Today, having taken five steps up the stairway to heaven, we stand ready to ascend into the sixth and seventh blessing in Matthew's Beatitudes - purity of heart and peacemaking. Next week, we conclude with persecution faced for righteousness' sake. Join me now on these next two steep steps of our journey heavenward . . .
Having surrendered our spirits unto God, having mourned mightily, having humbled ourselves completely, having hungered and thirsted after justice, and having been merciful and forgiving in all our ways, we come to "Blessed are the pure in heart for they shall see God" (Matthew 5:8).
This sixth step is a high one. It is a tough one. The word for pure is "Katheros," which means "Unmixed, unadulterated, completely clean." We might restate this beatitude as "Blessed is the person whose motives are entirely unmixed and completely clean, because that person will see God."
Purity and impurity are vastly different qualities in our human condition. Those with impure motives and hearts are easy for you and me to identify. We recognize their overt behaviors, and too often, we resemble them all too much. Sometimes those with impurities cast light on the shadows lurking in our own hearts. We look upon them and we certainly see our truths upheld or exposed in the impurities of others. In adulterous relationships, lustful, violent or abusive behaviors, we see those whose hearts are living proof of the mixed and harmful motives of impure hearts. Impurity is much easier to spot and to condemn than purity is to celebrate and embrace!
So, I ask you, do you know someone who is pure in heart? Are there those in your life who approach other people with unmixed motives? Rather than going through life asking, "what's in this for me?" Are you one who enters tasks and projects with unblemished motivations? I mean no offense when asking these questions. I ask them of myself. But, it seems that as we move through life encountering hardships and hurts, fewer and fewer of us emerge with pure hearts. The new and purely beautiful nature with which God gifted us at birth, seems to break down little by little throughout life as we are faced with one challenge and another. Eyes that saw only good become jaded and cynical - so much so that they become blind to purity and goodness.
This is where God enters the equation. Having taken steps on the kingdom stairway, we, who are impure of heart, must trust God to heal our blindness and cleanse us so we will see God once again! The pure in heart reflect the face of God to others. They see God because their eyes and their lives are in focus. They are focused on God alone. They are on fire for God.
There are lots of people who talk about God. "God talkers" have plenty of words and they often deliver their lines with passion. But, the pure in heart are often those who feel deep love for God! They often do quietly and without fanfare. Their relationship with God is alive and well! They wake up in the morning praising God. They go through the day trying to figure out what God would have them do. They seek no glory. They bring no focus to themselves. We see them because they shine for God. They are never looking for excuses. They show up, they serve, they help others, they answer the call because they are paying attention. Their motives are unmixed and so they see God! Blessed are you when your motives are unmixed, for you will see God!
I must add, to be pure in heart may be like the sun breaking through on a cloudy day. You see glimpses of sunshine. You see rays of hope. Those who are pure in heart shine in small ways but influence people in great ways.
Jesus tells us, once you see God, you are ready to become peace makers for God. The seventh step is still steeper than the sixth one. "Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons and daughters of God" (Matthew 5:9). Each week, we "pass the peace of Christ" to one another. We share the love and peace of God with others as sign of what God has given us through our Savior. In the Gospel of John Jesus says, "Peace I leave with you, my peace I give to you. I do not give as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid" (John 14:27). But, receiving and sharing peace is not what this passage is about. Here Jesus calls his disciples to make peace. "Peacemakers" renounce violence and tumult and advance the cause of peace through nonviolent means. Our God is the God of peace. Jesus is called "the Prince of Peace" by Gospel writers. Paul says of Christ, "he is our peace." And who can forget the Angels of Glory praising God and singing the great good news of Jesus' birth to the shepherds with "peace on earth and good will to all God's people on earth." (Drawn from Clarence Jordan's The Sermon on the Mount, p. 34).
But, what is peace? And how do we make it? Peace is most fully known in the Hebrew Word, Shalom. Shalom is a comprehensive concept that signifies peace, joy, freedom, reconciliation, community, harmony, righteousness, truth, communication and humanity. It is wholeness. "Shalom is a wholeness is which the political, social, and religious are no more to be separated than the body and soul, or nature and culture" (Pinchas Lapide, The Sermon on the Mount: Utopia or Program for Action?, Maryknoll Press, Maryknoll, NY, 1986, pp.34-35).
Shalom is what God is. Peacemaking is what God does. Scripture shows God heaven bent on one thing - the salvation of the world! There can be no salvation without shalom. Peacemaking and redeeming the world become one in the same. When God speaks of peacemaking through the words of Jesus, the family business is extended to you and me. The Father/Son Business of saving the world and creating a peaceable kingdom reflects the fullness of the beloved community on earth.
For Jesus, peacemaking not only about stopping violence and war. It is about changing hearts and minds, too. Years ago, Dr. Howard Thurman visited Mahatma Gandhi in India. Dr. Thurman asked Gandhi why, during his campaign to end British rule, he withdrew for a while. Gandhi answered that he withdrew because his people didn't have a wholesome enough sense of self to engage in sustained nonviolent revolution against the British. In other words, they didn't have the hearts of peacemakers. God's plan for peace is not merely about bringing an outward settlement between warring factions. God's plan for peace is to create men and women of goodwill.
In the civil and interreligious war now raging in Iraq in which more than 10,000 civilians have been killed during the last 90 days, war and hatred seem to be growing in the hearts and minds of the Sunni and Shiite Muslim forces. Our American military presence, even as we speak of it in our most supportive ways, will not be able to change the hearts and minds of those we have been sent to assist in making peace. In southern Lebanon, the 32 day war between Israel and Hezbollah rebels is not over. The cease-fire has not produced changed peace in the rhetoric and the hearts and minds on either side. Like school yard fighters broken up by the teachers at recess, we all know this battle will be re-engaged off school grounds after the final bell has sounded. These wars of which I speak are not merely led by crazed leaders whose citizens are coerced to the field of battle. In the case of Iraq and the rebels of Hezbollah, these wars are led by "true believers" whose religious zeal seeks more blood and more destruction in the name of God. Through it all God must be weeping. The fighting and the hatred must sadden rather than gladden the heart of God. Claimed as the God for both sides in the midst of holy wars, God cannot stand the violence of either side. God, whose will is for peace, whose heart is for Shalom, can condone nothing of this which makes for war.
To be peacemakers in our times means that you are nothing less than special agents of the kingdom of heaven. In your home, in your relationships with others, in your words and deeds, always maintain a vision and action for peacemaking. I know how hard this is. I fail at it regularly. But, the world which continues to believe and practice an ethic of an eye for an eye and tooth for a tooth will end up being a world filled with blind and toothless engaged people. It will be a world of stumbling and mumbling hate-filled humans. The hardship of living in peace is this: the way of the peacemaker too often leads to the cross. Jesus knew that to live and work for peace too often brings the wrath of war-makers upon you. The greatest sacrifice you might make as a peacemaker is to lay down your life for others. I say, consider the alternatives. Looking back on the 20th Century, which was the bloodiest, deadliest, and ugliest century of human history, I believe the only way forward can be nonviolence and peace. Let us teach it to our children, live it in our lives, and make it in the world in which we live. Violence and war can no longer be our choice because annihilation is the looming verdict for a world in pursuit of a growing spiral of violent vendettas. Ours must be the way of peace. In the words of Revelation 11:15, as makers of the peaceable kingdom, "the kingdom of the world will become the kingdom of our God and of his Christ."
Next week, we conclude this series on the Beatitudes. Amen.
Copyright 2006, The First Congregational Church