SECOND FIDDLE

)ne day, a woman came up to Leonard Bernstein, the famous composer and conductor, and asked him, “Mr. Bernstein, of all the instruments in the orchestra which is the most difficult to play?” He told her, “Second fiddle is the hardest. You see, I can get plenty of first violinists, but to find someone who plays second violin with enthusiasm, or even second horn, or second flute, now that’s a real problem. And if no one plays second, then we have no harmony.”

The thing about second fiddle, second flute and other ‘seconds’ is that it never gets the tune to play. It’s always a support line to the main melody and so the audience always applaud the instruments that they recognise for having provided the beautiful tune but they rarely are aware of the supporting sections. Yet without these “second fiddles” these solo instruments would sound very thin indeed.

In our society today no one wants to be second fiddle. All politicians want to be Cabinet ministers; all actors want the leading roles and all weather forecasters want to be celebrities. No one wants to be last; everyone wants to be first.

Being a disciple of Christ means being humble. Rather than putting yourself in first place it means accepting that last can be just as good. This topsy-turvy way of thinking and behaving seems alien to many people. We are taught from a young age to strive to come first, and yet

Christ tells us that the Christian’s favourite number should be “two”. Of course, to try always to come second means that we come first in humility!

There is nothing fake about humility. It does not involve denying our gifts and talents; it’s not about hanging back and not helping just in case our true skills become apparent. But what it does mean is that we recognise where our talents have come from.

We can claim no merit for ourselves; every good thing we have comes from God. So, humility allows us to do everything within our power to display our gifts, while at the same time giving the glory to God rather than claiming the limelight ourselves.

NOTHING BUT TROUBLE?

NOTHING BUT TROUBLE?

Maybe it’s because most of us get our first impressions of Jesus while we are still young that we tend to think of him as a gentle person. After all, the meek and mild image seems to fit in well with what we want to say to small children.

But when we grow up it’s a different matter. Do we still think of Jesus as the quiet, gentle mannered preacher who never spoke a word in anger? If we do, then we’re in for a shock in today’s gospel.

The Jesus whom we glimpse today is full of passion and single-minded about his mission. He’s the activist from heaven, the zealous, fiery, frustrated messenger of change. Do you think I’ve come to bring peace? No, he says. If you listen to me then the trouble will really start. My message brings not peace but division.

To believe in Jesus is to accept a whole set of values that threatens many people, a life so radical that it looks down on what others deem success, an all-consuming dedication to fight for the downtrodden which makes more enemies than friends. Even your own family will be divided, says Jesus. That’s because the message you bring and the life you live will prove too much for them.

The temptation of human frailty is constantly to downgrade the demands of the gospel. Our tendency is to pass off Christianity as if it were as domesticated as bingo, as socially acceptable as a round of golf and as unthreatening as a rubber cutlass.

Over the next five or six weeks St Luke will present us with some of the social implications of following Jesus, showing us that the values which society considers normal are often far from Christianity. We will see Jesus calling us to give our lives for others with no thought of reward. And we will be called upon to be so outspoken that it will stick in people’s throats.

Not very comforting? Perhaps not, but that’s what Jesus promises us in today’s uncompromising gospel.

SCRUNGE

If you were having a competition for ugly-sounding words then “scrunge” would be a strong contender. What does it mean? I don’t know, but you can tell from its sound that it won’t be anything pleasant. (Actually it doesn’t exist!)

Some words are off-putting. “Stewardship” sounds so stuffy and institutional. It’s the sort of word we give a wide berth to because it sounds rather boring and overly religious. Yet today’s gospel has Christ reminding us that we are all called to exercise stewardship over what God has given us.

It’s easy to talk about global stewardship, about saving the planet for our children and grandchildren. It’s easy because it doesn’t necessarily bite home in our lives. But stewardship is much closer to home than global warming and carbon footprints. It’s about how we use the ordinary things in our life.

How do we use our time? What are our priorities? Is my time mine or am I aware that I am given it to do good with? Am I generous with my time? They say that if you want something doing urgently then ask a busy person. Maybe that’s because people who pack lots into their time are aware of how much needs to be done, whereas the couch potato can never quite “get round to it”. If my time is valuable then do I use most of it on valuable things?

How do I use my talents? God has never made anyone without talents. Are you even aware of what yours are or do you falsely stay in the background pretending not to have gifts and talents that can be put to the service of others? Do you hide your talents or do you make them useful by letting others benefit from them?

How do you use your treasure? And what is your treasure, the thing that really “turns you on”, the thing that you most value in life, that you would give anything to defend and would do anything to possess? Your treasure is what you love most of all in life. God has given everyone treasure in abundance but it’s to be used so that others can have a better quality of life.

Jesus reminds us today that we all have time, talents and treasure. And he tells us that one day we’ll have to account for what we’re doing with them because they’re only on loan. It’s called stewardship.

WHAT’S THE POINT?

FAITH IN FOCUS:

“Vanity of vanities!” is a famous quotation from the bible, but what does it mean? It’s the preacher’s way in the Book of Ecclesiastes of saying that life seems “meaningless” or “pointless”. What’s it all about? It’s certainly not fair and it seems to take all my time and energy and keep me to the grindstone.

A radio pundit the other day said that there should be more love shown in the work place, because love makes us more productive and that way we will earn more money. Is that the point of life, money? And what’s the point of stashing money away when your children and grandchildren will only fritter it away after you’ve gone? Is it worth the hard work and the restless nights worrying about it, asks our reading today?

There’s nothing fundamentally wrong with our world; God made it and it’s good. But if we limit our sights only to the things of this world then we won’ see very far. We’ll get bogged down in its limitations; our lives will not reflect anything other than our career prospects, our bank balances, our reputations and our comfort. Our cultural horizons will hit the buffers at celebrity, gossip, fashion and trivia, while our significant relationships will be virtually found on Facebook and Twitter.

What makes us tick? What are our values and are any of them transcendent? Do they go beyond the make-up and greasepaint, beyond simply following the crowd in its dream of success?

The preacher in today’s scripture obviously feels that life can be meaningless unless we have a clear idea about the reason we are on this earth. Without such a spiritual compass we are at the whim of a pointless merry-go-round that seems to take more out of us than it gives.

So what’s the driving force in your life? What makes you want to jump out of bed in the morning and confront the world and all its challenges?

What motivates you to keep on going and to make your mark? Given that life is short, what makes it worth living? When today’s psalmist came to answer these questions, he put it very simply:

Make us know the shortness of our lifethat we may gain wisdom of heart,O Lord, you have been our refugefrom one generation to the next.

For life to be meaningful we all need a goal.

What’s yours?

FOLLOWING A PATTERN

The little boy knew where his mother had mislaid the car keys but was keeping quiet. At night time he knelt by his bed and prayed, “God, if you get me a bike I’ll tell her where they are.”Sometimes we use prayer in this way. We act as if we can make a bargain with God and then get what we want from him. I promise to do such and such and in return I want this and that. Then when we don’t get what we want we say our prayer has not been answered.

When Jesus taught his disciples the Our Father he wasn’t teaching them a prayer. He was teaching them how to pray, the pattern of prayer, the attitude to take before God. We use the words of the Lord’s Prayer in our public and private prayer, but these words are only a coat hanger for our conversation with God. We acknowledge God’s holiness, our dependence upon him, and then we ask for what we need in order to live life as he intends and to inherit eternal life.

Only those who know their true needs and who have the persistence to put them before God can really pray. And, of course, what we want is not necessarily what we need. That’s why God always answers our prayer but doesn’t always give us what we ask for.

Sometimes the answer might be “no” and sometimes it might be to receive something we least expected from God. But the key to prayer is persistence, never to stop praying. The more we pray the more we come in tune with God’s will. Then our prayer changes. Instead of asking God for this and that we find ourselves able to be at one with the will of God, and this means that we are sure that God is giving us what we need as long as we keep asking and listening.

To think that God would make us ask and ask without bothering to answer is bizarre. Such a God would be perverse. God encourages us to pray in order that we may know him more, discern his will and love him for what we know.

If your child asked you for something reasonable would you ever refuse if you could give it? Then why should God be any different?