Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost – September 7, 2014
Text – Matthew 18:21-28
Pastor Craig Schultz

This morning I am focusing on the Gospel Lesson and a question that Jesus was asked by His disciples. I should warn you that my comments are going to be colored by the topics from the last four weeks. Dare I ask you what those were? (Radical Hospitality, Fearless Conversation, Genuine Humility, Divine Anticipation)

We encounter Jesus during the final weeks of His life. He has set His face toward Jerusalem knowing full well that He will be arrested, tried and put to death by crucifixion. He also trusts that His heavenly Father will not abandon Him to the grave but on the third day will raise Him from death giving Him victory over all His and our enemies. Even with that weighing on His mind and heart Jesus continues to look for ways to communicate to His disciples, to anyone who would follow Him through time into eternity what is means to live as a man, woman or child of faith in the kingdom.

One day while traveling along Jesus’ disciples asked, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” It is a bold question but at this point in their life together the disciples have enough trust that they can engage in conversations with Jesus without fear. They know they can ask Him anything at anytime. In our pre-service Bible Class we discussed the motivation behind such a question but for our purposes now let’s focus on the question itself. While it may not be exactly one that you have ever asked, I’m sure you have offered one that is similar, I’m sure that like me you have asked something like, “What must I do for God to think highly of me?” or “What is necessary for God to smile favorably on my life and loved ones?” Those are really the same question. We all want status, privilege, favors, even rewards for loyalty, time spent, deeds done and sacrifices made for God and our faith. I love the story of the preacher and the taxi driver who arrive at heaven at the same time. The preacher watches as the cabbie is welcomed, given a grand tour and escorted to a beautiful mansion. The preacher’s tour is brief and is shown to a very modest home. “I don’t understand,” he complains, “I’ve faithfully proclaimed God’s Word for 50 years, sacrificed for my family and did without so much, how could this lowly cab driver receive a better place than me?” His guide replied, “When you preached, people slept, when he drove, they prayed.” Greatness is measured differently by heaven.

What was Jesus’ answer to the disciples’ question? (Words and a child as an object) Does anyone read Divine anticipation or Divine Orchestration into this conversation? Is it just a coincidence that a child happened to be present for Jesus to utilize in His answer? I’m sure that God provided other objects/resources for Jesus to use then just as He does for us when we need them now. If you remember last week’s message you understand God is always present and providing ways to intervene in our times of struggle or questioning or rejoicing. We don’t see His helping hand because our eyes aren’t looking. Let’s focus for a few minutes on Jesus’ answer.

“Unless you change and become like little children . . . Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.”  What does Jesus say and what do His words mean to you? (“You change;” “you become like;” “humble like this child.”) Genuine humility is integral to kingdom living. So the better question for us to consider is how does a child exhibit humility in ways that adults do not?

Second Jesus said, “Whoever welcomes a little child like this in my name welcomes me. But if anyone causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a large millstone hung around his neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea. What does Jesus say and what do these words mean to you? (Pause to discuss) Again a critical piece for us to consider is “Why does He use the child?” Why not simply say that another key to greatness is practicing radical hospitality which in this context is welcoming everyone as we see Jesus doing? (Pause to discuss) What is the consequence of not welcoming or of offending another? It is to fall under the most serious judgment. Furthermore Jesus tells His followers to go to any measure necessary not to cause another to sin even to the point of dismembering yourself.

Bottom line – greatness is measured by a person’s childlike character (humility) and their attitude toward the child (hospitality). As you read further in the lesson it’s about seeking and engaging those who are lost (the unchurched and those who have wandered and are wandering from church) in conversation especially where sin has created a wall or gulf in the full anticipation that God will bring His grace to bear. Greatness is about putting the four acts of love into practice.

I’m sure you have noticed our new sign out by the road. It has been in place for 2-3 months now. Who can tell me what it says, other than the name and time of service? (Pause) There are three words that highlight who we are and what we want to accomplish – Worship, Connect and Serve. That means we are investing our time, prayers, energy and other resources in providing a meaningful time of worship where we can gather to receive the gifts of God’s grace and mercy and respond with our thanks, praise and petitions for His grace and mercy. That is a most important work and we want a worship environment that is hospitable, allows expression, is reverent toward God and expects the Holy Spirit to bless. Our second work is to connect with one another so that we might grow together in faith and love and learn under God’s Word and from one another how to be welcoming, humble, communicators of truth in love who look for God to act. Our third work is to serve God’s world, those people near and far who need to experience Christ’s love whether it be donating items, serving in a soup kitchen, working the Day of Caring, spending several days with Samaritan’s Purse or on a mission trip, so through our presence we might become someone’s path to Jesus.

Of the three, Serving is the only one that advances the kingdom. Unfortunately it falls furthest outside our comfort zone. That means we have to continue to find ways to make what is uncomfortable less so. For several months we have been working to begin a new outreach initiative here at New Hope that we are officially kicking off this Wednesday evening. It focuses on the Four Acts of Love and inviting mainly the unchurched community around us, friends and strangers alike to join us in this space for conversation and fellowship in the hopes of building relationships and the Holy Spirit creating faith. We have a good thing going here, not just this Church but the Gospel of Jesus Christ and we need to share Him and us. I’d like you to be a part of this bold outreach endeavor and believe that once you understand it and then experience it firsthand you will embrace it and be blessed by it. If you are available at 7 p.m. this Wednesday I would like to introduce you to this exciting ministry opportunity. I can promise you this that is will bring out the good child in all of us and put love in action.