Sunday, February 5, 2012

"Kindness" (Galatians 5:22-26)

In the ancient, Greco-Roman world, lists of virtues were common; lists like the one we just heard read, from the book of Galatians:  “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.”
A similar list appears in the book of 2nd Corinthians: “purity, knowledge, patience, kindness, holiness of spirit, genuine love, truthful speech, and the power of God.”
Of course, the boy scouts of their own list, called the scout law.  Say it with me:  a scout is “trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean, and reverent.”
The words on these lists are not all the same, but the way of living they describe is.  A life of character, a life of integrity, a life that is good… this is something that is true from one time to the next and one culture to the next.  The words may not be exactly the same, but they are very similar in meaning.
Now, strangely enough, if you were listening closely you might have noticed that there is one word that does appear on all three of these lists; one virtue that is listed in Galatians, 2 Corinthians, and in the scout law.  Did anyone notice what that one virtue is?
Kindness appears on the list in Galatians.
Kindness appears on the list in 2 Corinthians.
And kindness appears in the Scout law:  “a scout is kind.”
Here at Bixby Knolls Christian Church, we have a mission statement.  It’s printed in your bulletin.  It’s based on Micah 6:8 and it says that our mission is to “seek justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with God.”
Here at Bixby Knolls Christian Church, we end many of our worship services with a benediction that comes from the book of Numbers:  “May God bless you and keep you, may God’s face shine upon you and be gracious to you, may God look upon you with kindness and give you peace.”
When I first noticed how often kindness appears in scripture, in lists of virtues, I was surprised.  I always thought of kindness as something like petting a kitten.  How cute.  Take a picture of it and stick it on a Hallmark card.
It seemed very… nice, and all… but not something that was terribly important … not one of the things that I needed to strive for in life … not something that I needed to make a priority.
Loyal.  That sounds important…. Brave – yes! And trustworthy:  that’s heavy-duty.
Kind?  Not so much.
After all, who needs kindness?
I enjoy reading biographies, and I recently read two biographies that I found fascinating:  one on Steve Jobs, and the other on Walt Disney.  Both, great men; neither one known for being exceptionally kind.
Both pushed the people who worked for them hard.  They both had employees who quit or went on medical leave because of the stress and anxiety that was inflicted upon them by working for Steve Jobs or Walt Disney.
Kindness didn’t create Apple.  Kindness didn’t build Disneyland.
Yet, despite all that, kindness is one of the most important Christian virtues … one of the most important human virtues.  Kindness means recognizing the humanity in other people.  Kindness means not seeing others as tools to help you accomplish your own goals, but seeing them as fellow travelers on the journey.
A person who is kind looks at another person and understands that there is more there than meets the eye, that there is more there behind the mask and under the skin, that in every person, there is joy, sorrow, dreams, disappointment, hope, regret, and fear.
A person who is kind recognizes how precious each and every human life is, and how fragile each and every human life is, and that a truly great person builds people up rather than tears them down.
Overflowing gratitude is a characteristic of a person who is kind.  If someone does something for you, you go out of your way to let them know how thankful you are, how much you appreciate them.
A kind person is compassionate.  If someone is upset, or having a hard time, or just not fitting in, you take the extra time to stand by them, accompany them, hold their hand.  It’s easy to say, “forget you,” and go off and do your own thing, but that’s not how a kind person acts.
God’s very nature is compassion.  It is God’s greatest desire and deepest passion to comfort those who suffer.
Now, there are all kinds of suffering.  A person who has just had someone they love die is suffering.  A person who lost their job is suffering.  A person struggling to find out who they are and struggling to find their place in the world is suffering.
A person who struggles at academics or sports, who failed his last test or got picked last for the team, is also a person who is suffering.  A person who got stuck doing KP while everyone else is running around is a person who is suffering.
I can’t tell you how happy it makes me when I’m washing the dishes, and someone comes in and offers to help even though they don’t have to.  Over the past eight months I’ve fixed quite a few Wednesday night meals here at the church, and it’s so nice when someone offers to help clean up afterward.   And I still remember when I was a scout, when my patrol leader told me it was my turn for KP, and another scout who wasn’t even assigned KP stuck around and helped me do the dishes. 
That simple act of kindness made my whole day – made the whole outing so much more enjoyable for me – and probably did more than anything to keep me in scouts and eventually achieve the rank of Eagle.
Jesus’ greatest concern was for those who had been shown little kindness by the world.  The leaders in his day – the priests, the scribes, the Pharisees – insisted that there were certain people with whom one should not associate:  lepers, beggars, prostitutes, people with physical deformities, people who took care of pigs or worked with leather, people who worked as tax collectors, people who, like the Ethiopian eunuch, sexually different, and a whole bunch of other people whom they labeled as “sinners.”  They would not allow such people into the temple, they told jokes about them, and they showed them no kindness.
These are the people Jesus reached out to.  To those who had been shown little kindness by the world, Jesus showed great kindness, great compassion, and great love.  And it made all the difference in the world.  It brought them healing, wholeness, and salvation.
So don’t ever underestimate kindness.
I mentioned that Apple and Disneyland were not built by kindness.  At times it does seem that too much kindness can get in the way of accomplishing great things, that one really does have to fight to get to the top.  Steve Jobs and Walt Disney were not known for their kindness, and that, it seems, helped them do great things.
Well, can you think of someone who was just as great, or even greater, because they showed kindness?
How about Gandhi?  He changed the world through the power of kindness.  Gandhi once divided power into two kinds. “One,” he said, “Is obtained by fear of punishment, and the other by acts of love.”
How about César Chávez?  As much as he fought against the injustice of agribusiness, it’s hard to find anything written or spoken by him that is unkind toward the wealthy landowners and growers personally. His witness was made powerful by his kindness, and the dignity he afforded to every human being, no matter who they were. 
How about Martin Luther King, Jr.?  He once said, “one of the greatest problems of history is that the concepts of love and power have usually been contrasted as opposites—polar opposites—so that love is identified with a resignation of power, and power with a denial of love.” But “power at its best is love implementing the demands of justice, and justice at its best is power correcting everything that stands against love.”
I don’t own any Apple products, but I do have a great admiration for them and a great respect for all that Steve Jobs was able to accomplish.
I have been to Disneyland.  In fact, I love Disneyland.  I’m almost embarrassed to admit it, but I’m pretty much a Disneyland freak.  A couple of years ago, I had an annual pass, and if I had the money, I’d buy one every year.
But as much as I admire Apple products, and as much as I love Disneyland, I think I could probably live without them.  In fact, most days, I do. 
I can’t imagine living in a world without kindness.  I can’t imagine living in a world that didn’t have Martin Luther King, Jr., or César Chávez, or Gandhi, and their witness to the God of love and kindness.  What a terrible, awful world that would be, a world that didn’t have kindness.  
It sounds so cliché to say, “be kind to one another.”  But really, what could be more important?

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