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Sermon for March 7, 2010

Who Is the Greatest?





An argument started among the disciples as to which of them would be the greatest. Jesus, knowing their thoughts, took a little child and had him stand beside him. Then he said to them, "Whoever welcomes this little child in my name welcomes me; and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me. For the one who is least among you all— that one is the greatest." "Master," said John, "we saw a man driving out demons in your name and we tried to stop him, because he is not one of us." "Do not stop him," Jesus said, "for whoever is not against you is for you." -- Luke 9:46-50

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, “Whoever welcomes this little child in my name welcomes me . . . one who is least among you all— that one is the greatest.” In other words, 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 Jesus, and therefore also welcome God.

Jesus’ words get me thinking about our own children. What can our children teach us about faith? A Sunday School teacher named Mrs. Imogene Frost 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.
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 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 the mayor of San Francisco and supervisor Harvey Milk, White’s attorneys blamed the crime on emotional stress linked to his junk food binges. Even though White hid the gun under his jacket, evaded metal detectors, brought along extra bullets, killed the mayor and others, the jury bought the defense. White was acquitted of murder and convicted on a lesser charge of manslaughter due to "diminished capacity." 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 to make and keep realistic promises. When we keep our promises, we win the trust of others. 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? I want to be just go up to the parent and say, “Be kind!” Shutting your mouth and controlling your temper when you are tired or provoked is perhaps the highest form of self-mastery.

By the way, if you’re not nice, you will gain weight and grow old before your time. It turns out that being mean isn’t easy. You have to be calculating and always watching your back. You have to train yourself to be paranoid about the people who will get you next. All this stress releases cortisol from your adrenal glands to prepare your body for what lies ahead. And how does cortisol make us heavy and old? Cortisol leads to something called “central obesity” -- a fancy phrase for belly fat. This is your body’s way of preparing for stress-induced fights and flights. Cortisol messes up your sleep patterns. Being a chronic mean person will make you sleep fewer hours with unproductive quality. So now you’ve got dark circles under your eyes and you can’t fit into your jeans anymore. But that’s not all. Cortisol makes you get sick. Cortisol also dampens immune function. And to top it off, cortisol dries your skin. So now, your habit of being mean will make you look dry, splotchy and fragile. Is anyone else feeling itchy right now, or is it just me?

Now it’s time for the quiz portion of our worship service. I actually have two quizzes for you. Ready?

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 last 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. 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 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 like a child. 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. And we can do the same when we are filled with the Spirit. 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 promises. Be kind. When we live out the basic lessons that we teach our own kids, and get in touch with the values of God.

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