Who is the greatest?

Homily, September 20th 2015 AD

Psalm 54:1 – 7   Proverbs 31:10 – 31  James 3:16 – 4:8       Mark 9:30 – 37

When we listen to the words of the gospel today it is easy to be tempted to believe that Jesus somehow wants us to lay aside our desire for greatness. I don’t know if you have this desire. To improve your life. To live with excellence. To set a goal and attain it. This is very much a part of the North American creed. Do and then improve, on your own preferably… This pursuit of greatness. I believe we all, to some degree have experienced this. This desire for greatness is in us because we know, subconsciously, that we were made for greatness. It is interesting how this desire is usually stronger when we are younger (we want to change the world, discover, learn, improve) and then as we grow older it seems to fade a bit. We start to think “realistically”. I wonder why that is?

It is not the desire to be great that Jesus has anything against. Rather it is the disciples perception of what greatness is. How it’s defined. “If anyone desires to be first he shall be last of all and servant of all.”The great ones

Along with the disciples we struggle with the same misconceptions about greatness. I tend to believe that greatness is 10.000 churches in “our” denomination. That we would have a new building filled with 1800 people every Sunday morning. That I am given worldly influence and that I can effect peoples lives with what I say only. I believe it’s having this blog read by 1 million people. Maybe you believe that greatness is to have your children succeed, to live a life without any discomfort or to receive your peers recognition for hosting a great party. Maybe you perceive greatness as being able to have the wealth to do what you want, when you want. Right about now you might start to think that I am coming against these things. I am not. Jesus isn’t either. He wants us to enjoy all these things in proper balance, but not as the measure of how good or great we are. It is not progress (as the world see it) money, success or even what we do, that defines greatness. We are great by nature. By simply being created in the image of God.

The disciples, and let us be honest, we as well are thinking with a worldly mind when we are debating about who is the greateast and who is not. Who deserves to be first and recognized by Christ. St Peter? Usain Bolt? Mahatma Ghandi? The truly great ones does not need to argue about this. They don’t need to compare, be jealous or concerned about who is hosting who. Who is in and who is out. Jesus does not hinder the disciples in their pursuit to be first, He wants them and us to strife for something higher. But He does not want us to forcefully impose ourselves as to obtain the highest glories and purposes. No He wants us to find true greatness by the way of humbleness. He is for greatness, but only true greatness. Greatness only remains great if it remains pure. And to remain pure, void of any worldly agenda, it needs to be discovered in meekness and humbleness.

You can try to impose your will on others, say your children, but chances are that you will only grow a distance between yourself and them. You can try to push your faith on others but don’t be surprised if these others quietly start to resent you. Greatness in the true sense can only remain pure if it is motivated by self sacrificial love for the other. We do not testify to people by forcing doctrine upon others, by “being great”. Jesus didn’t force Himself on others, He testified by way of living. Listening to the needs of others. We, as Christ followers must do the same. To truly listen requires a humble and peaceful heart. It is in this light we must hear St James in Chapter 3 and 4:

“For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice. 17 But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere. 18 Peacemakers who sow in peace reap a harvest of righteousness.  3 When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures. But he gives us more grace. That is why Scripture says:

“God opposes the proud but shows favor to the humble.

Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Come near to God and he will come near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded.”

Who is great? Our desire for greatness stems from the time when we were one with the Kingdom of God, before the fall. But this desire have been misplaced so now we believe we need to build a kingdom on our own. The Kingdom never disappeared and it has been revealed to us again in Jesus. It’s just that it is very hard to see (t)his Kingdom and enter it if we are preoccupied, building our own little kingdoms. The Kingdom of vanity, the kingdom of greed. The kingdom of pleasure. The kingdom of consumption and so forth. We can not serve two masters. That is why we must become like little children, they don’t have their own agenda, they just see reality for what it is. This is why it is so very hard for the rich, and lets be honest again, thats us, to enter the Kingdom. We, I am, preoccupied with building our own kingdom of money and influence. Not only that, this is why there is strife, and murder and division in the world because everyone says that their Kingdom is the true one. Be it a kingdom of science, capitalism, marxism, foodism or sectarianism. “My kingdom is better than your kingdom”.

But remember, a true Kingdom does not have to impose itself on others. It just is. It does not have to use violence or election tactics to prove validity. It actually grows by self-sacrifice, by giving itself up for others. It does not depend on peoples emotions or opinions about it. It just is. And it reveals itself through the ones who do not have to claim the first spot because they know that in the Kingdom, every child has their Fathers attention.

This is a struggle for me I must admit. To remain faithful to God’s plan for His Kingdom rather than my interpretation of it. Or in other words, to submit my preconceived notions in what I want out of life, to His will. I struggle because often I am so focused on what I have failed at or what I should have done or what I want to do that I forgot that the life I live is not my own.

As we enter this new church year I have chosen the word AUTHENTICATION as our annual theme word. This word means the process of determining whether someone or something is, in fact, who or what it is declared to be.

Are we who we declare ourselves to be? Are we Christians, followers of Christ? If we are, then that means that we to need to leave our homes, our Kingdom, just like Christ, and meet the broken where they are. It means to become the last. It means to be rejected and despised by many. It means to give up our lives for the sake of the world. Jesus became the last one, the servant of all. He did not do it to pursue greatness or impose Himself on others. He did it because that is Who He is. The greatest.

In Christ,

fr. Jakob

Deferred responsibility?

“- What happened to Christianity?” we ask. Nothing, it remains the same. The culture that surrounds it shifts slightly as time goes by, (even though cultural fundamentals also are slow to change).

There is a great designation to be made here. It is not the Church, the body of Christ that is effected by the changing culture. Jesus did not get stained by sin. His nature remained the same. It is actually Jesus and His body the Church that restores culture to it’s proper purpose and place. So beginning on a light note like that 🙂 where am I heading with this?

Myself and many of my peers sometimes fall into the trap of thinking that something must have gone terribly wrong with “Christianity” or with “Church”, especially when we read the latest “10 – list – of – something – that – made – me – leave – the – church – and – start – my – own – charitable – save – the – world – project” or about the sacking of Constantinople for that matter . We read on our devices about the personal experience of someone we have not met with angst and horror, hoping that we won’t experience the same thing. Or maybe that we will…? (Sometimes we want an excuse to leave the Church…)

We are scandalized by the Church’s inability to be relevant, forgiving, transparent, acceptant, honest, hospitable and loving. We know that if the Church only could muster the ability to apply these things, her true calling, the contemporary person would be drawn to Christ and His body. I believe this to be true. If the Church could apply these things it would very much offer what is needed in the contemporary person’s life, namely real relationship. We need to love and we need to be loved.

This need will not be satisfied by us sitting in front of our screens and voicing our concerns and/or our reasons to celebrate. The studies being done in this area, how digital interaction/connection affects us are starting to show this. We need more than the likes on our status updates. We need more than the FaceTime conversation. We need more than following the news on a distance. The development of the experiential travelling business is evidence enough. This generation of mine (and all generations for that matter) want to belong to something, want to know that we matter to someone and that we can contribute to the betterment of humanity. Our creative capacity and the tools available to us are astronomical. But , (there is always a but) I believe we are going about it in the wrong way.

We have been taught that we can consume whatever we choose to consume, including Church. We have been fostered to believe that whatever I prefer should also be my right. Whatever I choose, and the choices are endless, is what is true for me. So when we choose the Church we attend it is often based upon what this Church does for me. Yes, we have heard this before and we know that this is not the best way to go about choosing what Church to attend (only to our own preferences) but the deeper issue is not that we choose like this. The deeper issue is that we treat “Church” as something separate from ourselves. In essence, Church is not something to be chosen by the individual as we have been taught. Church is the personal encounter with restored reality, and we can only have this personal encounter in the light of Someone else’s face. Church is not a individual preference, it is Personal immanence.

See all these things that “the Church” struggles with; relevancy, transparency, integrity, honesty, acceptance, hospitality and love is really my struggle. The Church struggle with these things because we people comprising the Church struggles with these things. The moment we start to blame “the Church” for all the hurtful things done, in that moment you are increasing the distance between yourself and the Church. As a Christian, as someone anointed, you can not distance or cut yourself of from the body and still believe that you are going to have any intrinsic effect on Her life. It is easy to criticize and judge something you do not view yourself as being part of.

I don’t think it is mere chance that a lot of the blame that the Church is receiving is shared online. It is one thing to write generally about the dismal state of the Church on the anonymous Internet, it is quite another to talk in confidence and trust with another person about it. And this is the point of being Church in the first place. We need the real, physical encounter. We need to be encouraged but also held accountable by other real, physical beings. Short of that we will eventually escape into the pseudo reality of “gnostic internet”.

God knew that we would not be satisfied until He had revealed Himself in the flesh. We need to see, hear, touch, smell and taste love to be able to trust that it is real and true. We needed Him to share our life in the flesh. So God sent His Son to heal the broken world and to reveal His love in the world. God DSC_0022knew that it would not do with updating His status through the prophets. He knew that it would not do with just “liking” the likes of David and Jonah. He knew that it would not do to reply “maybe” on the invite from the Jews. He had to show up, in the flesh, and show up He did.

Would not His very own body do well if we did the same? If we actually showed up and were present where God is planting us? If we took all the time we spend online (ok, maybe not all the time) and used that time to build other people up? If we said “yes” or “no” and meant it? If we made promises and kept them? If we lived in covenant where we would be grateful for honest appreciation and admonition?

To act with integrity and inline with what I have just written, I then must invite you. If you do not already attend a Church I invite you to visit us here at Holy Covenant. We are trying (and failing) to live somewhat like this. We are here, present in the midst of North Park, Saskatoon and we would love to get to know you. We are in it for the long haul. We can not offer new emotional “super experiences” every week (or month for that matter). But we do offer what we have. Real people wanting to share the blessings and burdens of life. A steady prayer life. A helping hand. An encouraging word. You can visit our webpage (off course, here we go again…) but don’t stop with that, come visit us in real life because that is were Church really happen. And… if you are about to make big judgement calls concerning the “dismal state of the Church” please take a moment and read up on the actual nature of the Church, you might be apart of her…

It is about grit you know. About putting our hands to the plough. If you desire real relationships and real people it will claim your life, it takes work (lots of it). But then on the other hand what else would be worth giving your life up for? Welcome to Church, it will always be here, even after you have written your last status update…

In Christ,

fr. Jakob