Gracious God, you invite us to knock and you promise to open. You ask us to search so that we may find. You say, ask so that we may receive. We hear all this and yet we are confused. Or we ignore you. We seek elsewhere, we knock on other doors. We draw away from you and all that you hope for us. Gracious God, give us the courage to keep seeking you, and as we do this, do draw near to us that we may find you and simply know your love. Amen.
A long time ago when I was a thirteen-year-old Boy Scout, I was trying very hard to earn my lifesaving merit badge at a cold, clear lake at Camp Makajawan in northern Wisconsin. The instructor was teaching the essential skill of surface diving. This is when the rescuer swims along the surface and does a quick bend and shoots down to retrieve a sinking victim. For our lessons our target was a slippery fifteen pound weight, painted in camouflage to require a real focus and a longer search. I just could not get it right, and I failed the rescue on all three of my permitted attempts. I just couldn’t hold my breath long enough to search for that weight. I pulled myself dejected up onto the dock, knowing that I’d have to wait till the next summer to earn my coveted badge.
After all the other boys had passed the test, the instructor unexpectedly gave me one last chance. He whispered to me. “I know you can do this. Keep searching. Stick with it.” I jumped in the water as the weight was thrown. And I did such a strong surface dive that my swim suit slipped totally off, and I could hear the whoops of the other boys as I shot to the bottom. But the weight was nowhere to be found. My lungs were bursting and I headed back up empty handed. But then, “Keep searching, keep searching” rang in my head, and I turned back down and searched for that hidden weight as though it were a real child lost in the lake. And there it was. I grabbed it and broke for the surface to the whistles and cheers of the other scouts.
While this story may be remembered mostly because of my naked embarrassment, or the applause of my friends, I think it stays with me all these years because of the simple whispered lesson, “Keep searching. You can do this. Keep searching.”
For a lifesaver there is a lot at stake in the instruction to keep searching. It is much more important than a merit badge. And in our Gospel lesson for today there is a lot at stake in Jesus’ remarkable instruction, “Ask and it will be given you; search and you will find; knock and the door will be opened for you…everyone who searches finds.” What is at stake? A different sort of life saving indeed. Nothing short of knowing God in your life. Nothing short of receiving the love of God in your heart. Nothing short of living your life today in the very best way you can. This is the gift for which we are called to search. Think of it as less an instruction and more of an invitation. Ask and you shall receive he says. Knock and the door will be opened for you.
What an extraordinary promise. And if it is true, why do we so often ignore it? Why is our world in such a mess, why are we in such deep conflicts abroad and very close to home, including in our homes themselves. Why is there such disparity between the peoples, and why have we failed so miserably at taking good care of all that we have been given on this planet? Well, I don’t know. But could it be that we are knocking on the wrong doors? Could it be that we are looking for meaning and sustenance in the wrong fields? Could it be that we are knocking on the wrong door, looking and listening not for our true calling, but to the seductive voices of comfort and power and to the alienating invitations to separate ourselves by class and race and orientation and geography and faith? Could it be that we are fundamentally uncomfortable with the kind of change that happens in our lives when God comes near? Change in our priorities, relationships, and communities.
Well, given all of this, what is it that we are to do? What is our proper posture? How are we to approach this new day? Knock and the door will be opened for you. And what does such a door open upon? Well, earlier in our famous passage from Luke, Jesus teaches the disciples how to pray. And I think there is a connection. He says, pray this way: ask that God’s kingdom will come. Ask that God’s reign will be known and seen and lived into by each of us. Now what could that possibly look like? What is it that we will find through that amazing doorway?
First, I think we need to understand that this is not about two different places: one here and one there. It is not two things: one present and one to come. No, God’s reign is a dynamic process unfolding in our midst. It is seen in Jesus himself, a man and God, in our midst. This is what we mean when we say God incarnate…God incarnate …God in the flesh. God present through Christ and Christ present in the midst of our lives, Christ found in each of us. In our looking, in our knocking, in our seeking…we find Christ in each other. This is what is hinted at, indeed pointed to, and is called for in this passage.
The reign of God, God’s kingdom come, is not some wish for a fairyland in some far-off time and place. No, it is a possibility for the here and now. It is palpable. Keep searching. Keep searching.
Last week there was an especially wonderful wedding here in the Cathedral, and the couple being married asked the choir to sing a particular anthem that was truly a prayer to know God in their life together. I love that they asked that it be part of their wedding and am thankful that all of us present could take it away for our lives. It goes like this:
God be in my head and in my understanding.
God be in my eyes and in my looking.
God be in my mouth and in my speaking.
God be in my heart and in my thinking.
God be at my end and at my departing.
This is the door we are invited to knock upon. This is the territory where we are invited to search. And to keep searching. We are invited to synchronize our watches and our compasses to God’s time and place for us. To know in our hearts God’s hopes for us.
And when our life’s searches take us far afield. When we find ourselves in the messes of life; in the bullying, selfish, unforgiving times of our living together. When we find that we are ourselves making a mess of things, whether it’s in the Gulf of Mexico or on battlefields or in our homes and our families; when we find ourselves abusing ourselves or each other, when we find ourselves denying that we are made by and in the image of God…we need to ask ourselves the tough question of what we are looking for and where we are looking for it. When the cravings of our appetites and the excesses of our desires are literally making ourselves and God’s creation sick, we need to take an accounting of what fields we are searching in for the meanings and values of our lives.
And when we do this accounting for ourselves we discover something. We see that even in our brokenness and our hurting, there is a clear alternative. We see that change is welcome. We see that new thing that God is calling us to do and be together. We can pause and ask the hard questions of our God, and our lesson today says we will receive. We can step into and through that doorway, that doorway that is in all our homes and schools and offices and cathedrals, that doorway to know God in the midst of our everyday lives. This is not an experience merely taken from yesterday’s stories to be applied only to tomorrow’s aspirations. No, this is for us today, now, together. And if you take away only one thing from our time together, I pray that it is this: that you know that you are invited, right here and now, to be part of the great searching to find God and to know God in your hearts and in your understandings.
Why does God make this invitation to us? Why does God care? Well, I don’t know if God has a plan for our particular lives, but God certainly has a hope for each of us to realize that we are loved by God. And in that love is imbedded endless possibilities to heal our lives and our world, to build that kingdom of God in our day. To be creators ourselves of that new thing. God loves us, not because we deserve it but because God made us and we are his. We live in a world that is constantly presenting us with doors to knock on to prove that we are worthy of being loved, to prove ourselves and make our mark. The truth is that there is nothing we can do to stop the love of God; it comes to us…spirited, unbidden, and unstoppable. And when we search for and embrace that reality, we will be healed and empowered to live into the rich, satisfying, productive, and deepened lives of value that are there for our asking, grounded in the knowledge of the love and life of God in our midst here and now.
I am pleased to say that I did indeed earn that lifesaving merit badge and that some years later became myself the waterfront safety instructor teaching younger scouts how to do a good surface dive. And to teach them that there is a lot more at stake in getting it right than a mere merit badge.
There is a lot more at stake in the searching we are talking about here today as well. A different sort of life saving indeed! I ask you to join me in this searching, you can do this, keep searching. Ask and you shall receive. And God will be in your hearts and in your understandings. God’s kingdom come. Amen.