First I would like to thank all of you who have been praying for concerning this procedure I went through and that I would heal quickly. It kind of reminds of the fellow who refused Novocain during a root canal. His goal was to transcend dental medication. As for me though, I did take pain medication. But thank you again for your prayers.
Do any of you remember when the ATT commercials came out with the guy who would sit down with the little kids and he would ask them questions like, “Is it better to go faster or go slower? Or is it better to be bigger or to be smaller?” Then after the kids had given their answers the narrator would say, “It’s not complicated; it is better to be bigger or it is better to be faster.” If the children were to be asked, “Is it better to serve or is it better to be served? Is it better to be first or better to be last?” What do you think would be the answer?
What do you think of when you think of great? In your mind what are the elements of greatness? What is getting ahead in life look like? In our gospel lesson James and John wanted the top two positions in the new kingdom that Jesus was going to set up. One of them wanted to become the prime minister and the other wanted to be the top military commander. And they weren’t the only ones! Each of the disciples wanted to have a high and important position in this new kingdom that Jesus was going to establish. Admittedly it shows their selfish ambition but it also shows their faith in Jesus. They were certain he was going to become king and he was going to establish a kingdom.
They just didn’t get what kind of king he was going to become or the kind of kingdom he was setting up. Now this misunderstanding wasn’t because Jesus had not tried to explain it to them. He had told them a number of times, but they couldn’t see it. He had described the kingdom in stories and in lectures. But it was like someone describing a color to someone who was blind. It was really hard. So James and John were simply trying to put the kingdom into their own framework. This framework made sense to them and to their fellow disciples and frankly, it makes sense to us as well.
In our society the one who is the most important is the one who gives all the orders. The one who is the most important is the one who has the most people serving him or her, the one that everyone else is looking out for and caring for. This is the kind of kingdom James and John were thinking about and frankly it is the kind we think about as well. But it is not the kind of kingdom that Jesus was establishing. And even though we have had some 2000 years to get used to what Jesus was teaching, it still runs against the grain and it always is diametrically opposed to how our society thinks. In the words of our ATT commercial is it better to be served or to serve? Our society says, “It’s not complicated—it is better to be served.”
Great is defined as of an extent, amount, or intensity considerably above the normal or average. So in the terms of how Jesus was thinking greatness in His kingdom is to serve others above what is normal or average. To serve others as Christians requires courage, sacrifice and lots of love. In one of the Chicken Soup for the Soul books it tells the story of Betty Tisdale. She was the wife of a Naval Doctor in Vietnam. She had compassion on the orphans in Saigon. In order to help them she made l4 trips to Saigon using up her life savings. With great determination she managed to have hundreds of orphans airlifted from Vietnam during the time it was falling into the hands of the North Vietnamese. It was not a simple task. First, she needed birth certificates. She went to the hospital and had to create them herself managing to make 2l9 eligible certificates that would satisfy the government. Next she had to find a place for the children to stay when they arrived at Ft. Benning, Georgia here in the states. Again it was a struggle; she met resistance and the Secretary of the Army wouldn’t answer her calls. But she was determined to carry out her mission, and so Betty called his mother of the Secretary of the Army and pleaded her case. Virtually overnight, her son, the Secretary of the Army, responded.
Now she had to figure out how to get the children safely out of Vietnam. She was unable to charter a plane. She went to Ambassador Graham Martin and pleaded for some form of transportation. He finally agreed to help as long as the Vietnamese government cleared their release which she was at length able to receive. Two Air Force transport planes flew the children to the Philippines. Because her husband also was dedicated to helping his wife he used twenty-one thousand dollars more of their own money to charter a United Airlines plane to take the children to the states. The bottom line is they got them to the US and all 2l9 children were adopted and placed in homes.
When Jesus advocates a life of service, he is not only talking about being a martyr, nor is he expecting us all to be a Mother Teresa or a Betty Tisdale. He is talking about denying ourselves the demand for power, honor and status. Faith is a paradox. Honor in God’s kingdom is not acquired with prizes, achievements, awards and success. It is realized with sacrificial love, unwavering faith and belief that serving others is where true life and true joy is found. Becoming a servant is not something that occurs naturally to us. We need to learn to be a servant. It is not simply doing things out of a sense of ought to, but it is learning to have a heart of a servant. It is learning to be concerned for others. Many of you know Esther Nawrocki. As I have been visiting her, literally on her death bed she has been concerned for others, for me and you here at church. Her heart is one of being a servant. It flows out of her. The same can be said of Betty Audette. Her heart was always one of concern for others.
In the kingdom Jesus has established, things are not the same as they are in our society. To the question, “What are the elements of greatness, our society says, “It’s not complicated—it is better to be first and to be served.” Jesus on the other hand says, “It is complicated and it is not easy to see but it is better to be last and be the servant.” Being in what our society would call the lowest place; being the one who serves others and is concerned for others well-being, is ironically the highest position. The cup and the baptism into which James and John were so eager to participate were about service to others and about obedience to God. This is what Jesus is talking about. This is the heart of Christianity. Jesus said he came to be a servant and to give his life as a ransom for many. We, you and I, are part of the many he came to ransom. His is the example of love we are to follow. So the question we need to ask ourselves is ‘Are we serving?” Do we care about the needs around us? Last week we talked about being able to give of our finances; this week is about be able to giving of our time to others, being able to be concerned for others. These two are the outward indications of an alive, inward spiritual life.
Do you want to be great in the kingdom of heaven? I know I do. Let us pray that God help us to have the kind of hearts so that we will want to serve and want to give. Let us pray that God will help us to be great in His kingdom. Amen