New Ark United Church of Christ, Newark, DE
September 24, 2017
Time for another Main Street story. Last Sunday, as Andrea and I were walking on our way to the UD green for Community Day, we saw the marquis sign for the restaurant Grain. It read “Superman wears John Evans pajamas”. As soon as I read it, I said to Andrea, “I can make a sermon out of that.” The Holy Spirit said, “Challenge accepted!”
I asked Brian Ford, one of the bartenders, what the sign was all about. First of all, who is John Evans? He’s a Delaware State Police major who just retired. He and his wife are regulars at Grain. Most Sundays, after attending Mass at St. John’s, they attend brunch at Grain. Brian likes to create a sign for John on Saturday night, so he will see it Sunday morning on his way to church. Of course, everyone else who attends church with John Evans sees it as well. But John is also a kind of hero to Brian. So, in Brian’s eyes, when Superman takes off his cape, he puts on pajamas with John Evans on them. Or maybe that super suit is John Evans’ pajamas.
We all have our heroes, super suits and pajamas notwithstanding. Whether
they’re real or fictional, think of your heroes and the space they occupy in your heart, your mind, your imagination. In big and a lot of small ways they fight against injustice and inequality, stand up for the powerless, speak up for the voiceless. They sacrifice and upend their privilege on behalf of others. Some of them are creative and strange and eccentric and just plain weird. Some are reluctant while others engage head-on.
Our heroes have good days and bad days—really good days and very bad days, sometimes weeks and months of them. Even years. Most of them never get a sign or much notice. They have weaknesses and character flaws and
limitations and amazing strength and wisdom and heart. Some have a solitary path; some have families and a wide circle of friends. Some have support and resources; some have little to none and almost nothing. Some are seen as valuable members of society; some are treated like trash. They are highly susceptible to joy and gladness and extremely pervious to pain. Our heroes come in all shapes, sizes, ages, abilities, colors, gender expressions, all walks of life, you name it. And they love—baby, do they love.
The apostle Paul is a hero to many of the churches he started. He wrote his letter to the Philippians from house arrest in Rome, and in places it reads like an affectionate love letter to a soulmate. We know the church in Philippi holds a special place in Paul’s heart when we read “I thank my God every time I remember you, constantly praying with joy in every one of my prayers for all of you.” Often it is the thought of these church communities that keeps Paul in better spirits. But he also sounds rather depressed and some might even say suicidal when he writes that dying is gain; that he’d rather depart and be with Christ.
C.S. Lewis wrote, “If we find ourselves with a desire that nothing in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that we were made for another world.” This desire can spur on the hero, inspire them, and it can devour them. Because it is the making of this other world—this world of justice and peace, of radical acceptance and compassion—that is the work of heroes.
Hero work is hard and often thankless. Physical, spiritual, and mental health are key to hero work but not everyone gets the care they need.
Every hero needs an accountable, unconditionally loving tribe that has their back—the Justice League, the Avengers, family, friends, church—but many are denied this still and yet try to carry on without it. Usually a hero will have a hero of their own. Paul had Christ for his hero and these young churches had become his tribe. And it is for their sake and the sake of the gospel that he remains in the flesh. Maybe because he realizes they share the same struggle.
Which leads me back to that whole who wears whose pajamas thing—Paul wrote to the Galatians about putting on Christ, the risen Jesus, and yes, the struggle is real to put on those pajamas: to live a life worthy of the gospel, to get up and be a hero whether we feel like it or not.
Sometimes, though, I think we get confused as to what that means—living a life worthy of the gospel. It’s a public life of faith rather than just a private one. Most of us do not suffer for the gospel but there are some who suffer mightily. I don’t believe in a God who condones suffering, but I do think we are called to suffer with those who do suffer for the gospel, who bear a cross we have no idea what it is like to carry.
It can be too easy some days to not put on Christ at all, to just fold up those pajamas and stash them in a drawer. Let somebody else be the hero.
Nope. This is Church. Hero school and tribe and gospel living. Misfits and outlaws and all the rest are welcome. And love is our superpower. A life worthy of the gospel.