Did you have a hero growing up? I grew up in the age of the Apollo space missions so many of my friends had heroes like Neil Armstrong who on July 21, 1969 became the first man to walk on the moon. I remember this day well. I was six years old and my parents wanted me to come inside and watch history being made on TV, but I was six, it was July and I was living at the beach so I was much more interested in playing outside. While I admire what the Apollo Astronauts did, they weren’t heroes to me in the sense that I wanted to follow in their footsteps, after all if I don’t like international travel – forget space travel!
Some kids I knew had heroes that were athletes and wanted to become the next Joe Namath. Others looked to Mark Spitz or Olga Korbut, heroes from the 1972 Olympics in case you don’t recognize these people. Mark Spitz held the record for the most gold medals in an Olympic game winning 7 until Michael Phelps won 8 in 2008. Some kids had larger than life heroes that they found in the pages of comic books, otherwise known as super-heroes, but I wasn’t much into comic books. I did love Saturday morning cartoons, however, and my favorite was always Superfriends with the heroes Superman, Batman & Robin, Aquaman and Wonder Woman.
Today the hero’s of many children and youth continue to be superheroes and athletes, but unfortunately many also look to entertainers and let me just say that Justin Beiber and Katy Perry should not be anyone’s hero no matter how many twitter followers they have or don’t have. While these heroes are fun to think about and talk about, this is not what I am talking about when I say that as saints we need to live heroic lives. I’m not talking about living a life of fame or fortune. I’m not talking about being well known or well followed on Twitter, I am talking about being a true hero.
In ancient mythology, a hero was a demigod, or a person born to a god and a human being. In time the title was given to real people who lived courageous and sacrificial lives in the face of great obstacles. It was St. Augustine who first used the word hero to talk about Christians and he used the word to describe the life of the martyrs, those men and women who gave their lives in order to be faithful to God. The Bible talks about these kinds of people in the book of Hebrews. Look at Hebrews 11:32-38
While the author of Hebrews is talking about people who trusted in God before the time of Jesus, many early Christians faced this same kind of persecution. Many early believers died for their faith in horrendous ways but because they remained faithful and true in the face of such obstacles, they have been called heroes. They reflected courage, humility and self-sacrifice in the face of incredible persecution and they did it all for the greater good of spreading their faith and trust in God. But I don’t want us to think of saints and define heroes as just the people who live extraordinary lives and stand strong while they are being fed to the lions, I want us to think about people like you and me. While we live very ordinary lives we seek to do it in very faithful ways. That can be heroic. So here is how I want to define being a hero: a hero is someone who draws on the spirit and power of God to perform good deeds promptly, joyfully, frequently and sacrificially.
Now I did not pull this definition and these four categories out of thin air, this is all based on the process of canonization in the Catholic Church. Last week we saw that the first step to being a saint was to be seen as a servant of God. The second step is to be considered heroic in virtue, which means that these men and women have performed virtuous acts (or good deeds) with “uncommon promptitude, ease and pleasure, without human reasoning… and make it a habit so it become second nature.” While these words come from the teaching of Pope Benedict the 14th from the late 1700’s, they are still appropriate today. The four qualities of a heroic life are serving others with promptness, joy (which we could define as ease and pleasure), frequency (a habit that becomes second nature) and sacrifice (or giving beyond human reason and what makes sense to us). What is interesting is that these four qualities of a heroic life are clearly seen in the life of Jesus.
Throughout the gospels what we see from Jesus is that when people were in need, Jesus met that need promptly. Jesus didn’t mull it over and then get back to people. He didn’t take the matter under consideration, weigh the pros and cons and form a committee to discuss the need and response. Jesus didn’t call in a tech surge to take care of the problem, he just met the need. A great example of this can be found in Mark 5. Jesus had just made his way across the Sea of Galilee and as soon as he stepped off the boat a demon possessed man approached him. Jesus didn’t wait to act; he immediately reached out and healed the man by casting out the demons.
When Jesus crossed back over the Sea of Galilee he was approached by a religious leader who asked Jesus to heal his daughter who was close to death. Jesus didn’t stop to think about it, he simply went with the man to heal his daughter. As they were going, a huge crowd pressed in around Jesus and in that crowd was a woman who was sick and she reached out to touch the hem of Jesus’ robe believing in that touch, she would be healed – which she was. Now Jesus could have kept going, but he didn’t. Jesus immediately stopped because he knew someone had been healed and he wants to add his blessing. Look atMark 5:29-34.
Jesus didn’t wait to offer this woman a second blessing. He stopped and acknowledged her faith and offered her a blessing of deeper peace. While Jesus stopped in this moment to help the woman, he didn’t forget about the leader’s daughter who was close to death so when some friends of the leader came and told him that his daughter had died, Jesus immediately said to him do not fear, only believe . Jesus promptly went to the man’s house, found the child and brought her back to life. Again and again what we see is that Jesus simply acted when there was a need. When people were hungry he fed them. When they were sick, he healed them. When sinners were brought to Jesus, he forgave them and he did it all promptly, in that very moment.
There is a promptness to Jesus which is part of what it means to be a hero. A hero doesn’t wait; they reach out to meet a need when they see it and if we want to live a heroic life we need to simply reach out and meet the needs we see. From my own experience, if we see a need and stop to think about what to do, or consider whether or not we want to get involved, chances are we won’t do anything. Too many times when I have seen a need and then stopped to ask myself, should I stop and do something? I never do. A heroic life acts and serves promptly.
Nancy was a hero. Nancy was a friend in college and as a group of us were walking down the street one Saturday afternoon we walked by an alley and saw a man picking through a dumpster looking for food. We all saw the need and in that moment what I did was say to myself, I don’t have much money, and there aren’t any places to buy food around her and what can we really do about this anyway. I kept walking, but Nancy stopped. Nancy just stopped, so we all stopped and turned to look at her. She finally said, let’s take him to lunch. We pooled our money and took the man to lunch. It was a moment I won’t forget – not because I was heroic but because Nancy showed me what being a hero looks like – she was following in the footsteps of Jesus by promptly meeting a need.
A heroic life sees a need and meets the need, it responds promptly and it does it joyfully. Jesus was filled with joy as he reached out to people. There was an ease and pleasure about him when he forgave people, healed peopled and fed them. When parents brought their children to Jesus it was his disciples who sternly told the parents to go away but it was Jesus who welcomed the children, took them in his arms and blessed them. Jesus shared his love and joy with people as he served them and I am convinced that it was this love and joy that drew the crowds to Jesus and not just his power to help.
I think people wanted to be around Jesus because he was a man filled with joy and love and laughter. When Jesus ate and drank with sinners and had dinner at people’s homes, I think it was the laughter that came from those homes that drew people in as much as the stories of Jesus power. Jesus was a man of joy and as followers of Jesus we need to be heroic and share that same joy in the midst of our sad and troubled world. We need to live joyful lives like another heroic friend of mine, Dave.
Dave was a hero to me because he was the man who introduced me to Jesus and he did it through his joy. Dave was filled with purpose and power and he exuded a sense of joyful adventure and as a freshman in college I wanted to spend time with him because there was an ease and pleasure about his life, a joy that drew me in. He struggled financially to get through school and went through some difficult times, but you wouldn’t know it because he was always thinking of others. He worked to lift others up and encouraged them every chance he got. With joy, Dave taught me how to pray, he taught me how to study the Bible and he taught me how to lead a Bible Study. It was the joy of Dave’s life that drew me to Jesus.
Some of the people who have had the greatest impact on my life and faith have been people of great joy. My grandmother was a woman of great joy. My youth leaders were always and to this day remain joyful people. The most influential leaders of the churches I have served I consider people of joy and I don’t mean they were funny people who could make me laugh – what I mean is that they were positive, encouraging, loving and uplifting people. I wanted to be around and it was easy to be around them and maybe above all else I knew that they trusted God and that is where their joy came from. Joy comes from a deep and abiding faith and trust in God.
What our world needs today are followers of Jesus who are willing to live joyful lives. The world needs positive, loving, smiling people who no matter what we are going through have a deep and abiding faith and trust in God. And being joyful is a choice. Joy is not a byproduct of our circumstances when everything is going well, it is a choice remain hopeful and faithful at all times. When the Bible says Rejoice always, again I say rejoice, we see that joy isn’t something that comes upon us spontaneously but a choice we can make in every situation. We need to cultivate joy in our lives, we need to nurture it and make it our choice each morning we wake up. If we are willing to do that, we will become heroes who can change our community and world.
Being a hero also means that we serve people frequently. Joyful service has to become a habit in our lives and a habit is formed when we repeat the work over and over again. So a hero isn’t someone who does a good deed every once in a while, a hero is someone whose entire life is filled with God’s grace and power flowing through them in tangible ways. Again, this is what we see in Jesus. Day after day Jesus served people, loved people, forgave people and lifted them up. Day after day Jesus spread God’s grace and filled people with joy. Day after day Jesus lived a life that made a difference in the people and the community around him and that is what a hero does, they live a life of constant service.
Maybe the best place that Jesus shows us this is on the cross. In the darkest and most painful moment of Jesus’ life when he must have felt like everyone had turned on him – even his father in heaven – what do we see him doing? Jesus forgives the thief who was at his right hand. He forgives the crowds who are taunting him and he cares for his mother and his friend who are at the foot of the cross. Love, grace and service were such a constant part of Jesus’ life that he simply never stopped reaching out to help those around him and a hero never stops reaching out. There is a consistency and frequency of service that shapes a heroes life and it needs to shape our lives.
The cross of Jesus also shows us the last characteristic of a heroic life and that is sacrifice. From a human stand point, sacrifice doesn’t make sense. What sense does it make for us to lose our rights our resources, our desires and even our lives? From a purely human point of view, sacrifice doesn’t makes sense but a hero doesn’t think about what they lose – they think about how their giving helps others. Jesus didn’t think about his life being lost on the cross, he thought about how the cross would bring forgiveness and eternal life to the world. The sacrifice of Jesus on the cross is what forgives us. It saves us and brings us back into a relationship with God and every time we are willing to sacrifice for someone else we are helping bring them life and that is the life of a hero.
In many ways sacrifice is what we think of when we think of a hero. The Congressional Medal of Honor is given to soldiers who are willing to sacrifice their own safety, and many their own lives, to help save others. As we celebrate Veteran’s Day tomorrow, we need to remember that our Veterans and the active duty men and women of the military show us what sacrifice looks like. It looks like people willing to risk their own lives to serve those in need around the world. It looks like men and women willing to sacrifice themselves to help save others on the field of battle. Read some of the stories of the Congressional Medal of Honor winners – they are amazing stories that show us what sacrifice looks like and part of what a heroic life is all about.
So a heroic life is one where good works and service are done promptly, joyfully, frequently and sacrificially and they are all done in God’s power, not our own. The truth is that to be a real hero we have to rely upon a power greater than our own – we have to rely upon the power and spirit of God to work through us. To stop all that we are doing to serve the needs around us promptly takes the prompting of God’s spirit. To be joyful at all times and in all places takes the power of God’s spirit. The frequency of service that defines a hero takes the persistence of God’s spirit shaping us and the sacrifice that we need to offer the world takes the passion of God’s spirit working in us. A truly heroic life requires us to ask for, draw upon and trust in the power of God. That is what sets us apart as heroes and that is what helps us live the life of a saint.
Living the Life of a Saint ~ Heroic
1. Questions for reflection:
• Who were your heroes growing up and why?
• Who would you define as a true hero today and why?
• What characteristics would you give to a heroic life?
• In what ways would you define Jesus as a hero?
2. Using the teaching of Pope Benedict XIV, we can define a hero as someone who draws on the spirit of God to perform good deeds promptly, joyfully, frequently and sacrificially.
• What needs do you see that God is calling you to meet today? Ask God for His Spirit and then step out and meet that need.
• Identify people of joy who have shaped your life. How can you reflect that same joy to others? Ask God for His Spirit so you can “rejoice always.”
• Service and good works of faith are not a once a year activity but a daily habit. Find ways to reach out and help others everyday so that service and good works in God’s name because a frequent part of your life.
• This week give thanks for the Veterans and Active Duty men and women who have been willing to and today continue to sacrifice for others. How is God calling you to sacrifice your wants, rights, possessions and life for others? Ask God for the passion of Christ so you can take up your cross and daily follow Jesus.