Pentecost 17 B 2021 Little Children Sermon
Grace to you and peace, from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
Sometimes we adults say cruel things and we do not even realize it. When I was in seminary, I would often supply preach and lead worship at congregations around the Austin area. One morning I witnessed something that made my mouth drop. The fellowship hall was full of children, and I made the comment that it was great that the congregation had so many children in attendance.
After I said this, one elderly lady looked at me and said: “The kids are not here to worship God, they are here for the free food.”
The remark caught me off guard, and it bothered me for the rest of the day. At the time, the congregation was struggling with attendance and searching for ways to connect with the neighborhood. Unfortunately, the congregation did not recognize the gift they had to offer for the neighborhood where they were located. A few years later, the congregation closed due to a decline in attendance and limited resources.
As I read the Gospel text this past week, I was reminded again of the incident that I just spoke about, but also about the love that Jesus had for children even though children were held in low esteem in first century Palestine.
In fact, when we read the New Testament, we find that Jesus blessed and honored and welcomed children into His presence with open arms on many occasions.
Who can forget Christ’s Words when He said “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.” Matthew 19:13
Yes, Jesus loved children and Jesus included children in His ministry. And today we hear that Jesus lifted a child to make a point about greatness in the Kingdom of God.
Why? Because after listening to His disciples arguing among themselves about which one of them was the greatest, Jesus raised up a child to neutralize their false sense of power and importance.
And then He said: “Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me.”
These Words today give us great insight into Jesus and His ministry. For you see, in Christ’s day, children were thought to have potential, but had no immediate value. Children were viewed as powerless, vulnerable, and, in many ways, invisible. In fact, slaves were more valued than children.
And so, in choosing a child to demonstrate greatness, Jesus called attention to the one who in His society could do nothing. And Jesus was telling his disciples that to be great in the way God measures greatness, that person must be willing to welcome the poor and the ordinary and people who need things done for them.
In short, Jesus is driving home the point that when we take time to care for the powerless and the child-like in our midst, we are in fact welcoming Him. Therefore, how we treat each other is important. If we ignore the plight of others, we are not living Christ centered lives.
We need to get beyond the earthly understanding of greatness and begin to foster the kind of humility that was forever carved into the essence of Christianity from Philippians which states: “Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being born in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death – even death on a cross.” Philippians 2:4-8
Our text today calls us to a special kind of greatness – a greatness that honors the powerless, the needy, and the childlike; a greatness that moves us off the throne in order that Jesus may truly be the King of Kings and Lord of our lives; a greatness that models the sacrifice of people like Mother Theresa, who gave up everything to serve the poor.
Jesus said: “Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all.” And “Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me.”
Calvary Lutheran Church, I am convinced that when our life ends, we will not remember the wealth we have accumulated, the honors we have received, the properties we have owned, or the luxuries we have enjoyed. What we will remember is the love we have shared, the lives we have changed, and the joy we have enabled.
My hope then for each of us at the end of our lives is that we will have achieved greatness, as our Lord has defined greatness. And then in the fullness of time, I trust we will hear those glorious words: “Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you… inasmuch as you have done it to one of the least of these my children you have done it to me.”
Let us pray: O God, we thank you for your Son who chose the path of suffering for the sake of the world. Humble us by His example, point us to the path of obedience, and give us the strength to follow His commands, through your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.