Sermon: Ordinary 4, Year A – Beatitudes

Text: Matthew 5:1-11

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

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

Two babies were sat in their cribs, when one baby shouted to the other,
“Are you a little girl or a little boy?”
“I don’t know,” replied the other baby giggling.
“What do you mean, you don’t know?” said the first baby.
“I mean I don’t know how to tell the difference,” was the reply.
“Well, I do,” said the first baby chuckling.
“I’ll climb into your crib and find out.”
He carefully manoeuvred himself into the other baby’s crib, then quickly disappeared beneath the blankets.
After a couple of minutes, he resurfaced with a big grin on his face.
“You’re a little girl, and I’m a little boy,” he said proudly.
“You’re ever so clever,” cooed the baby girl, “but how can you tell?”
“It’s quite easy really,” replied the baby boy,
“you’ve got pink booties on and I’ve got blue ones.

Purity in heart, Our Lord tells us, will enable us to see God. Purity in heart is this morning’s challenge to us from the Sermon on the Mount. But purity is not about being scandalised that I was about to tell a risqué joke from the pulpit, but rather about clearing out all those things that prevent us from seeing God properly. Purity is not an attitude, but a way of being; and for all that it is one of the hardest (but achievable) challenges that the Christian faith sets us.

If you look again at the Beatitudes, you can see that they appear in a form of order: an 8-step program to become a true child of God, as one would say in fashionable self-help-speak. One Beatitude builds upon another. Our Lord teaches us first to become Poor in Spirit, and empty ourselves of our pride; to be Gentle to others; to Mourn, mourn our past lives, repent and turn to God for forgiveness and comfort; to hunger and thirst for what is right and to work to resolve the world’s and the community’s problems; to be Merciful, particularly to those who wrong us – a lesson perhaps for those contemplating the introduction of house arrest in this supposedly free country ; to be a peacemaker, at home, at work, at school, as well as between nations; and finally, to be persecuted – the ultimate mark of standing up for Christ in this hostile and indifferent world.

Purity in heart therefore is something to which we can all aspire to, something that is not an unachievable ideal available only to the truly Saintly, but is something which we can all attain with the help of the Church through faith in Jesus Christ Our Lord.

Look again at the simple, contrasted phrases of the beatitudes and you see some of the greatest challenges to mankind ever issued. Christ does not advocate the status quo, or a comfortable haven or a quiet life. His teaching subverts the values of the society he lived in then, and continues to subvert a modern society which values material wealth over spiritual richness, values individual self-interest over community spirit and the hedonistic pursuit of individual pleasure over care for others.

The Gospel is not an easy ride. It is not a place of retreat in our declining years. It is a challenge. One of the problems with the translation of the bible used this morning is the use of the word “happy”, which in the context of what I am talking about appears a bit weak. The Greek word is “makarios”, which means “blessed”. Of course, when one is blessed by God, one becomes happy, supremely happy; but the sense of “makarios” is much more profound, in actually receiving the blessing of God, that supreme source of all our happiness.

The Beatitudes do not call for us to withdraw from the world, to wrap ourselves up in a cosy little cocoon of pleasant music and unchallenging liturgy, but to engage with it – to hunger and thirst for the kingdom of God in our midst. To achieve purity of heart, we must not isolate ourselves from the horrors of this terrible world, but stand up and say “this is what Christ call us to…”

If we want to achieve such purity, then we need to put aside our self-interest, put aside our vanity and our prejudice and open ourselves out to an encounter with God. All the way through the Scriptures, encounter with God – burning bush, chariot of fire, 40 days of the wilderness – was always something challenging, uncomfortable and unsettling. In the stillness of prayer and in the bustle of action to better the society around us, the call of God is a call to work not for what we can get out of it, but for the glory of God, through which we ourselves become holy, become pure.

If you can live out the challenge of the beatitudes: and especially to remain pure in heart, amid all the poisonous self-interest of modern society, then you too, will be ‘makarios’ – truly, truely Blessed.