Sunday, October 29, 2017

Deliverance: Blessed Are the Pure in Heart

In the movie Cinderella Man, we learn of a true story about boxing legend James J. Braddock (played by Russell Crowe). Braddock was a successful boxer in the latter 1920s. But a few years into the Depression, he appeared to be a washed up “has been." Injured and arthritic, Braddock's promising career was cut short. He even had to go on public assistance when he couldn't get work at the docks in New Jersey. During this time of need, his son, Jay, steals a salami from the butcher to help feed the family. When Jim gets back from another unsuccessful day of trying to find work, he finds out what his son has done.

Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God. (Matthew 5:8)
Some folks believe this beatitude is about inner purity. They believe that what Jesus was doing was criticizing the religious people of His day: the Pharisees, scribes, folks who were preoccupied with laws that forbade the eating of certain foods, or the ones who were overly concerned about performing religious rituals correctly. They think Jesus is urging them to focus less on those “outward” things and more on “inner” spiritual purity; “it’s not about what you do, it’s about your heart.” I think this may be overstating Jesus’ intent. It is probably more accurate to say that Jesus is emphasizing the unity of inward roots and outward fruits.

Do you remember what Jesus said about fruit?


Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will know them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thorns, or figs from thistles? In the same way, every good tree bears good fruit, but the bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a bad tree bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus you will know them by their fruits.

Eventually true colors (real fruit) will bleed through and true nature will be visible to everyone. You can only fake it for so long! Have you ever met someone like that? They seem great for a while. But, over time, you realize they are not the person you thought they were!

On a personal level, have you ever tried to fool the people around you? Have you ever wondered, “When will they find out who I really am?” Or maybe you have worried, “What would they do if they only knew how imperfect I really am?” I believe it is this duplicity that is at the heart of what Jesus is talking about when He speaks of trees and fruit. There are people all over the world who want to be good. There are people in this room who really want to be good. But, if we are honest with ourselves, we will admit that many times we are not. I believe that is because our loyalty in this world is divided. We serve many masters: money, racial prejudice, militarism, nationalism, egotism.

I mentioned to you earlier that this part of Jesus’ sermon is really about integrity. Integrity means that we are whole or undivided in our loyalty. Those with integrity have been freed from their former masters. Those who lack integrity play the game of trying to satisfy all of the many masters in their lives:
  • I’ll come to worship and declare my allegiance to God … but I’ll also withhold my money and keep it for myself.
  • I’ll make a covenant before God with my spouse … but I’ll also maintain a relationship over here on the side.
  • I’ll say publicly that I surrender all to God … but in reality, I keep a lot of things for myself.
Do you know what happens when we keep our eyes on two masters? We get cross-eyed, our vision becomes blurred, and over time, we have trouble seeing either image clearly.

But the eyes of a person who has a pure heart and whose eyes are focused on one subject, their sight is unimpaired. That is why Jesus said what He did about pure-in-heart people. They will see God. Why? Because their lives are in focus.

This beatitude is not about changing your behavior. It’s not about forcing you to do the right thing. This beatitude is urging us to allow God to shape our hearts. Then, when the moment arrives, we will want to do the right thing. There’s a difference.

But how does that happen? How can you and I be changed in such a way that when we come to the crossroads moments in our lives, we will want to move toward God? I think it comes down to one of the measures of this church. I recognize that measuring spiritual maturity or spiritual development is extremely difficult. Historically, we’ve done that through church attendance and giving. If you go to church and you give, you must be a good Christian. Well, I know a lot of people who go to church every week and who give a lot of money who should not be confused with mature Christians! So, how do we measure spiritual maturity? We say around here that spiritually mature people live out their faith when they leave the church, they align their giving with the heart of God, they nourish their relationships in the Body of Christ, and they discover God’s mission beyond these walls. Spiritually mature people seek time with God in a quiet place. I think that is the key to developing a pure heart. We cannot just decide, by our own will, to change all of our behavior. We can, however, allow ourselves to be transformed from the inside out through the power of God’s Spirit, and the only way you are going to be changed by God’s Spirit is to spend time with God.

How are you doing with that, church? I’m going to say this as bluntly as I possibly can: you will not develop a pure heart unless you spend time with God. There is no other way.

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