Saturday, 22 September 2018

How to be Great

This sermon was first preached at our Sunday morning service on 23rd September 2018. The Gospel that morning was Mark 9:30-37, and the Old Testament reading was from Proverbs - 31:10-31.

So… I thought this morning, I’d look at our reading from Proverbs, and preach about how to be a great wife.

But, then I remembered that I quite like living in my house, and so I decided that it would probably be a good idea to pass on the exciting opportunity to preach on such a reading as that. I hope you’ll agree with me that that was a good decision.
And even if you don’t, well… you’re not the one who has to live with the consequences.

But actually, we all want to be great, don’t we? A great wife, a great husband, a great parent? A great friend, a great employee or employer? A great sportsperson, or cook, or artist or writer? We want to be great at what we do, and for people to acknowledge that. We don’t all want to be great at everything (well, some of us do), but… for what’s important to us? We all want to be great at that.

Muhammed Ali. The greatest.

As we’ve heard from our Gospel reading this morning, Jesus’ disciples were no different. Whilst he was trying to explain to them (for the second time) what was going to happen to him – his betrayal, his death and his resurrection – instead of asking him to elaborate where they did not understand, they bickered amongst themselves about which one of them was the greatest.

Now, let’s not be too quick to judge. We’ve all thought it – maybe not had the arguments since we were children, mind – but we’ve all thought about how we are better than someone else; how we’d have done x, y or z better than the person who ended up doing it. But actually having that argument?  You have to wonder, don’t you, what that went like:

“I was chosen first, so I’m the greatest!”

“Well, I was chosen last… and you know what he says about the first and the last, so I’m the greatest!”

“My prayers are much longer than yours. And I use proper words, like ‘thou’ and ‘intercede’ and ‘beseech’, so I’m the greatest.”

“That’s all well and good, but my prayers are much more down-to-earth, and real. They’re from my heart. So, I’m the greatest.”

“Yeah, well, none of you guys were listening to what Jesus was saying just then. And I sort of was – at least with half an ear, so that must make me considerably greater than you.”

The thing is, though, that Jesus heard his disciples. They had ignored him, but he still heard them.

And… if we’re wondering what the argument between the disciples was like, then how much more must we be wondering what those disciples felt when Jesus let them know what he’d heard, and then – like any good teacher who already knows the answer – asked them what on earth they were arguing about.


I bet they were expecting a dressing-down, maybe a lecture on humility; on how they should not be concerned with such earthly matters as greatness, but instead to concentrate on doing the will of God.

That’s not what they got though.

You see, our desire for greatness is not in itself a bad thing. It’s God-given. Right at the beginning of the story of the world, God granted Adam and Eve dominion over the world. They were created for greatness. The psalmist puts it like this:

what are human beings that you are mindful of them,
mortals that you care for them?

Yet you have made them a little lower than God,
and crowned them with glory and honour.
You have given them dominion over the works of your hands;
you have put all things under their feet

See? Wanting to be great is not sinful. It’s not something to be ashamed of. It’s part of what makes us the human beings that God created us to be. No, the important thing is where we look to for greatness. Do we want to be great in the eyes of humanity, or do we want to be great in the eyes of God?

We were made to be great in the eyes of God.
You were made to be great in the eyes of God.

So, when Jesus asked his disciples about their bickering over who amongst them was the greatest, instead of that admonishment they expected, he showed them how to be great.

He picked up a small child and said “Do you want to be great? Do you want to know how? This is how you do it: Serve. Serve ones such as this.”

What does that mean for us, though?

I think we all know what it’s like to do things for little children. They’re lovely, they’re sweet, and they make our hearts melt, but… (and I can say this, ‘cause mine is currently at Sunday school), they really are a pain in the bum sometimes, aren’t they? I mean – let’s be honest here.

They don’t remember to say please, or thank you.
 They don’t really appreciate what we do for them. Not really. How could they?
They really can wind you up something chronic, like no-one else can.
And they can just be so draining. A small child can’t understand when you’ve had a nightmare of a day, and just need a sit down, a cup of tea and some peace – no; that’s the very point when the Most Important Thing in the World is for you to play dinosaurs for the ten billionth time, and for a very pointy plastic T Rex to stomp over your head, compounding the splitting headache you already have.

And Jesus says, if we want to be great, it’s ones such as this we need to serve.

He was talking about all of this when he told us to serve children, but I don’t think he was just talking about children. He was talking about people like children. Ones such as this. People who can’t reciprocate your actions with anything of any earthly value; people who don’t appreciate what we’ve done for them; people who are ungrateful; people who drain us emotionally and spiritually; people who the world dismisses as unimportant, as not worth the same honour given to others.

These are those whom we need to serve if we aspire to greatness. Those people who right now you’re thinking “yes, but not them.”

Now, I need to point out, this isn’t being a doormat. This isn’t subjecting yourself to an abusive relationship, emotionally, spiritually or physically. Christ is in no way telling or asking you to do that – remember, you are made for greatness, and you have more worth in Heaven and in the eyes of God than you will ever know. You are worth too much to submit yourself to abuse, and God certainly does not, and will not ever ask you to serve in that kind of relationship.

Christ is not calling us to serve those who have power over us. He’s not calling us to serve those who we feel have more worth than we do. There are more then enough people doing that already. No, Christ is calling us to serve the weak, the powerless, the rejected and the dejected.

Because, as Jesus goes onto say, if we welcome them – the children, and the weak, the powerless, the rejected and the dejected – if we welcome those whom the world does not welcome, we welcome him. If we serve them, we are serving him. And that is a truly great thing to be doing.

And so, here is our challenge. Go in peace, to love and to serve. Go, and be great.


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