EPHESIANS 4:32; LUKE 6:32-36

MARCH 21, 2010

Play Audio

            This morning we continue our sermon series on the one another passages of the Bible.  These one another passages contain the elements that are to characterize our life together in the Body of Christ.  Today we turn to the eleventh directive in our series, “be kind to one another.”

            In his letter to the Ephesians Paul offers this counsel,


            Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ has forgiven you.


            When I was preparing for this morning, I did what most sermon writers do, I went on the Internet.  I can tell you now that if you Google, “kindness” you get lots of stuff, especially quotes from famous writers.  I am also pleased to report that kindness, across the internet, is seen as a good thing.  This, however, is not the most important thing that I want to say today.  The most important thing that we need to get hold of this morning is that God is kind.  Everything else that I say this morning flows out of that one, key, fact.  God is kind.

            Now, that may sound like an odd thing to say.  By that I mean, the most frequent use of the word “kind” is in relation to the bringing up of children.  As children grow, we are continually encouraging them, to be kind, to share, to think of others, to talk in a kind way.  The other phrase the word brings to mind is “kind old lady”.  So, it feels a bit odd talking about the creator of the universe in language that we tend to reserve for children and old ladies.  Other than “kind old ladies” we tend not to use it about adults, and especially not about men, and very rarely about God, but odd or not it is the way in which Jesus describes God.  In the part of the Bible that we read earlier from by Luke’s Gospel, Jesus is teaching his close followers. In the middle of his teaching, we hear him say,


            But love your enemies, do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return.  Your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High; for he is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked (Luke 6:35).


             In this verse Jesus clearly says that God is kind, and note to whom God is kind.  God is kind to everyone, not just the grateful and good, but also God is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked.   Therefore, Jesus says, as children of God  we are to be kind to everybody as well.  We are called to show the family likeness, the family resemblance.

            And thankfully, we have divine help in doing this.  By that I mean, God is at work in us to make us kind.   Were you aware of that?  Kindness, after all, is one of the fruit of the Spirit that Paul mentions in his letter to the Galatians.  Remember the nine fruit, the nine qualities, that God is at work developing within us?  Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.  And the Lord knows we all need to grow in love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, and self-control. 

            Of course, when the Bible mentions the word kindness, it doesn't mean quite the same thing that we normally think of when we use the word kindness. Usually when we use the word kindness we mean something good that wells up in us toward other people.  Part of us is kind; part of us is not. In part of us, the milk of human kindness flows, and in part of us, it doesn't.  So when we normally say, "Be kind," what we mean is lead from the best part of ourselves.  Let that warm affection for other people bubble out toward them.  The problem with that, of course, is it doesn't work. There are simply too many people out there whom we don't think deserve our kindness and if we tried to be kind to them, our patience would grow thin, and our kindness would turn to resentment.

            So, when the Bible uses the word kindness, it doesn't mean the best part of us expressed toward others.  It means something that would not be possible were it not a gift from God.  The gift God gives us, the thing God is working to develop in us, results in our being kind to the wicked and the ungrateful, those who do not deserve it in our eyes, as well as the good and grateful.  And while we wait for God to develop this kind of kindness within us, there are certain things we can do in the interim.  I’ll mention three.

            First, we can work on noticing people.  The story is told, by a student, of a professor at her nursing school who gave an exam.  She breezed through the questions until she read the last one: "What is the first name of the woman who cleans the school?"  Surely this was a joke.  She had seen the cleaning woman several times, but how would she know her name?  She handed in her paper, leaving the last question blank.  Before the class ended, one student asked if the last question would count towards their grade. "Absolutely," the professor said. "In your careers, you will meet many people. All are significant. They deserve your attention and care, even if all you do is smile and say hello."  That student never forgot that lesson.  She also learned that the cleaner's name was Dorothy.

            There’s one thing I really love about my wife.  Actually, I love a lot of things about my wife, but one thing she does, I often forget to do.  Whenever we are at a restaurant, and the server comes by and takes our order, she asks the server, “And what’s your name?”  and then Trudy calls that person by name for the rest of our meal.  It’s not just a waiter or waitress to Trudy, it’s a person.  Isn’t she great?

            So we can notice people, all sorts of people, some we might write off as not all that important.  Second, can remember that all people have wounds, all people have hurts. 

            Warren Magnuson, at one time an executive officer of the Baptist General Conference, certainly operated under that assumption.  After preaching on a Sunday morning, a woman on the way out asked if she might see him for a moment.  So after he finished greeting the worshippers, he met with her in his office.  Realizing her concerns needed more attention, he made an appointment for her to see him later in the week.  Magnuson then went to join his wife.  When he arrived at the car she said, “Warren, we are late for the luncheon.  We have to hurry.”

            “I know,” he said, “but a woman had to see me about a problem.”

            That afternoon the Magnusons enjoyed a lovely luncheon with gracious hosts.  As they were leaving, however, one of the luncheon guests walked Magnuson to the car and told him of some difficulties he was having with his teenage son.  He wanted to visit further, and Magnuson assured him that a time could be arranged that week.  As Magnuson looked over the man’s shoulder in the direction of the car, he noticed his wife pointing to her watch.  He told the man to call the office tomorrow, excused himself, and joined his wife.  As they drove off she reminded him, “We’ll be late for the dedication service at the new church.  We have to hurry.”

            “I know we are late,” said Magnuson, “but the man had a problem with his son and we had to talk.”

            After the dedication service came a reception with refreshments.  Magnuson sat down with a cup of coffee next to a man he did not know.  They introduced themselves and Magnuson asked, “Where are you from?”

            “Michigan,” came the reply.

            “Do you have a family?”

            The man’s face dropped, and he began sharing how he and his wife were separated.  He asked for counsel and they began sharing.  When there was break in the conversation, Magnuson looked up and saw his wife giving him another sign to hurry.  He made an appointment with the man from Michigan, dismissed himself, and joined his rather exasperated wife.

            “Warren,” she said, “we have to hurry or we will be late for the evening service.”

            Magnuson replied, “I know, Margaret, but this man had some problems we needed to discuss.”

            Shaking her head she said, “Warren, how come you always sit next to people with problems?”

            His reply was quick and simple.  “Dear, whenever you sit next to people, you sit next to a problem.”

            So true.  Wherever we are, whether a basketball game or PTA meeting, a coffee shop or a worship service, we are sitting next to a problem.  Just because everything on the outside appears calm does not mean it is.  The person next to us may be suffering from loneliness, physical pain, depression, low self-esteem, frustration over a job, or a broken relationship.  We may not know their need, but we can be assured there is a broken place in their lives.

            Then, thirdly, we can fracture our schedule for others. 

            We do not remember her name, only her kindness to us.  Trudy and I had been married five days.  We were driving Trudy’s car from Los Angeles to Boise, Idaho, where I worked as Program Director for the Boise YMCA.  Unfortunately, Trudy’s car gave us fits every mile of the way.  Something was wrong with the engine, and it burned two quarts of oil every hundred miles of the trip.  Finally, one late afternoon, the car broke down in a desolate section of eastern Oregon about eighty miles from Boise.  As a result, we had to hitchhike on our honeymoon.

            Out in the middle nowhere, however, a woman stopped.  She asked what was wrong.  We told her our sad story, and she took us to the nearest service station, which proved to be about fifteen miles down the highway.  Instead of dropping us off and driving away, however, she said, “Let’s see what they tell you before I go on.”

            When she heard that they would not be able to fix our car for a couple of days, she asked us, “I’m sorry, I have forgotten.  Where did you say you are going?”  After we said, “Boise,” she said, “Hop in the car.  I’ll take you there.”  And she did, all the way to our doorstep.

            A week later I drove back to the service station with a friend to pick up the car.  We don’t remember her name, but forty years later we still remember her kindness to us.

            While we wait for God to grow the type of kindness in us where we practice acts of kindness to everybody, good and wicked, grateful and ungrateful, we can occasionally fracture our schedules for others.

            We’ll close with this.  In almost every religious tradition, in order to become a priest or a minister you have to be tested on your theology. You have to be examined to make sure, at least from that point of view of that tradition, that you're theologically sound. In the Presbyterian Church we put candidates for the ministry in front of veteran ministers and elders, and they can ask as many theological questions as they want, until they're satisfied that the candidate is theologically sound. There's one old minister in this group who has asked the same question for 35 years to every single ministerial candidate. He says to the candidate, "Look out the window and tell me when you see a person out the window."

            "I see one."

            "Do you know that person?"

            "No, sir, I don't."

            "Good. Would you describe that person theologically?" He's been asking that question for 35 years and he says that he has found that the answers tend to fall in one of two categories. Either they say "That person is a sinner in need of the saving power of God in Jesus Christ," or they say, "Whether that person knows it or not, that person is a child of God, embraced by the love of God, surrounded by the grace of God."

            The old minister commented, "I suppose both of those answers, technically speaking, are correct, but it has been my experience that the ministers who give the second answer make the better ministers.  They see others, whoever they are, good or wicked, grateful or ungrateful, through the kind and merciful eyes of God.”