Heroes and Their Fall from Grace

Easter Sunday tells the archetypal story of the hero. We tend to crucify our heroes- for some very profound reasons. Today the life and death of Jesus of Nazareth has a tale to spin that reflects each of our lives, and spiritual journeys.

 

Reading: The Contract by William Ayot

A word from the led
And in the end we follow them
Not because we are paid
Not because we might see some advantage,
Not because of the things they have accomplished,
Not even because of the dreams they dream
But simply because of who they are-
The man, the woman, the leader, the boss
Standing up there when the waves hit the rock
Passing out faith and confidence like life jackets.
Knowing the currents, holding the doubts,
Imagining the delights and terrors of landfall;
Captain, pirate and parent by turns,
The bearer of our countless hopes and expectations.
We give them our trust. We give them our effort.
What we ask in return is that they stay true

Sermon

This is my 23rd Easter AM sermon…. and what does one say for the 23rd time? Unitarians Universalists do not do well with Easter – we do not believe in anyone dying for our sins- we do not believe in miracles, which includes rising from the dead- and we have no interest in Jesus coming back to life- so what do we do with Easter?

Being surrounded by the images of Easter, in a predominantly Christian culture, can either inspire reflection or resistance in us.  If we allow our humanist, atheist or agnostic resistance to Christian myths to rule the day, we might miss out on one the most universal human themes of human development- the hero’s journey to maturity and inner peace- the journey of   sacrificing personal comfort in service to something greater than Self.

Joseph Campbell defines a hero as someone who has given his or her life to something bigger than oneself. He specifically says “to” not for. That is because heroism is not about dying- it is about living. Jesus, Martin Luther King, Jr., Franklin D. Roosevelt, Amelia Earhart, Gandhi, Malcolm X- all were heroes, not because of their dying, but because of their living. They lived by extending themselves, risking unequivocally, status, and money, life itself, in selfless conviction.  Joseph Campbell says to die without regret, “… We each have to find what best fosters the flowering of our humanity in this contemporary life and dedicate ourselves to that.”

Jesus, Buddha, Mohammed- the Gods and Goddesses of ancient myths all endured a time of questioning, of struggling with the suffering of the world, the meaning of life, from which they emerged triumphant- knowing, understanding, assured of their purpose in life.

Heroes do not necessarily set out to be heroes- They set out to confront some hurt or injustice, to be true to what it is that they believe to be right.

Jesus never intended to save the world.  He spent 40 days and nights in the desert wrestling with what he believed in- trying to decide the purpose and meaning of his life. He left the desert for Jerusalem. Inspired by his convictions- he was determined to serve something greater than self.

The story is told that Jesus intentionally traveled by the broad light of day and went directly to the temple courtyard. In front of the temple, in front of the Roman fortress, he spoke about love of God and Love of neighbor. In front of the Pharisees and Sadducees, the Romans, all his enemies, he demanded that the poor be taken seriously, overturned the moneychanger’s tables, destroyed the profits and undermined the authority of the Pharisees, threatening the power and authority of both Jews and Romans.

It is sometimes hard for the world to live with such heroes. Seeing self-fulfillment conviction, courage or compassion in another can raise a sense of inadequacy- “What am I doing with my life?”

To ease that discomfort, people confront and tear down the personhood of the hero. Look at the violent responses to health care reformers, legislators that took a stand, Pres. Obama’s initiatives now being overturned- Think about the multiple published attempts to tarnish the lives of past presidents, their spouses or intimate relationships. Run down the long list of assassinations. We do not have to look at our systems of racial and economic oppression exposed by Martin Luther King – because he was a womanizer- or we invalidate Hillary Clinton’s qualifications because she might have been mixed up in some shady real estate deal or made top secret information vulnerable by using a personal email. Even Mother Theresa’s work with the poor because was devalued because she did not take a political stand against poverty and class discrimination in India. She has been criticized because her memoirs revealed her vulnerable confessions of the dark night of her soul.

We are, all of us, capable of sabotaging the hero- those around us and those heroes waiting within us.  Whenever we waver in our own convictions- we crucify the hero. Whether it is by remaining silent when someone uses a racial slur- or a homosexual joke or by failing to give our time, our voice or our money to what we believe in. Whenever we do not take the time to honor, or fulfill what is most important to us- to champion what we believe in, or stand next to the one who is- whenever we give in to our own fears of inadequacy- we crucify the hero.

In her poem Revolutionary Patience, Dorothee Solle writes about Jesus-
He gave answers to questions they didn’t ask
Sometimes they didn’t dare
Open their mouths anymore
Not because they hadn’t understood
He was taking from them
Everything sacred and safe.
He offered no guarantees
Fire was not sacred to him or neon
Not singing or silence
Not fornication or chastity
In his speech foxes, bread dough
And much mended nets became sacred.
The down and out were his proof
And actually he had as much assurance
Of victory as we in these parts do
None.

I met David when I was a nurse working in the ICU at Maine Medical Center in Portland. David was a frequent visitor to the hospital. He had a severe scoliosis and had lived with Cystic Fibrosis all his life. Each year breathing became harder and harder for David and sometimes his hospital visits required admission to the ICU. His breathing so labored that he needed to be intubated a placed on a ventilator to help him breath for a few days. Then, we would slowly wean him off the ventilator one or two breaths – down from 12-14 a minute to 10, then the next shift 8 then the next shift 6 as he tolerated breath ing on his own. If he got into any respiratory distress, we would up the breaths per minute up again until he was comfortable. Weaning usually took about 24 hours. One admission, David had a much harder time weaning off the ventilator. It took days up and down on the breaths and he just wasn’t tolerating the decreases. He would be so anxious, starved for air as we decreased the ventilations. When finally, after a week he was able to breath without the ventilator, he called a hi s doctors, nurses and family into his room. “The next time I end up here, I do not want to be intubated- no matter what.” We all looked in disbelief- his parent saying “David- you know what that means are you sure?” Doctors chimed in. David there is no guarantee the next time will be this hard to wean you from the ventilator. This could have been an unusual circumstance. “David looked determined. “It has always been harder each time. Every time I come in here it is harder and hard to breath, to wean me off – an I know once I am intubated you cannot legally turn the ventilator off unless I am brain dead. So no intubation. I do not want to be tied to a machine for the rest of my life.” So the papers were signed. His parents agreed and David was discharged. It was only three months later that David was admitted to the ICU unable to breath. We asked him again if he was sure- did he want to be intubated? “No.” So we kept him comfortable. Medicated him with morphine as the air hunger got worse and worse, his breathing more labored. I was the nurse on duty as his conditioned worsened, the medications more frequent. I was holding David’s hand, amongst family and doctors circling his bed after  injecting his last dose of morphine into his veins. He became comfortable enough to let go of of his life long struggle to breath.

David is one of my heroes

Heroes are not just the famous people who fill the pages of history books.  Anne, Joe and David are heroes- The man who sells his car and only rides his bicycle to soften his footprint upon the earth is a hero. The woman who gives up fame or fortune to join the police force because she wants to make a difference is a hero-. The youth who ignores the taunts of his buddies and refuses to drive drunk- is a hero. The grandmother who fulfills her life long dream to play the trumpet- is a hero… and the young boy who sticks with dance lessons even though his friends laugh at him- is a hero.

Heroes are imperfect human beings no more or less than we are- who have humbly let go of the need to be perfect. They have freed themselves from the bondage of social norms or the demands of their egos- committed only to a deeper purpose.

Easter asks us to open our hearts and minds to hope- hope that waits within our imagination, our capacity to rise above disaster, terror, death- to be heroes

We are all heroes in this room- just waiting to be written- somewhere- dormant or active in each of us is the person who yearns to have courage enough to risk, selflessly, for something of meaning. Today- be dedicated to heroes-to the Jews celebrating Passover and their heroic flight from Egypt- to Jesus who’s courageous living and dying inspires people to be better human beings- to the heroes all around us who need our support … and most of all- to the hero in your own hearts.

Watch for a hero this week. Follow her, or him
Not because you are paid
Not because you might see some advantage,
Not because of the things they have accomplished, or not
But simply because of who they are-
The man, the woman, the leader, the boss
Christian, Palestinian, Muslim or Jew
Standing up there when the waves hit the rock
Passing out faith and confidence like life jackets.
Give them your trust. Give them your effort.
Make your peace- and stay true.