This afternoon I attended the memorial service of a church member I barely knew. A couple of months ago our pastor, Steve Wells, suggested to our "younger" members that they may want to attend some memorial services, not only as a show of support to the bereaved family, but also to learn more about the heritage of South Main through our members. While I am not chronologically so young, I am, comparatively, a young member, just a few months into my 12th year as a South Mainer.
As I mentioned, I only knew the member in passing. We always spoke, sometimes stopping for a brief conversation, when we met in hallways, and her sweet spirit was evidenced by her sweet smile. Today I learned more of this woman and was reminded of a conversation I had with a young pastor over lunch just a couple of days ago. We bantered about our concerns of how the concept of greatness has become distorted and barely recognizable as . . . greatness. It seems that secularist 21st century “greats” are those who have achieved some modicum of fame and fortune. Generally the fame stems from some single dimensional achievement. It matters not that the lives of the so-called great ones are besmirched by willful, trashy living -- not saying that is true of all who have achieved a measure of fame and fortune, whether such fortune was parlayed into projects of redeeming value, or lost to prodical-type riotous living.
By today's standards, there are lots of great folks around (many times referred to as heroes). And some of them do great things, using their fame to promote great causes. Whether entertainers, athletes, or something else, for some inexplicable reason, people will flock to them as if they can be the source of their salvation. Even worse, many live their lives vicariously through these folks, emulating their appearance, mode of dress (this is often not a good idea), and their behavior (even more often a terrible idea). Then there are the great ones whose callings prescribe them to a life of service. For some odd reason, rather than tending to their calling of service, many take on servants for themselves, screeners (so as to give attention to only ‘select’ sheep of their flock), bodyguards, armor bearers, and other absurdities. Those so-called men and women of God are lost in their own worlds of self promotion or worse, allow their flocks to elevate them to some demi-god-like status. This writer does not consider these people as great, perhaps just special as CNN’s Stephen A. Smith refers to them.
Unlike special people, greatness is not exclusive. I have learned through the many South Main memorial services I have attended that there are lots of great people around. Their greatness is evidenced by their service to others, whether singularly or collectively. They give of themselves, their time, their skills and talents. They are at work behind the scenes in so many ways, making provisions for others to be comforted in their illnesses and their grief, to receive hospitality in strange places they will call home while they access medical care, to be fed and housed and clothed, to be given another chance – a new beginning, to be given hope in the depths of poverty that are unknown in this country.
Yes, there are lots of greats around. Their names are not Carmello or Dwayne or Tiger or Oprah or Phil or Peyton or Beyonce or JayZ or Will or Jada. Their names are Virginia . . . H. H. . . . Roberta . . . Errol . . . Charles . . . Alberta . . .Julia . . . Mary Joe . . . Lyle . . . Carolyn . . . Ward . . . John. I know, I know – you’re asking “Who are these people?” That’s okay. I ask the same thing when some contemporary celebrity’s name is called in conversation as if we just had tea. I can only say I wish you had known them, my greats. Some of them I knew well, some just a little. And each has pricked me in a way that wants me to be more like the One Whose love was reflected in their lives. No, they were not perfect, but His power was made perfect in their weakness. It is comforting to know that the One Who called them home knows them even when we do not.
I submit to you that there are far more great people in the world than famous ones, and the two words are not properly used when used interchangeably.
But he that is greatest among you shall be your servant. And whosoever shall exalt himself shall be abased; and he that shall humble himself shall be exalted.