Pentecost 14 – Sunday, September 10, 2017

September 10, 2017  

Matthew 18:15 – 20

Let’s put these verses in their proper context.

Today’s gospel reading is part of the answer to a question the disciples asked Jesus.

Their question: “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” (Mat. 18:1).

His answer, was long and complicated. The answer ENDS with the verses I just read. His answer begins with a few examples:

First, Jesus put a child among the disciples and said “Whoever becomes humble like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.”

Second, Jesus warned the disciples not to become stumbling blocks to those who believe. He told them to cut off a hand or a foot if it caused someone to stumble – or to tear out an eye.

Third, Jesus told the disciples the parable of the lost sheep, telling the story of a shepherd who left 99 sheep unattended while he went in search of the one that was lost.

Jesus summarized those verses (all from chapter 18) by telling the disciples that the greatest of these is the least of these.

Then, and only then, did Jesus share the words of today’s reading. Then, and only then, did Jesus tell his disciples what to do if another member of the church sinned against them.

All of that, all of those points were an answer to the same question: Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?

According to Jesus, a discussion of “greatness” was a discussion about humility. And a discussion about humility is a discussion about what causes us each to stumble. And a discussion about what causes us each to stumble is a discussion about sin. Human sin.

Our sinfulness prevents us from ever being great.

We are all lost. Lost to sin – except for the loving presence of Jesus.

Jesus, our good shepherd, found us. And loved us. And freed us form our lost selves.

Jesus wants us to free each other from sins we commit, one against the other. Jesus encourages us to use a respectful, private process, naming each other’s sins gently.

In the verses that follow today’s reading, the disciples ask Jesus another question. They ask: “Lord, if another member of the church sins against me, how often should I forgive? As many as seven times?”

Jesus answers: “Not seven times, but seventy times seven.”

None of this is really a conversation about greatness, or about humility, or about forgiveness, as much as it is a conversation about how to live as followers of Christ. If any of us want great lives… we must be humble. If any of us want to live in right relation with our friends and neighbors, we must forgive, again and again, over and over.

Remember when I said, a few weeks ago, “It’s not about me.”

Greatness is not about self. Greatness is about other. Greatness is about the other people in our lives, and how much we love them. How much we forgive them. How much we serve them.

Churches around the ELCA are, today, choosing to do God’s work. God’s work. Our hands.

We do God’s work when we feed the hungry on Tuesday nights.

We do God’s work when we clothe women from our Women’s Clothes Closet.

We do God’s work when we comfort the lonely, some of whom might be sick, some of whom are simply away form home – when we send them cards every month.

We do God’s work when we make quilts that are used by people around the word!

We do God’s work right here in our neighborhood, by providing a quiet, peaceful place for folks to sleep, to take shelter, to sit and to think in our Peace Garden.

We will do God’s work when we distribute Blessing Bags to folks whose basic needs aren’t getting met.

We will do all of those things this day, not because there is something in it for us, but because others need us. And because God is calling us to serve. To work. To love. To forgive. To comfort. To feed. To clothe. To bring peace.