“Seeking, Finding, and Doing Unto” by Interim Pastor Tim Morphew
From the very first days of his public ministry, Jesus attracted crowds. Something about Jesus drew people to him… Where-ever he went the sick were healed and he declared that the Kingdom of God was “at hand.” Could it be that Jesus is the promised one?
So the crowds came and Matthew says (5:1) that when Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain and sat down to teach and his disciples drew near, and I believe the crowd drew near… and this Summer, we at Creekside have drawn near to hear Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount and wonder what it means to follow Jesus and live life in the Kingdom of God.
We have been listening and wondering together all summer. We have heard a lot and if you have read ahead, you know that we are nearing the end of this major teaching.
Today we hear Jesus encourage us to, 7“Ask, and it will be given you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you.
“Ask…” Did you notice that the first word of today’s gospel lesson is “ask”? And with good reason. Because as we just heard, in Matthew 7:13 & 14 the way to which Jesus calls us is a narrow way and “the road is hard that leads to life.” (The way is easy that leads to destruction, and there are many who take it.)
We have been studying Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount all summer. This is our 11th Sunday! We have heard Jesus’ teaching from Matthew 5:1 through 7:6. And Jesus calls us to a very different way of thinking, speaking and living.
Do you remember that pastor and teacher Robert Bowman, (who wrote the study guide that our Sunday School classes have been using) invited us the very first think in the very first chapter of his study guide – invited us to read the whole Sermon on the Mount through (Matthew 5 – 7) at least once a week while studying it. Those who have done so can tell the rest of us that it is a densely packed teaching. It could be hard to remember all of it! – Even harder to live the life to which Jesus calls us.
In his Sermon on the Mount, Jesus calls us to life in the Kingdom of God. But he warns us in today’s gospel lesson, that the ways of the Kingdom can be difficult. Because as we heard him say today (Matthew 7:13 & 14) the way to which Jesus calls us is a narrow way and “the road is hard that leads to life.”
Bible Scholar Douglas Hare (d. 2015, Pittsburg Theological Seminary) reminds us that we have heard Jesus, (in Matthew 5:21 – 7:6) sternly warn his followers against lust, “anger & retaliation; [he has called us] to love our enemies & forgive those who injure us and to control our criticism of others.” To honestly face our own faults and flaws before trying to help anyone else with theirs.
We know Jesus is right, but if I ask you right now how you are you doing at living the life of God’s Kingdom, if I invited you to take a quick inventory – just think over this past week – if I ask you how well you have followed Jesus’ example and teachings, how would you rate yourself?
For instance, just last Sunday we heard Jesus warn us about judging others, about critical attitudes. But how many times this past week did I get upset and think judgmental, critical thoughts about somebody else?
As the apostle Paul laments in Romans 7:22-25, “I delight in the law of God in my inmost self, 23but I see in my members another law at war with the law of my mind, making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. 24Wretched man that I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death?”
To follow Jesus well is difficult. It is a narrow way; it is a hard road. Remember that in his 2nd chapter, study guide Robert Bowman tells about thoughtful readers and scholars who think that the standards to which Jesus calls his followers in his Sermon on the Mount, are beyond our human ability to keep. They agree with poet Robert Frost who called Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount the “irresistible beauty [that] no one can live up to.”
Maybe we cannot do it on our own…
A couple whom I married some years ago has two school-aged boys, who seem from my now distant perspective to be reasonably happy and well-adjusted. I once heard their father say that they are teaching the boys that they may not say “I can’t”. It is not allowed. It is fine to say “I need help with this”. But “I can’t” is unacceptable.
I really like that! – For children, but also for grown-ups. Maybe some challenges are impossible for us in our particular circumstance, with our limited insights, abilities and resources.. But “I can’t” sounds like giving up. It’s what I say when I want to stop trying.
Jesus will not excuse us from the hard and narrow path by conceding that it is impossible. It is not impossible. It is hard. So what is a healthy, adult response when a challenge is more than we can handle alone? How about ask for help?
Maybe that’s why Christians do better when they are active in a church family, in a Sunday School Class, prayer group, support group. What shall we do when life gets to be more than we can handle by ourselves? What shall we do when road is too hard to travel alone? Ask for help!
So having described the Kingdom of God that he is planting where-ever he goes, a way that he knows is narrow, a road that Jesus knows is hard, he anticipates our need and he encourages us to ask for what we need.
This does not mean that we will get whatever we ask for in prayer. And Jesus never says that we will get everything that we pray for. He says, “Ask, and it will be given you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you.”
The Sunday School class I was with last Sunday talked about how Jesus’ assurances in Matthew 7:7 & 8 can be misunderstood. Indeed, some of us may have heard some “false prophets” preach that we can have anything and everything we want if we only ask for it. But nothing like that has happened for me. And I bet not for anyone else within the sound of my voice. I (for one) have prayed some pretty shallow and selfish prayers that have not been answered. Just wonder with me a moment how many millions of people were praying the other week to win that $1.337 billion Mega Millions jackpot, last month.
Furthermore, let us remember that neither Jesus, nor Paul and probably no other saints of our faith have ever gotten everything they asked for in prayer. Remember with me that in the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus “threw himself on the ground and prayed, ‘My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me; yet not what I want but what you want.” But you and I know that Jesus drank that cup of suffering and death…
And in 2 Corinthians 12, Paul writes, “to keep me from being too elated, a thorn was given to me in the flesh… 3 times I appealed to the Lord about this, that it would leave me, but he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.’” Neither Jesus, nor Paul, nor any other saints of our faith have gotten all that they asked for in prayer. Yes, Jesus says, “Ask and you will receive.” (And it will be good for you.) But you may not get exactly what you asked for…
When living the Kingdom of God life tests us, when the way is narrow and the road is hard, Jesus encourages us to ask for help. But he does not promise that we will get whatever we ask for. In fact, the apostle James (4:3) warns us against that kind of “get anything you want” prayer fantasy: “You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, in order to spend what you get on your pleasures.”
It helps, I think to notice how Jesus explains the promises “ask and you will receive, seek and you will find, knock and the door will be opened”. Notice that Jesus refers us to our own parent-child relationships.
He asks, what loving parent would give a stone to a child asking for bread? What loving parent would give a snake to a child asking for a fish? And Jesus concludes, “If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good things to those who ask him!”
I hope this helps you as much as it helps me. Jesus urges us to think of God as our Heavenly Parent. – The Perfect Parent. If we think about the wisest, most loving parents we have known (or even watched from a distance) … – Well first of all, notice that when I say “wise, loving parent” you (& I) get ideas about who that might be. – We think of the parents we have most appreciated and admired. – Perhaps we remember a happy moment when we thought maybe we did OK, or better than OK as a parent…
But first, just notice that all of us have an idea how wise, loving parents act with and respond to their children. And we all know that good parents don’t always say yes to whatever their children ask of them. – So, if we imagine God loving and caring for us as the best ever, wisest, most loving parent, then we can understand that God would not always say yes to whatever we think we want. – or even the things that we think we need, like Paul praying for relief from that thorn in his flesh…
Have you ever remembered any prayers you prayed that were not answered the way you wanted/hoped? Have you ever looked back over your life journey and wondered at the twists and turns of your life? Have you ever considered how different your life might me had you turned this way instead of that? If you had played soccer instead of football, done gymnastics instead of swimming, gone to Purdue instead of IU, to Goshen College instead of Manchester… If you had taken a different job offer, moved to a different city…
Twice, when looking for a new pastoral placement on the way home from an interview with a congregational search committee, I told Beth that I didn’t think I was a very good fit for the congregation. Both times, she advised that I not rush to judgment but sleep on it. Both times I went on to serve those two congregations. I served 9 years at the first and 19 years at the second. I guess those two churches were a pretty good “fit” after all…
Most of our lives have gone in directions we never anticipated. And most of us are a lot better off because God did not say yes to everything we asked for in prayer. It reminds me a bit of the Rascal Flatts song, “Bless the Broken Road.” His song is about the “broken road” that led finally to his true love… But some of the verses speak to me about the “broken road” of my life that has brought me to a place where I feel more blessed than I deserve to be:
“You’ve been there, you understand
It’s all part of a grander plan that is coming true.”
“Every long-lost dream led me to where you are
Others who broke my heart, they were like Northern stars
Pointing me on my way into your loving arms
This much I know is true
That God blessed the broken road
That led me straight to you”
We can never tell when God says “no” to our prayers how things might work out in a year or two or ten… But I hope you can look back and say something like, God bless the broken road that led me to this blessed moment in my life… And maybe trust that even when God seems to say “no” to our prayers, God is saying “yes” to you and to me.
7“Ask, and it will be given you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you. 8For everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened.”
Even when God seems to say “no” to our prayers, God is saying “yes” to you and to me, because at the very least when we pray, GOD is there. When we seek God, GOD is there. When we knock, God opens the door. And if God doesn’t give us any more than that, well God is enough. Enough to get us through whatever crisis or need we are praying about…
When we have asked and begged and pleaded; when we have sought God everywhere we know to look; when we have knocked until are knuckles are bruised and bleeding and we are not getting the answers for which we so desperately yearn, let us try to remember what Jesus says.
What loving parent would give a stone to a child asking for bread? What loving parent would give a snake to a child asking for a fish? And Jesus concludes, “If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good things to those who ask him!”
“How much more!… How much wiser? How much more loving a Heavenly Parent is God than the most perfect mother or father we can imagine? That is Who our God is!
In a sermon on today’s Gospel Lesson, pastor, author and professor Rubel Shelly tells this powerful story:
“Friends of mine appeared in a foreign court in August 2000 to adopt a little girl named Olona. With about two years of background to the proceeding, they stood with her as a judge read from a document that said such things as, ‘Inasmuch as Olona Morgan is orphaned and unwanted by any family in this country,’ and, ‘Inasmuch as no citizen of this country wishes to have Olona Morgan.’ At the end of that awful recitation which transferred a little girl from state custody to Rick & Patty White, they dropped to their knees, embraced her, and promised, ‘You will never hear the word ‘unwanted’ spoken of you again.’ That little girl [who must be a young woman by now] thrived in her new home and – [on her own] proceeded to change her name from Olona Morgan to Hope White.” (sermon, “God Responds to All Who Seek Him” in Fleer & Bland, Preaching the Sermon on the Mount)
If human parents can love like that how much more will our Father in heaven give good things to those who ask him!” (Romans 8:32) “32He who did not withhold his own Son, but gave him up for all of us, will he not with him also give us all things with him?” (Romans 8:32) “How much more!… How much wiser? How much more loving a Heavenly Parent is God than the most perfect mother or father we can imagine? That is Who our God is! Halleluia! AMEN!