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Knoxville, TN, United States
Interim Pastor of Evergreen Presbyterian Church (USA), Dothan, AL.

Thursday, July 03, 2008

Luke 22:24-30 "What Does It Take to Be Great?"

James McTyre

Lake Hills Presbyterian Church (USA)

Sunday, July 6, 2008

You. Y'all. We're followers of Christ, right? In our own way, we're disciples of the Lord, right? Which among you is the greatest? Who of us is the greatest follower, the greatest disciple? Raise your hand. Be prepared to provide documentation, though.

Most of us squirm when asked how great a Christian we are. We're much more comfortable hearing how bad sinners we are. Who's the worst sinner here today? (Don't raise your hand.) We squirm because we know this scripture and ones like it where the disciples are arguing about who's the greatest and Jesus says, “Hush, y'all. That kind of stuff is what the rest of the world argues about. Don't you do that, too.”

So when asked about who's the greatest we know how we aren't ever supposed to stand up and say, “It's me. I really am the greatest here.” Might want to. Might want to look down the pew and think, “Maybe not the great-est, but certainly a little great-er.” That's the problem with small churches. We know each other a little too well sometimes.

But what if I told you you can be greater, greater than you were at breakfast? Greater than you were when you came in here? Wouldn't that be great? Jesus knew a way to be great – and it's really simple. We already know what it is. The problem is, we're afraid to do it.

What does it take to be great?

I'm reminded of the old joke: How do you get to Carnegie Hall? Practice, practice, practice. Did any of you watch Tiger Woods at the playoff of the U.S. Open? Wincing in agony as he drove the golf ball 300 yards? Greatness. Nobody saw the decades of driving range days that got him to that level of greatness. He may be the greatest golfer of all time. A lot of people don't like Tiger because he sometimes appears to agree. As Steve Spurrier used to say, “It' ain't braggin if it's true.” Steve doesn't say that anymore.

What does it take to be great?

Practice, practice, practice. Hard work. Dedication. Obsessive drive. The right DNA. Some would say a divine calling, the blessing of God to have the right skills, the right opportunity, at the right time. If Tiger Woods had been born only a few years earlier, waiting tables at the country club may have been the closest he got to a golf course. Greatness is hard work, skill and a fair degree of luck. Some would call it providence. Some are born to greatness and some have it thrust upon them. To be great, all the cards have to stack up just right.

And to be great... even if all the cards are right, there's one more thing. Someone has to see it. Someone has to notice your greatness, don't they?

Have any of you ever done the thing where you balance a stack of pennies on your elbow and then snap your hand forward and catch them? Back around 1975, the Guinness Book of World Records said the record was something like 63. I broke the world's record. One day, when I was all alone, in my bedroom, door closed, with not a soul around to disturb my concentration, I caught 64. I was a lonely child. But I wouldn't have been, if only CNN had been invented and Christianne Amanpour had been there. Fame, fortune, Tonight Show appearances with Johnny... greatness. It would have been mine. If only someone had seen.

And even then... dedication, hard work, luck, the presence of news media – and still one more thing is needed for real greatness.

Even if you're the greatest at whatever it is, golf, stock investing, penny catching, even if you're the greatest and even if you get your name in the Guinness Book of Records, even if you do all that, you're not great... until somebody cares. You may be the acknowledged best... accordion juggling roller skating CPA the world has ever known, but in order to achieve true greatness, someone has to care.

Someone has to care. That's the last step in greatness, isn't it? You can work hard, eat right, exercise, take all kinds of performance enhancing drugs, jump on Oprah's couch, but unless you've done something someone cares about, you're not that great. Someone has to care. It's the critical last step in greatness and you have absolutely no control over it. If people care, great. If they don't, not so great. At the end of the equation, if you want to be great at anything or for anything, someone – someone else – has to care. That's the way it stacks up, and the way it always has been. Hard work, dedication, luck, someone watching, and – finally - someone caring.

Jesus turns greatness upside down. Instead of “someone has to care” being the last step to greatness, he makes it the first. And it totally changes the whole thing. He looked at his arguing disciples and said, “If you really want to be the greatest, don't take the path that ends with someone caring about you; Take the path that starts with you... caring. Take the path that starts with you caring... caring about someone else. Total reversal. “The greatest among you should be as the least, and the leader the one who serves.”

So, we know what everybody else says it takes to be great. Now here's what Jesus says. It's so simple. Jesus says to be great, care about other people... first. Don't care what they think about you, care what you think about them.

Over his last supper with his disciples, Jesus told them, “I am among you as one who serves.” And then he got up from the table, went outside, was betrayed, but still served – was arrested, but still served – was crucified, but still served. He served God and served the human beings who couldn't have cared less about him, who couldn't have thought he could be any more less-than-great. Through it all, he ended up where he began – at step #1 – he served. The greatest was the one who was the least.

Now, that's no big surprise. We read the scripture; we knew where the story was going. Greatness, according to Jesus is simple. And we know it before we get started every single day. So why don't we do it? Why do we still spend so much time, so much energy trying to achieve at least some measure of what the world sees as greatness?

Because we're afraid not to.

I think we'd all like to live as Jesus said. I think we'd all like to follow his example. I think we'd all like to obey his commandments. That's not the problem. The problem is that we also know what the world calls greatness... and we're afraid, afraid not to take that path. It's not that we don't want to spend time serving, spend time caring; it's just that the time to follow Jesus just gets squeezed out before we get to it. The road to following Jesus is in the rear view mirror before we signal to make the turn. The problem is that while we know the goal of selfless serving looks like, it's really hard to imagine how we're supposed to get there. I mean, do we drop all the earthly stuff? Abandon the mortgage? Give up on the good grades? Stop working for a promotion? Is this what Jesus is calling us disciples to do? Sorry, Jesus, but that not only doesn't sound so great, it's also not very likely.

Jesus must have anticipated this is where his disciples' minds would wander, because right after he tells them about being the greatest by being a servant to all, he says this:

“You are those who have stood by me in my trials; and I confer on you, just as my Father has conferred on me, a kingdom, so that you may eat and drink at my table in my kingdom, and you will sit on thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel.”

Well, to say, “I'm a great king in the kingdom of heaven,” sounds great, but try saying that at lunch when the waiter brings you your bill. Or when the mortgage company sends you a second notice. They don't care. The don't care that in heaven you're going to sit on a throne judging the twelve tribes of Israel, they want their payment right now and a 20% tip or late fee for putting up with your nonsense. They don't care. It's like they're living in a different world. And they are. At least, they're following the rules of a different world.

Jesus says, “Be different.”

Jesus' word to us is, I know this is scary. I know this is an upside-down way of doing greatness. But you don't have to be afraid. Don't be afraid to be a little weird for Jesus. Which is not to say you should try that line, “I'm a great king in heaven, therefore I don't have to pay for services on earth.” Not a good idea. I think Jesus knew his disciples would be afraid to try greatness his way. And that's why he reminded them, reminded us, that there's more to life, and more to greatness, than the eyes of this world can see.

I think Jesus knew his way to greatness would be scary, but if you know the path to eternal greatness, wouldn't it be scarier NOT to try? I'm pretty sure it would have been more comfortable for Jesus to have another glass of wine and another loaf of bread, but instead he got up from the table and went out into the world. Jesus, who rejected the world's path to greatness, never rejected the world. And neither should we. We should care. If we want to be great, we should start by caring. Jesus' path to greatness is that simple.

So, forget for a minute about what the world thinks, or what you think. Raise your hand if you want Jesus to think you're just great. (Wow. Look at all those hands. That's great.) Jesus' way to greatness may be simple: start by caring. Simple. But in a world where greatness is the result of clawing and scratching your way to the top, staying focused on Jesus' simple way isn't going to be easy. Might also be scary. Might also be a little weird. Who cares? You. You care. Because you're a disciple of Jesus Christ. And because that's what he says to do.