Rev. Dr. David Schmitt
Devotion: Matt. 7:7-12
The other day I was teaching my daughter to ride her bike. This is not the easiest task for a 43 year old father. It entails running along side of her, out of breath, bent over to try to either hold the bike or her as she tries to keep her balance. You know, I never even considered pushing her down to the ground that day.
I remember when my dad taught me how to swim at the beach. He wanted me to be safe in the ocean. We probably have many different memories of ways our fathers took care of the things we needed in life.
When one of our brothers asks for a hand, here at the seminary, we are usuallygenerally eager to help out. We usually feel compelled to see what we can do to give the guy a hand, maybe because we are going to be pastors or something.
I am limited in many things, I don’t do many things correctly, but one thing I know…I know how to love my children. I may not be able to stop terrorism, but I know that you don’t push your daughter down when helping her ride a bike. I may not be able to control the evils of the world and I may be someone who loses his temper, but I know that when it comes to food I don’t poison my child. A father is expected to act lovingly as is a friend or brother in Christ. This is especially true when we are asked for something that is within our powers to grant. We have come to rely and trust that a father, brother or friend will do what they can to help when they have been asked.
God can be trusted to provide for us through prayer,” you could begin the section by stating that idea. Building on the last section, you could say, “wWe hope that our children will live in a world where they know we can be relied on. Jesus invites us into a world like that in this text. He invites us to trust that God will provide for us through prayer. God can be trusted. God will provide and he invites into that world in prayer. Our text tells us, as God’s children, to “seek” Him diligently and we will find Him. To “knock and the door will be opened” for us.” All we have to do is ask it of our Father in heaven. He is calling us to prayer in this text. He is telling us that we only need to come to Him and represent our needs through prayer to Him and he will grant us what we seek according to His promisewill. He asks us to seek, not to look around for, or to go after as a short term gain, but to seek as if ongoing. He puts it to us as though this should be done on a permanent basis. This is not just a directive for today but for throughout our lives.
We enter the strange world of religion and yet find that God has made a home for us there. We trust that he is there and provides for us and that even though it may seem strange, we certainly have a home, with a father who provides. These three directions in succession are put together as though…well as though we were in a strange city and we are being told to look for the right house, knock on that door, and then ask for what we need. He promises we will find success in all of these endeavors. We will not only find His house if we seek it, but we will find that God our Father will open the door if we knock and He will grant our request through His mighty omnipotence if we ask! He promises that he will give us good gifts. These are given to us, not lent or sold to us, but given. The resultant gift may not always be what we ask for by name, but we know, through the text, that He will give us good gifts that will be what we need. Similarly a father will not give his child all that they ask for specifically, but will provide, in love, what they need if he can.
We see the law/gospel dialectic of our lack of trust and God’s forgiveness and continuing fatherly care in this text. We don’t always trust that he will give us what is best for us; yet he forgives us and remains a father who can be trusted. Even though we are sinful and evil we know how to give good gifts to our children. If that is the case, then imagine how certain it is that God, who is good (and not evil) will give good gifts to his children. even though we are evil we can know what is good. I don’t always incorporate the long term strategies given in the scriptures to raise them to be the children of God He, and I, want them to be. I often reveal the weakness of my faith when I worry about them while they lie in bed at night. I love them so much, but, because of my broken nature, I worry…I lack control over terrorists, tornadoes and hurricanes. This brokenness twists my love to the point of undermining my trust in God at times. I find that they are so valuable to me that my mind tells me I could not stand losing them and, therefore, fear creeps into my innermost thoughts. These are the tendencies of a… well, frankly, of an evil and sinful human father. God the Father is a parent as I am. But He is the ultimate good and giving Father beyond anything we can ever do. He is the perfect parent. If I love my children, the imperfect sinful father that I am, then how much more will our heavenly Father love all of His children in His parental perfection?
He promises that he will give us good gifts and, in so doing, he teaches us to drefer to Him who knows what is good for us far better than we do. We then are taught to trust in Him and let His will be done in our lives. We are assured that He will not give us riches when we could not handle riches,riches. He will not orgive us missionary work when it is not the right life for us. Even though we deserve eternal punishment for the sins we commit. Our loving father will bless us with the “good gifts” that are best suited for the place that we are at…in our walk with Him…our Father. Amen.
You have done an effective job in this devotion of offering your hearers some very concrete references to help explain the dynamics of the text. The opening unit is perhaps the most powerful in your devotion. Here, you actually mirror the type of shock value that comes through in the text as you speak about loving your daughter and helping her ride the bike and not throwing her down. That’s great. It enables us to hear the ideas of the text in our own terms and it duplicates the shock value that sits at the heart of the text. The unit in which you work with the text does well also in offering us a concrete analogy of entering a strange city and coming to a house. Such concrete descriptions are helpful for the hearers in preaching and make the devotion easy to visualize and relate to in terms of a person’s real life experience. Good work.
As you work with the theory of rhetorical units and oral style, however, you will want to be a bit more careful in clarifying the main idea for your hearers and then in using fewer methods of development for communicating those ideas. The opening unit seems to work inductively (stating the main idea of knowing how to give good gifts at the end) rather than deductively. Here, you will want to be more simple in your statement of the main idea. Notice how long the sentences are here and how your hearers may not come away with a single clear idea in their minds. This unit is basically trying to communicate the first part of the a fortiori argument of the text: even though we are evil, we know how to do good for our children. What remains underdeveloped in the serial depiction is the “even though we are evil” idea. You do well to communicate that we give good gifts, but it might be helpful for you to combine this with the fuller representation of the fact that you are limited in many things, you don’t do many things correctly, but one thing you know – you know how to love your children. You may not be able to stop terrorism, but you know that you don’t push your daughter down when helping her ride a bike. You may not be able to control the evils of the world and you may be someone who loses his temper, but you know that when it comes to food you don’t poison your children. This will then clearly set up the first part of the argument (we, though evil, know to do good to our children) and prepare you for the next unit which moves to the second part of the argument (God, who is good, will certainly thus care for us his children).
The second and third units are much less clear for me as a reader. The first unit was clear. I could understand your main point about knowing how to care for your children and the serial depiction of two examples worked. The next two units are less clear. The second unit seems to simply restate the text verse by verse without drawing out of it any one main idea for the devotion. Remember, in preaching we cannot cover the whole text in every sermon and instead we are going to want to offer our hearers one main idea from the text. In this case, your devotion is going to work with the a fortiori argument and this second part should really focus on the truth that God knows how to give good gifts to us. I think the analogy you use of entering a strange town is a good one and could possibly be developed to become this whole unit. You could open with talking about how Jesus invites us into a strange world here, the world of prayer and the spiritual life, but he teaches us one truth in this world: we have a home with a loving Father. Then, you can use your description of asking, seeking, knocking and of knowing the God within as a Father to help develop this one idea that we enter this world of prayer with confidence that we have a loving Father.
The last unit will then apply this truth to the class. Here, I think you tend to return to the text and actually weaken the a fortiori argument. The text is not saying that we don’t really know how to love our children because we are evil. The text is saying that even though we are evil we know how to love our children. By opening with this long section on how you don’t love properly because you are evil, you weaken the argument from “even though we are evil, we still know how to love” to “because we are evil, we don’t know how to love.” At this point, instead of restating the teaching of the text, you will want to apply the teaching. Notice how the devotion flows: the first unit offers us the first term of the argument (even though we are evil we know how to love our children); the second unit offers us the second term of the argument (God, who is not evil, certainly knows how to love us his children); now the third unit will apply this truth to us (in prayer, we find comfort and confidence in having this God who loves). To do this, I think you would be better off developing your point with an eye toward the class (the people hearing the devotion) and an eye toward the law/gospel dynamics of application (how do we as sinners know that this God loves us). That way, the devotion will teach the truth (in the first two units) and then apply it in the last. The place where you begin to make this application comes in the last paragraph. Here, you begin to think about our prayers (as seminarians) and our God (who will give us what is most needed and loving). That’s great. Now allow this type of application to form the entire unit as you apply this truth to our lives.
In general, then, Mark, you have demonstrated an ability to carefully read the text and creatively think of ways to duplicate some of its teachings. Your concrete language and real life situations are helpful. Good. More work is needed however on developing clear ideas for your hearers and stating them either at the beginning (deductive) or at the end of the unit (inductive) so that they become memorable. The second and third units seem to cover too much in too little time in this regard so that we lose sight of the main idea. Once you have pinpointed what the main idea you are going to communicate is in each unit, it will become easier to see how your method of development is related to that main idea.