Sermon for Pentecost 15 – 9.10.23

+ 15th Sunday after Pentecost – September 10th, 2023 +

Series A: Ezekiel 33:7-9; Romans 13:1-10; Matthew 18:1-20

Beautiful Savior Lutheran Church

Milton, WA

“Least Is Greatest”

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.

Movie goers will give you a list of the greatest movies of all time. Food critics love to tell you who has the best clam chowder or fish and chips. Sports fans debate who is the greatest player or team (in hockey it’s the Detroit Red Wings, by the way). No matter what your interest is or hobby is, we want to know, who’s the greatest?

The disciples were no different. “Who then is greatest in the kingdom of heaven?”

This question – who’s the greatest? – runs throughout today’s Gospel reading from Matthew 18. At first, it might seem like a loose collection of stories and teachings, but the theme of greatness in the kingdom of heaven ties all of them together. As the disciples quickly learn, greatness in the kingdom of heaven is completely different from their picture of greatness.

How did Jesus answer his disciples’ question, Who is the greatest? He took the last person someone in the first century would think of as the greatest, a child. In Jesus’ day children weren’t idealized like today. Children had no rights, were helpless and weak on their own; the most in need, and utterly dependent. Jesus says to his disciples, “Ok, guys, you want to know what greatness looks like…this is it right here. An utterly needy and dependent child.” That’s greatness. Not strength, success, or power. But littleness. Neediness. Having nothing on our own to claim. 

It’s really another way of saying that we live by grace, totally dependent upon our Heavenly Father, as children are upon their earthy parents. 

Greatness in the kingdom of heaven isn’t found by looking on your own greatness, but the greatness of God’s grace in Christ; And then, from Christ, to the greatness of other’s needs.

This is why Jesus speak a word of warning. Whoever causes one of these little ones – that is all who are dependent upon him, who believe and trust in him – whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in Me to sin, it is better for him that a heavy millstone be hung around his neck, and that he be drowned in the depths of the sea.

Jesus’ warning is stern. A calling for reflection and repentance. He’s correcting their error, their thinking that greatness is measured in the kingdom of heaven the same way it is in the world, by comparison and competition. Jesus teaches us that there is no room for pride and self-righteousness in the kingdom of heaven, that is the way that will cause others to sin, to stumble, and eventually would cause the ruin of his disciples. Instead, Jesus is teaching us to live, as Paul writes in Philippians, with humility, considering others as more important than ourselves (Philippians 2:3).

Greatness, according to Jesus, is found in compassion and ultimately in his cross. 

To be great in the kingdom of heaven is also to see ourselves as the little ones Jesus is concerned about. To see ourselves in the most need, utterly dependent upon Him. To see ourselves in the mirror of God’s Law completely ruined by sin. That’s the point of Jesus’ words when he says…

if your hand or your foot is causing you to sin, cut it off and throw it away from you; it is better for you to enter life maimed or without a foot, than to have two hands or two feet and be thrown into the eternal fire.

With these words, Jesus directs his disciples, and us, as we heard last week, to deny ourselves, take up our cross, and follow him. 

His words here about sin and our hands, feet, and eyes, isn’t about doing but trust. It’s not about chopping of hands and feet and gouging out eyes in order to become pleasing to God, it’s about how there is nothing you can do to become pleasing to God but you don’t have to. God has done what it takes for Him to be pleased with you. Jesus is teaching us not to look at our own greatness, but the greatness of his rescue and redemption on the cross.

To illustrate his point, Jesus tells a mini parable. If any man has a hundred sheep, and one of them goes astray, will he not leave the ninety-nine on the mountains, and go and search for the one that is lost? 13 And if it turns out that he finds it, truly I say to you, he rejoices over it more than over the ninety-nine that have not gone astray.

 

it is the joy of the Good Shepherd to seek and to save. It is precisely the sheep in its lostness that draws the seeking and saving attention of the Lord’s shepherding, and He is restless until we are found safe and sound, not wanting one of these little ones to perish.

Jesus, your Good shepherd was willing to lose all in order to save one who doesn’t deserve to be saved. You’re that sheep. He came to save you. Yes, the world, that’s nice. You. Specifically. You in your helplessness, your lostness, your death. For the joy set before Him, for the joy of returning you to the Father’s fold, for the joy of forgiving you, for the joy of your salvation, Jesus endured the cross and scorned its shame. He became Sin for you, He entered our wilderness of Sin and Death. He 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.

He sought you in His death and He found you. He baptized you. He absolved you. He 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. 

What is greatness in the kingdom of heaven? Christ’s sacrifice on the cross for you. Jesus’ compassion for you. God’s outrageous forgiveness for undeserving sinners.

God’s great and gracious forgiveness is the center of the kingdom of heaven, the work of God in Christ for us…and forgiveness is also at the heart of our lives together as his people, as a congregation. Forgiveness, not our own greatness, is to mark our lives together. If your brother or sister sins against you, go to him. The world would have you go to get even. Christ would have you go to forgive as you have been forgiven. Go to him. Tell him with the intent and purpose of forgiving. If he refuses, bring a couple of others. The whole church, if necessary. In the kingdom of heaven, greatness is seen in forgiveness and in reconciliation when we have sinned against one another. There, in the midst of forgiving one another as Christ has forgiven us, that’s where Jesus promises to be present.

Who’s the greatest in the kingdom of heaven? Jesus has shown us that greatness is seen in a little child, lost sheep, two or three Christians gathered around forgiveness, and in the crucified Savior who gives his great and gracious forgiveness in humble water, word, bread and wine.

The peace of God which surpasses all understanding will guard and keep you in Christ Jesus to life everlasting. Amen. 

Beautiful Savior

is a traditional Lutheran Church, faithful to God's Word and His Sacraments. We equip God's people to serve, love, and encourage one another as we grow in our personal relationship with Christ. We reach out to the community as beacons of light, sharing the love of God in Christ Jesus, our Savior.

Church Office Hours

Monday - Thursday 8:30am-3:30pm

Friday 8:30am-11:30am

The office is closed on Fridays during the summer months of June, July, and August.

Preschool Office Hours

August - May
Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday
8:30am-12:30pm

By appointment only June and July

Contact

Address
2306 Milton Way
Milton, WA 98354
Phone
(253) 922-6977
Fax
(253) 922-6977