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The Meaning of Greatness

How do we measure greatness? Our world tends to define greatness in terms of power, privilege, and prestige. We measure the importance of a person by external markers – the house they own, the car they drive, the ostentatious nature of their lifestyle. We are impressed by the visible achievement of people: their prestigious honors and academic degrees, the importance of their profession, and sometimes even the accomplishments of their children.

But when Jesus speaks of greatness He always links it with service. As He said to James and John, that which makes us great is not our ability to rule over others, but rather, our ability to invest ourselves for the welfare of others. In a world where most people want to put as little as is necessary into life and to get out as much as possible, our Lord speaks of a better way. Jesus calls us to that “better way” today. Only when we are willing to put more into life than we take out ... to put service to others in a place of priority ... only then, Jesus tells us, are we worthy to be called His followers. In a wonderful poem, Mary’s Son, Rudyard Kipling speaks to this issue of greatness, which is at the heart of our Gospel lesson:

If you stop to find out what your wages will be

And how they will clothe and feed you, Willie, my son, don’t you go to the Sea, For the Sea will never need you. If you ask for the reason of every command, And argue with people about you, Willie my son, don’t you go on the Land, For the Land will do better without you. If you stop to consider the work that you’ve done And to boast what your labor is worth, dear, Angels may come for you, Willie, my son, But you’ll never be wanted on earth dear!

The Church of Jesus Christ finds its validation not in its public rituals, nor in solemn pronouncements on social issues, nor in the pristine quality of our theology and teaching. The Church establishes its credibility through its acts of mercy and kindness – the cup of water to the thirsty, the bag of groceries to the distraught, the life-giving accompaniment when we walk with someone who can go no farther without a champion.

And Jesus said, “Whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all.” [Mark 10: 43, 44]

Many congregations declare at the conclusion of their liturgy ... the worship has ended – now the service begins. Let that be our hope as we hear those words, “Go in peace to love and serve the Lord.” For if that is our intention, then we can truly say and mean, “Thanks be to God. Amen.”

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