January 15, 2017

ManlyMen

 

Epiphany 2 - Year A

A Sermon Preached by the Rev. Ian M. Delinger


As part of our three-fold Adult Education Program, this morning I am preaching on January’s theme of “Masculinity”. I didn’t find anyone to preach for me, so I have to take on the task of making sense of today’s readings within the theme of masculinity. Who decided on this program?

 

It certainly is an interesting exercise to consider Jesus’ masculinity. First of all, we have the problem of imposing our 21C ethics, morals and viewpoints onto 1C history for a particular culture and context of which we have no first hand knowledge. That’s pitfall #1 when applying earlier works to our own daily lives. I broke that rule, though, and had a look at what defines masculinity. It wasn’t an easy task. I had a look online, and I found a recent article, December 2016, written by a female blogger, entitled “50 Things Real Men Don’t Do.” It was partly serious and partly humor, but it did identify what many think of what it means to be masculine. Here are some examples:

 

Real Men Don’t...

  • Wear earrings in both ears.
  • Shave their legs, backs, chests or arms. Heads are fine.
  • Dye their hair, they rock their gray strands.
  • Wear pink unless it’s a ribbon for Breast Cancer Awareness.
  • Ask for directions, they prefer to get lost, waste fuel and swear.
  • Sit cross-legged unless you really “have to go!”
  • Eat quiche.

https://pairedlife.com/gender-sexuality/50-Things-Real-Men-Dont-Do

 

That last one is significant, because many of you will remember the 1982 book “Real Men Don’t Eat Quiche” by Bruce Feirstein. It was a bestselling book satirizing stereotypes of masculinity. Instead of
eating quiche, the book espoused that traditional masculine virtues included tough self-assurance. A review states that “the book’s humor derives from the fears and confusion of contemporary 1980s middle-class men about how they ought to behave, after a decade of various forms of feminist critique on traditional male roles and beliefs.” You can now get the book on Amazon for as low as a penny.

 

These stereotypes don’t tell us about the Jesus we read about in today’s Gospel, the Lamb who takes away the sins of the world. In today’s stereotypes, “lamb” probably wouldn’t be associated with masculinity, but “taking away the sins of the world”, a superhuman feat, probably would be. No worries


there is no shortage of texts
written on the masculinity
of Jesus.

 

In the periodical “Religion News” there was an article last summer entitled “How the Christian ‘masculinity’ movement is ruining men” by Jonathan Merritt. He quotes popular political commentator David French who complained about a recent study that claimed that millennial males are physically weaker, on average, than their fathers, concluding that today’s young men are “losing touch with a critical element of true masculinity:” their “raw physical strength.” French says that being a man means being “a protector, builder, and fixer.”

 

In the article, Merritt decries a popular self-help book, citing, “The Manual to Manhood, the No. 1 book for Christian teens on Amazon, includes essays that instruct boys on how to fulfill godly, manly duties like grilling steaks, changing tires, impressing girls, and wearing the right cologne.”

 

http://religionnews.com/2016/08/30/how-the-christian-masculinity-movement-is-ruining-men/

 

Another writer is a former pastor of a mega-church in Seattle. Mark Driscoll has described Jesus thusly:

 

“Latte-sipping Cabriolet drivers do not represent biblical masculinity, because real men — like Jesus, Paul, and John the Baptist — are dudes: heterosexual, win-a-fight, punch-you-in-the-nose dudes. In other words, because Jesus is not a limp-wristed, dress-wearing hippie, the men created in his image are not sissified church boys; they are aggressive, assertive, and nonverbal.”

 

I’m not sure what kind of lambs

that Mark Driscoll has come

across, but aggressive and

assertive aren’t characteristics of

the ones I’ve seen.


Let’s think about “lambs” for a moment. Of course, “Mary had a little lamb whose fleece was white as snow. And everywhere that Mary went the lamb was sure to go.” That 19C poem portrays a realistic picture of a lamb: lambs are compliant and they aren’t very smart. Masculine men aren’t followers, and they certainly aren’t soft and cuddly.

 

But where does this concept of Jesus as the Lamb of God come from? It signifies the self-sacrifice of Jesus, which surely should be a trait of a ‘real man’. The lamb goes all the way back to the Passover – The original Passover when the Hebrews left Egypt. From Exodus 12:

 

Tell the whole congregation of Israel that on the tenth of this month they are to take a lamb for each family, a lamb for each household. Your lamb shall be without blemish, a year-old male; you may take it from the sheep or from the goats. You shall keep it until the fourteenth day of this month; then the whole assembled congregation of Israel shall slaughter it at twilight. They shall take some of the blood and put it on the two doorposts and the lintel of the houses in which they eat it. They shall eat the lamb that same night; they shall eat it roasted over the fire with unleavened bread and bitter herbs…and you shall eat it hurriedly. It is the passover of the Lord. For I will pass through the land of Egypt that night, and I will strike down every firstborn in the land of Egypt, both human beings and animals; on all the gods of Egypt I will execute judgements: I am the Lord. The blood shall be a sign for you on the houses where you live: when I see the blood, I will pass over you, and no plague shall destroy you when I strike the land of Egypt.

 

Jesus is that Passover Lamb. He

is the one who bears our sins,

and who is sacrificed so that we

may be set free. How many ‘real

men’ would do that?

 

Well, there have, of course, been articles written on that. Jennifer Koosed and Darla Schumm are two academics who look at portrayals of Jesus in 21C film to draw out concepts of the masculinity of Jesus. In their article entitled “From Superman to Super Jesus: Constructions of Masculinity and Disability on the Silver Screen”, they note that the Gospel According to John omits the weaker traits of Jesus. Here’s a long quote from their article:

 

John’s Jesus is not affected by physical pain and is not limited by his body even in the midst of the particularly painful impairment of torture and crucifixion. In the Synoptics, Jesus is unable to carry his own cross, therefore Simon of Cyrene is conscripted by the Roman guards to carry it for him. John, however, makes it clear that Jesus carried his own cross and needed no help. In Mark and Matthew, Jesus calls out once to God while on the cross: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”. John deletes this cry of despair. Instead, John’s Jesus has a conversation with his mother and the beloved disciple, and then decides when it is time to die. In short, John’s Jesus reflects the image of a superman who is in control and impervious to pain. (http://dsq-sds.org/article/view/917/1092)

 

In the article, they cite films, in particular “The Passion of Christ”, in which Jesus exhibits superhuman strength. Indeed, in my essay on the same film, which was released over the Easter break of my final year of seminary, I discussed the lack of the Divinity of Christ depicted in the film in favor of the humanity of Christ. These two scholars picked up on the superhero nature of that humanity…very masculine.

 

Yet, this morning we are faced with a Gospel reading from John. There is no aggression or anger. There is the overarching theological theme of sacrifice for the world and being a leader and teacher. The Gospel doesn’t depict Jesus as soft and weak, but neither does it portray Jesus as the hyper-testoteroned superhero.

 

What do we need Jesus to be? Paul Coughlin, author of “No More Christian Nice Guy” states, “The problem with the wimpy Jesus of the popular imagination is that “a meek and mild Jesus eventually is a bore. He doesn't inspire us.”” I find that odd as a Christian.

 

My faith is not based on a

superhero.

 

In fact, I preached a Christmas Morning sermon focused on that very concept. In England, it’s very common in the Christmas Morning sermon to call the children forward with one of the toys they had opened before coming to church. The sermons are really a show-and-tell, but I insisted that there was a bit of old time religion in the Christmas Morning sermon. The Disney-Pixar film “The Incredibles” was all the rage, and I knew there would be some superhero toys presented. So, I preached on how Jesus might have seemed like a superhero, but He was not a superhero: He was Man and God.

 

Jesus does inspire me, and it’s not His masculinity that does so. Jesus’ strength didn’t come from aggressive speaking and behavior, though He does exhibit those on occasion.

 

Jesus’ strength, and therefore

inspiration came from the

immense love He had for the

world that He came as the Lamb

of God who takes away the sins

of the world. Jesus’ life as told in

the Gospels was one that

illustrated and pointed to

sacrifice.


He gave Himself in bread and wine in the Last Supper, that we might continue to remember His Death, proclaim His Resurrection and await His coming in glory when we celebrate the Eucharist, offering our own sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving.

 

The masculinity of Jesus is not a trivial subject. It is important in understanding God-as-Man and important in understanding how some, and I emphasize some in modern society have a relationship with Jesus. But know this: Jesus calls each of you, male and female, masculine and feminine alike, to be the Body of Christ, The Church which is His Bride.

 

All He asks is “Come and see.”

And if you do, we can proclaim

together, “We have found the

Messiah!” The Lamb of God who

takes away our sins.

 

Amen.

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