The sermon text for the sermon this
morning comes from the gospel of Mark, the 9th chapter, verses 30-37:
They went on from there
and passed through Galilee. He did not want anyone to know it; 31for
he was teaching his disciples, saying to them, ‘The Son of Man is to
be betrayed into human hands, and they will kill him, and three days
after being killed, he will rise again.’ 32But they did not
understand what he was saying and were afraid to ask him.
33 Then they came
to Capernaum; and when he was in the house he asked them, ‘What were
you arguing about on the way?’ 34But they were silent, for on the
way they had argued with one another about who was the greatest. 35He
sat down, called the twelve, and said to them, ‘Whoever wants to be
first must be last of all and servant of all.’ 36Then he took a
little child and put it among them; and taking it in his arms, he said
to them, 37‘Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me,
and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me.’
Due to the needs of these times and the
reality of being a downtown church, about two decades ago we setup an
alarm system for the church, where the doors of the church are monitored
by Sonitrol. And the way that works is you have to 'key out' when
you leave and lock-up for the night, to activate the alarm. And
when someone doesn't do that by a certain time, our helpful folks at
Sonitrol call the appropriate staff member to advise us that the church
has not been properly put to bed for the evening. And I can assure
you that you Senior Minister does not appreciate getting calls to wake
him up and get him out of bed in order to come down to church and put it
to bed, so all of our staff know (and others have keys and Sonitrol
numbers) to be sure and do that when they lock-up and leave for the
evening. And if they are working late, to notify Sonitrol of that,
so we don't get those calls.
Well, I was working late one night, and
did my duty, and called and notified them. Unbeknownst to me,
Sonitrol has been bought out by a nationwide company evidently.
Now they have a call center instead of a local person. It used to
be you called them up, said 'First Christian Church', and they'd say
"which one?", and you'd say 'the one on Oak' (because there's
one in Springfield and another in Junction City). So I called up
and said it's the First Christian Church on Oak St, and the operator
said "Do you have your account number?" Account
number? What on earth -- it's late at night, and I'm supposed to
come up with an account number? I said "No, I don't have my
account number, it's the one on Oak in Eugene". I could tell
that he's looking at a computer screen and scrolling through a
nationwide database. He said "Sir, I cannot believe how many
First Christian's there are in our system" J.
We eventually got it straightened out.
Indeed, there are a lot. So just
out of curiosity, I'm going to Google "First Christian Church"
(through the wonders of the Internet, we're now connected live here in
the sanctuary). So here we go, here's the results:
There are 45 million hits for First
Christian Church. And what I love about this is that the second
hit on Google, no matter where you Google from, is in the heart of
Eugene [applause from the congregation!]. Every now and then we
get inquiries from other Christian churches, and they say "How did
you do that?". And we say: "We have no
idea!". Who understands the web? We had an employee
from Symantec, Chris Bernard, who set it up for us, so that helped.
Maybe we should be the 2nd First
Christian Church. I have a Jewish friend of mine who asked me just
this week: "I've always wanted to ask you this", and was
very timid the way he was asking it, "how is it that you get to be First
Christian Church?" Seems kind of presumptuous, right?
And so I explained to him the history of our name, that it used to be
the Christian Church of Eugene. If you go back into our archives,
you see documents to that effect. And it was not until a second
Christian Church was established in the area that we became known as
First Christian Church. And that's the way it's been in
communities across the country.
That's not very exciting to
explain. It would be much more interesting to say, you know, we
believe we are direct descendents of the disciples. Or we're
direct descendents of the Apostle Paul (except for the fact that the
Apostle Paul was never married, so that would be kind of a problem to
explain). Or if we were Dan Brown (of DaVinci Code fame) we could
say we're direct descendents of Mary and Jesus -- but I don't think we
want to go there J.
So there's nothing behind the name
First Christian other than the chronology of church establishment.
One little humorous aside: when I lived in Indianapolis years ago
I discovered there are 25 Christian Churches, just in the city of
Indianapolis. We're big back in the Midwest. More Christian
churches than they have Starbucks. Near where I lived, there were
two congregations that merged. When they established Christian
Churches there, they did the usual thing -- the second one was 2nd
Christian Church, the third one was 3rd Christian Church, and so
on. Well, these two that merged were 7th Christian Church and 8th
Christian Church. Us Disciples are so creative J.
And so when they merged, what did they call themselves?
"7th/8th Christian Church". I kid you not, it's there in
the yearbook, you can look it up.
Here's my question: with all of
these chronologically-correct Christians, how come there is no
"Last Christian Church". Would that be more presumptuous
What if we took Jesus seriously?
What if we emphasized, instead of being the first Christians, being the
We take a lot of pride in our
church. We have been in this community for a hundred and forty
years. Did you know that? This is our 140th year this
year. And I think that's something. And we have stayed in
the downtown area when other churches have left. Depending on how
you count St. Mary's Episcopal over here on the other side of 13th,
whether they're in the downtown area or not, or whether or not they're
Protestant or not, we can make the claim that we are the last Protestant
church here in downtown Eugene. We have this beautiful building,
often cited as one of the most significant historical buildings in
Eugene. It's features on the mural in the council chambers at City
Hall. And what I love, if you fly on United Airlines from San
Francisco to Eugene, the icon used for a United Airlines flight to
Eugene from San Francisco is First Christian Church:
We have an outstanding reputation in
our community. We are known for our openness and service to
the community through our ministries like the Helping Hand ministry, the
Good Samaritan ministry, the Interfaith service here on the 11th of
every month, the various concerts and community events. The NAACP
now has their office in the basement of our church, and so on and so
forth. So we need not shrink from living up to our name as First
Christian Church, Disciples of Christ.
We're proud, I think, and we can be of
that. But what do we do when Jesus says "The first shall be
last". And if you want to be first, you must be last of
all. Are you sure Jesus? Not second? I mean, if you're
second, you tried harder. Third? If you're third you still
get to be on the podium, receive a medal. No one wants to be
last. Only losers are last.
So I'm pretty sure this is
hyperbole. An exaggeration to make a point. No one can be a
servant of all, all the time -- not even Jesus. Remember that
story of Mary and Martha? Who is in there washing the
dishes? It isn't Jesus! And the woman who brings that
expensive perfume and anoints his head -- Jesus is served too. You
can't be a servant all the time.
Some even question if this emphasis on
being last is really what we should be saying and doing. The World
Council of Churches meets every 7 years with a big assembly, thousands
of delegates from all around the world. In 1990, they were meeting
in Melbourne, Australia. A young Korean feminist theologian
created quite a stir in her address to the assembly when she spoke,
sung, and danced her sermon using a mixture of Christian, Buddhist, and
traditional Korean sources. I did not see the sermon, but when I
read about it in the Christian Century I immediately knew it.
Because I had seen an earlier version of it when Chung
Hyun Kyung gave an earlier version of that sermon in Joey
Jeters preaching class at the School of Theology at Claremont, where
she, and I, and my wife, were all students. And Hyun
Kyung had entered seminary the same time we did and we
graduated together. Now she's gone on to be this big name feminist
theologian, addressing the World Council of Churches.
Dr. Kyung teaches at Union Theological
Seminary now, in New York. She stood out back then as a
student. A very petite woman, very outspoken, from a culture where
women generally are valued for their servitude, not their
leadership. Her Korean classmates, mostly men, did not know what
to do with her. Beautiful, intelligent, fiercely independent, she
was better accepted among her North American classmates than she was
among her Korean classmates.
I had the privilege of attending with
Hyun Kyung her first assembly of the World Council of Churches, held in
Vancouver in 1983. There was a course offered there at Claremont,
a couple of professors from the school took 20 of us students up to
Vancouver. We attended the assembly during the day and in the
evening we gathered for theological and philosophical reflection and
discussion. It was a very heady time.
I'll never forget the evening when
little Hyun Kyung -- must be all of 4'11" -- stood up on a coffee
table so she could be heard and seen by everyone, and said to us that
all of her life she had been taught to take the small piece of
cake. First as a woman. Then as a Christian. Now as
someone preparing for the ministry. She was taught -- you're a
servant, you take a small piece of cake. But Hyun Kyung was very
observant. She said she watched and she noticed men never took the
small piece of cake. She came to the United States and she said
that North Americans never take the small piece of cake. One day
it hit her -- by always taking the small piece, she had simply accepted
her place in an oppressive system which those at the top depended on her
and thousands like her at the bottom going along with. So she
declared in a very firm and strong voice that shook our bones even as it
trembled in her throat: "I will take the small piece of cake
That, she said, was not just her
speaking, it was the voice of the 3rd-world Christians gathered there at
that assembly. Dr. Kyung has written a book on that entire topic
now, entitled Struggle
to be the Sun Again.
On the surface, it appears that Dr.
Kyung is challenging this idea that to be a faithful follower of Jesus
we must be a servant to all. But as a woman from the 3rd-world, in
a very traditional society, she simply may be opening us to see the very
concept of servant-hood from a different perspective. Those on the
bottom, you see, see it differently than those at the top.
And if there is one thing I have
learned from all the recent research on the historical Jesus, it is that
Jesus wants us to look at the world from the bottom-up, rather than the
top-down. And that is especially true in this story from
Mark. Jesus has just told the twelve that he is going to be killed
and they don't get it. He is laying his life on the line for them
and they are arguing about who gets to be first, who gets to sit next to
be first, Jesus says, you have to be last. And then to illustrate
what he means, he brings a small child into their midst, and picking the
child up says 'whoever welcomes one such as that child welcomes me, and
whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me'.
The point for us is to
recognize this is not a photo op. This is not the opportunity to
smile and see Jesus with the children and think warm and fuzzy thoughts
that make us tingle all over. This not a photo op -- Jesus is very
intentionally trying to show the disciples in a concrete way how they
have misunderstood him.
We could spend much time discussing the
role of children in ancient societies that is quite different than ours
today, but the bottom line is this: this child is young,
vulnerable, and powerless. With no status in that society.
Whoever welcomes one like this child, welcomes me. In other
words, the powerless. The vulnerable.
To be a disciple of Jesus does not mean
you must always be last in line, take the small piece of cake. It
means to have that kind of open, welcoming heart so that we are there
for the person who is last in line. The servant of all.
By embracing this child, Jesus wants
the disciples -- that is, us -- to see what really is important is not
power and wealth and status and glory and fame and all of that, but
having a heart for the weak and the vulnerable. To be strong for
When you're flying on that airplane
from San Francisco to Eugene and the oxygen mask drops from the ceiling,
if you don't pass out from fright, what do you do? You take one
for yourself before you assist the small child or your neighbor.
To be strong for the other person.
Too often we are so concerned with our
own standing we neglect those who have none. The welfare Mom,
demeaned and degraded by a system that offers plenty of shame and little
respect. The undocumented immigrant, desperately trying to feed
his family back home who merely wants a place to live and to work in
peace. The prisoner who has lost his rights and freedom for his
crime but still seeks love, forgiveness, and a new life as a human
These are the powerless without status
in our world. The 'throw-aways' of society we drive by every day
who seem beyond any help. The ones we dismiss every time we say
"you can't help those people until they learn to help
We will always have the poor with
us. Once a drunk, always a drunk. Nothing but a welfare
When he came to the house, he asked
them: "What were you discussing on the way?" And
they grew silent, for they were discussing the mission of the