Sermon for Sunday December 30, 2018
Passages: Isaiah 51.15-52.3; Hebrews 13.18-25; Luke 22.24-30
In the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen!
Depending on where you live in Illinois or at least in the Chicago general area, you are either a Cubs or Sox fan. If I were to poll a 1,000 people as to which is better, undoubtedly there would be a disagreement.
Even if you aren’t a sports fan, from a very young age, we innately grow up with this sense of competition. From academia, athletics, business, politics etc. To be faster, stronger, smarter, more successful. Ultimately to be right! In Armenian I have heard a saying, which states, “no one judges the victor.” Perhaps while competing or working away, we make certain decisions that are questionable by others. At times rightfully so, but at times because they don’t understand. Like how some Cubs fans can’t understand how others like the Sox and visa versa. Only after victory or becoming successful do people stop judging us. We were right. We won!
This rhetoric of being right or the best is overwhelmingly evident in today’s politics. The left vs. the right. Who is the greatest? Or as Trump so eloquently puts it in almost all of his speeches, “No body can do it like me. I am the best.” Regardless if you like Trump or not, whether you identify as blue or red, Cubs or Sox, whether math or music is your forte, the competitive spirit is in all of us. For some it is loud and boisterous; for some it is done quietly behind the scenes. In fact, the disciples themselves show this competitive spirit in the Gospel today. “A dispute also arose among them, which of them was to be regarded as the greatest.” (v. 24) This entire week, leading up to New Years and Christmas, in the month of December the Armenian Church remembers and celebrates some the greatest teachers, prophets and saints of the Christian faith. King David, St. Paul and Peter, St. Stephen the Protomartyr, the Zebedee brothers James and John and so forth. For the Armenian Church these feast are called Avak Don or The Great Feasts. Yet, when we read the words of these saints or their lives, we do not see ultimately this competitive nature. Rather we continually see humiliation, perhaps persecution and failure.
For this reason Christ rebukes his disciples by saying, “‘The kings of the Gentiles exercise lordship over them; and those in authority over them are called benefactors. But not so with you; rather let the greatest among you become as the youngest, and the leader as one who serves…’” (v. 25-26) Hey Peter, hey James, don’t be like everyone else. Don’t be like those so-called leaders of the non-believers who each one tries to raise themselves up above other. Rather, Christ is teaching the disciples and us, that as Christian’s our driving force or greatness is in our willingness to serve, to be humble. None of us would say those saints were failures, yet, they would argue that their success came through God alone. Because Christ is not saying don’t be competitive or don’t try your hardest. Lest we take this teaching of Christ to be encouraging of laziness. Christ isn’t saying be lazy. On the contrary, the example he gives is of a servant of the table.
A waiter. Someone who takes the orders, cleans, serves, etc. I personally believe that everyone should have to work as a waiter for a year of their life, in order to feel what it means to run around serving others. We’ve all been to restaurants. When the waiter is lazy, slow, inattentive, and rude; what do we think first? “Well that’s coming out of their tip.” In fact a waiter can ruin our entire night. But when our waiter is kind, smiling, pays attention to what we ask and helps us to the best of their ability, even if they sometimes mess something up, we want to reward that behavior. Because though he is a servant of the table, though he may have forgotten the straws, without him or her we would not eat, we would not enjoy our night out.
Likewise, Jesus Christ is teaching us that as Christian’s, as children of God, we are called to show the same love and humility that we have seen through the actions of Christ Jesus. By humbling ourselves, we begin to see eye to eye with those around us. We become empathetic to the needs of others. We see God in each person in the streets, from the greatest of saints to the greatest of sinners. We see that failure or our shortcomings are not a sign of our worth, for our worth is not in our dress, in our rank, nor in our temporal success. St. Moses the Strong teaches, “if a man does not put himself in the attitude of a sinner, his prayer will not be heard by God.”
In this season of celebration of Thanksgiving, Christmas, and tomorrow New Years, do we see ourselves as higher or superior to those around us? We may say no. But our actions speak louder than our words. And through the advice of St. Moses, our actions will speak louder than our prayers. In what do we put our value? My dear brothers and sisters, let us take the words of St. Paul and likewise, ask that we each pray for each other and for those who are not here among us. Christian, non-Christian, male, female, black, white, blue, red, cubs or sox, we are all created equal. Our value is in the image of God in which we are created, not in our degree of success. And we all rise and fall together. There is something we often forget. If we try to raise ourselves up, we need to begin by stepping onto something and/or unfortunately someone. However, if we humble ourselves and have the hope, love and compassion that we are taught to have, then by raising others up, they to can pull us up with them. For that is the essence of our faith.
So yes, be competitive in school, at work, on the field. But do so in a way that brings glory to God – by seeing each person around you as a beloved child of God. And when we do so, our prayers will be heard. Therefore, may 2019 be a year of strength, hope, love, empathy and prayer. God willing the coming year is an exciting year for us. Therefore, as a family let us all rise up together by the grace of the Holy Spirit and in the glory of God. Amen!