Sermon for Sunday November 17, 2019
Passages: Isaiah 25:9-26:7; Philippians 1:1-11; Luke 9:44-50
In the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen!
What is the measure of ultimate success? What is the measure of being the greatest? The world around us has set forth measurements and ideas of what constitutes being successful, what dictates greatness, what it means to be number one. And many of us, if not all, define our life’s achievements based on these arbitrarily defined categories. A student is the greatest when they graduate with the top marks. An athlete is successful when they get the win. A parent feels successful when they raise a child healthy and educated academically and or either wise. A businessman or women feels they are the greatest when they’ve hit their mark, achieved their goal, maybe made a good product and now they are making the money.
Yes, success and greatness are defined in very different ways, depending on what you are trying to accomplish. Yet, a question remains, is there a measurement or scale that can be used to check who is the ultimate success or the absolute greatest? Even the Apostles began arguing this point, who was the greatest among them? In fact this argument continued in much of Church history. Who was greater Peter or Paul, John or James etc. (This is a topic for another sermon) But looking at this discussion, in one Gospel account we read that they came to Christ and asked him to settle this matter.
In today’s Gospel we read that Christ Jesus became “aware of their inner thoughts…”(v.47). Yet, what I find very important here is that Jesus did not rebuke them, he didn’t argue that as children of God you must all be equal nor did he say none of you are great. Rather, Christ Jesus took a child and said “Whoever welcomes this child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me; for the least among all of you is the greatest.” (v.48) In other words, the measure by which the disciples were attempting to live up to as the “greatest” – that mentality had to change, because having a desire to be successful or great is not a bad thing. Working hard, being dedicated, doing what others are not willing to do in order to achieve a set goal is commendable even in a Christian faith context. Even St. Paul speaks about having run the race – having finished and having succeeded. However, my dears what Christ Jesus is inviting us to do is change our perception of what “success” or “greatness” is.
If a student from the south side of Chicago, growing up in low income housing, surrounded by gangs and drugs is able to graduate high school and find a steady job to provide for his or her family – are they the greatest? vs. A student who grew up with the best education and opportunities, who had food on the table and two loving parents that guided and nurtured them to a corporate position in this world – are they the greatest? What about an Armenian orphan who comes to the United States, after witnessing the atrocities of death and imprisonment, and through extremely hard work becomes a multi-millionaire – are they successful? vs. A parishioner of St. Gregory Armenian Church, who has had a peaceful life, and decides to open up a business and runs it successfully – are they successful?
My dears, greatness and success are not defined by the vastness or the limitation of physical achievements that we may or may not have accomplished. Rather, to be the greatest is the one who is understands in their heart the humanity and humility of serving others. To be great is to act out of love – to act through Christ JesusSt. Paul succeeded and achieved his “goals” through Christ.
One of my childhood role model’s on TV, and one I am sure many of us have also watched, is Mr. Fred Rogers. A brilliant man with a great heart. If you get a chance read his biography (in fact I think there is a movie coming out about him soon). When asked about success he answered: “There are three ways to ultimate success: The first way is to be kind. The second way is to be kind. The third way is to be kind.” My dear brothers and sisters, to be kind does not mean to not work hard. To be kind does not mean to allow others to run you over or take advantage of you. To be kind means to love all equally, to care for all unequivocally and to hope undoubtedly. To understand that others do not define our greatness or success because our greatness, our ultimate success is defined in how we treat others, how we treat the child – ultimately in extension how we treat Christ Jesus. For Christ is in each one of us – in all humanity. A humanity, for whom Jesus Christ came into this world, was crucified and resurrected – so that all who believe are saved and receive eternal life. An eternal life given to the greatest and the least. From the corporate giants and superstar athletes to the beggar in the street and the child holding a parents hand.
Because success and greatness are not defined for us Christians by the standards of this world. Success and greatness must be defined through us by how we treat ourselves, each other and by glorifying God for all He does through us. To be the greatest – treat everyone else as if they were the greatest. To be successful – see the success of those around us.
I challenge us my dears, as the year comes to a close and we look back on our resolutions and prepare to make new ones soon, I challenge us all – allow our measurement of success to not be defined by titles or material but by the communion and relationships our have created and continue to foster through Christ Jesus. When Jesus is saying “Whoever welcomes this child…,” he is saying “whoever welcomes [blank] in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me…” Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters, what is the measure of greatness? What is the measure ultimate success? Our humility. Our love. Our kindness. How we welcome Christ by welcoming others, by which we break all measurements this world has to offer because what God offers us is much more fulfilling, much more desirable and truly is the greatest. Given to us freely through Christ Jesus – and strengthened through how we treat each other and this world. And God seeing our humility will raise us up to true greatness. Amen!