Drive through any town USA, big or small and you are bound to see a First United Methodist Church, or a First Presbyterian Church or First Baptist and so on. What you will rarely see is a Second UMC or Third Presbyterian or certainly never a Twelfth Luthern Church. Why? Because who wants to be 2nd, 3rd, and who in the world wants to be twelfth? We have a natural human desire to be first and that human nature often bleeds into our church life too. After 1st Church is established churches tend to give up on the number system, though I have seen some 2nd Baptist, especially in Black communities, who when there is a desire to establish preeminence, tend to use terms like greater and more greater Church. In one community I lived in the two baptist churches couldn't decided who was really first so one was 1st Baptist and the other was 1st Baptist South (gotta love them Baptist!)
As unusual as it is to see 2nd, 3rd, and 4th church, it is even weirder to see Last Church. No one wants to be last at anything! Last means that your not simply just out of the race, it means the people in front don't even realize you're still running! This is hard for us American folks to accept. We are born into a competition to be greater that the last generation and we are weened on the milk of "pick yourself up by your own boot straps" society. It's hard to be last, it's embarrassing to be last, and come in last often enough, you'll simply give up and not even try. So why in our passage this week does Jesus instruct the Disciples to embrace an identity of lastness?
This week John and James, the Sons of Zebedee, essentially shake Jesus down. They say "Hey, do what we say!" "We want to be first, let us be first!" James and John believed that it was only fitting for them to be first, after all they are loyal followers of the Messiah and ought to get to sit next to the Messiah at the Messianic Homecoming Banquet, but Jesus has something else for them, something I'm sure they did not expect. Jesus told them that they ought to desire to be last, thus turning the natural and accepted world order upside down on it's head (as Jesus often did!). Jesus told John and James as well as the other 10 who where there that they ought to embrace servanthood...CRAZY!
When I was a kid, we traveled a lot. I was fortunate to have traveled to 12 different countries as a young person, both with family and with the church as a missionary. My father traveled a lot as well, far more than I of course, but his travel was normally for work. He as been to Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Russia, China, Germany, and England to name a few. Wether he was traveling alone or we were traveling as a family one of the "cool" thing to do was to get the Hard Rock Cafe t-shirt from where ever it was we went. I have Hard Rock Cafe t-shrits from, Ciro, Moscow, London, Paris, Las Vegas, Los Angeles and so on. The Hard Rock Cafe was once a cultural icon, it was a trendy little place with good food, nice staff and loads of Rock memorabilia. The Hard Rock Cafe has been struggling over the past decade or so. What was once a "neat" little memory on any trip now has become a franchise with one thing in mind, the bottom line. The new owners of the Hard Rock Cafe, the Cherokee Nation, has mounted a bit of a come back. Not only are they working on the restaurant chain, but they are also building hotels in many cities around the world, none more famous than their Vegas site. What's changed? Well, their motto, their out look, their perspective. They have adopted a motto that embodies their priorities, "Love all, Serve All." And with this new motto they are once again excelling as a "must eat" destination.
Now there's another restaurant in Cannon Beach, Oregon. It's a small "ma and pa" kinda place. I had a friend who was driving from B.C (British Columbia) to L.A and was in search of a caffeine fix and stopped at the Cannon Beach Cafe. It was 1:30 in the afternoon and has he approached the cafe door he saw a note that said, "Out to Lunch, will return later." Not believing his own eyes we walked around the property and sure enough, no one was there. He says about a year later he drove through that community again and saw that the cafe was closed and had a for sale sign in the window.
It's no surprise that the little community cafe was closed right? After all what kind of business practice is that? To close when you are most likely to get the majority of your customers is silly at best! The difference between the Hard Rock Cafe and the little community cafe, other than budget :), was priorities. The owners of the Hard Rock Cafe are committed to service to others, while the little cafe was committed to service to self. Did you that 75% of all main-line denomination churches are "going out of business"? They are closing their doors because no one comes to church. Why? Priorities. The church has forgotten to put people first.
This issue of being last is a real important thing to Jesus. I can think of several passages in scripture beside this on where Jesus tells his disciples and others that it's good to be last, but why? It's because it goes against every ounce of what our nature has become as a result of the fall. It's just so contradictory to the world we live in and it was particularly controdictory to the world Jesus lived in; a world of defined roles and hierarchies.
So Whats the scriptures saying to us today? More of the same. A call to be last. To be the last one to leave the bed of a sick person, to be the last one to ignore the homeless, to be the last one to give up on a troubled young person, to be last to give up hope. In being last we are demonstrating our willingness to be servants. This my friends it what I call the Omega Project. It's a project, or better yet a way of living that Jesus started that calls believers to be last and in being last, in being servants, in being the lowest guest on the list, we are accepting our place as the first to be regenerated an reborn in the likeness of God.
Please join me and committee to Jesus' Omega project