I got on Amazon and searched for books with the word “greatness” in their title. “How to be Great”, “The Secret to Greatness”, that sort of thing. Do you know many titles I found?
26,000 books telling me how to be great.
Jesus boiled greatness down to one thing. No formulas, no gimmicks, just one simple truth. The great person is the one who serves.
You can listen to my sermon here.
This is a deeply personal sermon I gave in June about hunger and the pain of not having enough money. A lot of us have been there, but we don’t often talk about it. But we should. It helps knowing we’re not alone.
I hope you’ll be encouraged by the closing story to keep your hearts soft and your hands open.
A few words on saying thanks in the midst of blessing and heartache.
Steve Prefontaine was supposed to be the greatest distance runner in American history. Had he not died at the tender age of 24, he probably would have been.
Pre, as he was called, liked to run out front, way ahead of the pack. He made a show of racing because he thought of running as art. His coaches begged him to run with strategy, to hold back and let others do the work. But Pre was famous for saying that he ran, not to win, but to see who had the most guts.
Because of that, he sometimes lost races he could have won.
The world says we should temper our love, look out for ourselves first, and be suspicious of our enemies. But Jesus says to turn the other cheek, give to those who ask, and pray for our enemies.
It wasn’t logical for Pre to run like he did. He would have been more successful had he not. But Pre said that when he ran he wanted people to stop and say, “I’ve never seen anyone run like that.”
Sometimes people ask me why Jesus had to die on a cross. It’s a good question. And there are probably a handful of good answers.
But one of them has to be that he wanted us to see him there and say, “I’ve never seen anyone love like that.”
The first funeral I recall attending was for the dad of a classmate who lived up the street from me. Her dad died suddenly and it scared me to learn this was a possibility. This meant my dad could die. My mom could die.
I could die.
I didn’t want to go to the funeral but my dad said I needed to go. So I went. I’ll never forget watching my friend walk into the church, her arms draped around her mother’s waist. I had never seen anyone cry so hard. Her entire body shook.
Afterward, I asked my dad why I had to go. “Because,” he said, “that’s what friends do.”
That’s what friends do.
It is, isn’t it? Friends go down to the valley with us. Friends aren’t afraid of the shadows. Friends don’t shy away from pain. They move closer to it. They make sure we’re not alone.
As I grew older I watched my father make great effort to attend funerals, sometimes for people he seemed to barely knew. I didn’t understand.
“Adults get invited to a lot weddings,” he explained. ” Someday you will, too. When that happens, make sure to go. But don’t forget about the funerals. Everyone loves to celebrate, fewer choose to mourn.”
I eventually learned my father got this from Jesus, the God of suffering. The God who hung on a cross to make it desperately clear there was no suffering he wasn’t willing to enter on our behalf.
Jesus doesn’t just show up at our weddings. You’ll find him at the funerals, too.
He is a suffering God. And this is good news because we are a suffering people.
As many of us know…when it’s our turn to pass through the valley, we need more than the alleluias of Easter. We need the cries of Good Friday.
And for that, I’m terribly grateful.
If you’re suffering today, please know that you’re not alone. And never will be.
Irvin Yalom tells a story about a man named Dave who was having trouble being honest in group therapy. The other members of the group called him out on it. Dave defended himself, saying, “If I start being honest then I’ll have to talk about how much I hate growing older, how much I fear death.”
Yalom said, “You’re not the only one who has these fears, Dave. Maybe it would be helpful to find out everyone’s in the same boat.”
“No,” Dave said, “that’s the most terrible part about dying—you’re alone in the boat.”
Another group member spoke up. “Even so, even though you’re alone in the boat, it’s always comforting to see the lights of the other boats bobbing nearby.”
Yes, yes, it is. When the darkness descends, may we fall to our knees in prayer. But don’t forget to reach out your hand and grab someone. There are lights bobbing all around you.
A few words on how and why we forgive.
When I see the world, it’s justice I want.
But when the world sees me, my thoughts turn to mercy.
And I’m happy the gospel isn’t fair.
2000 years ago the Roman philosopher, Seneca, said, “What’s the point of having countless books and libraries whose titles the owner could scarcely read through in a lifetime?”
Oh, Seneca, what would you think of Google?
We live in the golden age of answers, but what do we really know? Do you have answers to the deepest questions of your life, the ones you can’t find on Google?
Questions like this one: What does God want?
People get mired in this question. “If only I knew God’s will,” they say, “then I’d know what to do with my life.”
But what in the world does God want? A big check? A guilty conscience? Prayer? Love? Obedience? Sacrifice? What?
Run the question backward. If God asked about your will, what would you say? What do you want?
I don’t know what you want, but I know something about it. It’s not one thing.
We want health and safety and intimacy and adventure and success. Our wills are complex and varied. And I think God’s is too. But that doesn’t mean we can’t say something about it.
In Luke’s Gospel, Jesus enters the home of a woman named Martha who leaps into action, putting the house in order for him. But Martha’s sister, Mary, doesn’t. Instead, she sits down at the feet of Jesus and listens.
Martha carries on, filling drink orders, working the room. But not Mary. She just listens.
Preachers like to praise Mary and beat the hell out of Martha.
But I like Martha. I like workers.
She pokes her head out of the kitchen and yells at Jesus (which is kind of awesome), “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Tell her to get up.”
“Martha,” Jesus replies, “Martha, you’re anxious and troubled about many things; one thing is needful. Mary has chosen the good portion, which shall not be taken from her.”
One thing is needful.
Notice Jesus doesn’t rebuke Martha’s work. He doesn’t say get out of the kitchen and come sit down. He says, “You’re so anxious. You’re so distracted that you’re missing the one thing you actually need. Me.”
Are you distracted and anxious in the golden age of answers? Are you drowning in the never-ending river of information?
How often do you listen for answers instead of search for them?
I think that’s what God wants.
He wants us to listen.
It was’t Martha’s work that was wrong. It was that she had stopped listening because of it.
But would it be like to listen for Jesus’ voice in your customers this week? What if you saw His face in that co-worker you can’t stand to be around? What if you asked Jesus to be present with you during your sales pitch?
Work can be work. Or it can be something entirely God infused.
I think Mary knew that. That’s why she listened before she worked. She wanted to know what God wanted so she could then know how to work.
Be honest. When was the last time you sat still and did nothing? When did you last pray and wait for God to speak first? When did you last listen — really listen?
I know it’s awesome that we have Google to answer our every query.
But I’m drowning in information, desperate for that one needful thing, and missing it.
I want to know God’s will, but I hardly listen.
In Kindergarten, I made a pledge with a kid named Cameron to be best friends. We shook on it.
Over the years we have shared a lot. He sees me for who I am. He knows my good and my very bad. Today we’re 33 and still the best of friends. How?
I’ll tell you.
He listens to me. He always has. Because of that, he knows me. He knows my hopes, my fears, my dreams. That kind of knowing produces a deep, deep bond.
It’s been said that we have to know someone before we can love them. I say we have to listen before we can know.
Do you want to know what God wants for your life?