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Bringing Jesus Home

“Bringing Jesus Home” (Mark 5:21-24, 35-43; Eph. 6:1-4)
by Pastor Peter Goerzen
June 16, 2013 (Father’s Day), Grace Hill Mennonite Church

Today, on this Father’s Day, we give thanks for our dads and for all those in our lives who have loved us steadfastly and justly, who have nurtured us, cared for us, watched over us, provided for us, taught us, and set for us an example of what it means faithfully and humbly to follow Jesus. We just heard a description of such a parent, such a father, from Ephesians. And I will read you a story about one such father from Mark’s Gospel.

[Reading from Mark 5]

Faither’s Day: Raising up Men of Virtue
I’m fortunate enough to have been raised by a dad like this. And I hope, really hope, that you were too. The famous author, pastor, and longtime jail chaplain Richard Rohr often tells about his encounter with another chaplain who was overwhelmed in her first year of chaplaincy on Mother’s Day.1 The inmates kept coming and coming and coming asking for Mother’s Day cards. And so she kept running to get box after box of cards for the prisoners to send to Mom.

And so as Father’s Day approached, she decided to get ahead of the game and she ordered an entire case of Father’s Day cards. But that case is still in her office. Not a single inmate – not even one! – asked for a Father’s Day card. It wasn’t that they were orphans; they’d just never been fathered. Not a single inmate had a dad – not just a biological father, but any positive male influence at all – to write on Father’s Day.

It seems to me that the best way to honor the spirit of Father’s Day is commit ourselves to providing our world with men and boys-who-are-becoming-men – dads, grandpas, uncles, brothers, mentors, teachers, and role models who have an integrity of character that values the commitment and responsibility of steadfast love; that practices respect, care, and compassion for the vulnerable rather than exploiting them for personal gain or pleasure; and that regards others as better than oneself; and that shows forth the fruits of the Spirit of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.2

So, being Father’s Day, this morning’s message is especially for the brothers of the congregation – the men and the boys-who-are-becoming-men, and for those who raise, care for, teach, and love boys and men. That’s certainly not to say the sisters of the congregation are unimportant! The world also desperately needs women and girls-who-are-becoming-women who reflect the goodness and grace of our creator, and who share God’s unending love and compassion. But that will have to wait for another Sunday. If the box of Father’s Day cards collecting dust in the chaplain’s office is any indication, men have some special catching up to do – or at least some special attention to be given to the true challenges of being men who reflect Christ in our culture.

So I invite us to ponder what this story of the father named Jairus, and the words of Paul from Ephesians 6, have to tell us about relating to the little ones, to the vulnerable and weak, to those who do not possess the power and privilege that we as males in our society have.

A Successful Man?
Jairus was a well-respected man. He was a leader – literally a ruler – of the synagogue, the local religious gathering. He was in charge of selecting the readers and teachers of the synagogue, and he exercised authority to determine whether what was said and taught was proper. If he didn’t like a teacher in the synagogue, he could choose a different one, a better one. He was the man with the answer, with the sound judgment. He was proactive, decisive. If there was a tough decision to be made, he made it. He had a measure of autonomy.3 He was his own man, as they say. He had his own little fiefdom. He had achieved much, no doubt through much hard work. He was the very picture of a successful man.

At least that’s what our culture tells us it means to be a successful man – to climb the ladder of achievement and success; to be respected by one’s peers; to be admired by one’s family and community; to exercise authority and dominion over others (foreman, manager, CEO, general, governor, quarterback, reverend); to be a leader, a ruler of one’s own little fiefdom.

I recently heard a Christian college president who was asked what kind of graduates he hoped his college would produce. He didn’t say, “The kind of people who will be servants to the least among us.” He didn’t say, “The kind of people who will care for the prisoner, the hungry, the crippled, the poor, the blind and the lame.” He didn’t say, “The kind of people who will lay down their life for friend and foe alike.” He didn’t say, “The kind of people who will live and love as Christ loved us and gave his life for us.” He didn’t say, “The kind of people who will love God with all their heart, soul, mind and strength, and their neighbors as themselves.”

He said, “I hope we are producing graduates who could become president of the United States.” The leader – ruler – of the most powerful nation on earth. Not that there’s necessarily anything wrong with being president, but that’s what it means to be a successful person – to date, a successful man – in our culture. Self-made, admired, respected, powerful, decisive. In control.

Dominating the less powerful
We men are conditioned to speak and act with confidence and authority. We are taught to flex our muscles and put them on display. In athletics, in academics, in politics, in entertainment, in the workplace, in the bedroom, we are conditioned to believe that the word “dominate” is a good word. As if the world needs more dominant males. Little surprise that the prevailing image of masculinity of the past 50 years on the silver screen has been James Bond, suave, sophisticated, authoritative, completely in control of every situation: politics, villains and their henchmen, lovers’ bodies, tellingly and demeaningly referred to as “Bond girls.”

But no president is in complete control of the country. No CEO can determine the fortunes of his company. No quarterback can determine by himself whether the team wins or loses. We are not in complete control of what we think we should be. Jairus was only one among several leaders, and the people went their own way. And so, many men, jaded and disillusioned by powerlessness and failure in the world of politics and careers, turn to the little ones, the vulnerable ones around them, those who are less powerful, children and often women, to exercise their authority over, their control of. Little wonder people aren’t getting rich selling Father’s Day cards.

That’s why those of us who have had positive male influences in our lives, like Jairus – dads, grandpas, uncles, brothers, mentors – should be especially grateful today. Ours is a very special privilege, though we often take it for granted. That’s also why today is a difficult day for many people. There are many men who are yearning to share a father’s kind, patient, nurturing, guiding, steadfast love with a little one, but for whatever reason have been unable to do so, while other men with little ones in their care so casually shirk their responsibility and abuse their power. And there are many who are yearning to know a father’s kind, nurturing, steadfast love, but never have.

Wounded Spirits
For many people, male figures in life have been absent – or worse than absent. Between 1/4 and 1/3 of girls and 1/6 of boys are sexually abused by age 18 by an older male. Most of these are family or close friends. Sadly, there is little variation for those who grow up within the church and those who do not. The very ones who are supposed to be teaching and modeling the unsearchable depths of the love of God are the ones who manipulate trust, abuse power, and distort love.

The words of our call to worship from Psalm 103 will have been challenging for many because they have not experienced a man’s compassion: “As a father has compassion for his children, so the Lord has compassion for those who worship him” (v. 13). For some who have not had a positive male presence in life, referring to God as “Father” is immensely comforting and healing.

But for many, referring to God as “Father,” as Jesus most often did, is not to imagine the good, comforting, steadfast, protecting, just, and compassionate love of our God, but to imagine God as cruel, manipulative, or absent and to evoke many painful memories and images. Tragically, so deeply wounded is the spirit that it simply cannot respond to the word “father” with anything but fear, pain, anger, or resentment until healing that can only be called miraculous takes place.4

To those who would so deeply wound the little ones – the weak and vulnerable – that they become afraid of God or angry at God instead of drawn to God, Jesus’s words are clear and direct: “If any of you put a stumbling-block before one of these little ones who trust in me, it would be better for you if a great millstone were fastened around your neck and you were drowned in the depth of the sea” (Matthew 18:6).

I do hope I’m not discouraging you, but this is the reality of the world in which we live. If you are one whose trust has been violated, whose spirit and body has been wounded by someone in authority or power who was supposed to teach you about God’s love rather than betray that love, please know that Pastor Katherine and I are both a safe place to come. Please know that you’re a good person and it wasn’t your fault. Please know that God loves you with a love that is pure and true and wholesome.

And if you are struggling to exercise power and authority in a way that empowers rather than dominates, in a way that shares God’s love rather than manipulates it, if you are tempted, please come see me, not to be judged, but to seek the healing and transformation and true freedom and wholeness that can only come from God.

You see, the good news, the great news, the amazing news in all this discouraging and disheartening stuff, is that we were created for so much more than this.

A love that risks all, gives up all
Jairus was a powerful man. He was a man in control. He was a ruler in the synagogue. He was in charge of making sure that what happened in the synagogue was in accordance with the ancestral tradition.

Jesus had alienated many in the synagogue by healing on the Sabbath in front of the rulers of the synagogue. In fact, so enraged had some people in the synagogue become over this that they began plotting to destroy him. Jesus was quickly becoming very unpopular in the synagogue. Not the kind of person a self-respecting ruler of the synagogue would permit to speak. A threat to power. A challenge to authority. No surprise most religious leaders met Jesus with macho hostility.

But Jairus was a father who did reflect the unsearchable love of our God whom Jesus called “Father.” He was a ruler, yes. He was powerful, yes. But rather than puffing out his chest and stubbornly clinging to his authority, he did the very best thing that any father, any parent can do: he humbly bowed at Jesus’ feet and earnestly and continuously invited Jesus to come to his home, to his daughter.

He, the ruler of the synagogue, his own man, went himself to Jesus and in front of the whole crowd, bowed before him. What would become of his status? What would become of his esteem in the community? His own family and friends who have gathered to grieve his daughter’s death meet Jesus with ridicule and take him for a laughingstock. No doubt also this father who put his trust in Jesus. If he became like many of Jesus’ followers, even his very life was in danger. So deep is Father Jairus’s love for his daughter that he is willing to risk all and give up all for her.

That is the picture of our Heavenly Father’s love for each of us. A love that risks all and gives up all for us. A love that comes not to be served, but to serve and to save the many. A love that doesn’t consider power something to be grasped and manipulated, but something to be released that others may be empowered. A love that willingly gives and even suffers, that the vulnerable may find healing and hope. “Walk in Love,” Paul said, “just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us” (Eph. 5:2).

Bringing Jesus home
Paul was addressing a people in a culture far more rigidly patriarchal and male-dominated than our own. And to these men of relative power and privilege – husbands, fathers, masters, Paul says to exercise power and privilege in the way Christ exercised power and privilege – by giving it up and giving oneself for the sake of the weak and vulnerable. Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her – not by lording over your wives as everyone else does. Fathers, don’t enrage your children – don’t abuse your authority like others do – but nurture them in the teaching and instruction of the Lord.

The word Paul gives to fathers has connotations of nursing children. Fathers aren’t to lord their authority over their children (that’s what the world does), but to nurse them in the teaching and instruction of the Lord. That’s the best way for us to bring Jesus home to our children, our grandchildren, our nieces and nephews, our siblings, and all little ones who are vulnerable. To model for them the life and the love of Jesus and lead them into that life.

Jairus brought Jesus home for his daughter that she might be made well – literally, that the might be saved and live. What more could we wish for our children? Even in the face of death and ridicule, Jesus encouraged him, “Do not fear; only continue to trust.”

When we are bringing Jesus home to our children, we can indeed keep on trusting that this is the single most important thing to do to provide for their well-being. Our children will experience pain and hardship in their lives no matter how much we try to protect them from it. When we bring Jesus home to our children, we give them their source of healing and strength amid the many pains of life. When Jesus is in the home, our children have an anchor of hope and a sure foundation amid the violent storms of life in this world, and a joy for the life to come. When Jesus is modeled in our homes through steadfast love, through encouragement, through humble servant leadership, through gentle correction, then our children see the teaching and instruction of the Lord and learn to walk in love, just as Christ loved us and gave his life for us.

Jairus found that to be truly masculine means not to exert authority over others, but to find an inner authority, an inner morality, and inner love, a Christ within and yield to that authority and be shaped by that authority. May we who are men and who are becoming-men become like Jairus the good father, and more importantly, like Jesus our Lord and Teacher, our Christ who lives within us and show forth his fruits of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.

May we all bring Jesus home today, and always, that all the little ones in our lives will know the unsearchable depths of his love. Today is a day to thank God for those men who have brought Jesus home to us, and to pray that we might be so humble as to be willing to risk all and give up all to do so for others. The little ones of the world so desperately need men – and women – who will bring Jesus to them. May his spirit and life be found in us – for our sake, and for theirs.

Notes:
1. E.g. in Richard Rohr, Wild Man’s Journey: Reflections on Male Spirituality, 85-86.
2. The NT has several lists of virtues that are vital for character ethics. See also especially Matthew 5:1-12, and the rest of the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5-7. Also Rom. 14:17; 15:4-5; 2 Cor. 6:4-10; Eph. 4:2-3, 32; Php. 2:2-3; 1 Tim. 4:12; 6:11; 2 Tim. 2:22; 3:10; 1 Peter 3:8; 2 Peter 1:5-7.
3. The plural in v. 22 suggests that Jairus may have been one of several “rulers” of the synagogue. He was not entirely autonomous, but he was powerful.
4. There are many non-male descriptions of God in the Bible that can be helpful in experiencing God’s healing love. God’s image is described as being reflected in both male and female (Gen. 1:27). God as Mother who gives birth to the people (Deut. 32:18; Num. 11:12; Isa. 42:13-14; 46:3-4). God as mother eagle (Deut. 32:11-12; cf. Ex. 19:4). God as nurse (Isa. 49:14-15). God as fierce mother bear (Hos. 13:8). God as master and mistress (Ps. 123:2). God like a mother with a weaned child (Ps. 131:1-2). God giving birth to creation (Job 38:8-9, 28-29). Divine Lady Wisdom (Prov. 1:20-33; 8:1-36; also 3:13-18; 4:5-13; 9:1-6; Job 28:12-28). God as comforting mother (Isa. 66:12-13). Jesus as mother hen (Luke 13:34; cf. Mt. 23:37). God as woman searching for lost coin (Luke 15:8-10). Holy Spirit giving birth (John 3:3-8). The OT word for “Spirit” is feminine. The words “womb” and “compassion” are linguistically related in Hebrew.

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Bringing Jesus Home by Peter Goerzen, unless otherwise expressly stated, is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.

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