October 26, 2022
In the age of sports analytics it would seem, that almost any competition is no longer simply about which team scored the most points. In a game of American Football, for example, it is also an endless stream of individual athletic events to see who can catch, pass, run, sack, block, kick, or even break the most Microsoft Surface tablets on the sidelines. Even though a team might have failed to score the winning point, an individual player, or group of them, may have set or broken some record, and thereby, become the greatest at this particular maneuver - a subset of the main competition. In this sense it serves to highlight that the definition of greatness varies widely, based on context, and the perspective of the one doing the measuring.
It reminds me of the old Parker Brothers board game, Careers, first manufactured in 1955. In this game each player devises their own formula for success before the start of the game. Each formula consists of units of Fame (stars), Fortune (thousands of dollars), and Happiness (hearts); the total is always the same, but the mix can vary widely between the individual players. Different tracks, occupations, and plays on the board reward the player with a different mix of stars, dollars, and hearts - not unlike a very simplified version of real life.
The formula for success chosen at the beginning of the game, often dictates what track the player has to take to be able to accumulate the rewards, that would satisfy his or her own unique formula. If greatness in this context is winning the game, it depends on the perspective of the one doing the measuring.
This is also one of the many lessons, that can be drawn from one of the Scriptures read last Sunday.
Luke 18:9-14 To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everybody else, Jesus told this parable: "Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood up and prayed about himself: 'God, I thank you that I am not like other men - robbers, evildoers, adulterers - or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.' But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven but beat his breast and said, 'God, have mercy on me, a sinner.' I tell you this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted."
As a young man, I had the pleasure of meeting the man who had been awarded two Nobel prizes in physics, one of which, was for the invention of the transistor (in the year of my birth). He was a man of unquestioned scientific achievement, and yet, gracious and humbly spoken - the kind of person I would love to have gotten to know better.
Years later, I met the CEO of a multi-national corporation that had made literally billions of dollars from the sale of products based on the other man's invention. This latter man's ego was so big, it filled the room and nearly "blotted out the sun." He was the kind of person, that in spite of his so-called success, you had no desire to ever see or speak to again.
Once again, greatness depends on who is doing the measuring.
In his book, Sources of Strength, former American President, Jimmy Carter, tells this story.
He said that in 1976 (the same year he was later elected as President of the United States) he was invited to speak to the 17,000 delegates assembled for the Southern Baptist Convention. He was one of three speakers, asked to represent Baptist men, and requested to limit their speeches to five minutes each.
Jimmy had been told that he would speak second, but it was only when he looked at the program, that he realized that the first speaker was Rev. Billy Graham. While Jimmy had spoken in public many times, following Billy Graham at a convention of Baptists, gave him pause. But then he was a little relieved to see that the third speaker was a literate, but not well educated, truck driver.
As they sat on the stage waiting to be introduced, the truck driver told Jimmy that he had never given a speech in his whole life, and was extremely nervous. He kept saying, "I don't think I can do it," and was drenched in sweat.
Billy Graham, Jimmy reports, gave one of his usual forceful and inspirational talks. Jimmy followed with what he described as the best he could under the circumstances with his own remarks.
Then the truck driver got up, and for a long time he just stood there. Someone took him a glass of water. Then he began, "I was always a drunk, and didn't have any friends. The only people I knew were men like me who hung around the bars in the town where I lived." He then went on to relate, that someone along the way (he could not even remember who) introduced him to Christ. And now he wanted to tell other people.
He studied the Bible and talked to some men at the local church, where he became a member. But, the only places he felt fully at ease were barrooms, and so, he began to talk to the customers there. The bartender told him he was ruining his business and should find some other place to make a nuisance of himself.
But, he persisted and eventually the folks in the bar looked forward to asking him questions. He said, "At first they treated me like a joke, but I kept up with the questions and when I couldn't answer one, I went and got the answer and came back with it.
Eventually, fourteen of my friends became Christians." He then just stood there a few seconds, and finally returned to his seat.
Jimmy concluded that story by noting that the truck driver's speech was the highlight of the convention, and everyone was talking about it. Jimmy said that no one, who was there, will ever forget that five-minute fumbling statement; and no one, who was there, can recall a single word that Jimmy Carter or Billy Graham had said that evening.
How do you measure greatness?
There are two additional verses from the gospel of Luke that come to mind:
Luke 13:30 Indeed there are those who are last who will be first, and first who will be last. Luke 6:37-38 Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven. Give, and it will be given to you. ... For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.
Your Brother In Christ,
Warren J. Ayer, Jr. Chairperson, Board of Deacons, United Church of Colchester