September 4, 2011
TEXT: Matt. 18:1-20/Romans 13:1-10/Ezekiel 33:7-9
Rev. Kenneth W. Wieting

To all those at Luther Memorial Chapel and University Student Center who are loved by God and called as saints, grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.


The disciples came to Jesus saying, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?”  It was an arrogant and misguided question.  It was a question of comparison and competition common in the world as if it applied in Christ’s Church.  “Who is the greatest at Luther Memorial Chapel and University Student Center?  It is an evil and out-of-place question in the church.  Honoring worldly standards of greatness can inflict devastating spiritual damage to oneself and to other Christians.  It is part of the reason congregations should ever be reluctant about handing out awards or putting someone’s name in the lights.  “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?”  

And calling to him a child, he put him in the midst of them and said, “Truly I say you, unless you turn and become like children, you will.....

September 4, 2011
TEXT: Matthew 18:1-20/Romans 13:1-10/Ezekiel 33:7-9
Rev. Kenneth W. Wieting

To all those at Luther Memorial Chapel and University Student Center who are loved by God and called as saints, grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.


The disciples came to Jesus saying, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?”  It was an arrogant and misguided question.  It was a question of comparison and competition common in the world as if it applied in Christ’s Church.  “Who is the greatest at Luther Memorial Chapel and University Student Center?  It is an evil and out-of-place question in the church.  Honoring worldly standards of greatness can inflict devastating spiritual damage to oneself and to other Christians.  It is part of the reason congregations should ever be reluctant about handing out awards or putting someone’s name in the lights.  “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?”


And calling to him a child, he put him in the midst of them and said, “Truly I say you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.  Whoever humbles himself to become like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.” 


These were very strange words to the disciples.  The Old Testament assigned no special power or innocence to childhood.  It rather speaks clearly of a child’s self-will, limited understanding (Isaiah 3:4, 12) and bad behavior (2 Kings 2:23ff.).  The New Testament adds that when manhood comes childish things are put away (1 Corinthians 13:11).  It exhorts Christians to grow up into the fullness of Christ, no longer being children tossed here and there…by every wind of doctrine (Ephesians 4:14). 


So which is better, to be a mature adult or to be as a child as Jesus sets forth here?  The answer is both!  You are to grow in the faith by constantly receiving the kingdom of God as a little child.  “Unless you are continually turned around and become as little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.”  This is true for university students and for senior citizens and for children and their parents.


This doesn’t mean that a child is objectively innocent or “a little angel”.  Scripture does not teach that!  The Psalms Jesus prayed reveal that we are sinners from the moment of conception (Psalm 51).  Your own experience with toddlers and small ones as they display their moods or demand their own way or grab for the toys of another easily underscores Scripture’s witness.


Jesus’ spiritual point here is rather a child’s humility, their objective smallness and weakness, their inability to act for themselves.  Little children let themselves be helped without being ashamed of their need for help.  Whether it’s being cleaned up after or carried to bed or comforted at night, little children need to be done for.  In ancient literature the child is essentially a lowly and dependent figure – the weakest and most vulnerable.  Jesus isn’t speaking of age but of the helplessness of the youngest of age.


Jesus continued, “Whoever humbles himself to become like this child is greatest in the kingdom of heaven.”  Now be careful how you hear this!  This humility is not a virtue in itself – something to be worked for and attained!  This is not an intentional active lowering of oneself to be of service to others.  This is not a case of conscious and calculated one-down-man-ship! 


A little child doesn’t try to be small and dependent; he or she just is small and dependent!  You see we grown up sinners can even try to take control of our humility and turn it up a notch or two.  If this is what Jesus and His Church are watching for, we can produce better results.  We can even strive to win the “humblest character” award or “the most selfless servant” award.  But true God-given humility doesn’t even know that it is humble.  It just knows that it desperately needs help and desires to receive what God offers.  In one sense true God-given humility is very aware of its sin of pride and willingly confesses the same.


Jesus turns eyes away from comparison and competition (even in the area of servant-hood).  Jesus turns our eyes to the fellow Christian who is struggling or hurting or alone or in desperate need.  This is the one who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven in the view of Jesus.  To the Son of the living God, the greatest is the person who is in the condition of least power – the most dependent.  To Jesus the greatest in the kingdom of heaven is the one who willingly acknowledges his own emptiness and utter lack of ability in spiritual things. 


Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me, but whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a millstone fastened around his neck and to be drowned in the depth of the sea. 


Dear little one in Christ: Jesus is so serious about your eternal life that He gets a bit graphic in prescribing capital punishment by drowning for those who would lead you to sin - It would be better for him to have a great millstone fastened around his neck and to be drowned… He also gets a bit graphic in warning you about the effects of your own willful, unrepentant sin.  If your hand or your foot causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it from you.  It is better for you to enter life crippled or lame than with two hands or two feet to be thrown into the eternal fire.  And if your eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away.  It is better for you to enter life with one eye than with two eyes to be thrown into the hell of fire. 


God in the flesh warns of hell with fleshly force.  It seems He is sure of the bodily resurrection of the dead and most of all desires your presence with Him.  He doesn’t want you to cut off an arm or pluck out an eye.  Then you would have no eye to see the need of your neighbor and nor arm to help love your neighbor as yourself.  He does want you and me to know that sin is where heaven and hell hang in the balance and He uses hyperbolic language to say so.


See that you do not despise one of these little ones.  Remember, the “little ones” described here are any age, and any height and any weight.  The simple and comforting truth is that any helpless sinner depending on God’s grace in Christ is the greatest in Jesus’ eyes.


For I tell you that in heaven their angels always see the face of my Father in heaven.   This verse does not teach that each small child has its own guardian angel.  Rather, it does teach that God’s holy angels who always see the Father’s face serve His “little ones”, that is His Church.  They reflect the Father’s joy over one lost sinner who is brought home in repentance.  Such joy exists in heaven over you, dear Christian.  That is the reason for Jesus’ fierce warning against those who would lead you to sin.  It is not the will of my Father who is in heaven that one of these little ones perish - including you!  That’s why He put His name on you in Holy Baptism.  You didn’t try to be small and dependent then, but only received what God promised to give.  In that sense every baptism (adult or child) is an infant baptism wherein we are reborn as children of God. 


In that status, as one of God’s protected “little ones” – If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone.  If he listens to you, you have gained your brother.  The greatest in Gods’ kingdom of Grace (that is the little ones) are to look out for all the other little ones.  This is how the kingdom of heaven operates.  The Lord Jesus gathers the lowly, weak ones who confess their sin and their inability to serve Him.  He forgives them and then calls for them to forgive and serve each other.  It’s a kingdom built on forgiveness, not force; it’s a kingdom of grace, not power.  It’s a kingdom of salvation, not the sword.


If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone.  If he listens to you, you have gained your brother.  As Ezekiel the watchman proclaimed, we are not to let others die in their iniquity without warning them.  This is the right thing to do, but not the easy thing.  It is far easier and more natural to gossip, to tell others how you’ve been wronged.  Such gossip is always a poisonous play for power to exploit somebody’s weakness by spreading the news to others.  This gives the gossiper the image of superiority and power because they paint themselves as the victim and the other person as the sinner.  But this is not the way of the Lord.  If you are talking about the sins of anyone else to others and not to them – turn around – repent!  That power play can rob you of your royal status as one of Jesus’ little ones!


Of course the brother who has sinned is also guilty of going for power instead of grace.  When called upon to repent so that he might be forgiven he may obstinately refuse.  Instead of confession he might go on the offensive and bring up past-forgiven-sins of others or he might twist the facts and slander those who seek his repentance.  This is not the way of grace.  This is trying to use power to get one’s way, to create one’s own little kingdom of personal authority.  Telling it to the church and excommunication is not an act of vengeance against such a one.  Rather, it is recognition that the sinner has chosen his or her sin and private kingdom of power over forgiveness and the kingdom of grace.


Beloved, we are all tempted to see others as the great sinners against us while our sins in comparison seem so very small and understandable.  However, the greatest in Jesus’ view – His little ones - see things just the opposite!  They are overwhelmed with their own mountain of sin and recognizing Christ’s forgiveness of them - seek to be at peace with all – and call others to repentance.  


Our Gospel today began with an evil and misguided question.  “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?”  It ended with the wonderful promise of Jesus to His little ones regarding the forgiveness of sins.  For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them.  To be gathered in the Name of Jesus means to come together on the basis of who Jesus is and what He has done and still does!  To be gathered in His Name is you all this morning – gathered to receive the forgiveness He comes to serve.  The loosing of sins He does in His Supper and in His Absolution on earth is loosed in heaven as well!


He is here to help the helpless – that is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven!  He is here to help those who know they do not measure up to the measured-down humility and childlike trust that God demands.  Adult-like spirituality of self-improvement, mood enhancement, and proud servant-hood won’t open heaven.  “Turn around,” Jesus said.  If you continue to pursue spiritual greatness as the basis for your confidence (look at my strong faith and prayer life – look at my quick theological intellect – look at all I sacrifice for God) you will not get into the kingdom heaven.  “Turn completely around.”  Jesus will allow no great people into His kingdom.  Only the childlike receiver of God’s grace qualifies!


Where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them.  The risen Christ is among you again on this day to pour out His greatness on you!  It is the greatness of Him who humbled Himself even to death on the cross!  It is the greatness of Him who made Himself the smallest of all – becoming sin itself to reconcile us to God.  The millstone of our sin was fastened around His neck and He was drowned in the depth of God’s wrath!  He did endure the eternal hell of fire – with hands and feet not cut off – but driven through! 


In that perfect act of humility He shed His holy blood – a cleansing flood sufficient to cover the sins of all the children of the world – red and yellow – black and white – they are precious in His sight!  He takes away the sin of the world - childish sin and adult sin.  It is the cleansing flood of His blood that our family and our friends and our neighbors and those we meet from any land need more than they need their hands and their feet and their eyes.   


How great are Your works O Lord – Your thoughts are very deep (Introit – Psalm 92).  All we like sheep have gone astray and You have laid on Him the iniquity of us all! 

In the Name of Jesus, Amen. 
  
 
Prayer of the Church

P Let us pray for the whole people of God in Christ Jesus and for all people according to their needs.


P Gracious Father, we confess that without Your Son we are dead in our trespasses, overpowered by Satan, and overcome by our own sinful desires. O God, be merciful to us sinners. Grant to us a repentant faith so that we never cease believing that because of Jesus Christ You have raised us from death to life and given us heaven instead of hell.  By Your Holy Spirit enable us to accomplish the good works that You have created us to do. Lord in Your mercy,

C hear our prayer.


P Gracious Father, fill us with a hatred for our sinfulness and a desire to please You.  Make us humble as little children, just as Your Son, the greatest in Your kingdom, humbled Himself for us and for our salvation.  Because You desire that none of Your little ones should perish and because sin is constantly crouching at our door, we beg You to call us back to Yourself when we are tempted to stray, and to use us to call others back. Deliver us from temptation and keep us in the faith.  Lord in Your mercy,

C hear our prayer.


P Gracious Father, hear us for those sitting in the darkness of unbelief. Send forth missionaries with the light of Christ and use us and that by which you have prospered us to show forth your Holy Gospel in our time and place. Lord in Your mercy,

C hear our prayer.


P Gracious Father, we pray for all the young ones who believe in You. Keep everyone and every thing from leading them into sin. Through their parents, their pastors, and their teachers, teach them Your truth and Your ways so that they grow up trusting Christ’s forgiveness and living as Your children. Lord in Your mercy,

C hear our prayer.


P Gracious Father, You have promised that where two or three are gathered in your name, you are there among them. Grant to your Church Your Holy Spirit and the wisdom that comes down from above, that Your Word may not be bound but have free course and be preached to the joy and edifying of Christ’s holy people, that in steadfast faith we may serve You and, in the confession of Your name, abide unto the end. Lord, in Your mercy,

C hear our prayer.


P Gracious Father, You have given us governing authorities for our good. So teach us to obey You by obeying them, unless they defy your will. Provide us with rulers who are not a terror to good conduct but to bad. Endow those who lead our nation and our state with wisdom as they make, administer, and judge our laws. Lord in Your mercy,

C hear our prayer.


P Gracious Father, teach us to bring our gifts to You in humble gratitude for all the ways You lovingly provide for us. We ask You also to provide honest and fruitful laborers in our land. Be with those who are unemployed or underemployed and those seeking to employ. Grant opportunities where many may earn a living and serve You.  Lord in Your mercy,

C hear our prayer.


P Merciful Lord, consider this congregation assembled to receive the gifts of the risen Christ. Receive our praise for help rendered to those in need, especially Logan. Comfort those in sorrow especially Judy and Holly at the death of their mother & grandmother. Help all who are in sickness, especially Marlowe and Chrissie and her unborn child and Helen and Sandy. Continue to grant strength to those recovering from surgery and bless all who stand in need of our prayers. Bring us all at last to the eternal pleasures of Your right hand. Lord in Your mercy,

C hear our prayer.


P Into Your hands, O Lord, we commend all for whom we pray, trusting in Your mercy, through Your Son, Jesus Christ, our Lord,

C Amen.

Luther Memorial Chapel & University Student Center | 3833 N Maryland Ave | Shorewood, WI  53211
(414) 332-5732 |lmcusc@lmcusc.org

Divine Service: Sundays - 9:00a Mondays - 7:00p Bible Study & Sunday School: Sundays - 10:45a