It may seem strange, but yes, I like ironing. There’s a great satisfaction in converting a wrinkled mass into a smooth surface, knowing that it’s clean and will be a delight to wear or sleep in next time it’s brought out for use. When I was married I used to iron all my wife’s blouses, which brought the added enjoyment of her perfume wafting up as I worked. In response, as it were, she sometimes ironed my shirts and handkerchiefs, and that’s where the trouble began.
I was reminded of this the other day as I ironed a shirt and wondered about the sleeve seams: should the seam be seen from the front or from the rear of the wearer? I thought of the arguments we’d had about putting creases in my shirt cuffs, and the folding of hankies. The important thing, I now realise twenty years later, was not the precision of folding, the presence or absence of creases, nor even who ironed them, but that we should be comfortable and smart as a result of the ironing itself.
So, what has this to do with our Faith? Well, for a start, take a look at the rag-tag mix that Jesus chose as his disciples. There was a revenue official, in the hands of the Roman occupiers, probably – like all his pals – a grasping individual, out for all he could squeeze out of the people to line his own pockets. There was a political activist; another one, probably a foreigner, who was not always honest and yet was put in charge of the disciples’ common funds. And there were lots of smelly fishermen; Peter was one of those, and you never met one more likely to speak first and think afterwards. All together, I guess they were the sort of crowd that you’d cross the road to be out of the way of. They certainly weren’t a uniform – let alone uniformed – bunch!
Look, then, at the mix of churches that have grown up in their wake over the last 2,000 years. They meet in buildings ranging from ornate cathedrals, to simple stone- or brick-work, to tin shacks or … just the shade of a tree. Think about the worship, too: there are places filled with incense, candles, exquisite anthems and intricate liturgies; there is loud modern music and dance; there is silence broken only by a few wise words, space for deep thought; there is regular repetition and spiritual spontaneity. You could be forgiven for saying, ‘Anything goes!’
And it does. Because what’s important is the relationship between each individual and his Maker. If it’s going to work, it has to be a relationship based solely on faith, on a simple, uncluttered belief in that one true God and His Son, Jesus, the Christ or Saviour, who lived a human life in order to share all that we go through in our lives, and died in our place to save us from the price of our sins. “Whoever believes in the Son,” wrote John, “has eternal life.” (John 3:36).
Does it matter how we live, then? Of course it does, but not in the finest detail like the creases in shirt sleeves. The prophet Micah, writing in the 8th century BC, asked how he (and by extrapolation, we) should worship. What should he offer? To his question, ‘what does the Lord require of you?’ came the answer “To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly (or prudently) with your God.” (Micah 6:6-8).
God wants us to relate to him with a love that prompts us to respond in ways that love each other the way He loves us (John 15:12). All the rest of the detail is comfortable ironing: it makes us look good and feel smart, but it doesn’t change what’s underneath, which is what He sees in us.