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Homily on Greatness

Delivered to the soldiers of the 450th CA BN (A).

The Lord be with you

I am from Pittsburgh, and I love connecting to my city by watching the Steelers. Last Sunday after a church service, I went to a Steelers bar here in Northern Virginia. After a bit of time, an older gentleman sat next to me. We began to talk. It turned out that he was from the next town over, a town that I had worked in. We learned that had similar interests as we talked, and he showed me pictures of his grandbabies who were dressed up for the game. We high-fived each other every time the Steelers got a first down. And then I asked him what he did for work. He told me that he was a soldier. I said wow! I happen to be in the Army too. What is your job? And he replied, “oh I work in the Pentagon.” It turned out that this man was a Lieutenant General, Wikipedia page and all.

My military mind quickly went into panic mode. Over the course of the conversations we had just had, I was respectful, but I was very casual, drinking beers and eating sloppy food right next to this general for the whole second half of the game – but then I realized what he had done. For a few hours out of his Sunday he left his perch in the Pentagon, put on a Pittsburgh jersey, and became part of a different team. For him in that moment, he put away all the greatness our government and society has assigned to him, in order to drink a beer next to a lieutenant, someone that, while in the context of his military career, would likely be improbable or impossible. His greatness in that moment was realized not through his military accomplishments, but by being able to let it all go and feel like he was at home and share in the greatness of the win that day.

From my reading of the text, it seems that the disciples were very concerned with greatness. In some ways, I am sure we all are. We are concerned with meeting the physical and mental standards of the Army, we are concerned with excelling in our civilian careers, we are concerned with wealth and having leisure. In this simple message to the disciples, Jesus challenges us to look at greatness as something else. Something that the last have that those we define as great do not have.

At the very core of Jesus’ definition of greatness, we see servanthood. The Greek word that is recorded, diakonos, is the same word we see when angels attend to Jesus after he encounters the tempter in the wilderness. It has the same connotation as a person who waits tables - another way it is used in scripture. If we were to visualize this passage, we may picture the world sitting at a table, and rather than joining to feast, Christ calls us to give everyone else food and drink while we wait.

And moreover – we are to wait on those that Jesus compares to children - those who have nothing to give back, and in so Christ goes as far as to say that we welcome God into our lives. In the ancient world, this would’ve been even more shocking. Children had no legal protections, they were needy, not fully productive, and were certainly not what people would’ve thought of when they pictured the greatness of God. But to follow Christ is to serve a God that orients towards those that we cannot fathom as great.

By its very definition, as Christians we claim to be followers of Christ – and when we claim to follow Christ, we must put our earthly definitions of greatness aside in order to pursue servanthood. When we embody Christ, we must remember that the same Christ who saved us also adorned the clothing of servants to wash the feet of his disciples. In a world where we are encouraged to live greedily, lavishly, and only for ourselves, Christ calls us to be different, pursuing this servanthood and everything that comes with it as our way of following him.

There is something else remarkable in this brief passage. Mark is the shortest of all the gospels, but even for Mark, this passage seems haphazard. Marks depicts the disciples go from listening to Jesus proclaim that he will resurrect from the dead, and in their confusion and fear, rapidly moving on to a different discussion, ignoring this mystery of faith altogether. With this single malfunction, they miss whole point; in their concern about who is the greatest, they miss the revelation of Jesus’ death and resurrection.

In their arguments – as James describes - envy and selfish ambition, they do not understand the greatness of God standing in front of them. They let the pursuit of their own greatness get in block their vision of the greatness of God. In our own lives, we must let God determine what is great. We must viciously and relentlessly pursue service, with a passion that could only come from the Holy Spirit. There was action in Jesus’ message – he not only used the child as a means of metaphor, he picked up this child and took him into his arms. He was holding a person he would die to save.

While I think it is possible for us as Christians to do too much of one thing, servanthood is not one of them. It is what all other ethos in our scripture is based around – the love of God and neighbor. As we continue our battle assembly today, and go forth into the week, let us try to very seriously put Christ and others in the center of our actions. Let us look for tangible ways to meet the needs of our fellow soldiers and person, following Christ as he taught us to do.

James sums it up nicely giving us the remedy to our false, every-changing, sinful and Earthly interpretations of greatness:

Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you.


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