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Sermon: Service for the Judiciary 2014

Friday 3rd October 2014
Holy Trinity Church, Guildford
Micah 6.6-8
Ephesians 6.10-20

Service for the Judiciary preached by Canon Andrew Bishop, High Sheriff’s Chaplain

+ In nomine Patris…

I wonder how your morning has been so far: you got up, washed, brushed your teeth, had the crucial meal of breakfast, I hope. You came here, perhaps in two minds about what it would be like, perhaps looking forward to it. One thing I’ve noticed that every one of us did, unless I’m missing something, is that we all got dressed.

We’ve all put on a uniform of one sort or another this morning. It may be the uniform of a High Sheriff, tights and all, it may be that of a judge or magistrate or police officer, a mayor or councillor, or even a priest, and for 90 of us up in the gallery our school uniform, or the uniform of the Surrey Youth Choir. Even those of us here today without a formal uniform are wearing a uniform of sorts, smart dress, a suit, a nice frock, a hat.

These uniforms (and chains of office) tell people who we are: they reveal something of our identity; even if we don’t wear them when relaxing or sleep in them – well, at least, I don’t. Some of our uniforms look pretty extraordinary compared with what we might normally wear; a uniform or distinctive dress tells people about the role we occupy.

You can trace back the origins and symbolism of these uniforms and that is fascinating, even if now rather obscure to most of society. Sometimes they begin as practical robes: tights or knee britches are rather practical on horseback if you’re riding around dispensing justice; and sometimes they’re symbolic, the white surplice reminding me of my baptism. The colour coding of uniforms tells you about the authority the wearer has: red or purple equals royal authority.

And we wear other clothes appropriate to what we are doing at any one time. Sports people wear kit appropriate to their sport: imagine Manchester United, or Woking Town kitted out in American football kit, it wouldn’t work; and to go surfing in cricket kit would look silly; for that you need a wetsuit. I’m sure what our High Sheriff, Peter, with his passion for engaging people in sport and physical activity, would be keen to point out, all of us can engage sport, and the flashy kit should never get in the way of us getting moving.

So, you could say ‘we are what we wear’, or at least what we wear tells other people about us. What we wear at different times tells other people about a role we carry or as is an expression of who we are. People of different faiths know that, and some faiths are very identifiable because of their dress, which can be a blessing and a curse: on one hand they are visible and can justifiably and proudly show their place in a diverse society; on the other, sadly, they can be targets for people of malice towards them.

St Paul, the writer of our second reading, is deeply conscious that what we wear says something about who we are. He uses the metaphor of dressing and clothing for how we should act in the world. He attaches symbolism to each garment we put on. So putting on the whole armour of God is a metaphor for divine protection and standing firm with integrity, against the forces that assault us, our humanity and our capacity to be fully alive to God. Paul’s dressing imagery is worth considering as you apply it to yourself, whether in public office or service, or as a citizen and neighbour with responsibilities of living in human society.

His image of armour holds good for us all: the belt of truth; the breastplate of righteousness; shoes for the feet of those who walk the way of peace. And be encouraged when you can pick up the shield of faith and wear the helmet of salvation. Even the sword that you wear is not a sword to be used as a weapon against people but a metaphorical sword of the word of God. Elsewhere Paul talks about putting on the Lord Jesus Christ, as if he were a garment (Romans 13.14). So for Christians, identity is to be found in Christ – you are what you wear.

Thus clothed we can be open and attentive to our first reading from the Hebrew prophet, Micah. Addressing himself to the people of his day his words speak timelessly into God’s vision of the Kingdom and human society. Don’t come to me, says the Lord, with sacrifices to buy me off or to think you’re pleasing me; come to me with an offering that is far more costly, that which is good, because what the Lord requires of you this, ‘to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God’ (Micah 6.8).

Doing justice, loving kindness and walking humbly with God is the summary of what this service is about. And there’s a challenge: to walk humbly down the High Street after the service dressed as we are!

Micah places upon each of us a solemn charge and responsibility, whatever uniform we wear today. His words undergird all the statements and promises this morning. Listen out for hints of them in what the Chief Constable, the High Sheriff, the Judges and Magistrates, the Director of Active Surrey, and what everyone will say. Here is a vision of a just and merciful society that tends for the weak as much as the strong, the lowly as much as the mighty. Do justice, love mercy, walk humbly with God. Carry this charge back to your courtroom or classroom, your council chamber or to your beat, carry it into your family and amongst those with whom you share your life, carry it into our communities: love justice, do mercy, walk humbly with God; a solemn charge to us all.