything, except God.
He is to be found only in the ways taught in the Gospel.
Greatness of the Human Soul.
"Righteous Father, the world hath not known Thee,
but I have known Thee." (Jn 17:25)
Joy, joy, joy, tears of joy.
I have separated myself from Him.
"They have forsaken Me, the fountain of living waters." (Jn 2:13)
"My God, wilt Thou leave me?" (Mt 27:46)
Let me not be separated from Him eternally.
"This is eternal life,
that they might know Thee, the only true God,
and Jesus Christ, whom Thou hast sent." (Jn 17:3)
I have separated myself from Him:
I have fled from Him,
Let me never be separated from Him.
We keep hold of Him only by the ways taught in the Gospel.
Renunciation, total and sweet.
Total submission to Jesus Christ and to my director.
Eternally in joy for a day's training on earth.
"I will not forget thy words." (Ps 119:16) Amen.]
But there will also be times when that vision grows very dim. That is not necessarily because of sin. Quite often it is at those times that we are called to live by faith, by faith in the promise of God that "The pure in heart will see God".
John writes in 1 John 3:2-3: "Dear friends, now we are children of God and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when he appears,
we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is. Everyone who has this hope in him purifies himself, just as he is pure."