Sunday, June 3, 2012


7“Ask, and it will be given you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you. Matthew 7:7 (NRSV)
There is nothing about the Gospel which is simple or easy; especially Jesus’ call that we take up our cross and follow Him. (1)  Living your life in response to that call is dangerous.  Following Jesus can be dangerous to your popularity; you have to make decisions that sometimes run counter-culture.  Following Jesus is dangerous to your health or even your life, because in some places Christians are still persecuted.
The previous six challenges we’ve considered in this series validate how hard it is to live the Christian life, particularly in 21st century America.  Review those challenges with me:
1. Believe – having faith in Jesus Christ means trusting Him, not yourself…counter-culture
2. Prayer – also counter-culture – we are a nation of action!
3. Forgiveness – is not only counter-culture, it’s counter-intuitive in human nature!
4. Give – is counter-cultural in a world that lives and breathes “getting”.
5. Serve – is ultra-counter-cultural in a world which never puts others first.
6. Telios (maturity) – is really counter-cultural when nearly every TV commercial promotes youth and playing games as the ultimate center of purpose for life.
Today we are going to consider the last of seven challenges to “embrace the grace of God”.  I’ve labeled these the 7 most important things I’ve learned over the past half-century about following Jesus.  Our word today is “perseverance”.
Perseverance brings forth images of epic struggles.  And there is a type of perseverance like that.  In Chinese mythology Jingwei is the daughter of emperor Yandi.  She dies in the East Sea very young.  According to the myth, after her death she chose the shape of a bird in order to exact revenge upon the sea by bringing stones and small twigs from the mountains to fill it up.
In a short dialogue the sea mocks the princess, claiming that in a million years she couldn’t fill up the sea; Jingwei retorts that she would then take ten million, even a hundred million years – whatever it takes, so that others would not have to perish as she.
From this myth comes the Chinese expression, “Jingwei filling the sea,” meaning a dogged determination and perseverance in the face of seemingly impossible odds. (2)
While the Sermon on the Mount is hardly to be compared with mythology, commitment to a mission that is fierce, and has as its object the good of others, seems to be a pretty good description of the kind of asking, seeking and knocking Jesus told his disciples they needed to consider.
First United Methodist Church in Gastonia looks much the same as many of the “red brick and steeple” churches you’ve seen.  Last year I attended a conference there and noticed that the main entryway has a bit of landscape shrubbery in an unintended place.  A tiny weed grows out of a sea of brick and mortar; it’s not supposed to be there, but it is!  It probably has to fight for every bit of nutrient and moisture, but, despite the conditions, that weed perseveres.  When I first saw that weed I immediately thought, “If ever a sermon on perseverance had a ready-made centerpiece, there it is;” and so it is (our centerpiece of perseverance this morning)!
The key to every part of this series is contained in these three little words (ask, seek, knock), but they are overshadowed by one other word – disciple.  It is the follower of Jesus who is pictured here.
At the end of this passage Jesus talks about narrow gates guarding the way of life.  It’s one of His metaphors for being in right relationship with God.  In short, Jesus is saying that only those who are serious about being His follower need ask, seek or knock.


Asking is natural; we begin life that way.  An infant child asks for food with a wail.  A baby chick opens its’ little beak with a screech and the mother sets aside her own appetite and feeds.  A baby lamb’s bleating cry not only brings Mom to the rescue, the sound actually causes the milk in her udder to begin secreting.  The cry of a child brings the response of the parent.  Jesus was showing us just how ready our heavenly Father stands to answer when we ask.
The Psalms writer gives us an important principle of seeking; it is an inside job:
14 Offer to God a sacrifice of thanksgiving, and pay your vows to the Most High.  15 Call on me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you, and you shall glorify me.”               Psalms 50:14 - 15 (NRSV)
Generally, after “asking” God, we begin seeking for stuff to meet our needs.  But here the seeking is an internal search for anything that stands between us and God’s response.  What exactly do you seek for?  Well, what is it that your heart condemns?  Are there promises you’ve neglected?  Is there a bad attitude?  Are you insincere?  Get your heart right before you seek for answers.
We should also seek for that which is truly the desire of our heart.  At times we receive an answer we didn’t expect because God is speaking to our heart, and our selfishness gets in the way.  St. Augustine's mother prayed that God would keep her son with her until she could win him to Christ.  But the boy left and went to Rome.  It seemed like God hadn't listened.  But in Rome Augustine met Ambrose, an eloquent preacher, and was converted, and became an important instrument in God's hand.  What Augustine's mother REALLY desired in her heart, was given by a most gracious Father.
Action must always follow the search.  This is where the rubber of prayer meets the road of faith.  The apostle James (3) tells us that merely talking or wishing is not what comprises real faith.  You must somewhere along the line INVOLVE yourself with what God wants to do.  In prayer, a step of faith is:
finding something you can be totally dependent upon God for (that’s ASKING)
banishing selfishness from the matter (that’s SEEKING)
finding something connected with the matter and helping out until God reveals His heart in the thing.  (KNOCKING)
A man feels unhappy with his career.  He is a Christian and desires to honor God with what he does for a living.  So he ASKS , Father, I give this job situation to You, because I really think I need to get another job; one that I can be used better in Your kingdom.  
And he SEEKS, Lord, help me to know the reality of my desire.  Is it just that I can't stand Horace who works in accounting?  Am I money hungry; is there some kind of selfish thing driving my prayer?  Father, what’s going on INSIDE ME that’s not in-sync with YOU?  Search my heart, Lord; see if there’s any wicked way in me. (4)
And he begins to KNOCK.  The next day he checks with Horace about his spiritual condition, and makes up his mind to witness to him for a while before he makes any final decision about a new job.
Yankee baseball legend Yogi Berra often said about a ball game that it ain’t over til it’s over.  What that lacks in grammatical correctness is made up in its spiritual depth.  Yogi was saying a team member never gives up until the last out is made.
In spiritual asking, seeking and knocking we must also never quit.  In Jesus’ statement all three words are in the present tense, meaning there is a continual action; Jesus-followers:
persevere, we keep on asking,
persevere, we keep on seeking,
persevere, we keep on knocking.
There is a saying that God is not finished with me yet; and it is also true that He isn’t finished with the circumstances you can see.
The follower of Jesus who gives herself or himself over to being a servant of God is:
one who believes, rests in God’s strength alone
one who prays so as to develop a relationship with Jesus
one who forgives, because she is forgiven
one who gives, because all is given to him
one who serves, because in serving others we serve God
one who grows mature (telios), because we want to believe, pray, forgive, give, and serve stronger tomorrow than we did today.
When a follower of Jesus takes seriously these first six issues, asking, seeking and knocking becomes possible.
We’ve almost come to the close of our ministry together.  By now you know I am not a perfect pastor or Christian follower of Jesus.  By the grace of God let us all press on to that!  Amen.
 1. Matthew 16:24
 2.  In Wikipedia, quoting Long, M., C. H. Langley 1993. Natural selection and the origin of Jingwei, a chimeric processed functional gene in Drosophila. Science 260: 91-95.[1]
 3.  James 2:14-17
 4.  Psalm 139:23-24

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