Ordinary Heroes: by Faith

September 11, 2016
by Rev. Melanie Homan

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(Kick-off to the “Ordinary Heroes” Sermon Series)

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“Ordinary Heroes: By Faith”

Rev. Melanie Homan

September 11, 2016

 

Hebrews 11:1-2 The fundamental fact of existence is that this trust in God, this faith, is the firm foundation under everything that makes life worth living. It’s our handle on what we can’t see. The act of faith is what distinguished our ancestors, set them above the crowd.

23 By an act of faith, Moses’ parents hid him away for three months after his birth. They saw the child’s beauty, and they braved the king’s decree.

24-28 By faith, Moses, when grown, refused the privileges of the Egyptian royal house. He chose a hard life with God’s people rather than an opportunistic soft life of sin with the oppressors. He valued suffering in the Messiah’s camp far greater than Egyptian wealth because he was looking ahead, anticipating the payoff. By an act of faith, he turned his heel on Egypt, indifferent to the king’s blind rage. He had his eye on the One no eye can see, and kept right on going. By an act of faith, he kept the Passover Feast and sprinkled Passover blood on each house so that the destroyer of the firstborn wouldn’t touch them.

29 By an act of faith, Israel walked through the Red Sea on dry ground. The Egyptians tried it and drowned.

30 By faith, the Israelites marched around the walls of Jericho for seven days, and the walls fell flat.

31 By an act of faith, Rahab, the Jericho harlot, welcomed the spies and escaped the destruction that came on those who refused to trust God.

32-38 I could go on and on, but I’ve run out of time. There are so many more—Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, David, Samuel, the prophets. . . . Through acts of faith, they toppled kingdoms, made justice work, took the promises for themselves. They were protected from lions, fires, and sword thrusts, turned disadvantage to advantage, won battles, routed alien armies. Women received their loved ones back from the dead. There were those who, under torture, refused to give in and go free, preferring something better: resurrection.

What makes someone a hero?  I put that question out on Facebook and got some really great responses. At first glance, we can think of heroes as people with special powers (like Superman or Wonderwoman or Jessica Jones or Daredevil…I’m hooked on Netflix) or maybe you think of heroes as people who’ve experienced a huge amount of success in their endeavors, like Presidents or professional athletes, or maybe you think of people who seem to have a special Godly status as heroes. People like Abraham, Moses, Noah, Mary, the mother of Jesus.

It can be easy to think that God uses only a handful of people to do amazing things,the handful of people who make their way into the Bible or history books. But, the reality is that God uses ordinary people, all of the time, to do extraordinary things. That’s what came up in the responses I got from people to the question: What makes someone a hero?

Abby’s fiancé Fred said, “heroes do things they don’t have to do because of a fundamental decency, and they do it over and over again”.

My cousin said that selflessness and sacrifice define what it means to be a hero.

The boy scouts say that a hero is loyal, brave, and trustworthy.

A pastor friend of mind said “a hero sacrifices themselves for others andthe greater good.”

My former neighbor Barb said, “Heroes are just ordinary people who are at the right place at the right time and are willing to jump in and help someone else who needs a hand.”

Charity said, “A hero is someone who runs forward when everyone else is running away.” That seems particularly apt today, on the anniversary of 9-11 and all of the first responders who did just that.

A former parishioner, Nick, said, “Heroes are just flawed people who refuse to be limited by their flaws.” He said, “My dad tried to emulate an unattainable ideal, and he came REALLY close. As a result, not only did I get a really amazing father, but he provided (and still provides) a model for what a father really can be, which inspires others to do great things, (and so on).  That’s part of being a hero as well.”

David said, “There are people in our congregation who I would call a hero, but they prefer to be unrecognized as they silently fund those who circumstances has laid low.”

Michael said a hero is someone who has “courage to stand up for their convictions, to live their faith, and make the world better in the process. But then the question becomes, who gets to decide if the world is better due to their efforts?”

My friend, Jen, shared with me her thoughts about what makes a hero. Many of you prayed for Jen last fall– she serves in the Navy, and her husband died of a sudden heart attack while out for a run.  My friend was left with a 6 month-old baby to raise on her own, while continuing her military service.  And, in the past year, not only has she found a way to wake up each day and put one foot in front of the other and keep living, she’s lived with grace through the death of her uncle, her husband’s father and her grandmother, who was accidentally killed by her neighbor who ran her over as she walked to her mailbox.  Jen is one of my heroes because she has found a way to keep going in the midst of such loss.  And, not only that, she’s offered her own experience to other military families to help them through their own traumatic losses.  She’s been open and vulnerable about her own grief, so that other soldiers and their families can see that there is no shame in getting therapy or help or being part of a support group.  She doesn’t need to be so public about what she’s doing to care for herself, but she is, because even in her grief, she wants to help other people in theirs.

Here is Jen’s definition of a hero: “Many of the people I work with are considered heroes because of their service. The sacrifices they make. The dedication they have. Their discipline. Their abilities. And they do cool stuff like fly aircraft, drive ships and tanks and other big vehicles, and they are willing to put others first (just Google Medal of Honor winners).”  Have you ever done that?  Google “medal of honor winners” and you’ll see story after story of people putting others’ wellbeing ahead of their own.

Personally, Jen also said “heroes are those people and friends that set goals (however big or small) and set out to accomplish them.”

I don’t know about you, but I could hardly watch the news this week without crying. Say the name Wetterling and I start tearing up.  I was a kid when Jacob was abducted.  His kidnapping marked the end of a relatively naïve and worry free life and the beginning of talks my parents had with us about stranger danger.  I think about what their family has been through over the past 27 years and how, instead of falling apart at the seams, they somehow managed to draw closer together.  I think of Patti and all of the extraordinary things this mom did in the face of unspeakable tragedy.  She’s a modern day hero to many of us.  Like my friend Jen, Patti found a way to step up and into a role she never imagined she would be in, and at the worst of times, to think beyond herself and of others. Her advocacy for others has made a world of difference.  She was an ordinary person who ended up doing extraordinary things.  I think the way she let people into her life and story is in large part why so many people care about what happened this week.  It was their family story, but they invited us into their story, so we became part of it, too.

The Twins wore uniforms with Jacob’s number 11 on them last Friday, as did other sports teams, and the Wetterling family asked people to live by the following 11 traits as a way of honoring Jacob’s life. We can choose to live by them.  We don’t have to, it’s a choice.  It’s an active, intentional choice, to wake up every day and choose to:

  1. Be fair
  2. Be kind
  3. Be understanding
  4. Be honest
  5. Be thankful
  6. Be a good sport
  7. Be a good friend
  8. Be joyful
  9. Be generous
  10. Be gentle with others
  11. Be positive

I think these are all hero traits. Each of us has the opportunity to live them out.  No need for special Godly status.  Superpowers are not required, and you don’t need to be a star to make a difference.

Throughout this fall, we’ll have the chance to think about what it means to be a hero, and who the heroes are in our lives. We will also take a look at some of the lesser known characters in the Bible – people who were busy living their lives, doing their own thing, when they stepped up and did something that made a difference in the lives of others, and often made a difference in the future for a whole people.

There are lots of people in the Bible who are well known and pretty common. Lots of people know about Jesus and Jonah, Noah, and Paul.  Less known are Josiah, Jethro, Daniel, Deborah, Abigail, Mordecai, Esther, Joanna, Susanna, Timothy and Barnubus.

We’re going to take a closer look at them. Across the board, the one thing that is consistent is that even as these ordinary people did some really amazing things, they were far from perfect (which I find comforting because we’re all far from perfect.)

Our scripture passage this morning comes from Hebrews. In this chapter, there is this long recitation of all of these spiritual ancestors who did heroic and amazing things for the people of God, and there is this phrase that gets repeated over and over.

BY FAITH.

By faith, Moses did this. By faith, Rahab the prostitute did that.

By faith, Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, David, Samuel, the prophets…by faith they conquered kingdoms – (there always seemed to be a lot of conquering), they administered justice, obtained promises, they shut the mouths of lions, quenched raging fires, escaped the edge of the sword, and won strength out of weakness. By faith.

Perhaps faith is that thing that causes a person to do, as Fred says, “the fundamentally decent thing” over and over again.

The chapter in Hebrews that immediately follows the examples of all of these people who lived by faith and acted by faith – says this:

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith.”

Maybe you spent some beautiful summer evenings this summer holed up inside of your house, watching the Olympics on TV. I love watching the Olympics, although I prefer the winter Olympics to the summer because I don’t mind being inside watching TV in the snow and cold of winter.  It’s harder to do in the summer!  But, I love watching the races in the Olympics because there are all of these runners who are racing faster than I can even begin to imagine – but, more than that, there are stands filled with people who are cheering them on, and even more than that, there are millions of people glued to their TV’s cheering them on from their homes.

That’s what it’s like for us. We are running the race set before us, whatever that life path is, and we are surrounded by all of the people who have gone before us – ordinary heroes – who are cheering us on.  We don’t run alone.  If we quiet the noise of worry in our lives, we can begin to believe and hear the great cheering of those who have gone before us, urging us forward.  Perseverance – that’s part of what it means to be an ordinary hero – putting one foot in front of the other when we might rather turn in our running shoes and head home.

Rev. Dr. Janet Hunt writes, “All of these whose stories of ‘running this race of faith’ are passed along to us – are far less than perfect. In fact, some of them stumble and fall in rather remarkable ways. Perhaps it is so that all of us — regardless of our strengths, our weaknesses, our successes, our failures, our moral stature or our moral weakness — all of us can see that we are called by God to simply get in ‘the race’ and trust that God will take care of what it means to ‘win.’ And maybe by simply being ‘in the race’ we are among those who are ‘persevering.’” And we can become ordinary heroes, who persevere in the race set before us.

Thanks be to God! Amen.