Tales of a Midwest Lutheran on the East Coast

Monday, July 10, 2017

Heroes and Villains

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus the Christ. Amen.

When was the last time that you went to see a movie? I’m willing to bet that it was either super hero movie, or at the very least one of the trailers before it was for a super hero movie.  We sure do love our super heroes and heroines, don’t we? We wear their logos on T-shirts and are inspired to be more like them. Our entire Vacation Bible School theme next week that is entirely about super heroes!  

 We like heroes, because heroes are strong. They beat the bad guys. They rescue people. They always save the day, without fail. All of those hero movies make the world make sense - the bad guys are bad, the heroes are good, and for the most part it’s pretty easy to tell the difference between the two.

Sadly, real life is not like this at all. For us regular, non-super-hero types, the epic battles we face are not external, but inside our very selves. In the real world, I find that I have the capacity to be both hero and villain, sometimes in the same moment.

There are times when I know that I shouldn’t do something, especially when it will hurt someone else, but I do it anyway. I know that I shouldn’t buy clothes that are made by children in sweatshops, but I want them anyway. I know that the poor and the homeless need help, but I turn from the man with the handwritten sign asking for help. Sometimes it’s like watching myself from the outside do what I don’t want to do. And those times I DO want to do the right thing, something keeps me frozen in place.

I think that most of you know what I’m talking about. The Apostle Paul knew all about this, which he shares in his letter to the Romans from our readings for today. He writes to them, “I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate.” He goes on, “Now if I do what I do not what, it is no longer I that do it, but the sin that dwells in me.”

I know it’s hard to talk about sin sometimes, because it is so sneaky. It’s more than just when we do bad things or don’t do good ones. Sin is part of all of us – it is the cause of the broken world that we live in. Our relationships are broken – relationships with our family, friends, the earth, and even with God. This sinful state creates all the things that you see on the nightly news: war, violence, greed, discrimination, oppression, and extreme disparity between rich and poor. We “should” know better, and sometimes we DO know better, and yet, here we are. Doing the very things we know we shouldn’t do.

I read an article a few years ago about computer viruses that really stuck with me. It was about a kind of virus program called a “worm.” A “worm” will sneak into a vulnerable spot in your computer. Then, while inside your machine, it lies in wait for a message from whoever created it. The worm could theoretically do anything it wants to your computer, and once that happens, there is nothing that you can do to stop it.

How could it be that the computer that I own, that I purchased and use every day, could somehow be out of my control? It’s mine. We could very well ask the same question of ourselves – how can I not be in control of myself? I belong to me. How could it be that, as Paul says, we do not understand our own actions sometimes? How is it that we sometimes play the villain, even when we should know better?

“Wretched man am I!” Paul rightly exclaims. “Who will rescue me from this body of death?” Who is going to save us from ourselves, from the wreckage of broken humanity that we find ourselves in?

To our plight, Jesus Christ says, “Come to me, all you that are weary and carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

While this text is beautiful for funerals, Jesus is not just speaking about those who have lost a loved one. Jesus is speaking to us, right here, right now, wherever we find ourselves in our own stories – hero, villain, or somewhere in between.

Just before this passage from Matthew, John the Baptist is in prison, wondering if all his preaching and angering the people in power been worth it. Is Jesus the one that they have been waiting for? Like John, we too wonder, is Jesus the hero that we want? Or is Jesus the savior that we actually need?

To the religious leaders of his day, neither John nor Jesus measured up. John was too preachy, harsh, and had weird dietary habits and fashion choices. Jesus came along on the scene, eating with sinners and breaking rules, and they labeled HIM as too free and irreverent. Like a new twist to the story of Goldilocks– this one is too hot, and that one is too cold, but in their eyes, NO ONE can EVER be “just right” to be the messiah, or their super hero.

In our own world that loves superheroes and superhero movies, Jesus just doesn’t measure up, either. In fact, Jesus would make a terrible superhero. Heroes aren’t supposed to be weak, let themselves be beaten, and hand themselves over to die…. which is that is exactly what Jesus did. Jesus gave up his power, gave up his life, gave up everything in order to prove that his love for us was stronger than anything. Stronger than human hatred and fear. Stronger than the burdens we carry. Stronger than the struggle between hero and villain that we find our selves in. Stronger than death, symbolized in the cross, an instrument of death and brokenness that weights on us so heavily.

What has been the cause of weariness in your life lately? What heavy burdens are you carrying? Perhaps you have been worried about money and financial security. Maybe you are worried about a family member’s health or upcoming surgery. Perhaps you don’t know if you will be able to pay the rent or the light bill, or feed your family. Perhaps you or a family member or friend is having a hard time with a harmful addiction. Maybe you have a son or daughter in the military who may be facing dangerous situations while doing their duty to their country. Perhaps you are missing someone you have lost, either recently or years ago.

You know very well the burdens that are weighing you down, and there is nothing that you can do on your own to give you peace and help you sleep better at night. “Wretched men and women are we” is our lament along with Paul. Who will free us from this body of death?”

Come to Jesus, and Jesus will give you the rest that you so desperately need. Not because Jesus will take away all your worries and make your life perfect with the wave of a magic wand. No, Jesus gives you rest because Jesus takes on our burdens for us. Jesus took on YOUR burdens, YOUR sins, YOUR fears, YOUR broken relationships. All these things that bring death to you were all nailed to the cross, along with our lord Jesus.

All power that these things had over you was SHATTERED that early Easter morning when Jesus burst from the tomb, ALIVE. Your BURDENS couldn’t hold him. Your SINS couldn’t hold him. Jesus defeated them all and so YOU are truly free. This is how Jesus became the super hero and savior that we need.

And like any good super hero, Jesus has super friends in a hero league to help to justice in the world. We all become super heroes in our baptism – and Emma is the newest hero in our ranks, sealed and marked by the Holy Spirit forever, as we all have been before her. She is a newly minted superhero for Jesus, called to bear God’s creative and redeeming word to all the world. She will grow up to learn from the example of Jesus’s love and sacrifice, wearing Jesus’ yoke of freedom and grace along with us. She will join us in working for justice and peace in a world where both are desperately needed.

 Now, neither Emma nor we will be called on to leap tall buildings, or defeat bad guys with a magical truth lasso, or dramatically save the world with lots of explosions. But we WILL be called to scale over the walls the divide us. We will be called to tell the truth about things like hate and fear. And we will be sharing the news about the savior OF the whole world… with explosions of love, perhaps.

It’s a tall order, but we won’t be doing it alone. Jesus bears the yoke of heroism with us, and stays with us through all parts of our superhero journey, through our burdens, from baptism… the cross… and beyond. So that the world will say,

“It’s a bird, it’s a plane, its…. God’s super heroes!” Amen. 

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