Sermon: June 21, 2015 – The Good Gift

Text: Matthew 7: 7-11

“Ask, and it will be given you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you. For everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened. Is there anyone among you who, if your child asks for bread, will give a stone? 10 Or if the child asks for a fish, will give a snake? 11 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!

Last week on Sunday, many of you had the opportunity to meet my brother Bruce and his wife, Debbie as they were here for worship on Sunday. What you might not realize is what we did the day before Sunday, on Saturday. We were up early and on our way to the Trail of the Hiawatha east of Coeur‘d Alene on Saturday morning and had a fantastic bike ride along this trail. If you are familiar with the trail, you already know what I’m talking about, but if you are not, let me tell you it is a real hoot. You ride through 9 different tunnels, one of them is almost 2 miles long, and you ride over a number of trestles, some that are over 200 feet tall. The Hiawatha Trail is an old railroad grade, so the hills you might encounter are very manageable, but if you go in the right direction, it is all downhill and you can ride a bus back up!

As we were enjoying the trail, one of the things that we kept saying to each other, is how much our kids would enjoy this ride. Bruce has two boys and you might remember that Heidi and I have three boys-some of them married now and even a few granddaughters sprinkled into the mix. But my point here is that as parents, or since today is Father’s Day, as fathers, Bruce & I wanted to give the gift of this experience to our children. It is a natural thing to think of your kids and how much they might enjoy a particular experience you are having at that moment.

I think this is in part, what Jesus was trying to say when he talked about how earthly parents, who fall short at times, still want to give good things to their children. In contrast, how much more does God want to give the same kinds of good things to us? On the surface, this text seems like a really good idea; God wants to give us things-and all we have to do is ask! Unfortunately, I don’t think it is that simple; there are a number of interpretations of this text floating around out there, and I don’t agree with any of them! It seems I am always stuck asking the hard questions and trying to keep the scriptures consistent with the image of God that I hold.

Let’s take a look here and see what we can find. There has been a rather shallow interpretation of a portion of this text where the assumption is that we can ask for anything and God will provide it. If you want to take the text a bit out of context along with a literal interpretation; that is what it says. Ask and it will be given to you. That is pretty simple and straightforward; then the text goes on, “For everyone who asks receives.” Can that be right? Everyone who asks for anything receives it? Not only does this not sound quite right, it isn’t even good parenting. When I was a young boy I kept asking my parents for a shotgun for Christmas because I wanted to go pheasant hunting with my dad and everyone during the hunting season. They said no for quite a few Christmases that I can remember; and for good reason, I was way too young for a shotgun of any kind.

But that doesn’t seem to matter. There is a school of thought out there that has become known as the prosperity Gospel, where they teach this as a literal truth. If you don’t have the health or the wealth or the new house or the Ferrari in your driveway that you have asked for, then it is not God’s fault-it’s yours. You need more faith. Maybe you need to give more to the church, then everything will begin to show up…when I was in Seminary, we called this the “name it, claim it” game. We also called it for what it is-lousy theology. God is not a vending machine in the sky-and if you thought that coming in today, sorry to have to be the one to break it to you, but that theology is absurd.

There is another school of thought that moderates the position a little bit and identifies the portion of the scripture that states God will only give good gifts, or good things as verse 11 points out. I find this a little bit more tolerable, except that the scripture also says that everyone qualifies-everyone who asks will receive, everyone who seeks will find, and so on. I may not be qualified to decide for God what is good for someone or not, but if somebody is starving and the ask God for food, I would think that qualifies as a good gift. If someone is living in the street and they ask for shelter, that doesn’t seem unreasonable. So how do we reconcile the “good gifts” that don’t show up, when the text obviously says that everyone qualifies? This text is inherently problematic for all of these reasons.

So that leaves us with the challenge to find another meaning for this text buried in there somewhere that actually works theologically and remains consistent with an image of God which makes sense.

I think we need to look at this text as a whole; we really can’t break it apart and look at it line by line, because that is when the problems really begin to pop out. I’m wondering what the text is actually trying to say-sometimes it is useful to think to yourself, what was Jesus actually trying to communicate? I find it hard to imagine what Jesus was trying to say is that anything we ask for we can get, as long as we are current on our tithe or have enough faith. That just doesn’t sound like Jesus to me.

For me, the biggest clue we have is the use of the word everyone. Whatever Jesus was intending for us to get from this text, it must be available to everyone, all the time. There isn’t anyone excluded. Some say the text in this context may be speaking about salvation, but that doesn’t really hold up, because salvation has no meaning unless there are some who are not saved, and if there are some who are not saved, then that’s not everyone is it? Of course, we can nuance this position into making it work because someone must ask or seek or knock – if they do not do any of those things, then I guess salvation is not open to them. I can acknowledge that point, but I still don’t agree. I still think Jesus intended something else for us to take from this text – but what is the question.

My answer to my own question is what I began with this morning. Remember that I said how as parents all of us were talking about how great it would be to share this experience with our children and maybe even our grandchildren. I think this is what Jesus is trying to say in this text. The experience of God is available to everyone, and it doesn’t matter how you get there. Some experience God by asking, some experience God by seeking, some experience God by knocking, but however you choose to experience God, the promise is that God will be there. This fits into the image of God that I have created for myself; and it fits into a much broader perspective than many of the other interpretations I have encountered along the way. I think it is universal in nature, if you seek God through another faith tradition, you will find God. If you seek God in nature, you will find God. If you seek God in this worship service, you will find God-because everyone who seeks will find, and everyone who knocks will have an open door and everyone who asks will receive.

This is unconditional love and the freedom to experience God in the ways that are most meaningful to you. As I like to say, this is food for thought. Perhaps Jesus was opening the door for Jews and non-Jews, for foreigners like Samaritans and for those we consider other, like tax collectors and prostitutes. What if Jesus was saying whoever you are and however you choose to look, you will find God? No rules, no dogma, no organized religion, just you and God.

Go in peace and go with God-however you choose to look, you will find. Amen.

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