What is greatness? Who is great? What makes for a great life? In Luke 22 the disciples begin to argue about who is the greatest. Funny, they argue about greatness in the presence of Jesus. We may be too sophisticated to openly argue about our personal power and our significance. The disciples might have subtly bandied for status-jockeying, plotting, puffing up, making self-congratulatory posts, dropping names (even as they sat with Jesus?), and sliding on designer Italian sandals.
Doctor Martin Luther King’s amazing sermon, The Drum Major Instinct cautions against quickly judging the disciples. King warns us not to put down competition. Are we wired for competing? Not long after a child steps from toddling to running they will look another wobbler and ask “want to race”.
Competition can strengthen us. A race may inspire us to run faster. A recital hones technique and talent. An interview sharpens skills. A tryout can get us in shape. An audition can lead us to rehearse until we find a richer tone and refined style. A test may lead us to reread and finally understand a passage or problem. An exam may engrain a lesson deep in our memory.
The King of Kings encounters his followers arguing about “who is the greatest”. Jesus responds “The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them… But you are not to be like that. Instead, the greatest among you should be like the youngest, and the one who rules like the one who serves. I am among you as one who serves. (Luke 22:26-27 NIV)
Jesus does not tell the disciples to stop competing.
Jesus does not tell us to stop striving after greatness saying “Instead, the great among you should….”
Jesus does not pass our participation ribbons. In fact, 1 Corinthians 3 asserts God will test the quality of our work and reward us according to faithfulness. “Our work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each person’s work. (1 Corinthians 3:13 NIV). Some of the stuff we live for will be burned up, and only faith hope and love will remain.
Are we in the evangelical church guilty of preaching a toothless Christianity that teaches that faith alone matters and our works do not? Faith alone is not the faith Jesus taught. Jesus asserts that even our idle words will be examined by God who spoke the world into being. (Matthew 12:36) Jesus taught that our treatment of “the least of these”, his kinfolks will be the part of our eternal entrance exam. (Matthew 25).
Christianity is not about a getting a participation trophy at the end of our days. Christianity is a hard cross-carrying scramble to become like Jesus. The Biblical word “Israel” means to strive after God. Remember, Jesus said “Be perfect as your Father in heaven is perfect” (Matthew 5:48 ) Christians, let us strive after greatness.
What is greatness?
What is the greatest use of our time, skills, and resources?
What makes a great life?
The question of greatness is much like the question of significance.
I may be too pious to say, I want to be great, but I know I want my life to hold significance.
What is significant?
Last year we said with our wallets that Taylor Swift was worth 39 million dollars. We named Tom Brady Super Bowl MVP. Was that the most significant work done last year?
Which is more significant throwing a touchdown or teaching someone to read?
Which is more significant making six figures or feeding hungry people?
Do you want to live a significant life?
Do you want to be great?
Jesus does not denounce the striving for greatness, Jesus redefines greatness
Jesus wades into the significance debate with a radical redefinition of greatest: “The kings of this world lord power over the people… But you are not to be like that. Instead, the greatest among you should be like the youngest, and the one who leads like the one who serves…. I am among you as one who serves. (Luke 22:24-27 NIV)”.
It is not beneath us to serve. God created a serving universe. The Creator gave us a lush garden that grows fruit and vegetables. We do pay a bill for the sun. We discover oil but we do not make it. We sell water but the rain falls for free. We do not inspire the leaves to dance yellow, red and orange. Stop and think we have never created a neural pathway God gives us even the capacity to think. God made the universe to serve the creation only we humans think we own it.
And God designed us to serve each other. We come into the world utterly dependent on the service of others. You may believe you are self-made, but you did not come into the world with a nice set of clothes. Someone washed you, clothed you and feed you for many years. You could not even burp on your own. You will likely depart this world leaning on others.
Today, you may grieve or rejoice, or a little of both for lives that served your specific needs.
God designed us to serve each other. There are young men and women right now risking their lives for us on foreign fields, inside burning buildings and out on dangerous streets. There are doctors ready to receive your life. There are nurses in the ER at 3am and janitors cleaning – at 2am. You did not invent the alphabet or the internet. There are teachers who taught you to read and nursery workers who held you close. Most of us got our food at a grocery store, and enjoy bananas, oranges, and many things we do not grow around here. We are fed by the hands of hardworking farmers and migrant laborers. Few of us designed and stitched our clothing this morning, much less spun the fabric.
On this all saints day let us remember the grand sweep of the saints who enrich our lives.
Who is the greatest?
Who lived the most significant life?
Friends the greatest life ever lived was lived by Jesus.
The greatness of Jesus if found in his love for us
And love comes through serving.
The greatness of Jesus is within his mission statement “I did not come to be served but to serve”
Christ came to serve. Jesus touched the sick and to bring wholeness. Jesus spoke grace to those encircled by the stone clinching church folks. Jesus befriended of the down sat, down and outs and discouraged. Jesus washed the disciple’s feet. Jesus took children pushed to the side and blessed them. Jesus offered significance to people ones bent over and called unclean. Jesus hung between two thieves. Jesus died like a criminal. Jesus conquered hell, sin and death. Jesus arose as Lord of all.
Will we further Jesus’ mission?
Will we say “we come to serve?”
Will we serve God and neighbor or ourselves and maybe a few friends?
Will we seek to heal our community or just our particular neighborhood?
Will we enrich ourselves or become great through service?
Will we live lives of significance?
Will we God and each other “we come to serve” ?
When people truly serve do you not just have an amazingly warm feeling? When someone pours themselves our offering themselves to others as a great teacher, scout leader, parent, spouse, sister, brother, or friend is that not what makes life worth living?
Who is it that you remember, maybe weep for, and surely cherish today?
Did you find them great because the won the Super-bowl or because they poured out their life for you?
Is not significance found in serving?
Will you serve others?
Will you say with the saints of God, we come to serve?
Serving seems to be the very life of Jesus, who went about so devoted to others that he never built a home, but was always welcomed somewhere. Jesus never wrote a book, but Jesus has filled the world with books and songs. Jesus is loved and so welcomed because wherever Jesus went he made the place better, richer, more loving and more alive. Jesus enriched the world. Jesus is great because he served! His mission was not to be served but to serve!
Will you live a significant life?
Will you serve others?
Will you be great? You young people, Go has lavished you with such talent and such opportunity. Do not quit, strive to be great, strive for significance. Dig in, work hard, seek to get better, hone your skills, learn your craft, improve, train your mind, and be great. Create things that people others, write music not to make millions but to add beauty and truth to the world. Seek not to be enriched but to enrich this world. Be great, strive for significance.
Will your legacy be one of heartfelt service to others or will you live an insignificant life?
All we carry with us to heaven is our faith, our hope and our love; will we so order our lives?
Will you say with the saints we come to serve?
Today, we come to remember those who through Christ’s amazing grace have already entered into the Church Eternal. We come to remember and celebrate those saints of God who enriched our lives through their service.
Let live lives of significance
Let us live lives that make a difference not just for ourselves.
Let us live lives that enrich the larger world
Let us be great. May our lives be significant!
Let us be like Jesus.
Let us live as the saints.
Let us come to serve! Amen.