Matthew 18:1–9 | Ash Wednesday | February 18, 2015 | First Christian Church | Mahtomedi, MN
When I was growing up, my parents and I would watch the evening news at 6:30pm every evening. This was in the 1970s and 80s when there were only three networks and everyone watched the news on TV. My parents watched ABC, so I remember seeing reporters like Howard K. Smith and Harry Reasoner on screen. As the 80s dawned, journalists like Frank Reynolds and Peter Jennings hosted the news. Back then, people trusted the men on the screen. Walter Cronkite and Tom Brokaw were journalists and we believed they held themselves up to the highest ethical standards.
When I think about these reporters, I start to think about the recent dustup involving NBC Nightly News host Brian Williams. Williams has been in trouble of late because he told a story about being in a helicopter during the 2003 invasion of Iraq that came in close contact with rocket fire. It turns out that he was in another helicopter that was never under fire. Because of this, Williams is off the air at NBC for six months. It is unclear if he will return.
This has sparked a few spoof photos of Brian Williams at various famous events. With the wonders of Photoshop, Williams appears at the crash of the Hindenberg is 1937. He also seems to be present with Abraham Lincoln during the Civil War.
I don’t know if Williams merely misremembered an event or was just plain lying. What we do know is that he seemed to see himself in a more heroic light than what actually took place.
In our text today, the disciples come to Jesus with a question: who is going to be the greatest in the kingdom of God? They all wanted to know which one of them was going to be Jesus right-hand man.
The disciples wanted to be seen as important, valuable to God. They wanted to be Jesus’ running mate and each one thought they had what it takes to be God’s second-in-command.
While we might want to fault the disciples and Brian Williams for trying to see status, we might want to look at ourselves as well or to see ourselves as All That and A Bag of Chips as the saying goes. In our culture, we are all implicated in wanting a certain status.
Jesus responds by taking a child and place her on his lap. Jesus tells the disciples that unless they became like this child they won’t enter the kingdom.
Jesus isn’t saying that we have to become childish and there is some indication he wasn’t saying we have to be child-like. What Jesus seems to be referring to is the status of children. In the world of the first century children had no status in society. So Jesus was saying that to be a part of the kingdom, people had to give up their self-importance become humble, as if we have no status or had a low status.
That’s something that is rather hard to do in this day and age, though it’s probably hard in any age. We want to be important. We want to appear to have it all together. We want to appear exciting. But Jesus is calling us to live a life of humility, one where don’t see ourselves as important, where we really are a mess.
Ash Wednesday is a “feel bad” day. We are reminded that we are limited and imperfect. When we receive the ashes, we are reminded of our humanity, our frailty. We are reminded that our quest for status matters little as compared to our aging bodies. Ash Wednesday should remind us that we rely on God, not on status.
“Remember you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” That’s a humbling statement. All of our status-seeking ways amounts to…dust.
But there is another saying that we use on Ash Wednesday: “Repent and believe the gospel.”
Make a change, turn away, start anew and trust in Jesus. Don’t see status, but seek Christ.
As we begin our lenten journeys tonight, let us remember that it doesn’t matter how exciting our lives are, but that we are loved by the one who created us. Thanks be to God. Amen.