‘Blessed Are the Pure in Heart’
We have recently witnessed the ‘end of an era,’ with the retirements of Glenn McGrath, Justin Langer and Shane Warne from test cricket. In their own way, each has contributed wonderfully to the success of the Australian Cricket team over the last few years. Glenn McGrath is the leading taker of wickets for a pace bowler and Shane Warne holds the world record for the number of wickets taken in test cricket. He has been named in the top all time best cricketers and perhaps the best bowler ever. His off-field antics aside, Warne is indeed a quite brilliant player, able to spin the ball at will, make it land precisely where he wants and elude the best batsmen in the world. McGrath is described as metronomic, able to land the ball on a twenty-cent piece. Langer has been part of Australia’s most accomplished opening partnership with Matthew Hayden. These are indeed three of the finest cricketers.
How does one become, not only and elite sportsperson, but the best in their field? Essentially, listening to these and other players, one has to be dedicated to the extreme. Natural talent and ordinary hard work are not enough, it seems. One must be obsessed and put in the extra training, the extra work. You need to be ultra-focussed and think only of your cricket. It has to take precedence over everything else.
I suppose that many, who get to the top in their professions, fields of endeavour and so on, have this same obsessiveness. They have to absolutely single-minded about what they are doing. This is essentially, what Jesus calls for from those who will be disciples, those who would enter the Kingdom of God. It is a call for whole-hearted, single-minded devotion to God and God’s realm. This verse from the beatitudes calls for an undivided heart, the corollary of monotheistic faith. Is there something big enough and significant enough to which we can give our whole being? Is there something to which we can give our whole selves unreservedly and not be ultimately disappointed or let down?
I’m sure that Glenn McGrath, Shane Warne and Justin Langer are satisfied that they have received just reward for their hard work, dedication and wholehearted commitment over the years to cricket. Never-the-less, in their own ways they have had experiences beyond cricket that tend to suggest that cricket is rather powerless in providing deeper meaning or purpose. Cricket can bring in a large paycheque, offer fame and the good life, but it can’t save us. Warne has had numerous off-field issues that have clouded his reputation and suggest that he isn’t fulfilled or fully satisfied by cricket. There are other needs or issues that cricket cannot fix – perhaps his fame and fortune contributes to the problems? Glenn McGrath has experienced the deep pain of his wife’s battles with breast cancer. She has fought hard, courageously, and is doing well but cricket has obviously not been able to do anything for her. He possibly recognised this when he took a year off to support her in her most recent battle.
For the most part people worship a range of gods in their lives. We all place particular importance and significance on a range of things to provide us with security, hope, meaning, purpose and joy. We rely deeply on money and material possessions, career, education and personal resources. We have hobbies, interests, and people who inspire us. ‘Family’ has become almost cultic in our society, as are some traditions and ideologies.
This beatitude is a call for complete devotion to God with all that we are. The pure in heart are those who are wholly devoted to God and God’s realm. They ‘seek first the Kingdom of God and its righteousness’ and in so doing find that ‘all these things will be added unto you’. They love God with all their heart, mind, soul and strength. From there, everything else finds its own place, its right perspective in our lives.
In terms of our theme, Walking the Edge, this beatitude reminds us that in order to walk the edge we need a strong centre. In order for us to go out, to serve God’s Kingdom with courage, love and faith, we need a strong connection to that which can hold us firmly at the centre of our lives. Those with a divided heart or a heart set on other gods may find that those things in which they put their trust will not be able to sustain them in the tough struggles of life. Jesus invites us to connect at the deepest possible level with God and let God be the firm, solid centre of our lives. In this way the wisdom, grace, peace and love of God will be our guide and our strength.
There is the story of a kite that wanted more freedom. It loved soaring high on the spring breezes. It darted, dived, and soared high again. Each time it yearned to go higher and higher. One particularly good day it soared higher than ever before and wanted more. It wished that the wretched string holding it back wasn’t there so that it could be truly free. All of a sudden, a strong gust pulled the kite higher and stretched the string until it broke. The kite soared and soared higher than ever before. For the first time it felt truly free. Then as suddenly it was thrown about in the wind. It began to spiral downwards until it crashed to the ground.
The freedom it sought was only possible when connected to the string – it’s firm centre that guided and supported the kite. Without the string, there was a brief time of ecstatic joy and then the dramatic fall. Without a strong centre in our lives, there will be moments of ecstatic joy but always the fall! We need the centre to be strong and firm so that we can venture to the edge. Blessed are the pure in heart for they will see God! When God is the undivided centre of our lives we have direction, balance, hope, joy and we can give ourselves freely to the service of the Kingdom knowing we do it in God’s strength, not our own.
‘Blessed Are the Peacemakers’
President George W. Bush has just reviewed his strategy in Iraq. He wants to send more soldiers in to finish the job off properly. He believes that the way to peace in Iraq is through war. He, and his cronies, believed from the beginning that an awesome display of America’s power would remove Saddam Hussein, deliver peace and a create a compliant, democratic society. It didn’t and it won’t! This is such an odd belief! It is, however, not uncommon. We all too often choose violence (actions, words, abuse of power etc) to achieve that which we believe to be peace.
Mostly, I think that we imagine peace as a scene such as a warm, sunny day with a gentle breeze by a stream of clear water, sipping a cool drink… Peace is generally conceived as the absence of conflict, stress, chaos, disharmony etc. Scenes such as the above are certainly peaceful but do we have to go on holidays or get away from everything to really experience peace? Can peace be something we experience in the midst of chaos?
I remember sitting by a window one day. Inside, the house was warm and I was rugged up. I had a cup of coffee and sat looking out at the growing storm. It began with rain, which gradually became torrential. The winds picked up and began to blow wildly. The wind and the rain lashed the windows and everything outside was wild. The storm raged and I sat quietly watching from the relative calm and peace of our living room. I had peace within the storm.
I think this is a deeper picture of peace. It is easy to feel peace in the calm and quietness, but peace within the midst of chaos and storms is more significant and precious. This is one of the promises of God – to give peace within the midst of the storm. God never promises a life of calm and freedom from the storms of life. God promises to be with us in the midst of the chaos and because of this we can experience a deep sense of calm. This is what Paul means when he speaks of ‘peace that passes all understanding.’ It is peace that comes to us in the midst of even the deepest struggle or pain and helps us maintain a deep calm. I remember Alan Walker speaking of his experience of having to have radiotherapy for cancer in his throat. He had to lie quite still in the machine. Instead of feeling anxiety about his illness or frustration with having to lie still in this radiotherapy machine each day, he came to find in it a deep and precious peace. He began to look forward to these daily treatments because they were moments of intense peace in the presence of God – for in that space only he and God were present. He experienced the radiation rays as emanating from the Spirit and moving through is body to destroy the cancer cells. This is the experience of so many others in times when they ought to feel intense dis-ease, anxiety or fear. Instead, there is an abiding calm that is contrary to all expectations.
The Jews speak of shalom, a word usually translated as peace. This is somewhat inadequate as it is a much deeper and more holistic concept than feeling something like peace. Shalom is about the peace of God experienced as salvation, wholeness, integrity, community, righteousness, justice and well-being. It is about being brought into a right relationship with God, with other people, with non-human creation and with oneself. It is a flourishing that goes beyond the absence of hostility to fulfilment and enjoyment. For example, a nation may be at peace with its neighbours but because of its impoverishment does not experience shalom.
In the New Testament, the Greek word eirene is translated as peace and contains the sense of shalom.It is primarily the gift of Christ, who comes to bring peace through reconciliation with God. He draws us into the deep and truly peaceful relationship with God and ultimately with each other, non-human creation and ourselves.
‘Blessed are the peacemakers,’ says Jesus, ‘for they will be called children of God.’ Those who work against the current of our culture and create peace (not just absence of conflict, but shalom) are those who find their strength, joy, hope and peace in the realm of God. Blessed are those who make, bring and exhibit peace in all dimensions and experiences of their lives for they are children of the Kingdom, sons and daughters of God. Again, without a strong and peaceful centre to our being, there will be no true peace in our lives. Jesus, the Prince of Peace, calls us to be peace in the world. This is walking at the edges of our culture and offering an alternative vision for life and for living in the world. Through prayer and meditation, faith and life lived in God, we can experience shalom and be peace within the world. We will be peacemakers through living peacefully and allowing the peace of the Spirit to flow through us into the world around us! Blessed are the peacemakers!