1 Corinthians 1:10-18
Who are the truly great?
Probably not those whose names quickly come to our minds…
…because the truly great don’t tend to make the headlines, the tabloids or the evening news.
In our Gospel Lesson for this morning we see that two of Jesus’ disciples, James and John, came to Jesus with their mother and, “kneeling down, asked him” if one of them could sit on the right and the other on the left in Christ’s kingdom.
This certainly is not a new motivation.
They assumed Jesus would soon initiate a kingdom, and they were lobbying, if not for crowns, at least for thrones.
And they may not have been embarrassed by their less than noble motives.
The other disciples, once they heard of James’s and John’s request, were probably more jealous than angry.
Because seeking rewards is part of the nature of humankind—our pride demands it.
Of course, this situation allows us to get a sneak peek at how the disciples thought of Jesus.
They believed in Him.
They were sure that He had the power to establish the messianic kingdom.
But their concept of the kingdom was worldly.
They thought Jesus would triumph over His foes, both domestic and foreign, and then would establish an empire with ranks and thrones.
As most of you know, I love basketball.
As a kid, growing up, I would play basketball morning, noon and night.
It was so much fun.
My dream was to someday play in the NBA.
But, when I started playing organized basketball—that is competitive high school basketball…
…my perspective on the game changed.
I competed with my teammates for the starting positions and for play time…
…instead of an enjoyable game, basketball became a stressful, competitive venture…
…with a coach’s anger always waiting to explode at the slightest error in judgment or ability.
I remember one game, with the bleachers packed, I became so afraid of making a mistake that I threw the ball away about 3 or 4 times in the first two minutes of play and was benched for the rest of the game.
For me, basketball lost its fun when it became a competition with high stakes and threats.
Well, this is the world we live in, is it not?
It is a competitive world, with the so-called great people standing at the top and most everybody else scrambling to reach the next higher level where there are fewer equals and more subordinates…
…and for what?
…and for what?
One Sunday morning, before church, Walter Goode told me about a teenager he was concerned about.
This teenager had told Walter that he wanted to ‘be somebody’ someday, and therefore wanted to move to Hollywood and become a famous actor.
Walter looked at me with tears in his eyes and said, “If only he could know that he already is ‘somebody’ because Jesus loves him.
And this is true for all of us—we already are ‘somebody’—every single one of us!
We are all ‘somebody’ very important—we all have sacred worth!
Because Jesus loves us—that’s why.
This is what we call grace.
There is nothing we can do to earn Christ’s love…and there is nothing we can do that will cause Christ not to love us.
We are all equal in His eyes.
There is no competition in the kingdom of God!
Instead, God’s kingdom is an opportunity for an intimate relationship with Jesus Christ and all those who follow Him…
…and also an opportunity to serve the church and the world.
Christ’s kingdom is not a manipulative calculation designed to assure power and prestige!
Jesus challenged His disciples and Jesus challenges us:
“You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave—just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”
Jesus takes the accepted order of things in this world and turns it on its ear!
Surely He had watched the Roman governor pass in procession through the ranks of a servile population.
He saw how the poor served the rich, and how the weak served the strong.
Can we say that our world is radically different today than it was 2,000 years ago?
Can we say that our church is radically different today than the idea that the first disciples had in Matthew Chapter 20?
Let’s pray that it is.
Because our church has a very important mission.
We have been called into existence in order to witness to the world and to each other the good news of God’s love that is shown to us in Jesus Christ.
We are to bring others into this fellowship where God’s love is to be shared, so that we can all grow into being true followers of Jesus Christ—Who gave His life in order that we may know what true love is, what real life is…so that we may have a hope and a future!!!
And there are so many people, who are within the reach of Parkview United Methodist Church, who are starving for the love of God that we have been given to share!
Are we sharing God’s love…or are we allowing worldly pride, worldly competition get in the way?
If we are allowing anything to stop us from spreading the love of Christ in our community, in our world…then we have not really come very far…
…and we are in fact, doing terrible harm to the people whom God loves.
Most people in this world may not even yet realize just how urgently they need a Savior—the Savior…
…and yet, the need is indeed great and urgent!
We have a very important mission.
No, strike that. We have the most important mission imaginable!
We are called to share God’s love with those who don’t even know love exists…
…we are called to change the world with the Gospel of Christ!!!
We are to be the salt of the earth, the light of the world, the body of Christ in this world of misery, sin, death and hell!!!
And there is no room for competition in the body!!!
Remember what Paul tells us in 1st Corinthians Chapter 12?
“Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it…
…if one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it.”
In our Epistle Lesson for this morning from 1st Corinthians that Virginia read earlier, Paul is writing to a church that has some problems in it.
Some competitive jockeying for positions of honor and stature had invaded the church in Corinth.
Petty jealousies, snobbishness, and quarreling were being played out and divisions were appearing within the church.
And these kinds of attitudes can be very subtle.
They can work in our lives without our ever recognizing them for what they are…
…and they can wreak havoc with the church’s ability to witness to the love of God and to bring people into a saving relationship with Jesus Christ…which is…the most important thing in the world!!!
Wouldn’t you imagine that Satan just loves it when God’s people become competitive with one another?
What a horrible hindrance to the salvation of the world!!!
Paul wrote some things to the Corinthians in order to help them and us be the most effective group of Christians we can possibly be….in order that we can know the love of God and serve one another and the world with this love.
None of us can claim any special status in the presence of God because of who we are or because of what we have done or because of our goodness or our wealth or our education or even because of our faithfulness.
We are saved by grace.
Paul writes: “God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. He chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him. It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God—that is our righteousness, holiness and redemption. Therefore, as it is written: ‘Let him who boasts boast in the Lord.’”
Paul didn’t write this to cut us down, but to free us to find our great joy and self-confidence in Christ and Christ alone!!!
Because the best thing any of us have is something that has been freely given to us and to others, none of us have any reason to feel superior to anyone else…
Yes, blessed is the person who is able to forget about self, and thus be sensitive to the needs of others!!!
If we were all able to do this perfectly, the companies that make all the drugs that are supposed to help us with our feelings of insecurity, and worthlessness would have to find another way to make money.
We are told that the real sign of Christian maturity is not some kind of intellectual or spiritual or cultural superiority, but the ability to love.
The most beautiful chapter in 1st Corinthians is chapter 13.
It starts with the words: “If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal.”
Later in the chapter, Paul gives one of the best descriptions of love that can be found anywhere: “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.”
This is what we are to aim for if we are to be followers of Jesus Christ!!!
The kingdom of God is anything but concerned with worldly things such as status, privilege and honor.
No, instead, the kingdom of God is about those who are to rejoice in their shared love of God through Jesus Christ—in their shared experience of the love of God in Jesus Christ…
…and therefore put there mission to share God’s love with the rest of the world first and be of one mind and purpose.
James and John, much like many of us…wanted to be seen as great in the kingdom of God…
…Jesus said to them: “You don’t know what you are asking…whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave…”
In other words, there is no competition in the kingdom of God…
…and what a wonderful relief this is!
Instead of being like the world, we are to be the opposite.
And in being the opposite of the world we are to find the greatest treasure this life has to offer—the freedom to be who we are, who we were created to be, and the freedom to walk humbly with our neighbors and with our God!
Thanks be to God. Amen.