January 18 was Martin Luther King Jr. Day. In an editorial appearing that day, his son, Dexter, quoted these words of his father: "Everyone can be great because anybody can serve."
That understanding of greatness is thoroughly Christian. Though we supposedly live in a Christian culture it still remains completely foreign to us. Greatness for us means success, achievement, recognition. It means possessing power and all the toys.
If we measured greatness in terms of serving we would think much more highly of mothers and garbage collectors and secretaries. When Jesus' disciples disputed among themselves who was the greatest of them, they were thinking in our terms. Jesus had to make them think in terms of what Martin Luther King Jr. said. "...let the greatest among you become as the youngest, and the leader as one who serves. For which is greater, one who sits at table, or one who serves? Is it not the one who sits at table? But I am among you as one who serves."
If greatness is measured in terms of serving, then as Martin Luther King Jr. said any of us can be great. We all have ample opportunities to serve, and we all have the ability to serve.
What we don't have by nature is the freedom to serve. By nature we are so enslaved by the fear of death that we are not free to serve anybody else besides ourselves. That's why Jesus' victory over death is absolutely essential. It's his defeat of death that frees us from the fear of death and thereby frees us to serve. That means there is nothing standing in the way of our being great. We can't all be superstars or geniuses, but we can all be great because we all have been freed to serve.
Pastor Ahl, February 1999
Mt. Zion Lutheran Church
5645 Chicago Ave. S.
Minneapolis, MN 55417 map