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The Rector’s sermon for Palm Sunday, April 14, 2019     


                                                                                                                              

 

A Lenten Series:  THE SERMON ON THE MOUNT (Matthew 5:1—7:27)

Ask, Seek, Knock  (Matthew 7:7-11) – (7 of 10)




 

Palm Sunday is a day we recall as a day of triumph with undercurrents of tragedy.  As Jesus rides into Jerusalem, hailed by the people, as King, He knows this is the beginning of the end of His earthly life.  Yet, there is still a hint of teaching left to share.  Today’s message is taken from Matthew 7:7-11…Ask, Seek, Knock:

 

 “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?  Or if the child asks for a fish, will give a snake?  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!”  (Matt. 7:7-11)

 

There’s a story of a boy who prayed for a motorized Flying Tiger model airplane.  This was before remote control—the plane was on the other end of a wire!  For several years the little boy prayed for that plane; he didn’t get it.  Fast forward 20 years.  That little boy became a pastor and he mentioned that story in a sermon, that sometimes we pray, asking God for something, and the answer is simply, “No.”  “We trust that our Father knows best, and we move on,” he said.  The next Sunday at the end of the service, the organist went into rousing rendition of “Off We Go into the Wild Blue Yonder,” and his staff walked into the church and up the aisle with a much more sophisticated version of a Flying Tiger model airplane.   That afternoon the pastor went outside with his new plane and flew it.  He said it was amazing.

 

Fast forward another 15 years.  This time the pastor was speaking at a conference in Florida.  Again he shared his story about praying for the model airplane.  The next day a local man who heard the story came forward and said he had something for the pastor.  It was a patch, one of several he had, from the Flying Tiger Squadron of World War II fame.  He had flown with the Flying Tigers.  At the end of his story, the pastor wrote:  “I like to say that I’m waiting for the next segment of the story—a real airplane?”

 

Jesus teaches in the Sermon on the Mount that our prayers to God are not cold requests to a distant deity, who must be coaxed and appeased.  Our prayers are voiced in a deep, trusting relationship like that of a parent and child.  So we call God, “Father.”  Just as we expect good parents to do what is best for their kids, how much more will Almighty God do what is best for us!

 

Prayer is very much a matter of asking and receiving, but it’s also more than that.  It is seeking over time and finding.  We can be knocking at the door with the same request not for a day but for years.  Along the way, prayer like that is the means by which we discover the will of God for our lives, the will of God which is always good, pleasing and perfect.  Paul writes in his letter to the Romans:  Do not be conformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect. (Rom. 12:2)  Isn’t that what we expect from a good parent?

 

Emily Dickinson, at least in her poetry, struggled with whether or not prayer worked.  In a few poems she wondered if God was listening when she prayed.  She wrote in a state of “iffiness,” if that’s even a word.

In one poem she shared the disappointment that comes from a long-term prayer apparently unanswered:

She wrote:

There comes an hour when begging stops,
When the long interceding lips
Perceive their prayer is in vain.
“Thou shalt not” is a kinder sword
than from a disappointing God
“Disciple, call again.”

                        (Emily Dickinson, Complete Poems, 1924)

 

Haven’t we all wondered at times, as we pray, if God is really listening?   Haven’t we at times tired at knocking at the same door with the same request only to find silence on the other side?   Jesus’ teaching on prayer carries… no …such …doubt!  He is utterly confident that our heavenly Father hears our prayers and answers us.  I have a saying hanging on the wall in my office.  It says:  God always answers prayer: 

The answer is yes, no, or ‘I have something better for you.’

 

This assurance is especially important for what we might call aspirational prayer or hopeful prayer.  This kind of prayer expresses a deep desire and a hope before God that may take time before it becomes real in our lives.  People in recovery understand aspirational, hopeful prayer.  So do those who face long-term illness or very heavy grief.  In aspirational prayer we pray again and again.  We keep on asking.  We keep on seeking.  We knock again and again.  Unlike Emily Dickenson,  our “long interceding lips” must not perceive our prayer to be a waste of time.  This is God we’re talking about…our heavenly Father…the very one who made us, who walks with us every day of our lives, who wants the best for us…always!   In the very act of asking again and again, in the very process of taking our deepest hopes and aspirations to him, in that act alone we express confidence that we are heard and that we will be answered.

 

Palm Sunday brings with it such a confidence in aspirational, hopeful prayer.  As Jesus rides into Jerusalem on his way to the cross, he is the Father’s answer to his children’s prayers over centuries for a Messiah and Savior.  A very few saw this ride into Jerusalem exactly as it was to be perceived:  the Savior of the world…the Messiah… appears on the back of a donkey.  Others were caught up in a revolt against Rome and wanted a revolutionary leader, not a humble, trusting mere man.  Many, no doubt, were perhaps at the beginning of a process of hopeful prayer which would have them finally see Jesus as the promised anointed one.  Those who were Jews, though, knew the prophecies of Isaiah and Zechariah.  They knew the cherished legacy of prayers for the coming of the Messiah and could not help but wonder, but most weren’t committed enough to proclaim, “Could this be the salvation we’ve prayed for?”

 

For us who follow the one on the donkey we know where he is heading.  We see the Passion before him.  Once again we will walk the Way of Sorrows with him.  We will listen to him pray deep and hard prayers in the Garden.  We will hear his prayerful shouts from the cross.  He aspired not to greatness but to service, not to power but to sacrifice.  He came to fulfill that aspirational shout, “Hosanna to the Son of David!” by laying down his life to save us all…even those who had no prayer to offer.

 

This Son of God has taught us to pray just as he prayed, as a child seeking an answer from our heavenly Father.  Today, as on the first Palm Sunday, all of our aspirations…all of our hopes…all of our dreams find their “yes” in Jesus of Nazareth.  Because of that day, and the few days to come, we will continue to ask, to seek and to know for certain that our prayers are always answered:  Some with yes some with no, some with ‘I have something better for you!”  

 


 


 

 

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