Lent 2 b (lectionary cycle)
The hero isn’t who you think they are. Abraham, Peter, Billy Graham, t’ Chaka and even Jesus aren’t the hero you think they are. In fact they aren’t the hero that everyone around them thought they were either. They faced the obstacles of humanity and they let people down. Yes, they did really good things but the reality is Abraham participated in incest, lied, and along with Sarah tried to force God’s promises before their time. So much for a hero who we are supposed to venerate.
Billy Graham regretfully sold out to the powers that be in his later life allowing a message of love to be twisted into a fundamentalist mantra that limited who qualified as a child of God. Countless gay persons have ended their lives because they believed the message that flowed out of his ministry and others like it that they were abominations. They believed the skewed message that they were unredeemable if they couldn’t change who they had been created to be. So much for hero who shared God’s redeeming message of unsurpassable love.
Movie spoiler here, but King t’Chaka in the most recent Marvel movie, Black Panther, abandons his own grandchild in the slums and ghetto of United States even as he and the rest of his family hoard their wealth, technology, and security from the world under the argument that they are protecting the world. So much for a hero for being the perfect king so much so that his own son believes he cannot follow in his footsteps.
And then we have Jesus, who is THE one, the one who will come to end Roman Control and free the people from slavery once again. But he doesn’t. Instead he tells his followers that he will die on a cross and their revolution that they envision will never even begin. He isn’t who they thought he was. So much for a hero and a Savior from Rome.
So when we talk about Peter today when we see and hear Jesus so angry that he throws down the gauntlet and calls Peter Satan it isn’t surprising to realize that Peter isn’t much of a hero either. Peter, the disciple upon whom the church would be built and whose apostolic succession I share even today, denied Christ three times and tried to argue with him.
Heroes are human too
From the time we are small children we crave heroes, people that we can look up to and emulate. People who will teach us how to be better how to be more how to be exceptional in our world. Often our first heroes are parents until we grow enough and see enough to realize they aren’t perfect either. So we turn our attention further afield. We look for others in our community and when they fail and turn out to be human, we look to those far enough from us that we cannot see the cracks and imperfections. And should we lose those, we turn to imagination, to stories from our childhood. Until the day we die, we crave someone we can look up to someone who will continue to teach us and lead us. Because we know that we are flawed creatures and we know that we are supposed to be something more; created to be someone more. But everywhere we turn, the heroes don’t hold up to scrutiny.
Freed by Forde
I wonder then if maybe we are meant to find our own hero inside of us. If we are meant to be an imperfect person who grows and learns and becomes who God created us to be, in essence transforming our lives so that should we have seen ourselves at a younger age we would have been in awe.
Gerhard Forde was a Lutheran theologian and Professor. In many ways, he is one of my heroes, imperfect as he was. And one of the reasons he is a hero of mine is because he is able to put into words the ideas and concepts that I struggle to express.
Even though he is but dust in the earth these days, his words ring true and are applicable because actually explains the paradox of the hero. He explains what it is to discover that there is nothing that we can do and no way we can measure up. In that discovery we are freed from focusing so hard on ourselves and are suddenly able to see other people and their need. And because there is nothing we can do to fix this world, to make Christ comes sooner, or to make ourselves more deserving of salvation we are left with a freedom to just respond to the world to respond to the need and to respond with absolute and unadulterated Love. Judgment is worthless and we realize we are no longer chained by expectations or limitations. It is the freedom of a Christian that Martin Luther wrote about; the freedom that comes from realizing every bit of gift, life, and love comes from God alone and there is nothing we can do to earn it or usher it in sooner. When we are freed from the shackles, we recognize that our sin cannot hold us back any longer. Suddenly we become the hero we were craving. No longer caught in hypocrisy and the struggle to take up our cross becomes a natural choice. When we understand that we are freed because we cannot do anything, we are suddenly empowered to do everything.
The real hero
That is the message that Christ is trying to share with his disciples which Peter struggled so valiantly against. Christ did the one thing he could; he gave up.
He offered up his life because he knew that our struggle was unachievable and his humanity alone could not save us. When he surrendered his humanity, when he gave up his life and his breath on that cross, he was freed. We were freed. Because he gave up trying to be the perfect hero here on earth, he was freed from his human bonds and in his freedom he shattered our bonds that kept us from right relationship with God. In giving up, he gave us everything.
This week our theme from our welcome statement is “To welcome and respect all people”. The reality is that is sounds easier than doing it is. When you have differing opinions on guns in church it can be hard to respect the other person. When you have differing opinions on noisy children in church, it can be hard to be welcoming. When you have a difference of opinion on entering the sanctuary in silence before worship it is hard not to take it personally. And that is just inside church. Don’t get me started on gun control, abortion, or social support systems out in the community. But we are freed from trying to make the perfect decisions and opinions by Christ, so that we are free to love and respect all people regardless of differences. Our faith practice is to read scripture which helps us to understand the story of humanity and God’s abiding love for us. To show us that hero’s are not always perfect and that God isn’t looking for perfection from us, just relationship.
So maybe, being a hero isn’t about chasing down the bad guy or forcing judgment upon others. Maybe heroes are meant to be imperfect in their perfection. Maybe the hero isn’t who you thought he or she might be. Maybe the hero through the promise of our baptismal Waters and Christ’s death and resurrection, is you and me freed because there is nothing we can do to earn it or make it happen. Maybe that heroes are the ones to realize they have nothing left to lose and everything to gain.
Maybe heroes are the ones who give up everything so that they are freed for their greater purpose just as Christ did for us. To love.