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FCC has embarked on the sermon series about the Beatitudes since mid Aug, and we are just slightly over half way through the series. We have gone through 5 of the 8 beatitudes in Matthew chapter 5:
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 be shown mercy.
So, today the 6th beatitude verse states : Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.
I am not sure how you take to or feel about the first five beatitudes: whether you look at them as traits/state of mind/spiritual characteristics or just the inner being, and whether you identify with any of them or all of them. But I think in at least some instance in our lives, we would definitely see ourselves as being poor in spirit, being in mourning, being meek, being hungry and thirsting for righteousness and being merciful.
But when we look at this verse Blessed are the pure in heart, the first thing that comes to my mind is that this is not me. If anyone stands up and proclaim that they are pure in heart, likely I will just shake my head in disbelief. We know that none of us would claim to be 100% pure in heart, but is it possible to say that we are 10% pure, or 50% pure in heart. Can purity of the heart be measured? Is being pure an either or, you are either pure in heart, or you are not. In this world and age, other than babies and children who have yet been influenced by anything, it will be difficult for anyone to say that they are pure in heart.
So, can I say that since this seems to be impossible, so there’s nothing that I can preach on and this is the end of my sermon. My heart certainly wishes to say so but I think we should try to dig a little more and see if there is anything to be gleaned from this verse.
What does the word pure actually means?
Strong’s Definition G2513 Pure comes from the word Katharos, which means of uncertain affinity; clean (literally or figuratively): clear, pure.
Purity in 3 senses
In the bible, purity can be referred to in the physical sense, about cleanliness and purity of an element. It can be used in a levitical sense, where purity is often associated with the cleanliness in which one observes in their interactions with the community and in the worship of God. Last but not least, purity can be referred to ethically: meaning free from corrupt desire, from sin and guilt, sincere genuine, blameless, and innocent.
Strong’s G2588 – comes from the root word kardia
The usage of Heart in the bible also can be described in 3 main ways: The heart can refer to the physical organ in the body itself. It can also denotes the centre of all physical and spiritual life. In this case, it includes both the soul or mind. We often separate our heart from our head, attributing our thoughts , ideas, intellectual understanding and intelligence to our head. As for passions, desires, affections and emotions, we classify them as a heart thing. But in the bible, it can include all of the above. Heart can also be used to denote the central or innermost part of anything
Though we may not be able to say that we are pure in heart, I believe that in the innermost of our heart, there is something which we hold close to ourselves and that we would risk our all to protect. I would like to invite you to share What do you hold close to your heart?
In Chinese, there is a saying : 心中的净土。Meaning a piece of pure land in our hearts which is uncontaminated by anything.
It may be a person, it may be a thing, or a memory, it may be your relationship with god.
For some parents , this innermost place can be occupied by their children, fur kids included. It may or may not be vice versa for the kids. It can be something which we have worked hard to earn or achieve in our life.
The bible talks a lot about heart, in the book of Matthew alone, there are 15 verses which mentions the word heart.
Mat 6:21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
Matthew 12:34 You brood of vipers, how can you who are evil say anything good? For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of.
Matthew 15:18–19 But the things that come out of a person’s mouth come from the heart, and these defile them. For out of the heart come evil thoughts—murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander.
And in answering to the question from an expert in the law: : “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?
Matthew 22:37: Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.
As we look through these verses and think about the answers which we gave to the question as to what we hold close to our hearts, will we still be able to say that we are Christians? If your answer is yes, then good for you.
Do we believe in what we say when talking about our faith, or what we claim to believe in? When we say that we are a Christian, do we truly believe that God will be able to transform us, not just in a superficial way, of breaking of our bad habits and making us a better people, but really that God’s holiness will be able to shine through us and that we will become attain the purity that god calls us to be and ultimately be able to see god in all god’s splendour and glory.
I have to admit that there is always that doubt at the back of my mind. Perhaps that’s why a lot of people would rather say that they are spiritual and not necessarily identify as Christians. Because to truly live as a believer of Christ entails so much and could call on us to be so radical that the society, our family, our friends would think that we are insane
Of course some of us are capable of portraying to the outside world as to what a Christian should be like, or what is expected of a good person or a spiritual person. But how does that make us different from the Pharisees? The Pharisees were always ready to reduce the way of life and righteousness to a mere matter of conduct, of behavior and appearance before men. When what we present to others do not match what is inside of us, we become a divided person because we are not aligned from within to with out.
This is quite common for people who has not accepted their own sexuality or have to hide in the closet. It also may apply to those of us who feels that we are being imposters, whether be it at work or school, in our personal lives or even in church. When our genuine self has to be hidden and not be let out for whatever fear that grips us (rational or irrational). But we know that God is not looking at our outward appearances, but God is looking at our hearts.
How often do we truly open our hearts to another? Even in our sermons, we have always emphasised the anonymity of using Menti to encourage participation. I wonder what it is with our fear of letting people know our opinions, or what is it that holds us back from sharing. If Menti was not anonymous, we would probably get only a handful of responses, and they will probably be politically correct responses or more standard Christian answers instead of our heartfelt thoughts.
And we know that it is who we are when no one is watching that defines us. And I wonder whether do we even choose to hide from ourselves sometimes, which is why some of us cannot stand being alone, and is always surrounding ourselves with activities, distractions, hobbies, addictions even so that we do not have to face our true self within. Do we think that there is something so dark inside of us that we are afraid to reveal ? Could we even convince ourselves that we are able to hide from God if we choose to.
When I was closing as service leader last Sunday, I shared that I do not understand why God always ask of us that which is opposite of what the world ask of us. Why is it so difficult for our heart’s desire to be that of which God’s desires? More often than not, we often conflate God’s will with what we want instead. Today, if we dig deep within and acknowledge that god is not at the center of our heart, it does not mean that we are not Christian. We are Christians when we came to know god as revealed through the incarnation of Christ. But our journey does not end there, it continues through the spiritual growth as we follow Christ, learning to live by the word of God, willing to change the way we think so that our hearts will grow pure. If we are not there yet, it simply means that this presents another opportunity for us to come to god and to surrender ourselves once again.
As in Psalm 139 : 23,24. David wrote Search me, God, and know my heart, test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting. Similarly, David also wrote in Psalm 51:10, “Create in me a clean heart, O God; and renew a right spirit within me.” King David is a character in the bible which exemplifies that though one may be a sinner, one may still be willing to repent and continue to seek God’s guidance in his life and to be after god’s heart.
This coming to God is not one off thing, but should happen over and over again. For God to cleanse our heart until we are able to seed God’s purity in our heart, and from there comes our words, our thoughts, out attitudes, and who we are as god’s beloved children. And that people can see the image of god in us. We can read the beatitude not as that we are already the pure in heart, but that we are constantly in the process of being made pure in heart. It is not an end state, but a continuing journey which we walk along side with god and each other.
If you do not know what is at the center of your heart, a simple way may be to quantify what did you spend the most time on in your life ? I asked the question in terms of time, but it could be also be in terms of effort, your thoughts, your money. The time frame is not just a week, but could be months, years or even your entire life. If you are able to see where you spend time, energy and money on, it could tell you what is in your heart. Could it be food? Which is a national obsession of Singaporeans. When we have breakfast, we are thinking about lunch, and when we are having lunch we think about dinner. Is it social media (Facebook/Instagram/TikTok) because we are not satisfied with our own lives and want to live vicariously through others? Is it the mindless consumption of Youtube/Netflix/Disney, clicking one after another following the algorithms that push media to you based on your watching patterns? In this covid pandemic, if the past two years passed by in a blur to you, what does it say about what is in the center of our heart?
So how do we align our desire to that of God’s and plant that in our heart? Watchman Nee said: ‘Often it has to do with what I decide when I get out of my bed in the morning, who’s going to have the victory within me the new nature or the old’.
The Story of Two Wolves
An old Cherokee is teaching his grandson about life:
“A fight is going on inside me,” he said to the boy.
”It is a terrible fight and it is between two wolves. One is evil–he is anger, envy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority, and ego.”
He continued, “The other is good – he is joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion, and faith. The same fight is going on inside you–and inside every other person, too.”
The grandson thought about it for a minute and then asked his grandfather: “Which wolf will win?”
The old Cherokee simply replied, “The one you feed.”
It will indeed be a daily struggle, for our old nature does not love what God loves. As Paul wrote in Romans 7:15-20 I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. 16 And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good. 17 As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me. 18 For I know that good itself does not dwell in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. 19 For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing. 20 Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it.
But in this daily struggle, it will always be a choice that we make. We cannot choose both the old nature and the new nature. We cannot be double minded or half hearted, but we have to keep our eyes on God and learn to choose god each time. It does not mean that we will always make the right choice, but that we are willing to put in the effort to make the better choice each time, instead of letting our live passed on by without even taking time out to think and reflect on our choices.
Pauline in her sermon two weeks ago shared Elias Chacour’s interpretation of the word Blessed, that tracing back to it’s Aramaic root, it means “to set yourself on the right way for the right goal; to turn around, repent.”. Indeed this puts a different perspective that if “blessed.” does not mean “happy, rich, fortunate, well off.” Would we still choose to follow?
But Blessed are can be interpreted as an exclamation of the inner joy and peace that comes with being right with God. This may also include happiness; but it is a happiness that transcends what happens in the world around us. Such that it can call for rejoicing even under intense persecution. “blessed” is a description of the spiritual attitude and state of people who are right with God. Would we make our daily choices such that we are right with god to accept god’s blessings, no matter our circumstances?
When bad things happens to people, the question we always ask is where is god in all of these? Illness, natural disasters, unprovoked violence, sudden accidents – when loved ones are lost and lives torn apart, how do we tell the victims or those who are suffering that god is in control and everything will be alright. And I always remember the answer that someone shared with me, that god is in the tears that we cry. It may sound cliché or sentimental, but it is something that I keep close to my heart to remind me that in my tears, in my heartaches, in my anguish, in all my trials, god is there with me. Perhaps that is also a way for us to see God, not in the physical sense, and not in the meeting in the afterlife. But in the here and now, to sense God’s presence in our lives. Not just able to know intellectually that God is with us, but to know in our heart that God is indeed with us
When did you feel God’s presence in your life?
To see God is to feel God near to you, and it means that we are in a fellowship with God for us to be able to see God and feel God’s presence.
When we are in a relationship with someone, especially if it’s someone whom we want to get to know better and get closer to, we will pay attention, be sensitive to his/her needs, likes and dislikes. We put aside our phones, and have conversations that reveal parts of us to them and them to us. We do not let our minds wander.
As we continue with our Christian walk, may we be able to see God as the friend/partner or whoever it is that we want to get closer to. And that our relationship will be able to grow deeper and richer as we get to know God and ourselves better. So that indeed we may be the pure in heart that will see God in our lives.