Knock, knock, knocking

Luke 11:1-13

11He was praying in a certain place, and after he had finished, one of his disciples said to him, “Lord, teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples.” 2He said to them, “When you pray, say: Father, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come. 3Give us each day our daily bread. 4And forgive us our sins, for we ourselves forgive everyone indebted to us. And do not bring us to the time of trial.”

5And he said to them, “Suppose one of you has a friend, and you go to him at midnight and say to him, ‘Friend, lend me three loaves of bread; 6for a friend of mine has arrived, and I have nothing to set before him.’ 7And he answers from within, ‘Do not bother me; the door has already been locked, and my children are with me in bed; I cannot get up and give you anything.’ 8I tell you, 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.

9“So I say to you, Ask, and it will be given you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you. 10For everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened. 11Is there anyone among you who, if your child asks for a fish, will give a snake instead of a fish? 12Or if the child asks for an egg, will give a scorpion? 13If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!”

            There was a young man that worked the 3-11 shift every night in a factory for about a year.  He lived near by so he would walk to work and back home again.  Of course it was dark when he walked home, but he was a brave sort of person.  So one night he decided to try a shortcut through the graveyard.  He found that this shortcut trimmed off a few minutes from his commute, so this became his new route.

            This was all well and good until one night he stumbled into a freshly dug grave.  He wasn’t injured, so he tried to crawl out.  But he couldn’t.  So he screamed and screamed, but nobody heard him.  So he decided to sit in the corner, cover himself up with his coat, and sleep until the morning came and someone might hear his yells.

            Just as he was falling asleep, he heard a thump and a holler.  Someone else had fallen into the grave.  As the first guy was waking up, he saw the second guy trying to climb out.  So the first guy called out to him in a low, sleepy voice, “You’ll never get out of here.”  Turns out he was wrong.  That gave the second man all the motivation that he needed to climb right up the side of the grave.

            Sometimes that is all we need, a little motivation, a little energy, a little voice, and we can do things that we never even imagined we would be able to do.  And that is what our scripture is about today; God’s empowering us, through the Holy Spirit, to do things that we might have thought were never even possible.

            Before we getMP3 into this scripture, I feel that I need to tell you that this is a passage that I have struggled with a fair amount.  Some of you will read that last sentence and wonder why I might struggle with this passage; it is a passage of promise and hope.  And I think that is the reason that I have struggled with this passage.  It has given me promise, it has given me hope.  But it has also let me down.

            You see, I have asked, I have searched, I have knocked.  And I have done this persistently, just like my Sunday School teachers growing up taught me to do.  Pray for something over and over and over until you get it because God will give it to you, if it is God’s will.  I guess that the things that I prayed for were not usually God’s will then, because I received a lot of “no” replies from God.  This isn’t to say that I have never had prayers answered positively, but it is the “no’s” that tend to stick out in my mind.

            As we read through scripture, we can find quite a few times where prayer requests were denied by God.  In 2 Samuel chapter 12 we find the story of King David’s first born child.  David was involved in an adulterous relationship and Bathsheba became pregnant.  And on top of that, David tried to cover the whole thing up.  And when that didn’t work, he had Uriah, Bathsheba’s husband, killed.  When David’s child was born, it became very ill.  And we are told that David pleaded with God for the child, he fasted, he laid on the ground as a sign of repentance.  And he may have done this for up to seven days.  But the child died.  You can’t tell me that David was not being persistent in his prayers.

            But maybe you will say that this was God’s will because David had Bathsheba’s husband killed.  But what about the Apostle Paul?  In 2nd Corinthians we read that Paul asks God to remove some undefined thorn from his flesh three times.  But God chooses not to do so.  Maybe he should have asked four times? 

            No, I would contend that many people have misinterpreted this scripture to make it into a blank check from Jesus.  Ask, search, knock.  Be persistent and you will get what you want.  That, my friends, is a good formula for discouragement.

            We need to look at the scripture for this morning in context.  So let’s begin by looking at verse 1.  Jesus was praying and his disciples approach him and ask him to teach them how to pray.  So he does.  He teaches them a short but powerful prayer, a prayer that we often refer to as “The Lord’s Prayer”.  Now there are some obvious differences between the way that Luke has the Lord’s Prayer recorded and the one that we find in Matthew.  There can be a number of reasons for explaining this, none of which will affect my point for today.  So we won’t go into them now.  But here are a few of the highlights from Luke’s version of the Lord’s Prayer.

            Jesus begins by addressing God as Father and saying “even your name is holy”.  Orthodox Jews to this day don’t say the name of God that was revealed to Moses through the burning bush.  Then there is a request for God’s kingdom to come.  This is a request that where we are be made like God wants it to be.  Give us this day our daily bread.  We need food, so it is a good idea to pray for it.  Forgive our sins as we forgive others that are indebted to us.  Again, we see this motif of making things right between us and God as well as between us and others.  This is a prayer for shalom.

            But then in most of our modern translations Jesus ends abruptly by saying in verse 4, “And do not bring us to the time of trial.”  The KJV would add, “but deliver us from evil.”

            So we end the Lord’s Prayer right there, rather abruptly, and then move on to a parable.  This is ADD Jesus.  In my Bible it is listed as “Perseverance in Prayer.”  The parable is about a man who comes to his friend’s house in the middle of the night with a request.  It seems that an unexpected visitor has arrived at the home of the first man and he has nothing to offer him to eat.  This would have been a social taboo in the first century when hospitality was not optional.  It was required.

            So the man goes to his friend and knocks on the door, waking up the man of the house, and makes his request, “Lend me some bread for my visitor.”  But the man of the house really doesn’t want to help.  And I don’t blame him!  I hate to be awoken in the middle of the night.  And what’s worse is this guy is going to wake up the entire family.  “Shhhhhh!  We just got the baby to sleep!”  So he tells the guy to get lost.  What a good friend!  But he doesn’t leave, he keeps pounding on the door.  And he does so until the guy gives him what he needs.  And the only reason he gives him the bread is because he is trying to get rid of him.

            Then Jesus switches a bit and us gives two of the most (mis)used verses in the Bible.  “So I say to you, 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.” 

Now I believe that as a child I was taught that this was conditional; that this depended on what you asked, sought after, knocked for was inline with God’s will.  But there is no conditional clause following this verse.  It doesn’t say, “If it is God’s will, the door will be opened.”  It just says it will be opened.

            I had a bit of a challenging week.  Monday was Sonya and my 7th anniversary.  That wasn’t the challenging part.  In the evening, after she had gotten back from work, we were cleaning up after our evening meal in the kitchen.  And I said to her, do you hear something?  It sounded like a hissing sound coming from the floor.  It was barely audible, so I went on, just a doing the dishes.

            Later that evening, Sonya came up to me and said, guess what?  I ran through a laundry list of guesses as to what she might have been trying to inform me of.  Finally I had to give up and she told me that she found the source of the noise that I had heard earlier.  There was a leak in the basement.

            I don’t have the time to really explain what it was, other than to say that it was on our main supply line and someone had done a very unprofessional job of tapping into this waterline.  And my initial efforts to correct the problem only made things worse.  So we turned off the water for the evening after some efforts to patch the leak, which at least allowed Sonya to get a shower before work the next morning.

            Now I don’t have a lot of experience in plumbing, but I’ve been known to do a little soldering in my days.  So a quick trip to the hardware store in the morning for me and Paxton, and we were ready to not only fix the leak, but correct the mistake that someone had previously made.  Or that was the plan.

            Here is a rule of thumb, a rule that you can take to the bank.  When you have a leak in your plumbing, it will never be in a location that is at eye level, with plenty of head and hand room, free of flammable material, and readily worked on.  No, it will be in a crawl space and it will be at a low point in the plumbing, meaning that you can’t get all of the water out of the pipes.  It will be right against something wood that you do not want to burn.  What should have been a quick patch job turned out to be, not an all day job, but a day-and-a-half job.  Rather than being able to solder the pipe back together in place, I ended up rebuilding a section of plumbing.  But by the end of day two I was feeling pretty good about my plumbing skills.  What’s the phrase that I am looking for?  Practice makes…me frustrated!

            So part of the reason that it took so long to fix the simple leak is because I try to hurry sometimes and I make mistakes.  Nobody wants to be without running water in their home.  And when the outside temperatures are hitting 90 + degrees, it is really unsafe to be without water close by.  But what really prolonged my repair efforts was that I was not working alone.  I had my favorite handyman, Paxton, beside me the entire way.  And one day I know that Paxton will be able to run and grab wrenches and screwdrivers for me like I did for my father growing up, but right now, he really doesn’t facilitate the entire process.  In fact, I would say that he makes it a little more difficult for me.

            I don’t know why it is, but it seems that Paxton always needs something at the most inopportune times.  I’ll have my pipe in place, I’ve got it all heated up, I’m just starting to solder it and he…chooses…then to become bored with his stuffed animal.

            So what do you think that I did?  Did I say, “Hey buddy, I’ll be done in just about 30 minutes.  You’re going to have to tough it out until then.”  Or maybe, “I need you to cry at least seven more times before I will tend to you.  I’m keeping track and you are only getting started.”  NO, I drop what I am doing (within reason, don’t drop a flaming torch).  I care for my child.  He is my priority.  If I don’t get my water turned back on right away, so what?  People got by without running water in our homes for thousands of years.  If we have to, we can get by without water for another evening.  My child comes first, and I am never going to be too busy for him.

            That is the point of the entire parable.  God is never too busy for you, so go ahead and ask, seek, knock.  God is not like the guy in the parable that says, “Go away.  We are in bed and you are going to wake everyone up.”  No, Jesus tells this parable because he is contrasting God to this individual.  That is why he follows it up by saying that nobody would give a child a snake when they ask for a fish or a scorpion when they ask for an egg.  We, sinful, fallen people that we are, respond appropriately to what our children ask of us, and so will God.  And we, sinful, fallen people, will respond to someone’s request if we think that it will make them go away.  But our perfect God will respond out of his nature, which is love.

            Far too many people seem to believe that this passage about asking, seeking, and knocking is Jesus saying, “Here is a blank check for you.  I’ll sign it, I’m good for it.  You just need to fill out that little line that says ‘amount’ and you’ve got it.”  This isn’t a blank check.  Jesus isn’t saying, “Do you want a nicer car?  Just ask!”  No, Jesus is talking about something in particular.  He is specifically talking about the gifting of the Holy Spirit.  Look again at verse 13, “If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!”

            This is not a blank check, but more of a voucher.  This voucher can’t be redeemed for just anything, but it can be redeemed for the Holy Spirit.  And I believe that this points us back to where the Lord’s Prayer left off in verse 4.

            All of these 13 verses are a part of Jesus’ teaching his disciples to pray.  And he seems to stop the Lord’s Prayer by saying “And do not bring us to the time of trial” or “temptation”.  I believe that these next nine verses are all about how God will keep us from the trial of temptation.  He will send the Holy Spirit.

            There are a number of times in the New Testament (eg Jn 14:16; 26, 15:26, 16:7) when Jesus calls the Holy Spirit “The Advocate”.  For instance, John 14:15-17, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.  And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever.  This is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him.  You know him, because he abides with you, and he will be in you.”

            So as Jesus is teaching his disciples to pray, he is calling them to do some very difficult things.  He is teaching them to pray, not only for the forgiveness of sins and for them to have the ability to forgive others; he is teaching them to pray for help to avoid failure and times of trial so that they won’t need to be forgiven.  And we all know that this is not an easy thing to do!  I would say that it is impossible to do on our own.  We will fail, we will make mistakes, we will sin.  There is no way humanly possible that we can do as Jesus teaches in the Sermon on the Mount and be perfect as the Father is perfect…no way humanly possible.  This is one reason why we need an advocate.

            The noun “advocate” is defined by dictionary.com as “a person who speaks or writes in support or defense of a person, cause, etc.”  We have that helper readily available to us when we face trials and temptations, all we need to do is ask, search, or knock and the Father will give the Advocate to us.  We don’t have to persistently knock, knock, knock until God puts aside whatever he is busy with to help us during these times of trials and temptations.  No, God will drop whatever it is that he is doing and he will be right there with you because that is what a loving Father does.

            We do not serve a God that has placed us here on earth, given us some long list of rules, some long list of do’s and do not’s, and expects us to live perfectly while he goes about his own work.  We serve a God that gives us teachings about the way that we should live so as to bring him the most glory and to best bring the kingdom of God to this earth.  We serve a God that sent his own son to show us how to bring the most glory to God and to bring his kingdom to this earth.  We serve a God that sends the Advocate to be with us, to provide that moral compass that we all need to help us to discern what God’s will is so that we can bring the most glory to God and bring his kingdom to this earth.

            Ask, and it will be given you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you.  This is not a blank check for your new corvette, for a better body, a new girlfriend, or even for you plumbing to stop leaking.  Believe me, I tried.  This doesn’t mean that God doesn’t answer specific prayers, but I don’t think that this passage is a blank check.  What it is is encouragement.  Encouragement to ask for help from God, to search for his will, and to walk through the door that the Advocate will open for you.  God doesn’t want us to fail.  God doesn’t want us to make mistakes and lose our way.  God is always on our side and God will do whatever is necessary to show us the way.  All we need to do is ask and God will provide that little something that helps us get through it.

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About Kevin Gasser

I envision this site to be a place where I can post my weekly sermon text and invite feedback from anyone who is interested in the church, theology, or life in general. Please note that these sermons are rough drafts of what I plan to say from the pulpit, so typos are common.
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