This week I read a story about a third grade teacher who gave a writing task to her third-graders. They were asked to write down the name of their personal hero and something about that hero and then take their assignment home with them and show their parents. One student took her paper home and showed it to her father; he was delighted to find out that she had picked him as her personal hero. He said, “Why did you pick me as your personal hero?” And she said, “Well, because I couldn’t spell ‘Schwarzenegger.’”[1]

We all have our personal heroes, Arnold probably no longer among them. Like that third-grader, I’d list my father among my heroes, and I can spell Schwarzenegger. When I was young and prone to slouching, my mother would say “Stand up straight, straight like a hero.” I think that anyone who puts themselves in harm’s way for the benefit of others is a hero. I also tend to make heroes out of men who excel at making me think differently about the Faith, who make me realize more fully the awesomeness of our God. Those guys, guys like G. K. Chesterton, Cardinal Newman, Archbishop Sheen, those guys were heroic when the world needed heroes of the faith.

In contrast, we have our usual bumbling heroes, acting not so heroically in the days that followed the Resurrection. By the time that Pentecost had rolled around, the Apostles had managed to come out of hiding together in a small second-story room, but not by much. The eleven that remained after Judas had killed himself chose a successor, a man named Matthias, who has a church dedicated to him just a couple miles from here. Jesus had commanded them to stay in Jerusalem, so they had, but they hadn’t yet put the “First Church of Jesus” sign out front yet, they hadn’t quite come out of their self-made prison.

They should have been celebrating, at least a little bit. Jesus had, after all, been resurrected, and it was springtime in Jerusalem. “In the Hebrew liturgical calendar Pentecost was originally an agricultural Feast of Weeks, in which the community offered thanksgiving for the fruits of the early grain harvest. But by the first century, Pentecost had become a commemoration of the giving of the Law to Moses on Mt. Sinai, celebrated fifty days after Passover.”[2] Perhaps they were celebrating a little bit, maybe Martha, Mary, and Lazarus came in from Bethany and they had a bonfire and watermelon and potato salad, but Luke doesn’t describe it that way. The gathering of the newly complete Twelve and the rest seemed peaceful enough, but watchful, vigilant, and not in a fun way.

And then it happened. Just like Jesus, between bites of broiled fish, said it would. You will “be clothed with power from on high,” Jesus had told them, and lo and behold, a mighty wind, tongues of fire, power from on high clothing them in power, in divinity, clothing them in the Spirit of God.

They were filled with the Holy Spirit, Luke tells us, they spoke to one another in the tongues of men and angels, they scared the fluff out of the good religious folk that had gathered in Jerusalem for the festival, and what they did caused poor Luke to write down lots of people and place names that none of us can pronounce. The way they were acting was downright irresponsible, all this speaking in tongues and running about the place. Peter had to get up to address the crowd of concerned citizens, he had to say “These people are not drunk, as you suppose. It’s only nine in the morning!” They are not drunk, Peter said, rather they are filled; they have been made to know that death has no dominion over them just as death had no dominion over that Jesus you crucified; they have been breathed into like latter-day Adams; they have become heroic, if not yet heroes.

One of my heroes, G.K. Chesterton, wrote that he had “…searched all the parks in all the cities and found no statues of committees.” While Chesterton’s point is not lost on any of us, I think heroes appear whenever the Holy Spirit appears, and the Spirit sweeps into our lives whenever He darn well feels like it. The Spirit made heroes out the Apostles, whether it was Peter standing straight for the Faith, crucified defiantly upside-down in Rome or James thrown off the pinnacle of the Temple; The Spirit makes heroes out of us, whether it’s rescue personnel on 9/11 or every soldier that stands by his friends in battle, whether it’s the woman who opens up the food pantry on Wednesdays or the guy who returns the pregnant woman’s cart at the Acme, these are heroes all of them.

Pentecost, the coming of the Holy Spirit, means that God wants to make heroes out of all us, heroes great and small, heroes of the Faith. So when you leave today, leave knowing the Holy Spirit is with you, and for heaven’s sake, stand up straight, straight like a hero.

[1] This is from a sermon by an RC priest, which I can no longer find. The story is only related here from what I can remember from it.

[2] The Rev. Holly A. Davis, Pentecost, 2009.

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