Women in Ministry
God’s Greatness (Lectionary 29 B--Mark 10:35-45)
Preached October 21, 2018
If I asked you to describe what great leadership looks like, what would you say? Perhaps you would describe a great leader as someone who takes charge in any given situation, who makes decisions and convinces other people to follow along, someone with a forceful personality who can manipulate a situation so that he and his people come out on top. A great leader might inspire other people to work for greatness as well.
Well if you take that definition of great leadership to heart, I can name many individuals throughout history who embodied this greatness. Leaders like Alexander the Great, the 4th century BC king of Macedonia. By the time he was thirty years old Alexander led his armies on the largest military campaign ever, conquering everything from North Africa to India. And under his leadership, his army never lost a battle.
Or how about another great leader of history, Catherine of the Great, Empress of Russia in the 18th century. Under her despotic reign of power, she dragged her country into the modern era to become one of the superpowers of Europe. Her leadership birthed a golden age in Russian art, society, and politics.
What do you think of these two examples of greatness? Alexander was an undefeated conquering general. Catherine was an enlightened empress, a monarch who modernized her kingdom. There are many reasons to call them great leaders.
But now I want to ask a different question. Who does our Almighty God call great? Does God honor human greatness?
Alexander may have been a great general, but he was also a megalomaniac, believing that it was his destiny and right to conquer the whole world through violent wars.
And while Catherine may have been enlightened in the sense that she supported higher education and the arts, she also was a consummate politician, doing whatever she could to shore up power for herself by conquering neighboring countries and eliminating her political rivals.
Is this the kind of greatness that God rejoices in? Is this the kind of greatness that we should aspire to: violence, manipulation, force of will, deception, and selfish ambition?
What does Jesus say? ‘Jesus called the disciples and said to them, “You know that among the Gentiles those whom they recognize as their rulers lord it over them, and their great ones are tyrants over them. But it is not so among you; but whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all. For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.” -Mark 10:42-45
God the creator of the entire universe, the one who made galaxies and planets and stars, the God who created life and who has the power to take life away, this God is all powerful and great…and yet God sends to us a Son who declares that the greatness God values is not in power, violence, or force of will. Greatness is found in humble service.
According to God, the people who take precedence, who go first, are those who are last of all and least of all. God’s greatness is not found in military victories. God’s greatness is not found on a royal throne of power. God’s greatness is revealed in the humble suffering and dying of God the Son.
Let’s really meditate on this and absorb this truth. If we seek true greatness in life here on earth, we won’t find it in material success, wealth, personal ambition, political influence, fame, or the domination of other people or the domination of nature. We will only find true greatness in humility and loving service to God and our neighbors. We will only find true greatness in a selfless life that shuns human glory.
Before the crucifixion Jesus’ followers struggled to understand this distinction in human greatness and Godly greatness. Looking towards their own interests, James and John sons of Zebedee asked to be given seats of honor at Jesus’ right and left hand. At the time, they were thinking about human glory. The disciples all assumed that Jesus as the Messiah king would literally take up the human throne of government in Jerusalem and kick out Israel’s political enemies. They all assumed that Jesus was on a mission to make Israel great, like it had been, when David had been king.
But that wasn’t why Jesus was born in a humble stable with only an animal trough for a bed. God’s greatness is not human greatness. Jesus’ greatness was revealed in his healing the sick, preaching good news to the poor, welcoming the outcasts and rejects of society, casting out evil demons, and forgiving all sinners who turned to him for truth. Jesus’ greatness was in refusing to strike back at the people who arrested him and tortured him and hung him on a cross. Jesus' greatness was in giving his life away for the sake of the whole world.
The disciples didn’t understand Jesus’ greatness at the time, but thankfully, after the resurrection, they learned the truth, and they got their own opportunity to follow in Jesus’ footsteps. After the resurrection the disciples were given the gift of the Holy Spirit, and they boldly preached the good news of Jesus to everyone who would listen. But there were many who did not wish to hear the good news, and in response, most of them were all arrested and killed. Peter himself was crucified too, but tradition says that Peter asked to be crucified upside down as he thought he did not deserve the honor of being crucified right side up like his Lord Jesus.
Take these words to heart all of you who claim Christ as your Lord and King. If you follow the path of human greatness, you will not find God there. But if you follow the path of Godly greatness, in loving service to others, embracing humility and obedience to God’s Will, then you will discover wholeness and fulfillment. But you may suffer along the way. Like the disciples, following the path of Godly greatness means you will come into conflict with the tyrants of this world, all those who love violence, power, money, and ambition.
It isn’t easy to follow the path of Godly greatness. But we don’t walk the road alone. Jesus has gone first ahead of us on the trail. Jesus resisted the worldly temptations of the devil and Jesus rejected earthly power, and Jesus willingly died for the love of God and for the love of God’s people.
God is with us on this difficult journey, walking with us as we speak words of love to a world full of hate, as we offer a hand of peace and forgiveness in a world that holds grudges and seeks revenge, as we give ourselves away in service to those in need in a world that selfishly hoards what they have. God is with us. And God’s greatness in Jesus Christ our Lord has saved us all. Amen.