Who Was That Masked Man?

Heritage Presbyterian Church https://heritagepresbyterian.org

World Communion Sunday 
October 2, 2022

Scripture readings: 2nd Timothy 1: 1-14 & Luke 17: 5-10

One of the most beloved types of stories in America is the heroic tale.  From the legend of Robin Hood to the Scarlet Pimpernel to Superman to the Count of Monte Cristo to the Scarecrow of Romney Marsh to Spiderman to Zorro to Batman, we have had stories of unknown, hidden, secretive individual folks who live their seemingly ordinary lives by day – and then don a disguise of some type and fight injustice and oppression and the bad guys by night…or in their spare time.  We have stories, comic books, movies, TV shows, and even Broadway plays that show us how lousy our daily lives would be, how history might have gone the other way, how often the bad guys would win if not for these heroes.

And the forces of darkness never seem to get a clue; they have no chance, but they keep pushing anyway.  They keep trying to defeat our heroes; I guess they get their faint hope from the fact that every once in a while, they actually win a battle or two, the hero seems defeated and beaten, but that is always temporary.  Good triumphs, at least until the next episode.

I always thought that the Lone Ranger TV series had the best ending line.  As the day was saved, as the Lone Ranger and his faithful Indian companion Tonto rode off into the sunset, someone always remarked, “Who was that masked man?” because no one knows who the secret hero is.  Heroes don’t work for glory or for praise; they do their work because…well, it’s dirty work but somebody has to do it.  After all, it’s a calling of sorts and something that inspires others to do good too.  We need that in our world.

When Paul writes to his friend, Timothy, Paul realizes that his work is almost done.  He is in prison – probably in Rome – and there is no escape for him this time.  No hero is going to shoot his way in and blast Paul free.  No hero is going to thwart the evil villain’s plan and let Paul escape.  No last-minute, seemingly miraculous rescue is coming to save the day.  No, Paul knows it is the end of his time, his adventure.  But it is also time for another younger hero to take his place.  

So, Paul says a few things to encourage the next hero:

  • “…to my beloved child…”
  • “I remember you constantly in my prayers…”
  • “I have been reminded of your sincere faith…”
  • “We were not given a spirit of cowardice, but rather a spirit of power and of love and of self-discipline…”
  • “Do not be ashamed for what you say and do not be ashamed of knowing me…”
  • “What you heard from me, keep doing it…”
  • “Guard the treasure!”

Can’t you just imagine any of the action heroes I mentioned at the start of this message saying similar things if they knew they would die but they wanted their good work to go on?  Of course!

Then in Luke’s three-part message for today, we get three nuggets of truth, justice, and the American way for heroes everywhere to hear:

First, Jesus tells his disciples when they asked for help with their faith and with their work, he tells them that don’t need much help.  I can almost imagine the Lone Ranger telling the people of the town, “Citizens…you already have all you need.  Just stick together, show some courage and a little bit of faith, and the bad guys will turn and run.  I’m just here to get it going.”

Or perhaps, after the day is saved and all is well, Batman turns to his faithful sidekick, and says, “Come, Robin.  Back to the Batcave.”

Or maybe even Zorro comes striding out in his regular clothes as the meek Don Diego, no disguising mask in sight, everyone is safe and sound and even confident – and timidly he asks, “What’s going on?  Did I miss something?”

Did you ever notice how the hero leaves the scene and life goes on?  Sure, it’s good to know that they are always around, but sooner or later – the good people have to take the lead and take on the wicked forces that always threated the good people.

Second, Jesus asks his future heroes to think of a slave coming in from a long, hard day’s work – and expecting to take it easy.  

What slave gets to do that?  The message is unmistakable: There is always work to be done.  Heroes are also servants, slaves to their call.  Zorro doesn’t get a night off.  The Scarlet Pimpernel didn’t take naps.  Spiderman went out swinging from building to building every single night, even after he came home from a late date with the pretty girl (how is that kid an honor student – and in advanced science classes?)  Heroes can be tired, they can be discouraged, but when the bat signal is high in the night sky, when someone screams for help, whenever danger rears its ugly head, heroes are going to respond.  That’s just how it goes, if you want to be a hero.

Finally, Jesus reminds the hero that no one must see you, the individual, as a hero.  All of us are unworthy of praise and recognition.  Maybe that’s why so many of the heroes wear disguises; I always thought it was to protect their loved ones from danger, or to keep the bad guys from invading their personal space later after the fight.

But Jesus says that heroes will not be thanked; people expect to be saved and expect their heroes not to show off or to expect thanks.  When the relationship is like that, the hero is really and truly loved and appreciated.  The bad guys are defeated.

And the hero can go on to the next day, the next adventure, the next town perhaps, and begin the good work again.

And the adventure continues, Citizens of God!

Praise the Lord!