Does anyone remember the sitcom, Keeping up appearances?
The heroine, Hyacinth Bucket (pronounced “Bouquet”!) took to new heights the activity of being seen to be doing, wearing or saying the right thing.
The reason this is funny, of course, was that everyone knew someone with a bit, or a lot, of Hyacinth Bouquet in them.
How many of us, as children, were told by our mothers that we should wear clean underwear in case we were knocked down?
I still, to this day, have no idea why I had to wear clean pants in case I got run over.
Was keeping up appearances more important than our health and safety?
We may feel that we live in a less ‘formal’ society nowadays;
But, in all honestly, I think we’ve all felt the pressure of keeping up appearances from time to time.
Whether it’s trying to say the politically correct thing, or being seen by our friends to have the right kind of organic, Fairtrade, non-airfreighted food in our cupboards.
To be fair, these are all good things, but let’s be honest, there is a fine and rather blurry line between being a decent and upstanding member of society and being seen to be one.
The pressure to keep up appearances is still there; it always is.
And so it was in first century Palestine too.
There were strict codes of behaviour that had a double-edged effect of both helping people to operate as good citizens by defining what was bad and what was good;
but it also labelled, and excluded, those who fell foul of these rules.
Of course, Jesus saw through all of this and upset the whole system, and as a result many vilified Him, to them He was a lout, a troublemaker.
His behaviour was seen as defiantly antisocial, and, as a result, He suffered both verbal and physical abuse.
And so we join the story today at the point where Jesus begins to prepare His disciples to carry on His work.
A foretaste of the task of every Christian.
To carry on His work; and to suffer the same things the He suffered.
To their society the disciples were going to seem like fools, whingers, crackpots; perhaps even yobs inciting antisocial behaviour.
Appearance were definitely not going to be kept up.
The very fabric of society would be threatened, and, as a result, they would suffer the same verbal and physical persecution that Jesus did.
Jesus’ message to the disciples, and to us, is that appearances are far less important than integrity, especially integrity of the soul.
But although Jesus’ word are straightforward; retain your outward respectability and lose your soul.
His call, not to be afraid, shows that He knew that this was not a simple or easy thing to do.
The story about the sparrows is surely one of the tenderest in the Gospels, and one that assures the disciples of their worth in a community that would regard them as worthless.
Jesus’ careful words show that He knew, and understood, how much the disciples had invested in their society, and how painful it would be to change it.
It was there community after all.
They may have been poor and lower class, but they were still part of it all.
How can it not be painful to challenge that?
Sometimes it seems that we just can’t win.
We do our best to be decent, upright and adhere to the rules of society, and we find ourselves having to face the challenge that all we are doing is keeping up appearances.
We try reinterpreting the Gospel to apply it to our life and times and we risk watering the message down;
If we take it at face value it seems impossiblydisruptive and seems to oppose all that we do as we try to be ordinary, decent people.
Well, sadly, there is no easy answer to this, and our challenge as a Christian community, is to work it out for ourselves.
But here’s a hint, actually read the Gospel; forget your own prejudices and read what the Word of our loving, inclusive God says.
If there is an answer it comes from the uncomfortable place between being a good person and keeping up appearances.
From a dialog between the Pharisee and the radical that is in us all, and from honest conversation with one another about our aspirations and fears.
Jesus knew how painful it was to challenge the values of the community in which you’ve invested time, effort and love.
He knew how much pressure there was on every decent person to keep up appearances.
Let us pray for the courage to examine our own heartshonestly and to listen to our radical Lord.
The pressure to keep up appearances is strong, but the loving and accepting tenderness of our Saviour is far, far stronger.