17 October 2021

In the upside-down (or right-side up) Reign of God, greatness is defined very differently from the power, fame and fortune criteria that is used by most human systems. Unfortunately, even we who claim to follow Jesus struggle with this essential truth of the Gospel. Yet, when we are faced with the Great Creator who willingly becomes a humble human man, we cannot avoid the call of God to the greatness of service and sacrifice.

May we reject any expression of faith or worship that glorifies systems of wealth, power and instant gratification, and may we embrace again the worship of humble, selfless service.

Job 38:1-7, 34-41: God answers Job, questioning where he was when God created the earth, who orders the clouds and lightning and can create rain, and who provides food for wild animals and birds.
OR Isaiah 53:4-12: The suffering servant carried our sickness and suffering, was pierced for our transgression, and though he was oppressed did not open his mouth. Though he had done nothing wrong, he was killed and crushed, but God’s plans will be fulfilled through him, and he will make others righteous.

Psalm 104:1-9,24,35c: In praise of God’s glory and majesty, for the way God established the earth and commanded the waters, and for the way God has filled the earth with God’s creation.
OR Psalm 91:9-16: God promises protection and rescue to those who are devoted to God, and who trust in God, crying out to God in times of trouble.

Hebrews 5:1-10: High priests offer gifts and sacrifices on behalf of the people and deals with them gently, because he is aware of his own weakness. In the same way, Jesus was appointed by God, and offered prayer for his life to God, who saved him. Now he offers salvation to those who trust him.

Mark 10:35-45: James and John ask Jesus to be allowed to sit at his right and left when Jesus enters glory. Then after assuring them that they will share in his suffering, Jesus teaches all the disciples that those who want to be great among his disciples must be the servant of all, just as Jesus came to serve and not be served.

What does greatness mean? In the Lectionary this week we are confronted with God’s greatness as God questions Job, but we are also faced with the greatness of the suffering servant who is persecuted and suffers for the sake of others. We see God’s glory revealed in creation, but we also encounter God’s glory in God’s compassionate rescue of those who cry out to God. We recognise the greatness of Jesus whom God has appointed as a high priest because he journeyed through suffering and is able to offer salvation. And we learn that those who are great in God’s Reign are those who are willing to be the servants of all – just as Jesus came not to be served but to serve. The contrast between the God of creation and the suffering servant, Jesus, is a powerful way for the Lectionary to address the question of greatness. While God has all the power and glory that the name implies, even God does not express God’s greatness in domination and conquest. Rather, in the incarnation, God’s glory and greatness are revealed through humility, service and the embrace of suffering. For those who seek greatness on God’s terms, we must expect that the same should be true for us – and this is exactly what Jesus taught. The challenge for us this week is to decide whether we can find the courage to define greatness in this way, and, if we can, to live as “great ones” in God’s Reign.

Global Application:
It’s amazing and encouraging that, in this world obsessed with adversarial political discourse and the allure of fame and wealth, we still honour those who give themselves sacrificially in service of others. It is not the leaders who use their power for their own aggrandisement that we truly honour. It’s not the corporate executives that amass huge fortunes that really impress us. It’s not the celebrities that get addicted to their own fame and influence that inspire us. It’s those who, having reached a position in which they could use their influence and resources for personal benefit, lay it all aside in service of the greater good. These are our heroes and heroines, and these are the ones who bring the greatest healing to the world. The temptation to always seek the bigger and better ministry, organisation, impact or influence can lead us to act in arrogance, and to seek to manipulate or dominate others according to our own agendas. But, what is desperately needed in our world is a culture of “greatness” that celebrates self-giving, humility, service and small acts of contribution to the greater good. The creation of this culture starts with us when we choose not to get caught up in the hype over the latest celebrity or movement, but to embrace and celebrate the humble, serving people around us. In addition, when we use our vote and our contributions to reward humility, service and sacrifice, rather than accumulation, hubris and power-mongering, we can make a significant difference to the way our world works.

Local Application:
In a world of reality television, it’s tempting to define greatness, even in the church, by the world’s terms. When we’ve “succeeded” – amassed lots of money or recognition or influence – then we consider ourselves great, and if we haven’t managed to do this, we try to find ways to get it right. But, in this quest for universal exceptionalism, we’ve lost our souls, and the knowledge of true greatness. We’ve forgotten how significant it is for a struggling single mother to raise children to be responsible and generous. We’ve forgotten how powerful the influence of an attentive parent or grandparent can be. We’ve forgotten what a difference small acts of kindness and service can make to our neighbourhoods and communities. We’ve even forgotten that the quest to be great in God’s Reign can lead to the same competitiveness that the disciples experienced – even to the extent that we compare who is the “servingest” of us all! Yet, the ultimate test of greatness is when greatness becomes irrelevant – when we no longer care about how we’re seen, or what we’ve achieved, and we begin to live as humble, sacrificial servants simply because it’s the right thing to do, and it’s one of the best ways to contribute to the healing of the world. Ironically, it’s the moment we stop seeking greatness or defining ourselves by the quest for greatness that we become authentic followers of Christ, and that’s when we become truly great, according to God’s standard.

The God Who Serves
Where Are The Leaders?
Counting The Cost

Hymn Suggestions:
Hail Thou Once Despised Jesus
O Worship The King
O Jesus I Have Promised
That’s Why We Praise Him (Link to YouTube video)
Lord Reign In Me (Link to YouTube video)

A Liturgy for the Celebration of Sacrifice

Video Suggestions:
Dying To Power
Justice, Power and the Kingdom