Who is Your Hero?

Sermon by the Rev. Dr. Cheryl McFadden on Sunday, August 16, 2020.

Genesis 45:1-15
Psalm 133
Romans 11:1-2 a, 29-32
Matthew 15: (10-20), 21-28

Open our eyes, O Lord, to see you in all people. Open our minds, O Lord, to respect all people. Open our hearts, O Lord, we pray, to love all your people. Amen.

Who is your hero? Who is the person you most respect, the person you want to emulate in your life? Go on, take a minute and think about it. It can be a living or deceased person, a famous or infamous person, a person in Scripture, a historical person, or a family member. Who is your hero? Everyone has a hero, someone they admire, respect and want to be like. After you have this person in your mind, think about why this person is important to you. Why are they your hero? What did they do or do that makes them your hero? In case you are wondering, Webster defines a hero as a person who is admired or idealized for courage, outstanding achievements, or noble qualities. A hero is selfless, a genuinely good person and someone who get the undivided attention of all of us and cause change. A hero can be someone who risks their own life to save another or who fights for a good cause and makes a positive difference in the world. They are truthtellers and trailblazers and we admired them for their courage and faith.

Examples of modern heroes are Raoul Wallenburg, Martin Luther King, Mother Teresa, Nelson Mandela, Oswaldo Payá, Maya Angelou, James Baldwin, and Mary McLeod Bethune. I’ll share a few words about some of these remarkable people. Raoul Wallenburg, a Swedish architect, businessman, diplomat, and humanitarian, saved tens of thousands of Jews in Nazi occupied Hungary during the Holocaust from German Nazis and Hungarian Fascists during World War II. Oswaldo Payá, a Cuban political activist, founded the Christian Liberation Movement in 1987 to oppose the one-party rule of the Cuban Communist Party. Our Christ Church missioners learned about Payá on their recent visit to our companion parish, San Marcos in Holguin. James Baldwin, novelist and playwright, confronted American racism with “fearless honesty and courageously explored homosexuality through his literature and in his life”(Merida, K. n.d., 44 African Americans Who Shook up the World). And finally, Mary McLeod Bethune, an educator, civil rights leader and advisor to five U.S. presidents, … “turned her faith, her passion for racial progress, and her organizational and fundraising savvy into the enduring legacies of Bethune-Cookman University and the National Council of Negro Women” ”(Merida, K. n.d., 44 African Americans Who Shook up the World). These amazing heroes have made a difference in our world.

Truth be told, I have two kinds of heroes in my life; one living and one deceased. These individuals have made a difference in the lives of people near and far. These individuals, although very different, exhibit qualities that I want to emulate in my life. One quality that both individuals share is the ability to forgive others even when the offense seems unforgivable and humanly impossible. As I have studied the lives of both these individuals, I have come to realize that this kind of forgiveness is only possible when love is greater than the need to hold on to the hurt, anger, or injury. This kind of love, this kind of deep and passionate love, comes from the Most High. A person who is able to forgive the gravest of offenses is truly enveloped in the Spirit of the Living God. God resides in this person and the power of love inside them is greater than the power of hate or rebuke.

Our story of Joseph from the Book of Genesis is about forgiveness and the power of love. Joseph, having been sold into slavery by his jealous brothers, has managed most unexpectedly and quite remarkably to have not only survived enslavement, temptation and imprisonment, but has thrived. After Joseph was sold to an officer of Pharaoh, his master’s wife “cast her eyes” on him because of his good looks. Joseph refused her advances and he is accused of inappropriate behavior, landing him in prison. Can you believe his misfortune? Somehow, some way though, Joseph always manages to land on his feet. Scripture tells us that the Lord was with Joseph and because of his ability to interpret dreams, he ends up as Pharaoh’s right-hand person in charge of his house, the whole kit and caboodle. This is really important because there is a serious famine going on and Joseph has the keys to the storehouse. Jacob sends Joseph’s brothers to Egypt to buy grain and lo and behold, who has the keys? When Joseph recognizes his brothers, he plays a cat and mouse game with them for a while, but eventually his love for them and his father becomes more powerful than his need for revenge, and he takes them in his arms and forgives them. He has compassion for his brothers and welcomes them into his life. He feeds and cares for them, giving them land. Instead of making them feel guilty about the whole “You sold me, your youngest brother, into slavery affair,” is that he tells them it was all God’s plan so he could give them food during the famine.

This is an amazing story of forgiveness and love. My question to all of us is are we willing to forgive when the injury is deep and crushing to our spirit? I shared with you that I have two heroes. My deceased hero, Mother Teresa, needs no introduction because of her acclaimed devotion to caring for the sick and poor in the slums of Kolkata. After her first year at Smith College, my daughter, Devin and I spent the summer with her roommate from Kolkata traveling all over India. Devin, Aaina, and I visited Mother Teresa’s home for orphaned children that Aaina had volunteered during her high school years. Mother Teresa never passed judgment on the parent who abandoned his or her child or on people who made mistakes in their life. She wrote, “If you judge people, you have no time to love them.” Another one of my favorite quotes from her and is apropos to our lesson today, is that “If we really want to love we must learn how to forgive.” Joseph’s overwhelming love for his brothers enabled him to forgive them.

My living hero is one you may remember from the news after Apartheid ended in South Africa in 2013. My hero in this story is never referred to by name but her actions are forever emblazed upon my heart. What follows is an excerpt that describes her story. “A frail black woman stands slowly to her feet. She is over 70 years of age. Facing her across the court room are several white security officers, one of them, Mr. Van De Broek, has just been tried and found implicated in the murders of both the woman’s son and husband some years before.” A member of the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) asked her, “So, what do you want? How can justice be done to this man who has so brutally destroyed your family?” She replied, “I want three things…. I want first to be taken to the place where my husband’s body was burned so I can gather the dust and give his remains a decent burial. My husband and son were my only family. I want secondly, therefore, for Mr. Van de Broek to become my son. I would like him to come twice a month to the ghetto and spend time with me so that I can pour out on him whatever love I have remaining with me. And finally, I want a third thing. I would like Mr. Van de Broek to know that I offer him my forgiveness because Jesus Christ died to forgive. This was also the wish of my husband. And so I would kindly ask someone to come to my side and lead me across the courtroom so that I can take Mr. Van de Broek in my arms, embrace him and let him know he is truly forgiven” (“Call me David,” McSweeney, J. in Fernando, December 1, 2013, “Emulating South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission).

My dear friends, we need heroes in our lives to show us the way, to teach us to live peaceable and honorably with one another. We need heroes to teach us how to love one another without measure. We need heroes to teach us how forgive one another when we have been injured and wronged. As we journey forth in this life, let us remember that our willingness to forgive is the measure of our love for one another. My dear friends, who is your hero? Amen.