Great to Good

Great to Good

Pentecost 23 (NL1) John B. Valentine
Micah 6:6-8 November 13, 2022


The year was 2001.

There was this prominent author and business consultant ... Jim Collins ... who came out with a new book ...

• The title of which was Good to Great ...
• The subtitle of which was Why Some Companies Make the Leap and Others Don’t.

Good to Great was a review of a how ten or so different companies supposedly made the made the leap from goodness to greatness ...

And it was an international bestseller ... and it made Jim Collins a whole lot of money.

• Business leaders gobbled it up...
• Politicians gobbled it up ...
• Church leaders gobbled it up ...

And it had everyone talking about what it meant to be shepherded by a “level five leader”.

Good to Great was a magnum opus on how corporations could become bigger, stronger, richer, more responsive ... et cetera ... et cetera ... et cetera.

The idea being ... ‘good’ didn’t cut it ... your business needed to be great ... and ... in fact ... accepting what was ‘good’ was contra-indicated for those who aspired to greatness.

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But ... looking back on it ... there was something about that book that was a little bit amiss.

Think about just some of those companies are doing two decades later:

• PITNEY BOWES ... you know ... the postage meter people ... they made Collins' list ... and now they’re one-tenth of the size they were in 2001.

• CIRCUIT CITY ... Collins’ prime example ... they went out of business.

• FANNIE MAE ... the “Federal National Mortgage Association” ... basically imploded back in 2009 and had to be bailed out by the government.

• And WELLS FARGO??? Don’t even mention Wells Fargo! At least not within earshot of the folks on our Finance Team!

In fact ... only two of the companies highlighted in that book have remained anywhere close to ‘great’ over the course of the past twenty years!

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Now it would be awfully easy to pillory Mister Collins and his wisdom on the matter.

For ‘greatness’ is elusive ... and “past performance” may neither guarantee ... nor even predict ... “future results”.

But ... at least to my ear ... that little book also begs another ... rather pointed ... question:

“Is greatness actually really the best aspiration for an organization to aspire to? Be it a business or a nation or a church or an individual for that matter???”

Is ‘greatness’ the goal that any of us ought actually be pursuing??

You see ... by Collins’ way of thinking ... “the good” was the enemy of “the great” ...

And in order to become truly “great” ... you had to quit settling for that which was merely “good” ...

But could it not also be true that “greatness” ... at least biblically speaking ... is the enemy of “goodness”???

That there might be a more complicated relationship between our aspirations to greatness and our aspirations to goodness than meets the eye???

There’s a classic quote from American history that seems particularly telling here ...

It’s actually a quote of unknown origin ... that has been misattributed to Alexis de Tocqueville by countless politicians and pundits and preachers ... including Ronald Reagan and William Jefferson Clinton ... and me!

But it’s a quote which seems truthful no mater what its origin:

“America is great because America is good; and if America ever ceases to be good, she will no longer be great.”

No matter who it was that initially penned those words ... they seem pretty powerful ... do they not??

“America is great because America is good; and if America ever ceases to be good, she will no longer be great.”

• Those words are a direct challenge to Jim Collins’ understanding of goodness merely being a stepping stone to greatness.

• Those words are a direct challenge to all of those politicians whose election results have been all over the airwaves since last Tuesday night.

• Those words are a direct challenge to us ... to get us to think a bit more seriously about our value systems and our core values and what it is that we are pursuing.

• Those words beg us to ask of ourselves the fundamental question: “How then shall we live?”


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Actually ... that “How then shall we live?” was the prophet Micah’s question too!

You see ...

• Micah lived at a time when his once-great nation had become less-than-great ...

• Micah lived at a time when his fellow countrymen wondered just HOW they might get something of their greatness back again ...

• Micah lived at a time when the nation-state of Israel had ‘gone off the rails’ ... with rampant oppression of the poor ... rampant corruption in its courts ... rampant economic injustices ... and rampant rejection of the commandments and guidance of God.

- Israel was no longer great ...
- Israel was no longer good ...
- Israel was no longer a blessing to the peoples around her ...
- Israel wasn’t even feeling blessed in and of itself!

And communally they wondered what it was they need to do to get back on track.

(As if none of us has spent the last two months emptying their mailboxes of stuff exhorting us to vote this way or that way to get our community and/or state and/or nation ‘back on track’!)

Micah’s answer to that question???

It’s pretty simple actually.

“God has told you, O mortal, what is good ... and what does the Lord require of you???”

• to do justice ...
• to love kindness ... and
• to walk humbly with the Lord your God.”

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Actually ... the word “justice” gets bandied about a lot these days ... does it not???

We talk about justice and injustice and social justice ... we talk about doing justice and about whether or not ... in a given situation ... justice has been served.

And ... for the most part ... our talk about justice is focused on personal accountability.

“Justice is served” ... we say ... when the guilty individual repairs the damage they caused or suffers the same sort of damage themselves.

But the biblical definition of justice:

• is also about fairness ... about not giving an unfair advantage to some people over others ... say biasing the scales in favor of the wealthy or the well-connected or the people you know ... like in that recent college admissions scandal that was all over the news ... and it

• is also about collective responsibility ... about seeing ways in which WE together may create systems which do unjust things ... even if we as individuals despise injustice.

One of the things that has been so very painful to watch in our society over the course of the my lifetime ... at least ... is the way we have gone to war with ourselves over definitions of justice.

• Some of us talk about justice solely as a ‘personal accountability’ thing ... and

• Some of us talk about justice solely as a ‘fundamental fairness’ thing ... and

• Some of us talk about justice solely as a ‘collective responsibility’ thing.

But when Micah says that we are called to ‘Do justice’ ... he is envisioning ... imagining ... ALL of the above!


But what does ‘Love mercy’ really mean? After all ... it’s a curious linguistic construct ... ‘to cherish charity’ as it were.

• In a certain way ... it’s an invitation to treat all people mercifully ...

• In a certain way ... it’s an invitation to do the right thing by others simply because it’s the right thing to do .... and ...

• In a certain way ... it’s an invitation to simply be thoughtful and considerate and tender-hearted toward others.


This is maybe the hardest call of all!

I mean ... is this a call to be passive and/or submissive and/or insecure? No ....

Humility is a funny thing ... folks.

It’s something you really can’t focus on ... you can’t achieve it if you strive for it ... and you can’t find it if you’re looking in the mirror.

You see ... being humble isn’t about thinking less of oneself ... it’s about thinking of oneself less!

And walking humbly with the Lord your God means things like ....

• Listening more and talking less ...
• Being grateful more often and being judgmental less often ...
• Acknowledging that we’re not always right and that we don’t have all the answers.

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I was reading a book about the history of the early church a couple of years back .... entitled The Patient Ferment of the Early Church ... oohh ... that’s a book title that makes you want to read it!

In which the author looks at the rapid growth of the early church and poses of it a simple question: “How did the early church grow during such a difficult time?”

• Was it grand evangelism strategies? No!
• Was it great preaching? No!
• Was it attractive worship? No!
• Was it superior leadership? No!

Rather ... the author discovered that the real virtues that caused the early church to grow were exactly these things that Micah was talking about:.

• They worked on building up people whose lives looked like the life of Jesus.
• And they attracted others not because of their success but because of their character.
• They focused on goodness ... not on greatness.
• They attended to growing good people rather than by growing a great church.

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Here’s the deal ... folks. “Greatness” is overrated.

• God doesn’t call us to be great. God DOES call us to be good.
• Micah doesn’t call us to be great. Micah DOES call us to be good.
• The Church doesn’t calling us to be great. The Church DOES call us to be good.

Sure ... it’s tempting to aspire to greatness ... for greatness gets us the recognition we believe we so richly deserve.

But what does the Lord require???

That we do justice ... and love kindness ... and walk humbly with the Lord our God ... regardless of whether the results impress anyone else or not!

“Great to Good” was a sermon preached by Pastor John Valentine on Sunday, November 13, 2022 — the 23rd Sunday after Pentecost.  The text upon which it was/is based is Micah 6:6-8.  To access a copy of this week’s worship bulletin, click here: Worship Order 20221113