1 Kings 19:1-15a
If you ask a United Reformed Church Minister why they do, or why they don’t, wear a clerical collar, you’ll receive a wide variety of answers from every conceivable point of view, but what you can be sure of is that they’ll have a good answer.
For those of us that do, one thing is certain – it makes a difference. You can guarantee that the very last seat to be taken on the train will be the one next to you. Staff in shops who’ve been grumpy with other customers tend to smile. More people want to stop and talk than do otherwise. It also means you shouldn’t drive like an idiot, or shout the ruder swear words at other drivers when your car windows are open. In many ways, rightly or wrongly, the clerical collar is a kind of passport, admitting the wearer to pleasantness and being noticed and being included. In some parts of the country it might have the reverse effect, but here in middle class middle aged middle England the clerical collar is not only recognised, but also respected.
The trouble is, it really shouldn’t by like that. In an ideal world everyone treated with respect because of who they are, not what they are. If people can’t treat others with respect and pleasantness in the normal course of life, then something needs to change. It’s not clear cut, of course, because we all know that whatever we say, if we were to meet the Queen, pretty much all of us would act differently to the way we act when meeting someone who’s come into the coffee bar looking for a Foodbank voucher.
Yet, we all know that there are people some more confident and happier with themselves than others. Perhaps this is the aim of all of us – that we should be so happy and confident within ourselves that we never find ourselves slipping into a different mode with different people. This was the kind of person Jesus was, and he can offer us a model to aspire towards. He treated everyone, from the highest Roman official to the lowliest beggar, exactly the same, with no thought at all for the consequences.
We certainly can’t manage to be as good as that – I think many of us are a bit like Legion, the man whom Jesus healed. Legion was a person with their own fragility and brokenness within themselves, which I think is a common experience for many people today, however good we try to be at putting on a front of happiness and confidence. Elijah was like this too – he was fragile and broken, fighting and killing people, and looking for god in earthquake, wind, and fire. Yet God came in the sound of sheer silence.
Perhaps many people feeling fragile and broken, like Legion, like Elijah, is only to be expected when we notice how fragile and broken so much of our Western society is. People are separated from each other in so many ways – through religion, race, age, gender, ability, money, and so on; and we live in an individualistic age, when we’re encouraged to think only of ourselves. We’re bombarded by the sort of advertising which constantly exhorts us to get more for ourselves and to beautify ourselves and make ourselves appear younger and so on. Even our religion has become individual to a large extent. There’s much more room for individual thought, which is always a good thing, but if taken to extremes leads to “anything goes”. The worrying side of totally individualistic religion is that people don’t meet together for worship anything like as much as once they did. You don’t have to come to church to believe in God, or to worship in your own way, but you do need to come to church to nurture your faith with others, and to avoid the God in whom you believe turning into a God that happens to share all our own ideas and prejudices. Christianity is a community religion in which we love each other, and that can’t be achieved without meeting together. You can’t love somebody you never meet. Many of us may feel like Legion, like Elijah, broken and fragile inside, but Jesus offers us healing and wholeness, and the Christian faith offers opportunities and community to counter everything in society that keeps people fragile and broken, and God can speak to us, even in the sound of sheer silence.
Our reading from Paul’s letter to the Galatian church takes this even further. Paul was cross they’d limited membership of the church, and imposed tests, so he reminded them that all of us are one in Christ Jesus, and then expanded that thought by saying that because we are all children of God through faith, there is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female. What he was keen to remind them was that the Church, the body of Christ, should no longer be fragmented as if we were Legion or Elijah, but should be united, as Christ is united within himself. We’re all equal within the Church.
Unfortunately, we’re not perfect in this church, or any other church, and sometimes seem more like Legion or Elijah, than Christ. If we want God’s kingdom to come closer in this world, God challenges us to begin to ditch our suspicion and uncertainty of each other, and begin to take the risk of accepting all Christians as equal, no matter how strange they may seem to us.
So, as we go about our daily lives, trying to serve and follow God, he challenges us afresh to begin to reach out to other people with acceptance and love, to ignore status and gender and race and colour and individual preference, in order to become united within ourselves, within the body of the Church. And to help us on our journey, God offers us his healing love, and the Christian community. God calls us all to be truly united, despite our differences of opinion and personality, to allow his healing love to work beyond that, so we truly love one another and, like Legion, can become truly healed for all time.
Thanks be to God for all the love that he offers us.