February 12, 2017 Reverend Dr. Buz Wilcoxon
How strange and different Jesus’ words sound from our world today. He talks about asking, searching, and knocking. In the original Greek language of the gospel, these verbs are used in a way that implies continuous repeated activity over a long period of time. “Keep on asking and it will be given you; keep on seeking and you will find; keep on knocking and it will be opened to you.” But of course that’s not how our fast paced instant access world works. Is it? We don’t keep on asking for what we want. We just make it happen.
Think of a company like Amazon, whose entire premise as a business is to get you whatever you want as fast as possible. All you have to do is ask…and pay. And to help you ask even quicker they’ve developed a new device called the Amazon Echo. Some of you may have one of these or if you don’t you’ve probably seen commercials for it on T.V. It’s a small computer stand with a microphone and speakers that links to your Amazon account. The little robot inside the machine is named Alexa. If you know about Siri, who lives inside your iPhone, Alexa is like Siri’s cousin who is a tad smarter but afraid to leave the house. It’s all voice activated, so if you want something all you have to do is say, “Alexa, order me a pizza.” “Alexa, send flowers to my wife for Valentines.” “Alexa, rent a movie for me to watch tonight.” Ask and it shall be give unto you.
Last year, there was a little girl in who Texas was playing with her family’s device and said, “Alexa, order me a doll house.” To her parents’ surprise a package with a doll house appeared on their front porch thanks to next-day delivery. People thought it was funny, and so a local T.V. station picked up the story and aired on the evening news. When the news anchor repeated the girl’s words, “Alexa, order me a doll house” suddenly all throughout the area, thousands of Amazon Echo devices activated and thousands of doll houses were instantly ordered. The moral of the story is…be careful with your security settings. We are so connected to instant results that we don’t know wat to do with ourselves. The world we live in is not one that is used to continuous, repetitive, long-term asking.
Jesus says, “search, and you will find.” Spend your life seeking for something worth seeking. But in our age of Google searches and instant information, we get bored with some that we have to really search for. No, we want to find things quickly. A few months ago, the Nintendo company forever changed the ways that electronic games interact with the real world when they released the game, Pokémon Go. In this game, players have to walk around in the real world to locations in their community looking for pretend creatures. When you see one on your phone screen you can interact with it. When the game first came out you saw people playing it everywhere. People wandering around (sometimes in the middle of the street) looking down on their phones trying to catch these imaginary creatures. Search and you will find.
It was around that time that I was leaving church one Monday afternoon, and I saw a man wandering around in our big grassy field. He was walking around with his head down looking at a device in his hand. I assumed, of course that he was playing Pokémon Go. We a glad for our property can be a safe and welcoming place for our neighbors, so I figured I’d just drive on by and leave him alone. But then, I saw him stop in one spot. He pulled out a hammer and started pounding a metal spike into the ground. Hold on now! I don’t know how this game is played, but I’m pretty sure that’s not part of it. So, I got out of the car and started walking toward him. His head was down again and he was walking to another spot on the field, again, staring down at a device in his hand. I got close to him just as he was about to pound another spike into the ground, and I yelled, “Excuse me sir. Can I help you?” As soon as he looked up, I recognized his face. It was our Scoutmaster for the Boy Scout Troop. The device in his hand wasn’t a smart phone; it was a compass. He wasn’t playing a video game; he was setting coordinates on the field for that night’s scout program, where the troop was going to learn about navigation by reading compasses and using maps. Real life skills for actual searching in the real world. That’s not what we’re used to seeing. Not today.
No, when Jesus talks about seeking for something constantly, over the course of your entire lifetime, that sounds awfully strange and foreign to our modern ears. We aren’t used to sustained searches. We don’t want to have to keep asking, to keep searching, to keep knocking for something that is hidden and holy. When one day’s headlines are enough to make us outraged but are quickly forgotten tomorrow, when relationships and moral values that take decades to cultivate are tossed aside because something new is more tempting, when we have no time to listen to voices we disagree with and no patience for real conversations that take us into uncomfortable territories where our own ideas and prejudices might be challenged, we know that we live in a world that simply isn’t interested in what Jesus is talking about. Because Jesus is talking about seeking the kingdom of God.
The kingdom of God is vastly different than the empires of the world in which live. In the kingdom of God, power is show in sacrifice, suffering, and weakness. In the kingdom of God, peace is maintained through vulnerability and radical hospitality. In the kingdom of God, reconciliation bridges all divisions. In the kingdom of God, Christ alone is lord and king, and all of us, everyone one us, are simultaneously the lowliest of servants and honored members of the royal family.
The kingdom of God, the reign of God, is not a physical place. It’s not a kingdom that his hidden somewhere on a high mountain or in a deep dense jungle. No, it is right in front of us, all around us, but hidden because we don’t know how to look for it. It is hidden because in our sin and selfishness we would rather not ask about its ways of sacrifice. In our brokenness and arrogance we abandon the search for it. In our enslavement to our own desires we forget to knock on its doors. In our self-righteousness we refuse to enter into its narrow gates of grace and love. The kingdom of God, the reign of God, is already made real for us in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, but we do not ask, or seek, or knock for it.
There is an old old story about a medieval village that was in an uproar. Its citizen were sharpening their pitchforks and lightly their torches (the way they used to do back in the day). An angry voice leading the crowd shouted “We must put God back in our country.” As the mob followed down the road they echoed in reply: “We must put God back in our country!” A lonely monk was on the road passing by in the other direction when he saw and heard the angry mob. He stopped and spoke softly to them saying, “Children, do you not know that God has never left your country or your lives. It is not your task to put God anywhere. Merely open your eyes to see his presence that already all around you.”
Jesus says, “Seek first the kingdom of heaven.” Ask. Search. Knock. Enter. How do we do this? How do we open our eyes, our ears, our hearts, and our minds to God’s kingdom? How do we live as citizens of a different kind of world in which our own selfish desires are not in complete control?
One clue lies in the verbs that Jesus uses to describe this task: Ask. Search. Knock.
Ask for God’s kingdom, he says. That is ask in the midst of your prayers. Not the way that we ask Siri or Alexa. Ask God in petition to see the ways of God’s kingdom. Ask in prayer.
Then search for God’s kingdom. Search with your mind. With your study. Don’t lean on what you already know, but seek to learn more. Don’t just wade in the kiddy pool of knowledge, delve deep into the depths of wisdom and wonder.
And finally, knock at the door. Physically knock. Get your body moving and active. Move to the places of power and of poverty. Move to the doors that need to be opened and get to work, knocking.
Ask. Search. Knock. As a wise scholar once said, “Jesus’ words [here] suggest that prayer, thought, and work are inextricably bound together—if we are to cooperate with God… We must ask and we must seek and we must knock, all at the same time. It will not do much good, for example, to pray (i.e., ask) for a peaceful world, if we are not willing to give hard and serious thought to how this may be accomplished, and if we are not willing to knock (i.e., work) that doors may be opened and obstacle removed.”
Friends, Jesus calls us to pray, study, and work for the kingdom of God in the world. He gives us a brief glimpse of what such a way of life looks like. It may sound awfully simple in theory, but in practice, it takes a lifetime of seeking to actually live out. He says, “In everything do to others as you would have them do to you.” In everything. The golden rule. Not just some of the time. Not just when we feel like it. Not just for people that we like or want to impress. No, in everything. In everything, do unto other…all others whoever they are, what you would have them do unto you. In everything, for everyone. That’s what living in the kingdom of God looks like.
So, friends, let’s grab our compasses, and get to work seeking for the kingdom!
To God along be the glory.
“Nothing that is worth doing can be achieved in our lifetime; therefore we must be saved by hope. Nothing which is true or beautiful or good makes complete sense in any immediate context of history; therefore we must be saved by faith. Nothing we do, however virtuous, can be accomplished alone; therefore we must be saved by love. No virtuous act is quite as virtuous from the standpoint of our friend or foe as it is from our standpoint. Therefore we must be saved by the final form of love which is forgiveness.”
-Reinhold Niebuhr, The Irony of American History, 63.
Ernest Trice Thompson, The Sermon on the Mount and Its Meaning for Today, 119.