It was raining hard when I got out of my vintage Honda Civic and loaded myself up with bags full of groceries. But I was looking forward to seeing the folks who regularly gathered around a downtown burn barrel, passing around a beer and trying to forget the worries of the day.
The vacant lot was empty when I arrived, but a voice called down from rusted steel steps leading up to a dilapidated apartment, "Yo, reverend! Up here!"
I chuckled under my breath at the honorarium. How many times did I have to tell them I wasn't a member of the clergy. Heck, at that moment I wasn't even the member of an established church.
I entered the smoky confines of the apartment to hearty handshakes and back clapping. My host relieved me of the groceries and said, "Anybody want prayer, hit up the reverend while he's here!"
Laughing, I again protested, "You guys KNOW I'm not a reverend! I am just a guy like you, trying to find God and do what He wants me to do."
"You still a reverend to us," declared one of the men.
I mulled this over as I got back into my car and headed for my last stop, to pick up a homeless woman who was to have lunch at our house. As she got into the car, another man I'd sometimes seen at the burn barrel hailed me from the curb and asked for a ride to a place he was working.
As he got into the cramped back seat, he said, "God bless you, reverend."
Again, I found myself explaining that I was not ordained. Exasperated, I pointed to my clothing and said, "This is a turtle-neck, not a clerical collar!"
My back seat friend laughed softly and said, "I know what you're saying. Every follower of Christ is a king and a priest. But I see it in you. That isn't always the case."
For weeks I had been thinking of Matthew 8:8-10, when Jesus admonished His disciples: "But you, do not be called ‘Rabbi;' for One is your Teacher, the Christ,and you are all brethren. Do not call anyone on earth your father; for One is your Father, He who is in heaven. And do not be called teachers; for One is your Teacher, the Christ."
Jesus goes on to blast the pharisees for positioning themselves between the people and God: "For you shut up the kingdom of heaven against men; for you neither go in yourselves, nor do you allow those who are entering to go in."
The day after my trip into the city, my wife relayed a devotional she had received that took the teaching of Matthew 8 one step further.
In John 13:13-15, Jesus again spoke to His discples about the titles bestowed on Him:
"You call Me Teacher and Lord, and you say well, for so I am. If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example, that you should do as I have done to you."
So, maybe it's a win-win situation. If people know I am an ordinary man, it's easier for them to visualize doing what I do. But if they think I am a member of the ordained clergy, at least they have an example of a reverend who finds them important enough for a personal visit.