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It Doesn’t Take A Great Hero To Be A Great Father!

Luke 8:40-42, 49-56

It Doesn’t Take a Hero.

That’s the title of a wonderful autobiography written by General Norman Schwarzkoff. One of the most powerful passages in the book is the text of a letter General Schwarzkoff wrote to his family on the eve of the Persian Gulf War. I want you to listen closely to these poignant and touching words:

“My dearest Wife and Children,
The war clouds have gathered on the horizon and I have already issued the terrible orders that will let the monster loose. I wish with every fiber of my body that I would never have had to issue those commands. But it is now too late, and for whatever purpose God has, we will soon be at war. As a soldier who has had to go to war three times before, I want you to know that I am not afraid. I know that I might face death… some will die; many could die. I pray to God that this will not happen, but if it does and if I am one of those chosen to sacrifice my life, I wanted you to know that my last thoughts before this terrible beginning are of you, my beloved family.”

Then specifically to his wife he addressed these words:

“Brenda, I have never been very eloquent with words and far too guarded in expressing my love for you. I truly regret this, but it is the way I am. That is why I wanted more than anything else to write you tonight and tell you how much you mean to me. I cannot tell you how many times I have thanked God that I married you… I am so proud that you are my wife. Thank you for so many things: the loving, the understanding, the forgiving, the helping, the caring, the supporting… Just being my Brenda Pauline.”

The letter concluded with this eloquent charge to his children:

“Cindy, Jessica, Christian, I hope you know how much I love you. The three of you have become the most important reason for me being on this earth. I could lose everything I possess and if I still had you, life would be worth living. I could be rich and famous and have everything I desire but without you my life would be meaningless and my heart would be empty. The three of you are the best thing I will leave behind when I leave this world. And you have returned that love to me.”

I am a father who knows his children love him and that makes me a very lucky man! As I told you at Christmas, I am so proud of each of you and for what you are. Be proud of yourselves, for you are fine human beings and thank you for being my children; thank you for letting me be your father; thank you for loving me.

Take care of each other, love each other and if it be God’s will, we shall be together soon. If that should not happen, then know that wherever I am I will be with you every day, always.”

Isn’t that a beautiful letter? Here is this soldier on the eve of battle sitting down to write a moving letter to his family- a letter filled with faith, with hope, and with love. Faced with the possibility of his own death, he shares his deepest thoughts with the people he loves the most in the world. Of course, that’s one of life’s great truths. When we brush up against the reality of death, when we have to face the possibility of our own death, or that of someone we love, then almost instinctively we are drawn back to the only priorities of life which really matter: God, faith, family and friends. So many times I have seen it; face-to-face with death people become more attuned to family and to God. Nothing else really matters.

We see that truth clearly revealed in the story from Luke 8 where Jesus healed the daughter of a man named Jairus. Now Jairus and his family were prominent citizens in the city of Capernaum. Jairus was the ruler of the synagogue. He was a man of substance and he was a powerful force in that city. When it came to the religious life of the people he called the shots. And given his position, he probably would not normally have given much time or thought to a traveling preacher from Nazareth called Jesus.

But crisis came. The angel of death hovered over the home of Jairus. His twelve-year-old daughter became critically ill. She was dying. His situation seemed hopeless. As Jairus stared the potential death of his daughter in the eye, he became a different man. All of his success and power in life no longer mattered. Suddenly the reality of death rendered him powerless. So he swallowed his pride, pushed aside society’s rules and ran to Jesus for help. No longer was he some heroic leader striding powerfully through town decisively handling everything that came his way. Now he was just a loving father whose daughter was dying, and he was down on his knees pleading with Jesus to come to his house.

Jesus went with him. As they were on the way Jesus paused long enough to heal a woman who had been desperately ill for twelve years. Just at that point messengers came from Jairus’ house telling him the devastating news that his daughter had died. “It’s too late”, they said. “She’s gone. No need to trouble the Master now.” But Jesus, hearing that said to him: “Don’t be afraid. Just keep on believing. Your daughter will be made well.” When they arrived at the house, the place was filled with people weeping and mourning. They actually scoffed at Jesus for even thinking that He could do anything in the midst of that hopeless situation. But Jesus cleared the mourners out of the house, went to the little girl’s bedside and loved her back to life again. And then- and I love this incredible little detail- He told them to give the little girl something to eat. Proof, you see, that she was now very much alive.

Now there are lots of wonderful lessons tucked away in this story, but today I want to focus on the faith of this father, Jairus. In the face of his daughter’s death, he showed us that it doesn’t take a hero to be a great father.

Jairus showed us that to be a great father takes a man who lives the faith.

There is a potent little story about a naive villager who was born and reared in an obscure rural community out in the bush. There came a time when he went to visit in the only large town in his part of the world. During the night he was awakened by the loud beating of drums. He was told that it meant that a fire had broken out and the beating of the drums was the town’s fire alarm. When he got back home he told the people in his little village what he had learned in town. He said: “They have a wonderful system there. When a fire breaks out, the people beat their drums and before long the fire goes out.” Well, the people were so excited about that that they made a large supply of drums and passed them out to all the people in the village. The first time a fire broke out in the village, there was the deafening sound of drums beating everywhere, but to the villager’s dismay all the drum beating didn’t put the fire out. So this naive villager traveled back to the nearby town and asked why the beating of the drums had not put the fire out. He was told: “You misunderstood. The drums don’t put out the fire. They only sound the alarm for people to wake up and put the fire out themselves.”

That’s a parable for us in the faith today. When we think that the beating of the religious drums of ritual and rhetoric will solve our social ills and bring healing to our troubled world, we are fooling ourselves. It is not enough just to beat the drums; we have to do something ourselves. Look at this story in Luke. The weepers and the wailers had come to Jairus’ house to mourn the death of Jairus’ daughter. That’s always what happened in those days in that part of the world. Professional mourners came to cry loudly, to play mournful sounding flutes, and to tear their garments as a show of respect for one who was dead or dying. It was just about as effective as those villagers beating the drums and expecting the fire to go out.

But Jairus didn’t settle for that. He sprang into action. He ran to get help. He was determined to bring the Great Physician into his home to heal his daughter. The point is clear. The Christian faith is not just a creed we confess; it’s a lifestyle we actively practice. It is not enough to beat the drums or talk a good game. We have to walk the walk and actually live the faith. Jairus showed us that a great father doesn’t just beat the drums of the faith or just mouth the words of belief No. A great father is a man who lives- actively lives- the faith.

And Jairus showed us that to be a great father takes a man who keeps on living the faith.

Everybody else had given up; they had thrown in the towel. They said: “Jairus, it’s too late. Your little girl is dead.” But Jairus kept on believing; he kept on hoping; he kept on trusting in Jesus.

Some years ago, during the Great Depression, a group of leaders gathered in Chicago to address the burdensome problems facing so many people in our nation. These leaders went to an African-American school on the southside of Chicago. People from the neighborhood came in to discuss the challenges they were facing- no jobs, little money, big bills. Among the leaders who were present there was Clarence Darrow, the famous agnostic attorney. Clarence Darrow decided to take advantage of the situation to dramatically underscore what he regarded as the foolishness of the faith. He said to these people: “You have no jobs, no money, no power, no opportunity and yet you sing. I want to ask you: what in the world do you have to sing about?” There was silence in the room. Then the voice of an elderly African-American woman came from the back of the church. “We’ve got Jesus to sing about! Sure we’ve got problems, but we also got Jesus. He’s who we sing about.” For once in his life, Clarence Darrow was stopped dead in his tracks and struck speechless. Here he was face to face with people who had faith and hope in Jesus and who would keep on believing no matter what.

That day in Capernaum, people were saying to Jairus: “It’s hopeless, Jairus. It’s no use. Nothing can be done. No one can help your daughter now. It’s too late. Your little girl is dead.” But Jairus said: “No! No! Jesus is near. He can help. He is all the hope we ever need.” That’s the good news of our faith, isn’t it? We can always be people of hope because Jesus is near. We’ve got Jesus to sing about. That’s a lesson we learn from Jairus. Jairus was a great father because he refused to quit. He refused to give up. He kept on believing and trusting in Jesus regardless. A great father is a man who lives the faith and keeps on living the faith always.

Let me try to say it in personal terms.

I remember hearing about a Sunday School teacher who was trying to teach her class about God. Without mentioning God’s name, she said: “Class, I’m thinking now of someone who is strong and kind and loving and protective, someone who faces every difficulty with courage, someone who is always willing both to teach you and to listen to you, someone who can supply all you ever need and make you feel that you can do anything, someone who can laugh with you when you’re happy and hold you when you are afraid, someone who can pick you up when you fall and pep you up when you’re hurt, someone who will not leave you, not now, not ever. Now does that description make you think of anybody you know?” One little boy blurted out in response: “Teacher, that’s my dad!”

I can say that about my dad.

I hope my children can say that about their dad. I believe my two grandsons will be able to say that about their dads. You see, it doesn’t take a hero to be a great father. All it takes is a man who is determined to live the faith and to keep on living the faith, no matter what…

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