Bible Reading 1 John 3:2-3, Luke 12:16-21
1 John 3:2-3 Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when Christ appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is. 3 All who have this hope in him purify themselves, just as he is pure. (NIV)
Luke 12:16-21 And he told them this parable: “The ground of a certain rich man yielded an abundant harvest. He thought to himself, ‘What shall I do? I have no place to store my crops.’ “Then he said, ‘This is what I’ll do. I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and there I will store my surplus grain. And I’ll say to myself, “You have plenty of grain laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry.”’ “But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?’ “This is how it will be with whoever stores up things for themselves but is not rich toward God.” (NIV)
Message Pure Priorities Lead to Pure Results Matthew 6:19-34
Max Lucado wrote that he once lived in very hot Rio de Janeiro. One day he was leaving his apartment for an extended period of time, and realized he had left his ham radio plugged in. He ran back in and yanked the plug. When he returned a few weeks later, he discovered he had actually pulled the plug on his freezer. This event inspired a parable entitled -- What is the best way to clean out a rotten interior?
He applied strong cleansers and scouring pads to the OUTSIDE of the appliance. It got really nice and shiny, but when he opened the door, it was still revolting.
Maybe the freezer needed supportive friends. He threw a party and invited all the appliances from neighborhood. The apartment filled up with refrigerators, stoves, microwaves, and washing machines. It was a great party. Everyone played pin the plug on the socket and laughed about limited warranties. Surely this social interaction would cure the freezer, but when the door was opened, the stench was even worse.
Maybe the freezer needed status. He put a Mercedes sticker on its door and painted a paisley tie down the front. It was classy, stylish... cool. He opened the door, expecting it to shine, but it was still putrid, stinky and repulsive inside.
Maybe the freezer needed some high-voltage pleasure. He bought it some copies of appliance catalogs, illustrated with open-doored appliances. He tried to set up a date with the freezer next door, but it gave him the cold shoulder. A few days of supercharged, after-hours entertainment, surely now it would be clean and happy. He opened the door, and nearly got sick.
Lucado interprets his parable. Who in their right mind would concentrate on the outside when the problem is on the inside? Too many of us. We have something spiritually empty or distorted inside. Therefore, we try new haircuts, new outfits, new exercise programs, we try to become more popular, we try different entertainments, different hobbies, music styles, new possessions… Not that there is anything wrong with these things, they may even be helpful in their proper place. But if it is an attempt to be a substitute for something spiritual that is missing or rotten inside, then it will only distract us from what is not getting cleaned. The only solution to inner spoilage is inner cleansing.
(Adapted/Abridged from Applause of Heaven)
This is why these descriptions of the full and deep joy associated with God’s transformation of we who are receptive humans includes what
L: [Jesus continued] to teach them.
P: Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God. Matthew 5:2,8 (NIV)
Pure heart / leads to pure action
It is not the emphasis in the Beatitudes, but it does line up with scripture - that pure hearts lead to pure actions...
Jesus said it is what flows out of the heart that makes us be what we are and do what we do (Mark 7:14-23 (NIV)). We heard John tell us that those who want to be like Jesus and see Jesus will purify themselves as he is pure (1 John 3:2-3 (NIV)).
James describes pure and faultless religion as one that goes beyond avoiding evil, but one that proactively participates in a wider social concern, which, in his original readers context, meant to look after orphans and widows in their distress and then adds -- to keep oneself from being polluted by the world (James 2:14-25, 1:22-26 (NIV)).
When we hear the word purity, it is usually only that last phrase on which we focus, about those things we're not supposed to do. But the Bible and Jesus’ life demonstrate that purity goes beyond avoiding evil, but also includes actively loving - doing good for others, especially for those who are less fortunate. In addition to what I just read, we also read that
John the Baptist sent a message asking if Jesus was really the One, God’s true representative. Jesus replied as proof, 'The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cured the deaf hear, the dead are raised, [and the last thing in a list is the most important, and Jesus concludes his list: and the good news is preached to the poor. (Luke 7:18-23 (NIV))
Pure heart / leads to pure priority / focus
A pure faith strives to demonstrate in action a compassion for the needy. At the end, people will ask Jesus, "When did we see you hungry, thirsty, a stranger, or in need of clothes?" And he will answer, “Whatever you did (or did not) do for the least of these, you did (or did not do) for me." (Matthew 25:34-45 NIV))
On the other hand, we must be very careful to not say that purity is only about avoiding evil or even about doing good -- for then we have moved back to a faith of Grace and Love bac to a faith of Law and Works, and we don’t want to go back there.
Perhaps we will get a little closer to the beatitude's emphasis by talking about a purity -- not of performance, but of priority. If you want to see God, you must have a pure prioritized focus -- purely, (clearly) a cut above every other emphasis in our life.
Experienced animal trainers take a whip and a stool with them when they enter the lion’s cage. The whip is mostly for show -- it is the stool that does the important work. When the trainer holds the stool with the legs extended toward the lion's face, the animal sees four equal legs and doesn’t know what to attack - and so it waits, paralyzed because it doesn’t know what to choose of multiple, equal options. I wouldn't test that -- I’d stay on the other side of the bars.
But the point is: a divided focus works against you. If we cannot clearly prioritize God’s will in our life, then we will be paralyzed with every critical temptation and choice in our life. You cannot serve both God and Mammon / or money / or material things. (Matthew 6:24 (NIV)) If you try to catch two rabbits at once, you will likely not to catch either. You have to choose and pursue one thing.
Matthew illustrates the concept clearly. If you want to experience the light of God, you can't focus on earthly things, for what you treasure is what you will focus on and react to and work for. I’ve illustrated this text here at least several times, so I’ll just run through it quickly.
See God’s creation -- put two dimes in front of your eyes -- now how much his creation can you see? Or, see God in the near distance, then take a sandwich in one hand, a cup in the other, and place all kinds of material things between, and since the text mentions clothes as well, throw a coat over your head -- now how can you see God?
And it isn’t that we don’t have to deal with money and clothes and food and material things -- we have to do that. But there can only be one primary driving force in our life. If we have more than one driving force, then when they conflict, we will have this constant battle within us and we will struggle with knowing what to do. Jesus calls us to clearly focus on him, trust in him, put his kingdom first, and you will not need to worry because you are treasured by God who provides for you, and when his will and ethics are your driving force, you will always have the peace of knowing what is the right thing to be and do in any given situation. Temptation and inner conflict -- to desire to do wrong or to not do right (because we have other things in mind) will not have the same kind of power it seeks to have over you if we have prioritized God’s will in our life (See Matthew 6:19-34).
Pure in heart will see God
Those who trust God to cleanse and clarify their vision (Jesus says), will see God -- fully when we get to heaven, but in ways, even now - a vision of God is already the experience of his true lovers on earth. We see him in his creation, we see him in nature, we see him in his love for us in Christ, we see him in the love that we have for each other - and that love is permanent.
A boy walked into a photo shop with a framed picture of his girlfriend. He wanted the picture duplicated. To do that they had to take the picture out of the frame. The studio owner noticed the inscription on the back of the picture. This is what it said: "My dearest Tim, I love you with all my heart. I will love you more and more each day. I will love you forever and ever. I am yours for all eternity. Diane." Isn’t that beautiful? Then, beneath that beautiful sentiment, she added, “P.S. If we ever break up, I want this picture back."
There is no P.S. in God's love for us. He will never break up with us. We are His. We belong to Him. So, we become like Him by allowing him to purify our life, our focus, our vision of who He is and what He is doing in our world and in our hearts.
True purity is not supposed to be a legalistic burden to bear, but rather, a liberating experience. It is not a set of hurdles to overcome but a freedom to be embraced. Too often we see purity as something that cramps our style and weighs us down. We see “purity” as desirable temptations we must now avoid, or burdensome duties we must now fulfill, or as a focus that goes beyond what we a capable of consistently envisioning.
Attempt a pure heart ourselves -- lose focus and gain confusion
But Jesus does not say that God will purify the hearts of his children so they will be burdened. He says that they will find a clearer vision of God, and they will be happy, fortunate, whole, joyful, and blessed. If purity is not liberating and refreshing, then maybe we are not quite grasping what Jesus wants us to understand.
It may become clearer as we review these opening statements of the sermon, the beatitudes, and express them first in the burden that comes with the opposites of what Jesus said.
Let God purify us, - find focus and gain clarified priorities
Given the premise that we all fall short of God's perfect glory, How unblessed we will be if we fail to recognize that we are poor in spirit, because then we will be forced to try (unsuccessfully) to earn our way into God’s kingdom. How unhappy we will be if we do not mourn our sin; for we will receive no comfort because we will continue to struggle with the power of sin in our life. How incomplete we will be because we cannot receive the inner strength, the meekness, to graciously inherit the earth; but will have to constantly fight for what we think is our piece of it. How unsatisfied we will feel if we continue to fill our spiritual lack with the wrong things, for we will never be satisfied. Then we will take out our frustration on others in competitive and envious judgment rather than offering mercy. And with all that going on in our life, we may not want to face -- to see -- the Holy God. For we know he knows, to use Lucado’s parable, what we are hiding behind the shiny doors of our heart. So we divert our eyes, our time, our focus, and our prioritization away from him and away from his will, and when we do that, we cannot see God.
BUT, now to review positively as Jesus put it: When we recognize we can't save ourselves, we are gifted the heavenly kingdom, and when we mourn not just consequences, but sin itself -- the battles will become settled within and we will find comfort; even when we don't succeed -- for we will have a growing inner strength and we will patiently and gently grow into inheriting the earth in His time. More than anything else, we will hunger and thirst for a right relationship with God and we will constantly be satisfied even as we seek him more and more. From this humble, confident position, we are able to show mercy even as God has shown mercy to us; and we will love to see God because (to use Lucado’s parable) we can stand before him with the doors of our heart wide open. We can stand before him with no pretense, nothing hidden -- complete honest transparency, allowing him to work on the inside of us, where we need it to be done.
How happy, how fortunate, how whole, how blessed are those who don't have to try to hide from God; but can lay their lives before Him with all of its successes and skills and with all its sins and shortcomings -- knowing that with all of our best bits and with all of our worst bits, He still loves us and accepts us -- and that confidence enlivens our vision of Him, and of others, and of ourselves, and how refreshing and cleansing it is to take on that nature of openness before Him.
Let’s pray. Creator God, you come to us to make all things fresh, new and pure. Yet we try so hard to prove our worth to you and others by the standards of our culture rather than your kingdom.
You tell us that our actions are an indicator of our heart; yet it is the heart that really matters. It is not how purely we perform, but how honestly we open ourselves to you that is the crux of life.
Forgive us when we live compart-mentalized, divided, conflicted, and hidden lives rather than live openly and honestly under your grace. Help us to live in love. Give us the joy that comes with your cleansing liberation through Christ. A life filled with grace and gratitude, forgiveness and freedom; a transparency leading to a clearer vision of you.
Help us to know that we are forgiven and can be at peace as we offer our lives to you in whom we will live and move and have our being. In Jesus name, Amen.
Hymn # 399 (vv 1,3) Take My Life, and Let it Be
Closing Blessing Everything good is in God's will. All that is good comes from his hand. Desire to please him as he fills your minds and hearts with his love. Now go loving God in all things and above all things. Reach for the joy he has prepared for you. Amen.
Closing Hymn # 2149 (vv 1,2, Ref) Living for Jesus