The Greatest or Least Among Us? Sermon for Sept 20, 2009

And the Emmy goes to…. (say twice)// These words will be ringing on
millions of television sets this weekend as the Primetime Emmy Awards are
aired. Millions of people will tune in to see who is the best in television,
movies and the like.// But is that really what is important in our society
today?//Do we really need to strive to be the greatest?// In light of today’s
gospel text, it seems to me that God is calling us, not to be the greatest by
doing great things, but rather by simply being who God created us to be; to
welcome all God‘s people!// So what does it mean for us to be the least and
servant of all?//

In today’s gospel text, Jesus calls us to be like him when he welcomes the
children. Today we often see children as precious and innocent but that is not
the case during Jesus’ time.// However the reality is that in the Hellenistic
world, children were seen as the lowly.// According to Malina and Rohrbaug
in their commentary Social-Science Commentary on the Synoptic Gospels,
children were often seen as the lowly.// They write, “Children had little status
within the community of family. A minor child was on a par with a slave, and
only after reaching maturity was he/she a free person who could inherit the
family estate, the term “child/children” could also be used as a serious insult.”
In other words, children were not seen as the greatest, but rather were seen as
the least in the society.//

In their book Behind the Stained Glass Windows: Money Dynamics in the
Church, John and Sylvia Ronsvalle capture well how we can welcome those
that need welcomed and open our arms to the least and lowly among us.//
They write, “We live in a world where it is estimated that thirty-five thousand
children under the age of five die daily around the globe, most from
preventable conditions and many in areas where no church has been planted
to tell them of Jesus’ love.//We can be confident that such conditions are not
God’s will; Perhaps one idea that would not be debatable in any part of the
church is that Jesus loves the little children of the world.// The financial cost
To end most of these child deaths, it has been proposed, is about $2.5 billion
A year, which is the amount Americans spend on chewing gum. Reflecting on
these facts, it could be fairly stated that we live in an occupied society, one
that is under the sway of Mammon.// Ministers and lay people alike feel the
pressure this conqueror exerts. Even talking about the issues produces
‘anxiety, fear, and ultimately, silence. Under these circumstances, where do
our opportunities for the more equivalent of war live (P.218-219).”//

Being great is about welcoming those who culture doesn’t seem as great and
welcoming the one who needs to be welcomed! We most focus on something
quite other than ourselves and be more like Jesus; associating even with the
least and lowly among us.// Mary Ann Tolbert in her commentary NISB Notes
writes it best when she states; “In the honor-driven society of antiquity, fame
and greatness were often judged by whose company one kept; to welcome
unknown children rather than the rich and famous would normally bring no
honor, but Jesus says that welcoming the powerless actually welcomes the
most powerful, the one who sent him.”// In other words, when we welcome
the powerless we are welcoming God into our lives.//

Who are the lowly and insignificant in our world today?// How can the church
welcome them?// The reality is that it is easier said than done. We often
let fear creep in which cripples us and doesn’t allow us to welcome the lowly
and insignificant among us!// In fact, when we fear, we lose faith. Basically
fear is the absence of faith!// So how can we follow Jesus’ example?//How
can we be like the children who God welcomes with open arms even though
they are seen as the least?//

A colleague recently told me a story about a woman who took in her own
grandchildren even though they are sick and dying of HIV/AIDS. She has no
idea where her grandchildren’s parents are. Yet she took them in despite the
fact that they might infect her too (and she has become infected!)// She went
above and beyond the call of duty. To me and many others, she is one who
understands what it means to be the least and servant of all.//

The reality is that we all can welcome those who are the least among us. And
when we welcome them in, all of us will be blessed.// God wants us to be like
Jesus; welcoming even the poor among us. God calls each of us to his holy
table where all God’s people are welcomed in.// Two weeks ago in one of my
birthday cards, I couldn’t help but smile as I read these words from Albert
Schweitzer. These words can remind us all of what it means to welcome the
least and lowly among us; and to welcome those for whom the door needs to
be opened.// “I don’t know what your destiny will be, but one thing I know:
The only one among you who will be truly happy are those who will have
sought and found how to serve.”// Amen!

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