The latest issue of Preaching magazine arrived in my mailbox not long ago. The cover features a man yawning in the front of a church, and the headline reads: “Why do men hate going to church?” The inside contains an interview with the author of a book on this topic. Listen to what he says:
The church has a reputation as a place for women, weirdoes and wimps. No real man would be caught dead in the church. I think churches work very hard to create an environment where women and sensitive men feel comfortable meeting Jesus, and I think that is because over the years many of our ministries have become women-oriented. We need women to work in the nursery, to staff the Sunday School, to prepare meals for potluck dinners, to prepare for ceremonial gatherings such as weddings, funerals, baby showers, etc. So because women are so desperately needed for the ministry machine we subtly tailor our messages, our ceremonies.
Let me ask you: do you agree that “church has a reputation as a place for women.” If so, why?
Let me give you one suggestion. See if you agree with what the author, David Murrow, says:
I think it starts with the way we portray Jesus. Two or three hundred years ago He was — you know Jonathan Edwards’ “Sinners in the hands of an angry God” — He was an almost scary character.
Today He’s a much more soft, caring, comforting fellow who is focused more on helping you in your personal life than on establishing some great kingdom of God here on earth. The emphasis is much more on therapeutic personal relationship with Jesus rather that a great, transcendent cause, which is what would interest men.
When you ask Christians what the ideal values of a follower of Jesus are you get words like tenderness, nurturing, relationships, family. You don’t tend to hear words like challenge, adventure, and risk. Yet if you examine the scripture that’s what Jesus is all about. He was about both those things. Not only those feminine characteristics but also the masculine ones — but we tend to lop off the masculine ones because they create discomfort in the church.
He says later, “We’ve made Jesus this ‘Mr. Rogers with a beard’ and then we wonder why boys get to their teenage years and don’t want to follow Him. Well, it’s obvious. He’s a wimp and boys don’t follow wimps.”
Earlier this week, I heard someone say something similar. He suggested that we have made the stories about Jesus kid’s bedtime stories, when they are anything but that. He suggested that the church needs to rediscover the stories of Jesus.
It’s a pretty big tragedy for me that men can’t relate to church. I heard a preacher this summer talk about how he’s banned flowers from his church because he can’t stand sissy churches that cater to women. The funny thing is that they had flowers where he was speaking. The minute he was done, staff ran up and had them cleared before the next break. It’s probably worth thinking about, whether we’ve made church more feminine than it ought to be.
What concerns me more, though, is if we have Jesus wrong. I can live with fewer men in church if that is the right thing. But I’m not sure it is. And if the reason is that we’ve created this false picture of Jesus, then it’s a tragedy. There are few things worse than creating a caricature of Jesus that doesn’t look like Jesus at all.
This morning what I want to do for a few minutes is to think about some of the events that took place in Jesus’ life that bring this side of Jesus to our attention. Anyone have an example?
We could look at lots of these. Today I want to take just a few minutes and look at one chapter of Jesus’ life that records two events in Jesus’ life. The chapter we’re going to look at is perfect because it contains two stories that don’t fit our normal perception of Jesus. What I want to do is to describe what happened in each of these stories and ask you to help me make sense of where we have Jesus all wrong. So let me tell you the stories and then you can help me out by telling me what the stories say about Jesus. I’ll tell you where the stories are found after.
When the first story takes place, Jesus is still a nobody. He hasn’t gone public yet. Nobody knows much about him. He’s in the middle of nowhere, and he’s at a wedding. Not the type of wedding you’re thinking – little speeches and bouquets being thrown. This is a wild wedding – food being eaten, dancing, celebrating. There’s food flying out of people’s mouths, people are getting drunk, there is a good time happening. It is loud. And Jesus is there.
The thing that you need to know is that every Jewish father did something for his daughter from the year that she was born. Every year he would prepare some wine and put it aside. First birthday, second birthday, third birthday, right until she was 16. When her wedding day came, he would pull all of this wine out and serve it up. He’d start with the good stuff – 16 years old. Good stuff. Then 15 year old wine – almost as good. The party went on, and by the time they got to the stuff that had just been made two months ago, that still tasted a little like vinegar, well, that wouldn’t matter so much. If you’ve had ten glasses of really good wine, you don’t notice so much if the eleventh isn’t as good – or so I’m told. How would I know? That’s why you always served the best wine first and you saved the newest wine for the end.
In this case, something goes seriously wrong. The father runs out of wine. This would be one of those moments that would be a party stopper. Everybody that knew would have gasped. This would be dishonoring to the father and to the bride. It would have been an insult.
It’s here that Jesus’ mother turns to Jesus and says, “Do something!” Now think about this. Jesus has been around for 30 years and he’s never gone public with what he’s about. He’s never done a miracle. And this is when he’s supposed to go public? This is going to be his first miracle? Jesus even says so. “My hour has not yet come.” It’s not time for me to go public. And perform a miracle so that people have enough to drink at a party? Who do you think that I am?
But Jesus goes ahead. He points at six ceremonial jars. The jars are for what? For ceremonial washing. They would be what you would use when you became ceremonially unclean. They were probably the only religious things that they had at that party. And what does Jesus do? He points at those and says, “Those will do. Fill those up with water.”
He does, and people taste it, and they say, “Why did you save this stuff for now? This is good. You’ve had this wine for a while.”
What Jesus has done here is something. First, Jesus performs his first miracle for what? So the party can go on. What does it say about Jesus? Is this the Jesus that we know?
The more shocking thing than this, though, is what he chose to use. The ceremonial washing pots were the only religious things they had there. Jesus takes the symbol of what is religious and what is clean and what is sacred and says, “We won’t be needing that anymore.” He completely obliterates and offends the people who were into religion who were there. He’s sending a message, but it’s also so that the party can go on.
The second story is in the same chapter. It seems like it was just a few days later. It was Passover, time to go to Jerusalem to celebrate the religious festival with others. Jesus went, and found that they were selling all kinds of animals in the temple courts, and changing money. At one level, this was okay: it saved people from having to bring animals with them from far away. At another level, it had crossed the line into something bad. There are all kinds of theories about what the problem was. Some say it was because commerce had taken over the place where Gentiles came to worship. Some say it’s because they had gone from providing a service for people to exploiting them for profit.
Whatever the reason, Jesus took deliberate action. He made himself a whip. He went charging into the Temple, started overturning the tables, and drove the animals and the money changers out of the Temple. Imagine the sound of the whip cracking, the animals scattering all over the place, the people running away. He told the people who were selling doves, “Get out of here!”
So let me ask you something about these two stories. Do they match your picture of Jesus? They don’t match mine. What do you think these stories tell us about Jesus?
The thing I love about these stories is that they don’t fit my stereotypes of Jesus. Here’s the thing: Jesus is not Mr. Rogers with a beard. He can’t be contained in our boxes. Jesus is dangerous. He doesn’t fit within our preconceptions.
I’ve really appreciated getting back to the Gospels to rediscover that Jesus doesn’t fit into the nice safe box that we’ve created for him.
The Lion, Witch, and Wardrobe is coming to theaters soon. Remember the quote from the book about Aslan?
“Then he isn’t safe?” asks Lucy.
“Safe?” replies Mr. Beaver. “Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good.”
In another one of the Narnia books: “It’s not as if he were a tame lion.”
Jesus isn’t safe. He also doesn’t call us to something safe. He turns to us and says things like this:
Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell. (Matthew 10:28)
My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. (John 15:12-13)
You read the Gospels and you see that Jesus is not calling us to something safe or predictable. It’s not something that can be boxed in. He calls us to something that’s worth risking your life for.
It’s like Braveheart. William Wallace said:
Nobles. Now tell me, what does that mean to be noble? Your title gives you claim to the throne of our country, but men don’t follow titles, they follow courage. Now our people know you. Noble, and common, they respect you. And if you would just lead them to freedom, they’d follow you. And so would I.
Talk about following courage. Courage is personified in Jesus.
My theology professor used to ask us trick questions like, is there a man’s body in heaven? It used to throw us because we thought we knew the answer but we were scared of getting it wrong. The answer is, yes. The prof would always remind us of the verse, “For there is one God and one mediator between God and human beings, Christ Jesus, himself human…” (1 Timothy 2:5). He is still a man, and what a man he is.
Jesus was about some of the things that we usually talk about – tenderness, compassion, and family. But he was also about challenge, adventure, and risk. Let’s never settle for a Christianity that stops with a safe Jesus. If nothing else, I would challenge you to read the Gospels again to find out who Jesus is, and what kind of men he calls us to be.
Let’s spend a few minutes reacting to these two stories in prayer, and let’s ask for God to save us from safe religion. Let’s ask him instead to show us the unsafe and risky adventure of following Jesus.