Summary: This is a sermon preached on Martin Luther King Jr. Sunday. It deals with the desire to be first and the problems it can cause

Beware Of The Drum Major Instinct

GNLCC 1/18/04 Micah 6:6-8 Mark 10:35-45

Our daughter Anita had been part of the Mighty Shaw High Band for four years. But something leaped inside of me, when she came home that fifth year and announced that she was going to be the head drum major her senior year. I still recall that evening during the battle of the bands when she was decked out in her white tuxedo. To add drama to her position as drum major that night, they arranged for her and her two assistants to ride into their positions on motorcycles. There she was coming down the center of the field holding on for dear life.

Then she got off and took control of the band with her whistle. Each move of her arms and the waving of her baton brought a specific reaction out of the crown. Upon her signal the band marched, they danced, they swayed , they played and they even yelled out something. There in the stands, Pastor Toby and I were as proud of her as any parent can be. Our daughter was the drum major. There is something about a drum major that arises something inside of us that makes us want to be there where or she is leading the march.

In our New Testament text today, we see a passage of Scriptures that Dr. King made famous in a message he delivered at Ebeneezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, Ga on February 4th, 1968 that was entitled the “Drum Major Instinct.” I want to update that message this morning.

The background setting from which the message came was based on a conversation between Jesus and two of his disciples named James and John. James and John wanted to stand out among the 12 disciples. As brothers, they got together to plan for their future. They expected Jesus to one day establish a kingdom on this earth, and they were not going to be content just being in the royal court. They wanted the two top positions.

They went to Jesus and made a request. They said, “Jesus, we have a small favor to ask of you. When you come into your kingdom, let one of us sit at your right hand the other one at your left. They wanted to be out front.” One wanted to be the Secretary of State and the other Special Advisor To The King.

They had not asked if they were the most qualified to serve or not or whether they deserved the positions more than the other ten disciples. They just wanted the positions and whatever perks may have come with them. Jesus told them, “James, John, you guys do not know what you are asking. Can you drink the cup I drink and be baptized with the baptism I am baptized with.” James and John were very sure of themselves and without hesitation they said, “we can”.

Jesus said to them, "You will drink the cup I drink and be baptized with the baptism I am baptized with, 40but to sit at my right or left is not for me to grant. These places belong to those for whom they have been prepared."

Now imagine for a moment if you had of been one of the twelve disciples and you heard James and John make this request of being top dogs in the coming kingdom. How would you have felt?

Dr. King had this to say about James and John in his message the Drum Major Instinct “ Now very quickly, we would automatically condemn James and John, and we would say they were selfish. Why would they make such a selfish request? But before we condemn them too quickly, let us look calmly and honestly at ourselves, and we will discover that we too have those same basic desires for recognition, for importance. That same desire for attention, that same desire to be first.

Of course, the other disciples got mad with James and John, and you could understand why, but we must understand that we have some of the same James and John qualities. And there is deep down within all of us an instinct. It’s a kind of drum major instinct—a desire to be out front, a desire to lead the parade, a desire to be first. And it is something that runs the whole gamut of life.

And so before we condemn them, let us see that we all have the drum major instinct. We all want to be important, to surpass others, to achieve distinction, to lead the parade.

And you know, we begin early to ask life to put us first. Our first cry as a baby was a bid for attention. And all through childhood the drum major impulse or instinct is a major obsession. Children ask life to grant them first place. They are a little bundle of ego. And they have innately the drum major impulse or the drum major instinct.

Now in adult life, we still have it, and we really never get by it. We like to do something good. And you know, we like to be praised for it. Now if you don’t believe that, you just go on living life, and you will discover very soon that you like to be praised. Everybody likes it, as a matter of fact. And somehow this warm glow we feel when we are praised or when our name is in print is something of the vitamin A to our ego. Nobody is unhappy when they are praised, even if they know they don’t deserve it and even if they don’t believe it. The only unhappy people about praise is when that praise is going too much toward somebody else. (That’s right) But everybody likes to be praised because of this real drum major instinct.”

How many of you will admit to having the drum major instinct inside of you today? It’s been 35 years since the assassin’s bullet attempted to take Dr. King’s dream away from us. But if he were here among us today, I do believe he would proclaim that the drum major instinct is still doing us damage today. The insatiable desire to get ahead, to be number one, to display our greatness is hitting us and hurting us time and time again.

What if Dr. King could drop by for a visit to America today? No doubt if Dr. King did drop by America for a visit he might be a little shocked to find out some of the things that exist today. If we gave him a tour of many of the school systems that he fought to integrate, He would wonder in amazement at how segregated the schools have become in our large city school districts and inner suburban rings.

The drum major instinct has caused many people to pull their children out of the inner city public schools and either send them into the suburbs or private schools, so that in the day of tomorrow, their children can sit in the seats that John and James had wanted.

There is nothing wrong with wanting the best for one’s children. I want the best for my children. But Dr. King left us with a vision of what’s best for all children. Our old Testament passage gave us a passage by which we are to be able to approach God. It says in Micah 6:8 He has showed you, O man, what is good.

And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.

At the foundation of equality and acting justly is the requirement of some kind of a leveling field. We voice the opinion that all our young people are created equal, but that drum major instinct within us wants us to make our children more equal than others.

I can understand that some suburban schools, with their wealth and the absence of some urban schools problems can do a better job of preparing students to take the SAT and ACT exams. I’m happy for those kids who have the chance. What I do not understand is the denial on the part of many is to admit, that the students are better equipped for the SAT and ACT exams than are many inner city students.

Although the students have been given an advantage by being in a better school system, the drum major instinct causes us to insist that colleges look at all students the same, regardless of where they went to school. How dare a college consider race, excuse me, a students high school location in its admission process. How dare a college deny my child, who had a higher SAT score than one of those minorities, I mean inner city students did who was accepted by that same college.

Let me ask you this, how many of you believe that a student who came from a good strong suburban school with an SAT score of 1450 would have gotten the same score on the same exam, if she had gone to a poor inner city public school? No doubt her intelligence level and potential for doing good in society would have been just as high, even though her SAT score may have been lower. So if an inner city student scores 1050 on the SAT and a suburban school student scores 1150, who is really the better student? The answer is, “we don’t know.” Therefore let’s remember Micah’s call to love mercy.

People today talk about Dr. King’s call for us all to be treated as equals and that’s why affirmative action is wrong. I am all for abolishing affirmative action in colleges today, if we get rid of all affirmative action in the college admission process. Most people don’t want to do that because it takes away some unfair advantages for certain students.

No college should be allowed to see a student’s name, nor should the college be allowed to know a student’s parents name. This is a hidden affirmative action plan for the children of the important members of the community. You see if you just happen to be the son or daughter of the governor, or of the President of the United States, your chances of being admitted go up drastically. It has nothing to do with your intelligence ability or SAT score. You just come from the right background.

What college in its right mind would turn away the children of Bill Gates of Microsoft just because their SAT school didn’t quite measure up. Let’s also bar the names of prep schools on applications. The students going to those schools were placed their because of their parent’s drum major instinct, and to allow the schools names on the applications would be an affirmative action plan for students from prestigious prep schools.

California is a state in which affirmative action is a really bad word. It was ironic that a group of families there, opposed naming a school Martin Luther King Jr. High School for fear that college admissions staff would think it was a black school. We claim Dr. King is a national hero, but I’d love to know how many predominantly white schools bear the name Martin Luther King Jr. High School.

Let’s also bar colleges from asking whether or not your parents or family members were alumni of the college. The preference of giving extra weight to children of alumni is called legacy programs. This is an affirmative action plan for those whose ancestors were more likely to have gone to college. Yes if we want college admissions to be equal, let’s give every student a number for their application, and allow them to only list their states so that the schools could achieve a diversity from around the country.

The truth is, this will never happen. Why? Because the majority of Americans want to have a means to further the drum major instinct on behalf of themselves and their children. It does not matter what the color of the person is, the drum major instinct inside of us is part of the reason Jesus came and died for us. It’s hard to walk humbly before our God when we have the opportunity to get ahead first. The drum major instinct keeps us from admitting, Dr. King’s dream has not fully settled itself into the hearts of most Americans.

The drum major instinct not only keeps racism alive, it keeps materialism alive. The drum major instinct has caused us to value profit over people. How often do we here, company after company is laying off so many workers as a cost saving measure? National City Bank & KeyCorp banks who ate up other banks are now about to be eaten up themselves. The paper talks about the value of their stocks going up, but I’d rather read about the damage that will be done to all the families who will lose their jobs and won’t find comparable paying ones in the future.

Why don’t we tell the truth more clearly and bluntly by saying, the companies are laying off more workers in order to make more money and have a bigger profit this year than they did last year? As we use such fancy words as downscaling , corporate downsizing, and outsourcing, many of our families and friends are seeing their piece of the American dream shattered because of the loss of good paying jobs. Today we benefit from the price of cheaper and cheaper technology with the computers and electronic gadgets. Do we ask the question, why are these goods so much cheaper and who is being exploited to make our lifestyles easier?

Dr. King most certainly would have asked the question. I’m not sure if he would commend us for the use of goods coming from prison and slave labor out of China, or of the poor working conditions of those in third world nations who make our high price athletic shoes. No, the drum major instinct causes us to think mainly of ourselves and our own prosperity. We’re happy to be able to say we had the first gadget or pair shoes to hit the market. Having things can somehow make us tolerate injustice toward others a little easier to take.

After risking and giving his life in defense of poor garbage workers in Memphis, it is unlikely that Dr. King would be that happy on being enlightened with the fact that we are throwing American workers and their jobs by the way side to make corporations richer and richer.

In his warning on where the Vietnam WAR was taking us, Dr King stated, “I am convinced that if we are to get on the right side of the world revolution, we as a nation must undergo a radical revolution of values. We must rapidly begin the shift from a "thing-oriented" society to a "person-oriented" society. When machines and computers, profit motives and property rights are considered more important than people, the giant triplets of racism, materialism, and militarism are incapable of being conquered.”

Let me ask you this, “What corrupt and oppressive governments are we going to be required to defend on the battlefield in order to protect our corporations financial interests in those countries.” Since we did not find any weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, were the people who was saying this is all about oil on target? What corporations are salivating at the thought of receiving contracts to rebuild Iraq as the President hands out offers of our tax dollars to the very companies, that sent our jobs elsewhere. The drum major instinct is alive and well in corporate America.

When we forget about God, the drum major instinct pushes us to do all that we can to declare our superiority on a national scale as well. That third member of the trilogy known as militarism is always a threat to the interest of justice. We are the undisputed most powerful nation in the world today. That requires that we know how to demonstrate restraint and morality.

It is amazing how well the drum major instinct will allow us to throw away reasoning and give in to fear in choosing our courses of action. The drum major instinct can be so seductive on the national level, because we can claim and believe we are doing good, when in fact we may be contributing to evil.

It does not matter which side of the issue you were on at the start of the Iraqi War, because it’s now history. But today it has become evident to all that the drum major instinct had a role in the distortions, exaggerations, and lies our government fed to us to create a fever of let’s go to war at any cost among the population. We launched our pre-emptive strike not because we had to, but because we could. Our American pride and arrogance had far more to do with us going to war, than our love for the liberation of the Iraqi people. Our government refused to let us know how many of them we killed to liberate them.

Dr. King was a strong supporter of the United Nations and he challenged those who were urging the US to relinquish its roles in the UN. Our government had us believing the Middle East was about to have all kinds of weapons of mass destruction leashed upon it and that an attack was imminent. Now almost a year later, we have to confess that all the weapons of mass destruction leashed in Iraq came from the United States and Great Britain.

Dr. King had wanted us to turn to the United Nations to help us get out of Vietnam. He would have been among those urging us to give the United Nations more time to reach a peaceful resolution of this conflict. Our government so construed the terms of negotiation so as to make war inevitable. It was very hypocritical of our President to have gone and laid a wreath at Dr King’s tomb this past week pretending to be a man of peace when in reality he is a man of war.

Now that we have the advantage of hide sight, what would have happened if we had stayed in tune with the United Nations instead of allowing us to rush into a course of action declaring war. We are now humbly asking the UN for help to get us out of the mess we created, but is it cynicism, to think our sudden talk of withdrawal from Iraq has more to do with the coming elections, than with justice and democracy for the Iraqi people. If the government we leave behind in Iraq is overthrown, by the Iraqi people in five years, will we go back to preserve democracy? What if they vote to become an Islamic state, will we accept it as their free choice?

Our government recently passed a prescription bill for our seniors in need of assistance with medicine. Yet even though the need is pressing and urgent today, because people are dying from lack of medicine, they made the starting date 2006 for the coverage. What would have happened if we had given our own seniors precedent over IRAQ. Perhaps that 87 billion could have went to the seniors today, and the war could have been postponed until 2006.

When the 87 billion is spent, who will have benefited the most in terms of profit? I doubt if it will be our brave American soldiers who have willingly given of themselves. I even doubt if it will be the poor among the Iraqi people. Now the President wants us to keep our real problems of injustice and mercy aside to declare a trip to the moon and on to Mars. There goes that wild drum major instinct again.

Jesus warned us against the drum major instinct. He didn’t tell us to get rid of it all together, but to channel the way in which it is put to use. He said, it’s alright to be number one, so long as you strive to be the number one servant of all. In other words, use that number one instinct to lift up everybody else around you and not just a select few. He emphasized being the servant of all. Go ahead and be the drum major, but make sure the same invitation is available for everyone to be in your parade.

Let’s be fair and honest in dealing with some of the issues that face us. Let’s admit that racism is still alive and well in America. That’s always the starting point for fighting the drum major instinct. I’m not advocating sending your kids to poorer schools. I am saying let’s use our influence to make education equal for all children and let’s not cry if the Federal government sends some money into the city that it did not send into the suburbs in order to bring about equality.

Let’s admit that high school test scores alone do not indicate how much an individual is going to contribute to society. Some of you here today know that you are much smarter than what your grades indicated in high school. Others of you have done far more in life than some of your friends who got better SAT scores. Let’s recognize that any group that makes 13% of the population ought to be 13% of the college campuses. Nobody complains about the preferential treatment blacks receive in filling up our nations prisons and penitentiaries that are clearly an abuse of the criminal justice system. But that’s another message altogether.

Let’s ask the questions of the morality of throwing people out of jobs simply so fewer people can make more money. What would happen if a company announced it was dedicating itself to its employees and would forgo an increase in profit, in order to maintain it’s workforce? I know, people would threaten law suits because shareholders wouldn’t make as much money. Somehow we keep forgetting that we are all in this parade together. Having people falling down and being trampled is going to have its toll in the end.

Let’s insist that our government be reminded that it exists to serve the people and not for the people to serve it. If we need to know how much a medical program cost before we can give all of our citizens some kind of health care, then we should certainly know how much a war is going to cost before we engage in it, unless we have actually been attacked by another nation.

Dr. King had a vision of this nation being a great nation by being built upon the pillars of freedom and justice for all. We can’t do that without sharing the message of Jesus Christ, because unless the hearts of people are changed, they will not let go of the negative drive of the drum major instinct.

Dr. King ended his message on the Drum Major Instinct with these words :If any of you are around when I have to meet my day, I don’t want a long funeral. And if you get somebody to deliver the eulogy, tell them not to talk too long. (Yes) And every now and then I wonder what I want them to say. Tell them not to mention that I have a Nobel Peace Prize—that isn’t important. Tell them not to mention that I have three or four hundred other awards—that’s not important. Tell them not to mention where I went to school. (Yes)

I’d like somebody to mention that day that Martin Luther King, Jr., tried to give his life serving others. (Yes)

I’d like for somebody to say that day that Martin Luther King, Jr., tried to love somebody.

I want you to say that day that I tried to be right on the war question. (Amen)

I want you to be able to say that day that I did try to feed the hungry. (Yes)

And I want you to be able to say that day that I did try in my life to clothe those who were naked. (Yes)

I want you to say on that day that I did try in my life to visit those who were in prison. (Lord)

I want you to say that I tried to love and serve humanity. (Yes)

Yes, if you want to say that I was a drum major, say that I was a drum major for justice. (Amen) Say that I was a drum major for peace. (Yes) I was a drum major for righteousness. And all of the other shallow things will not matter. (Yes) I won’t have any money to leave behind. I won’t have the fine and luxurious things of life to leave behind. But I just want to leave a committed life behind. (Amen) And that’s all I want to say.

If I can help somebody as I pass along,

If I can cheer somebody with a word or song,

If I can show somebody he’s traveling wrong,

Then my living will not be in vain.

If I can do my duty as a Christian ought,

If I can bring salvation to a world once wrought,

If I can spread the message as the master taught,

Then my living will not be in vain.

Yes, Jesus, I want to be on your right or your left side, (Yes) not for any selfish reason. I want to be on your right or your left side, not in terms of some political kingdom or ambition. But I just want to be there in love and in justice and in truth and in commitment to others, so that we can make of this old world a new world.

Delivered at Ebenezer Baptist Church, Atlanta, Georgia, on 4 February 1968. MLKEC


Sermon Outline Pastor Rick 1/18/04

“Beware Of The Drum Major Instinct”

Micah 6:6-8 Mark 10:35-45

A. Our Own Personal Drum Major

1. Anita & The Shaw Marching Band

2. Tuxedos & Motorcycles

3. The Drum Major Instinct

B. Dr. King’s—Drum Major Instinct

1. Ebeneezer Baptist Church 1968

2. James & John Want To Stand Out

3. Secretary Of State & Special Advisor

4. Jesus—Can You Be Baptized

5. Not Mine To Give—Earn Them

C. Reactions To The Brother’s DMI

1. Upset, Selfish, Angry

2. Request-Recognitions & Importance

3. The Desire To Be First—Lead

4. We Have The Instinct As Well

D. DMI Drum Major Instinct

1. There At Birth—Childhood

2. Present At Adulthood

3. The Desire For Praise—Feels Good

E. The Dangers & Results Of DMI

1. 35 years From The Assassin’s Bullet

2. If Dr. King Came Back For A Visit

3. Segregation Revisited

4. Where Did The Students Go

5. Wanting The Best For Us All

Micah 6:8 He has showed you, O man, what is good. And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.

F. Making Sure That Equality Is Equal

1. The Students Prepared For The SAT

2. Some Schools Better Than Others

3. Should We Consider Race—Location

4. Is 1450 SAT Score Always 1450

5. Can 1050 Equal 1150

G. How To Remove Affirmative Action

1. Affirmative Action Of Names

2. Affirmative Action Of Money

3. How Many Schools Of The Hero

4. Affirmative Action Of Legacy

5. Hold On To What You Got

6. Jesus Came & Died For Us All

H. The DMI Affect On Materialism

1. The Value Of Profit Over People

2. Look Out National City & Keybank

3. Stocks Going Up-Families Down

4. Forget The Fancy Words—Just Truth

5. Downsizing, Outsourcing, Downscale

6. It Keeps Getting Cheaper—WHY?

I. Looking At The Tougher Issues

1. Cost Of Slave Labor-Exploitation

2. DMI Thinks Of Me First

3. Life For Garbage Workers

J. Prophetic Warning On Vietnam War

1. Right Side Of Revolution

2. Thing Oriented—Person Oriented

3. The Dangerous Triplets

4. Racism, Materialism, Militarism

5. What Corporation Will We Defend

6. DMI Alive In Corporate America

K. The Dangers Of Forgetting God

1. The Threat To Justice

2. Undisputed Power In The World

3. Demonstrate Restraint & Morality

4. Seduction Of The DMI Nationally

5. DMI’s Role In Iraqi War

6. Doing It Because We Can Not

Because It’s Right

7. The Dangers Of Pride And


8. What Was The Real Cost Of Lives

L. Dr. King & The United Nations

1. Stay Involved For Middle East

2. The Unleashing Of WMD

3. Sought UN For Vietnam Crisis

4. A President—War Or Peace

5. Hypocrisy At The Tomb

M. With The Advantage Of Time

1. Could We Have Waited

2. Withdrawal—Freedom Or Election

3. Future Commitment

N. Having Our Priorities In Line

1. Seniors Prescriptions Wait To 2006

2. Where Did We Find 87 Billion Now

3. Who Is Benefiting From All This

4. Justice Delayed—Mars Now

O. Jesus Warns Of The DMI

Mark 10:42-45 Jesus called them together and said, "You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. 43Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, 44and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all. 45For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many."

1. Don’t Get Rid Of It-Channel It

2. Be The Number One Servant Of All

3. Invite Everyone To The Parade

4. Be Honest With The Issues

5. Schools & Test In Their Right Place

6. Adequately Represented

7. Overly Represented

8. Choosing Values Of People Over


9. We’re In This Together

10. Remind The Gov’t Why It Exists

11. Building A Great Nation

12. Sharing The Message Of Jesus


P. The DMI Instinct By Dr. King

…..I want you to say on that day that I did try in my life to visit those who were in prison. I want you to say that I tried to love and serve humanity. Yes, if you want to say that I was a drum major, say that I was a drum major for justice. Say that I was a drum major for peace. I was a drum major for righteousness. And all of the other shallow things will not matter. I won’t have any money to leave behind. I won’t have the fine and luxurious things of life to leave behind. But I just want to leave a committed life behind. And that’s all I want to say.If I can help somebody as I pass along,If I can cheer somebody with a word or song, If I can show somebody he’s traveling wrong,Then my living will not be in vain.If I can do my duty as a Christian ought,If I can bring salvation to a world once wrought,If I can spread the message as the master taught,

Then my living will not be in vain.

Yes, Jesus, I want to be on your right or your left side, (Yes) not for any selfish reason. I want to be on your right or your left side, not in terms of some political kingdom or ambition. But I just want to be there in love and in justice and in truth and in commitment to others, so that we can make of this old world a new world.