September 6, 2011 @ 10:23 am
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, The disciples came to Jesus asking the question, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” Jesus gave them an answer, but it’s not who you would think. That question is one that is one our minds all the time. The College football season kicked off yesterday with teams taking to gridiron, squaring off against one another so that they could answer that very question: who is the greatest. There are all kind of awards that are given out to prove it. National Championships, the Heisman Trophy, The Vince Lombardi award, individual teams play for bragging rights in a given rivalry. It’s all about who’s the greatest. But it’s not just in sports. We do that in life as well. We want to be the best and claim we are the greatest. Mommies at a play date will brab about how advanced their son or daughter is. Kids compare grades on assignments, Dad’s and farmers brag about their tools and their machines. Everyone is looking to be or prove that they are in some way the greatest. The disciples wanted to be the greatest in the kingdom of Heaven. We want to be the greatest is our own little corner of the world. Jesus tells us we’ve got to change. “Who is the Greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven?” “Unless you turn and become like children you won’t even make it in.” That was a bit of a shocker. After all, the disciples were talking about being the greatest – thinking one of them would be in line for second in command. They were assuming they were in, they were assuming they were going to be big shots in Jesus’ kingdom, they were assuming that greatness was theirs and they just wanted to know who was greatest among the great. And here Jesus pulls the rug completely out from under them and tells them that if they even want to make it in to heaven they will have completely change, completely reorient their way of thinking and completely rearrange who they are. “Turn and become like a child.” In an adult world Children are not great. We love our children. We cherish our children. But our children have not yet learned the wisdom of the world. There are many things that they do not understand, so in an adult world, children don’t have a voice. They can’t vote. They can’t sign a legal contract. They can’t decide who will be their legal guardians. They are small, legally we call them “minors”. Personally adults look past them when they make their life’s decisions or set their life’s goals. Jesus says we must turn and become like this, we must change who we are with our continual quest for the self. We must empty our selves and make ourselves minor, little, small, of little importance and then we are beginning to think in the right direction, then, maybe then we might make it in to the kingdom of heaven. Usually when it comes to greatness, the idea of being great appeals to us because of all the attention it will earn for us. Wealth and honor and fame and fortune – those things all go along with greatness. Jesus tells us that in the Kingdom of Heaven there are those who are great. There are those who we should consider as worthy of greater attention and greater honor. But again, it’s not who we think it would be. In our frame of reference, and according to our worldly thinking, the greatest and those most deserving of honor have earned their greatness. They are great because of what they have done. Not so in the kingdom of heaven. The greatest is the least. The most humble, the most down and out, the lowest, the least, the smallest, the most insignificant. The one who is hurting the most, suffering the greatest, this one is the one most deserving of honor. Paul the Apostle says this very thing. In 1 Corinthians 12 he uses the metaphor of a body to describe the Church. We are the body of Christ, with Christ as the head and the rest of us as those parts that work together to form the body. 21The eye cannot say to the hand, "I have no need of you," nor again the head to the feet, "I have no need of you." 22On the contrary, the parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, 23and on those parts of the body that we think less honorable we bestow the greater honor, and our unpresentable parts are treated with greater modesty, 24which our more presentable parts do not require. But God has so composed the body, giving greater honor to the part that lacked it, 25that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another. 26If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together. (1 Corinthians 12:21-26) You see, life together in the body of Christ is not like life together out there in the world. Life together as Christians is a life of service and sacrifice and love. And so in our text Jesus teaches us what it means to live that life together in the body of Christ, in the Church of God, in the Kingdom of Heaven. Life together in the Kingdom of Heaven means that we look out for one another. You look out for one another. Look around you. This is the Kingdom of Heaven. These are the people you are responsible for. In our text, Jesus tells you how to treat them. The first thing he says is don’t lead any one of them into sin. Temptations to sin will come. They are inevitable. But don’t be the source of the temptation. Don’t be the sticking point, the fly in the ointment, that makes someone say, “Christians are awful people.” “St Paul Chuckery is an awful place. And here’s why… And then someone goes on and tells a story about you. Sometimes it happens that Christians suffer for doing good. Sometimes it happens you do the right thing or say the right thing and that is what causes the offense. That’s one thing. What Jesus is talking about here is doing the wrong thing, sinning against someone, being rude or offensive by your words or behavior and causing someone to stumble. There will be stumbling blocks in the path of any Christian. Don’t you be a stumbling block. Don’t cause a weak and suffering brother or sister to sin, don’t make the suffering worse or greater, don’t drive someone out or away from the Kingdom of Heaven because of your bad or sinful behavior. The second thing Jesus commands us to do is to watch out for those who are weak, those who are stumbling or have stumbled, and when they fall away, it is our duty to go get them. It is your duty to go get them. Again, back to 1 Corinthians 12. “If someone says ‘because I am not a hand I am no longer a part of the body.’ They do not cease to be a part of the body.” (1 Corinthians 12:15) Christians can’t amputate themselves from the body of Christ. They get sick. They get injured. But if you smash your thumb with a hammer, the rest of your body hurts and the rest of your body bandages and tends to that injured thumb. In the very same way, when one of the members of the body of Christ is injured, you don’t let her amputate herself, you go after her, you tend to her, you care for her, you nurse her back to spiritual health. Or, in the words of Jesus, “If a man has a hundred sheep and one of them has gone astray does he not leave the 99 on the mountains and go in search of that one who went away.” Go find the lost and the wayward sheep. Go tend to the injured members of our body. Don’t wait for someone else to do it. It’s your job. You do it. The third thing Jesus tells us has to do with restoring your brother. Christians are sinners. We are sinful people and Christians sin against each other. It is our duty to go after them. Often it happens that the first thing people think to do is to tell the church, tell the pastor, tell the elders. Jesus says that the first thing to do is to go talk to that person, the one who has wandered. The one who is weak, the one who needs to be restored. The first thing to do is to go talk to him alone. Go in love and gentleness the way you would tend to your injured thumb. Show him his fault. Do your best to gently steer him back and win him back. This is a far cry from what we often will do, criticizing him, sharing his faults with others, publicly running him down. That is how the world handles sin. That is how the world keeps people in line or addresses faults and issues. There is a pecking order. There is a hierarchy. There is a chain of command. Great, greater, greatest. Jesus says no. The greatest in the kingdom of heaven is the one who has the greatest need, who is suffering, who is grieved, who is lowly, who is least. This is the one we treat with the greatest honor, the greatest love, the greatest care. This is the one we devote our attention to. Why? Because Jesus has devoted his attention to us. Heaven is a kingdom. A kingdom has a king. The king of heaven is Jesus. And Jesus has made himself your servant. Jesus who is the greatest has made himself the least, suffering for his subjects by dying for them on the cross. Jesus has suffered for you, for your sin. When you were weak, when you were most in need of saving he came to you to call you to faith and to cover your sin so that you could receive his grace and his mercy and his forgiveness. He has covered your sin with his sacrifice and he has given to you his perfect righteousness. The way of the world is to strive for greatness. Be better than anybody else, be the biggest, the best, be a star. The Kingdom of Heaven throws that model out the window. The least is the greatest, the most shamed is treated with the greatest honor. The broken, the wayward the erring, these are the ones Jesus has come to save. Jesus has saved us. He has honored us with his love and compassion. Let us likewise honor each other. Amen.