That I believe helps us to begin to unpack and understand what Luther calls the most obscure of the beatitudes… blessed are the pure of heart for they will see God.
When we are talking about the heart we are not talking about what Brian Doyle simply calls the wet engine. That amazing pump in our chests, that pushes blood round the 96,560kms of blood vessels in your body, beating on average 55-65 times a minute, 3,500 times an hour, 34,150,000 a year. If we were maybe Jesus would have said those who didn’t have a clean heart would see God sooner: The number one killer in New Zealand is heart disease. When we say we love someone with all our heart, I hope we are not just saying that they make our heart beat faster, although that’s part of it, the “her heart raced faster in his warm embrace, it felt as if it would leap from her heaving breast as he kissed her tenderly” of romance novels. We mean more than just the physic logical effects of love.
In Biblical languages the heart is a metaphor, it relates to our personality, inner life and character, the centre of our emotions, in Hebrew thought, which is a bit different than our western use of the word, it was also the seat of our reason, a place of reflection and meditation. A R Johnston says that “heart” comes the nearest of the new testament terms to mean person, and that mind just maybe the closest to our modern understanding of where that personhood is centred.
Jesus is saying it’s what’s at the heart of a person that matters. In Matthew 23:26 Jesus slams the religious teachers of his day by saying
“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. 26 Blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and dish, and then the outside also will be clean.”
Jesus is pointing to the fact that it is not external religious observance that is important but rather the heart attitude. He goes on to point out how the Pharisees and teachers of the law are very good at arguing over small aspects of the law, of tithing there herbs for example rather than focusing on Justice and mercy. It does not mean that right living is not important, rather right living comes from a right heart attitude. Psalm 24 asks the question who can ascend the hill of the Lord and who can stand in the Holy place… the answer is someone who has clean hands, an external purity yes… and a pure heart, coming from an internal heart attitude, who does not trust in idols and false Gods. The pure heart for the psalmist is one that puts their whole hearted trust in the LORD.
So what does pure of heart really mean? Pure in the Greek has several meanings or applications. It simply can mean clean… soiled clothes are made pure when they are washed clean, of course advertises would tell that they are not really clean unless they are washed in a particular new improved formulation, usually with a wonderful exotic fragrance. It was used of wheat, wheat was said to be pure when all the chaff had been winnowed out of it. An army unit was said to have been made pure when all the malcontents and malingerers, cowardly and ineffective soldiers had been removed and they were able to focus totally on the mission at hand. Soren Kierkegaard says its means “to will one thing” to have one meaning and purpose in life.
Does that mean purity of heart is the same as being perfect… No. It’s interesting that the person who scripture says was a man after God’s own heart is King David and when you read scripture, as Rebecca Pippert says, the first word that come to mind to describe him is not perfect rather its “human”: David is very human full of failings and foibles, doubts and dirt, cock ups and contriteness. In fact the passage we had read out to us from Ezekiel cuts to the heart of the matter, and says that the heart is the mater and that God will give his people a new heart, one of flesh not of stone. To have a pure heart is to have our hearts renewed, washed. It’s not the righteousness we can try and manufacture ourselves like with the religious teachers of Jesus day. Again blessed are the pure of heart is the sixth beatitude and what has gone before it is the process of realising that we are spiritual poor, mourning over our spiritual condition being humble before God, hungering and thirsting for righteousness and out of what we have received from Christ beginning to live mercifully to others. It’s the process of allowing Jesus to wash and clean our hearts and in response to that our hearts focusing on the God who loves us, on Christ who has saved us and allowing that to be the spring of living water at the very core of our being. David’s heart after God was right that purity of heart that allows us to see God and Know God starts with the broken and contrite heart of Psalm 51 that is renewed by the love of Christ.
That will result in an outwardly expression of that purity. Martin Luther applied this passage to the religious practises of his day. He said that those who sort to have a pure heart by cloistering themselves away from the world in monasteries, devoted only to prayer and contemplation had it wrong. To have a pure heart was to live engaged in relationship with family, friends and the all of society and creation, where what was at our heart was the well spring for how we acted and reacted. J Ellsworth Kalas of course wonders how we can maintain that purity of heart, or single-mindedness in a world filled with distractions when we are time poor, media and image saturated, without room for contemplation and mediation. And its interesting to see the rise of what is being called new monasticism where people are trying to recapture the rule and rhythm of the monastic life, but living it out in radical identification with people, often living in community in poorest of neighbourhoods, forgoing our western fixation with standard of living, and investing instead into loving others. Along with that rediscovery of those more contemplative Christian practises is the danger that Christianity came simply become, as Leonard Sweet puts it, bad Buddhism or pseudo Islam. It’s not about mediation practises or rightly timed rituals it’s always an incarnational life, Lived in relationship with others. Purity of heart is reflected in the core of the Old Testament law and what is often referred to as the Jesus creed “love he Lord your God with all your heart and soul and mind and strength and love your neighbour as yourself.” It’s about relationship with Jesus and with others.
So what does it mean that the pure of heart will see God?
I did wonder if it was just Jesus way of saying if you focus on something long enough you’ll see it. John Lennox is a fellow at Oxford in Mathematics and the philosophy of science and a great Christian thinker. In a lecturer of his at Harvard University I saw recently, on Youtube talks of a defining moment in his life. It was when he first came to Oxford a student asked him did he believe in God and when Lennox replied “yes he did” with an Irish lilt, the student retorted “well of course you do your Irish, it’s in your genes” . Lennox said from that moment on he went on a search for truth, did he simply believe because of a genetic disposition or was it the reality of God. Do the pure of heart see God because they are fixated on it? Sort of Like if I believe in UFO’s I’m more likely to see them. In the book of Jeremiah, there is of course the passage “if you seek me you will find me if you seek me with all of your heart.” It’s not however simply a psychological thing.
To see God means several things. The first is those who have had their hearts washed and renewed and who are pure of heart will actually see the reality of what God is like and who God is. We can live with many wrong ideas about God, like JB Phillip’s cosmic policeman, who must be feared and obeyed or will turn us into an instant sinner burger. Or conversely a God who is too thin a cosmic credit card, just there for in case or to help us get what we want, I fear a lot of pop Christianity has devolved into that, do this tithe, obey, pray and God will bless you financially. There is such a thing as a redemptive lift, if you are renewed in Christ, and live in a different way life does get better. Another few false narratives are a distant God, way off there, unknowable, or a God who lives here at church not in the midst of everydayness of our lives. That purity of heart allows us to see God in sharp focus as God is.
I believe it opens us up to seeing God more at work in the world around us. I may have told you already about my encounters with Wood pigeons? Or Kereru to give them their Maori name. One of the great things about growing up in Titirangi was that there were always wood pigeons in the bush round us. When we moved to Dunedin to go to Knox it was good to see them again,. I started thanking God for his Holy Spirit’s presence every time I saw one, they are part of the dove family. Slowly they started turning up everywhere. I was talking with a girl in the quad at Otago Uni about becoming a follower of Jesus and I heard that woodpigeon sound, I looked up and there was a woodpigeon sitting in the only tree in the quad looking down at us. I was having a real down day struggling on a cold winter day with a long assignment, and saying well God you’ve seemed to have abandoned me here and I looked out the window and there were three of them sitting on a power line looking in at me. Another time I was walking down the road worrying about finances, living on a student allowance with three kids and a fourth on the way. I looked up and saw a woodpigeon on a powerline with its head under its wing asleep, and sensed God say is that how you see me Howard asleep not on the job just dozing off in the sun. When they were making decisions about funding at the Auckland chapel before I came here I knew it was time to leave, when a wood pigeon crashed into the windows to get my attention and then flew off away from the chapel and when I come to think of it now, in this direction.
I become aware of God in people as well someone who will simply say a kind word at the right time, or someone who drops by and needs some advice from me, or those in need. Mother Teresa called her order of nuns a contemplative order. She said they sat down and prayed and focused on the face of Jesus and then went out and saw the face of Jesus in the poor and dying and served him there.
Mission or being missional has been defined as seeing where God is already at work in the world and Going and joining in.
Yes we will see Christ because as he promised Jesus is with us to the end of the age… And yes the pure of heart will see God because in the end those who have a pure heart who have had their hearts renewed by Christ, it’s not earned its by grace, will be with him now and to all eternity. We see now as if in a mirror darkly, like some sort of reflection in a train window, but one day we will see him face to face.
Blessed are the pure of heart for they will see God. The alongside this is of the heart spring in Yellowstone park, it is a great way to finish not with bottled water but the real thing. AS we yield ourselves to God, know our spiritual poverty, mourn for our condition, humble ourselves there is that great invitation, that amazing race that our hearts will be renewed. That with Christ living within us will well up a spring of living water, that will wash us clean and over flow to those around us… and we will see God.