Blessed are the pure in heart…

The Beatitudes: The Pure in Heart
A Message on Matthew 5:8
For Jacksonville First United Methodist Church
Feb. 13, 2022
By Doug Wintermute

Matthew 5:8 (NRSV)

“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.”

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As you probably know I like to look up weird things on the Internet. The other night as a way of procrastinating writing this sermon under the guise of doing research I came across a Reddit thread that posed the question, “What is the purest element that most people will encounter in their daily lives?” []

I was fascinated by the answers.

One person wrote that it was probably liquid helium because nothing else can be liquid at that low of a temperature. And we’re talking cold, as in −269.85 °C (or -453.73°F ) for Helium 3. (Not quite as much for Helium 4, apparently.)

Someone else suggested semiconductor-grade silicon was the purest element that most people will encounter in their daily lives. Semiconductor-grade silicon is the kind that is used to make computer chips.

Someone asked just exactly how pure it was, and the expert responded by saying it was 11N pure. I had no idea what that meant until I continued reading to find out that it means eleven nines pure. In other words, 99.999999999% pure. She/he then explained the chemical processes they use to get to that level, but it was so technologically and scientifically dense that I felt like I was out in my backyard watching a commercial airliner flying over at 30,000 feet. (It was that much over my head.)

I remember the old Ivory soap commercials that used to proclaim that the soap was 99 and 44 one-hundredths percent pure. Country singer Eddie Rabbit even took that slogan and wrote a song about it called “Pure Love” that was recorded by Ronnie Milsap which became a number one song in 1974.

I used to think that as pretty dad-gum pure, until I found out about semiconductor grade silicon. Now it’s got me worried what that .56 percent in Ivory soap is. Especially since I had to wash out my mouth with it more than once when I was a kid. (Hint: it doesn’t taste good.)

Another item mentioned was distilled water. It seems the process for making distilled water is to boil it and then to collect the condensed steam. The impurities are removed during that process and the water collected from the steam is nice and pure.

Well all this talk of pureness is to give us a good background for exploring today’s Beatitude that Jesus teaches his disciples during his “Sermon on the Mount” found in Matthew’s gospel: “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.”

But what does it mean to be “pure in heart”? What does Jesus mean by this phrase?

We can get answers from scripture. In Psalm 51:10 we find, “Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me.” (NIV)

Psalm 24:3-5 tells us, “Who shall ascend the hill of the Lord? And who shall stand in his holy place? Those who have clean hands and pure hearts, who do not lift up their souls to what is false, and do not swear deceitfully. They will receive blessing from the Lord, and vindication from the God of their salvation.”

Being pure in heart has to do with sin. No matter how much we try, sin can contaminate our heart.

Humans have been given the gift of free will. We are presented with choices in our lives.

The Bible tells us that God is love. God doesn’t force us to love him, though, because love that is forced is not love, is it? Love is a choice, and in order for us to have a choice to love we have to have free will.

God gives us that free will. God grants us the ability to choose. And it’s in those choices we make that we find the purity of our heart.

God is pure. We had some great discussion in confirmation class Wednesday night as we explored the nature of God. We were talking about there is nothing that God cannot do, when one of the confirmands spoke up and said, “Yes there is.”

I have to admit I was taken aback for a bit. I replied, “What? You think there is something that God can’t do? God who is omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent and a bunch of other “omnis? What is it you think that God can’t do?”

“Lie,” the student responded. “God cannot lie.”

Boom. All that money and time spent on seminary. And the student was right. God is pure. God cannot lie.

God wants us to choose to be like him, but that is a decision we must make. For example, if God can’t lie, then we shouldn’t lie either. We should make decisions that are favorable to God.

Paul explains it real well in Ephesians 5:1, “Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children, and live in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.”

As Christians we are to strive to be pure in heart. But how do we do that?

There are two things I want to focus on today. The first is to keep our heart pure, to do everything we can to keep it from being contaminated.

Just like it is easier to prevent a mess than it is to clean up after one is made, preventing sin from entering our hearts to begin with is better than trying to remove it later. The old saying, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure” is applicable here.

The best way to kick a bad habit is to never let it get started. Avoidance of sin is always a good way to keep sin from entering our hearts.

The world throws temptation at us every day. You know what I’m talking about. Advertisements bombard us every day to put ourselves first. Just as the sirens in Homer’s Odyssey lured sailors to destruction with their song, there are so many things in our world that sing sweet songs into our ears. If you don’t believe me just get on the Internet or social media.

We are called to resist temptations that seek to move us away from God, and we are subject to such temptations multiple times each day. Again free will comes into play. We can choose to resist those temptations through the power of the Holy Spirit, or we can choose to give in to those temptations. We rationalize our decisions, thinking we are only dipping a toe in the shallow water, only to find ourselves drowning in the deep end before long.

Once there, we realize–too late–that we should have avoided the temptation altogether.

The second thing I want to explore about pure hearts today is to explore what to do when we know our hearts are not clean.

While it is a noble goal to live our lives in ways that produce a pure heart, we have to realize that as humans we make mistakes, we mess up, we sin.

It’s important to remember that everyone sins. Everyone. And one of the most difficult things to do is to acknowledge those sins, to admit them, and to repent of them.

That’s where an accountability group can help. I meet weekly online with two of my friends in an accountability group. John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, called them bands.

We follow an outline put out by Seedbed that seems to work real well. We start out with prayer, and then each one of us takes turns responding to these questions:

How is it with your soul?
What are your struggles and successes?
How might the Spirit and Scriptures be speaking in your life?
Do you have any sin that you want to confess?
Are there any secrets or hidden things you would like to share?

To be honest, the first three of those questions are a lot more comfortable to answer than those last two. Yeah. Did I tell you about the confidentiality? Yeah, that’s a big thing. But I will also tell you that admitting sins and secrets has a couple of positive effects.

The first deals with the first point we talked about today. When I find myself with a temptation during the week and find myself wavering, often the deciding factor to do the right thing is thinking, “Man, I don’t want to have to admit this to the guys this week!”

The second thing is the healing that comes after an admission of sin. It’s hard to explain, but admitting sin out loud not only acknowledges it, but also begins the healing process.

God does heal. The Bible tells us that when we confess our sins, when we truly and heartily confess and are sorry for them, that God not only forgives us, but forgets our sins. In Hebrews 8:11 we read, “For I [God] will be merciful toward their iniquities, and I will remember their sins no more.”

Jesus Christ’s death on the cross atones for our sins. Jesus pays the cost that we, as imperfect humans, are incapable of paying. God creates a way to take our unclean hearts and make them clean. He takes an impure heart and, through his wonderful grace, makes it a pure heart.

And those with pure hearts will see God, according to the words of Jesus from the beatitudes that we read today. When we experience God’s grace and love, we see God. And when our earthly journeys are over, we will see our savior face to face in a place that is perfect, a place that doesn’t even need the sun or moon or lights because the presence of God provides light all the time. We really will see God, and not metaphorically.

So my challenge to you this week is to seek being pure in heart. Let us do everything in our power to be pure in heart, and then when we experience those times when we sin and our hearts are no longer pure, let us confess our sins to God and experience the clean hearts he gives us through his grace. Then we will truly be pure.

Even more so than liquid helium, ivory soap, distilled water, and yes, even semiconductor-grade silicon.

In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, Amen.

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