(Columba Salamony and The Rev. Dr. Deborah White)
Good morning to all of these young folks! And you not-so-young people, too!
So, a show of hands: who has a sibling? Or maybe a cousin you are close to? Or a friend who feels like a member of your family? (Give them a chance to respond). And if you do, do you argue with this person? (Give them a chance to respond). What do you normally argue about? (Give them a chance to respond).
In my family, I have an older sister. I’m the youngest! When we were younger, we always got into fights. We argued about different things, but most of the time we argued about some version of the same thing. Do you want to guess what that was? (Give them a chance to respond). That’s right. We argued who was better. Do you argue about that? (Give them a chance to respond).
Sometimes when we argued, we sounded a little bit like Jesus’ disciples trying to figure out who’s the favorite! Do you do that? (Give them a chance to respond). Of course I always thought that I was the favorite, and my sister always thought that she was the favorite. Who’s the favorite in your family? (Give them a chance to respond).Well, in today’s gospel stories, that’s what Jesus’s friends were arguing about. Who’s the best disciple? Who’s the smartest? Who’s the strongest? Who’s the most creative?
We always think we have to compete with others to try to be better than they are, don’t we? (Give them a chance to respond). We want to be the fastest or the smartest or the funniest. It’s natural to always want to be the favorite! It makes us feel good about ourselves. It makes us feel special.
But in today’s story, Jesus tells us something very different. He says, “The first will be last, and the last will be first.” What do you think that means? (Give them a chance to respond). That’s right! The person picked last for basketball will be first to get to have the ball! The person who might not always have something clever to say will be the one asked to speak! The quiet kid that sits alone at lunch will be the one everyone else wants to talk to! These are the people Jesus wants to be around! Jesus isn’t eager to hang out with the people who other people think are the best. He wants to spend time with the people that get ignored by others. What do you think of that? (Give them a chance to respond).
There are a lot of people that our society does not think have important gifts and so we make them go last. Can you think of any of these people? (Give them a chance to respond). Jesus is telling us that those people are very important and that they have gifts to contribute - that their gifts are just as important as ours. Sometimes they might be more important! Whether it’s at school or at church or playing soccer, we should talk to everyone and we should never, ever, assume that we have a right to go first or that we are the best. Do you know why? (Give them a chance to respond). That’s right- because Jesus loves us all the same and it makes him unhappy when we think we are better than other people.
And it’s a really good thing that Jesus feels that way. Because sometimes we feel like we’re the one who always goes last. Do you ever feel lonely? Or scared of something? Are people mean to you in school because they think you’re not very smart? Or you don’t wear the right clothes? (Give them a chance to respond). That’s hard to think about, huh?
But the good news is that those are the times when we know Jesus is right next to us. Those are the moments when Jesus invites you to climb into his lap and sit with him. Those are exactly when you feel most powerfully that God loves you exactly how you are. It is Jesus’s way of saying that God has created you to be the person you are because the world needs someone just like you - and nobody else - and you are always first with Jesus whenever you give up your chance to be first for someone who wouldn’t otherwise have a chance. Do you understand? (Give them a chance to respond). Good. And what do we say at Grace when we agree? (Give them a chance to respond).That’s right: AMEN. (Give them a chance to respond). Let’s say it again: AMEN.