Genesis 17:1-9, 15-16
A sermon by Pastor Eric Smith
June 18, 2023

Download Sermon

One of the things I most enjoy about the ministry is sermon preparation. Sometimes it’s easy and the ideas just flow, other times it’s miserable and I think I must be in the wrong business? … and, of course, everything in between. Preparing a sermon is a journey.

This week the journey took me in a different direction than where I thought it would go. The primary goal was celebrating fatherhood… and that is still the case. I thought we could do that by considering the original patriarch of the Judeo-Christian tradition. That would be Abraham. Abraham is the father of faith for Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. A flawed character, but also a man who trusted God.

The problem was revealed as I read up on patriarchy. Here’s a bit of what I found…

Patriarchy is a social system in which men hold power and authority over women in various aspects of society. Patriarchy has a negative impact on gender equality and the rights of women. There is an element within Christianity that argues that there are positive aspects – but not our element.

Arguments against patriarchy point out the negative impacts and flaws: Patriarchy doesn’t recognize gender equality. It perpetuates inequalities and restricts the rights and opportunities of women.

Here are a few of the contemporary factors…

  • Patriarchy enforces rigid gender roles and expectations, limiting women’s freedom and agency.
  • It is associated with higher rates of violence against women.
  • It can limit women’s personal and professional development by reinforcing societal expectations that prioritize their roles as wives, mothers, and caregivers over individual aspirations and ambitions.
  • It reinforces narrow and rigid definitions of masculinity and femininity that restrict self-expression and limit potential.
  • Patriarchy not only restricts women’s roles and opportunities but also places burdens on men by perpetuating rigid expectations of masculinity. Men face pressure to conform to traditional gender roles which hinder emotional well-being.

Is there any good stuff about patriarchy?

Well yes, if you lived in a place or time before there were guns… a man’s physical strength was historically important for the protection of the family. Since then… there have been diminishing affirmations.

One author said, Here’s the truth: The search for a “positive patriarchy” is as insulting and threatening to women as a nostalgic celebration of life in the Jim Crow South would be to blacks.

You see the problem I created for myself? Positive Patriarchy is a present-day oxymoron. So let’s think instead, about Positive Masculinity.


Positive masculinity is the expression of virtues that are embodied and enacted by men for the common good.

As a young person, like many men of my generation, I wished that I could have a closer relationship with my father. Fortunately, long before he died, I realized we had become close. But we didn’t talk about that kind of stuff.

As a young father I tried to ensure that my son would grow up having that close relationship with his father that I had wished for. Now Christopher is 42 years old – he is big and fit… bald… tattooed … and does not hesitate to hug or kiss me in public places. I might have overdone it.

What I didn’t realize early on was that I needed to extend that same effort with my daughters. Fortunately they are wonderful and have given me a lot of grace over the years, and I have become inclusive in my desire for close relationships. But raising boys and girls is a bit different.

Research has shown that young males need male role models in order to thrive. I had three big ones: my father… Bob Demmon… and Tom Warmer. They weren’t perfect people, and that’s not part of the job description. It’s about the relationship.

Boys require a father figure in their life because the relationship contributes positively to the child’s academic and social development. Those who bond with their fathers, or father figures, from an early age are better problem solvers, have sharper cognitive skills, and are better performers in school. It puts them at an advantage over boys who don’t have this kind of relationship.

I met Bob Demmon when I was in the 7th grade. He was about to become the new band director for Coronado High School. He drove up in the hottest car I’d ever seen… his gold colored 1966 corvette sting-ray convertible. He was 27 years old (which, to my 13 year old sensibilities was old, but not-too-old) and he was cool. He dressed cool, he talked cool, he was the epitome of cool. He was a presence. I had never experienced anyone like him… and I wasn’t the only one.

He had been a rock n’ roller with a surf rock band called the Astronauts. Framed albums on his office wall. I just adored the guy.

He saw in me a kid who needed some guidance – parents divorced, mother had cancer – a struggling teenager.

Bob Demmon was my teacher, and he was a great teacher.

He was my father on occasion, sometimes an older brother, although I didn’t think of it that way at the time. As I got older he was my friend. It took years of growing up to figure out who he was for me but I finally figured it out… he was a gift from God. He would laugh if he heard me say that. But in a wonderfully oblique manner, he was as responsible as anyone for my interest in the ministry.

When I was engaged in prison ministry I saw boys who became men without positive male role models in their lives. They weren’t dealt good cards. The results were a life of crime, prison time, or as addicts and participants in risk-taking behavior. Lack of positive role models for young males a big issue in our culture.

Jesus was never a patriarch, but he was a positive male role model. We think that some of his disciples were teenagers. Apparently he made a long lasting impression upon their young lives.

When I was a fledgling United Methodist minister the Methodist clergy and lay leaders of southern California gathered at the University of Redlands for the annual Methodist Conference. One day during the conference, as I was leaving the chapel, I saw Tom Warmer. I stopped… re-introduced myself… and told him what an impression he had made upon me during his ministry (that was the first one) in Coronado.

He said, why don’t you come and have lunch with me in Laguna Beach? So I did.

I was still in seminary and serving as the pastor of the Lake Elsinore Church. Once each month I drove over the Ortega Highway from Lake Elsinore to Laguna Beach. Tom took me to a great restaurant for lunch and we’d talk church.

Over the years I learned that ministry is more caught than taught. Theological education is a fine thing, but it doesn’t show anyone how to be a pastor in a church. Tom showed me, not in any classroom sense, he taught me through our relationship.

He would listen to me talk about my challenges and when we were finished with lunch he’d give me one of his great bear hugs, clap me on the back, and send me home to Lake Elsinore feeling good about God, about the church, and about myself. Tom was a gift from God for me.  (can anyone else say Amen to that?)

Here are a few factors found in positive masculinity.

It involves the ability to recognize and express emotions. Men develop empathy, compassion, and understanding towards others with the ability to form deep connections and maintain healthy relationships.

It emphasizes respect for others – their autonomy, their opinions, and their boundaries… treating people with dignity, no matter their gender, race, or background.

Positive masculinity encourages peaceful conflict resolution. Promoting healthy communication, negotiation, and compromise rather than resorting to physical or verbal aggression.

It encourages taking responsibility for one’s actions and being accountable for their consequences. These men strive to be reliable, dependable, and trustworthy, acknowledging and learning from their mistakes.

Positive masculinity embraces self-care, self-acceptance, and self-confidence. We develop a positive self-image based on our own strengths and talents and values.

It requires being supportive and uplifting towards others, including friends, family, and colleagues, celebrating other’s success, encouraging their personal growth, and offering assistance when needed.

We’re to embrace authenticity and express our true identities. Men who do this work at being vulnerable and expressing emotions.

This path emphasizes nurturing relationships with younger generations. Be positive role models, providing guidance, support, and care. Positive men promote healthy development, emotional well-being, and good values in those they mentor.

Last week we talked about the Middle Way as a path for spirituality. Here’s a middle way point of view… you decide what you think.

I often mention psychologist William James’ theory of the Varieties of Religious Experience as a kind of paradigm for other areas of life. Most of life is not either/or… it has variety.

Discussions of masculinity and femininity usually assume an either/or point of view. Gender behavior is either masculine or feminine. But that doesn’t represent the truth of life. Think of Masculinity and Femininity as the two extreme ends of a continuum. People born male tend in the masculine direction… people born female tend to be in the feminine direction. But some females have traits or characteristics that are more masculine than feminine… and some males have traits or characteristics that are more feminine.

Do you follow?

Nobody is 100% one direction or the other. We’re a mix. That was certainly true of Jesus… he did not meet the societal expectations for manhood in his day. He wouldn’t fight… he nurtured and healed people… and he had close supportive relationships with women… those things were not manly in his day.

Patriarchal religion made God out to be a man but that’s theologically wrong. The Bible refers to God with just as many feminine as masculine metaphors. (Wisdom, for instance, is female) God is both male and female (or neither). You may not like it, but it’s probably more accurate to refer to God as “they” or “it” rather than either He or She. It’s the limitation of language and we should keep in mind that masculinity and femininity are not either/or descriptions. Positive Masculinity embraces it’s femininity.

One last story.

When I was 14 years old my Mom was diagnosed with cancer. My parents had divorced. She was a single parent of three kids. That was 1968. They didn’t have the treatment options then that we have now. She fought the battle for eight years – surgery, radiation, chemo, more surgery, more chemo, more surgery… you know…

She was only in her late 40’s – but she had to retire because of her health.

As she went forward everything became more difficult.

My father was increasingly in touch. He would come by, help out, they would talk together. One day he said, Marcia, why don’t you rent me a room so I can stay here with you.


My mom said to him, Oh Peter, the neighbors would talk, if you were going to do that, we should just get married again.


He said, Good idea! Let’s go!


They got in the car… headed downtown … stopped at a pawnshop to pick up a ring… and were re-married at the courthouse.

The next week he took her to Europe for a honeymoon. They stayed there for 6 weeks… until her health was so bad that they had to come home.

Then they came home, and he took care of her until she died. That was my Dad.

It was the most beautiful … spiritual … demonstration of love I had ever seen.