Sermons 2006
"First or Last?" Proper 20B, 24 September 2006, Mark 9:30-37

Home | "Light and Darkness", Christmas 2C, 31 December 2006, John 1:1-18 | Christmas Eve and Christmas Day 2006 | "What then shall we do?", Advent 3C , 17 December 2006, Luke 3:7-18 | "Luke's Gospel", Advent 1C, 3 Dec 2006, Luke 21:25-31 | Which Jesus? Proper 29B 2006, 26 November 2006, John 18:33-37 | Apocalypticism and Fundamentalism, Proper 28B, 19 Nov 2006, Daniel12; Mark 13:14-23 | "The Widow's Mite: All and Everything", Proper 27B, 12 November 2006, Mark 12:38-44 | "The Commandments to love God, Neighbor, One Another" Proper 26B, 5 November 2006, Mark 12:28-34 | "Sight -- and Seeing" Proper 25B, 29 October 2006, Mark 10:46-52 | "Baptism: Overwhelming Washing", Proper 24B, 22 October 2006 Mark 10:35-45 | "God's Transforming Love", Proper 23B, 15 October 2006, Mark 10:17-31 | "Divorce", Proper 22B, 8 February 2006, Mark 10: 2-9 | "Hard Sayings and Sharp Words", Proper 21B, 1 October 2006, Mark 9:38-43, 45, 47-48 | "First or Last?" Proper 20B, 24 September 2006, Mark 9:30-37 | "Unintended Consequences", Proper 19B, 17 September 2006, Mark 8:27-38 | "Ephphatha! Open up!" Proper 18B, 10 September 2006, Mark 7:31-37 | "Rituals", Proper 17B, 3 September 2006, Deuteronomy 4:1-9; Mark 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23 | "Choices." Proper 16B, 30 August 2006, Joshua 24:1-2a, 14-25; John 6:60-69 | "Come to the Table." Proper 15B, 20 August 2006, John 6:53-59 | "Do not be afraid." Proper 12B, 30 July 2006, Mark6:45-52 | "General Convention and Jesus' Compassion", Proper 11B, 23 July 2006, Mark 6: 30-44 | "Basics for the Journey", Proper 10B, 16 July 2006, Mark 6:7-13 | "Jesus and Rejection", Proper 9B, 9 July 2006, Mark 6:1-6 | "Trust, Faith, and Belief" Proper 8B, 2 July 2006, Mark 5:22-43 | "Storms, Fear, and Faith" Proper 7B, 25 June 2006, Mark 4:35-41 | Mighty things from Small, Proper 6B, 18 June 2006, Mark 4:26-34 | Trinity, Pentecost 1, 11 June 2006, Exodus 3:1-6; John 3:1-16 | The King Jesus Fire-Baptized Holy Spirit Church, Pentecost , 4 June, Acts 2:1-11; Jn 20:19-23 | "That they may be one" General Convention 2006, Easter 7B 28 May 2006, John 5:9-15 | "Friends, friendship, and love" Easter 6B, 21 May 2006, John 15:9-17 | Mother's Day, two mothers' love!" Easter 5B, 14 April 2006, John 14:15-21 | "Interesting, this Good Shepherd!" Easter 4B, 7 May 2006, John 10:11-16 | "How do you prove you are alive?", Easter 3B, 30 April 2006, Luke 24:36b-48 | "Do you believe because...." Easter 2B, 23 April 2006, John 20:19-31 | "He goes before you to Galilee...." Easter B 2006, 16 April, Mark 16:1-8 | "Journey into darkness", Palm Sunday B, 9 April 2006. Mark 11:1-11, 14:32-15:47 | "Sir, we would see Jesus!" Lent 5B, 2 April 2006, John 12:20-33 | "Miracles and Faith, Ordinary and Not", Lent 4B 2006, 26 March 2006, John 6:4-15 | "Rage, Rampage, and Outrage", Lent 3B, 19 March 2006, John 2: 13-22 | "Images of the Cross", Lent 2B, 12 March 2006, Mark 8:31-38 | "Baptism, Temptation, Redemption," Lent 1B, 5 March 2005, Mark 1:9-13 | Ash Wednesday , 1 March 2006, Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21 | ""Nanny McPhee' and transfiguration", Epiphany Last B, Mark 9:2-9 | "Jesus, leprosy, and the law of Moses", Epiphany 6B, 12 February 2006, Mark 1:40-45 | "Healing, wholeness, forgiveness, and love", Epiphany 5B, 5 February 2006, Mark 1:29-39 | "Haints, Unclean spirits, and demons" Epiphany 4B, 22 January 2006, Mark 1:21-28 | Epiphany 3B, 22 January 2006, "God's Call -- and Our Response", Mark 1:14-20 | Epiphany 2B, 15 January 2006, "Call and Response", John 1:43-51 | Epiphany 1B, 8 January 2006, "The Baptism of our Lord -- and Ours", Mark 1:7-11 | The Holy Name, 1 January 2006, Luke 2: 15-21

Proper 20B 2006 Mark 9:30-37

First or last? Which is best. Sometimes the answer isn’t clear or simple.

There’s a story about a crowd in a hospital waiting room. One rather self-important individual was getting impatient. Unwilling to wait any longer, he barged in and demanded to be seen by the doctor. "Do you know who I am?" shouted the man. The secretary looked at him and smiled. Then she calmly pressed the button on the microphone of her loudspeaker system and asked the whole hospital as well as the waiting patients. "I have a gentleman here who doesn't know who he is. Can someone please assist him in finding out? Thank you." (1)

I’m not really sure whether this is the best of times or the worst of times. But it sure is election times. Depending on how the lectionary cycle coincides with which part of the county, state, and federal election cycle, every third, fourth, or sixth year today’s gospel lesson coincides with the uproar, hoopla, and distraction of one sort of electioneering or another.

It struck me that the twelve disciples were ever so much like the candidates in the local county elections in my home state back in the late 1940s and early 1950s. As I recall, each county could send a delegation of about six people to the state legislature lower house. These were the days before television was wide spread. It was even hard to get out of studio radio coverage in Greenville County, South Carolina, in those days.

It was certainly true until General Eisenhower ran for President in 1952 that in Greenville County, South Carolina, only a very few brave souls dared admit that they were sympathetic in any way to the Republican Party. So the real election issue until then always who among the Democratic party candidates were going to be elected. I might add as an aside, that anyone who declared himself – and it always was a him – an Independent was strongly suspected of being a closet Republican.

So the campaigns to see who would be elected to the county delegation to the state legislature tended to be run as they had been by the Democratic Party and its predecessors in that part of the world for most of the years since 1787 or thereabouts. The lone exception had been the twelve years of Radical Reconstruction in South Carolina from 1865 to 1876, a period that ensured the Solid South for three quarters of a century until 1872, and no part of which was more solid than church going Bible thumping Jim Crow South Carolina.

So it wasn’t a question of whether the Democrats or the Republicans would be first or last in the elections. It was whether the Republicans would even be at all

It is also interesting that neither this particular gospel passage from Mark nor its parallels in Matthew and Luke appear in American Prayer Books until the 1979 Bool of Common Prayer. It could well be that in much of the United States even in the Episcopal Church it was not politically wise to do so.

Listen again to what this passage is really saying, first to the Twelve, then to the Early Church, and finally to us:

When they had come to Capernaum Jesus asked them, "What were you arguing about on the way?" But they were silent, for on the way they had argued with one another who was the greatest. He sat down, called the twelve, and said to them, "Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all."

It really is interesting, isn’t it? What elections are really about. Every candidate promises or implies or seems to be saying that if he or she is elected she or he will be the servant of all. I think that most political candidates for office really mean that, at least during the election campaign. But not all, I suspect.

In our own lives and experience: no one wanted to be considered unsuccessful or even second rate or class. That way lay discontent and frustration. Many of us have had our moments of being top dog or cat, or nearly among them, or close to the top or married to it. And we liked it, even though the pressures and costs of success might have been high at times. And so we are, most of us, in our later years, more than happy to lay down the burden of success and work on the part about being the servant of all.
The celebrated orchestra conductor, Leonard Bernstein, was once asked, what is the hardest instrument to play. He replied without hesitation: "Second fiddle. I can always get plenty of first violinists, but to find one who plays second violin with as much enthusiasm or second French horn or second flute, now that's a problem. And yet if no one plays second, we have no harmony." (2)

While all the rest of the instruments have their own sections, the violins are divided into two parts - "first" and "second" violins.

First violins are often the stars of the show. They get the melody lines. They get to show off. They sit next to the audience. They tune the orchestra. They are the concertmasters.

Back behind, where they are hard to see, are the second violins. They play a supporting role. They play harmony to the first violins. Theirs is a service role. Their job is to round out the sound of the other instruments. They serve the orchestra. They do what is not glamorous so that the whole will be beautiful. Without the second violins, the orchestra would sound incomplete.

Playing second fiddle can be the hardest role to play in life. To play second fiddle is to play a supporting role for someone else. And it is sometimes a service role; doing what is not glamorous, usually behind the scenes, so that the whole can be more beautiful. That can describe the role played by spouses of many first fiddles.

The late Leo Buscaglia used to tell his University of Southern California students that there is a world out there dying to be loved. He challenged his students to love and often told them that serving others is the way to happiness and joy. He took one unwilling student, Joel, with him to a nursing home and said, "You see that woman sitting over there? I want you to go and introduce yourself to her."

Joel was not looking forward to his first nursing home visit. But he went over and introduced himself. She looked at him and asked, "Are you one of my relatives?" Joel answered, "No, I'm not." And she said, "Good. I hate my relatives. Sit down and talk to me."

And he did. And he went back the next week. And the next. Joel soon looked forward to his visits. He learned something about the joy of serving others. About working behind the scenes. About not being first. About playing second fiddle. (3)


1. Adapted from Rev. Stephen Sizer, “Who Am I?” eSermons Illustrations for 13 Sept 06
2. Adapted from Bert Blair,, eSermons Illustrations for 13 Sept 06
3. Adapted from Life Support email newsletter, ISS Publishing, 13 Sept 2006

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