Saturday, March 28, 2009
I suppose we all have our heros.
For the people that were on flight 1549 this past January, Pilot Chesley Sullenburger was a hero. And from all appearances, a worthy one at that. Others of us choose somewhat less noble individuals at times as our heroes, such as athletes, politicians, and movie stars. And often we regret it later on when the person turns out to be about as smart as a walnut. Movie stars in particular are especially good at declaring themselves to be heroes. They emblazon their names on bronze stars, and embed them in the sidewalk on Hollywood Boulevard, lest we forget them and the great contribution they made to society, by pretending to be someone else and getting paid an obscene amount of money to do it.
The thing is, though, I think we all want to be thought of as heroes. Most of us want to be remembered for having done something significant with our lives and whether we admit it or not most of us wouldn’t turn down a star on Hollywood Boulevard. At least, I probably wouldn’t, though admittedly the chances of that are about as good as my being appointed the next Pope.
I’ve began to notice, though, that there is something about being a missionary that seems to make me think of myself at times in heroic terms.
The last few weeks, I’ve been teaching in a Bible school that has just gotten off the ground (and in fact, some might say is still firmly ON the ground). The school meets in a church with no electricity, and the principal takes a pew in the back of the church as her “office.” Our sessions start at 7:30 with a chapel service, which always consists of fervent and passionate prayer that is so typical of African believers, a lively time of worship, and a sermon, usually given by one of the schools five students. Mid morning, we take a break for a bit of tea and bread and butter. We finish at about one in the afternoon and then have lunch, which might consist of a boiled egg and some rice.
And one day last week as we were sitting down for our tea and bread, I couldn’t help but begin to think that it was quite noble of me to be there, giving of myself in such humble circumstances. My thoughts drifted back to my days in Bible college and to how much more lavish that setting had been, with the theatre style, cushioned seating of the chapel, the large projection screens, the sound system, and the clear plexiglass podium (I suppose that enabled you to always be sure that the speaker was wearing pants?).
I thought about our nice little coffee shop and my almost daily cappuccino that kept me from sleeping through whatever class I had right after lunch, and how lunch was NEVER rice and a boiled egg. And I thought about how our classes were, well in actual classrooms, with desks, and places to “plug in,” and a projector and a screen. And I remembered how some professors would go to great lengths to “wow” a generation of visual junkies with their technological acumen, like one particular professor who would act as though he were “throwing” the Greek words onto the screen, and we would watch them slowly replace the English words; and how much to his chagrin, we weren’t that impressed.
As I sat sipping my tea and eating my piece of bread, I happened to glance out the window, through the security bars that keep people from stealing the chairs, and I caught sight of a cross on top of a neighboring church and was reminded that for the Church, for those of us who follow Christ, there can only ever be one Hero.
Whatever small sacrifices we make (and, really, we mostly make small sacrifices), they all pale in comparison to the cross. And whatever notions I might have about how noble a thing I think I’m doing, my actions can only truly find meaning in light of the one truly noble act the world has seen. Namely, God dying on a cross for my sins.
That is the only really viable starting point for comparison. We can always conjure the hero within us when the starting point is ourselves because there will always be something or someone that we think is less noble than us.
But when we start at the cross, we are left to the inevitable conclusion that the apostle Paul came to, when he said, “May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world,” (Gal. 6:14).
And the truth is, the world will never come to know the significance of Christ on the cross, if we keep trying to take his place.