“What were you arguing about on the way?”
But they remained silent.
They had been discussing among themselves on the way
who was the greatest.
— Mark 9:33-34
When I hear the phrase “I am the greatest,” my mind travels back to my childhood and Muhammed Ali. “I am the greatest!” he said. “I said that before I knew I was.” We loved Ali’s enthusiasm, and Howard Cosell’s regular encouragement that he restate his awesomeness. He was, after all, in the history of boxing, pretty dang awesome.
We’re not all Ali, but we do live in a culture that wants us to be the best, a more acceptable variation of the greatest, in my opinion. That impacts us in countless ways. It fuels our drive to achieve professionally. It puts many of us on a mission to provide the utmost support to the enrichment and development of our children. It undergirds a lot of our consumption — houses, cars, clothes, personal accoutrements.
I think the danger zones of that reality are many, but perhaps I can shine a light on the one that is standing out for me, personally. And it’s this: That our drive to have the best and be the best can, at times, be antithetical to our commitment to the Gospel.
Each week, I surf around looking for inspiration for my Sunday preaching. This week, the Marcan text took me to a very provocative article on Patheos, a great website for Christian progressives and subversives. It was an article by Keith Giles entitled “How Many Christians does it take to Unscrew the Church?” If that didn’t get my attention, I can’t imagine what would. If I could have copied and offered you the entire article I would (there seem to be restrictions). So I offer this excerpt for your consideration:
“How many Christians does it take to unscrew the Church? Honestly, this is a rhetorical question. But it does make me wonder what it will take for people to wake up and realize they’re not following Jesus anymore. Those who call themselves ‘Christian’ today have forgotten that the word means ‘Christ-like.’ So they don’t stop to wonder why they’re following leaders who ignore Jesus, or why they believe things that Jesus contradicted, or why they reject the people Jesus embraced (you know, the poor, the outcast, the immigrants, the sick, etc.) Simply put, if those who call themselves “Christlike” (Christians) would actually start to act like Jesus, maybe we could begin the delicate process of ‘unscrewing the Church.’
” How’ would we do this? Well one simple way might be to return to the Gospels… Start reading the Sermon on the Mount… Act as if Jesus were talking directly to you. Take what he says seriously. Try to love your neighbor as yourself, even if they’re gay, or lesbian, or trans, or Muslim, or anything else). Take his advice to heart when he says stuff like ‘If you only love those who love you in return, what credit is that to you?’ and ‘Seek first the Kingdom of God” and “Why do you call me “Lord, Lord'” if you don’t do the things I say?’ That’s a start…
“I know. Pretty radical stuff. These simple steps could change your life. They could change the way you go through your day. They might even start to change your attitude, your community, your network of relationships, in profound ways. So the question, ‘How many Christians does it take to unscrew the Church?’ might be a rhetorical one, but maybe the answer isn’t. Maybe it only takes a handful of people living a radically inclusive Gospel to incarnate the spirit of Christ in your zip code.
Maybe the potential for transformation is greater than we realize.
Maybe the revolution we’re waiting for is simply waiting for us.
Maybe the way we change the world is to step into the path Jesus marked out for us a long time ago.
Charis is at an important moment in our growth and life. There’s a lot of fog and uncertainty about what the future holds, for a host of reasons. But our task is not to be the greatest (however that grips me, personally) but to be the servant of all. To welcome, to love, to radically include. And I know the horizon there, for us, is shining brightly.