Setting Our Mind on Divine Things
Rev. Thomas Cary Kinder
United Church of Strafford, Vermont
February 25, 2018 Second Sunday in Lent
Psalm 22; Jeremiah 29; Mark 8:31-36; John 14:1-6, 10-12
Peter was upset at what Jesus said, and who can blame him? Jesus was thirty-three years old, a man of tremendous gifts. He was teaching and healing and drawing crowds of followers. Many thought he had the potential to be the revolutionary Messiah who would reclaim the throne of David and return Israel to the great nation it had been. He had no reason and no right to be talking about throwing his life away. It was crazy talk. Peter privately rebuked Jesus to call him to his senses, but Jesus turned and publicly rebuked Peter.
“For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.”
It was a wake-up call for Peter, and it is for us, too. Open your eyes, Jesus is saying. Grow into a higher consciousness, learn to see divine things within and around human things.
We need that vantage point to understand Jesus when he says, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it. For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life?”
We need to set our mind on divine things in order to understand Jesus when he says, “Very truly, I tell you, the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these.” Greater works? Really?
Much of what Jesus said and did makes no sense if we are setting our mind on human things. The key to understanding is that we set our mind on divine things. But how?
To answer that I need to go back eight months to my Candidate Sunday sermon where I covered the entire history of the universe in about two minutes.
13.8 billion years ago
the universe exploded into being at the Big Bang. God sent forth the Spirit and from that moment to this, the same force of love and life and light has been at work creating new things out of old, creating life out of death, bringing diverse elements together and holding them together in a universe where things fall apart.
And so it was 4.5 billion years ago that debris from a supernova explosion came together to form a new planet around a young star. God sent forth the Spirit of love and life and light where an old solar system had died, and Earth was born.
And so it was almost a billion years later that five chemical ingredients combined to create the most basic one cell life form. The Spirit began to work its developmental growth in living beings, which led, three billion years later, to the first creatures crawling out of the water onto land. It did not all go smoothly. There were five mass extinctions. 96% of all life on earth died at one point due to climate change from volcanic eruptions. Yet the force of love and light continued to bring new life out of death and evolve new forms out of old until finally, two hundred thousand years ago, homo sapiens began to walk the earth.
One hundred and ninety-eight thousand years after those first humans, a thirty-year-old man named Jesus climbed out of the River Jordan where he had been baptized by John, and the same Spirit came into Jesus that kindled the light of stars and formed the earth and inspired living things to struggle back from the brink of extinction, and since that first single living cell three and a half billion years ago, no one being has changed the earth more dramatically than three Spirit-filled years of this one man’s life.
And yet, was Jesus the final goal? Was the creative force of love and life and light that we name God done with developmental growth once Jesus left earth?
Or was Jesus the beginning of a whole new chapter in the evolution of human consciousness and human civilization? Jesus certainly believed he was here to call us into a new, higher way of being. Jesus certainly believed our hearts and minds were capable of evolving to be set on divine things. He believed we could learn to see our oneness with all people and all creation. He believed we could establish the realm of God on earth, a society where we are moved by compassion to lift our brothers and sisters, where the law of love and nonviolence and a sufficiency and justice for all would rule on earth.
Setting our mind on divine things we see that everything within and around us is a manifestation of the force of love and life and light, that God is present here and now in every single heartbeat and breath in this room, yours and mine, and in the earth around us, and in people of all races and religions and nations, in enemies as much as friends. God is in all things and all things are in God.
The Spirit within all things evolved higher life forms as single cells or dinosaurs died, it developed the human brain through successive stages of consciousness to the height of Jesus with his self-emptying, humble, unconditional and universal love, and it is still at work today resurrecting life as old forms pass away.
Jesus said, “Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.” He understood his own life and death by that metaphor, and it applies to us just as much. Those who try to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for the sake of following him will save it.
Jesus says he is the Way. His returning to God opens the way to God to us and makes it possible for us to do the works he did and even greater ones. We can follow his way of dying into new and greater life. We can die to our old, smaller self into a life that is completely one with God, and if we do, the Holy Spirit of God, the force of love and life and light, will be able to flow through us to do ever greater deeds as we evolve.
The universe is not over, life on earth is not over, evolution to higher developmental stages is not over. This planet could be able to sustain human life for millions if not billions of years, but only if we shift our mind from self-interested human things to the oneness of divine things. The new, higher consciousness we need will naturally evolve if we let go of our old developmental stage of consciousness in order to gain a higher one. We can speed the transformation by following Christ’s way of self-emptying, opening ourselves as widely as possible to the Spirit. This is exactly what our practice in Centering Prayer is training us to do.
Last week the sermon talked about Nelson Mandela. I found a short video interview with him back in his Robben Island cell years after his release—you can see it on our facebook page. Mandela experienced the same thing in that cell that people do who practice Centering Prayer regularly. He came to see the wounds and flaws of his past, and the need to grow into a higher way of being in order to repay the love and gifts he had received.
Mandela was not the first person to die and rise to new life in prison. St. John of the Cross, did, too, the great 16th Century Spanish mystical poet and founder and abbot of many monasteries. He coined the phrase Dark Night of the Soul, and he learned its gifts the hard way.
John was kidnapped by rival monks who opposed his reforms. They held him in a tiny, dark cell, like a tomb, clothed in rags and nearly starving for nine months. They took him out once a week but only to flog him publicly. Yet he reached the deepest spiritual state in that cell and composed one of his most important poems, “The Spiritual Canticle,” an ecstatic love poem about the union of the soul with God.
Our nation and world are dominated by people who have their minds set on human things. I suspect that you, like me, have your mind set on human things much of the time, too. We were not created to stay that small. We were not created to live within the narrow cell of our self-interest or our small group or nation’s interest. We were created by the same force that set off the Big Bang and evolved life on earth over billions of years. We were created to be a part of that great flow of love and life and light working toward ever higher developmental stages of consciousness. We were created to realize our oneness with God and experience divine love filling our being and overflowing to serve others. We were created to help God establish the realm of love and light and ever renewing life on earth. That is who we were born to be. Jesus tried so hard to show us that if we will die to our old, small selfish life, we will have the life that truly is life and have it abundantly.
The greatest hope this world has is that this new consciousness will reach a tipping point that will have the power to solve the problems that seem so impossible now.
If you are upset by what is happening in the world, the best thing you can do is follow this path that Christ opened to us and grow in love and light, so that you may be part of the movement to do the Christ-like works our world needs.
Let us pray in silence, setting our mind on divine things…