Greatness in the Eyes of God

In the past week, the NBA, NHL, and USGA have crowned national champions. Cleveland claimed the NBA title, Dustin Johnson won the U.S. Open in Oakmont, PA, and our beloved Penguins captured the Stanley Cup, NHL’s highest prize.

This “championship season” has me thinking a lot about greatness, and how the world’s view of greatness isn’t always the same as God’s. Allow me to share two stories.

The first is from chapter 20 of the Gospel of Matthew in the Bible. In this story, the mother of James and John (2 of Jesus’ disciples) asks what any mother would ask for her sons: that someone else would see how special they are. She knows how wonderful they are, and she wants Jesus to know too. So she asks Jesus to give them the honor of sitting especially close to Jesus in his kingdom. But Jesus responds by saying to her and to his disciples:¬†“Whoever wants to be great among you will be your servant. Whoever wants to be first among you will be your slave–just as the Human One didn’t come to be served but rather to serve and to give his life to liberate many people.” – Matthew 20:26-28

The second story is of my pastor in college, Wayne Albertson. Every year during the Ash Wednesday service, Wayne would tell the story of Jesus washing his disciples’ feet on the night before his death. On that night, Jesus would kneel down, towel around his waist, basin in hand, and do the job of the lowest household servant. After telling the story, Wayne would close Ash Wednesday worship by handing each of us a towel to keep with us all through the church season of Lent as a reminder to always be prepared to serve others when opportunities arise.

When you hear coaches talk about team championships, they often say in one way or another that the achievements are a result of players and coaches working together, embracing their own roles and sacrificing their own glory for the sake of serving the team. Penguins coach Mike Sullivan created a culture around two words: “Just Play.” His players responded by not worrying about their own stats or what the other team was doing, but limiting distractions and doing what was asked of them.

You might say Jesus created a culture around two words: “Just Serve.” Maybe this summer is an opportunity for the greatness that Jesus demonstrates: having a towel at the ready, prepared to serve others as the opportunities arise. If you want to be truly great, spend this summer as a servant.

— Pastor Erik

Neighbors

Several years ago, a parishioner of my church was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. At 91 years old, treatment was not an option, so the doctors sent him home to be comfortable. Shortly after the diagnosis, I visited him and his wife. This older couple sat side by side in easy chairs: Mel waiting for the cancer inside him to take his life, Marian preparing for life without her primary caretaker.

You see, even at 91, Mel took care of Marian. She was legally blind, and needed Mel’s help even getting around the house. As we spoke, it became clear that Mel had already accepting his pending death. “I’ve lived a full life,” he said. It was a life full of wonderful experiences and few regrets. There was no need to worry about him, he assured me.

Naturally, I began to turn my worry toward Marian. Who would care for her? Could she live alone? Both quickly assured me she would be fine. One of their children lived nearby and could check on her daily, but what really helped was all the caring neighbors who surrounded them. Each neighbor on their street seemed to have a specific role. One brought their mail up the long driveway. Another cut their grass. There was a neighbor to plow the driveway, a neighbor to drive them places, and the next door neighbor who looked out her kitchen window every morning to make sure Mel & Marian were awake for another day.

I remarked to hem how fortunate and blessed they were by all these good neighbors. “Yes, we have good neighbors,” Mel said. “But it’s simple, really: to have good neighbors, you just have to be a good neighbor.”

Central to scripture is the love commandment: Love God, love neighbor. Of course, that doesn’t only apply to the people who share our street, but to everyone we share this world with. But sometimes, it really does mean to love your neighbor as yourself. It really means being a good neighbor to those who live around you. When we do, chances are those neighbors will love us back. Be a good neighbor today. It will increase your odds of having good neighbors.

— Pastor Erik