Like everyone, there are are a few skeletons in my closet. Most of them are quite embarrassing. And unless you are one of the privileged few, they tend to stay hidden. But, lucky for you I'm in the sharing mood today and I'm going to plaster one of my secrets on the Internet for the whole world--or at least the 6 of you who read my blog--to find out. Growing up, I used to be involved in choir and theater. I know what you're thinking--"That's not embarrassing!" What if I up the ante a bit?
Throughout Elementary School I enjoyed singing. My voice could only be described as an interweaving of Adam Levine and Michael Buble. One year, I was offered the part of Frosty the Snowman in our Christmas program. They dressed me in a ridiculous snowman costume and even gave me a solo. To say I knocked it out of the park would be an understatement! As the years passed and I transitioned to Junior High School, my enjoyment of singing waned. I decided to move onto something more lucrative and found my passion to be acting. My career started off pretty small, basically as extras. But after participating in just a play or two I landed a major role. In our rendition of the Hunchback of Notre Dame, I played the part of Quasimodo! On a side note, if any of these pictures exist, get rid of them. Shred them. Burn them. Do whatever is necessary so there is not even a trace of evidence left--other than this blog. I swear to you, if I discover any of those pictures on the Internet someone will pay. That's right, I'm talking to you mother! Sorry about that rant; I will now get back to the point.
In both cases, we had to audition for the various roles. While everyone had a part in the programs and plays, only a few of us were able to have the more significant roles. After auditions, the results would be made public to the class. Off in the corner of the room you could usually find someone crying because they didn't land the part they hoped. Of course, my teachers would make their way through the rows of desks and console the student. And it never failed, they would take advantage of that opportunity to teach, those of us who were the stars, a lesson in humility. In the most stern voice, they would inform all of us, "There are no small parts, only small people." followed by a glance in my direction. To this day, I still think that was a jab at my height, but again, that's off subject. Either way, getting those important roles was a huge boost for my ego. And if I'm honest, I might have relished the attention I was receiving just a bit.
Come on, who doesn't like the attention? Who doesn't want to be important? Who doesn't want to be a star? The accolades. The attention. The benefits. Honestly, things aren't all that different in the church. Even when Jesus flips our paradigms upside down and tells us things like, "the first will be last; the humble will inherit the earth; whoever loses his life will find it;" we still find ourselves taking part in an epic struggle of significance and stardom. But, as is always the case, this is nothing new. We see one such event unfold with Jesus' followers in the midst of his short ministry. The disciples, the ones who knew Jesus best, missed the point yet again--just like you and me. As you turn to Matthew 18:1-20, allow me to set the scene.
Over the weeks preceding this conversation, the disciples had witnessed some amazing events. In short, Jesus miraculously comes up with a shekel for the temple tax by telling Peter to catch a fish that will have the coin in it's mouth. Even if that could be written off as coincidence, just before that Jesus cast out a demon from a boy in the crowd--something the disciples apparently tried to do but were unsuccessful. And to put the icing on the cake, the text leading up to all of this informs us that Jesus was transfigured before the disciples very eyes. His face shone like the sun and his clothes became white as light. All after meeting up with Moses and Elijah--whom have been dead for quite some time--on the top of mountain. And right on the tail of those three awe inspiring events, the disciples lose focus and resort to bickering. And they confront Jesus with a very pressing question; one we are still asking today. "Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?"
Essentially the disciples were asking Jesus which of them was paramount in his kingdom. The whole "there are no small parts" mentality Jesus had would no longer suffice for the self-absorbed disciples. In hindsight, Jesus should have seen this coming. He went out of his way to specifically choose these men. They were hand-selected by the son of God to be his disciples. That should count for something. Is it a wonder the disciples egos got the best of them so often?
And we pick up this conversation in Matthew 18. Jesus replies by launching into an expository far more in depth than the disciples had likely bargained for. He addresses their need to receive him like children, which leads to some discussion on their response to sin, the lost, and forgiveness. In other words, Jesus seemingly skirts around the question. But the underlying theme seems to be of concerning themselves more with participating in the Kingdom of God now as opposed to bickering over which of them is more important. What a profound thought! Think of the implications Jesus was bringing up here. In his lecture about "the greatest in the kingdom of heaven" Jesus shuts them down. He tells them to stop seeking distinction and start addressing the more important issues--accept him like a child; make sacrifices to avoid sin; seek out the lost instead of fraternizing with the affluently spiritual; almost haphazardly forgive others--only then will you be great. Jesus makes it abundantly clear he isn't really looking for the great or the important. They really don't have much room for God. In the simplest terms Jesus points out that importance and greatness don't come through exaltation, but humility.
This teaching is so basic, yet so important because we easily get so wrapped up in our own kingdom. We get caught up in the sub-plot of our own lives and lose sight of the grander story in God's cosmic movie of redemption. We try to make our role seem more significant than it is. We seek attention that doesn't belong to us. We promote ourselves and forget what is truly important. Truth be told, we all have an important role to play, no matter how small it may seem (see Romans 12). Even so, in the script God has masterfully written, we are no more than extras. The thing about extras is that if they don't fulfill their duties, someone else is usually ready and willing to step up and take their place. Furthermore, the leading role belongs to God rather than any of us. It always has and always will. When we understand this, it puts everything in it's proper place.
Think of it this way. In Hollywood, nobody knows who the extras are. Nobody can ramble off their names, their list of roles, how much they make, and they are never on the cover of any magazines. Yet the extras are absolutely necessary. Without them, Hollywood wouldn't be able to sell the story. How dull would the high-speed chases be without the semis, family vans and imports dispersed across the highway. Without them, the Porsche 911 Turbo would just cruise across the asphalt, at a steady speed, in a straight line, being followed by the police car that is never going to catch up. Or how about the romantic dinner the couple takes? It would be kind of awkward if the restaurant was empty and they had to seat themselves and take their own order. If the extras disappear, the viability of the story goes with it.
Can you imagine a Sunday morning without the tech crew? No sound coming from the speakers. No lighting for the stage. No words or video clips being projected on the screen. Who can fathom what the facility would look (and smell) like if nobody took the time out of their schedule to clean things like the bathrooms. I'm 99% certain nobody would show up at the 8:30 service if someone hadn't arrived, before the sun even rose, to make the delicious Zambian coffee. We would never be able to keep track of who came, who signed up for what, or what commitments were made if there wasn't anyone willing to cut out the connection cards. Parents would be nervous the entire service if their children were all just thrown into one big room with no adult supervision. But then again, it's not all about the building or our Sunday services.
Let's look at the bigger picture. In my Evangelism class at college I heard it takes the average person 7 times hearing the Gospel before they make a conscious decision to respond. While you may not be the individual that sits down with them and says some prayer to get them "saved" (I'm not a huge fan of that terminology), you may have brought them one step closer to that point. You see, we all have a part to play. And it really is important, even if we are just an extra.
Let me conclude my rambling with one final thought. In the scheme of things, even the biggest players in our eyes--the evangelists, preachers and missionaries--are only extras. So, I guess my teachers were right afterall, "There are no small parts, just small people."