Friday, February 28, 2014

BE: Pure (2014 KCU Faculty Sermon Series)

When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain; and after he sat down, his disciples came to him.  Then he began to speak, and taught them, saying: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.  Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.  Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.  Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.  Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.  Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.  Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.  Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.  Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account.  Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you” (Matthew 5:1-12, NRSV).

In his sermon, Tim Stamper challenged the traditional notion of what it means to be “pure in heart.”  Purity is a popular topic, especially among Christians.  However, this is not just talking about sexual purity.  As NT scholar Robert Mounce notes, “The primary reference is not to sexual purity, although this is mentioned in 5:28, but to single-mindedness. . .”[1]  James talks about this.  He says that the person who is not pure in heart is “double-minded” and “unstable in every way” and should “not expect to receive anything from the Lord” (1:8).  It means that we have a singular focus in life—God.  Tim pointed to the criticism that Jesus leveled against the religious leaders a little later.  Jesus challenged his disciples to strive for righteousness that “exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees” (Matthew 5:20).  But shouldn’t religious leaders be emulated?  Yes, unless they are living hypocritically.  Just before his execution, Jesus slammed the religious leaders as “whitewashed tombs,” burial chambers that are beautifully ornate on the outside yet are full of rotting bones and the stench of death on the inside (23:27-28).  The religious leaders were notorious for calling attention to themselves when they prayed and mutilating their faces when they fasted (6:5, 16).  These displays of “religion,” Jesus says, receive their award in applause.  However, they “will never enter the kingdom of heaven” (5:20).  Only those who are “pure in heart. . .will see God” (5:8).

So how do we become “pure in heart?”  Bonhoeffer says that the “pure in heart” are “those who have surrendered their hearts completely to Jesus.”[2]  In some ways, we have returned to that child-like innocence that Jesus talks about (Matthew 18:2-4).  We do not look for admiration from our fellow earth-walkers; we look for God in the hidden corners and in cloudy eyes.  As Tim mentioned, the reward of being able to see God is immediate.  Sure, the “pure in heart” will see God when time is no more.  However, when we live lives of spiritual purity, we will see God all around us because we live with a “kingdom perspective.”  We see the world as God sees it, and for that we are blessed.

  1. Read Psalm 24.  Pray these words before you attend your next worship service.  How did this experience help prepare you for worship?
  2. Think about all the stuff you see each day.  Bonhoeffer says that the “pure in heart” are not immune from seeing sin and evil in the world, yet they are “free” from the intoxicating effects of sin.  What is one area of your life that you need to develop a more attuned “kingdom perspective?”  Where do you need God to refine your spiritual vision so that you can become “pure in heart?”

[1]Robert H. Mounce, Matthew, New International Biblical Commentary, New Testament Series 1 (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 1991), 40.
[2]Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship (Reprint: 1959.  New York: Touchstone Books/Simon and Schuster, 1995), 112. 

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