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July 4th, Independence Day

 

“Uncommon Valor,” Luke 10:1-11, 16-20   July 4, 2010, Independence Day
 
 
It's an unforgettable photo.

The raising of the flag at Iwo Jima.

In fact, if you had to pick 10 photographs to tell the story of our country, this one featuring U.S. soldiers lifting up the American flag would be one of them. That it was posed as a re-enactment makes it no less significant.

Iwo Jima is a dot in the Pacific where the United States needed a landing strip for bombers striking Japan during World War II. Some 70,000 marines were sent to take Iwo Jima from a dug-in enemy. "The thing I'll remember forever," recounts retired Major General Fred Haynes, "was the courage and the guts of the kids ... and these were young kids."

They were kids. But 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 afterward. Bradley, Hayes and Gagnon became national heroes within weeks.

What's most amazing is how ordinary each of these heroes was.

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.
 
Franklin 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 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 "just jumped in to lend a hand."

So ordinary. But 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 a public image as a war hero, he was a very private person. He avoided discussion of his war record, saying only that the real heroes were the men who gave their lives for their country.

This is so typical. Senator John McCain says, "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.

But if heroism is so common, why don't we see more of it?

In today's lesson, Jesus calls ordinary people to do extraordinary things. He appoints 70 average people - people as typical as any one of us, people as ordinary as the 70,000 marines who were sent to Iwo Jima. Their mission is to go in pairs to every town and place where Jesus intends to go, and to do the work of curing the sick, preaching the kingdom and driving out demons.

"I am sending you out like lambs into the midst of wolves," warns Jesus (Luke 10:3). The 70 are facing a "dug-in enemy," like the marines on the beaches of Iwo Jima. Jesus orders them to carry no purse, bag or sandals, and to live off the hospitality of those who will receive them. Their only weapon is the powerful message: "The kingdom of God has come near to you" (v. 9).

Is this even a fair fight? It doesn't seem so at first. Jesus is calling for common people to show uncommon valor and to embark on a mission that seems unlikely to succeed.

But when these 70 ordinary souls return, they make a surprising report: "Lord, in your name even the demons submit to us!" (v. 17). Speaking and acting in the name of Jesus, the 70 have a power that they never imagined possible.
 
The ordinary virtue of following Jesus suddenly turns into extraordinary heroism, and common disciples discover that they have uncommon abilities.

Years ago, Tina Turner sang a song titled, “We Don’t Need Another Hero.” But we do need another hero--and we shouldn't have to look far to find one, or two, or three. We should be able to find them in our own churches. Christ working in us and through us makes it possible to do things we couldn’t otherwise do.

Uncommon valor is a common virtue whenever people respond to the call of Christ.  
 
Heroism is seen whenever disciples walk in faith and proclaim the kingdom of God. Victory over illness and evil occurs whenever people carry the peace and the power of Christ with them into the world. And this peace and power doesn’t come from any inborn human qualities. It comes from the authority that Jesus gives us "over all the power of the enemy" (v. 19). Amazing things will happen when we step out in faith on a mission from God.

God is always looking for heroes, for people willing to accept the challenge of following Christ. This is never easy, but our churches - and our nation - can use a few more heroes. Now, more than ever, we need ordinary people to do the extraordinary work of love and compassion in a world being torn apart by hatred, greed and self-interest.

Here’s an example of an ordinary person, yet a hero: 
Since 1996, when she was horrified by a news report of a baby found dead in a duffel bag by a freeway, homemaker Debi Faris - aided by private donations and some 20 volunteers - has named and buried 44 abandoned infants at Desert Lawn Cemetery in Calimesa, east of Los Angeles. . . . Her mission begins with a trip to the county morgue and ends with a brief graveside ceremony in a plot she calls the Garden of Angels. . . .
 
Thanks largely to her efforts, Gov. Gray Davis signed a bill in September 2000 designed to make abandoning a baby less likely to result in the infant's death.
The "Save a Baby" law, which took effect January 1, 2001 allows the mother of a child 72 hours or younger to surrender her infant anonymously at any hospital without fear of prosecution. ... "I hope that with the passage of this bill, we'll see many more babies left to live," says Faris. ("Guardian of Angels," People, December 25, 2000 - January 1, 2001, 121.) This lady saw the need, and in compassion she was moved to action.
 
Which of us will be willing to take a stand for God's coming kingdom - a kingdom of love and compassion, healing and hope?

Any other kingdom is just a castle "built in the air."

There's nothing idealistic about this, and in fact the proclamation of God's kingdom involves more than mere words - it always includes clear and concrete action.
 
At this time of Independence Day celebrations, we would do well to remember that kingdom-building actions have been performed by both the church and our nation throughout history.

God's heroes are going to be found right here, if they are going to be found anywhere at all.
-- Found among men and women, boys and girls, who respond to the call of Christ.
– Found among ordinary people willing to take risks and do extraordinary work.
-- Found among folks able to proclaim the kingdom of heaven and extend God's love and compassion to others.
– Found among people who depend more on divine authority than on human ability, and who rejoice more in God's acceptance than in worldly recognition.

It's up to us to be these kinds of heroes and make our mark. Thanks be to God.

Rev. Rosemary Stelz


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