Blessed Are the Pure in Heart
A YouTube Video Premiere worship service led by Mandy Smith based on Matthew 5:8, “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.”
Blessed are the Pure in Heart
Song: “We Long to See You”
Text and Music: Psalm 24, Wendell Kimbrough © 2015 Wendell Kimbrough
Used by permission. CCLI #400063.
Led by Wendell Kimbrough
Call to Worship
Led by Kate Bowler
Song: “Give Me a Clean Heart”
Text and Music: Margaret J. Douroux © 1970 Earl Pleasant Publishing; arr. Albert Dennis Tessier and Nolan Williams Jr. © 2000 GIA Publications, Inc.
All rights reserved. OneLicense.net A-703303.
Led by the Calvin University Gospel Choir; Nate Glasper Jr., conductor; Kenneth Henderson, soloist; Lisa Sung, piano; Joe Wilkins, keyboard; Denny Tawas, bass; Eron Lauchié, drums, Sam Fynewever, cello
God’s Greeting, Prayer of Confession, and Assurance of Pardon
Led by Lisa Weaver
Song: “Blessed Assurance”
Text: Fanny J. Crosby, 1820-1915
Music: Phoebe P. Knapp, 1839-1908; arr. Keith Hampton © 2011 Choristers Guild
Used by permission. CCLI #400063.
Led by Calvin University Campus Choir, Capella, and Women’s Chorale; Pearl Shangkuan, director; Keith Hampton, guest pianist
Prayer for Illumination, Scripture Passage, Sermon, and Prayer of Application
Matthew 5:8 (full text below)
Led by Mandy Smith
Song: “Be Thou My Vision”
Text: tr. by Mary E.Byrne
Music: traditional Irish hymn; arr. by Dan Forrest © 2005 Hal Leonard Corporation; arr. © 2015 Hal Leonard Corporation
Used by permission. CCLI #400063.
Led by Calvin University’s Women’s Chorale; Pearl Shangkuan, conductor; Linda Hoisington, piano; Karen Krummel, cello
Led by Samuel Tandei in Indonesian
Song: “Immortal, Invisible, God Only Wise”
Text: Walter C. Smith, 1867, PD
Music: ST. DENIO, Welsh, in J. Roberts’ Caniadau y Cyssegr, 1839, PD; descant © Patrick Scott
Led by Jack Mitchener and the choir of the Cathedral of St. Philip (Episcopal) in Atlanta, Georgia
Led by Samuel Tandei
Sermon by Mandy Smith
Hello, brothers and sisters. I am joining you here from Australia, and I should say that the birds of Australia like to make themselves known no matter what I do short of having a soundproof room, which I do not have. It's highly likely that they may join us in the background, and I hope that that is a reminder to you that, like with any sermon, this sermon is coming from a real place and a place that for many of you may be on the other side of the planet, but I bring you greetings from the churches of this side of the world.
Let's begin with this prayer based on Psalm 24:3–6. How shall we ascend the hill of the Lord? How shall we stand in your holy place? May we have clean hands and pure hearts. May we not lift up our souls to what is false. May we not swear by a false God. May we receive blessing from you, Lord, and vindication from you, O God of our salvation? Such is the way of those who seek you, who seek your face, O God of Jacob. Amen.
Our scripture today is from Matthew 5:8: “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.” This is the word of the Lord. Thanks be to God.
Let's consider together some assumptions that we bring to this short passage. Firstly, in our consumerist culture, we can read passages like this as a kind of a transaction: God is a vending machine; we do something, we get something. We become pure in heart; we get to see God. But seeing God is not a prize for becoming pure in heart. And in our productive culture, we also can read this passage as a goal to achieve: if we work hard enough to be pure enough, we accomplish the goal of seeing God. But becoming pure of heart is not a task that we work toward in our own strength to impress God. And given our Christian history, we often think of purity in a puritanical way: keeping from the world to avoid being tainted by it.
“Pure” might bring to mind Snow White: a kind of fragile, two-dimensional goody two shoes, squeaky-clean kind of way of life which is always afraid of being tarnished. But anything that's pure is actually more concentrated. A pure essential oil or essence for flavoring is nothing but the refined, unadulterated essence of the thing. It's stronger, not weaker, than the diluted version. But it's been pressed; it's been refined in order to become so.
So if Jesus is not inviting us to work really hard to be totally untainted by the world so that we can win this prize of seeing God, what is he actually saying? I'd like to propose that Jesus’ own purity of heart is our best example here. He was a true self, and as much as he gave himself away, he was not swayed by what others thought or wanted for him. He had a purity of vision that set his eyes on the kingdom, cutting through all the swirl of political and cultural and religious waves in torrents around him. He didn't look to the left or the right. He was not pushed off course by their systems, by their expectations, by their worldviews. And this purity of vision to press towards that kingdom meant daily collisions with these worldly systems, colliding with their expectations, with their institutions, and every single moment that he collided with those expectations of those systems, he had a moment to go back to the Father: Who are you? Who do you say I am? What is your kingdom again? And each one of those was a purifying moment, a chance to choose the kingdom one more time. Each one was a death: a death to his ease, to his comfort, to his control. And each one was a new life.
So through all those crashing waves of culture, of religion, of politics, Jesus was not tossed about, but pressed straight ahead, creating behind him a kind of wake through the waves, and any who were open to him were drawn into that beautiful wake as we also are drawn into that wake. But as we are, as he pressed towards the kingdom and we join him in that wake, we shouldn't be surprised if like him we collide with these torrents of political and religious and cultural expectations. So on a daily basis, our purity of vision to move toward the kingdom will also cause us deep discomforts that will ask us to set aside our preferences and our convenience.
This pressing towards the kingdom will ask us to say things that we'd rather not say, to go places that we'd rather not go, to give away things that we'd rather keep. And in this discomfort, each time we have an opportunity to cry out to God: Where did you go? Why does pursuing your kingdom of abundance and peace not always feel like abundance and peace?
It's important for us to know that Jesus knew each of these little deaths. It's important for us to remember that Jesus died many deaths before he ever got to the cross. We underestimate Jesus’ sacrifice and its meaning for us. If we only think of his death as his physical death on the cross. Well before he got to the cross, he had died to his comfort, to his security, to his stability. From the moment that he emptied himself to become like us, he died to many deaths, setting aside his preferences, relational, emotional, social, existential deaths. And he could have stopped pursuing the kingdom at any time if something of those deaths was more than the life that he saw before him. But it drew him on—some kind of life better than all that death. And we know for the joy set before him, he endured death.
So what was this joy? His joy came from that pure essence of kingdom that he had tasted. He describes a kind of kingdom that's like a tiny drop of an essence that's been added to a whole glass of water, and its flavor is so extraordinary that it changes the whole glass. One sip transforms us so much that we'll spend the rest of our lives in pursuit of it. And as we're in that pursuit of it, we ourselves are transformed by it because this pure pursuit of God's kingdom invites God to empty all that is not God in us. God himself empties what is not God in us, just like, as Paul says in 2 Corinthians, we carry around the death of Jesus in our bodies so the life of Jesus may be seen in our bodies, which feels like death, but looks like life.
Thomas Merton has a few things to say about this: “At the center of our being is a point of nothingness, which is untouched by sin and by illusion, a point of pure truth, a point or spark, which belongs entirely to God, which is never at our disposal, from which God disposes of our lives, which is inaccessible to the fantasies of our own mind or the brutalities of our own will. This little point of nothingness and of absolute poverty is the pure glory of God in us. It is so to speak his name written in us. . . . It is like a pure diamond, blazing with the invisible light of heaven. It is in everybody, and if we could see it we would see these billions of points of light coming together in the face and blaze of a sun that would make all the darkness and cruelty of life vanish completely. . . . I have no program for this seeing. It is only given. But the gate of heaven is everywhere.”
I believe in this beautiful possibility: that to become more truly ourselves is to become more like God, and to become more like God is to become more truly ourselves. And I believe in another beautiful possibility: that this purifying, life-giving process is built into our very pursuit of the kingdom. The more we seek the kingdom, the more we are shaped by it. As our efforts to seek the kingdom collide with all those ways of the world, we are given daily choices to choose the kingdom over the world again and again. And as we do, as painful as it is, our hearts are purified. As we do, we see God taking shape in our very selves.
Here's what I'm learning: it's often in the times when everything else has abandoned us, when that thing we thought would kill us has actually occurred—it's only in those times that God can best purify our hearts. Because here the choices are more obvious; we have a clarity of vision. Here we have an opportunity to come back to him and say, “Why has this pursuit of your goodness led me to pain? Who are you again? Who am I again? Why am I doing this again?”
And here's what I'm wondering: What if when Jesus calls us to die, he calls it a death as a grace because he knows to us it feels like death. I'm wondering if perhaps he is doing his best to restrain his pure joy at this invitation because he knows that it's actually an invitation to release all that we are not truly made of, to release all that is not truly who we are. This is an invitation to allow him to let die the things we think give us life, but which are actually stealing our life. And this certainly feels like our own death because in the beginning we're so entangled with these fears and assumptions that we can't see that this is not actually who we are. God loves us too much to change his definition of life in order to adjust to our feeble definition, and God rejoices when we allow him to let that definition die because of the freedom that he sees on the other side.
So here's what I'm choosing to do about it: As hard as it is, I'm choosing to stop being surprised when that pure pursuit of the kingdom collides every day with the systems of the world. I'm choosing to stop being surprised when following Jesus’ invitation to his kingdom of peace doesn't always feel like peace, when following his invitation to his kingdom of abundance doesn't always feel like abundance. And I'm choosing to say yes to that sacrifice with abandon as much as I can, as if I really believe that this death leads to true life, to a purity of heart, even if I don't yet see it. It means choosing to give my life away—not just reluctantly, hesitantly, but maybe even with flair, with abandon instead of fear. It's embracing Jim Elliot's wisdom: “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.” And if we know Jim Elliot's story, we know what he gave.
Finally, I'd like to offer these possibilities to ponder. In every way God is calling you to die, how is he calling you to live? In every way he's purifying your heart, how is he inviting you to see him? Blessed are those who are willing to release all that is not the kingdom in them, who let their hearts be purified, for they shall see God himself—not just around them, but in their very selves: God's life being birthed in every death. God's kingdom coming on Earth as it is in heaven.
Let's pray from Ephesians 1. I ask that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the spirit of wisdom and revelation so that you may know him better. I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in his holy people, and his incomparably great power for us who believe. That power is the same as the mighty strength he exerted when he raised Christ from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms, far above all rule and authority, power and dominion. And every name that is invoked not only in the present age, but also in the one to come. In the power of that name we pray. Amen.