A sermon delivered by Dr. Randy K. Hammer, June 19, 2016
Genesis 6:1-4; Matthew 9:18-19, 23-26 GNT
As previously announced, our annual Vacation Bible School (VBS for short) kicks off tomorrow evening. Only this year we are calling it VHS, because this year it is going to be Vacation HERO School. Our theme is heroes—both biblical and contemporary—and some of the characteristics and attributes that make one a hero. Now, I am not going to reveal to you the heroes we have chosen as persons worthy to be role models for our children. Nor am I going to share with you all the attributes and characteristics that Suzanne and I have come up with that help make one a hero.
However, as you might imagine, I have been giving some thought to heroes these past few weeks. And I thought that the topic of heroes would be a worthy topic for today, not only as a kickoff to our VHS week, but for this Father’s Day as well.
Russian novelist Fyodor Dostoyevsky posed the question, “What makes a hero? Courage, strength, morality, withstanding adversity? Are these the traits that truly show and create a hero? . . . Who are . . . so called heroes and where do they come from? Are their origins in obscurity or in plain sight?” Such is a good question.
Although there are worthy hero examples in general in the Bible, we have to look for them. And some of the famous biblical figures whom we might at first want to classify as heroes are questionable in light of today’s ethical standards. Consider the short, mysterious passage from Genesis which speaks of the time when giants lived on the earth, and when divine beings and human daughters had sexual relations and gave birth to children. “They were the great heroes and famous men of long ago,” the text says (Genesis 6:4 GNT). But the text doesn’t give us any information about what might have made these mysterious ancient men heroes. We are left wondering what these beings did that led to them being described as such.
As we think about father heroes on this Father’s Day, and as we search the scriptures, there isn’t an abundance of material having to do with fathers as heroes or role models either. Conversely, there are a lot of stories in the Bible that teach us how to NOT be a father. In other words, as we read stories about many of the patriarchs (Abraham and David, for example), we see their moral failures and mistakes and dysfunctional families and can learn how to not make some of the same mistakes with our own children and grandchildren.
But then I remembered a story in the New Testament about a man who might aptly cover both bases and be described as a father hero. As Matthew, Mark and Luke tell the story, Jarius was a leader of the local synagogue. Now, Mark says the little girl was very sick, Luke says she was dying, and Matthew says she was already dead. Jarius had heard about this Jesus of Nazareth, one who had the reputation of being compassionate and having the ability to heal the sick, and maybe even raise the dead back to life. So the original points of this story (in the eyes of the gospel writers) had to do with (1) the unique power of Jesus as a miracle worker sent by God; and (2) the faith that this Jewish religious leader had that led him to seek out and find Jesus.
However, this past week I chose to view this story from another angle (and that is one of the beautiful aspects of these biblical stories—they often can be viewed from so many different angles). I chose to look at this story from the perspective of the father, as a fitting Father’s Day story. And as I read this story, I view Jarius, the father of the little girl, as a hero. This father was willing to go to any length necessary in order to care for and try to get the help for his daughter that she desperately needed.
As I think about Jarius as a father hero, the attribute that stands out is the fact that he jumped in to do what needed to be done. And that often is what makes one a hero—he or she sees a need or challenge or problem someone else is having, and then rises to that challenge to meet the need or seek a solution for a problem or makes a personal sacrifice to meet the present demand or accomplish something good for another.
But the reality is there are a lot of everyday heroes in the world who are never recognized as such. We could all name some famous heroes; the history books are full of them. And this coming week in VHS, we will learn about some of the more famous as well as some of the not-so-famous heroes.
We could cite firefighters or police officers who regularly rise to the challenge, often risking their own lives, to do what needs to be done. I have known some.
We could cite the woman who dedicates her life to taking in and caring for unwed and pregnant, or married and abused women. I have known some of them as well.
What about the first grade school teacher who taught for well over 40 years, and was like a grandmother away from home who took homesick children upon her knee and hugged them and told them that it was going to be all right? I knew one; her name was Mrs. Trivett.
What about the one who spends months or years lovingly caring for an invalid spouse? I have known such.
What about the father who holds down a job, but after work cares for a disabled or special needs child, getting up through the night to administer medications or fix a malfunctioning feeding pump? I could name one for you.
What about the parent who works two menial jobs—a total of 16 hours a day—in order to send a child or children to college so they can have a better life than they had?
In my book, all of the above, in each one’s own way, qualifies as a hero. As Presbyterian minister and PBS host of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, Fred Rogers, put it, “Anyone who does anything to help a child in his life is a hero to me.”
Today, on this Father’s Day, and as I think of my own Dad, I can’t think of any sensational thing that my Dad did that would cause him to be included on the front page of the newspaper or to be characterized as a hero. But I do know that he had to drop out of school at a very early age to go to work to support himself and my grandmother, because my grandfather had died of colon cancer when my Dad was only fifteen. So not only was he unable to attend college; he never even got to finish high school. I know that he served two years in the Army from 1953-55, and those constituted two of the proudest years of his life. He then went to work at the Magnavox Company where he worked hard for the same company for 43 years to support his family of five plus our grandmother who lived with us. I know he raised us three kids right and took us to church almost every Sunday. I remember the day my little brother was choking on a piece of candy, and my Dad grabbed him by the heels, turned him upside down, and slapped him on the back, dislodging the stuck candy, probably saving his life. And I remember the day he surprised us by bringing home a pony and brand new saddle for my brother and me. So was my Dad a hero? Maybe not by the world’s lofty standards. But by the standard of rising to the daily challenge and doing what needed to be done, he was and still is a hero in my book.
Perhaps Dostoyevsky was correct in surmising that some heroes exist in obscurity; And the sad truth is the majority of the world’s heroes are left unsung and go unnoticed. And perhaps it is also true as some have contended, and as Mariah Carey sings, “When you feel like hope is gone, look inside you and be strong, and you’ll finally see the truth—that hero lies in you.”
Perhaps there is the “hero potential” inside of every one of us which is actualized when we see a problem, face a challenge, perceive a need, and rise to the occasion, and do what needs to be done. May it be so for all of us, because heroes are always in high demand. Amen.