The Pure in Heart

Posted by Nathanael Szobody on

Blessed are the pure in heart for they shall see God

“How does one obtain a pure heart?

“By believing in Jesus Christ and so that your sins may be washed away by his blood.

“Why is it that such people will see God?”

“Because Jesus is the one who brings us to God.”

“What does it mean to ‘see God’?”

“There are two promises in this statement, which are actually one promise with two fulfillments. The first promise is that those who are pure in heart, that is, those who have been washed with Jesus’ blood, will be with him forever. This is God’s plan for the fullness of time, to present everyone blameless before God to dwell with him forever.

The second promise is really the same one, but is fulfilled even right now. There is so much evil in the world, and our own minds are so shaped by the sinful desires of the flesh, that we are prone to regard everything with selfishness. But when we belong to Jesus we know that everything belongs to him, and so everything belongs to us through him. So we learn how everything is to be used by looking at how Jesus uses it and how he teaches us to us it.”

“So what does that have to do with seeing God?”

“Well we have physical eyes, and God is spirit. So we see God by getting spiritual eyes. That’s what it means to be pure in heart. To see the things of this world with spiritual eyes. When we do that we see God and enjoy him in his creation.”

“For example?”

“Well, take anything that people are bound to abuse. That thing is intended for a good purpose, but it is missused. The easiest way for a person to become impure is to think selfishly. One of the easiest sins to commit is sexual sin. People think that chastity is a hard rule. But in fact sexuality is one of the greatest gifts from God for our enjoyment. But like everything, it has to be in is rightful place to be good and useful and thoroughly beautiful. God explains in scripture that the image of marriage and sexuality are a picture of god’s love for his church, giving himself to her that she might produce the fruit of life in this world. So sexuality is an awesome gift to marriage as a way for people to see God through their own bodies, to see him as a God of love and pleasureable communion. So in this way if someone is pure in heart, then they have spiritual eyes to see God in sex. But impure eyes would see it as a means only for physical pleasure; this would be selfish eyes that are of the flesh and they would not see God.”

“So really the promise ‘blessed are the pure in heart for they will see God’ is a promise both for this life and the next!”

“Yes, and this applies to every area of life. If we find that there is a law that is burdensome to us, or a rule or moral that we would prefer not to have, then we are not seeing with spiritual eyes. But if we are pure in heart, we see that all of life is a way to see God through our relationship to Jesus Christ and his creation. This is what it means to say that the law is fulfilled in Christ, or that Jesus has “done it all”. This doesn’t mean we stop doing good, on the contrary! It means we get his heart, his pure heart, to love seeing God in everything we do.”

Thoughts on Cloning

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Cloning is a complicated ethical issue because it involves the possibility of huge advances in medical illness treatment, while raising many questions about the personhood of an embryo-questions which are very familiar to an America steeped in the abortion debate.

Some would argue that it is unnatural for scientists to “play God” and create a human embryo in a laboratory by means other than the unification of a sperm and an egg. I am unconvinced by this argument. Although I understand that it seems somewhat unnatural, as a Christian I understand that God is sovereign over all the occurrences on earth. That humans discover how to mimic what God performs in nature already (i.e., identical twins) does not mean that we are playing God any more than if we put a person on life support while they are in surgery. As Boss points out, “good” and “natural” are not necessarily synonymous. It is often quite good to interfere with the workings of nature to preserve and improve life. On this basis I find that cloning holds many promising medical benefits as it pertains to cloning animals for agricultural and human applications.

However, I am more hesitant when it comes to cloning humans. Research has shown how hazardous it can be to attempt bringing a clone to full term and enabling it to survive after birth. The deformities and illnesses that ensue from most clones is frightening enough in animals. Any attempt to clone humans seems to be out of the question. We certainly do not want to create life knowing full well that it probably wouldn’t survive more than a few days after birth. Neither do we want to do so knowing that it may live a miserable existence if it does survive. There are many children in the world who need good adoptive parents, people are complaining of overpopulation; it seems ludicrous to think that there is any need to clone a human being who likely will not survive.

But I am even more inhibited. As a Christian I value human life as sacred. At this point of my thought life I have not come to a firm conclusion whether I believe that an egg cell in a petri dish that has divided a few times can be considered a human being. But I respect human life such that I am not willing to say that it is not. “Where does life begin?” the philosopher asks. “In the garden of Eden”, is my answer. Since humanity came into existence all of human life is sacred. Whether an embryo is in the womb or in a laboratory, it is part of the continuum of human life that God has chosen to use to reveal himself to the world. Jesus was once an embryo. This thought in itself is reason to pause.

Because of these considerations I am also opposed to human cloning as long as it involves the creation and subsequent destruction of human embryos. I am not concerned with whether or not these embryos are living souls. Such is a mystery that is too deep for me. I am concerned with regarding the potential human life as sacred as it too may have a part in God’s plan for the fullness of time.

To the secularist I would say that if there is no respect for human life in its earliest and most delicate stages, then there is no respect for human life at any point. Just because we can, and science encourages it, does not mean that it is worthy of the dignity of humanity.

I struggle with the argument that cloning is a human right, falling in the jurisdiction of autonomy and reproductive rights. This schema understands that the making and bearing children is a right of the individual to serve herself. I understand the creation of life to be the fruit of love. Hate begets hate and love begets love. When two people love each other they produce a child whom they will love sacrificial for their entire lives. God provides in the schema of love-making, a way to continue loving. This is diametrically opposed to the understanding of reproduction in terms of rights. To have a child is to give of one’s self, it is not a personal therapeutic choice but a sacrificial one.

The Body of Christ

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When the Apostle Paul rebukes the Corinthians for their lack of love in I Corinthians 11:17-22, he is attacking a church-wide problem; he is attacking a collective sin. When he says that “each one ought to examine himself” (v. 28) we are to take this command as being given for the purpose of the unity of the church, and not just the repentance of individuals for various sins. He says that “Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread” (10:17) in order to reinforce that taking the bread and cup is a matter of communal identity. That is, when we all, as individuals, share of the bread and cup, we are made a part of Christ Body in the world, which is unified throughout all of time by his Holy Spirit.

It is true that we go to the Lord’s Supper to receive, personally, a gift from Christ. But let us understand the gift. The gift is that we are made to be participants of God’s plan in all of history to bring about one entity, a union in and with Christ, referred to as his “body”. This is the plan for salvation; to unite all things in Christ. Salvation from sin is necessary because sin stands in the way of this unification.

Because the bread and cup is the gift of Christ’s own self, it indeed delivers of necessity forgiveness of sins to those who receive it in faith. But the Lord’s Supper reaches beyond forgiveness of sins to bringing about what Christ was sent to accomplish. The bread and cup create of those who participate a living fulfillment of God’s plan; it is the founding and sustenance of his true body in time for eternity.

So as we partake of the bread and cup, even as we examine our hearts individually, our understanding also should reach beyond our individual hearts to the state of the church as a community, locally and the world throughout. The same questions we apply to our heart concerning sin, pride and divided relationships in order to repent and receive the sacrament joyfully are the same questions that we are to ask of our congregation and the world-wide church as we ingest the true and eternally life-giving body of Christ.

Sermon Notes Pentecost Sunday

Posted by Nathanael Szobody on

The ghost that moves in rushing wind and fire

Alighting on the heads of those who wait,

To Move tongues of those who still aspire

To heavn’ly life, who fear no earthly fate

(For life of flesh and blood has lost its charm

Since Man the First was cast from Eden’s gate

And Christ’s own body nailed


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Beauty is a window into eternity. The garden is a play act of the temple. The temple is a metaphor of eternal life. Thus the body is a temple

Maundy Thursday

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I Kings 19:9-18

“[Elijah] came to a cave and lodged in it. And behold, the word of the Lord came to him, and he said to him, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” He said, “I have been very jealous for the Lord, the God of hosts. For the people of Israel have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars, and killed your prophets with the sword, and I, even I only, am left, and they seek my life, to take it away.” And he said, “Go out and stand on the mount before the Lord.” And behold, the Lord passed by, and a great and strong wind tore the mountains and broke in pieces the rocks before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind. And after the wind an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. And after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire the sound of a low whisper. And when Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his cloak and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave. And behold, there came a voice to him and said, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” He said, “I have been very jealous for the Lord, the God of hosts. For the people of Israel have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars, and killed your prophets with the sword, and I, even I only, am left, and they seek my life, to take it away.” And the Lord said to him, “Go, return on your way to the wilderness of Damascus. And when you arrive, you shall anoint Hazael to be king over Syria. And Jehu the son of Nimshi you shall anoint to be king over Israel, and Elisha the son of Shaphat of Abel-meholah you shall anoint to be prophet in your place. And the one who escapes from the sword of Hazael shall Jehu put to death, and the one who escapes from the sword of Jehu shall Elisha put to death. Yet I will leave seven thousand in Israel, all the knees that have not bowed to Baal, and every mouth that has not kissed him.””

It is a very frequent feeling in ministry: abandonment. Exhaustion at the seemingly endless tasks, discouragement that there is no apparent fruit from our labor. It is easy to stick it to God, and ask him why he isn’t faithful. It is also easy to become self-absorbed and wonder what we’re doing wrong, what’s wrong with our methods, or perhaps we just “missed our calling” and are doing the wrong thing.

Elijah may have felt any or all of the above, and so he went and hid in a cave, nursing his wounds. But God did not ask him “what’s wrong?” But rather “What are you doing here?” Clearly, there was more work to be done, but Elijah was at his wits end.

When Elijah shared his woes with God as we often do, God does not seem sympathetic, but only tells him to go stand on the mountain. Perhaps Elijah wanted to see God bring down more fire from heaven as he had done on the mountain only a few days previous, and consumed an altar and its sacrifice. This is our expectation anyway. When we pour our efforts into his service we expect results. It’s like an exchange, we do our part, he does his and when we don’t see the results we think our efforts merit, we are tempted to complain at God that he is not moving. He’s not keeping his side of the bargain.

As with a student who can’t seem to get his lesson, God sighs and says, “Go stand on the mountain.” There God delivered what Elijah wanted; fire, hurricane winds and earthquake, but God was not in them. They were brought by God and demonstrated his power, but he was not in them. God shows many signs by his power. He works miracles, he commands all the powers of nature, but such things do not bring us closer to him. To receive God himself takes a humble and repentant heart, realizing that we have nothing to offer him, and nothing to demand of him. Or works are as filthy rags, and all our efforts are as useful as the dances of string puppets. What God seeks is a people that will be devoted to listening to him. To see God’s judgment and power we may gaze at his miraculous works, to know him we must cultivate the art of listening. Why should he come in the still small voice? Because in order for us to hear it we must shut up the clamor of our own sinful hearts. We have to set aside self-pity and self-righteousness and cover our faces with our cloak and go stand at the opening of the cave and listen.

When Elijah did this God asked him the same question he did before and Elijah gave him the same answer, but this time God revealed to Elijah his plan. The kings who sought his life would execute God’s will apart from Elijah’s work, and apart from Elijah’s great prophetic knowledge God had already set aside seven thousand people who were devoted to him. Elijah didn’t see results because the results belonged to the hidden God who speaks with a still small voice! The results that God sought was the humbling of Elijah, as he set aside time to come out of his little world and listen to his God.

As Jesus told his befuddled disciples when they were not able to cast out a demon “This kind cannot be driven out by anything but prayer.” Jesus shows us what sort of a relationship God desires with those who minister his word. Jesus always sought the quiet Gethsemane. He went to the mountain not to hide in a cave, but the listen to his father in prayer. So in the midst of our exhaustion he asks of us “Why are you sleeping? Rise and pray that you may not enter into temptation.” But as we groan and turn over, we do not know that he is already taking the burden of our failures upon himself, for tomorrow he will be crucified.


Posted by Nathanael Szobody on

(Psalm 119:1-8)

All are blessed who wend the perfect way

who walk in the law of the Lord

All are blessed who tend to his testimonies

they pursue him with all their heart.

Acting upon evil, indeed, never are they!

but always walking in his ways.

At last you’ve prescribed your precepts

to be kept; indeed to be kept!

Alas! Would that my ways were steadfast

so your statutes might be kept.

Attending to all your commandments

I shouldn’t ever again be ashamed.

Aright in heart would I then acclaim you

as I learn of your just judgments.

Abandon me not entirely;

I will to your statutes steadfastly!

Temptation and Baptism

Posted by Nathanael Szobody on

If God is all-powerful and all-knowing, then he can do anything and no thing is harder than another.

If God can do anything then he can prove himself when tested.

If Jesus is the Son of God then he has God’s power.

Therefore, Jesus can prove himself when he is tested and it is no harder for him to do so than it is for him to open or close his eyes.

This is the line of argument that Satan uses toward Jesus when he tempts him in the wilderness.

Here is the argument that we would be tempted to add:

True temptation implies a struggle

Jesus could prove himself to be God, as Satan asked, or resist the temptation with equal ease and without a struggle.

Therefore Jesus was not truly tempted.

This argument is equally flawed. Jesus treats it the same way as he does the argument of Satan, ignore it and continue to bear witness to the truth of who he is and why he came.

Preceding the temptation of Jesus in Luke’s narrative, he is baptized by John the Baptist and God testifies to who Jesus is. He says that Jesus is his very Son. Now both Satan and our curiosity would like to find out exactly what that means. Satan thought he could use the testimony as a weakness in Jesus, causing him to inadvertently obey Satan in the very act of proving that he was God’s Son. And we would like to make Jesus’ experience as a human to be fundamentally different from our own. In some ways we want an excuse for the fact that Jesus resisted temptation where often we fail to do so.

Jesus’ life condemns both arguments. Jesus did not allow the divine will to be bent by Satan’s schemes, but rather he remained hidden to the eyes of Satan, causing him to think he had defeated him even unto causing Jesus to die. But in fact Jesus was entrusting himself to the divine will, and through it, defeating Satan and all of his tricks for eternity!

Luke unabashedly states that Jesus ‘grew’ in wisdom. Now we would have no means of understanding a ‘growth’ in God. But only as a real human does this statement make sense. Jesus went through a progression of wisdom going from one level to another level of wisdom