Have you ever talked with your friends about your "brushes with greatness"? An old friend of mine relishes telling a story about his unexpected meeting with the comedian, George Burns, at an airport. Someone else we almost know knew Sarah Palin before she was Sarah Palin. The joke on which these conversations are founded is that celebrities are fleeting events in our lives, and greatness is just passing through on a flight to somewhere else. How should we feel about those of us who remain behind? What are we, chopped liver?
I've had my own brushes with greatness--and obscurity. During the Summer of Love and, as it happened, also of Woodstock, 1969, a friend and I hitchhiked, not to San Francisco or to the Woodstock farm, but to Galveston, Texas and back. We missed the big media events altogether. I was under the thrall of Glenn Campbell's song by that name at the time, and so I did not personally hear Jimi Hendrix solo on The Star-Spangled Banner. However, I have not been materially hurt by missing this experience; my maturation and insights are probably not much different than they would have been had I worn flowers in my hair that summer.
Remember how James and John begged Jesus for prominent places near him when he came into his power, and everybody else got ticked off! The others also secretly had it in mind that they themselves might be great in his kingdom! This can happen in all kinds of business, artistic, academic, domestic, leisure or religious contexts. We wonder, will I be noticed for my greatness? Jesus helpfully tells all such wondering souls, "Greatness is found in serving."
This afternoon, many Christians will share in a celebration of the historic "full communion" of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and the United Methodist Church on All Saints' Sunday, 2009, at the Hennepin Avenue United Methodist Church in Minneapolis. This is a "greatness" time of Christian union and communion. Bishops Sally Dyck and Mark Hanson (ELCA) and other Christian leaders will be preaching and leading us in the sacraments. If you look for me there, practicing my greatness, you may find me serving grape juice in the balcony.
So it can happen that we learn by one means or another that life's most important events are seldom widely reported, and that Christian life is almost always about plain tasks and assignments faithfully performed. Let us now praise divine ordinariness, the secret to servanthood. The more often we appreciate our "brushes with plainness," the more content we find ourselves--and the closer to God in Christ.