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Isaiah 2:1-5
The word that Isaiah the son of Amoz saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem. It shall come to pass in the latter days that the mountain of the house of the LORD shall be established as the highest of the mountains, and shall be lifted up above the hills; and all the nations shall flow to it, and many peoples shall come, and say: "Come, let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, to the house of the God of Jacob, that he may teach us his ways and that we may walk in his paths." For out of Zion shall go the law, and the word of the LORD from Jerusalem. He shall judge between the nations, and shall decide disputes for many peoples; and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore. O house of Jacob, come, let us walk in the light of the LORD. (ESV)
What's Greatness For?
Wednesday of Pentecost 17
23 September 2015
"My God is so great, so big, and so mighty. There's nothing my God cannot do." So says the children's nursery song. But sometimes the greatness of God can be intimidating. If He is so great, on what basis could I possibly approach Him, seeking and imploring His grace? If He is so big, what makes me think that He will condescend to my need? He is truly great; great beyond our conceiving. How does that work for us? How can we approach Him who dwells in light inaccessible? A friend of mine is in the oil business. In the conduct of his business he has had the honor of meeting President George W. Bush. When introduced to the former President, he addressed him, appropriately enough, with the honorific title, "Mr. President." To this President Bush replied, "Please call me George. That title gives me the creeps." Mr. Bush lived out two terms as the most powerful man on the planet and yet he does not use this greatness to keep people at arm's length. He is not arrogant, but rather humble, by all accounts. Indeed, true greatness is always open and accepting of the approach of other persons.
I have experienced this openness in the work of those who were and are my teachers. A true mentor never lords it over his charges, but is always encouraging, listening to, and receiving the ideas of his students. Recently, an older colleague related to me that he had been following my career in the church for some years. I was quite surprised by this admission, because I have great respect for this older man and I doubted that he even knew who I was. In an article about the work of historian Gene Genovese titled "Up from Leftism," Genovese recounts his youth as a thorough-going Marxist, who was faced with a teacher who was a stout conservative: "There I was sitting in classroom as Marxist. He could not have been more encouraging to me. His attitude was, I was going to grow out of it;" which Genovese did (National Review [14 November 2011], 42). That patience and condescension was just what Genovese needed. The truly great are nothing but entirely approachable. Their greatness does not make them less accessible, but more; not less patient, but more. Oh, to have that greatness as a gift to us!
It is also just what we need from God. His greatness is not "for itself." It is offered at our disposal. It is to be used by us, not we by it. Gregory of Nazianzus applied this to God, who is the supreme greatness. Even a moderately good person will not use his superior attainments to hold others at arm's length or Lord it over others. Why should we presume that God would use His greatness unto such a purpose? No, He condescends to our need. He takes on human flesh of the Virgin Mary that He might become the ultimate in approachability and accessibility (1Jn 1:1-3). He does not lay aside His power, authority, and greatness. Instead He uses them in the incarnation to give us access to Him under flesh. The phrase "and was born of the Virgin Mary," in the Creed is such an amazing predicate, because it tells us that greatness has come down to us in such a way that the ultimate greatness is now in our hands for our good. This is what His greatness is for; not to hold us off, but to embrace us.


Gregory of Nazianzus

"The divine nature cannot be apprehended by human reason. We cannot even represent to ourselves all its greatness. However, God's greatness does not arise out of arrogance, for arrogance is far from the divine nature, which is not subject to fleeting passions. He is only good and Lord of all. He does not exhibit arrogance toward the most honorable of all His creatures. For what does the Word prefer to the rational and speaking creatures? Why, even their very existence is a proof of His supreme goodness. Nor is our incomprehension for the sake of His own glory and honor, who is full in Himself; as if His possession of His glory and majesty depended upon the impossibility of approaching Him. For it is utterly rationalistic and foreign to the character not just of God, but of any fairly good man, who has any right ideas about himself, to seek his own supremacy by throwing a difficulty in the way of another." 

Gregory Nazianzus, Second Theological Oration, 11
Lord Jesus Christ, You do not exhibit arrogance toward Your creatures. Instead, you came to redeem Your special-created creatures. You are complete in Yourself and yet You condescend to offer Yourself to us. We cannot approach You, so You approach us. Lead us to follow you by delivering Your Word for the needs of one another and especially the weak among us; through the same Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.
For Walter Friend, that the Lord Jesus would grant him healing and strength
For Pr. William C. Heine, who is Headmaster of Memorial Lutheran Church and School, that the Holy Spirit would give Him grace to know and share truth and beauty for the sake of Christ
For those who are struggling to find employment, that the Lord of all would grant them labor in keeping with their vocation
Art: Dürer, Albrecht  The Adoration of the Trinity (1515) 

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