There’s a story of a vicar who arrives in his new parish in rural England. For a few days, he doesn’t shave, he doesn’t wash. And on the first day he’s due to take a service at his new church, he puts on his oldest clothes, splashes a bit of left-over wine down his front, and heads to church.
The people at church don’t know what to do when an apparently homeless vagrant arrives, so no one talks to him. No one sits near him. The congregation wonders where their new minister is, but at 10 o’clock the organist starts playing the first hymn, and at the end of the hymn, the homeless man steps up to the lectern, removes his dirty scarf revealing his clerical collar, pulls a razor out of his pocket starts shaving his stubble, and introduces himself to the parish as their new vicar.
The congregation realise what has happened, and in a flash of realisation see their own prejudices.
It’s a nice story, but its origins are obscure. Though it does reveal a truth – we tend not to accept people who are different.
But that’s an extreme: what about people who are a little different, but not still not quite like us?
We might not think about it, but we all have our preferences of who we like to be with – and who we wouldn’t. Some prefer to be around educated people and look down at those who are not academic enough. Some of us would rather spend time with people with particular political views. Mostly we want to be around people just like we are, or just like we want to be.
We might know that we should be accepting of all people… but most people we know are like us… we might not even realise that we’re looking down on others.
A common view that others have of Christians is that they are hypocrites – that they say one thing and do another, but the truth is that none of us are worthy. We have all done the wrong thing. We have all, as Paul wrote, sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.
But God reached out to us all by sending his Son into the world, into the fallen world, to invite us into God’s family: Rich and poor, young and old, no matter what our background.
Jesus lived as one of us, and he died as one of us, and in dying he took the burden of all that we’ve done wrong on himself.
We should always remember the words of Paul from his letter to the Galatians: “There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.”