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.

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?

A TALE OF TWO SISTERS

We all know the story of the two sisters, Martha and Mary. When Jesus came as a guest, Martha complained that Mary was leaving her to do all the work in the kitchen and just sitting around talking and listening to Jesus.

Surprisingly, Jesus came down on Mary’s side!

Yet we all live our lives like Martha. We shave in the shower and listen to the news on the radio at the same time to save precious minutes. At traffic lights we join the queue with fewer cars so we can be off first. And we scour the supermarket checkouts to find the least dozy-looking cashier.

We’ve become consumed with doing as much as we can as fast as we can. We’re not so much burnt out as burnt up, consumed with activity. However, we rarely stop to ask ourselves why we are doing what we are doing and whether our priorities are right.

Of course, we have to work. And we have to prepare meals if we invite people round to eat. But, just for a moment, forget about the work you have to do to earn a living. How do you spend the rest of your time?

What are your priorities? Does God feature in them? Do you pray or read the bible or is watching the soap operas more important? Do you ever just try and sit back for a few moments in God’s presence? Do you have a sense of the spiritual? Of God being at your side in all that you do? Do you ever try to listen to what God might be saying to you in the events of your daily life? Do you try to process your activity?

The Greek word that describes Martha being distracted actually means “pulled here and there by one thing and the next”. Sometimes in our flurry of activity that’s exactly what happens to us. Our rushing around becomes an escape from reality. We find refuge in being busy. It seems to validate our existence but really it stops us from asking deeper questions about our life’s direction.

Jesus speaks Martha’s name twice.
“Martha, Martha, you worry and fret about so many things…” What a lovely reassurance of how fond he is of her! And what a reminder that from time to time we have to stop hiding behind activity and challenge ourselves at a more thoughtful level.

KITCHEN SINK HEROES

Jesus rubs up everyone in today’s gospel. First he angers the Jewish establishment by telling a story about a man who was mugged, ignored by two clergymen and helped by a member of the hated ethnic minority.

Then he shuts the legal boffins up by saying that you don’t need a degree in jurisprudence to understand God’s Law. Just a bit of common sense will do. You can know the Law but still be incapable of love.

In fact, that’s what God said through Moses in today’s reading from Deuteronomy: “This Law is not beyond your strength or beyond your reach… it is very near to you, in your mouth and in your heart.”

Yet we have problems thinking that God’s Law should be so easy. Coming from a superhero culture we tend to expect some great heroic sacrifice will be asked of us, some death-defying feat that will hit the front pages of the newspapers. But God simply says: look around and make sure your neighbour is OK. Christian morality is as simple as that. Love your neighbour.

Today’s Samaritans are not those who go off to save the Third World but those who keep an eye out for the elderly or sick person on their street. They’re the kitchen sink heroes whose daily acts of kindness show that everyone is their neighbour. We shouldn’t need to ask, “Who is my neighbour?” Rather, we should listen for the call within us to become close to those in need around us.

St David said, “Do the little things well”. Perhaps that’s what God is trying to tell us today. For if we want to fulfil God’s Law, then we will do so by opening our eyes and ears and responding to people of all races and creeds when they need us.

This is not something so difficult that only professionals can grasp it. It’s obvious, says God. It’s what we would want others to do for us, and we can do it for others simply by doing the little things well

THE MOTHER OF ALL GODS?

The one sure thing we can say about God is that he/she does not fit into a box. God is greater than anything we can ever imagine or understand.

In today’s liturgy Isaiah uses feminine imagery to describe how God deals with the chosen people. And so God says that “she” will be like a mother to us, consoling us when we are sad, fondling us in her lap and suckling us at her breasts when we are in need of sustenance.

Of course, God is just God. God’s not a man; not a woman; not something in between. God transcends, goes beyond, gender. But thinking of God in terms of a mother as well as a father allows us to glimpse God in an entirely new light. It means that we can suddenly appreciate the tender, life-giving, nursing side to God. These feminine attributes remind us that there is no part of our lives that God is absent from, and nothing that God is unconcerned about.

Living as we do in a scientific age, we tend to think that we can dissect everything and find out exactly how it works before putting it back together again. Then we can use it when we want it. This approach sometimes affects the way people think about God. The have a Jack-in-the Box God that can be kept with the lid shut and brought out by undoing the catch when we can’t solve the problem ourselves and need a bit of divine help.

However, God is much too big to fit in the box and much too clever to be tamed by our attempts to tie him/her down to neat categories. Anyone who has ever read the scriptures will know that time and time again God acts in precisely the opposite way to how we humans think he/she should. God picks the very people whom everyone else discounts on the first ballot; God grants victory to the underdog; God confounds the proud with the humility of the meek, and turns up in circumstances where we wouldn’t expect God to be.

Today Isaiah reminds us that God is bigger than us and we cannot pretend to have God taped. If we let our minds be stretched by thinking of God as both a mother and a father then we get twice as much God for our money

JUST LIKE US?

Some Churches traditionally ordain priests and deacons around “Petertide” as a reminder of the roles of leadership and preaching that were exercised by the apostles Peter and Paul. The feast reminds us that the same service of handing on the faith is entrusted to the successors of Peter and Paul. It is our task today to maintain that living tradition of Jesus by being meticulous in the way we care for each other and by being bold in the way we take Christ’s message to the world. In our worship today we thank God for
having been enriched by the Christian faith and we ask that we may experience the joy of following the Lord.

Faced with the greatness of these two saints, it’s easy to collapse in a Christian heap and think that there is no way that we, ordinary mortals, can ever live up to the high standards of Peter and Paul. But when we take a closer look at them we find that they’re not so different from us as at first we might think. Each one of them wanted to love and follow Jesus, but they had their own problems which meant that they had to keep on trying if they were to succeed in cooperating with God’s Spirit in living out their Christian calling.

It’s easier to identify with Peter more than with some of the other apostles. Not only is he trying to be a down-to-earth honest and willing person, but he’s also got all the foibles that we have. What Jesus, in effect, said to Peter he says to us: “It is not you who have chosen me, but I who have chosen you. Peter, it is not human wisdom that makes it possible for you to believe, but my Father’s revelation. I, not you, build my Church.”

Like Peter we sometimes think that it’s all down to us, to our actions and our commitment, without realising that we are only effective Christians
if we allow the Spirit to work through us.

Paul’s experience of the risen Jesus on the road to Damascus was the driving force that made him one of the most zealous, dynamic and courageous ambassadors of Christ the Church has ever had. But persecution, humiliation and weakness became his day-by-day carrying of the cross, material for further transformation. The dying Christ was in him; the living Christ was his life. We too are no strangers to weakness, to lack of spiritual energy and to wondering whether it’s all worth it. Trying to be a muscular Christian is a constant temptation, especially when we lose sight of the fact that we are called to present Jesus to our world, rather than carry the world on our back to Jesus.

Peter and Paul: role models for you and me.

WHAT DO YOU SAY?

Nine out of ten people who use the word “Eucharist” think of an object. They think of the Eucharist as a thing, bread or wine that is transformed into the body and blood of Christ.

But strictly speaking Eucharist is not a thing, it’s an action. It’s the action of giving thanks.  In fact, the word for “thank you” that is heard thousands of times every day in modern Greece is “evcharisto”, the same word as Eucharist.

Each time Christians celebrate Eucharist they thank God for all that God has done in the past and continues to do for us today. The Eucharistic Prayer is one long prayer of praise and thanksgiving for the fact that God made us, redeemed us through Christ and continues to support us today in the Holy Spirit until Christ comes again at the end of time. In our worship we “Eucharist” God.

The feast of the Body and Blood of Christ (Corpus et Sanguis Christi) is a reminder to us that Christ has left us a memorial of his Passion and death and that by our action of Eucharist we make really present the grace and power of God on our altars.

At every Eucharist bread and wine is brought up in procession and laid on the altar. Our prayer to God is that the Holy Spirit may transform these humble elements so that they may become for us the body and blood of Christ.

If we are really celebrating Eucharist then we need to offer ourselves and our lives in sacrifice to God along with the bread and wine. We need to bring all our hopes and joys, our dreams and reservations, our plans and worries so that they too may be transformed by the power of the Holy Spirit.

The Eucharist is the heart of our Christian faith. It is the central act of our community, the source of all our strength and the summit to which all our activity as Church is directed.

Corpus Christi invites us to stand before our God and celebrate Eucharist: to say thank you!