This week’s talk/sermon

This is a transcript of the talk or sermon for this Sunday

SUNDAY SERVICE 19th September

“WHO IS THE GREATEST?” – Reverend Paul Pritchard

Mark 9:30-37     

Did you ever play “King of the castle” when you were a child?

I remember playing it with my cousin and some friends in my Grandfather’s garden and on the dunes at Dunster Beach where we spent our summer holidays. We kids would run up the dune and try and push the others off. Whoever could push all the others off while standing at the top is the greatest, or the “King of the castle.” Did you ever play it?

From an early age, most of us, whether it’s intentional or not are taught that greatness implies power, strength, fame, wealth and all the other things that allow us to make things go our way.

The indicators of success in our world are lots of money, expensive cars, big houses and on it goes. But the Christ’s way as we read in today’s Gospel introduces a counter cultural set of values. He repeated, over and over again, — we are to help the poor, the needy, the vulnerable. So, what should we aspire to?

This is a question that has been on people’s minds, probably, since the beginning of time.

My great hero from the New Testament, isn’t Peter although some say I’m like him, because I so often put my foot in it. But its Barnabas the “Son of encouragement” who wants to encourage and see the best potential in all he meets.

Mark Twain said: Keep away from people who try to belittle you. Small people always do that, but the great people make you feel that you, too, can become great.

So, what does constitute greatness? In our Gospel reading today, Jesus lays on the line His view.

Having just heard Jesus tell them that He will be betrayed, killed and will rise on the third day, the disciples remain clueless as to what Jesus is talking about and are also clueless about what Jesus is really about, and how you can achieve true greatness. As they were walking along, they start arguing with one another about which one of them is going to be the greatest in God’s Kingdom.

Perhaps they were comparing the time they had each spent with Him, or maybe their own talents or gifts Jesus had commented on. We don’t really know. What we do know is that Jesus was not impressed! He says, “Anyone who wants to be first, must be the very last, and the servant of all.”

This must have confused those listening even more, because it wasn’t what they had been taught—and if we admit it—it’s not what we have been taught either.

Again, the world’s standards of greatness are usually tied to power over others, or influence. But Jesus was on a totally different track. And to drive His point home even further, He picks up a young child into His arms and tells them that whoever welcomes a child like this welcomes Him.

Suddenly it seems like Jesus has gone from saying something a little odd, to saying something really stupid! Because, in those days children were viewed as socially inferior and invisible – they had no rights, no influence, no standing. They were utterly dependent, utterly vulnerable, utterly powerless.

So, what did he mean?  It’s bonkers. Or is it? 

What if we imagined that greatness isn’t about power and fame and all the rest, but instead it’s measured by how much we share with others, how much we take care of others, how much we love others, how much we serve others? What kind of world would we then live in?

Can you imagine if people were regularly trying to out-do each other in their deeds of kindness and service? I can only think it would be a pretty special world, what do you think? Jesus’s view is so utterly counter-cultural!

But does it resonate with today’s current political debate about caring for the marginalised, the refugees and elderly folk.

Jesus emphasises about taking care of those who are the most vulnerable—those with little influence or power, those who are least likely to be able to pay us back, those the community is most likely to ignore.

How are we doing at measuring our success, our greatness, not by what we take in but by what we give away? Not by the influence we have, but by the selfless service we offer. Not by accumulating more, but by sharing what we already have? Not by being first, or striving for credit, but being eager to see others progress ahead of us?  One of my favourite mantras is “there is no limit to what you can achieve if you don’t mind who takes the credit” wow! That’s another attitude which could change so much!

This is hard stuff; it’s absolutely and totally different than what the world tells us. It was hard for the first disciples and it’s hard for us.

Even while Jesus’ disciples misunderstand, didn’t believe or just ignored what Jesus was saying, He was walking to Jerusalem and the Cross—willingly, in order to sacrifice everything for them and for us! “While we were sinners, Christ died for us.” While we argue or even just think about which one of us is the greatest—Christ died for us!”

Amazing and beautiful at the same time. Jesus turns the world’s values upside down. He is the King, but He wears a crown of thorns and is broken on the Cross. True greatness, He says, is determined by humility and vulnerability, by service and sacrifice, truthfulness and faithfulness. As Christ’s followers, we are called to live His kind of greatness, so that the world can see the true meaning of greatness which, comes totally from LOVE.

Jesus didn’t give up on His fumbling disciples of the 1st Century, nor us, His fumbling disciples of the C21. But He does encourage us to persevere with His way. So, hear these words once again: “Jesus said: “Anyone who wants to be first must be the very last, and the servant of all.” In response to this reflection – what can we individually do, what can I do, to really make a difference with all those whose lives cross mine?