March Madness! They call it "March Madness" : the time of year when the top college teams compete for the honor and glory of winning the nation's college basketball championship. This March tournament is a spectacular and entertaining event, and athletes strive mightily for the prize. But we all fantasize about honor and glory, don't we?. We all want to be Number "1" in something. We dream of great achievements that set us above and apart, making us famous and others envious. The dreams vary; but in them all, we are the center of attention: the athlete scoring the winning basket, the worker getting the company's top promotion, the author writing the best seller, the gambler winning the lottery, the researcher curing cancer, or maybe just the one in our circle of family and friends telling the most entertaining story. We are forever seeking recognition, appreciation and applause for our real or imagined talents. We want the light to shine on us!
That's not necessarily bad, because dreams can energize us to accomplish good things. In the musical South Pacific, the song goes: "If you aint got a dream, how you gonna make your dream come true?" We do dream of honor and glory. What is unhealthy is how we sometimes envision glory. We live in a world that measures honor and glory in terms of competition, wins and losses, victories and defeats. Jesus doesn't measure glory that way because true glory is not earned by beating other people at war, at games or any other way. Jesus measures honor and glory by one standard: fidelity to the Image of God alive and present within each of us.
As disciples of Jesus, we believe that what ultimately defines us and gives us dignity is the image and likeness of God we carry within. This image is our souls' DNA. To be true to it is our greatest honor and glory. If I asked where in the Gospels Jesus appears to be most like God, some people might quickly point to the time he was "transfigured" on the mountaintop, his appearance frighteningly bright and scary, knocking his disciples to the ground.
But John's Gospel this evening presents a truer reflection of the glory of Jesus. It states that "Jesus knew that God had placed him in charge of things. He knew that he came from God and was going back to God. So he got up from the supper table, set aside his robe and put on an apron. Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the feet of his disciples, drying them with his apron." Putting himself in loving service of others is what makes Jesus most like God. When you and I can finally recognize that this very same God has also placed us in charge of things, and that we too "have come from God and are going back to God," then we can do as Jesus did. We can place ourselves in loving service to each other and to the neediest in our midst. Then we become what we were created to be: a people reflecting the compassion, mercy and forgiveness of our all-loving God. In this lies our greatest honor, and our truest glory: our compassion, our mercy, our forgiveness. That's March Madness at its finest...lasting not simply all year long but a lifetime!