Sunday, September 26, 2021

Magnificat: The Pure Heart That Rejoices in God

I long for a pure heart, but can find myself struggling against despair, resentment, and other unwholesome things. Today I find myself considering the hearts of other people in the Bible. Because it is not entirely appropriate that I should compare myself to Jesus, I find myself considering mere mortals like myself. I find myself considering Mary, Jesus' mother. 

I think her heart was exceptionally pure because of what she spoke to her relative Elizabeth: 

My soul magnifies the Lord
My spirit rejoices in God my Savior
For he has seen regarded the low estate of his handmaiden:
For all generations to come shall call me blessed.
He that is mighty has done great things for me.
Holy is his name.
His mercy is on those who fear him from generation to generation.
He has shown strength with his arm;
He has scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts.
He has put down the mighty from their seats
And exalted the lowly.
He has filled the hungry with good things
And has sent the rich away empty.
He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy.
As he spoke to our fathers, to Abraham, and to his seed forever.

Mary's pure heart rejoices in God, rejoices in justice, takes strength from God's blessings -- and takes the defeat of the wicked for granted. Her worldview hinges on God's faithfulness: his mercy, his strength, his justice, his enduring promises. She views herself as God's servant; this is not the first time she has said as much. And in a few more months when Jesus is born, some shepherds come with a tale of angels announcing the birth. Mary's pure heart treasures the things that God has done, and ponders the things that God has accomplished. 

Mary does not speak of it as an incomplete or partial victory in an occupied territory under the Roman Empire, where the tax collectors are greedy and the judges are corrupt and the other people take all the room at the inn, leaving her to give birth in a stable. The angels are not too proud to rejoice; neither is Mary. She does not invite the darkness or mislabel it as "realism" to take the shine off every victory. She takes for granted that the days are numbered for the proud and the mighty who leave others hungry. She believes that what lasts from generation to generation is God's mercy, along with the blessings that God has given the world.

Sunday, September 19, 2021

Blessings that shape our hearts

In the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus' first time teaching in public begins with a series of blessings that have comforted, inspired, and strengthened his people ever since they were first spoken. These blessings have turned the hearers into his people ever since they were first spoken, as he directly addresses the broken places in life with a healing touch. 

And he opened his mouth, and taught them, saying, 

Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are they that mourn: for they shall be comforted.
Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth.
Blessed are they who hunger and thirst after righteousness: for they shall be filled.
Blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart: for they shall see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God.
Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness' sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Blessed are you, when people shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake. Rejoice, and be exceeding glad: for great is your reward in heaven: for so they persecuted the prophets which were before you.
(Mathew 5:2-12)

These are blessings that shape our hearts and kindle our desire for holiness. Here we see that any hurt in this passing world is met with compassion by God. Our small and futile-seeming efforts are folded into God's own blessing of the world in a way that renews our hope and faith in the goodness of God. 

To hold those blessings more steadily in my sight, I have reworked some parts as a prayer: 

Let me be humble.
Let me hunger and thirst after righteousness.
Let me be merciful.
Let me be pure in heart.
Let me seek peace and pursue it. 

When I am spiritually poor, may I hope in your promise of the kingdom.
When I mourn, comfort me.
When I face persecution, remove bitterness from me. May I be mindful of those who went before me, and rejoice in your faithfulness. 

At other times, I may find it more helpful to see them a mission statement or vision statement for the followers of Christ in this world. May it be more and more true, as I grow in Christ, that: 

I am humble.
I am hungry and thirsty for righteousness.
I am merciful.
I am pure in heart.
I am a peacemaker.

Sunday, September 12, 2021

The thirst for holiness in 2021

Holiness is a deeply beautiful thing. Awareness of holiness distinguishes the sactuary in many churches from a mere stage in others. Holiness is sometimes reduced to being separate. But separate from what? From from hatred, from malice, from greed, from factions, from any number of other stains on our souls that trouble us. But separation from everything leaves nothing; there is more to holiness than that. Holiness in Scripture is often associated with beauty, and in the presence especially of nature's beauty we may more commonly feel the sense of holiness. Holiness is quiet, awe-inspiring, purifying.When in the presence of the holy, we have a natural tendency to reverence. A certain kind of separation makes space for better things, clears away the hardness in our hearts, prepares the way for the Lord. "Let every heart prepare him room."

A profane culture is a desert. There is a promotion of hatred, greed, lust, malice, factions, envy, discord, strife. "Irreverence" is seen as a virtue, used as a praise-word. Anger is used as a substitute for righteousness. I have even met people who defend hatred. (They do not profess to be Christians.) The public square is a wasteland, and the culture war has gone scorched-earth. 

Even now I believe there are many who would prefer another way. A fast from hatred, a fast from greed, abstaining from malice or divisions. Offering a kind word to a neighbor. 

I have listened to many people who have a feeling that the divisions among us -- simmering for many years -- are at risk of coming to a sudden catastrophe (not of the natural variety). For things to get worse, neighbor would have to turn on neighbor, friend against friend, family against family. But haven't we already? Before the match drops, may we take a moment to remember our neighbors, our friends, our families. If our generation is the one that sees the next earth-shaking event, and if we want to get through this together, mending our bridges may be a priority. (And looking down on each other doesn't make us better; it makes us arrogant.) 

I believe we share a thirst for holiness. All of us cry out for the world to be filled with better things, for peace and beauty and healing. May our prayers unite us.