Getting in the Way of Greatness

September 23, 2012 at 7:48 am Leave a comment

The Rev. Maurice C. Frontz, III, STS

Pentecost 18 (Proper 23)

St Stephen Lutheran Church, Pittsburgh PA

September 23, 2012


In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.


We live in a society that has a very deeply schizophrenic attitude towards children.

On the one hand,

children are to be protected.

We no longer live in a society where child labor is legal.

Every child should and must be protected from abuse of any kind.

And billions of dollars are spent each year on the education, health, and welfare of children.


On the other hand, from the moment they are born,

children are treated as consumers by business and targeted for advertising.

They will recognize the symbol for McDonalds

by the time they are two years old,

and know the brands of clothes and food that are sold to them

better than they know the history of their country.

A whole market has sprung up around the buying habits and attitudes of teenagers,

a demographic virtually unknown just sixty years ago,

and they are told in advance by the media in which they are immersed

what is real and what is not,

what faded clothes and prematurely jaded attitudes are ‘in’ and which are ‘out.’

They will be taught that people will pay attention to them

in proportion to what they can offer to them,

whether entertainment or work-value or intelligence.


While we have severe penalties for those who are caught abusing children,

they are fast initiated into a world

where explicitly violent and explicitly sexual entertainment is the norm,

and they somehow are to differentiate between what is ‘appropriate’ and what is ‘inappropriate.’

And there is of course the vast worldwide illegal traffic in children,

taking children across national borders as slaves.

These are things we don’t hear about every day.


Children are often treated as political footballs,

as sources of profit,

and as substitutes for the failed dreams of their legal guardians

for stardom, for accomplishment, for success.

We haven’t come so far in our treatment of children

that we can say we have listened to what Jesus says about them.


Of course, Jesus is not addressing society.

He is addressing his disciples.

And what he says goes beyond children.

The disciples are arguing amongst themselves

as to who is the greatest.

A childish pursuit, as opposed to an child-like pursuit,

but one in which we often engage

as a way to justify our own belonging to the group we’re part of

or even our existence on the planet.

This is of course after Jesus has told the disciples for the second time

that he is headed to his death.

One wonders at the tone-deafness of the disciples.

But of course they are no different from us.


From childhood on, we are taught to differentiate ourselves one from another,

to grade ourselves and others based on a certain set of criteria.

We are supposed to ‘make the grade,’ somehow,

to be above and below others.

Such an attitude inserts itself deeply into our vision of reality.

Those below are to serve those above.

Those above are the ‘haves,’ those below are the ‘have-nots.’


If Jesus were of this world,

he would have intervened to judge once and for all

who was the greatest among the disciples.

He would have chosen based on criteria –

who is the most religious, who has the most gifts to share,

who could do the most for the Church when he dies and rises and ascends to heaven.

Jesus is not of this world,

this world that evaluates constantly what is worthy and what is not

and who gets to be top dog and who gets to be underdog.

For his is not a mission to ‘have,’

but ‘not to have.’


Why does he choose to use a child as an object lesson?

Not because children are cute.

Children better be cute – it’s a survival tool.

If I had a nickel for every time Annette said to one of our children,

‘It’s a good thing you’re cute.’

It’s not because children are innocent, either.

It’s because they’re needy.

They are the neediest creatures around,

and they remind us of who we are.


From the moment they are born, a child is dependent.

This grates on Americans, who would prefer that children be independent

at least by the third trimester.

A child is dependent on its mother for nourishment,

upon adults for love,

upon the society for protection.

The child cannot survive without us.

A child can be given food, but if no one talks to the child,

no one interacts with the child, no one loves the child,

the child will ‘fail to thrive,’

the child will never learn to speak, to laugh, to love,

the child will die just as surely as if starved to death.

In orphanages, there are people who volunteer

simply to touch unwanted babies,

to hold them, to speak to them,

for this very fact –

that a child is hungry for this touch and this love.

It goes on from there.


Why is this relevant?

Because children and those like them –

the unborn, sick, the aged,

those unable to care for themselves,

those with physical and mental challenges,

those who have never outgrown some childish ways –

these get in the way of the supposed great achieving their great desires.

If people are constantly meeting the needs of others,

how can they be great?

How can they accomplish all the great things they’re destined for?

How can they have all the great things they were born to have?

To care for a have-not, a disciple of Jesus must become a have-not.

They must renounce what they can be.

in order to become what they are called to be.


We are called to become like our Lord,

who became a have-not for us.

He gave away all that he had for us, poor and needy as we are,

and became last of all and servant of all.

We Christians sometimes act as if Jesus’ death

was just Good Friday,

as if walking to the cross was some sort of picnic journey,

going from Galilee to Jerusalem was a pleasure tour.

We forget that Jesus had to take his resurrection on faith, just as we do.

For him, as for us, death was the only certainty and his daily companion.

And he chose to spend his life on such people as the disciples.

He chose to spend his life on such people as us.


The early Christians did crazy things.

They found people that the ancient world had discarded,

orphans and widows,

people who were in desperate need,

and provided for them.

They would go into the woods and the hillsides

and find the aborted children of the ancient world –

the infants who after they were born were simply left out to die

by desperate people or those who didn’t want to be bothered.

As time went on, the members of the Christian Church

founded hospitals, schools,

so that the needy would not be forgotten,

nor the hope of the poor be taken away.

They did so because they worshiped a living Lord who said,

‘Whoever welcomes such a one in my name welcomes me.’


We too have our role to play in this drama.

It is before you.

You need not go far to find your calling.

This is where our imagination kicks in.

For even the one who thinks he or she is the greatest

is at bottom that needy child he or she was at the beginning.

We are not so self-sufficient as we think we are.


The one who needs welcome to our neighborhood or fellowship,

the one who thinks he has everything,

the one who has lost a spouse or a parent,

the one who has lost a job,

the one who has hit bottom,

the one who has not heard the Gospel of Jesus

is Jesus in disguise,

is the one to whom you are sent.

You may do so because Jesus has come for you.

Jesus has died for you and lives for you

and gave you witnesses and servants to welcome you into the world and the Church

so that you might find your calling as least of all and servant of all,

to welcome others in his name.



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