10 December 2013
[This sermon, on a hot summer's morning, was preceded by and children's talk where we asked the congregation, out of which only only one little boy was wearing a hat, to put up their hands if they would have been wearing a hat in church in 1970. Every woman in our diverse and multicultural congregation put their hand up. What has changed?]
Of course a prophet is never heard in their home town. People know too much about them - saw them grow up. So the people of Nazareth sit in the synagogue and Jesus reads, "The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor, to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lordís favor." He stops. He doesn't continue and read about the day of "vengeance of our God".
They were amazed, proud of him - that it until he began to tell them what it meant. He did not talk, as they confidently expected, about getting vengeance on the Romans. He talked about foreigners. Who sheltered Elijah? a women from enemy territory in Sidon, Who got cured of leprosy by Elisha? The enemy Syrian army commander, Naaman. It says in the next part of the reading they were filled with rage and tried to push him off a cliff, but he slipped out of their grasp.
Jesus' message has not lost that edge for us today. The eyes of the blind that he was talking about that day were kept firmly shut. They tried to remove the irritant. For Jesus' new way, Luke tells us, was to look find another way, to break the tired old cycles of retribution and exclusion.
We can say yes easily to the big picture of God's justice and love but it is when we act out our faith in our daily lives and local community that things can become uncomfortable. Having our eyes opened are part of the deal with Jesus.
I think if we look back over the years we will be surprised at how differently we see some things now.
I wonder what things that we have assumed with the best of intentions in the past, we now realize caused active discrimination of those who formerly were invisible to us. But now we can see could cause suspicion, lack of trust and breakdown of relationships?
It is in our daily lives we live as part of the body of the church - that is where we carry out the mission of Jesus. It is at the supermarket, in our clubs and neighbourhoods, that you and I meet the choices which can make a difference, can break down suspicion or give encouragement to others.
A news item from North Carolina in the USA.
When Gary Khera, went to the Union Mission to make a donation, a staff member asked him to remove his turban. "She said, 'Sir, you have to take your turban off. This is the United States,'" Mr Khera said "That made me a little upset. I am a United States citizen." Mr Khera is a Sikh, Many Sikh men never cut their hair and as part of their religious beliefs wear a turban and beard. He couldn't remove it just like that and told them so and why. The Rev. Ron Weeks, executive director of the mission, backed up his staff member and said yes he must remove his headgear before entering the mission to give money.
Mr Khera left, and not surprisingly, took his money with him. It turned out that he and his wife had been regular donors to the mission always by mailing a cheque. This year, he had come to see where his donation was going.
The Rev Weeks said that "We have policy, and he didn't want to abide by it, We regard the whole mission as being the house of God but he said that Mr Khera was welcome to mail his donation or his wife could bring it in. The Rev Weeks did however say he may consider changing the policy because of the incident. [http://www.wral.com/news/local/story/3999881/]
What on earth is it about hats that was more important than this guy coming to give a donation?
A long time ago knights in the Western world wore helmets as part of their armour. When passing people they trusted they would flip their visor up - which later became a salute, or if entering their house, or a place of worship, remove their helmet and lay down their arms to show they came in peace. It does give the wrong impression when you come in waving a machine gun. Over the centuries men stopped wearing helmets around the streets, but wore hats. The custom of taking off their hat continued as a mark of respect. In the house, places of worship and mess hats were taken off. Today, many of us here will have been taught that for males to remove their hats is a sign of respect. To take your hat off to someone is a saying that means you respect the person. Uniforms with headgear usually have their own protocols and rules along with the uniform.
For women it was different. I had many arguments with my mother about wearing a hat to church and tended to stuff it in a neighbour's hedge on my way to church.. St Paul may have been responsible for that argument but women kept their hats on, or had scarves or shawls if they were elderly, and in fact felt undressed without a hat in public.
Then we all stopped wearing hats, apart from functionally, for shade from the sun or to keep our heads warm. Children, until the sunhats came in again, no longer had hats or caps as part of school uniform. There was and still is an intergenerational conflict. Many younger men, those who grew up after 1960's have no idea that it is considered disrespectful by the older generation to wear a cap or baseball cap forwards or backwards inside and specially in church. My sons didn't wear caps but now their schools have sunhats.
But there is another, equally valid stream of how we see headgear. A long time ago in Exodus its recorded that Moses and Aaron wore headgear called turbans. ["They made the tunic of fine lines, woven work for Aaron and his sons, the miter (turban) of fine linen, the tall head dress and their bands all of fine linen, the drawers of finely woven linen, the sash of woven linen, as the Lord had commanded Moses." (Exodus 39,27)
Later turbans were the generally worn headgear of many people - including those in Europe - through the middle ages and onward - just look at the old European paintings.
Turbans continued to be worn in a number of places. In the days of women's hats last century, a turban was a high fashion item. Back with Moses, he anointed Aaron over his turban, it is sometimes translated mitre. The turban has a long record as religious headgear. It developed into a fez and in the Jewish faith into the little skull cap worn by Jewish men. In the branches of the Christian church which have bishops you will find those men wearing a turban or mitre. It is a mark of holy status and place. Bishops don't take off their mitres in church.
The Sikh religion which developed much later than the main world faiths combines many elements - some in common with Christianity. Many of their men and women, never cut their hair, and many but not all, Sikh men from an early age wear the turban as a mark of respect in their religion and practical way of keeping their hair out of the way.
So in this news item we see two lots of people with two different ways of being respectful. The question isn't who conforms to whose customs but what is really important. I am glad that mission director decided to reconsider. The intention of the original ruling was to give respect in what they defined as a house of worship. In effect, [and it was ironic that it was a mission involved who presumably wanted to be encouraging people into their chapel to worship] they had a rule which gave a message to a whole group of people they had not seen as having anything to do with them before, or who had been invisible to them, that God did not want them. I guess that Moses and Aaron weren't welcome either. It was an unintended consequence of a perfectly ordinary assumption about headgear and their eyes were opened to possibility of change by the challenge they were presented with.
Now down the road from us we find the Manurewa Cosmopolitan club in the same bind. [http://www.nzherald.co.nz/nz/news/article.cfm?c_id=1&objectid=10616254]
Now lets get it clear that a club has every right to make its own rules, it is a club, not a church or a public place. Here a local Sikh was being honoured by a dinner which happened to be held at the Cossie club. The club, apparently, has strict rules about no headgear in the bar. But everyone has to enter through the bar. When the guest of honour arrives he is told he must take his turban off. This, maybe unknown to the Manager, is an impractical request. Apart from religious reasons, If a Sikh has to take his turban off and put it back on, I would think it would take him about 1.5 hour and also if he did take it off, people would have probably been freaked by his very long hair. [Turbans have metres of material in them]
No matter what the rules, in any culture I know about, you don't insult or embarass a guest of honour by turning them away. But also, while it is fine to question a club about its rules its not the place of others to force a club to change its rules - that must come from within. It is sad that after being challenged, and entering into mediation the club has said they won't change.
But there is more to this. A few months before a family took their guest, a young women, to dinner at the Manurewa Cosmopolitan Club. She, as was her custom, wore a scarf - she was Muslim. They refused to serve her as apparently women too cannot wear headgear. [http://www.nzherald.co.nz/nz/news/article.cfm?c_id=1&objectid=10615988]
I shudder to think what they would have done in the past with the ladies wearing their little cocktail hats, or as used to happen, with elderly ladies wearing a scarf as was their custom I have no idea what culture they got that ruling from but it is their rule. I would guess that the women were actually originally admitted as honorary men. Also we do have another convention about where we wear outside clothes and inside clothes which tends to be more obvious and important in countries where their is a significant difference unlike what we wear in our benign and temperate climate.
The problem is now, not one of who does as we do, but whether the Manurewa Cosmopolitan club, lives up to its name, which indicates a multicultural club, or changes it to something more exclusive. You see things have changed. Now they are now aware that the rule excludes. Now they have to decide whether or if they want to allow Muslim women who wear a scarf and Sikhs to enter their club. They also need to know that if we want to have a safe and peaceful community it is how people deal with decisions like these that will affect our future race relations.
Unlike the committee and members of the Cossie club in Manurewa, we do not have a choice as Christians. We have a task of peacemaking, of being clear about whose we are and knowing what we stand for. We need to be willing to think about where we may be resolutely shutting our eyes to the worth of others. And that can be between generations too, and even in our own families. Its not easy, nor does it mean that we give away things that are important, but it does mean that we do not use customs to prevent our understanding one another.
When I visit the bank next I will remove my helmet, balaclava or burkha, whateve I'm wearing that day, because their rule has good reason for being in place and I would expect the bank enforce that with everyone for the safety of all.
Do you now see why the locals in Nazareth went to throw Jesus over the cliff. They understood his simple statement. It meant trouble for them specially if he was right and he was the promised one. Their eyes would be opened and they might have to see their world in a new light. God's light.
Dare we do the same? Being willing to have our eyes opened is part of the deal with following Jesus and brings life to us and God's world.
May God give us the grace to recognize where we do not see and allow God's spirit to open our eyes.
Rev. Margaret Anne Low
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