child_7740Pentecost 14 2017, Proper 18
Immanuel Lutheran Church, Hamilton, Ohio
Pastor Kevin Jud
September 10, 2017
Psalm 32:1-7, Ezekiel 33:7-9, Romans 13:1-10, Matthew 18:1-20

Sermons online:
Text:                            pastorjud.org
Audio:                         pastorjud.podbean.com
itunes:                         bit.ly/pastorjud
Full Service Audio:    bit.ly/ImmanuelWorship

Here we are on the first Sunday of the 2017-18 NFL football season.  It is a wonderful day as the Bengals and Browns are both undeafeated (and the Patriots are in last place).  So, speaking of football, who is the greatest Bengals player of all times?  Boomer Esiason, Ken Anderson, Anthony Munoz?  Who is the greatest NFL player of all times?  Walter Peyton, Joe Montana, Jerry Rice, Jim Brown?  Who is the greatest?  I’m sure we could generate a lot of conversation on that topic…I would contribute very little as I would be partial to John Riggins, Joe Theisman and the like.

Who is the greatest basketball player?  Jordan, Lebron, Curry?

What about baseball?  Hockey?  Soccer?  Who is the greatest?

Boxing that’s a no-brainer; he told us repeatedly.

Who is the greatest?  Who is the most powerful, the strongest, the fastest, the most talented?

Who is the greatest at your school?  Who is the greatest at your place of work?  Who is the greatest here at Immanuel Lutheran Church and School?  Matt Franke the President?  Dan Heitger the head elder?  The principal?  The pastor?  The organist?  The one who volunteers the most?  The one who gives the most offering?  Who is the greatest?  We so easily fall into the trap of determining who is the greatest by the world’s standards of greatness.  Power, strength, speed, talent, wealth, and independence, these are the world’s measures of greatness; just like the disciples.

Matthew 18:1-4 (ESV) 1 At that time the disciples came to Jesus, saying, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” 2 And calling to him a child, he put him in the midst of them 3 and said, “Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. 4 Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.[1]

The world measures greatness by power, strength, speed, talent, wealth and independence.  Jesus measures greatness by humility, weakness, neediness, vulnerability, dependence.  The one who is greatest is the one who becomes like a child.  Children know they are needy and dependent.  The greatest one at Immanuel is the one who struggles mightily with sin and knows he cannot do in on his own.  The greatest at Immanuel is one who knows she needs Jesus.  The greatest at Immanuel is the one who knows he is dependent on Jesus alone.

Children know they are dependent.  Children know they are needy.  Children also know how to receive gifts.  The older we get the harder it is to receive.

Picture this; it is December 24th at 11:30 AM.  You are hard at work in your cubicle trying to tie up a couple of loose ends before you get to leave at noon for early closing on Christmas Eve.  You hang up the phone and look up and there is Randy; the guy from down the hall in accounting.  Randy is a great guy but he is doing something awful.  He is holding a wonderful-looking plate of homemade Christmas Candies arranged beautifully around an expensive scented candle.  “Merry Christmas!” he says.  This is awful.  Why?  Because you didn’t get Randy anything and now there is no time to get him anything and if you tried to get him something it would just be so obvious you hadn’t planned to get him anything.  If he gives you a gift, now you are obligated to give him something.  You kind of get mad at Randy for being so insensitive to your need to be independent.

When you are a child you look forward to your birthday and Christmas because you get to receive gifts from your parents and grandparents and others.  When a child receives a gift they just receive it and enjoy it without feeling like they owe the giver anything in return except a thank you.

Like a child needs her parents, you need God.  You need God to give you the gift of forgiveness even though you have nothing to give God in return.

Grown-ups have trouble with acknowledging that we are indeed dependent.  We want to be independent and not have to rely on anyone.  There is a movement to be off the grid and not even use electricity.  One of the worst things about getting sick or injured is becoming dependent on others to help you do what you used to do for yourself.

You want to pretend we are independent, but you are dependent.  Like a child needs her parents, you need God.  You need God to give you the gift of forgiveness even though you have nothing to give God in return.  You need Jesus’ forgiveness even though the only thing you have to give to God is your stinking, rancid pile of sin.  It is hard to admit that pile of sin is yours.

It is hard to admit that you are by nature sinful and unclean.  It is hard to admit that you sin in your thoughts, words and deeds.  It is hard to admit that you are in bondage to sin and cannot free yourself.  You want to believe that you are good enough.  You want to believe that you may not be perfect, but you’re not such a bad person.  You want to believe that you are good with God because you do enough good stuff to outweigh the bad stuff.  You want to believe that you are good enough, but that is not true.

You are a sinner who needs Jesus.  You need Jesus on the cross for you.  You need Jesus to suffer and die for you.  You are a sinner who must struggle daily and mightily against sin in your own life.  There is such temptation from the devil, the world and your own sinful nature to experiment with sin, indulge in sin, immerse yourself in sin.  Two or three gathered in Jesus’ name have power against sin.  Two or three gathered outside of Jesus’ name far too often promote sin.  You get with others in person or online and you are pushed toward sin.  Kids get together at sleep overs and push each other toward sin.  The whole purpose of game of truth or dare is to get you to say things you shouldn’t say or do things you shouldn’t do.  There is a lot of peer pressure to give in to sin.  To drink too much, to use filthy language, to go with the boys to a “gentlemen’s” club where women are turned into objects.  There is great pressure to just go with the flow and adopt the world’s sexual ethic rather than God’s plan of husband and wife in a lifelong marriage.  There is pressure to give up on gathering together on Sunday morning so you can do something more entertaining or sleep off your overindulgence from the night before or just have a day off.  There is great pressure on you to cheat; to lie; to gossip; to hate.  And so you must daily battle sin in your life so that it does not take root and grow.

And be super on guard against causing others to sin.  Matthew 18:6 (ESV) 6 but whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a great millstone fastened around his neck and to be drowned in the depth of the sea. [2]

When you get caught up in a sin it is very tempting to want to share that sin with others and bring them into it.  Misery and naughtiness both love company.  When we learn a new sin we are so tempted to teach others.  Someone else taught you that sin, and you taught it to others.  Far too often people gather together for evil rather than good.  Do not be one of them.  Do not bring sin to others.  Battle sin in your own life while it is still just a thought so it does not spill over into words and deeds.  Do not share sin.  Do not teach sin.  Do not cause one of Jesus’ little ones to sin.  That is from the devil.  Be diligent in your life to reduce sin in the world and not to increase it.  Be especially careful around new believers and hurting believers and those who struggle.  Be careful around the little ones in the literal and the figurative sense.

The battle against sin is difficult and painful.  It hurts to fight sin; it hurts to give up a sin.  Jesus knows this.  But avoiding pain is no excuse.  Jesus teaches:  Matthew 18:8-9 (ESV) 8 And if your hand or your foot causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life crippled or lame than with two hands or two feet to be thrown into the eternal fire. 9 And if your eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life with one eye than with two eyes to be thrown into the hell of fire. [3]

Jesus is using hyperbole here.  He is exaggerating to make a point.  Nowhere in scripture do we see anyone getting their hands cut off or eyes gouged out to fight sin.  But He is a deadly serious in the call to battle sin in your life.  When sin becomes a regular part of your life it is painful to remove it.  But it is better for you to feel the pain of removing a sin than to be thrown into the hell of fire.  You are not called to disfigure yourself, but you are called to cut sin out of your life; no matter how painful that will be.

Sin is dangerous; sin leads you to hell.  Sin can lead your brothers and sisters in Christ away from God and onto the road to hell.  As a member of this congregation it is your duty and my duty to warn each other about sin consistently and patiently so that sin does not gain a foothold in our congregation.

This congregation does not exist to increase sin in the world, but to forgive sin.  This congregation; the church and the school together is here to pour out the forgiveness of sins won for you by Jesus on the cross of Calvary.  This congregation exists to forgive sins and reduce the sin in the world.  So we battle sin and division in our midst so the devil does not get a foothold to tear us apart.  This is a congregation for sinners, but it is not a congregation for sin.

Who is the greatest here at Immanuel?  The one who knows she needs Jesus.  The one who knows he is dependent on God.  The one who knows that the battle against sin is not going well.  The one who feels the guilt and shame of their sin.  Know that you are the greatest in the kingdom of heaven when you know you are a poor, weak, lowly sinner who needs Jesus.  Indeed, you need Jesus, and Jesus is here for you.

Amen.

 

[1]  The Holy Bible : English Standard Version. Wheaton : Standard Bible Society, 2001

 

[2]  The Holy Bible : English Standard Version. Wheaton : Standard Bible Society, 2001

 

[3]  The Holy Bible : English Standard Version. Wheaton : Standard Bible Society, 2001

 

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