First off I promise no more knock-knock jokes…at least for this week anyways… I do enjoy a good joke and growing up, like most children, I liked knock-knock jokes. They are usually easy to remember and can be silly and fun. And I knew tons of them. Whenever I would see my cousins at family parties and events we would share them with one another. It was always exciting to hear the new ones someone had learned and laugh about our old favorites.
Looking back what was really kind of funny is that I don’t think most of us appreciated the knocking part. For as long as I can remember my parents had a doorbell on their house and people always used that when they visited. Once in a while someone might knock, but it was rare. When I got older and worked in a setting where I had an office with a door I became more accustomed to people knocking, but by then I was not often thinking of knock-knock jokes.
In our Scripture reading this morning we read that if we knock, the door will be opened to us. If we ask, we will receive. If we go looking, we will find something. That’s a pretty strong message. Taken at face value it sounds like whatever we want, God will give us. And that’s a little problematic…it makes God sound like a vending machine. Just push the button that matches what you want and God will give it to you. Is that how God really works?
Well first of all we need to acknowledge that vending machines don’t always work that way. How many times have you had your money taken and nothing returned? Or the candy or item you want is out, no more left? Or the worst…when your treat gets stuck on the way down and you end up with nothing? No, vending machines are far from perfect.
But that is not the same for God. God and God alone is perfect. And yet, God is not our prayer vending machine. It’s true that sometimes God’s answer to our prayers and requests is “No.” or “Not yet.” or “Not right now.” But does that mean that God is somehow broken like those aggravating vending machines? Or is God mad at us? Are we being punished? Does God not care?
When someone passes away we often struggle to understand God’s plan. When someone is suffering greatly from illness or oppression we again struggle to understand what God’s plan may be. Why does our loving God allow bad things to happen? That may be the most dreaded questions that pastors get asked. And I say that for two reasons. One, we don’t know God’s plan any more than anyone does. But two, because we see the hurt and anguish that people go through, and we ourselves go through, and wish we had a simple answer that would make everything better.
So was Jesus lying when he said these words? Was he just leading people on? Was he just trying to make people like him and like God more?
Well as I said before, this is a strong message. It starts with ask and you will receive, seek and you shall find, knock and the door will be opened. As I have said before I don’t usually like getting caught up in semantics, but did you notice something? Jesus did not say what we would receive. Jesus did not say what we would find. Jesus did not say which door would be opened. I don’t mean to split hairs here, but that’s the truth.
Have you ever wanted something so bad, prayed so hard, but it never happened? I think most of us have. And sometimes, it has actually worked out better in the end that we didn’t get what we asked for. Other times, we were still left with that need or mourning a loss. Just because we ask God for something does not mean we will get it. And that is not what this passage is saying. It says ask and you shall receive. The point here is that God hears us and responds to us, even if it is not with what we may have wanted.
Seek and you shall find. Have you ever been trying to find something in your life, and not just a lost article, but something deeper, some purpose or meaning? And maybe it took a long time to find it? Or maybe you never did find what YOU were looking for. But along the way you probably discovered some other things. I remember praying for a new job when things were getting bad where I was working when I worked with computers full time. I prayed for a technology job where I would make a really good salary, be appreciated, and come home happy at the end of the day. And I did A LOT of seeking. But I never found what I was looking for. Instead, I found the path to follow God’s calling to me to go and work in his ministry.
Sometimes we feel as though we never find what we are looking for though. Healing. Rest. Love. But we have to remember that Jesus did not promise we would find what WE wanted, just that we would find something. It again goes back to God acknowledging us and hearing us and responding to us.
Knock and the door shall be opened. Life is full of doors. Both figurative and real. And many are locked to different people for different reasons and at different times. And not everyone gets the keys to the doors they think they should have. But Jesus tells us that we should knock and the door will be opened.
Now there are two ways I look at this idea of knocking on doors, but both come back to the same point. First, it can follow the same logic and ideas as the asking and receiving and seeking and finding. That being that we can knock on the door we want to enter, but God may open a different door that he wants us to enter instead. So it goes back to God acknowledging us and responding to us, even if it is not what we might have wanted.
But the other way I think about it is not knocking on a door in a huge hallway full of these figurative doors in life, but maybe instead knocking on God’s door. And the good news that Jesus was telling us was that if we knock on God’s door, he will open it to us. God wants us to knock and wants to invite us in to his love and grace. And it shows that God acknowledges us and responds to us.
Our God is a God of love and opens his door to his entire creation. God wants us to be in relationship with him and loves us with a love unlike any other. Some times that love means not granting us exactly what we have asked for because God has a plan for each and every one us. God wants the best for us, and sometimes we don’t always ask for what is best for us. Remember, we are human and we have free will. We are not perfect and we make mistakes. But God loves us anyways and cares for us.
For those of you who are parents or grandparents, think about your children and grandchildren. Don’t they sometimes ask for things that you know may not be the best for them? Too much candy. A snack to close to mealtime. A toy that is too old for them. To do something that might put their health and wellbeing at risk. Sometimes we have to say “No.” or “Not yet.” or “Not right now.” Just like God does with us.
Remember, God calls us his children. Even the oldest person in this room right now is still a child in the eyes of God. God has always existed, and that’s REALLY OLD. God has had no beginning and will have no end. God has and will always be. So we are like infants, if even that old really, when we think about it. But God loves us and calls us his children. If we tried to play the knock-knock joke pattern out with God it would not work because once we knocked, God would never ask us who was there. He already knows! He knows us better than we know ourselves!!
And just like our children and grandchildren have gotten mad at some of our response, we do the same with God. Children throw temper tantrums and cry and say things like “I hate you!” when they don’t get what they want. And sometimes, we do the same thing to God. We curse God. We stop going to church. We stop praying. We get mad that God did not give us what we wanted and prayed for.
But we are human. We say things to each other and to God that we later regret. And God knows that and God forgives us. Even if we try to run away, just like some of our children may have threatened, God always welcomes us back with open arms because he loves us. He opens doors along our way and helps us to find the things in life he know we need. God has a plan. And it includes each and every one of us, and all creation.
What we need to remember though, is that God is not a vending machine. God does not always give us exactly what we ask for. God does not always lead us to what we are trying to find. God does not always open the specific door we are knocking on. But God does give to us when we ask. God does lead us when we are seeking. God does open a door when we knock.
And God call us to do the same for others. We might see someone begging for money who is hungry, and instead of just giving them money we might instead for buy them food and give it to them. It was not exactly what they asked for, but it is what they really needed. And we might not have given them money because we were concerned that it would be spent on something that could cause them harm.
We might have a friend who struggles with alcohol who is seeking to indulge that craving, but we instead lead them away to a place where alcohol is not served but they can still enjoy themselves with friends or family. It is not what they were seeking, but it is what they needed.
A child may be knocking on the door of a neighborhood gang hoping to fit in. But maybe instead we open the door to the church or a community center and give them a safe place where they can find their identity and a sense of belonging. Maybe we even teach them about God. Maybe we show them how to sew or do woodwork. Again, it was not the door they were knocking on, but it might be the one they really need.
And none of this is to say that we should be making judgments on the lives and desires of others. But rather we can be Jesus to others and help them in responsible ways when they are reaching out and asking for our help. We can give when people ask. We can help them seek. We can open doors. We can acknowledge people and respond to them. Just as God does for us, let us also go and do likewise for each other and all the world. Amen.