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True Greatness: Service - Mark 10:35-45

Updated: Dec 20, 2022

What comes to mind when I say the word greatness? Football fans might think of Tom Brady, our former New England Patriots quarterback now with Tampa Bay, who is often called the GOAT, the greatest of all time. Other athletes may come to mind too like Babe Ruth, Michael Jordan, or Wayne Gretzky who have also been considered the greatest in their respective sports. Greatness in sports is measured not just by talent but by winning championships, setting records, and dominating your opponents on the field.

In Jesus’ time, and maybe even up to our own day, military leaders and warriors had a reputation for greatness. Think of Julius Cesar. Genghis-khan. Or Alexander the Great, who actually had the word “Great” as part of his nickname! These men went down in history as victorious champions of war. Some admired them, some hated them, but everyone feared or respected them.

Maybe it was that kind of respect that James and John were looking for. James and John and the other disciples thought Jesus was really great. The greatest of all time perhaps. They saw the miracles, they heard him preach, they saw how the crowds flocked to him, they felt the presence of God in this great man. They expected great things were coming Jesus’ way, and wanted to make sure they were in on some of the rewards when Jesus accomplished whatever his goals were. When he succeeded in whatever revolution he was starting, James and John wanted to be on the inside. Little did they know what Jesus’ real mission was. Even though Jesus told them repeatedly what it was and that he would be crucified and rise again. The disciples never seemed to hear what he was saying.

And now when James and John ask this question about Jesus making them his right-hand man and left-hand man, Jesus tells them they don’t know what they’re asking. He asks if they’re ready to drink the cup he will drink. They assure him that they are, but clearly, they don’t know what they’re signing up for. It’s like they think Jesus is talking about putting in the hard work at the gym to become a great champion. But what he’s really talking about is martyrdom, following him to the cross.

But Jesus also knows that his disciples will eventually “get it” and eventually become martyrs themselves. Although it won’t be anything close to the future they’re imagining now.

Jesus tells them that true greatness is service and self-sacrifice. Not seeking your own power and prestige, not being better than others. But rather, working to lift others up, working to be servant of all. Jesus’ ministry and message is simple: love and serve those in need. That’s what all those healings were about, that’s what he was doing when he taught, and ultimately loving and serving humanity is what he was doing on the cross.

And so Jesus’ words to his disciples then are the same to us now. While the worldly leaders lord it over those they rule, it shall not be so with us. Whoever wishes to be great must become servant of all. We follow our teacher who came not to be served but to serve, and to give away his life.

Too often in our modern world, we have the same misunderstanding James and John had. We admire greatness, whether it’s the fame and success of athletes and celebrities. The seemingly perfect lives of movie stars and music artists. The power and influence of politicians. The wealth and genius of the world’s billionaire class. Our society still seems to have the wrong idea of what greatness means. And, even though we know what the right answer is supposed to be, if we’re honest I bet a lot of the time we fall for the world’s idea of greatness more than we associate greatness with the path of Jesus.

I mean, we know we’re supposed to believe serving others is the right thing to do. But it’s hard sometimes. It’s hard when we’re feeling overwhelmed and stressed all the time. It’s hard when finances are tight. It’s hard to worry about others when we have our hands full taking care of our own family. It’s hard when there’s so much wrong in the world that it seems our kindness won’t even make a dent.

But we know that together our love and service can and will make a difference. Maybe not to everyone, but to someone. And living out love and service actually changes us too. It’s not only the right thing to do to serve others, it’s also a transformative spiritual practice. It’s living into the Kingdom of God now. Allowing God to shine through us in whatever work we do. And when we, the church, take on this mission to love and serve the world, we do in fact change the world.

We, the church, are called to follow our Lord’s path. To dedicate our lives to the service of our neighbors in need. Each of us to love and serve the world in our own unique way. It’s what our faith inspires us to do. Love and service are the natural results of a relationship with God. They are the fruit which grow out of our rootedness in Christ the Vine.

And so that’s what we’re doing today. On God’s Work Our Hands Sunday. We are bearing the fruit of service in the world. Following the way of our Lord, not because we aspire to be great, but because we aspire to follow Jesus in the path of love and service. Some of us will go to Gifts of Love Farm in Simsbury, that’s where I’ll be. Others will stay here and pack school supplies for Lutheran World Relief. And even if you’re not able to join us this morning for one of these mission projects, I invite you to pray about how God is calling you to love and serve the world this week and in the coming months and years. We’re all called to something, to some kind of love and service. To follow Jesus who was sent not to be served, but to serve.

And so let us celebrate our mission of service today and every day. Following in our Lord’s footsteps and living out the church’s mission. As scripture tells us we are ministers of reconciliation (2 Cor. 5). Bearing fruit in the world and helping to heal and serve in whatever way we can. Empowered by the Holy Spirit, let us follow Jesus and be God’s hands and feet in the world. Amen.

Pastor Brian, 10/17/2021

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