Monroe Congregational Church, U.C.C.
July 29, 2001 - Pastor Diane Schmitz
My 12-year-old son Michael is a tenacious person; he does not easily give up trying to get what he wants. "Mom, can I ride my bike to the 7-Eleven and get a candy bar?" "No, Michael, we'll be eating dinner soon." "Can I ride my bike to the 7-Eleven to get a candy bar for after dinner?" "No, Michael. We already have a dessert." "Well, then can I ride my bike to 7-Eleven and get some magazines?" "Okay." "Mom, can you give me some money to buy some magazines?" "No, that is what your allowance is for." "Can you advance me some money for next month's allowance?" "No." "Will you pay me $5 if I go to the 7-Eleven for you and buy some groceries?"
The parable we heard this morning in the Luke reading about prayer stresses a tenacious attitude. A man is settled in for the night with his family in their dwelling when a friend comes pounding on the door. There is a significant problem. A friend of his has arrived in the middle of the night and customs of hospitality dictate he provide his friend with a meal. But, the cupboard is bare and so he appeals to his neighbor to give him bread. "Go away, don't bother me," says the sleeping neighbor. "The door is locked; my children are settled." But the man persists and eventually gets his bread. "I tell you," said Jesus, "even though he will not get up and give him anything because he is his friend, at least because of his persistence he will get up and give him whatever he needs."
Jesuit John Donahue says, "The point of the parable is not that God is sleeping when we pray, but that when a crisis is present we should be willing to cause a divine ruckus." Another interpreter suggests that even an unneighborly neighbor will do a neighborly act if he is made sufficiently uncomfortable otherwise.
Sufficiently uncomfortable, a divine ruckus; these are qualities we experience when we are asking and searching for a different way of life or responding to a transition.
"Follow the yellow brick road," is the advice we are given in the Wizard of Oz. If it were only that simple!
The surprising thing is how often we are traveling quite comfortably on a road and suddenly it changes. Take, for example, the road outside our church: McDougal Street. We've been using that street for a good, long time as we come to church and park. The street seemed fine to me - no visible potholes, no gaping cracks. It's not heavily used; it seemed to support the current level of traffic quite adequately.
Then, suddenly appears the notice from the city. The street is being resurfaced. It will be closed off. It will take three weeks. The signs come out. The big trucks arrive. The noise begins.
The top layer of the street is stripped off and varying sizes of rocks underneath become visible. New gravel is poured. The street is open some of the time to local traffic but it is a rough road to travel. "No thru traffic," the sign says.
Often our searching takes place on such roads. It's bumpy. We get stuck and can't get through. We lose patience and wonder when the traveling will get easier and when we will arrive at our destination.
We think we are getting close and then another delay occurs. This week we received another notice from the city about McDougal. Unexpected delays will cause the completion date to be extended. Our patience is appreciated.
But God, I don't want any more delays. But, God, I'm tired of being patient. But, God, you promised if I asked, I would receive, if I searched, I would find.
The sayings that follow the parable of the sleeping man in our reading from Luke are familiar: "Ask and you will receive; search and you will find." These sayings are not only in Luke but also appear in the books of John and Matthew.
At the outset these words seem fairly simple to understand and yet we all know the times we have prayed, asked and searched with no discernible answer to our quest. But, the passage from John adds a depth to this; the words are a bit different: "Ask and you will receive; that your joy may be full. If you abide in me and my words abide in you, ask whatever you will and it shall be done for you."
When we are abiding in God and when God's word is alive in us we will have a different kind of clarity about that for which we ask and search. Before and during our asking and searching we are called to be in prayer; a prayer where we listen by putting aside our own ideas and plans for a bit to open up a space for the guidance of the Spirit to be heard.
We are reassured in this scripture that God deeply desires to give good gifts to us. God sends the Holy Spirit into our lives to move us to new places. Sometimes our prayers that appear to go unanswered are answered in surprising ways. It is openness to such surprise that allows us to see answers that may be right in front of us.
We tend to search far and wide for something; we spin imaginative forays into the future. Often searching the present moment, the place we are at right now, may be the most profound teaching. What it is that God is doing in us at this very moment and how we are abiding in God may provide important clues to our searching.
"Everyone who searches, finds." That is the Word we are given. It does not say what we will find but does tell us the search will not be in vain. There is a story that speaks to the question of what are we looking for when we search:
A woman dreamed she walked into a brand-new shop in the marketplace and,
to her surprise, found God behind the counter.
"What do you sell here?" she asked.
"Everything your heart desires," said God.
Hardly daring to believe what she was hearing, the woman decided to ask for the best things a human being could wish for. "I want peace of mind and love and happiness and wisdom and freedom from fear," she said. Then as an afterthought, she added, "Not just for me. For everyone on earth."
God smiled, "I think you've got me wrong, my dear," He said. "We don't sell fruits here.
Now I have to admit that I seldom go searching for seeds. I want to find the full-grown plant, healthy, blooming and beautiful . . . and finished!.
Seeds are a different story. They take work. And then there are those weeds that come along while the sprouts are growing. Oh, but there is that deep sense of satisfaction when we see the result of something well-tended and recognize the we have been co-creators, with the Spirit of Life, of something truly wonderful and beautiful.
The psalmist in our reading this morning says to God, "I called to you; you increased my strength of soul." Searching is hard work but through that process we become stronger and filled with more wisdom. The psalmist continues: "You stretch out your hand and your right hand delivers me." God is reaching towards us. God is awaiting our request, listening for our passionate and deepest desires.
Be bold. Ask what is in your heart. Believe that an answer will come. Create a divine ruckus; be persistent.
Do these things as individuals. Do these things as this church. Search for the seeds that are already within you. Search for the seeds that are lying fallow very near to you. Look within others for seeds that will bear fruit for you. Open yourself to the possibility that the seeds you hold will bear fruit for others.
Most of all, know that God is with you in the searching. Listen to these words by Thomas Merton:
"My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end. Nor do I really know myself . . . I know you will lead me by the right road though I may know nothing about it. Therefore will I trust you always though I may seem to be lost. . . I will not fear, for you are ever with me, and you will never leave me." (From Thoughts in Solitud )