DIVINE THINGS – HUMAN THINGS

[Jesus] rebuked Peter and said, “Get behind me, Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.”
[Mark 8:33]

Courtesy: Reuters

This week being the 20th anniversary of the destruction of the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center, there will be endless articles written and documentaries aired about the event that we have come to know simply as “9/11.”

On the 10th anniversary of that cataclysmic experience, I wrote a retrospective for the occasion. I was tempted to copy and paste that reflection for today’s post, but I will spare you the agony.  However, if you really want to read those words from a decade ago, you can find them by clicking HERE.

I am preaching this coming Sunday, and, in preparation, I gave the assigned readings my usual cursory glance on Monday. In the Gospel reading (Mark 8:27-38), Jesus’ rebuke of Peter jumped out at me.

“Get behind me, Satan! For you re setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.”

The body of Father Mychal Judge, Chaplain to the New York City Fire Department, is carried out of the rubble of the World Trade Center. (Courtesy: WBEZ.org)

In recent weeks I purposely have not read anything pertaining to 9/11, because I expect most of what is written or broadcast will focus on the anger, the retribution, and the effect the attacks have had on our society. We will watch once again, with revulsion, the graphic images of the destruction; infringe on the anguish of those who survived; grieve, with abhorrence, for those who did not.

Anyone who has witnessed these past 20 years knows all that; unless, of course, you’ve been living in seclusion or woefully ignorant.

And in light of the rage and the fear that overcame us as a nation after 9/11, and the changes that followed, how easy is it to set our minds on “divine things”?

How do we let go of the “human things” that have transformed us into a seemingly implacable people whose only goal is to annihilate anyone who carried out such atrocities on our soil, demolish anyone who doesn’t agree with us, or obliterate anything that gets in our way?

Jesus refers to Peter as “Satan.”

Wow! Here is a man who left his family and his way of life to follow Jesus, and Jesus basically calls him evil. How insulted, how degraded, how humiliated Peter must have felt!

But the harsh language of Jesus can be applied to all of us, individually and collectively. If we hold up a mirror, and honestly look at ourselves and our reaction to 9/11, we see Peter.

We covet a life of comfort, a life of contentment, a life that is concerned with no one other than ourselves. Anything or anyone that disrupts that is automatically rejected. If the disruption persists, we do whatever it takes to eliminate it, even if it means turning on each other!

9/11 was such a situation. It turned our way of life upside down, and we responded in typical, “human” fashion.

It is interesting and somewhat ironic that as we enter these days of remembrance, the United States military is evacuating Afghanistan, the country it invaded or the very purpose of extracting revenge. It is, in a way, an acknowledgement that the “human things” on which our country and our society have set our minds, have not worked.

Jesus proposes a different way: set our minds on “divine things.”

Those “divine things” stand out in stark contrast to the “human things” that we, like Peter, have set our minds on.

In the coming week(s), there will be plenty of opportunities to explore how we can live a life focused on the “divine things” that Jesus asks that we set our minds on.

One that immediately comes to mind is acting to offer a sign of welcome to those affected by the war in Afghanistan. There will be refugees arriving on our shores, many of whom aided our troops while serving on Afghan soil. How can we be, for them, a witness that our minds are set on “divine things”?

There are no cookie cutter suggestions. How one does that is up to each of us individually.

If I may be so bold, I would encourage your support of Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service. It is an organization that has been doing the work of refugee resettlement for more than 80 years. Even now they are at the forefront of the Afghan resettlement process.

We cannot undo, nor erase, the effects of 9/11.

But as followers of Jesus, we can show the world that we are called to respond as Jesus would, by committing ourselves to a life of service and sacrifice, though it may be difficult, and even painful.

We are in this world, but not of it, as Jesus teaches us elsewhere in the Gospels. As we journey on this earth, our Christian faith is lived in this unavoidable tension.

PREPARING FOR MYLE

“The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which someone found and hid; then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.
“Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls; on finding one pearl of great value, he went and sold all that he had and bought it.
[Matthew 13:44-46]

I mentioned in my last post that I was in St. Paul, Minnesota, last weekend, attending a retreat for volunteers to the ELCA’s Multicultural Youth Leadership Event (MYLE), which will be held in the Twin Cities in July of 2022.

I will be serving as a chaplain for the event.

For those who are not familiar with MYLE, it’s a pre-event to the ELCA Youth Gathering. The four-day event focuses specifically on young people of color and those whose primary language is not English. Both MYLE and the Gathering are held every three years, although COVID-19 delayed both events by a year. The previous events were held in Houston in 2018.

You can find the particulars for each event on the ELCA Web Site (https://www.elca.org/YouthGathering/Program/MYLE). Both also have a social media presence on Facebook and Twitter.

As all the publicity material points out, MYLE empowers young people of color to deepen in faith, celebrate their culture, develop as leaders, claim their identity, and form relationships.

This is important because fewer than a thousand young people of color attend MYLE. Once the Youth Gathering begins, these youngsters are absorbed into the much larger group of 30,000, where they are easily lost in the shuffle, with little if any chance to stand out in the crowd and, given little to no acknowledgement or recognition of their gifts.

Our planning team met at St. Thomas University in St. Paul, and worked on various aspects of the four-day event, including Worship, Curriculum, and Cultural Awareness.

Our Chaplain team worked in conjunction with the Worship team,  selecting the scriptures that will guide our devotions for each day, all in keeping with the main theme, “Made Free.”

The majority of the team are Black, Indigenous, People of Color (BIPOC). I never cease to be amazed at the creatively gifted people of God that bless this church with their talents. I am always blessed to be in their presence. They are like the hidden treasures and fine pearls that Jesus lifts up  in his parables of the Kingdom of Heaven (Matthew 13:44-46).

I made many new friendships and renewed several others. It was an uplifting, life-giving experience for me. I look forward to our upcoming planning sessions as well as the event itself.

Yet as much as I enjoyed working with our groups, the highlight of the weekend for me came on Friday evening, when I had the opportunity to visit George Floyd Square in Minneapolis.

CUP Foods, the sidewalk has become a shrine to the memory of George Floyd

Seeing the location in person revived, in my mind, the horrific experience of May 25, 2020, and the protests that followed. It was like a pilgrimage, a sacred moment for me.

The area has become a shrine where many come to pay their respects. I was told that there still exists a tension between the community and law enforcement. The city of Minneapolis would like to sweep it under the rug, pretending the whole thing never happened.

However, the advantage of having a guide from the area is that we see parts that many people miss. A few blocks from the scene of the George Floyd murder is an even more gripping memorial.

The “Say Their Names” Memorial

In an open green space off 37th Street in south Minneapolis, two University of Pennsylvania artists erected 100 replica tombstones with the names of African-Americans killed by law enforcement.

They called it, the “Say Their Names” cemetery.

As one wanders throughout the field, reading the names, it is easy to be overcome with outrage. Some of the names are more familiar than others. But the one thing they all have in common is that they are no longer alive. To think that the lives of these children of God were cut short for no justifiable reason, is difficult for any reasonable human mind to reconcile. The impact on me was profound.

I came away from that sobering experience with a renewed commitment to live out the responsibility we professed in our baptismal vows, to strive and work for justice and peace in all the earth.

Led by the Spirit of God, we are called to live as children of God. And as children of God and members of the body of Christ, it is our duty to speak out against injustice of any form, and to care for each other.

That must be the central, integrating message of our lives. May it be so.

TIME TRAVEL

For the Lord is good;
    his steadfast love endures forever,
and his faithfulness to all generations.

[Psalm 100:5]

I was unable to blog on Friday because I was in St. Paul, Minnesota, attending a retreat for volunteers to the ELCA’s Multicultural Youth Leadership Event (MYLE), which will be held in the Twin Cities in July of 2022. I will have more to say on that weekend in a future post.

But earlier last week, I went back in time – in a sense.

Last Monday I visited with a small group of former students at West Junior High School and Buchtel High School, where I taught from 1966 to 1972.

And then on Wednesday, I attended a gathering for retirees and others who had at one time worked at WEWS-TV in Cleveland, one of the many stops along my broadcasting career.

L. to r: Marsha Brown-Warren, David Bennett, Karen Kea, Zachary Miller, Me

In both instances, our conversations fondly recalled pleasant times and not so pleasant ones. We remembered those who are no longer with us physically, but still live in a deep-seated part of our memory.

It is always fascinating to look backward to see where you’ve been, how one remembers people, and more intriguingly – how one is remembered by others.

In the case of the students, some of which I had in class, I was not much older than they were. However, back then, when I was 22 and they were in their early teens, to them, I was an authority figure – Mr. Allende. Now, we address each other by first names. Since this was not the first time we had gotten together, it didn’t seem as awkward as it did during our previous visit.

Bottom Row: Tony Mitchell, Marsha Brown-Warren, David Bennett
Top Row: Me and Zachary Miller

We met at a restaurant in downtown Akron. We enjoyed a few laughs about how they perceived me in those days. They brought each other up to date on their families and their employment situations.

Zachary, who organized the get-together, now lives in France and wishes he had paid more attention in my French class. But as I said to him, there’s no better way to learn a language than to live in the country where it is spoken. He joked that his son, a native French speaker, laughs at his father’s American accent.

We reminisced and laughed late into the evening. Then it was time to part. Looking at them today, now at or near retirement age, it is gratifying to know that in one small way or another, I had a role in their development.

The broadcast group reunion was much different. We are all older. Some of us worked more closely together. A few of us have kept in touch through social media throughout the years. The aches and pains of aging are more evident. I hadn’t been to one of these events in eight years, and a few of the people I had seen when I previously attended, have now gone on to their greater reward.

WEWS-TV Retiree/Alumni Summer Gathering

Memory is one of the greatest gifts that God has given us. But it can also create complications.

When I was in the office of Bishop, I was invited to a lot of church anniversary celebrations. They were delightful occasions that recalled the accomplishments of a community of people with a history, with experiences of joy and pain, but always working together to become who they were.

Yet, as much as I enjoyed these nostalgic reunions, I would caution the congregation that it was important not to become a prisoner of our past. Unfortunately, too many congregations were just that.

Remembering a congregation’s history is helpful, but it is not enough to merely look back. An anniversary is a time to look forward and make renewed commitments for the new circumstances of the future. That’s one fundamental lesson the Coronavirus pandemic has taught us.

The apostle Paul, in his letter to the Philippians, reminds us of the importance of maintaining our focus on the future. Paul writes, “forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus.” [Phil. 3:13-14]

Like Paul, I would hope that as we move through life, we feel a sense of transformation. We  cannot remain the same or waste time dwelling on the past. Our habits, our attitudes, our mannerisms are ever changing, just as the circumstances surrounding our life will change.

They always do.

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