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Pentecost 14 2020 Proper 18
Immanuel Lutheran Church, Hamilton, Ohio
Pastor Kevin Jud 
September 5-6, 2020
Ezekiel 33:7-9. Romans 13:1-10, Matthew 18:1-20

Sermons online: 
Text and Audio:         immanuelhamiltonchurch.com   click “sermons”
Text:                            pastorjud.org   
Audio:                         pastorjud.podbean.com 
itunes:                         bit.ly/pastorjud
Full Service Audio:    bit.ly/ImmanuelWorship

            Have you ever been to the Emergency Room at the hospital?  It can often take hours and hours to be seen by the doctor. You sit patiently for hours and then someone else comes in and suddenly there is a swarm of people around them working feverishly.  What is the difference?  It doesn’t matter how long you have been waiting.  The person with the greatest need is the most important.

            What is the Church?  Is the Church a museum for saints or a hospital for sinners?  This is something we can get confused about. It is something the disciples are getting confused about in our Gospel reading today.  Matthew 18:1 (ESV) 1 At that time the disciples came to Jesus, saying, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?”[1] Who is the greatest?  Who is the most important?  These are normal, natural human questions.  Who is the best?  Who is number one?  Who is Jesus’ favorite?

            We are, sadly, way too much like the disciples.  We also like to know who is the greatest.  Who is the most important in your department at work?  Who has the highest grades in your class?  Who is the best on your team?  Who has things the most together in your extended family?  Pastors measure themselves against other pastors by the size of our congregations.

            And then there is the natural, opposite classification.  Who is the least important?  Who is failing?  Who is the worst?  Whose life is falling apart?  Who can I look down on and feel better about myself? 

            You meet a new group of people and you start to classify and sort people into these categories of best and worst.  It is way too easy to do this also in the Church.  Who is the greatest?  Who is the least?  We check out other people and size them up based on their looks or clothing or how they sing or how their kids behave and we want to try to figure it out.  Who is the greatest?

            The disciples want to know who is the greatest and Jesus tells them that they have it all wrong.  Matthew 18:2-4 (ESV) 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.[2]

            Children, especially in Jesus’ time, are needy, helpless, vulnerable and powerless. There are some nowadays who almost idolize children, but they are still needy, helpless, vulnerable and powerless. If you hear that an adult is lost in the woods you get a little concerned.  If you hear that a 3-year-old is lost in the woods you become very concerned.  That child needs help.  Right away.

            This is revolutionary teaching.  This turns what is considered “normal” on its head.  The world teaches that you get what you deserve.  You get what you earn.  Jesus gives you what you don’t deserve and He doesn’t give you what you earn.

            The disciples are worried about who is the greatest.  Jesus tells greatest one is the one who knows that he is needy, helpless, vulnerable and powerless.  This brings us back to the Sermon on the Mount.  Matthew 5:3 (ESV) 3 “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.[3] The world is very worried about greatness; Jesus blesses those who know they are helpless; who know they cannot do it on their own.  You want to pretend that you have life pretty much together, but you know, as hard as it is to admit, that you are needy, helpless, vulnerable and powerless.  This is what Jesus calls you to do.  Whoever humbles himself like a child is the greatest.  Blessed are the poor in spirit.

            This is revolutionary teaching.  This turns what is considered “normal” on its head.  The world teaches that you get what you deserve.  You get what you earn.  Jesus gives you what you don’t deserve and He doesn’t give you what you earn.

            Christianity is counter-cultural.  Out of love, God sends Jesus to be the sacrificial Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world on the cross.  Being the Christ means suffering, dying and rising from the dead.  Jesus pays the price for your sins and Jesus gives this gift to you; free of charge.  You cannot buy it.  You cannot earn it.  Jesus gives it to those who know they are in need.

            The devil so much wants to get you to look down others and build yourself up.  The devil wants you to stay away from church because of all those hypocrites.  “They say they are Christians, but they are just a bunch of sinners.”  That is absolutely correct.  This is a gathering of sinners…and there is always room for one more.  When you are at church the devil wants you to look around and judge the others; look down on the others.  The devil wants you to think you are better than them.  The devil wants you to pray, “thank God I am not like that person.”  That is the devil trying to keep you from the forgiveness of sins.

            We welcome sinners to gather with us to receive God’s gifts.  We welcome sinners, but we can never welcome or encourage sin.  The devil wants to tempt you to embrace sin, share sin, and pull others into sin.  The devil wants you to get so used to sin that it becomes part of your identity and you want to invite others to participate with you. 

            You are a baptized child of God.  Sin does comes naturally, but it is not who you are.  Sin comes naturally, but it is still evil. Jesus clearly warns against causing others to sin.  Matthew 18:5-7 (ESV) 5 “Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me, 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. 7 “Woe to the world for temptations to sin! For it is necessary that temptations come, but woe to the one by whom the temptation comes![4]

            Is the Church a museum for saints or a hospital for sinners? You know the answer…because you are here.  You are here to receive God’s gifts.  You are gathered to hear the words of absolution.  You are here to receive Jesus’ body and blood for the forgiveness of your sins.  You are here to receive the medicine of eternal life.  This is indeed a hospital for sinners and the greatest one here is the one who needs forgiveness the most.

In order to illustrate that we are indeed, by nature, sinful and unclean I sometimes say, “Imagine you have an IPad on your chest and the IPad reveals your thoughts to those around you.  It is a window revealing your inner self to the world.  What would you do?  I would run away pretty fast.

            Now, if everyone had one of these, one thing that it would do is show you that you are not alone in your struggles.  You are not the lone, sick sinner in a museum of saints.  It would show you that the church is indeed a hospital for sinners.  No one has it all together.  No one is being good enough.  We all struggle together.  A question like, “Who is the greatest?” is just the wrong question. 

            When someone in the ER is surrounded by doctors and nurses and technicians they are the most important person in the room at that moment. They are the most important because they have the greatest need; their life hangs in the balance.  When you gather here to receive God’s forgiveness the one who needs forgiveness the most is the most important, because they have the greatest need; their eternal life hangs in the balance.

            Be honest about your battle with sin.  Know your sin.  Name your sin.  Struggle against sin.  Cut it out of your life no matter how painful.  The struggle against sin is humbling because is marked by consistent failure.  It shows you that you are needy, helpless, vulnerable and powerless; like a little child. It shows you that you need Jesus. 

You need Jesus and you have come to the right place.  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

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

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