Sunday's Sermon


"Last of All"

 by Wayne L. Derber, Pastor

September 23, 2018 - Pentecost 18 - B

Sermon text:“Then they came to Capernaum; and when he was in the house he asked them, ‘What were you arguing about on the way?’  But they were silent, for on the way they had argue 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.’” – Mark 9:33-35



The Twelve Disciples got into an argument one day.

They started debating about

            who was the greatest of all the disciples.

We can imagine how it might have happened.



“I am the greatest disciple” Simon Peter may have started

            “because Jesus said that the church would begin with me.”


“No, I am the greatest disciple” his brother Andrew may have countered,

            “because I have been a disciple of Jesus the longest.”


“No, I am the greatest disciple” James may have insisted

            “because I am the most popular.”


“No, I am the greatest disciple” John may have stated

            “because Jesus loves me the most.”


“No, I am the greatest disciple,” Philip may have argued,

            “because I am the most loyal to Jesus.”


“No, I am the greatest disciple,” Bartholomew may have said,

            “because I am the most intelligent.”


“No, I am the greatest disciple,” Thomas may have insisted

            “because I have the strongest faith in Jesus.”


“No, I am the greatest disciple,” Matthew may have stated,

            “because I have the most money.”


“No, I am the greatest disciple,”

                  James son of Alphaeus may have boasted,

            “because I know the Scriptures best.”


“No, I am the greatest disciple,” Thaddaeus may have explained,

            “because I have the most education.”


“No, I am the greatest disciple,” Simon the Zealot may have argued,

            “because I am most zealous for God and our country.”


“No, I am the greatest disciple,” Judas Iscariot may have insisted

            “because I control the money for our group.”




It must have been some discussion that day!

It would have been bad enough if only two of the disciples

                        had been arguing.

But it seems that all twelve of them got into the debate.

It must have been quite a heated exchange!


How disappointed Jesus must have been with his disciples that day.

Jesus had just told them about his impending death.

But they didn’t understand.

They were afraid to ask him what he was talking about.


So they started talking about something else:

                  “Which one of them was the greatest disciple?”


When Jesus and his disciples arrived in Capernaum,

            he asked them:

                  “What were you arguing about on the way?”

The disciples, whose voices had been so stern and strong earlier,

                        now were silent.

None of them said a word.

Perhaps they now felt some guilt and shame about their argument.


But Jesus knew.

He knew the reason for their conflict.

So he called his disciples to himself and told them:

      “Whoever wants to be first must be

                  last of all and servant of all.”

If any of his disciples wanted to be the greatest of all

            they should demonstrate it

                  not with power, control, and authority over the others.

But they should do it in just the opposite way –

            each should consider themselves “last of all and servant of all.”


Of course, being last of all and servant of all

            is the very thing that we do not want to be.

Our natural impulse is to be like the disciples

            when they were arguing which one of them was the greatest.


We might each think:

      “I deserve to be first of all,

            after all, I am the most intelligent…

                  or I am the richest…

                  or I am the best looking….

                  or I have accomplished the most…

                  or I have the most education…

                  or I always know what is best and right.”

On and on could go our arguments.

But when we have this attitude of superiority,

            as did the disciples on the road to Capernaum,

      then we too, like the disciples,

            need to be silent and ashamed.


Feeling superior to others is very wrong.

Each person is a child of God.

No one is better than others.

No one is inferior to others.


In the book of Proverbs, God’s Word tells us:

      “Pride goes before destruction,

            and a haughty spirit before a fall” (Prov. 16:18).


We like to be first.

We like to think that we are better than others.

We like to have things go our way.

We like to have power.

We like to be first of all.




But such striving is destructive.

It is destructive to human relationships

      because we cannot elevate ourselves

            without putting other people down.


Now there’s nothing wrong with trying to do our best

            in our job or in sports or in other activities.

But there is something very wrong

            when the motivation is to try to be better than others.


I Am Third is the name of a book written by Gale Sayers.

He was a former runner back for the Chicago Bears

      and is remembered as one of the best football players ever.

He wrote about his football career in a book

            he decided to name I Am Third.

In this book, he explained his outlook on life this way:

      “The Lord is first,

            my family and friends are second,

                  and… I am third.”

God comes first.

Other people come second.

And we come third, last of all.


Considering ourselves last of all sounds very

            degrading and a miserable sort of existence.

But nothing could be further from the truth.

We can consider ourselves last of all

      because we know that God values each human life.

Each person is important and precious

            simply because they are a child of God.

We don’t have to prove anything.

We don’t have join any rat race

            to prove that we are people who have worth.



It is, in fact, those people who are often putting themselves first

            and who consider that they are better than other people,

      who inwardly feel quite inadequate, unloved, and unimportant.

They constantly have to be promoting themselves

            in order to build up their feeling of self-esteem.



Well, it doesn’t have to be that way with us Christians.

God loves us.

Therefore, we are important and precious.

We don’t have to prove anything to anyone.

Therefore we can be content to be even last of all.


God values everyone highly, including the last and the least.

In our gospel reading today we heard

            how Jesus took a little child in his arms.


A little child certainly could be considered

            among the last and least of all people.

But that is not the way it is in God’s eyes.

In God’s eyes, each child is very important.


As Jesus embraced a little child in our gospel reading,

      so he embraces today all children of all ages.

And so we can put ourselves last of all,

            knowing that we too are still very precious

                  to our heavenly Father.


Ending our striving to be the first of all,

            frees us up to serve one another.

Jesus told the people:

      “Whoever wants to be first

            must be last of all and servant of all.”                                    


In a few months there will be the midterm elections.

For several months now, the candidates and their supporters

            have been arguing over which candidate is the best.

Much of the talk has been criticizing the other opponent.

Each candidate insists that they are so wonderful

            and the other candidate is so terrible.

Perhaps much of this rhetoric is not so much different

            than what went among the disciples

                  on that day when they were arguing over

                        which of them was the greatest.

But what I want to hear from our candidates

            is not more talk about which of them is the greatest…

      but more talk about how they intend to be our servant…

            how are they going to serve and help

                  the people of our nation and the world.

Do they want to be elected

            is order to be considered a great person?

Or do they want to be elected

            in order to be our servant and work to help all people?

Our elected officials, after all,

            are supposed to be not to be our “public masters,”

                  but rather our “public servants.”


Many people and the disciples had it all wrong.

Great people are not the people with power and authority.

Great people are the ones who humbly serve one another.


Our human nature leads us to want to be masters –

            to have other people serve our every need and want.

But Jesus would not have us be masters, but servants.


We are to be servants just as Jesus was.

Jesus often served others.

In the upper room on that final night,

      Jesus did the work of a servant –

            he knelt on the floor and washed the feet of the disciples.

Jesus did the work of a servant.

The Apostle Paul explained it so well in his letter to the Philippians:

      “...Christ Jesus, who though he was in the form of God,

                  did not regard equality with God

                        as something to be exploited,

            but emptied him, taking the form of a servant” (2:6-8).                                                      


This should be true for you and me as well.

We are to serve one another

      “...even as the Son of man came not to be served

                  but to serve.”

In our relationships, we are tempted by power.

We want to be in control.

We want things our way.

We want to be the master.


But our Lord shows us a different and better way.

Jesus tells us:

      “Whoever wants to be first

            must be last of all and servant of all.”


Jesus calls us to be a servant.

And what do servants do?

They obey their master.

They wait on other people.

They meet other people’s needs.

They help those who are hurting.

They feed the hungry.

They visit the sick and imprisoned.

They live their lives in service to others.



The famous orchestra conductor, Leonard Bernstein, was once asked:

      “Mr. Bernstein, what is the most difficult instrument to play?”

“Second fiddle,” he said,

      “I can get plenty of first violinists,

            but to find one who plays second violin

                  with as much enthusiasm,

            now that’s a problem.

      And yet if no one plays second, we have no harmony.”


Well, we may not prefer to play second fiddle in life,

      but Jesus tells us that true greatness is found in those who serve.



A famous author by the name Herman Hesse

            wrote a novel some years ago

                  called: Journey to the East.

This book is a fictional story about a group on a religious pilgrimage.

One of the main characters was named Leo.

He was an important member of the group

      because he was willing to do jobs

            the other travelers were unwilling to do.

More than just doing the lowly common jobs,

      Leo inspired the group with his songs and friendly personality.


The journey went very well –

            that is, until Leo disappeared.

Eventually the whole group fell apart and went their separate ways.

Without Leo, who acted as a servant to the rest,

            there was nothing to hold the group together.

Unknown to the others, the sponsor of the group

            had secretly put Leo in charge of them.

No one on the pilgrimage knew Leo was really the designated leader.


The one who had been their servant,

            they discovered too late, had, in reality,

                  been their leader –

            because he was their servant.

(from the Lectionary, April 8, 1990, “Preaching” magazine)



Could you remember this gospel reading throughout this week?

In your relationships with others this week,

      instead of trying to be first of all and master of all,

            could you find some ways to be

                  last of all and servant to all?

This week, how could you be a servant to members of your family?...

      how could you be a servant to your friends?...

      how could you be a servant to your neighbors?....

      how could you be a servant to your fellow church members?....

      how could you be a servant to your co-workers?...

      how could you be a servant to people you don’t know?

Yes, how could you be a servant to people you encounter this week?



Jesus’ words are certainly important and true:

      “...whoever wants to be first must be...

                  last of all.”