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True Purity that Endures Forever

06 Nov

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“…we know that when Christ appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is. ….everyone who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure.”

– I John 3:2b-3

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I recently read a crazy story[1] about a man who drove with his German Shepherd to the grocery store on a summer day. He left the window down, quickly popped into the store for a minute to grab a six-pack of beer, and came out to find himself confronted by an approximately 45-year-old woman who immediately said to him:

“WHAT IS THE MATTER WITH YOU? THIS IS ANIMAL ABUSE!”

He asked her what she was talking about and she said, “IF YOU EVER LEAVE YOUR DOG IN A HOT CAR AGAIN I WILL FIND YOU AND CALL THE COPS. YOU’RE AN ABUSER.”

He responded, “It’s only 80 degrees out. The AC was blasting before I went in, so the car is cool. I was only in there for a minute. And also, the windows are down. Look at my dog. She’s totally fine.”

“I WILL CALL THE COPS ON YOU.”

The man: “Cars don’t just randomly heat up super quickly with the windows down. We’re not in a record heat wave or anything, we’re in a sunny summer day with a breeze. You can’t get mad at someone just for having their animal outside during the summer.”

“YOU’RE AN ANIMAL ABUSER. I’M GOING TO CALL THE COPS AND THEY’RE GOING TO ARREST YOU.”

On and on the evidently true story goes. He gets in his car only to be trailed by the woman. Deciding not to go home, he pulls into a dirt road and she skids her car lengthwise across the entrance to the road, blocking him in so he can’t escape. She then gets out of her car and screams and swears at him… again.

When she threatens to call the cops and he tells her to “Do it. Bring them here”, she pauses for a minute, maybe contemplating how bad things might look for her. So instead, she takes a picture of his license plate, shouts “Got it” and leaves with tires screeching…

The man continues: “I knew for sure she’d call the police, so once I was home (making sure I wasn’t followed) I did too. I called the department number and told them about the incident, my side of the story, about her reckless driving, and they told me a cop would call me back. Which he did, quite promptly.”

From there we learn that “the woman [had] stormed down to the police station to file a report in person” and the cop who took the report was the one he was speaking to. A K-9 officer, he said he kept waiting for her to get to the part where the he had done something wrong. The cop actually apologized to the dog owner, and they were able to have a good laugh at the absurdity of the whole situation.

Commenting on the incident, the author talks about how it was so important for him during this whole situation to keep his cool (he mentions he was an emergency medical technician in college), and then makes the point that this woman, even though she showed a very ugly and even evil side of human nature, probably really believed that what she was doing was for the good… She was no sadist, who enjoyed causing harm and pain and misery to other people…

So, what to make of all this? What this story reminds me of is any person who has a fanatical devotion to an idea of moral purity and loses touch with reality…

We might sometimes get a kick out of this fanatical and misled devotion to purity… but we also know such things are not always funny…

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Our text today also talks about purity, but in a good way… in the right way…

“…we know that when Christ appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is. ….everyone who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure.”

I’m going to try to unpack this Scripture this morning by speaking about 3 themes:

  • God’s final purification
  • How we are made pure
  • Living in that purity

First, God’s final purification

Again, our text for this message comes from I John 3:

The pure in heart—that is God’s people—will “see him as he is…” — and hence, fully be like Him!

And the immediate context for this Appearance, this Meeting, this Seeing God, is the end of the world!

Man certainly makes his own attempts at purification, but of course God’s purification, His final purification, stands out!

The Moon the color of blood,

the sky being rolled up like a scroll,

the veil being removed!

…a loud trumpet,

and Angel armies accompanying the King of Heaven and Earth, riding on a White Horse.

The Great Last Judgment of the sheep and the goats.

These are the kinds of things the church talks about now, at the end of the Pentecost season: the “Last Days”… the end of the world!

Here, though, remember: God’s people are ultimately not to be afraid, but encouraged!

Again, when this day comes you, the “pure in heart,” are told to “Lift up your heads!”

You are not to fear this judgment, for this judgment is one for your enemies…

The True Judge of Heaven and Earth comes to save those who trust in Him, the poor in spirit, those who mourn, the meek, the persecuted,

The pure.

The time for those who hate us is not long… we will be rescued by our Conqueror when He comes again.

Perhaps it will even be something like the scene in the story the Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe — where the royal priesthood of believers wield swords and participate in the final battle….

This battle where The Evil One will be defeated forever….

With the result being that people from all tongues, tribes and nations – will be saved by the Rider on the White Horse, Faithful and True, the Son of God.

It will be “Back to the Garden of Eden…. And more

“Let them praise his name with dancing

and make music to him with timbrel and harp.

For the Lord takes delight in his people;

he crowns the humble with victory[!]”

So we read in the Psalm appointed for today.

How can we not rejoice?

For this world, the empty way of life… all which opposes the goodness God brings… is indeed passing away.

Much more awaits us.

And so:

“…we know that when Christ appears,[a] we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is. All who have this hope in him purify themselves, just as he is pure.”

Now, if you are like me, perhaps you think at this point “Have I ‘purified myself’?

I mean, it seems kind of important.”

As Lutherans, we don’t really talk this way, right?

So what does this mean?

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Yes, how are we made pure?

And, well, first, what does it mean to be pure?

Have you heard the phrase “pure as the driven snow”? Driven snow is snow that has been blown by the wind, into drifts and such.

The kid in me concludes that it’s the kind of snow you can eat.

In any case the expression isn’t used as much these days, but it is used to speak, sometimes disparagingly, about things like moral purity, chastity, and virginity.

(also rarer terms these days).

And of course in our everyday language, pure means something that is uncontaminated.

There is no defilement or spoliation. And to purify something means to bring it to this state.

And if a person has been purified, is pure, this evokes the idea of not only outer, but inner cleanliness… to the very center of one’s being. Through and through.

How, then, does the Bible say this takes place? It says that true purity, purity that lasts and is never faked, is rooted in God.

Only God, after all, is truly good… truly pure.

So, when it comes to us poor sinners, being pure, in the most simple sense, means to believe and hope in God, as opposed to the world, false in its love, which rages against Him.

In I Peter chapter 1, the Apostle says “you have purified yourselves.” How?

By submitting to what you heard: you believe, Peter says, the words of testimony about Jesus Christ, raised from the dead.

And glorified!

And revealed in these last times for our sakes!

And it is because of this wonderful truth, Peter says, that you have true love for each other.

Therefore, he says “love one another deeply, from the heart,”

This is what it means to be pure.

Our text in I John says much the same thing and throughout his letter in fact John has a lot more to say:

  • If we walk in the light as He is in the light we have fellowship with each other, and His blood cleanses us from all sin!
  • Keep His word, His teaching, His commandments, abide in Him… [by this, the love of God is perfected in us…]
  • You know the love of the Son of God who laid down His life for us. So, beloved, let us love one another!
  • Do not love the world, or the things of the world: the lust of the flesh, of the eyes, the pride of life… Even if they hate you because of the paths of righteousness in which you walk!
  • As the Son is, so we are in this world! We love because He first loved us.
  • If we abide in the Son and in the Father, we have the promise of eternal life.
  • And we will not be ashamed before Him at His coming….

Again, this is what it means to be pure. These things have to do with being pure…

Our full text for the day is in many ways a great summary of all these things… I think the King James version said it the best:

“Behold, what manner of love the Father hath bestowed upon us, that we should be called the sons of God: therefore the world knoweth us not, because it knew him not. Beloved, now are we the sons of God, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that, when he shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is. And every man that hath this hope in him purifieth himself, even as he is pure.”

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As a bit of an excursus here, the world knows nothing of this great love that makes us pure…

Instead, not having the love of God, it can only try to purify the world with its power…

We see it in the story I told about the woman determined to punish the German Shepherd owner, futile quest though it may have been…

And we certainly see it in contemporary politics, where passions sometimes seem to rise to a fever pitch…. Election day, as I am sure you know, is coming up…

Contemporary skepticism about our elections aside, attitudes towards elections, I think, often deteriorate such that they become, in microcosm, a sign of “the world’s quest for purification”…

Four years ago, when things were also crazy but nevertheless still far more sane than they are today, I was reminded that down in Texas, one candidate was saying “Y’all means y’all” while in California another chose a more direct approach to communicate roughly the same thing: “we stand united against hate”.

In either case the message actually mimics biblical themes of purity: those who understand what is good, what is righteous, will “resonate” with these themes… they will unite with us… against the hateful, the evil, the impure…

Others, of course, take some real offense here to such affirmations and counter with their own slogans, seeking to gather enough actual voters to give them a majority…

And then, if we pay attention to international news or even just history, we see can see how if politics and political systems fail we will be in danger of war…

And here, the German military historian, Carl von Clausewitz, said that war is simply politics by other means. Expanding on this, “The political view is the object, War is the means, and the means must always include the object in our conception.”

The “political view”, of course, is often not only the defeat, but the humiliation and punishment of the opponent. The impure enemy.

And devotion to ideas of moral purity and what must happen to those who are impure can get pretty ugly… and sometimes, people don’t even get a chance to raise an army and fight…

We might think about the Nazi death camps, Stalin’s purges, Ruwanda, or the Cultural Revolution that took place in Mao’s China…

And it might be very easy for us to be led to hate here as well, hating those who are against us or who we hear do such kinds of evil…

Even as we often might also develop our own exaggerated ideas about the evils of others… perhaps about the “inhumanity” of those who commit such atrocities….

Perhaps with the cartoonish Disney villains we knew as children in our minds, it might be hard for us to realize that people who do really bad things often also really do mean well…

Devoted to what they consider a noble and pure vision – they find themselves led into awful evil… into heinous acts….

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How can we avoid getting caught up in this ourselves? And how should we respond to those who hate us?

By recognizing that we are God’s saints, and that we are here to be a Sign of Contradiction in the world…

He calls us saints by Christ’s blood, and He, by love, continues to make us conform to His Son’s image….

So how can we Live in Purity? How can we “Keep yourselves pure…”  as the Apostle Paul urges in I Tim. 5:22?

The question of living in God’s purity has to do with what God’s purity and holiness is.

It is this:

He, and He alone, is the One who is Good – and the Love which burns through Evil en route to rescuing those lost in the darkness.

In Christ’s work — completed through a foolish cross no less! — we see the charred remains of sin, death, and the devil.

He did this for us.

And so when it comes to us… the implication is that we have – and we create – spaces and places where this message can be heard, believed and lived.

The mission we have is never about God’s people being intrinsically superior to others… this is about True sight, True seeing…

Being blessed to know not only where the bread is which we share – the Forgiveness of sins which heals and nourishes… but also knowing where True Life is in Fullness.

What is that?

There is a King we know who is simple.

Who loves His people, who is loyal… but who does not let sin go unpunished….

Who will not allow us to live in our lies, our lusts, our pride and selfishness….

He is ready to Refine us again, and He will stop at nothing to make us more His…

So don’t say, for example, “am I my brother’s keeper?” They are all your brothers!…

You are to love your brethren in Christ first of all,

…and in this world you must look to provide for family first,

…but all are your brethren, God’s “offspring” all, they are all men and women for whom Christ died…

The Christian life never has as its goal alienation and cutting one’s self off from others, but we call people — even our enemies who might still listen — into our spaces, into our places, to participate with us “in the life that is truly life”.

Though He has hard words, demanding words, damning words, Jesus’ default orientation is not to condemn, but save,

…and His heart is now ours. Where He is, there also will His servant be…

This is the life to which he has called us….with these truths we must practically wrestle, in the church… and beyond…

And this will also, on occasion, require a love that is tough and maybe even a real fight… Where hard actions that are absolutely necessary must and will be done…

And here, we look to our faithful Lamb to shepherd us through such difficult decisions… as He rightly channels our desire to see His divine goodness and justice reign…. 

Always remembering that even our best-hearted attempts to purify what we all know needs purifying will nevertheless always be infected with the leaven of sin that remains in our hearts!

As Paul says: “ Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?” For as we talked about last week, even the Christian’s good works remain to some degree tainted by our sinful desires and loves, and will be in need of the blood of  Christ…

And He is indeed is always eager to forgive us, to cleanse us, to purify us…

So know that, believe that, and be at peace saints of God!

Whoever desires, let him take the water of life – this pure water – freely!

Anyone who is thirsty…

With Him, we’re ready.

We’re in the clear, clean and pure…

We were washed and we ARE baptized, belonging to the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, with His Name firmly affixed to our heads…

We are His. So come Lord Jesus, and Purify…

Amen


[1] https://erikhoel.substack.com/p/karens-and-the-nature-of-evil  “Karen” in recent years has become a term of derision for a kind of certain kind of stereotypical “middle aged woman”. The Urban Dictionary tells us she is “typically blonde, [and] makes solutions to others’ problems an inconvenience to her although she isn’t even remotely affected…” I was unaware of how charged this particular idea/meme had become, finding these articles as well: https://www.vox.com/21317728/karen-meaning-meme-racist-coronavirus; https://www.dispatch.com/story/opinion/columns/2020/08/05/column-racist-behavior-is-never-acceptable-including-lsquokarenrsquo-label/112801446/.

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1 Comment

Posted by on November 6, 2022 in Uncategorized

 

One response to “True Purity that Endures Forever

  1. Rex Rinne

    November 7, 2022 at 9:21 pm

    I really liked your illustration for your sermon…….how sanctimonious people can become. Love you son….. peace always…..dad

     

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