Sunday, January 3, 2021

Seekers Seek

The best part of Heaven is our relationships.

"We have seen his star in the east, and are come to worship him" (Matthew 2:2b, KJV).

Today we begin a series through the Epiphany season and it will be called "The Best Part of Heaven." The short summary of that is our relationships with God and with each other and with our fellow creatures, with other people and with all of creation, The Best Part of Heaven. So we'll be exploring that as we look at the lectionary readings for this throughout this next several weeks. And going along with that, as a bit of a framework, is a third section of the Apostle's Creed, and it has several affirmations that go well with the lectionary and with the themes and ideas of The Best Part of Heaven. And so we'll use those to give us a little bit of a connection with the ancient church. And so this week, the affirmation is "we believe in the Holy Spirit."

As it's stated in the Nicene Creed, "we believe in the Holy Ghost, the Lord, the giver of life who proceedeth from the Father and the Son who with the Father and the Son together is worshiped and glorified, who spake by the prophets."

Transcript of sermon
Preached Extemporaneously [Video] on January 2, 2021
for Briensburg UMC

So today's sermon is "Seekers Seek." There are so many sermons in this passage of scripture [Matthew 2:1-12]. As we know every year at this time, preachers all around the world of every different denomination read this passage and preach on it and have all different sermons, not only from each other, but from themselves. So much material here planning to go on that covers a lot of territory. And it actually covers territory because people come from a long distance across a wide terrain to see Jesus. And this is reminiscent of some people who came to the disciples later in Jesus' ministry and said, "Sirs, we would see Jesus" (John 12:21). People want to see Jesus.

Seekers are people who seek and sometimes were more of a seeker than at other times. But in general, we're all seekers. We're hopefully all enthusiastic about seeking spiritual things and finding more out about ourselves and about all of the kingdom of God that has been open to us. And so seeking is a lifelong, and that's an eternal lifelong, quest to find out more, to explore the great depths of God's love and to find our own way of continuing to connect with each other and to be a part of each other's lives, regardless of all the different things that may be going on in the world or beyond. And we are seeking that connection in this lifetime and in the life of the world to come. So ours is a spiritual journey, a spiritual quest to remain in communion with each other, beyond the grave and to continue in this fellowship that is eternal.

And so there are parameters that the Bible helps us to find, but there are more invitations really than there are parameters. So we come, each time we turn our thoughts to spiritual discovery, then we do so with it as open as a mind as we're able to have. Some of our open-mindedness is limited by some of the beliefs that we have, preconceived beliefs and understandings, beliefs that we've been taught, beliefs that people have imposed on us. And some beliefs that we have discovered for ourselves and set as boundaries for ourselves. But I think as open as we can be in our quest and in what God will show us, then I think that is what the Bible invites us to "Come unto me all you that labor and are heavy-laden. I will give you rest. Take my yoke and learn from me for I am meek and lowly and I will give you rest for your souls" (Matthew 11:28-30)

Open minded quest for spiritual engagement

 “Where can we find and pay homage to the newborn King of the Jews? We observed a star in the eastern sky that signaled his birth. We’re on pilgrimage to worship him.”  Matthew 2:2b (MSG)

We long to open our hearts and minds to let God show us as we explore this kingdom. And these people are a good example of that. These people are framed in the scripture as three wise men, and they came from somewhere in the East, and there are a lot of things we can study about this and preach sermons on, but they came from over in the Persian area where Iran is now. And they came all that distance with their own customs and their own ideas about how things could be done. When we see, I think in the scripture, that they came with an open mind, outside of some of the things that were a part of their customs and traditions, ready to discover something new and not really knowing what it was. But they had looked at a lot of different sources for their information, including the stars in the sky, the texts of various religions. They even talked with the religious and political leaders at Jerusalem to get some guidance. And they also received some guidance from a dream, an angel speaking to them in a dream.

So that covers several of the bases that we all look at in our exploration of spiritual life. And in the Message Translation, it said, "Where can we find and pay homage to the new born King of the Jews? We observed a star in the Eastern sky that signaled his birth. We're on a pilgrimage to worship him (Matthew 2:2b).

So we want to have a spiritual engagement. They give us a good example of wanting to find out more about spirituality, to make discoveries that we haven't made yet. And to be open to hearing and seeing some things that we haven't experienced yet.

Prioritize spirituality

Seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you. Matthew 6:33 (KJV)

The Bible and really spiritual people encourage us to prioritize spirituality. The way Jesus said at one place was, "Seek ye first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things shall be added unto you." And that's in Matthew 6:33 in the King James Version. And it says the same thing in other translations, different ways. To put spiritual quest as a top priority, really the top priority and that if we will, then everything else will fit in around that. I think I have an image in mind of the Stephen Covey's illustration of a jar, where in a little exercise, if you've been to one of those group workshops where you take a jar and you put in the small rocks first, and then there's no room for the big rocks. But if you put the big rocks in first, then there's plenty of room for all the small rocks as you put them in the jar, too.

And if we can do that with our spirituality, I think the lesson would be learned, would be lived out, if we see our spiritual life as the most important, then we put that in first and fill in everything else around it. And that's what Jesus is saying here. We'll seek God's kingdom, the kingdom of the spirit. We seek that first and all the things that pertain to that, all the love, all the justice, all the relationships, all the way that we have of relating to each other, if we make that the top priority, then everything else will work out as it should or if it doesn't, it will be something less important that will be left undone. But the most important thing will still be done. And that's the thing that gives us the most happiness and the most joy.

That's the best part of heaven. It is the life in the spirit, because that's where our connection is with God and with each other. And even with our own true self. That's where our connection is with those who have gone on before us. And those who are even yet to come. That's our mystical connection with the whole body of Christ throughout the ages, and with all of creation in our own tiny corner of the world where we're sitting right now, across the world and across the cosmos. It's all that life in the spirit. And everything else might come and go. But that life in the spirit is eternal. And that's what we're invited into with the invitations of Christ and the apostles and the scriptures and the church and all who are seeking spiritual life and extending invitations to others to join us in that quest.

Promise: We will find what we are looking for

Those who ask will receive, and those who seek will find, and the door will be opened to anyone who knocks.  Luke 11:10 (GNT)

The Bible gives us a promise that we will find what we're looking for. Jesus phrases it this way in saying, "Seek and you shall find. Those who ask will receive, and those who seek will find, and the door will be opened to anyone who knocks." That's in Matthew. And it's also in Luke, this one that I just read that from Luke 11:10 in the Good News Translation. But he goes on to say, "If your earthly parents know how to give you good things when you ask for them, think how much more your heavenly parent will give good things." In Matthew he said good things. In Luke he says, "How much more will your heavenly Father give you the Holy Spirit?" And so we're promised that we're going to find and really that's a good thing to search out in itself.

If you just look in the Bible to see all the places that have to do with seeking and searching, you'll find a lot of them and a countless how many, well, maybe not countless, there's a finite number, I suppose, but lots. A lot of them and you'll go through and you can find a lot in the Bible about just seeking God and seeking God's kingdom and seeking what's good and expecting to receive what you're asking for and to find what you're looking for.

And really that's true of life. Cheryl gives an example of having an extra pizza one time. And so she started looking around to see if anybody might need one as she's driving down the road. And she saw somebody and pulled up and turned out that there was a person who was out looking for something for supper for herself and her granddaughter, and because they didn't have any food. And so in seeking somebody that needed a pizza, she found somebody that needed a pizza, who themselves were seeking for some food and found somebody then just out of the blue showed up and gave them a pizza.

And we probably all might have different ideas of the experiences like that, where we while we have on our mind while we're looking for, that's what we ended up finding. And in the Bible, that's the same thing. You can look in the Bible and find just about anything. If you're interested in hell, you'll find all about hell. And if you're interested in heaven, you'll find out all about heaven. That's what I'm interested in. So I find out a lot about it, because that's what I'm looking for in the scripture. Look for love. You can look for love in all the wrong places and find all kinds of wrong kinds of love, but you can look for love in the scriptures and you'll find the right kind of love and on and on. What we have on our mind, what we're focused on, that's what we're going to see that's where we're going to find out more about and discover, and the same as with our spiritual life. It's the same with God.

God said to Jeremiah in Jeremiah 19:13, he said, "You will seek me and find me." So that's a wonderful promise. Our quest for a deeper spiritual life, our quest to explore the kingdom of God and to find out all the best parts of heaven is not in vain. We will find what we're looking for. So look for that.

The Holy Spirit guides our exploration

The Spirit of truth... will guide you into all truth. John 16:13 (KJV)

And we're not alone in our exploration. We do have each other, we have our friends and family, and we have our books and our religious resources and other people's religious resources and all kinds of information. But more than all, we have the Holy Spirit to guide in our exploration, like a tour guide to take us around and show us around the good things of heaven. That's why I'm going back to that promise of Jesus to seek and how much more will your heavenly Parent gave you the Holy Spirit and good things. So the Holy Spirit guides us and gives us.

Well, Jesus promised this as he was getting ready to finish up his earthly ministry the night he gave himself up for us actually. And he said, "The spirit of truth will guide you into all the truth," in John 16:13 in the King James. But we have that affirmation in the Apostles Creed, we believe in the Holy Spirit. And it's stretched out a little bit in the Nicene Creed, with some extra information about that, about how the Holy Spirit spake by the prophets, that that's the same Holy Spirit that we're talking about, that this is a part of the Trinity and some other theological ideas, one of which was the basis of the great schism between the church East and West over whether the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son, or whether the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father through the Son. So whether it's and or through. And so at the time, that seemed to be an important enough argument to everybody that they split the church and ex-communicated each other and everything.

And now even they look back on that and those churches are in full communion with each other over centuries later. It took them a long time to reconcile that. Still not one organization, but they are moved on past that argument a little bit. So it makes us think about some of the things that we are engaged in and do we led to what future generations will look back and think, well, that's not a very big argument. It shouldn't be, but yet it is. And really all the different splits in churches that people have had have been over such things. That's just seemed like well you just couldn't live with somebody if they believed that, or if they didn't believe this, that you just couldn't, how could you love them? How could you be in a relationship. That kind of shows us that it's really the relationship itself is what all of this is all about. The love that we have that overcomes those differences is what all this is about.

And that is what the Holy Spirit is leading us into, into ways of being reconciled with each other, in ways to overcome those differences and to not make a mountain out of something that, no matter how important it is, is not more important than our spiritual life and our relationship with God and with each other. And so we want to almost look at it as an opportunity to find deeper reconciliation when we come to those impasses with each other, if we can, but sometimes that's easier said than done.

The quest begins with prayer

If my people, which are called by my name, shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways; then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land. 2 Chronicles 7:14 (KJV)

And so finally, the quest begins with prayer. In the II Chronicles, 7:14, way back to the Old Testament there, it said "If my people, which are called by name, shall humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then when I hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land." Whenever any quest that we began any next step that we begin, it just has to begin with prayer. And that prayer has to be not what somebody else tells us to say and even not just for someone else as with our intercessory prayer, but for ourselves and for what we're seeking today, while we're searching out in the Spirit for this hour.

And so it begins with our personal understanding of prayer that we have arrived at this point in our lives. And if we look back on years past, might recognize that our ideas of prayer have been formed and shaped by the experience of prayer and by the ways that they've been answered or seem not to have been, or by the prayers that we have used that have been handed down to us by the church in different forms, prayer books, and prayer guides and prayer groups, that we've shared prayer with each other. So we've come to some understanding at this point in our spiritual journey as to what prayer is for us.

And that's where we take our next step, is by going to the Lord in prayer and meditating and studying and gathering our thoughts and seeking God's guidance and the leadership of the Holy Spirit to move us forward. And then we pray for what we're seeking and we bring in to that what's the burden on our heart. We bring into that the burden that we have for other people and for ourselves and for where we want to go now. What are we looking for? What are we seeking out?

And if we look at that through this lens of the best part of heaven and the relationships we have, then we bring to our prayer and this quest that we have for continuing connection with family and friends who've gone before us, with each other around the world, and even the prayer of Christ that we pray in the Lord's Prayer, that "thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven." (Matthew 6:10) So we seek out, well how is that? How are people relating to each other in heaven? What is that perfect life of heaven, that spiritual life that is brought to its fulfillment in the word heaven, and how are those relationships that are eternal, that we begin here in earth and we continue in heaven. And those that with other people we may never have met until we get to heaven. And how did all those all come together?

So this is our quest, to seek out the deeper spiritual life and to find where God is inviting us to go next. So we begin that with prayer, with our best understanding of prayer, and we'll spread that out in our hearts, and then we follow as the Spirit leads.

And so may God bless you as in your quest to seek a deeper relationship with your creator and with your fellow creatures in the name of Jesus. Amen.

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