Scripture: Hebrews 11:1-3; 11:32-12:3
In approximately six weeks, four days, and nine hours I know exactly where I am going to be. I will be in a packed movie theater reading the words “a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away” as the new Star Wars movie begins. The truth is, I tend not to see a lot movies in theaters, but that may be changing in the next couple of years. Studios have plotted out their major releases all the way to 2020. There will be a Star Wars movie coming out every year until 2020. Next year is Rogue One, a prequel to the original Star Wars that tells how the death star plans were stolen. Followed by Episode VIII in 2017 and three more movies beyond that. Then in the realm of super heroes it gets really crazy. Marvel introduced the idea of their cinematic universe where all of their super hero movies are loosely connected and share the same universe. In 2016, phase three of the Marvel cinematic universe begins. Between 2016 and 2019 Marvel has plans to release ten new super hero movies. This includes a new Captain America movie, a new Thor sequel, and two Avengers movies. Then they are releasing movies for some lesser known heroes like Dr. Stranger and Black Panther. Which is odd, because those heroes do not have instant recognition like Iron Man and the Hulk. That is only half of it though, because Warner Bros, owners of DC comics, does not want to get left out. They also have announced a movie schedule planned through 2020 that sees 11 movies being released. Including two Justice League movies, a Wonder Woman movie, and even (no joke) a full length Aquaman movie. There are going to be a lot of superhero movies coming out. This probably will not come as a surprise to you, but I like super heroes. A lot. I am glad that in recent years super hero movies have had a lot of success because it means a lot of people are starting to understand the appeal of masks and capes.
Of course there is a difference between legendary super heroes and forgettable super heroes. A forgettable super hero is one that is all style with no substance. Forgettable super heroes are ones where the creator gives them a power, a cape, and decides they are now a hero fighting bad guys. The legendary super heroes like Batman, Captain America, and Spiderman have endured for decades because they stick with us. They stick with us because they are characters with depth. They have a deep origin story that motivates them to be heroic. Batman took the fear he felt when his parents were murdered. Instead of letting that fear get the best of him, he conquered it and he now uses it as a weapon to stop those who seek to prey on the weak and innocent. Captain America was a 98lb weakling who was raised to do what was right no matter what. This led him to standing up to bullies he could not defeat, because someone had to. Captain America had the heart of a hero long before he had the body and power of a hero. Spiderman is motivated by a burden of great responsibility and he stands up to evil because he knows with great power comes great responsibility. The greatest super heroes have a driving purpose that motivates them to take risks, to be selfless, and to save the world. Today, churches worldwide celebrate All Saints Sunday. Not only do we remember those who passed away this past year, but we remember all of those who have passed before. We remember the great cloud of witnesses that surrounds us. Today is all saints day, but personally I think a better name for this day in church life would be something like super heroes of faith day. Many Christians live quite yet heroic lives. Just like the super heroes of comic books and movies, these heroes of the faith have a driving purpose that motivates them to take risks, to be selfless, and to save the world.
Hebrews chapter eleven is fairly well known chapter in the bible. First, it contains a great definition of faith: Faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance what we do not see.” It then dutifully list many of the heroes and well known personalities from the Old Testament and tells of how their actions were motivated by faith. It tells of the great things they did, it tells how God’s power was displayed, how God was glorified, and how lives were eternally changed. Hebrews, which was originally written to a Jewish group, purposely calls to mind the Old Testament heroes. There is no mistaking that is what they were. A first century Jewish person would have grown up being told the stories of Abraham, of Moses, of Samson, and of Gideon. They did not wear capes and leap buildings in a single bound, but for the original hearers of Hebrews, these were larger than life heroes who were meant to inspire. This section of Hebrews ends by encouraging the hearers to be like these heroes. Hebrews 12:1-2 state: “Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfect of our faith. “ The point that the author of Hebrews is trying to make is that heroes of the faith are not legends of old. We can be heroes. We can be the ones who stand for justice, who inspire others, and who take a stand for God. We can be the ones who takes risks, be selfless, and save the world.
As we know, news stories tend to focus on the negative so it can be hard to find the positive, but heroes of faith are hidden in our midst. We may not hear about them, but by faith, these people make an incredible difference. For example a true super hero is Mama Nshimba Nkulu. In 1997 due to war and internal strife, the Democratic Republic of was in complete turmoil. Many villages were completely wiped off the map, and in several of these instances the only survivors (and witnesses) would be a handful of small children. Many of these orphans with nowhere to go began to wonder into the cities like Kamina. Mama Nshimba Nkulu had compassion on these abandoned and traumatized children. Even though she had little means and a small house she took six orphans into her house. She worked tirelessly to get these children support and within three years her work had yielded Kamina Children’s Home, which is a ministry of the North Katanga Conference of the United Methodist church. Today the facility has the capacity for 160 orphans, and children who had lost everything have been given hope again, because of Mama Nshimba Nkulu’s love.
Closer to home, someone I met before who is a super hero is “Miss Fran”. In 2011 she ran an organization called Manna House in Huntsville, AL. Three times a week, they distribute a ton of food. Miss Fran oversees all of it. She was at least 30 years older than me if not more, and just watching her run around wore me out. She was a flurry of activity, yet despite being so busy, she made time for every single person who asked it of her. Not only did she make time, but it was obvious from her interactions that she deeply cared. I only volunteered there for two days, and when our group left on the second day, she made it a point to see us off. She loudly proclaimed “I love y’all”, and I absolutely believed that was true. I do not think there is a single human being that Miss Fran met that she did not love with all her heart. As she told our group, she loves others because God first loved her.
There are countless other Christians doing truly heroic things in our backyards. Several times a week various groups can be found on the streets of Indianapolis providing food and basic necessities for homeless population there. Another group of Christians are being true sacrificial heroes, by taking on a big commitment to help the least of these. There are ten thousand children in Indiana in need of foster care, and roughly three percent of proclaimed Christians serve as foster parents as a way to put their faith in action. This small but powerful three percent are making an incredible difference in the lives of the vulnerable and helpless. This does not even mention the legions of Christians who serve as volunteers to tutor children, volunteer in food pantries, serve as addiction recovery mentors, or lovingly visit the infirmed in nursing homes. They are saints; they are heroes, every single one of them.
These modern day heroes of the faith all have one thing in common. Like the fiction super heroes of comic books and movies, their heroics are driven by deep motivations. The motivation of the saints is faith, it is confidence in what they hope for and an assurance about what they cannot see. They are motivated to do amazing things, to truly make a difference, because they have experienced Jesus Christ, the author and perfecter of our faith. They know and they have experienced God’s love, and that love has motivated them into action; actions that actively display and share this love with others. Do you know and have you experienced the amazing love of Christ? If not, then it is my deepest prayer that even before you leave this building, you accept that Jesus loves you and died to free you from sin and death. It is my deepest prayer that you say yes to God’s yes, to God’s love and acceptance for you. If you do know and you have experienced God’s amazing love, how has it changed you? What does it empower you to do? In what way are you motivated by your faith to take risk, be selfless, and save the world? In what are you a saint? To whom are you a hero?
In the original Star Wars one of my favorite scenes occurs right after Luke Skywalker meets Obi-Wan Kenobi. A secret message was just given by Princess Leia pleading for Obi-Wan to take the robot R2-D2 to the planet Alderaan. Obi-Wan tells Luke that he need to go with him to Alderaan, so that he too can begin the path of the Jedi. Luke’s initial response is that he can not. He has too much work to do a home, it is too far away, and he just can’t get involved. Luke soon has a change of heart, but he faced the same decision that all followers of Christ face. Do we get involved or not. The heroes of the faith, those who run the race with preservice, they are not special. They are not elite Christians that are above the common believers. They are simply people who are confident in what they hope for, who trust in the unseen, and who have chosen to get involved. They have chosen to have their faith not be one of theory that is practiced only by sitting in a pew, but they have chosen to make their faith one that is actively lived out in day to day life.
I do not know about you, but when the saints go marching in, I want to be one of them. May we choose to be the kind of Christians that get involved. May we live out our faith, may we confidence in what we hope for and confidence in what we do not see. May we run the race, and may we follow the author and perfecter of our faith. Today, let’s do more than remember the saints, let be the saints. We should and we can do this. As Christians we have the deep motivation of the love of God, we have our eyes fixed upon Jesus, and we are empowered and emboldened by the Holy Spirit. We love because he first loved us, so may we get out into the world and may we radically love other people. Edinburgh UMC, it is time to hero up. Even though we do not have capes let’s leave this place committed to be the kinds of heroes that take big risks, that are selfless, and that save the world.