Who’s On Last?

Mark 10:35-45 – The 21st Sunday of Ordinary Time – for October 21, 2012

“…But Jesus said to them, you do not know what you are asking…” (Mark 10:38)

G. K. Chesterton, the British writer, curmudgeon and ponderer said it best, “Just going to church doesn’t make you a Christian any more than standing in your garage makes you a car.”

I claim to be Christian, but just barely. And I’m not a car. Not. Not. Not.

It’s too easy, whether I look back a week or a decade, to see how I’ve failed to follow in the path of the Prince of Peace. How many times have I . . .

Eagerly listened to gossip about someone and passed along the hurt or humor about another to fellow tattletalers?

Stared at my phone’s screen, with that person’s number displayed on caller ID, and permitted my digitalized voice to invite them to leave a message I might listen to later?

Said yes when I should’ve said no; said no when I should’ve said yes?

Or said nothing when any number of simple words—thank-you, I’ll pray for you, I’ll help you—might’ve transformed my day from isolation to involvement?

Would you prefer more specificity with some of my, er, indiscretions and foibles? I’ll bet you would! But does it matter? Even if I time-stamped a moment when gossiping about another or babbled in detail about why I didn’t answer the phone because that person called, I’d likely disguise the depths of my vanity or frailty.

Therefore, thank God for the Bible! It scoops out heaping portions of specificity. Instead of talking about me, I can mention James and John, two of Jesus’ stalwart disciples. They were also known as the “sons of Zebedee” or (this nickname delights me) the “sons of thunder.” In the Gospel of Mark’s 10th chapter, the thunderous duo sidle up to Jesus and ask, “Grant to us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory.”

In other words, Zebedee’s boys wanted to go to the head of the class, be the first in line and guarantee they could grab the best seat when the glory train pulled into town.

Could they be the Abbot and Costello of the Bible, doing their own version of “Who’s On First?”

How I love the Gospel showing me two of the church’s future saints treating the Son of Humanity like he was a holy ticket scalper.

Me first!

In past sermons on Mark 10:35-45, I’ve enjoyed aiming an index finger at the text to help a congregation see the self-serving nature of James and John. And yet I was always talking about myself.


Being a Christian every day, any day and today is a struggle. I’ve got papers to prove I’m ordained. Great, eh? Once I used those documents while living in Oregon to verify I could perform marriages. Indeed, I hand-carried the United Methodist forms to the local courthouse . . . one of those rare moments where I went on record—for governmental requirements—to prove I’m Christian.

But I’m barely Christian, inside or outside of a church. Chesterton was right . . . standing in a garage doesn’t make you a car. Sidling up to Jesus doesn’t make boarding the glory train any easier.

That persnickety tenth chapter of Mark had Jesus summing up faith in one awful, awesome word. Serve. “For the Son of Humanity came not to be served, but to serve . . .”


As I’ve mentioned before, I now spend a few hours each week making bereavement calls for a hospice. I go to my desk, open a binder and study names printed on recycled paper—sheets of paper far removed from my fancy ordination parchment. The backside might be an announcement of last year’s holiday grief workshop or an outdated update on guidelines for proper office attire. Old news. The page facing me in today’s news, today’s calls. Each week there are scores of calls; I hardly know anything about the folks I’ll contact. But I know one thing. They hurt.

They. Hurt.

I am the guy too willing to gossip, too eager to use caller ID to plan my inaction. With my ordination papers, I can prove I’m Christian for the laws of a state, but it’s the state of my heart that matters. Way too often I loiter in “garages” claiming to be a “car.” I’m pretty sure I’d have joined the Thunder Boys, hoping we’d find Jesus in a generous mood.

Every single damn week, I’m blessed to open a binder thick with names.

Today’s news is that we all hurt.

Can I, for a moment or two, serve another? It’s not who’s on first, but who feels like he or she is last.

When I look at the list of names, in truth I see my own. And yours. And yours. And yours. For the Son of Humanity came not to be served, but to serve . . .

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  1. You are right on! As pastors .. servants .. we are actually “the least of these” privileged to serve the “rest of these”. Who is last? Who is counting, and why?
    Privileged to serve; that is who we are.

  2. Larry, your willingness to speak the truth in love and your raw but challenging honesty inspire me! I apprecicate your proclamation.

  3. guilt is underrated by those who see it as a pathology. Guilt is overrated by those who use it as a way to increase membership and more importantly revenues….
    When she came to the cup of guilt labeled “just barely” Goldilocks drank it right down and turned her steps toward Galilee as the4 man in the tomb had suggested

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