Lining Up Last

I used to spend Thursdays in Farmer City, IL. Thirty minutes west, the sun rising in my rearview mirror. Kindergartners greeted me with hugs around my legs, “Miz Trozio! Do we have you today?” At Schneider Elementary, I taught “guidance,” incorporating literature & art into K-3rd classroom lessons about conflict resolution, celebrating differences, and managing emotions of daily life. 

We also played games. Between lessons, I hosted social skills groups and counseled students. Losing is hard when you’re seven. Perhaps also at thirty-seven and seventy-seven. We all want to be winners, even if the game is pure chance.

“What do I get for winning?” This question startled me. One child had kicked her chair over and was on the verge of angry tears, while her classmate wanted an extra reward for finishing first. Teachers did not appreciate me returning kids to their classroom in worse moods than they had left. They were supposed to be improving their social skills, not becoming a bigger behavior problem.

But learning to manage difficult emotions was what we were practicing. Anger and sadness and gloating about winning. So we processed how it felt. What we could do. And then I ended with: “The last shall be first, and the first shall be last.” Understandably, this pronouncement confused the kids. They expected winners to get candy, while losers lagged behind in line.

“For winning, you get to go last.” We looked at the pieces on the board (if no one had angrily flipped it over 🙂 and lined up in reverse order of how they had finished the game. This backwards logic surprised them, but worked remarkably well for transitioning back to class. Kids came to expect that things were different in my room, where (just maybe) I gave them a taste of a changed order.

Truthfully, I’m not sure it was a theologically sound application of Jesus’ words: 

“But many who are first will be last. And many who are last will be first.” Mark 10:31(CEB)

I do question heaping rewards on winners, as if finishing ahead is not already enough. And I wonder about our perception of whether the game is about luck, skill, hard work, or deservedness. Who got to roll first, and whose turn got skipped? What about the folks who are losing? Or who feel that they have lost, and are looking for someone to blame? A chair to kick over in frustration. 

Jesus speaks of a kingdom where the order seems reversed. “It will be very hard for the wealthy to enter God’s kingdom!” (Mark 10:23) His words startled the disciples; they are shocked when Jesus compares salvation of the rich to a camel squeezing through the eye of an needle. 

What are we missing, even as we are surrounded by all of our possessions? What makes us turn away sad, or stands in our way of following Jesus? He knows that we worry about what we’ve left behind, and whether there are rewards promised ahead. 

Jesus looks at us carefully, and he loves us. He teaches about a different kind of kingdom, an upside down world order where everyone will have enough. Perhaps it is time to let go of some things for Lent. To be reminded of treasure in heaven, even if we don’t quite understand what that means. 

Lord, give us eyes to see beyond our present reality. Help us to leave behind the things that are only holding us back. And remind us again that all things are possible for God. 

Bulletin: 3/3
Order of Service: 3/3
Sermon: Transfiguration to Transformation

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