Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Sermon for Sunday, March 2, 2008

Who Is the Greatest
Matthew 18:1-4; Matthew 20:17-28

In Jesus’ day, a child had no status at. The child was regarded as a second-class citizen. So, you might imagine the shock when Jesus says, “Unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the Kingdom of Heaven. Whoever is humble like a child is the greatest in the Kingdom” This must have been a stunning statement to the disciples. Jesus says, “Anyone who wants to be first must be last, like these children. The one who wants to be great must be willing to accept him or herself as being of little account–to be regarded as unimportant. Anyone who welcomes one of these despised little children welcomes me, and therefore also welcome God.”

Jesus’ words I got me thinking about our own children. What can our children teach us about faith? A Sunday School teacher named Mrs. Imogene Frost’s once asked her 10-year-old students to answer this question: “What’s wrong with grownups?” they came up with these complaints:
· Grownups make promises, then they forget all about them, or else they say it wasn’t really a promise, just a maybe.
· Grownups don’t do the things they’re always telling the children to do—like pick up their things, or be neat, or always tell the truth.
· Grownups never really listen to what children have to say. They always decide ahead of time what they’re going to answer.
· Grownups make mistakes, but they won’t admit them. They always pretend that they weren’t mistakes at all—or that somebody else made them.
· Grownups interrupt children all the time and think nothing of it. If a child interrupts a grownup, the kid gets a scolding or something worse.
· Grownups never understand how much children want a certain thing—a certain color or shape or size. If it’s something they don’t admire—even if the children have spent their own money for it—they always say, “I can’t imagine what you want with that old thing!”
· Grownups are always talking about what they did and what they knew when they were 10 years old—but they never try to think what it’s like to be 10 years old right now.
When it comes to following Christ, maybe we can begin by re-learning some of the basic lessons we teach our own children:

Lesson #1: Take responsibility for your actions. In 1980 a Boston court acquitted Michael Tindall of bringing flying drugs into the United States. Tindall’s attorneys argued that he was a victim of “action addict syndrome,” an emotional disorder that makes a person crave dangerous, thrilling situations. Tindall was not a drug dealer, merely a thrill seeker. My favorite illness is the famous “Twinkie syndrome.” After Dan White murdered San Francisco mayor George Moscone, White’s attorneys blamed the crime on emotional stress linked to his junk food binges. White was acquitted of murder and convicted on a lesser charge of manslaughter. Nowadays, nobody’s at fault for anything. We are a nation of victims. Yet, we teach our children to ‘fess up when they do something wrong. Don’t make excuses. Don’t blame others. Admit your mistakes, apologize, and ask for forgiveness. People with great faith don’t hide from their mistakes. They take responsibility for their actions. It takes humility to do that. It also wins the respect of others.

Lesson #2: Keep your promises. When I was a child, I was invited to Bobbie Mueller’s birthday party. I didn’t have anything better to do, so I accepted the invitation. A few days later I got invited to an amusement park with some really cool kids. I said I would definitely be there. There was no way I could pass up a chance to be at a fun place with the popular kids whom I admired. There was no way, that is, until my parents found out about my plans. Guess where I ended up. I gave my promise to Bobbie Mueller. So I was marched by parental force to Bobbie’s lame old birthday party. We teach our kids has to make and keep realistic promises. When we keep our promises, we win influence with others. People know we can be trusted. Our ability to keep promises is a measure of our integrity.

Lesson #3: Be nice. How often have you said that to a child? I’ve actually heard parents say to a kid, “Be nice, OR ELSE!” Have you ever been to a park and watched a parent ruthlessly scold a kid for nothing? Sometimes I want to be just go up to the parent and say, “Be kind!” Refraining from being unkind when you are tired or provoked is perhaps the highest form of self-mastery. If we can’t restrain ourselves, we end up taking our frustrations out on others. If we can be emotionally generous during the tough times, we show courage, character, and dignity.

Lesson #4: Obey your parents. A story is told of a conversation on a cockpit voice recording. The tapes record a chilling scene: We hear the pilot’s children getting a flying lesson just before the Aeroflot jet crashed in Siberia. The transcript of the final minutes before crash reveal the captain shouting, “Get out! Get out!” More than a dozen times the pilot yelled at his son, who was in the captain’s seat when the plane began to plunge. The deciding act occurred when the boy asked, “Daddy, can I turn this?” as his foot “accidentally pushed the right pedal, sending the aircraft into an irreversible spin.” We tell children to obey, sometimes as a matter of life or death. We are also called to obey God’s expectations of us as interpreted by Jesus.

To make a point, let me give you a little quiz. Two, actually.
Quiz 1
1. Name the MVPs of the last World Series, Super Bowl, Stanley Cup finals, and NBA finals.
2. Name the winner of the last Heisman Trophy.
3. Name the winner of the last Miss America contest.
4. Name five Nobel or Pulitzer prize winners.
5. Name five winners of this year’s Academy Awards.
6. Name the winner of the largest state lottery in history.
7. Name the winner of the last Indianapolis 500 or Kentucky Derby.
8. Name five winners of this year’s Grammy Awards.

Quiz 2
1. Name a teacher who has helped you learn and grow as a person.
2. Name five friends who have been there for you during good times and bad.
3. Name three adults who have been excellent role models for you.
4. Name two people who love you and pray for you regularly.
5. Name someone who makes you laugh.
6. Name someone who has given you something of great value.
7. Name a hero whose life story has inspired you.
8. Name someone has helped you through a difficult time.

If you’re like most people, you probably flunked the first quiz. Few of us remember the big names and headline grabbers of yesterday. These people are not second-rate achievers. They’re the best in their fields. You’d think they’d be easy to remember. However, when the lights go off, the applause dies down, and the trophies begin to tarnish, their achievements are often forgotten.

How did you do on the second quiz? It was probably much easier for you, wasn’t it? That’s because the people we remember most in our lives are not necessarily those who have the most money or the most awards or the most fame. Usually they are the people who care about us. Keep in mind that Jesus did not seek fame or fortune for himself. He sought humble obedience to God as a key value in his life. Just as Jesus obeyed, and just as we teach children to obey, we must model that same behavior in our own lives. The way you live has a big impact on the people around you.

There are more lessons. We tell kids to do the right thing, to be patient, to love others, and to be a good example to others. The truth about kids is that they need help seeing and responding to the real world. Maybe that’s what Jesus was trying to show us, too. He says, “If you want to be great, than be a servant. Instead of worrying about who is the greatest, think about those who have nothing. Think about how to help the weakest of all.” And then do you know what he did? He let himself be killed. If anyone took responsibility for his actions, it was Jesus. If anyone kept promises, it was Jesus. If anyone kept his dignity when falsely accused, if there was anyone who was obedient to the God, it was Jesus. And we, who are filled with the Spirit and called to follow, can do the same.

Jesus says that his priorities are different than others. If we want to be great, we need to be humble. If we want to be first, then we need to consider the last. Be responsible. Keep your promise. Be kind. Obey God. When we live out these basic lessons that we teach our own kids, and get in touch with the values of God.

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