the penultimate WORD
Series 1998 - Proper 17 Canon Jim Irvine
Familiar passages of scripture...


Familiar passages of scripture inevitably put us at a disadvantage. Oh, weíve heard that reading before, we say, and then dismiss the passage. We have allowed the passage to inform us in the past, in the initial reading, but that is usually far in the past. We donít listen to it again. We donít apply it again. And, more importantly, we donít integrate it in the circumstances we presently find ourselves.

More often than not, we consider that we have already applied it to our lives. Nothing more need be done. What we do in future is apply it to others. We choose not to be challenged, while we know full well how much others around us need to be challenged.

In the front of my Bible I have a quotation that I make my private prayer before every sermon I preach.

Some time ago Johann Albrect Bengel said, "Apply yourself closely to the text, and apply the text closely to yourself." That has been my prayer on opening my Bible for over twenty-seven years. I pray that prayer as I read difficult, challenging passages; and I pray that prayer when I read easy, familiar passages.

Especially when I read easy, familiar passages. The following passage from the gospel selection from Luke is such a one.

"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."

We know that verse by heart. It is even given expression with the familiar chorus sung often as a round from time to time. The words become praise; the words find expression; and the words find application.

But the application is generally a prescriptive piece of advice we arrogantly give others.

We forget that these were words Jesus had for us, each one of us. There is no one for whom these words were not intended. The promise is there for each one who knows his ignorance, who recognizes his need, who is courageous enough to knock on the door hopeful for the reception that awaits.

"For everyone who asks," Jesus tells us, "will receive." It seems too easy. No declaration of faith, no exemplary behaviour, but the simple recognition of need and insufficiency.

"And everyone who searches," Jesus reminds us, "will find." It seems far too easy. And inclusive!

"And for everyone who knocks," Jesus says, "the door will be opened." It doesnít seem fair!

Anybody could knock, and the door would be opened!

Not just some of the people. Not just the good people. Not the just honest people. Not just the religious people. Everyone who knocks!

A different criteria is found here! The people who are in need: in need of God, in need of Godís acceptance, in need of Godís love and forgiveness.

The good news, the gospel, is that anyone, everyone who has need will be drawn closer to God and discover faith!

Our vain attempts at being "good enough" will get in the way of learning about God and his capacity to accept us. Our vain self-reliance will isolate us and prevent us from growing in his love and mercy.

Copyright © James T. Irvine

Series 1998