Who wears a uniform? What kind of uniform? What are the benefits of wearing a uniform? Uniforms are kind of a shorthand.
It’s pretty obvious I have a new ‘uniform’ on today! (New black cassock)
When I was an intern in NL, the first few times I went to the nursing home after hours, I was stopped and questioned about why I was there. I spoke with my supervisor and we agreed that for nursing home visits I would wear a clergy shirt and collar, despite the fact that I was not yet ordained. You probably know what happened the next time I went to the nursing home after hours… I was glanced at… but not stopped…
And I wear a sort of uniform the rest of the week… dress pants and a top and blazer or sweater. And more casually in the warmer months. You probably wouldn’t appreciate it if I led worship in scruffy clothes would you? And you know what, I wouldn’t feel good about that either, not here… there may be some settings, like when I led worship in a barn that what I am wearing now would be inappropriate.
‘Uniforms’ carry messages.
This Remembrance Day, we are marking the 100th anniversary of the end of WWI… a time when countless men and women donned uniforms and headed off to battlefields. By their clothes, they were easily recognized by each other… rank and insignia stripes and epaulets do that.
Listen to these words from Mark’s gospel, the 12th chapter, and pay close attention to the first two verses:
12:38 As he taught, he said, “Beware of the scribes, who like to walk around in long robes, and to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces,
12:39 and to have the best seats in the synagogues and places of honor at banquets!
12:40 They devour widows’ houses and for the sake of appearance say long prayers. They will receive the greater condemnation.”
12:41 He sat down opposite the treasury, and watched the crowd putting money into the treasury. Many rich people put in large sums.
12:42 A poor widow came and put in two small copper coins, which are worth a penny.
12:43 Then he called his disciples and said to them, “Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the treasury.
12:44 For all of them have contributed out of their abundance; but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on.”
Now this passage is often used in stewardship sermons, but I am focusing on the first couple of verses… Beware of the scribes, who like to walk around in long robes, and to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces, and to have the best seats in the synagogues and places of honor at banquets!
In the 1st century, scribes and Pharisees were two largely distinct groups, though presumably some scribes were Pharisees. Scribes had knowledge of the law and could draft legal documents (contracts for marriage, divorce, loans, inheritance, mortgages, the sale of land, and the like). Every village had at least one scribe. https://www.britannica.com/biography/Jesus/Scribes-and-Pharisees
“Beware of the scribes,” Jesus tells his followers. “They devour widow’s houses and for the sake of appearance say long prayers.” Their piety, in other words, is a sham, and the religious institution they govern is corrupt — not in any way reflective of the God the Psalmist calls a “Father of orphans and protector of widows.” https://www.journeywithjesus.net/lectionary-essays/current-essay?id=2003
In short, they were people of power…and most people who have power have wealth too… and the ability to buy fine clothing. What does their ‘uniform’ say about them and about God’s realm?
Jesus goes on to tell the disciples to notice the widow… she is powerless… she is probably dressed in little more than rags wound around her body… with no husband, no safety net, no pension, she is destitute and worthless. What does her ‘uniform’ say about her within God’s realm? What do the various uniforms we wear say about God’s realm?
All of us are naked under our uniforms… our masks… our clothes… All of us have vulnerabilities that we cover up in a variety of ways… We don’t want to be naked before God and each other… not even here in church, perhaps especially not here in church.
The young men and women who went off to fight were no different than young men and women today… hopes, dreams, fears, vulnerabilities… But guess what… underneath the uniforms of those on the opposing side, were young men and women with hopes, dreams and vulnerabilities… We have come to understand in a small way how different cultures dress, but underneath, no matter what our uniform, we share a common humanity.
The same is true here… under what we wear, we share a common humanity. Children of a loving creating, creative God… Full of hopes, dreams and vulnerabilities. You and you and you… the scribes… the widow… the people who have hurt us… the people we have hurt… the people who are angry with us… the people to whom we have displayed anger…
God is MUCH more expansive and embracing than our human failings. God invites us to notice those who may not have power or privilege.
Brené Brown says this “We cultivate love when we allow our most vulnerable and powerful selves to be deeply seen and known, and when we honor the spiritual connection that grows from that offering with trust, respect, kindness and affection.”
Who doesn’t want more love in their lives?
She also says, “Faith is a place of mystery, where we find the courage to believe in what we cannot see and the strength to let go of our fear of uncertainty.”
“Vulnerability is the birthplace of love, belonging, joy, courage, empathy, and creativity. It is the source of hope, empathy, accountability, and authenticity. If we want greater clarity in our purpose or deeper and more meaningful spiritual lives, vulnerability is the path.”
We belong to each other. As a gesture of that; I invite you to be vulnerable with one another. No matter what ‘uniform’ you may be wearing today, literal or metaphorical. Bring your hands together in the classic prayer pose… turn to one another and say, “I belong to you and you belong to me.” (Thanks to April Hart for this idea she used at AST Chapel Worship on November 8, 2018)
And all God’s people said, amen.
Mark 12: 38-44
November 11, 2018
Elmsdale Cooperative Ministry
Photo credit: Pixaby