12th Sunday after Pentecost
4 September 2011
St. John's, Chicago, IL
In the Name of the Father and of the +Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
"Who is the greatest?" how frustrating for Jesus, that once again, the apostles are up to their same old competitions! Each of them wanted to be the greatest -- the leader -- the one who could have authority and control.
Jesus has been talking about how He would go to Jerusalem and be killed and then rise, and it is as if they haven't heard a word. He has been clear and direct that this is the way of revealing His true glory, in His suffering and death for all. Yet they seem to shrug their shoulders and go right back to the same old arguments.
"Who is the greatest?" You tend to go right along with the Twelve. You think in terms of the older one. The one more educated or more highly trained. The one with more wealth or political clout. But that isn't what Jesus says. He sees you and most people chasing all these wrong ideas, and so He turns the tables.
In Episode Two of the Star Wars movies, we find a corresponding moment. Jedi Master Obi-Wan was stumped and could not answer a mystery. Then Master Yoda asks a group of children, the oldest ones of whom appear to be about five years old. And one comes up with the answer right away! "Truly wonderful the mind of a child is!" Yoda exclaims.
Now, in the film, it was to the credit of the child himself, and his mind. The reality is that the Lord gifts with wisdom. He gives simple childlike faith. Not to any credit of our own, but entirely His generous gift. Children depend on their parents. A baby cannot feed or clothe or shelter herself. The parent provides and gives, and the child receives. The parent of a little child does everything for him, as he is weak, helpless and dependent.
So what are we to do? The NIV quotes Jesus as saying, "Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven." The ESV translates it as: "Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children,you will never enter the kingdom of heaven."
But if you think you are the one changing or turning, you are puffed up with pride, trusting in your own works. You are then full of yourself. And guess what? That means you are not like a child with humble, helpless faith. That means you are thinking that somehow you can influence your own salvation. That you can make some decision to make Jesus your Lord and Savior, when you don't have that ability or authority. He gives. You receive. You cannot be the one "doing the verbs."
In these English translations, "change" and "turn" sound like we are the ones doing it. But Jesus' actual choice of verb here is passive. In other words, He says you are turned, you are changed. You are converted. The Holy Spirit converts you and gifts you with childlike faith.
But don't stop with the thoughts on "childlike." Jesus also is making it clear that children are a part of His Church. Unlike many others of that time, Jesus is very much an advocate for the children, and brings the little ones to Himself in baptism and His preaching and teaching. He does not segregate them from His adult followers, but calls young and old alike. The infants are as much a part of His kingdom and their parents, and join them in that kingdom through Holy Baptism.
Yes. He is speaking of Baptism here. The way in which Jesus speaks of receiving a "child in My name," uses grammar and language the same way as other baptismal passages in Matthew. Yes. Jesus is telling His Church that she will receive these little children through this sacred washing of rebirth and renewal!
"In My name" -- "in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit." That is the name of which Jesus speaks. That is the name in which the Lord received you into His Church -- His kingdom. That is the name in which you receive forgiveness of sins. That is the name of the One who will change your lowly body so that it will be like His glorious body at the day of the resurrection of all flesh.
A friend of mine is a pastor in southern Illinois. He has spent the past two weeks in Russia finalizing legal details, signing all the appropriate paperwork, and completing everything necessary. For what? He and his wife have adopted a little boy. And when all is said and done, the passport of that child as he flies to the U.S. will list his new parent's family name as his own. He belongs to them, and they are now his parents.
Rejoice, dear friends in Christ! You have been given the name of our Lord God as a free and amazing gift. Jesus gathers you into the family of God and now that you have been adopted, His name is yours. And along with that name, His authority, and all the rights and privileges of being His child.
Rejoice, because you need not worry and squabble about who's the greatest. The truth is, not one of us is greatest. Jesus Christ Himself is the greatest. He gifts you as children of God. And He gives you the gift of greatness through faith. Yes, He gives you amazing greatness, as you remain humble in His Name. Amen.