Monday, September 24, 2012

Anyone Can Be Great!

This week we continue to hear Jesus teach his disciples about what it means to follow him.
All of this teaching is being done in the context of Jesus walking towards Jerusalem and his death.
Today’s reading from Mark is the third time Jesus talks to his disciples about his death and resurrection.
What is surprising to me is that they don’t get it yet.
In fact, they seem to be moving in the wrong direction.
While Jesus is talking about giving up his life they are discussing the succession plan.
Who is going to take over for Jesus?
Who is the best and ready to take on the mantle of number one?
In some ways you and I can understand where they are coming from.
We all want to be great.
We all want to be noticed for our accomplishments.
But to be a disciple of Jesus means to order greatness in a whole new way.

“Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all.”
It is remarkable to me that Jesus does not say that we should or could give up our desire for greatness.
He merely says that we should direct it in a different direction.
If you want to be great then be a servant.
Serve other people and in that service you will find greatness.

It brings up the question of how we measure greatness.
I watch a lot of ESPN and a lot of sports talk shows are about who is the best.
Who is this player the best of all time?
Lots of time it is about numbers.
Who throws the most touchdown passes?
Who has the most yards?
Who has the best batting average?
Who has the most championships?
But then there is something added to the conversation that is more subjective.
Who is the better teammate?
Who makes their teammates better?
Who is a leader of other people?

Perhaps the same could be said about all of us.
That we cannot just measure our lives in terms of numbers.
How many things we posses, or how many hours did we put in at the office.
There is also things like how much we did for others.
How we made life easier for the people around us.

This week I heard the story of a woman from Mexico, we will call her Lupe.
In Mexico she was a doctor.
She was honored in her country and community.
She came to the United State to make a better life for her children.
She cannot practice medicine in the United States so she is a nanny.
She was asked by her pastor if she minded having to give up an honored title like Doctor.
Her response was no, because she was doing this for her children.
She was becoming less so they could become more.
She finds her greatest reward in seeing her children succeed.
That is what Jesus is talking about this morning.
Finding our greatness in having others succeed.
Measuring our success by how other people do in their lives.

Jesus himself measured his greatness by this very measure.
Jesus gave his life so that we might have more of life.
Jesus gave his life so that you and I who are here today might find true joy in serving others.
He gave his life so you and I can go out in the world and feed the hungry, cloth the naked, visit those in prison, give of ourselves for others.

Those of you who are parents, I bet that all of you have given up some of your life to help your children have a better life.
All of us on our good days do something that helps others.
Pick up that extra shift at work for a co-worker who is sick.
Visit someone in the hospital.
I bet that at some point in all of your lives you did something for someone else to help them out.
That is true greatness.

This week Forbes came out with the list of the riches people in the United States.
It is another list of how we might measure our worth.
I don’t have any problem with people making money.
I only have a problem with us as a society measuring worth in only these terms.
Where is the list of people like Lupe?
Where is the list of people who have given up much for others?
Where is the list of the least?
The problem with any list is that we judge people based on our own selective data.
We look at it and want to be the person on the Forbes list who makes lots of money.
We look at our neighbor and want a better car or house because they have one.
In Church we look at someone else and wish we had their faith or commitment.

Even among us pastors we can see this as problem, because when we gather together to talk about our ministries and check in with one another.
What we usually talk about is how our congregations are doing.
Did we get more people?
Do we have enough money to make the budget?
How many kids were in our Vacation Bible School?
How many kids are in our Sunday school?
We don’t mean it this way but sometimes it comes off as trying to figure out which is the best church.
The best church is not the biggest or richest.
It is the one that is faithful in service towards others.
The best in Jesus list is those that serve others with purpose and joy.

Even in our council meetings we are talking about numbers.
How much money came in?
How many people joined?
Instead we should be asking how many people’s lives have we impacted as a congregation?
How are we doing welcoming those that feel out of place and out of sorts?

When Jesus takes a little child and tells the disciples to welcome ones like this.
He isn’t saying that we should all be like children.
I am thankful for that because I have children and well they are very selfish.
Instead, Jesus is saying that we should be about welcoming those who cannot defend themselves.
We should welcome those who hold no honor in our society.
We should bring into our fold the least.
In Jesus day children had the least amount of rights.
Children were ignored.
Children were at the margins of society.
Those are the types of people that we should be welcoming.
We should be welcoming people that have nothing to offer us anything in return.
Not people that can help the bottom line, but those that have no were else to go.

If we want to follow Jesus it means a life filled with service.
In our world today service is held up as an important virtue.
There are all sorts of ways to get out into the world and serve.
If you want to serve you can find an outlet.
Today’s Gospel tells us that service is a big part of what it means to be a disciple of Jesus Christ.

One of my favorite sermons of all time is Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. “drum major instinct” sermon.
It was a sermon King gave on the Gospel of Mark.
In it he said, “Everybody can be great, because everybody can serve.
 You don't have to have a college degree to serve.
You don't have to make your subject and your verb agree to serve.
You don't have to know about Plato and Aristotle to serve.
You don't have to know Einstein's theory of relativity to serve.
You don't have to know the second theory of thermodynamics in physics to serve.
You only need a heart full of grace, a soul generated by love.
 And you can be that servant.”

Greatness means identifying ourselves with the least and serving them.
Greatness means to be the best and most honored by our life of service by helping others to have a better life.
So let us go forward to be great by serving.

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