John A. Braun

How many medals did we win? Which athletes won? It is exciting to watch the struggle and triumph of the Olympic Games. Victorious athletes might crow that they knew if they worked hard in training and kept at it, they’d win. But I know that for every single gold medal, thousands of hopefuls have also trained hard and kept at it. They have no medal to polish and display.

Sometimes we measure value by championships, medals, and public acclaim. In one sense, we need goals to motivate us, whether in politics, athletics, business, finance, the arts, or life in general. But like in the Olympics, thousands do not achieve great status and acclaim. Measuring greatness or even value is often harder than receiving acclaim, awards, or even notice.

Perhaps I should add one more category to the list of areas in our lives—the church. One of the recurring arguments among the disciples was which of them was the greatest. The discussion followed them to the upper room on Thursday of Holy Week. How shall we measure greatness? Jesus on more than one occasion corrected them. Great meant taking the lowly position of a child (Matthew 18:4); great meant being the servant of all (Mark 9:35); the one who was least among them was the greatest (Luke 9:48). And in that upper room, though he was Lord and Master, Jesus washed the feet of his disciples (John chapter 13). Humility and service are the traits of true greatness.

Both often are in short supply in all areas of life, even in the church, where we measure value and importance by completely different standards. Yet God does say that those who “direct the affairs of the church well are worthy of double honor, especially those whose work is preaching and teaching” (1 Timothy 5:17). He also warns about pride and encourages humility.

As Lutheran Christians we have abandoned the idea that clergy—whether pastors or teachers in our context—are a step closer to heaven or better than the people in the pew. Before God, we are all equal in grace and value to the Lord. Leaders in the church are worthy of double honor not because they are better but because of their service: They bring the gospel to God’s people. Paul quoted Isaiah when he wrote, “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news” (Romans 10:15).

But I want to turn to the value of every Christian. What makes Christian people so important? They often do not have any medals nor do they get a moment in the spotlight. Instead, they quietly serve others. They fulfill the second most important commandment of the Lord, “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:39). And much of the time they do it without even recognizing their own value.

Is this not a great disciple? A believer who quietly cares for her family. Another who works to supply food, clothing, and shelter for his family. One who takes time to show a son or daughter how to do math or encourages them to read. Another who puts food on the table to nourish the family for the next day’s challenges. All who teach respect for others and instill a desire to help. Those who teach the young how to manage their money or work faithfully at a job. Those who help with prayers and share God’s love in Christ. These may seem like little things, but they are so important and valuable. What is God doing with these works but holding our world together.

Maybe we should remember that God is polishing their medals.


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Author: John A. Braun
Volume 103, Number 9
Issue: September 2016

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