Planning for a New Day: For Guys in Church 6-16-13

On Fathers’ Day, I would like to read from Galatians this passage which is not easy to understand, but forms some of the core of our Christian faith. It contains an important message for all us men at the same time – fathers or not. To introduce the passage let me say that Paul here is arguing strongly with his brother Peter in Jerusalem. Peter has been leading the Jewish Christians to separate from the Gentile Christians and to be more orthodox in their Jewish practices. Paul here argues strongly that those practices are not essential, the love of Christ, the grace of the Living God is all that matters.

Galatians 2: 15-21 We Jews know that we have no advantage of birth over “non-Jewish sinners.” We know very well that we are not set right with God by rule-keeping but only through personal faith in Jesus Christ. How do we know? We tried it—and we had the best system of rules the world has ever seen! Convinced that no human being can please God by self-improvement, we believed in Jesus as the Messiah so that we might be set right before God by trusting in the Messiah, not by trying to be good. 17-18 Have some of you noticed that we are not yet perfect? (No great surprise, right?) And are you ready to make the accusation that since people like me, who go through Christ in order to get things right with God, aren’t perfectly virtuous, Christ must therefore be an accessory to sin? The accusation is frivolous. If I was “trying to be good,” I would be rebuilding the same old barn that I tore down. I would be acting as a charlatan. 19-21 What actually took place is this: I tried keeping rules and working my head off to please God, and it didn’t work. So I quit being a “law man” so that I could be God’s man. Christ’s life showed me how, and enabled me to do it. I identified myself completely with him. Indeed, I have been crucified with Christ. My ego is no longer central. It is no longer important that I appear righteous before you or have your good opinion, and I am no longer driven to impress God. Christ lives in me. The life you see me living is not “mine,” but it is lived by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. I am not going to go back on that. Is it not clear to you that to go back to that old rule-keeping, peer-pleasing religion would be an abandonment of everything personal and free in my relationship with God? I refuse to do that, to repudiate God’s grace. If a living relationship with God could come by rule-keeping, then Christ died unnecessarily.

June 16, 2013

Planning for a New Day: For Guys in Church

In our Eastern PA Conference of the United Methodist Church, our Bishop’s name is Bishop Peggy Johnson. Our District Superintendent is also a woman, Dr. Anita Powell. We believe in strong women’s leadership and this is a good thing. These women are strong leaders.
At the same time, I believe we need strong men leaders in the church. And we need men in the church. It’s a common understanding that men’s participation in church is declining – maybe faster than the overall decline, which is pretty steep itself.  At St. Luke, we have a strong group of men leaders, a nice little core of guys. Of the people who attend, women are a solid majority, but we do have a good group of men and boys.
We have almost all men on our trustees, taking care of the church building, mostly men on our finance team, and almost all women on our leadership team, taking care of the people of the church. We’re funny that way.
Today, we are talking about planning for a new day for guys in the church, planning to support and nurture a strong group of men, fathers, sons, brothers, and boys. We will not support and nurture guys instead of women. It’s just that we will pay special attention to the needs of men as well as women.
That’s the first step in supporting men, is to realize they deserve support. They need support. Guys tend not to ask for support. We think we are supposed to be strong and independent and do everything for ourselves and for our family.  That’s not the way we feel. And that’s certainly not the way most of us act. We depend on women a lot, but we are kind of ashamed of the needs that we have, so that we don’t admit the ways we depend on others and we particularly have trouble depending on other men – for anything.
I want to bring in the reading for this morning here from Galatians. Paul had an argument going on with his brother Peter in the early church. Paul, as you know, was spreading the church around the Mediterranean to Gentiles who gathered around synagogues appreciating the God of Judaism. Paul found these gentiles eager and anxious to hear that they too could be included in the covenant with God.
Peter stayed in Jerusalem and they had a kind of agreement that he would lead the Christian movement among the Jews while Paul spread the Christian movement among the Gentiles. After a while though, they had some disagreements as Peter started siding with Jews who said that being circumcised and following Jewish practices of how and what to eat were essential and that Christians should follow them as well.
Paul insisted that depending on Jesus meant that religious practices no longer had to be just that one way. He said that people did not have to do anything to be loved by God. God loved people as they are, and people respond to that love by living well and being the best people they knew how to be.
This message is particularly important for men. We are taught that men’s lives are dispensable, that we need to sacrifice ourselves in war, sacrifice our emotional lives, let women be with children, and that we need to be the providers for the family in ways that take us away from the family. Paul says that these rules, these socializations don’t apply anymore. Jesus loves as we are. We do not have to prove we are good. We do not have prove we are good. God loves us as we are. We take care of others in response to that love, not to win that love, not to show that we are good, but because God has claimed us as we are.
The language from Paul is a little dense, but that’s what it comes down to. God in Christ loves us as we are. We don’t have to prove anything to anybody. We do what we do in response to that love, not to try to win that love, not to try to show we are good.
Let me put all this another way. I love guys. I love men. I really do. I think it’s because I grew up with three brothers, partly. Being the oldest, I always loved and appreciated my younger brothers.  I did not always treat them so well, but I did love them and somehow it set me up to appreciate men in a way that a lot of guys seem scared to do.
So many men have been terrorized by the constant teasing and homophobic attitude of our society, that they have a visceral fear of really caring for other men. Somehow, that message did not come in so strongly for me.
I have been in a men’s group with the same four guys for 35 years. That’s another way I learned about caring for other guys. These guys are my brothers. We get together once a month or at least every three months. We love getting together and laughing and joking, crying and talking to each other about our real fears. I’m telling you, we can hold hands or hug each other without getting all freaked out. We’re all dads and we love talking about our children and every part of our lives.
Now even in my group we notice that we do have some of those old fears. We are heterosexual guys and we have talked with each other about how it is hard for us to really count on each other, to really trust each other. But we have learned to trust and count on each other. When one of the guys’ wife committed suicide, the others were the first ones to his house to grieve and rage with him. We have learned that guys can get get past our fears of being close with other guys.
I challenge the guys in our Men’s LIFE group to learn to count on each other, to come through for each other not to prove that we are good, but simply in response to God’s love for each one of us.  By caring for each other, we remind each other of that love from the Living God that holds all of us up, that pulls us all together. We care for each other because our dads cared for us, whether they could say so our not. We care for each other because we know God’s love, that Spirit of love that frees us from our anxiety and insecurity, that Spirit of love that lets us know we are loved no matter how bad we feel, that Spirit of grace that helps us respond in love for the world.

Responsive Hymn:  No. 3148  There’s a Spirit of Love in This Place