September 11, 2018: Thousands of survivors, rescuers and relatives of the dead gathered at the national memorial in New York City to honor those who had died in the horrific attack in 2001.
In a New York Times account of the event, the paper reported that Margie Miller, who was widowed 17 years ago, said simply: “To me, he is here. This is my holy place.”
And another widow, La-Shawn Clark, described her husband’s bravery that day. A chef, he began carrying a paraplegic from the 88th floor of the south tower. “He never made it out,” his wife said, “but he will always be my hero.”
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.
We don’t know what was in Benjamin Keefe Clark’s mind that day 17 years ago in the crumbling tower. We don’t know if he thought that to pick up the woman who couldn’t get out on her own was following the gospel, the right thing to do or if he acted on instinct, an impulse that can from his inner golden being.
We do know, though, that truly he followed Jesus’ command that all who choose to follow him have to be prepared to give up her or his life, her or his physical life.
A scary notion, indeed. It would surely seem to be enough to ask of us – more than enough. But what about other ways in which we’re called to sacrifice, deny ourselves for the gospel?
I have sat in judgment over tennis great Serena Williams for close to 20 years. I heard her give an interview when she was 18, and I was put off by what I perceived to be her brashness, lack of humility. And I carried that negative feeling for two decades.
As many if not all of you know, Serena melted down recently during the women’s final of the U.S. Open tennis championship. The umpire gave her a warning for illegal coaching, which she protested, explaining that she doesn’t take coaching while she’s playing, the she didn’t see her coach give her hand signals, and she proclaimed that she would rather lose than cheat. Her coach, Patrick Mouratoglou, later admitted that he had been coaching Serena from her box, but the tennis champion maintained that she had not seen it.
Later in the match, Serena was upset with herself after losing her service game and smashed her racket. Automatic point penalty. And then when she resurrected her harangue against the umpire, he, finally, penalized her a game. And with that, 20-year-old Naomi Osaka became the first Japanese player to win a grand slam.
The next morning, still stunned by what I had seen unfold during the finals, I read about Serena and what she has endured throughout her career. Racism, misogyny, body shaming.
I realized that I had participated in that poisonous attitude toward Serena with judging her about one interview when she was a teenager and never bothering to learn more about her, to put her story in context. I was ashamed, humbled, repentant.
And God moved the needle within me from judgment to compassion. I know it was God because whenever I move in that direction, it is from God, it is not from me.
With that, I realized that I have to give up my sense of superiority, the arrogance that assumes that I would never behave the way Serena did when I was 18. I had to deny myself going forward of the self-satisfaction I had prized for so long.
So, no, in this case, I didn’t have to forfeit my life for the gospel, but I do have to give up that sense of righteous indignation. I do have to deny that part of myself in order to follow Jesus. I have to deny that aspect of myself to make room for love.
Recently, I saw the movie “Won’t you be my Neighbor?” about Fred Rogers. I didn’t know much about him, but I learned that his constant message was about love. Love your neighbor as yourself. That was what he was all about. That’s what he wanted the children to know about.
And last week, I saw that love in action. I was eating at one of my favorite restaurants on the square in Marietta, GA, where I live, when a woman coming up the wooden steps into the dining area fell with a loud crash.
A young server was at a table nearby, and he went immediately to make sure she was okay, picking up her purse in a heart-rendingly poignant move. The manager and cook rushed from the back to make sure the woman was alright. Witnessing all this, I felt the rush of love from the server, the manager, the cook and other diners toward the woman, and they stayed right there with her while she gathered herself and got back up, walked to a table and sat down to have her lunch.
When we participate in that rush of love, whether it’s helping a paraplegic woman out of a destroyed tower, whether it’s God working within us to move us from judgment to compassion, whether it’s rushing to help someone in need, it is then that follow Jesus. It is then that the gospel becomes alive in us. And it is then that we stand together in the holiest of places.
There is a new addition to the KAE Writes Library! Check out Daddy Used to Call it Wretched in the “Journeys” section.