Who Is Great? Rick Brand July 1, 2003 Proper 20 (B) September 21, 2003 Who is Great? Mark 9:30-37 On the journey to Capernaum, the disciples had been discussing greatness. Nothing really unusual about that. The conversation had been on which of them was the greatest. Nothing really wrong with that. Not really. There is a natural and universal desire within the heart of human beings to be recognized, to be acknowledged to be the best. Jesus asks them what they had been talking about. But He already knows. He heard the comments on the journey. He does not chastise them or scold them for thinking about greatness. He does not tell them that they ought not to strive for greatness. Jesus does not try to make them feel guilty about their ambitions. He simply says that they ought to understand what is true greatness. They need to have a clear picture of what constitutes enduring greatness. Jesus says in the kingdom of God, greatness – real greatness – comes in developing the attitude and the ability of people of power to be of service to those who are invisible. Jesus says, “If you want a place of honor, you must become a slave and serve others.” Greatness, prestige, honor in the kingdom of God is given to those who make themselves the servants of those who have no power to command. Jesus then takes a little child and says to them that it is in how we receive this little child that you show whether or not you have received Jesus and have become part of His kingdom. The places of greatness in the kingdom of God are judged on how we treat the child. It is not a new notion for the people of God. It is not some radical new idea that Jesus brings. The people of God are judged by how they treat those who are the weakest, the lowest, the poorest. Amos the prophet had called Israel to task for the way it abused the widow and foreigner. Jesus says the places of honor in the kingdom go to those who have eyes to see the child. In Jesus’ day, a child was just a piece of property to the adult male. True disciples achieve greatness not by holding great office but by doing services to insignificant people such as the child. We have not completely lost sight of that standard of greatness. Mother Teresa spent her life in the service of the untouchable, the dying, and the abandoned. She took in the children left to die. She did out of love what you could not make strong men do for money. When Jesus took the child and said that greatness in the kingdom of God is to be found in serving those who are vulnerable, those who are at the mercy of power, those who are invisible, it was because in his society children were nobodies. Children didn’t count, except as numbers, except that you had to have some. But today that is not always the case. We have to be more careful about what Jesus is saying. In our culture a whole host of children have a lot of clout. Business surveys know that the children control a major portion of discretionary spending in families. In many families it is now the child’s schedule which dictates the schedule of both parents. Today children are not invisible. They run the show. Jesus says that the place of honor in the kingdom goes to those who make themselves servants of those who have no power. In our culture just because they are children does not mean that they are automatically insignificant pieces of society. Children warehoused in orphanages in Romania who have been invisible need somebody to be for them. The abandoned untouchable in India need a Mother Teresa’s touch. Some of the children in our community are too visible, too powerful already, too much in control for their own good. They need to be of service to others themselves. Some children of our community are still invisible. Jesus does not argue here that there is anything wrong with the deep and universal desire for greatness, for a place of honor, to leave our mark upon the world. But he says if you seek greatness in the kingdom of God, you need to know that the places of honor goes to those who have the ability to see and the desire to serve those who are invisible to the rest of the world. The kingdom of God honors those who use their resources, time, talents and power for the benefit of those who do not have resources, time, talent, or power. Greatness in the kingdom of God goes to those somebodies who are willing to be of service to the nobodies of life. Who are the nobodies? I don’t know. I would be great if I did. They are the people moving around our lives that we somehow never see. Maybe part of the greatness is the ability to see these nobodies and to care for them. Hasn’t that been part of the attraction of the suburbs and the freeways? People drive into the cities, work and drive home and never have to see, confront, or think about thousands of people in the slums. There are lots of different definitions of greatness. There are as many different paths to greatness as there are definitions. Jesus just wants His disciples to know that if they want to talk about greatness in the kingdom of God, in His kingdom, then they need to know the standard by which greatness is measure. If anyone wants the place of honor, you must become a slave and serve others. The great ones in the kingdom of God are seen in how we receive and how we care for those who are invisible in society, those who aren’t suppose to matter, those who are powerless, the insignificant. Because in the kingdom of God we are to care for them even as God in Jesus Christ has cared for all the insignificant sinners of the world. We are to care for the nobodies because God has cared for us when we were nobodies. We are to offer them grace and love, because while we were yet sinners God loved us and redeemed us. To live in the kingdom of God is to know that we have been given more than we ever deserved and so we can give to those who do not now deserve the gifts of recognition, service and love, and in that service find our greatness. _______________ The sermon brief provided by Rick Brand, Pastor of First Presbyterian Church, Henderson, NC Leave a Reply Cancel Reply Your email address will not be published.CommentName* Email* Website Notify me of follow-up comments by email. Notify me of new posts by email.