A God Who Treasures

Matthew 7:7-11

Ask, and it will be given to you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you.

8 For everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened.

9 Is there anyone among you who, if your child asked for bread, would give a stone?

10 Or if the child asked for a fish, would give a snake?

11 If you, then… 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!

INTRO: THE QUESTION

When Ivy and I were talking about this Sunday a few weeks ago, she sent over this question as a potential prompt or starting point – basically,

“Why faith? Why are you so compelled by God? By Jesus? Why keep doing this?”

And that’s a good question. Some days it’s a hard question. And frankly, after a year of divinity school, it’s an even better question. Going to divinity school in some ways feels like when you look at a word so long that it doesn’t look like a real word anymore.

You look at the word theology so often that eventually you’re like “that’s not a real word.” Is that spelled right? You spend so much time thinking about and talking about it, and thinking and talking about the sometimes wonderful and often horrifying history of Christianity across time. And it’s a lot to process. So at the end of the day, you can sort of find yourself asking,

“why are we doing this?”

or

“what is this?”

This is my answer right now, and it’s different from my answer a year ago, and it will be different from my answer a year from now. My hope is that the process of unpacking these questions in community makes us better. Examination makes us better. We may not get any closer to The capital-t Truth, but we get closer to honesty and connection and something that feels real. And that’s why we come here on Sunday mornings – for something real. So with that, I want to kick us off with a quote.

It’s one I’ve heard a few times over the years, and it’s by a guy named Irenaeus. He was a Greek leader in the Christian church in the 2nd century, and he once said,

“the glory of God is man fully alive,”

or said a different way,

“the glory of God is humanity fully alive.”

And I love that. First, there’s something about how early this quote is that I love. This is fresh off the heels of Jesus’ life and ministry – we’re just a generation or two away, and the early Jesus movement is still trying to figure out who they are and what they care about. They’re just starting to peel off from the larger Jewish community and become sort of their own thing. This is also hundreds of years before the curation and official packaging of the New Testament as we know it today, and so the early Jesus followers at this time were processing together in community, relying on stories and letters, to understand the implications of this person called Jesus who had just walked the earth.

And so the fact that Irenaeus was onto this idea already at that time – the idea that this was his theology – is so good to me. He doesn’t say

“the glory of God is man fully happy,”

or even

“the glory of God is man fully good.”

He says something else. To give glory to God is to be fully, truly, honestly, alive.

And so much of the human experience is us flailing around figuring out how to do that. Learning rules and then un-learning rules, building lives for ourselves and then pivoting. Being alive is both inherent and it’s a practice. It’s just figuring out how to be more fully alive.

And I want that for us. I want all of us to be capital-a Alive. And to me, Jesus provides this extraordinary framework for what that can look like and I think one of the tentpoles is the act of Treasuring. I think the invitation we get from God – the invitation we see modeled in the life of Jesus, and one we’ll look at a little more closely in a moment – is an invitation to treasure the world around us.

God invites us to be a people who treasure – who purposefully seek out wisdom and goodness in all things and who delight in what we find.

With that, let’s take a look at our scripture passage for today, which comes from the book of Matthew, Chapter 7.

Matthew 7:7-11

Ask, and it will be given to you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you.

8 For everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened.

9 Is there anyone among you who, if your child asked for bread, would give a stone?

10 Or if the child asked for a fish, would give a snake?

11 If you, then… 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!

In the Gospel of Matthew, shortly after Jesus begins his public ministry, he delivers the Sermon on the Mount. And this sermon is a real hit parade. Here we find the Beatitudes, the Lord’s prayer, the golden rule – all here. The Sermon on the Mount is basically the thesis statement of the entire gospel. We get lessons here on generosity, worry, non-judgment. We see God’s preference for the poor and the oppressed.

And a few verses before the passage we just read, we see Jesus talking about the importance of prioritizing love over money. Just before this passage we also get a lesson on anxiety, on abundance: Jesus says,

“consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these.”

We hear Jesus tell his followers not to be anxious, not to worry about what they’ll eat or what they’ll wear. He tells them to trust that the world is good, that the world is for them, and that there is enough – enough for them, enough for everyone.

And then we get to this passage – ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened to you. 

I believe the invitation here isn’t to pray for things, necessarily. To pray for specific circumstances.

  • Perhaps Jesus is inviting us into something bigger. 
  • Perhaps he’s inviting us into the reorientation of our minds towards wisdom. 
  • Perhaps he’s inviting us into the reorientation of our hearts towards the practice of treasuring.

HOW DO WE TREASURE?

I started rolling around this idea of treasuring recently. What it means to treasure something, or someone.

I thought about parents and their children – parents, when you treasure your kids, you’re not blind to all the ways your kids are challenging or frustrating or wild. You see their fullness and you delight in everything good within them. This treasuring is a choice – you choose to look for the goodness and the beauty in your kids.

I thought about treasuring a city – I just moved to Nashville a year ago, and I love it so much. It’s so hot and there aren’t enough trees and it’s just the best. When you treasure a city, you want to explore everything, you walk the parks and the farmer’s markets and you work towards making it better. You assume there is goodness to be found and you work towards finding it.

I thought about Taylor Swift – I treasure Taylor Swift. Her most recent record was a re-release of her 2010 album Speak Now. And this re-release included six brand new tracks “from the vault” – tracks she wrote back in 2010 that never made it onto the original album. And they’re bad. They’re so bad. But I listen to them closely because I want there to be something good to be found, and I believe there is something good to be found.

And that’s the invitation I’m hearing from this passage, and that’s what I believe God is inviting us into every day. 

That is faith – that choice, that logical leap we are called to make every day. It is choosing to believe that this life and this world and everyone around us are filled with beauty and wisdom and opportunities to see God at work.

I have some friends who are counselors and in their work they call this unconditional positive regard. It’s seeing all of someone’s fullness, all of their vulnerability, all of their mistakes, all their darkness, and tilting your mind moment to moment towards love for that person. And I mean, what a heart-shaping practice. 

And imagine if we used those eyes – if we used the practice of treasuring – to see everything.

What if we spent our days trying to treasure each other?

What if we approached our community with the assumption that there is wisdom and goodness to be found in each person?

How would our relationships change?

How would our communities change? 

What if we spent our days trying to treasure the world around us? Seeking to understand it and tend to it, even when it’s inconvenient, even when it forces us to slow down and do less and resist the hurriedness of contemporary life.

How might our political priorities change if we spent more time treasuring?

What would it look like to vote in a way that reflects the boundaryless unconditional positive regard that Jesus demonstrates?

What if we seek to uphold the inherent dignity of every human being in our public policy?

Is it possible that that could make us, and the people around us, a bit more alive?

HOW DOES THIS HAPPEN?

This can seem like an impossible task most days. Recoding our brains is so impossibly hard. Unconditional positive regard is hard. Seeing with the eyes of love is hard.

But what we can see Jesus saying here is that our job is just to ask. 

To be honest with the Divine, the one who invites us deeper and deeper into life.

And it doesn’t require fancy words or fancy prayers. Ann Lamott is one of my favorite writers about faith and she says her three favorite prayers are “help,” “thanks,” and “wow.” You can just bring “help” to God. You can ask a question – where am I bristling? Where can I soften? Where can I open my eyes and my heart to bear witness to more goodness and beauty in the world?

It doesn’t require anything special.

Jesus tells us that this deeper life is fully available to us in every moment, in total abundance, whenever our hearts are open to it.

Knock, Jesus says, because the Divine is never going to force itself into our hearts. The Divine never pushes or coerces. It never intimidates. 

It just waits, just on the other side of the door, to give life and life abundant as soon as we ask.

So why God? Because the glory of God is humanity fully alive. I think the world transforms around us when people become alive. In Nashville earlier this year I saw the Tennessee Three change the world when they pushed into their Alive-ness. And aliveness – all of the weeping and laughing and storytelling and speaking truth to power and mourning and dancing of it all – is available to all of us in every moment. All we have to do is knock. 

CLOSING: MARY OLIVER POEM

As we close, I want to share a poem by Mary Oliver that I think does a better job than any sermon I can imagine at describing this treasuring life that Jesus invites us into.

The poem is called Praying:

It doesn’t have to be

The blue iris, it could be 

Weeds in a vacant lot, or a few

Small stones; just

Pay attention, then patch

 

A few words together and don’t try

To make them elaborate, this isn’t

A contest but the doorway

 

Into thanks, and a silence in which

Another voice may speak.

 

Let’s pray.