Uniforms are worn for many reasons but often it is to identify someone as belonging to a particular organisation. The uniform can then set expectations for other people who will anticipate certain kinds of behaviour from the person in the uniform. As Christians, we are to wear the uniform of love and our behaviour should match the standards of the organisation to which we belong. That organisation is God’s family and the ethos of the family is set by its head who IS Love.
The readings at the 2pm SLT service on Thursday were Psalm 149:1-7, Colossians 3:12-17, Luke 6:27-38. The reflection follows:
In England this is the first week back to school after the long summer break. Parents have been rushing round getting everything ready – new school bag, endless pens, erasers, pencils, rulers, geometry sets and so on. Many schools here insist that students wear a school uniform and so lists of items will have been pored over and ticked as they have been bought. Name tapes will have been sewn into each item or names written on them so that there is no confusion between several items of the same style but belonging to different children.
For many students this will be a time of moving to a new school and along with that will come a new uniform. It might even be the same school which has now changed its uniform or where being in a more senior year entails a change to denote status.
There are endless arguments about why uniform is necessary and I know it’s not the norm in every country. Some of the reasons put forward are that a student can be identified as a member of a particular school; that it gives a sense of belonging, of corporate identity; that it says something about the standards of the institution; that it improves behaviour; that it helps students to take a pride in themselves; that it levels out economic differences between students by eliminating expensive branded goods etc.
Even if you are not familiar with school uniforms, there are other uniforms in society. Police, firefighters, medical staff, members of the armed forces, priests, supermarket workers and so on all wear uniforms. It makes the person easy to identify for the general public. It helps those of us who see these people to be more certain of who they are. It also sends out the message that the person will behave according to the rules and standards of the organisation to which he or she belongs.
When those expectations are disappointed, we are angry and justifiably so. If a policeman is found to have committed crime, he is likely to have a hard time in prison from the other inmates. There is shock if we hear of a nurse or doctor who has killed patients. We find it hard to accept that members of the armed forces have killed or wounded those they were supposed to protect. Here in SL, if someone comes dressed as a priest but isn’t one, we are very uncomfortable indeed at the deception. Of course it’s a great deal easier to deceive here than in RL and so we have to be wise.
Paul in his letter to the Colossians urged them to put on a uniform. It wasn’t blazer, shirt and tie, or camouflage gear. Instead he says “clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, patience and love”. The Christians were to clothe themselves in that uniform because it is one that shows where they belong. They belong to the family of God and the uniform speaks of the standards and the behaviour that is expected of members of the family whose head IS love and who possesses all those other qualities too.
In the same way as we would expect the right behaviour from someone in a particular uniform, so we would of those who wear the Christian uniform. Jesus tells us that Christians are to behave differently; in fact they are to be just about the opposite of what other people may be like. They are to love those who are enemies, do good to those who hate them, bless those who curse them, give with reckless generosity and so on. We are to strive to be like God in our behaviour.
Why are we to do this? It looks as though there is an answer in verse 35: ‘and you will be sons of the Most High’. We could read this to mean that if we do these good things then we will be children of God. Nothing could be further from the truth. As John says in his first letter: ‘we love because he first loved us’. It is in doing all the things that Jesus and Paul list that we demonstrate that we are children of God, that we bear the family likeness. The love we show for others comes as a response to the love God shows to us first.
Showing this kind of love is not easy. It’s not what we would like to do sometimes. Often we would like to do the opposite. The uniform of love can be uncomfortable to wear. One of my students was saying the same thing about her new school uniform yesterday – it’s too hot with the blazer on, the collar is too tight, the clip on tie rubs, the skirt rides up, she doesn’t like wearing tights. Basically it’s uncomfortable but part of the reason for that is that it’s stiff and new and unfamiliar. She will find it easier as she gets used to it. We too will find the uniform of love easier as we get used to it.
Even if you have belonged to this family for a long time, if you look inside yourself I’m sure you will see many faults. It’s said that the most holy people see more and more faults in themselves the more holy they get. I remember when I was on a silent retreat some years ago that God revealed to me what I am really like inside. It was quite overwhelming and horrible. All I could do was to fall to my knees and weep and wonder why God bothered to create me. A few hours later I was in the chapel for a simple night time service and I found that I had seldom felt as close to God and as loved by him. He saw the way I was, and still am, and he loved me even so. In verse 4 of the psalm it says that God takes pleasure in his people. In some translations it is even stronger – he delights in his people. Imagine that. He delights in you, he delights in me, no matter how far short of the standards we fall!
What is the result of living in the way that Jesus tells us to? He promises a reward to us just as he did when Peter asked him what would happen to those who had left all to follow Jesus. The way the reward is described always brings a picture to my mind. It reminds me of when our coffee jar is nearly empty and I have bought a new jar. I like to combine the contents of the two jars to save space. Sometimes I am a little ambitious and have to work hard to get the remains of one jar into the space at the top of the new one. So I find myself adding a bit at a time and shaking the jar so that the contents settle. I might even have to press the top to finally get it all in. And if I overdo it, the coffee spills over out of the jar. By the time I have finished, there is much more in the jar than the 250g it states on the label. God’s reward to us is equally generous in measure. He gives us so much that even with all the shaking and pressing, it still overflows. God’s giving is never begrudging.
Knowing how generous a God we have, let us follow Paul’s advice: “And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.”
Helene Milena – Lay Pastor