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Unsung Heroes

June 19, 2017

“God did not put me on this earth to be successful, but to be faithful.” Mother Teresa

Jeremiah wrote his book about 500 or 600 years before Christ was born. He was a man after Mother Teresa’s heart. He suffered greatly and was a failure by the world’s standards. He was maligned and abused for speaking the truth: “I am ridiculed all day long; everyone mocks me . . . I hear many whispering . . . ‘Denounce him! Let’s denounce him!’ All my friends are waiting for me to slip, saying ‘Perhaps he will be deceived, then we will prevail over him and take our revenge on him.’” (Jeremiah 20: 7, 10).[1]   His friends rejected him. He was unjustly accused, tried, convicted, put in stocks, thrown into a well, threatened, humiliated, and spent years as a fugitive. But throughout his life he remained faithful to God, and continued to speak the truth, bolstered by his faith: “The Lord is with me like a mighty warrior; so my persecutors will stumble and will not prevail . . . (Jeremiah 20:11).   Jeremiah was an unsung hero.

The Scripture lessons are about unsung heroes—people who do the right thing and speak the truth day in and day out—without reward. People who put themselves in harm’s way to secure the safety and freedom of others. People who fight off temptation to lead lives of honesty and integrity. People who sacrifice for their families, for their children, for their friends. People who serve others in their work and in their personal lives. People, like Jeremiah, who are maligned for telling the truth and continue to do so with no expectation of personal reward. These folks are an inspiration to us all.

The theme of Psalm 91 is God’s protection of us in the midst of danger. This psalm is sometimes referred to as “The Soldier’s Prayer.”  I’ve heard that the members of some special forces units pray this psalm as they journey into harm’s way: “Under his wings you will find refuge; his faithfulness will be your shield and rampart. You will not fear the terror of the night, nor the arrow that flies by day, nor the pestilence that stalks in the darkness . . . If you make the Most High your dwelling . . . then no harm will befall you, no disaster will come near your tent, For he will command his angels concerning you to guard you . . . ‘Because he loves me,’ says the Lord, ‘I will rescue him; I will protect him.’” (excerpts Psalm 91: 4-14).  Ordinary folks pray this psalm at night, seeking refuge from “the terror of night” (v. 5).  Like the unsung heroes in uniform who protect our freedoms, we can all turn to this psalm for support and reassurance when we are faced with frightening times and situations.

Paul brings the theme home to our daily lives. He reminds us that we reap eternal rewards when we stave off temptation and do the right thing: “But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the benefit you reap leads to holiness, and the result is eternal life” (Romans 6: 22).  Dangers, temptations, risks, threats surround us in our everyday lives. I heard one national security official say the other day  on television that if we knew what he knows, we would never leave our homes.  Maybe so. But Paul isn’t asking us to ignore the consequences of living courageously and with integrity.  We who have been set free have assurances that God will be with us in difficult and challenging times, and that we will be eternally rewarded for our faithfulness.

Jesus confirms that life will not always be easy, but that we can be assured that he will advocate for us: “Whoever acknowledges me before others, I will also acknowledge before my Father in heaven. But whoever disowns me before others, I will also disown before my Father in heaven” (Matthew 10: 32).

Do you feel like Jeremiah at times?  Have you been maligned, defamed, abused by others?  Have you struggled with recurrent and long-standing problems?  If so, you are not alone.  If you have stood your ground and maintained your integrity throughout, you are a hero in God’s eyes.  You may not be recognized in today’s culture or even during your lifetime, but God notices “the very hairs on your head . . . so don’t be afraid.” (Matthew 10: 30-31).  You will be given a hero’s welcome when you hear these words from the King himself: “Well done, my good and faithful servant” (Matthew 25:21).

Diane Cieslikowski Reagan

[1] The Scripture texts for the Third Sunday After Pentecost are Jeremiah 20:7-13; Psalm 91; Romans 6: 12-23; Matthew 10:21-33.

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