Sermon for Pentecost 14 – September 6, 2020
+ 14th Sunday after Pentecost – September 6th, 2020 +
Series A: Ezekiel 33:7-9; Romans 13:1-10; Matthew 18:1-20
Beautiful Savior Lutheran
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
“Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?”, the disciples asked Jesus.
It’s a rather odd question if you think about the context. Jesus just finished telling his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer an be killed and raised on the third day. “What does this mean?”, the disciples wonder. Suffering? Death? That’s sounds so depressing. Let’s change the subject to something happier. Let’s talk about the kingdom of heaven instead. And who do you think will be number one?”
How would you define greatness? Wealth like someone in the Fortune 500? Power and influence like politicians and celebrities? Good looks like the wicked Queen sought after in Snow White…”mirror, mirror on the wall, who’s the fairest of them all?”
“Who is the greatest?” We tend to think of greatness in terms of achievement and accomplishment. Greatness is winning, not losing; success, not failure; power, not weakness. That’s greatness, at least in the kingdom of this world. But what about greatness in the kingdom of heaven?
And calling to him a child, Jesus put him in the midst of them and said, “Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.
Greatness in a child? Seems like a rather foolish, weak, and lowly example of greatness. You see, in the first century children were considered lowly, and utterly dependent – the opposite of great in most peoples’ minds.
But the kingdom of heaven isn’t measured by achievement. It’s not about the greatness of our religious works or accomplishments, but the greatness found in little and lowly things: a baby born in a manger, a man crucified on the cross. For Jesus teaches the kingdom of heaven greatness is found in littleness.
Why does Jesus put forth a child as an example of the kingdom of heaveb? They live by grace through faith (trust) in another. They’re “giveable to,” on the receiving end of everything, utterly dependent.
This makes a child a perfect picture of faith. The greatness of faith, trust in Jesus is found in what He has done for you and what He gives to you, that’s greatness in the kingdom of heaven.
Unless we turn and change our way of looking at things, unless we become little we cannot know the greatness of the kingdom of heaven. C.S. puts it this way, “humility is not thinking less of yourself, but thinking of yourself less.” John the Baptist said the same thing, “Jesus must increase; I must decrease.”
But this was the disciples’ problem; it’s ours too. We want to increase. We want to be great. We want to be kings of our own kingdoms, whether it’s in Christ’s kingdom, or in our daily kingdoms we live in in this world. In other words, we fear, love, and trust in ourselves. We are our own worst idols. Such is our sinful delusion of grandeur. We are only the greatest at one thing: the greatest of all sinners.
We are the lost sheep in the parable. We are curved inward on ourselves, in love with our own sinful thoughts, desires, and deeds. We are dead in our trespasses and sin. We are the ones who deserve to have the millstone hung around our necks and be cast into the depths of the sea.
Thankfully, however, the kingdom of heaven isn’t about our greatness, or our anything at all.
In the Kingdom of heaven, Humility and littleness are greatness. Little and lowly ones are exalted. Lost are found. Losers are winners. Failures are victorious. The last are first. The least are the greatest. The guilty go free. Sinners are justified.
Jesus drives the point home with a parable. “What do you think? If a man has a hundred sheep and one of them goes away, doesn’t he leave the ninety-nine on the mountain and go searching for the lost one?” Well, what do you think? The world would tend to write that one sheep off as dead.
And yet it’s the joy of the Good Shepherd to seek and to save the lost. He is restless until we are found safe and sound, not wanting one of these little ones to perish.
This is why Jesus became a little child for you so that in his dying and rising he would call you children of the heavenly Father. Jesus who knew no sin became sin for you. Jesus became the least, the last, the lowly, and the loser to place you at his table in the marriage supper of the Lamb.
Jesus became the stumbling block, the stone the builders of Israel rejected. Jesus died the cursed death so that you, baptized and believing as one of His little ones, might enter the kingdom of heaven through the small and narrow door of His death and resurrection. Jesus took the millstone of death and our lawlessness and hung it around is own neck, so that he would cast all your sin into the abyss of his tomb.
Jesus sought you in His death and He found you. He baptized you. He absolves you. You feeds you. He sustains you. He carries you to the flock of His Father’s kingdom with the joy of a shepherd who has just found His favored, lost sheep.
This is what true greatness looks like, Jesus crucified for you. The love of God in Christ revealed in the shepherd who is willing to lose everything in order to save you. You’re that sheep. He came to save you in your helplessness, lostness, death. For the joy set before Him, for the joy of returning you to the Father’s fold, Jesus endured the cross and scorned its shame.
Jesus wins by losing; accomplishes victory for you by defeat; and brings us his great salvation through his humility.
Who is the greatest? A little child, a lost sheep, a congregation of two or three, a crucified Savior who comes in the humility of simple water, spoken words, bread and wine. In Jesus there is greatness in littleness.
In the Name of + Jesus. Amen.
The peace of God which surpasses all understanding will guard and keep you in Christ Jesus. Amen.