Luke 10: 1-11, 16-20
Psalm 85: 8-13
"We Don't Need Another Hero"
Perhaps the most unforgettable photograph in the annals of American history – which also
stands as a powerful image honoring our veterans -- is the raising of the flag at Iwo Jima. For those
who weren’t paying attention in American History class, Iwo Jima is a mere dot in the Pacific Ocean
where the United States needed a landing strip for bombers striking Japan during WWII. Some
estimated 60,000 marines were sent to take it from a dug-in enemy. “The thing I’ll remember for-
ever,” recounted the late Major General Fred Haynes of the 28th marine regiment, “was the
courage and the guts of the kids…. and these were young kids.” They may have been kids, but they
were also heroes.
There are six flag-raisers in the photo. The front four are Ira Hayes, Franklin Sousley, John
Bradley, and Harlon Block. The back two are Michael Strank and Rene Gagnon. Strank, Block, and
Sousley would die shortly after the photograph was taken. Bradley, Hayes and Gagnon survived
and became national heroes within weeks. What’s most amazing is how ordinary each of these
Mike Strank played the French horn, and once slugged a baseball out of Points Stadium in
Johnstown, Pennsylvania. Harlon Block was an outgoing daredevil with many friends at Weslaco
High School in Texas. Frank Sousley was a red-haired, freckle-faced kid raised on a tobacco farm
in Kentucky. Ira Hayes was a Pima Indian from Arizona who was told by his chief to be “an
honorable warrior,” and to bring honor upon his family. Rene Gagnon was just a kid from Manchester,
New Hampshire who ended up being the youngest of the survivors. And John Bradley
was a Navy corpsman from Wisconsin who, in his words, “just jumped in to lend a hand.” Six
young men; so ordinary, yet so heroic.
Flag-raiser John Bradley returned to his hometown in the Midwest after the war, prospered
as the owner of a family business, and gave generously of his time and money to local causes. He
was married for 47 years and had eight children. While Bradley had the public image as a war
hero, it was said that he was a very private person. Like many veterans, he avoided discussion of
his war experiences and record, saying only that the real heroes were the men who gave their lives
for their country.
This is so typical. Senator John McCain once said that “You won’t find a hero who will admit
to being one.” Heroes consider their uncommon valor to be a common virtue. They see it as a
simple duty; nothing that someone else wouldn’t have done under the same circumstances. Fire
fighters and police officers in New York City during those fateful September days expressed the
same sentiment. Many of their colleagues who perished were, in their minds, the true heroes.
Interesting to note that one thing about true heroes: they never sing their own praises, or laud
their own accomplishments.
You may remember an oldie by Tina Turner which topped the charts in 1985. It was entitled
“We Don’t Need Another Hero.” In it, she sings: “Looking for something we can rely on. There’s
gotta be something better out there. Love and compassion, their day is coming. All else are
castles built in the air. And I wonder when we are ever gonna change, living under the fear till
nothing else remains. All the children say, we don’t need another hero. We don’t need to know
the way home.”
Tina is right on this point: we are searching for something we can rely on. Yes, we ache to
find “something out there.” But when she claims, “We don’t need another hero. We don’t need
to know the way home,“ she and I part ways. I’ll grant that this generation has more esteemed
heroes, at least cultural ones, than we could shake a stick at. There’s Ellen Degeneres, Celine Dion
the Kardashian sisters, Dr. Phil, Taylor Swift, Oprah Winfrey, Tom Brady, Jerry Springer, Rush Limbaugh,
Miley Cyrus, Howard Stern, Caitlyn Jenner, Jimmy Fallon, Stephen Colbert, Sean Hannity,
and the list could go on and on. It sure sounds like “we don’t need another hero.” And while some
of the folks on this list are fine persons, in light of our modern-day icons, I think we do need
another hero; now more than ever.
In this morning’s gospel lesson, Jesus calls ordinary folk to do extraordinary things. Their names
do not appear in a Christian hero hall of fame. In fact, their names do not appear at all.
Our assumption must be that Jesus appointed seventy average people; people as typical as any of us;
people as ordinary as the 70,000 marines who were sent to Iwo Jima, or the thousands of first
responders in New York City, Texas, Florida, Puerto Rico, Las Vegas.
The mission of these seventy was simply to go in pairs to every town and region where Jesus
intended to go, and to do the work on the front lines healing the sick, preaching the Kingdom, and
driving out unclean spirits. They were not being sent out to make a name for themselves, or to
earn coveted awards for uncommon valor or awesome talent, or to receive the accolades of
adoring masses. In fact, Jesus warns “See, I am sending you out like lambs into the midst of
wolves.” The seventy were facing a dug-in enemy. Jesus ordered them to carry no purse, bag or
sandals, and to live off the hospitality of those who would receive them. Their only weapon was
to be the powerful message they carried: “The Kingdom of God has come near to you.”
We might question if this was a fair fight. “Lambs in the midst of wolves?” It doesn’t seem
like it at first. Jesus is calling common people to show uncommon valor, and to embark on a mission
that seems doomed from the start. But when these seventy souls returned, they brought an awesome report:
“Lord, in your name even the demons submit to us!” Speaking and acting in
the name of Jesus, the seventy had power they would never have imagined possible. The ordinary
virtue of following Jesus suddenly turned into extraordinary valor, and common disciples
discovered they had uncommon strength and abilities.
Do we need another hero? Absolutely. And we shouldn’t have to look far to find one, or two,
or a hundred. Look toward Las Vegas, Nevada; or Houston, Texas; or the Gulf Coast of Florida; or
Puerto Rico; or New York City; or Somerset, Pennsylvania. We don’t even have to look that far.
We can find heroes right here in our own church. But for the most part, they’re not real visible
because like all true heroes, they don’t sing their own praises, or laud their own accomplishments.
Don’t you know that uncommon valor is a common virtue whenever people respond to the call
of Christ. Heroism is seen whenever and wherever disciples walk in quiet faith and proclaim the
Kingdom of God. Heroism is seen when ordinary folk respond to God’s extraordinary call. Victory
over illness and evil occurs whenever people carry the peace and power of Christ with them into
the communities they serve. And this comes not from inborn human qualities – beauty, strength,
talent, charisma, pedigree. It comes from the authority Jesus gives us “over all the power of the
enemy.” Amazing things will happen when we step out in faith on a mission from God.
I believe God is always looking for heroes; for regular folk willing to step up and accept the
challenge of following Christ. It’s not an easy call. But the Church of Jesus Christ – and our nation
founded and built on Godly principles – can use a few more heroes. Now, more than ever, we
need ordinary people to do extraordinary works of love, grace and compassion in a world torn
apart by hatred, hubris and self interest.
“Love and compassion,” croons Tina Turner, “their day is coming. All else are castles built in
the air.” Who is willing to take a stand for God’s coming Kingdom; a Kingdom of love and compassion;
healing and hope; a Kingdom already being realized as its heroes quietly labor for what is right and just?
Any other Kingdom is just a castle built in the air; without basis; without foundation. There’s nothing idealistic
or pie in the sky about this. The proclamation of God’s Kingdom involves more than mere lyrics.
It always includes clear and concrete actions. “We leave only a mark,” Tina continues. “Will our story shine like a light?
Or end in the dark? God’s heroes are likely not going to be found in Hollywood, or on Madison Avenue,
or in the World Wrestling Federation, or at the Golden Globe Awards. They are going to be found in the quiet
acts of kindness, and compassion, and mercy performed outside the spotlight. They’re going to be found among
men and women who respond to the Kingdom’s call to justice and righteousness. They’re going to be found among
the rank and file where ordinary people take extraordinary risks for the sake of others, and who rejoice more in
God’s acceptance than in the world’s recognition.
So the many who go unnamed and unheralded, even in this church; those who prepare and
serve soup for the sick and shut-in; who prepare and serve meals for the hungry of our city; who
lead and teach children even if they’ve already been there, done that; for those who rehearse late
into the evening in order to offer to God the best of sacred music; who spend hours making God’s
house the best that it can be; who make commitments of time, talent and finances which clearly
herald that “The Kingdom of God has come near….” They are the heroes, even though they won’t
admit to being one. So yes, we do need another hero……. Heroes such as these, now more than