March 10, 2019
Sermon of March 10, 2019 ~ Robert Kuhn, with the Deacons
Good morning! I’m so happy to have this opportunity to speak to you and I want to thank the Deacons for their support.
I’ll begin with an apology – to all the famous heroes in the congregation or watching the video feed. This sermon isn’t about you. And it is not about your famous hero colleagues in the community, in this country or around the world. So, I ask your patience and forbearance for the next 12 minutes or so. Stay with me!
Today, I want to shine a light on the unsung heroes – the thousands upon thousands of people, groups and organizations who add value to our world without recognition of any significance. But before you think this is about the meek shall inherit the Earth, let me assure you that this is not that. For these heroes are anything but meek.
Also, I want to shine a light on their supporters – the people who lift them up, get out of their way and let the magic happen. You see, I do a lot of thinking about people and groups “behind the scenes.” And in all of my work I’ve tried to think about who is not at the table but plays – or should play – an important role. The irony, of course, is that by talking about unsung heroes, they no longer are!
But first, a couple of definitions. What do we mean by unsung? Well, the dictionary suggests things like “not celebrated or praised,” “unacknowledged” or “uncelebrated.” The term conveys the idea that it is certainly NOT about fame and, in reality, it is NOT about you! We heard a bit about that concept a couple of weeks ago when Reverend Sarah talked about volunteering.
And what is a “hero?” Turning again to the dictionary, we find “a person who is admired or idealized for courage, outstanding achievements or noble qualities.” A champion. A victor. A white knight. A war hero. My father might say a “do gooder.”
With those definitions out of the way, I want to explore some aspects of unsung heroism and ask us all to consider three questions about unsung heroes.
Recently, in a workshop I facilitated at Hotchkiss on this subject, I pointed out that unsung heroes can be individuals, groups or organizations. For example, I think my mom was in ways an unsung hero – a dedicated volunteer in our hometown who led fundraising efforts to building a badly-needed new community center. Why heroism? Well, she did this work in the context of my father’s very, very vocal misgivings about a woman “working.”
But there was a larger group of folks involved in that effort – other volunteers, the center’s board and management, town officials. They all put aside their significant differences, toned down their egos and got the job done. Why is that heroism? Because no one believed that a community center would get built in the midst of a 1980s recession.
And then there’s the center itself. An organization that breathed new life into our community. A place for often-lonely seniors to come for a meal, chat with their friends, play cards. A place for important community discussions. A safe place for vulnerable people to seek refuge when needed. Why is this heroism? Because the very existence of this place prolonged lives and improved the quality of life for many.
So, remember to not be too narrow in your thinking about heroism.
You may wonder if there are unsung heroes in the Bible. Well, there isn’t mention of groups or organizations, but scholars have talked about as many as fifteen individual “unsung heroes.” These individuals are singled out not because of their extraordinary feats, but because they simply chose to stand on the right side of history.
For example, take Naaman’s wife’s maid. In 2 Kings 5 we hear the story of a Syrian commander who, despite his many successes, had leprosy. The story reveals that the servant girl of the commander’s wife pleaded with her mistress to allow the commander a visit with the prophet of Samaria – Elisha – saying that if he did so he would be healed of his skin disease. This maid, steeped in faith, never had a single doubt about God’s anointing hand over the prophet Elisha. The commander was cured.
There is also the story of Mordecai, which takes place throughout the book of Esther. Mordecai is Esther’s cousin and guardian and she is a foreigner who becomes queen of Persia. Mordecai uses his position as a member of the royal court to stand up for the oppressed people of God and foil a plot to assassinate the king. Mordecai’s actions are significant, because if the Jewish people had been destroyed – as was Haman’s wish – the story of God’s saving work through the Jewish people – and eventually Christ – would never have been told.
And here’s one I find especially interesting. Jael, who we meet in Judges 4:21, is the wife of Heber. It seems that a Canaanite general who had fled from defeat by Israelite forces made the mistake of pitching up at Jael’s tent. She took advantage of the situation and give him a drink of milk to make him sleepy. When the general fell asleep, Jael drove a tent peg through his skull into the ground – “and he died” says Judges, perhaps a little redundantly.
Now, to those three questions.
First: who is really responsible for change? Is it the famous or is it the unsung?
When I think about positive change – I mean both big, societal change and small but equally important change – I think about who really should get credit for that work. Take mankind’s journey toward ensuring full civil rights. For example, is it Rosa Parks – very famous? Nelson Mandela – very famous? Or is it the civil rights activists, journalists, lawyers, funders or the others who moved to the front of the bus or suffered long years in captivity who are really responsible for progress in civil rights?
I think of it as a pyramid. There are the few – usually very few – recognized or famous heroes at the top of the pyramid. And then there are the hundreds or thousands of other “doers” playing various roles, from outright change agent to supportive friend. And that suggests there’s a lot of room below the top to contribute to a better world.
Second, in a world where fame and celebrity are often valued more than substance, is there room for the unsung?
Arthur Ashe, the great tennis legend, once said:
“True heroism is remarkably sober, very undramatic. It is not to surpass all others at whatever cost, but the urge to serve others, at whatever cost.”
So, is there a future for the “unsung” in a world of fame? Is there a place for undramatic and sober service? Today, everyone wants to be, believes they are or indeed is a “celebrity.” Social media fuels “fame” and it doesn’t take much to make your voice heard. So how does humility and working under the radar fit into this new normal? Do you think there is a role for the unsung moving forward? Or will they be crowded out by all those whose sole mission is achieving fame or celebrity? My personal opinion is that the scope of heroism will always include the unsung – in a way, it is just a matter of mathematics. But it is also a reflection of the fact that the famous can’t succeed without those who don’t seek the limelight.
Finally, what does all this mean in terms of our lives as members of the Church? To me, there are a couple of important take-aways.
First, know that there are unsung heroes among you. Some are sitting in the pews. Others are out in the community. Some we will celebrate on our community partner appreciation day in a couple of weeks. Think about who those people might be. It might even be you.
Second, think hard about what those unsung heroes need to succeed. Good energy. Support. Funding. Guidance. A lot of proactive stuff to
consider. How can each of us as Christians support the work of others? Is it making a financial contribution to their favorite charity? Is it having a meal ready at home after someone comes back from volunteering? Is it being a great listener when someone talks about being burned out? I think it is all those things and more.
Finally, realize that sometimes unsung heroes need us to get out of their way. Let them follow their own paths – guided by faith – with us out of the way. If you’re the unsung hero, make use of that space and your faith to guide you in your work. Ask for our patience and pray for success in your endeavors. And don’t ever give up. If you’re not the hero, stand back, don’t judge and have faith that God has a plan.
PLEASE JOIN ME IN PRAYER:
Dear Lord, we know that there are unsung heroes everywhere. We know that some are right here among us. We pray that you watch over them, providing guidance. And we pray that their faith allows them to take You in as they do their work. And we acknowledge our role in their success and pray for your guidance as we support and lift up the unsung individuals, groups and organizations that make Your world a better place.