Sunday, March 10, 2024
Psalm 24:3-5 & Matthew 5:8-9
Rev. Kristine Aragon Bruce

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“Blessed are the pure in heart.” “Pure in heart” seems like an unattainable goal. But remember what “bless-ed” means. We are already in a state of blessedness. At the beginning of this sermon series, we talked about how the beatitudes isn’t a list of what we must do to earn God’s blessings, but that through Jesus Christ, God has already blessed us by claiming us as God’s own. The Beatitudes are descriptions and actions of how we are to live as people who are already blessed by God.

When we hear the verse “pure in heart,” we tend to associate the heart with just feelings. In the Hebrew tradition, in which Jesus grew up, the heart was understood as more than just the source of our feelings. The heart included feelings as well as the mind and the will. With that understanding, the heart could be understood as the center of a person’s entire being. One’s soul if you will. In fact “Pure in heart” can also be translated to “pure at the center.” Therefore the “pure in heart” are those whose hearts, minds, and wills are centered on Jesus Christ. They have devoted their entire selves to him. 

While purity doesn’t mean perfection, it does mean devotion to God. Now no one can perfectly devote themselves to God because none of us are perfect. We are sinners after all. But as long as we are trying with the help of the Holy Spirit, to devote our entire selves or center ourselves on Jesus Christ, we are living out of our bless-edness. To live out of one’s bless-edness in Jesus Christ is knowing that God, as Jesus Christ, has already declared that we belong to him. When we do this Jesus promises that we will see God.

I saw a hilarious meme the other day that said “You know you’re middle-aged when you suddenly become obsessed with grilling or bird watching.” I have to say this is true for many of my peers. One of whom is my friend Courtney Ellis, a pastor in southern CA. She has a book coming out called “Looking Up,” which is about how bird-watching helped her get through the isolation of the pandemic and also helped her see God more clearly. She was in a place of wanting to connect with God more deeply, but her usual routine of journaling prayers wasn’t working for her anymore. 

Courtney confesses that she is terrible at being still and knowing God as Psalm 46 states. Birdwatching helped her to not only be still, but also helped her to see and connect with God in places she tended to ignore. Places such as her office or kitchen window or her driveway. In noticing the different colors and sounds of common birds such as chickadees and sparrows, Courtney found a new appreciation for God’s creativity just in the many different species of birds. She also found a new appreciation for God’s provision, as Courtney noticed the birds always found food, reminding her of the passage later in Matthew where Jesus says that if God provides for the sparrows, how much more will God provide for our needs. 

But before Courtney could see God’s goodness in the birds, she first needed to be in the place of wanting to see God. When we are pure in heart, when Jesus Christ is at our center, we will want to see God and when we are in that posture, Jesus will help us to see him.

This doesn’t mean the pure in heart will see Jesus only when he returns, but that the pure in heart will see Jesus now. When we have pure hearts we easily see God in the good around us. Every good and perfect gift is from God as it says in James. When we are pure in heart we more readily see evidence of how Jesus is doing good around us and within us. Even in the form of the little birds.

Furthermore, when we are centered on Jesus and pure in heart we experience Christ’s peace, which Paul describes in Philippians as a peace that “transcends all understanding, guarding our hearts and minds in Jesus Christ.” This makes us want others to experience the peace of Christ as well. We then become peacemakers whom Jesus said “will be called the children of God.” 

In Jesus’s time, the Roman Emperors referred to themselves as “peacemakers” and “Sons of God.” It was the time of the Pax Romana, the peace of Rome. Jesus was using a play on words. The “Peace” that was the result of Rome’s barbaric conquering of smaller nations with smaller or no armies at all to defend themselves. This isn’t the kind of peace Jesus is talking about because that isn’t peace at all.

Peace in Hebrew, like the heart, encompasses the entire person. The word for peace is “shalom” and takes into account a person’s entire well being. Therefore the true peace of Christ takes into account a person’s entire well-being. That being said true peace of Christ is for all people, not just for those who are the strongest or most powerful. The peace of Christ cannot be achieved through the oppression of others. This is why “Pax Romana” was not true peace. The peace of Christ tells us we matter when others say and act in a way that says otherwise.

Biblical Peace also doesn’t mean simply “being nice,” “tolerant,” or “ignoring what is wrong” to avoid conflict. We can still experience the peace of Christ during conflict. That’s why Paul describes it as transcending “all understanding.” When we know the peace of Christ, our circumstances may not change and there may still be conflict, but knowing that we, and those with whom we are experiencing conflict, belong to Christ as well. It’s a peace that allows us to be in community that is centered on Christ even when we disagree. The Peace of Christ helps us work through conflict. Through Jesus Christ we become peacemakers in our relationships.

Whether it’s relationships with our families, friends, neighbors or within organizations such as our schools, local businesses, and governments. Of this list, my guess is it’s more difficult to be a peacemaker within our own families. This is because we don’t have a personal relationship with that politician in Lansing, but we do with our families. Becoming peacemakers with our families, friends, and neighbors, can help change an entire community for the good and that change can go further. The peace of Christ doesn’t mean that we will agree with others about everything. As a pastor friend once said to me about the church they serve: “We may not all be together on the same page, but through Jesus Christ we are all together.” 

Through Jesus Christ, we can be our true selves without compromise while also being in community with those with whom we disagree. Unity does not mean uniformity. It does require God’s help for us to love and respect one another despite our differences. The peacemaker does not compromise the truth of who Jesus Christ is to appease others. The peace of Christ can’t be the peace of Christ without Christ himself.

The passing of the Peace in our worship services isn’t just a time to say “hello,” “love your hair today,” etc. The placement is intentional as well. It takes place after our prayer of confession and assurance of pardon. Knowing that we have been honest with God about our mistakes, our sins, gives us peace that we are forgiven and restored in Jesus Christ. The passing of the peace is a time to remember that we are loved and forgiven in Jesus Christ. It’s this truth that gives us peace. 

Confidence in God’s grace for ourselves and for others gives us peace. Peace with ourselves and peace with those with whom we are in conflict. This doesn’t guarantee agreement, resolution or reconciliation, but what it does do is help us to see those with whom we disagree as God’s beloved too. The peace of Christ keeps us from disparaging or demonizing those who see things differently than we do. This allows us to respectfully disagree and that helps a relationship stay intact.

We are only able to be peacemakers when we ourselves know the peace of Christ. We are only able to be pure in heart when we are centered in Christ’s love for us. We are not able to see God or be called children of God without living out of our bless-edness: the truth that God has already done what was needed to restore our broken relationship with God through Jesus Christ. From there we are able, with the help of the Holy Spirit, to be people of pure hearts and true peacemakers.