Rev. Joel L. Tolbert
Happy are the Merciful and Pure in Heart?
Happy, Lent week 3 of 5, the paradoxical blessings of the beatitudes as we walk with Jesus toward the cross. Preached March 20; 2022 at the 930am worship
It’s the third Sunday of Lent. We are about halfway through the season of 40 days where we walk with Jesus toward Jerusalem. People often think of Lent as a bit of downer, but this Lent, we are talking about HAPPY, but not the false promises and shortcuts and quick fixes that the world promises will make us happy, but Jesus’ wisdom and teaching about true happiness. As signposts on our journey, we are using Jesus’ Beatitudes. We often read them “Bles-sed are the…” but another common and appropriate translation is “Happy are the…” and then we are reading stories from Luke on Jesus’ path to Jerusalem that unpack each beatitude.
So far, we’ve heard happy are the poor in spirit. A son came to himself, synced his thoughts, feelings, and actions with his spirit and found his way home. We heard happy are those who mourn. To mourn means we have known love, felt loved, and love is the root of happiness. We’ve heard happy are the meek. They are not weak, but are alert and responsive to God. And, we heard happy are those who hunger and thirst for justice. They work for God’s justice which is promised and is coming. Today, we hear two more be-attitudes to happiness.
7 “Happy are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.
8 “Happy are the pure in heart, for they will see God.
Scripture Luke 10:25-37
25 Just then a lawyer stood up to test Jesus.[j] “Rabbi,” he said, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” 26 Jesus said to him, “What is written in the law? What do you read there?” 27 He answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and love your neighbor as you love yourself.” 28 And Jesus said to him, “You have given the right answer; do this, and you will live.”
29 But wanting to justify himself, he asked Jesus, “But who is my neighbor?” 30 Jesus replied, “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell into the hands of robbers, who stripped him, beat him, and went away, leaving him half dead. 31 Now by chance a priest was going down that road; and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. 32 So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. 33 But a Samaritan while traveling came near him; and when he saw him, he was moved with pity. 34 He went to him and bandaged his wounds, having poured oil and wine on them. Then he put him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him. 35 The next day he took out two denarii,[k] gave them to the innkeeper, and said, ‘Take care of him; and when I come back, I will repay you whatever extra you spend.’ 36 Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?” 37 He said, “The one who showed him mercy.” Jesus said to him, “Go and do likewise.”
Sermon Happy are the Merciful?
Find a partner you didn’t come to church with today, and let’s take 90 seconds to both share. Try to think of three ways we show MERCY. Three ways to show MERCY. Got it? Go!
What were some of the ideas, how to show mercy?
Before we can learn Jesus’ lesson about mercy, let’s clarify a few other things, and see if we need to unlearn anything before we learn about mercy.
First, the person questioning Jesus isn’t a lawyer like we think. The LAW here is Torah, the commandments of God. This is a good and faithful religious person who knows the scriptures and tries to follow them, probably to the letter. It also looks like he’s been studying and following the law because he wants something for himself, an eternal life.
Second, we translate it as eternal life. Its more than that. It isn’t just a life that extends forever in time. Its an aionion life, a life of the eons, a big full abundant boundless life. I think we’d be justified to say this man is seeking a happy life. He’s studied scripture. He’s followed the rules. But he’s not happy, and he’s asking Jesus why.
Third, Jesus asks him back, “What have you learned? How would you summarize the Law?” The man answers with three commandments, not two. One, Love the Lord with our whole self, thoughts, feelings, actions, and spirit. Two, Love neighbors. Three, Love self. We often hear this as two commandments, but if we don’t like or love ourselves very much, and we love our neighbors in the same way, that would fulfill the two-commandment assumption, but it would NOT fulfill was Jesus calls right. The path to boundless, abundant, happy life includes loving God, loving self, and loving neighbor to the same extent, for the same reasons. We can't “love” someone if we do it just to get something for ourselves. We love someone to GIVE something with no expectations in return and no strings attached.
Four, that’s why Jesus uses the neighbor Samaritan story. The man asks “who is my neighbor?” The lawyer words that question from his own perspective. “Okay, fine, I will do that for my neighbors. Now, who are they, so I can go do it, and finally get something for myself, a happy life.” Jesus tells the story and then flips the question. “Which of these WAS a neighbor?” That was not the lawyer’s question, but it is Jesus’ answer. This man is working, pining for an aionion life, a full, abundant, happy life for himself, and he’s studying and hoping some law or rule book or miraculous teacher will give him the short cut to finally find it for himself. Jesus tells him, you have the pieces and parts but your goal is backwards. If you seek it, you will never find it. But if you lose it, it will already be found.
Whatever way we choose to show mercy, if we do so to get something for showing it, it isn’t mercy. The lawyer understood. When Jesus flipped the question, “Which of these WAS a neighbor?,” the lawyer replied, “The one who showed mercy.”
Blessed are the merciful, they find mercy.
Scripture Luke 14:1-6
On one occasion when Jesus was going to the house of a leader of the Pharisees to eat a meal on the sabbath, they were watching him closely. 2 Just then, in front of him, there was a man who had dropsy. 3 And Jesus asked the lawyers and Pharisees, “Is it lawful to cure people on the sabbath, or not?” 4 But they were silent. So Jesus[b] took him and healed him, and sent him away. 5 Then Jesus said to them, “If one of you has a child or an ox that has fallen into a well, would you not immediately pull it out on a sabbath day?” 6 And they could not reply to this.
Sermon Happy are the Pure in Heart?
Okay, back to your partner. Can each of you think of two possible definitions of what Pure in Heart might mean? Ready? Go!
What did we come up with for pure in heart? Good job all, thank you!
I chose this story from scripture because I think it points to what Jesus might mean when he says pure in heart. Pure in heart to me means consistent. The motivations of the heart that push and drive our words and actions, they don’t change or flip flop.
Imagine a southern man who opens a door for a white woman on her way into Chik-Fil-A. Does he stand there and hold the door open for the black woman right behind her? If he does, then his heart's motivation, to show that courtesy, is pure. Imagine a woman who loves to help her neighborhood school. That’s where her children go, and she knows lots of the neighbors and teachers. When the school just across the tracks puts out a call for help with some of the same things she provides to her own school, does she offer it? Does she make an excuse about why she can’t? Does she accuse those parents of not pulling their weight, as she does for her own school? If the motivation of her heart is pure, she is consistent, and it doesn’t matter who needs the help. The pure in heart do what they do for the WHY of their heart, not WHO gets the benefit.
In this story, Jesus catches the hypocrisy of their heart. If it was a sabbath day, would they pull an ox out of a ditch? Of course, they would. If it was a sabbath day, and a child fell into a well, would they do the work of helping the child? Let’s hope so. Here’s a sick man who comes to Jesus. Jesus’ heart is pure. His motivation is consistent. He heals because that’s who he is and what he does. He does not sort the person needing the help by type of person. He does not check the calendar or rule book first. He just heals him. Their grumbling and complaining when the aid happens in a way that crosses their sensibilities only proves the lack of purity, the hypocrisy of their hearts.
I have a friend, a rabbi, back in Athens Georgia. He and I still talk to one another regularly. In a recent conversation, he was telling me a story of how Jews in Eastern Europe have been helping many of the refugees that are fleeing Afghanistan and now fleeing Ukraine. He stressed something. He said they are not only helping Jewish refugees. They are helping everyone. As one rabbi put it, "We do not help people because THEY are Jewish. We help people because WE are Jewish."
Happy are the pure in heart.