St Mary’s Hadlow Sunday 13th June 2021
Readings: 2 Corinthians 5: 6-17, Mark 4: 26-34
May I speak in the name of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.
I’m sure you have all heard the saying: “Never judge a book by its cover.”
However, if you have ever been to a bookshop, ever bought a book or ever read a book you will know that this is complete nonsense.
Publishers employ artists and designers for the express purpose of selling their books to the right readership by making the covers look both attractive and appropriate to the genre.
I happen to have a couple of books with me.
The first is by a Russian author Vasily Grossman, called Life & Fate. It is set in the Second World War and is all about the Battle for Stalingrad. The cover features a red and black sky, perhaps signifying blood and death, and there are some very serious and gloomy soldiers of the Red Army, who also look as though they have seen a lot of blood and death, looking out of the picture with 1000 yard stares.
Just by looking at the cover you know that this is going to be a serious book, by a serious writer, featuring, yes, a lot of blood and death. And, by the way, Vasily Grossman spent 1000 days fighting on the front, so he knew what he was writing about.
And then we have Utopia Avenue, by the English writer David Mitchell. It is a novel about a band who make it big in the 1960s and the cover has lots of swirling psychedelic patterns which, if you look closely, include some vinyl records, which sends the clear message that this book is about music, about the 60s and about drugs, which is all true.
No matter what genre of books you read publisher go to great lengths to ensure that you can judge a book by its cover.
But, of course, the saying is not really about books at all, it is about people.
We are told that we should not be judging what a person is really like by judging their appearance.
Which we all do all the time. In fact psychologists tell us that we have normally made up our minds about someone within micro-seconds of meeting them, mostly because of their appearance and, if you are English, by their pronunciation.
When I arrived as Vicar in Hadlow someone, who shall remain nameless, said to me: “I only have one question to ask you – how do you pronounce the word ‘faith’?”
When I said “Faith” with a T H they seemed satisfied. Had I said “Faiff” with a double F, I suspect not.
No doubt there are important evolutionary reasons why we judge people so quickly based on outward appearances – if someone looks like us and sounds like us then they are probably one of our tribe, or a close relation, and they probably won’t kill us, so we can relax and let them into our circle.
Whereas if they are different we need to be wary, and we need to keep them at arms length.
But the world has moved on in many ways, and our Stone Age brains need to catch up.
Judging others on their outward appearance, and specifically on how much like us they appear to be, is, of course, the driving force behind racism, sexism, classism and most other forms of discrimination.
But there is another reason why we should not judge other people by their outward appearance.
And that is because God does not look at us or other people in that way.
It does not matter how old or young we are, how fat or thin we are, how white or black we are, how rich or poor we are, how posh or common we are, God is not fooled for a minute.
We can’t blag God with the way we pronounce ‘faith’ or by going to Eton and quoting some Latin, or even by pretending to be ever so ‘umble and Christian. The being that created us and knew us before we knew ourselves and will know us long after we have departed this mortal coil sees past the clever design of our cover, our dust jacket, and looks at the text being written every day by our lives, and not just at the text of our words and actions but also between the lines of our thoughts and our motivations.
On one level this is a judgement issue – as St Paul says in the reading from 2 Corinthians “for all of us must appear before the judgement seat of Christ” and there we can only give a truthful account of who we are and how we have used our God-given time and talents.
But there is also more to it than end-of-time judgement. It is also about living our lives as the person God made us to be and, this is important, looking at other people in that deeper way too.
As St Paul goes on to say:
“From now on, therefore, we regard no one from a human point of view; even though we once knew Christ from a human point of view, we know him no longer that way. So, if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away, see, everything has become new!”
I mentioned last week, and in this week’s pew news’, about how being in relationship with one another because of Jesus creates a new family. Those who are unrelated by physical birth become brothers and sisters by the new spiritual birth of baptism.
Here St Paul takes that even further and says that because of being in Christ we have become a whole new creation – everything old has passed away and everything has become new.
As Christians, we don’t look at Jesus merely as a carpenter from Nazareth who did and said some good things, but we see also the Son of God. So, we no longer see him from a purely human point of view.
We already know that God does not see us from a human point of view, but sees the real us, which might be scary or it might be encouraging. If it is very scary then I am happy to talk further. Seriously.
We can see beyond the cover of Jesus’ humanity and God sees beneath the cover of our humanity – we’ve got that.
But how do we look at one another?
Do we use our Stone Age brain to make instant judgements about each other based on dress and colour and accent? That may be our human nature but we know that we are called beyond that and called to be more than that – indeed, a whole new creation and a whole new family in Christ.
“From now on, therefore, we regard no one from a human point of view.”
What a challenge and what an opportunity.
We are given permission to set aside the mass of prejudices that we think make us who we are, to be the new creation that we really are and to see those around us not only as brothers and sisters but as whole new creations who are loved and known by God, just as we are.
None of us are as holy as we pretend to be but, because of Christ, all of us are holier than we could possibly imagine – and so is the person next to you and so is the person you may encounter for the first time tomorrow.
Never judge a book by its cover.
Hang on a moment, these covers appear to be the wrong way around.