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Before I let you go on and on about the title, let me say that I Googled “Steve, The Great” and came up empty with that search. Can you imagine? Perhaps my understanding of great needs some clarification? Maybe this story will help?
Some years ago St. Paul School of Theology in Kansas City was seeking a new president. Over one hundred candidates applied for the position. The search committee narrowed the list to five eminently qualified persons. Then somebody came up with a brilliant idea: let’s send a person to the institutions where each of the five finalists is currently employed, and let’s interview the janitor at each place, asking him what he thinks of the man seeking to be our president. This was done and a janitor gave such a glowing appraisal of William MacElvaney that he was selected President of St. Paul’s School of Theology.
Somebody on that search committee understood, in a flash of genius, that those who live close to Christ become so secure in his love that they no longer relate to other people according to rank or power or money or prestige. They treat janitors and governors with equal dignity. They regard everybody as a VIP. Children seem to do this intuitively; adult Christians have to relearn it.
How do we grow to the point that we stop measuring people by their successes and start regarding people for their service, for their sacrifices? How do we move from a world’s model which measures value in terms of wealth, fame, and power to a model which measures value in based on Jesus’ teachings? What is greatness in the kingdom of God?
Someone once asked Dr. Albert Sweitzer who was the greatest person in the world. He answered: “Some unknown person, who is doing the work of love.” When Mike Peters won the Pulitzer Prize for political cartoons (1981), he wasn’t expecting the honor. He described his response by saying, “It is like you are asleep and it is two in the morning and you are hugging your pillow and you are in your funny pajamas and somebody bursts through the door and they come over and start shaking you and they say, ‘Wake up, wake up!’ And you say, ‘What is it?’ And they say, ‘You have just won the Boston Marathon!’ And you say, ‘But I’m not running in the Boston Marathon.’ And they say, ‘Doesn’t make any difference, you won.'”
Jesus taught that heaven will hold some surprises. Honor and glory will be granted for behavior that was so natural, so undistinguished, and so noncompetitive. Take the simple illustration that Jesus gives of receiving a child. From somewhere Jesus finds a small child who he stands in front of them. It is interesting that Mark tells us that Jesus stands the child in front of them and then takes the child in his arms. Perhaps he was highlighting how low the child was by comparison. But as he raises the child in his arms he says to them, “Whoever welcomes on of these little children in my name welcomes me; and whoever welcomes me does not welcome me but the one who sent me.” Now, what does he mean? He is talking about having a humble servant attitude, being willing to reach out and help the lowliest of people so that we might show them the love of Christ. Such simple acts will be greatly rewarded.
Yes, many of God’s children will be surprised to find that their faithful simple service has brought them top honors. The servant will be honored; the last shall be first. And if there is one thing in this world that short circuits such simple acts it is self-promotion. You cannot both serve and conquer. So put on your funniest pajamas and get ready to hear from God that you have already won… because of Jesus.
Dear Lord, sometimes I would like to think that I am great. I know that history will not record me as “Steve, the Great.” But I do hope that someone will notice that Steve did seek to let you live through me and that all my brothers and sisters mattered. I pray that you lifted someone’s spirit because I happened to be there with kindness and peace. In and through Jesus. Amen.
Grace and Peace