What does being pure in heart mean? What does that look like? And how will we see God if we are pure in heart? My sermon on Jesus’ promise from the Sermon on the Mount.
This sermon is another on our sermon series on the Beatitudes. We are following the book Living differently to make a difference by Will Donaldson, which was again helpful when preparing this sermon.
In the service our Vicar, Rev Sarah, led us in a Thanksgiving for the Gift of a Child, so it was great to be able celebrate with the family. I have changed the name of the child.
It is lovely to be able to celebrate with you today. To celebrate and give thanks for the gift of Nicolas. To give thanks to God for him, for what he obviously means to his family. It’s great that we’re able to live-stream this to family members in Finland as well. Welcome.
We’ve come to give thanks for the life of Nicolas, which is also what the reading we heard from Psalm 139 is about. It celebrates the wonder of our creation, marvels that we are “fearfully and wonderfully made”.
And it particularly celebrates the wonder that God is there with us, no matter what the situation, no matter where we find ourselves. Of course, it doesn’t always feel like that. This year, of all years, has been challenging for many of us, has shown where a lot of the cracks are in us and our society. Although that isn’t a great deal different for the time and people that Jesus was originally speaking, in the other reading we had, from Matthew’s Gospel.
As a church, we are working our way through the Beatitudes, the beautiful attitudes, that Jesus taught about. And we’re up to the verse that we heard earlier: “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God”.
Jesus is talking here to people who are on the edge, who don’t have a secure job, who don’t always know where the next meal is coming from. He wasn’t talking to the rich and powerful who had time and opportunity to think about things. Jesus was talking to people who were risking their livelihoods to come and listen to him, to find out what was truly important.
Children, somewhat older than Nicolas, often go through a stage of wondering. The endless questions ‘why?’ and stopping to look at something small and insignificant, often when you are in a hurry. This is often infuriating, but it is also a brilliant gift to us adults.
The repeated use of ‘why’ will quickly take us past the limits of our knowledge, and, if we allow it, will encourage us to find out more. The repeated encouragements to ‘look at this!’ will show us, if we’re open to it, beauty and wonder in the small insignificant things we were just about to tread on or hurry past.
Of course, those of us without the prompting of a small child can still practice the habits of why and wonder. That’s another part of what Psalm 139 talks about. It celebrates the wonder that we can encounter. It answers those why questions by looking beyond the wonder to encounter the creator of it all. Which is also one part of the answer to how we can see God. By looking at the wonders around us, by asking why and being open to the answers.
The psalm talks about living in the light of God’s presence, recognising God is with us, even when we are in the depths, in the darkness, in times of worry, or, although it doesn’t mention this, in the midst of the inevitable sleep deprivation. The psalm speaks of the wonder that we can experience when we take our understanding of God to heart. When we become pure of heart.
Now, when we talk about the heart, we tend to mean our feelings. But when the Bible talks about the heart, it’s really talking about the heart of who we are. Not just our feelings, but also our personality, character, and thoughts as well. The heart of our being. Who we really are, particularly when no-one’s watching.
Which is perhaps the real challenge. So, being ‘pure in heart’ is about the consistency between believing in God and acting as if we believed in God.
See God more clearly. And so show God more clearly. Here at Christ Church we try to do both of those things. We support the local foodbanks, we seek to care for the lonely and vulnerable, to support those in need, to care for God’s creation. And as individuals many of us are involved in many different ways in serving the community, in our jobs, paid and unpaid, in our support for those around us, in our prayers.
Not that that’s always easy. Particularly if we ourselves are in the depths, or darkness, or worry, sleep deprivation, lockdown. And we also shouldn’t be under any illusions that we are particularly pure of heart either. That’s why we begin our services with a time of confession, a time of saying sorry, and of hearing God’s forgiveness. Because the challenge of both our readings is that we can’t do this on our own. We need God to help us.
Psalm 139 ends:
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.
It’s very possible that as a family you have dreams and aspirations for Nicolas. Most families have particular things that they desire for a child. Sometimes those aspiration can be unhealthy, if we expect a child to act or think in a certain way, do a particular thing. But often they are positive. A desire to help the child discover their gifts and talents, to realise that they are loved and supported. A hope that they will have a positive impact on the world around them.
And that’s another thing that we can learn from our response to children. A rediscovery of our dreams and aspirations for ourselves. The Bible readings we have heard call us to aspire to shape our lives more in line with the way that God is calling us. To shape our lives around the wonder that is his love for us. Which is also part of our prayer as a church for Nicolas. That as he grows he will encounter God’s love and that will be woven into the story of his life.
And that can be part of all our prayers too. That God’s love is woven more deeply into the story of our life, into our daily thoughts, words, and actions. To help us do that, we have Morning Prayer and Night Prayer during the week. There’s the Lectio365 app, and Lyfe groups that meet midweek. There’s opportunities to volunteer and get involved with serving and caring for others. We’ve been asked to write letters and cards to residents in the local nursing homes. We can donate to the local foodbank. We can take more care of God’s creation. We can use our voices to speak up for those more disadvantaged than ourselves. Amongst many other ways of weaving God’s love into the fabric of our lives. Because as we see more of God’s love we’re also asked to show more of God’s love.
Our prayer for you today, Nicolas, is that you do indeed discover for yourself what it means to see God, to know the adventure that a journey of faith through life brings. To experience God’s love for yourself, and to fulfil all the good that you are capable of. And, through your journey, may we too encounter something more of God’s goodness and love, of the wonder that a child can bring. And may that example help us to see God more clearly and to show God more clearly in our words and actions. Amen.