‘Ask, seek, knock’ as a posture for mission

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On Sunday 16 September Dr Cathy Ross, leader of the MA course for CMS Pioneer Mission Leadership Training, was installed as canon theologian at Leicester Cathedral. And she preached! Here’s an extract…

“Ask, and it will be given to 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. Is there anyone among you who, if your child asks for bread, will give a stone? Or if the child asks for a fish, will give a snake? If you then, who are evil, 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 everything do to others as you would have them do to you; for this is the law and the prophets.” Matthew 7:7-12 (NRSV)

Biblical commentators on this set of instructions tell us that Jesus is encouraging right relationships here and that God will not refuse our prayers because God is a good God and longs to give us good gifts.

However, Jesus’ parables and ideas can work on various levels and I think that these instructions offer us a wonderful posture for engaging in mission: Ask, seek, knock.

Ask.

What does asking conjure up for you? For me, asking implies an invitational posture, a humble attitude, a curiosity. It implies an invitational approach, a posture of listening and learning. And of course, there is the art of asking a good question – harder than we might think!

How often in mission have we gone with all the answers, how often have we gone with everything to give and nothing to receive?

I well remember a Ugandan colleague commenting that when the first missionaries arrived in Uganda – who were CMS missionaries from the UK – they found nothing of value to take with them back to Europe. Nothing? They found nothing of beauty, of interest, of fascination in another culture and context? Did we ask? Did we look? Could we not see?

So, for me, ‘ask’ represents humility in mission.

Seek.

Did we seek? Did we put ourselves in a position of vulnerability and seek the treasures that are to be found in new cultures and contexts? Jesus encourages us to seek and then we will find. What did we find when we went as missionaries in those early days? Robert Moffatt, a 19th century missionary, wrote:

Satan has employed his agency with fatal success, in erasing every vestige of religious impression from the minds of the Bechuanas, Hottentots and Bushmen; leaving them without a single ray to guide them from the dark and dread futurity, or a single link to unite them with the skies. [1]

Is that all we found? Emptiness? No depth of religion or spirituality? No local wisdom? But did we seek? Did we ask?
Did we put ourselves in positions of vulnerability to listen and learn? Did we spend time with the Bechuanas, Hottentots and Bushmen or did we want to do everything for them?

Steve Bevans, who will be speaking at your diocesan conference next Sep, uses the image of missionary as treasure hunter. He says,

[the missionaries] know because of the treasure they already bear that there is, indeed, a treasure buried in the context into which they have come. They need to study the “local maps” with care: they need to learn the language, proverbs, and the traditional wisdom of the people. Most of all, they need to befriend people, engage them as guides, be taught by them. If they can, they recruit the people to help them in their search. As a result of the search, both missionaries and people are changed. [2]

This is a wonderful image of seeking treasure in the local context. What about in your contexts? What treasures has St Philip’s Centre found in your Living Well Together workshops or your Near Neighbours programmes? What treasures have you found in the relationships formed in the Soundcafe and in participating in One Roof Leicester? What gems and jewels have come to light in FareShare and in getting to know asylum seekers and new migrants? What new questions have emerged in Bishop Martyn’s Big Conversations? What have you found as you begin to treat our planet with respect and gentleness?

For me, seek represents curiosity in mission – about the people, place, space, context, community where God has put us.

Knock.

I have always had a fascination with doors. In our house we have a couple of prints of doors – one of vibrant, colourful, intriguing doors in Tunisia and another of the more imposing, heavy doors of Oxford colleges. What is behind the doors? That is what intrigues me.

Jesus assures us that if we knock, the door will be opened. This puts us in a position of vulnerability and also perhaps of risk. We do not know what is behind those doors. Again, it suggests a posture of curiosity – of wanting to find out more and one of hope – hoping to be received and welcomed.

Doorways imply thresholds and liminal spaces. We step over the doorway, that threshold from one place to another. Liminal spaces are places of risk, possibly of discomfort and vulnerability as we move from one place and space to another – not necessarily knowing what lies ahead. But that movement, that impetus to move forward into what might be unknown is the adventure of mission – the adventure of living.

As we have moved out, knocked on doors and taken risks, Christianity has become a world faith. Christianity is more vibrant and popular in the Majority World nowadays. The average Anglican in our world today is female, black, Bible-believing, young and very poor. This should give us pause for thought.

We know that Christianity thrives on the borderlands and on the edge – that is where our most creative theology happens. We need to move out, take risks and cross thresholds and boundaries, otherwise our faith will atrophy and die.

I think of the thresholds CMS mission partners have crossed over the centuries – those early mission partners who went to East Africa and took their coffins with them; or now serving faithfully as a medical doctor in rebel ridden Eastern Congo, or working quietly and sometimes behind closed doors with Muslim women, slowly introducing them to Jesus. Closer to home: starting a breakfast club in Hull, hosting a community for people with mental health issues in Cirencester, hanging out with steam punks. I think of a young woman in London who dreamed of opening doors into a better world to found Clean for Good, a cleaning company that provides work for cleaners with decent working conditions and pays the London Living Wage.

What doors can you knock on in your contexts, what thresholds can you cross, what doors can you throw open, to enable God’s reign to flourish, to kick-start God’s reign and to bring it to birth, to create a better world? Where are the borderlands where you can take risks, practise creativity and allow your imagination to flourish? What doors is God calling you to knock on? What doors is God asking you to open?

Jesus’ instruction to knock represents risk-taking in mission.

So when we see a door, or knock on a door or pass over a threshold, let’s think about God’s mission and our part in taking risks to usher in a new world of freedom, forgiveness, love and welcome, healing, wholeness and newness of life.

 

[1] Desmond Tutu in “Whither African Theology”, in E Fashole-Luke, (ed) Christianity in Independent Africa, (London:Collins, 1978)
[2] Stephen Bevans and Roger Schroeder, Prophetic Dialogue, Reflections on Christian Mission Today, (Maryknoll:Orbis, 2011), 32.

1 thought on “‘Ask, seek, knock’ as a posture for mission”

  1. Great words of encouragement! I can really relate to the ask seek and knock process in my current context as Pioneer Lay Mission worker serving in Paraguay and just entering my 2nd year as a CMS ESW – and about to enter through knocking on the door asking God for a future role here as Mission Partner and serving discipling, teaching and possibly as deacon among the young Py women here in my context at the christian school and Anglican chapel.

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