Tuesday, September 18, 2012

The Kind of Kindness that Changes People: A Sermon - 1 Corinthians 13:4

The audio version of this sermon is available here.

Many years ago, back in 1992, I was a student at St. Andrew’s Episcopal School in Jackson, Mississippi. I was in 6th grade and we, like many schools, had a break in between the first classes of the morning. During the break I usually went to the cafeteria area where there were vending machines and I would usually buy a 3 Musketeers. That’s my favorite candy bar, by the way, for those of you who are taking notes on today’s sermon about kindness. Anyway, I was in line to get my 3-musketeer bar and there was girl in front of me who was having difficulty to deciding what she wanted. So what do you think this younger version of pastor Samuel did when confronted with this inconvenient moment? Well apparently, I said “Hurry the *beep* up!” The girl was so frazzled that she ended up not buying anything, left the line, and I, completely oblivious to the effect I had on her, happily stepped up and bought my 3 Musketeers bar. (I’m probably not going to get anyone to ever give me one of those after that story.) 

The embarrassment of my middle school career doesn't stop there my friends, oh no. You see, I don’t even remember this incident at all. I don’t remember saying those words to that girl or the events of that day, but the reason I know this story is because that girl remembered and 6 years later she told me about it on the night before graduation. She told me how I was so cruel and unkind to her, how that was her first day at school, and how after she left the line she went and cried. She remembered that moment for 6 years and carried it with her. It was a moment of unkindness and cruelty which I sorely regret and is unimaginable to me that I would behave that way regardless of age and circumstances. I was completely unkind, focused on myself and my 3 Musketeers bar.

Today we continue our series on relationships, great relationships. Relationships and our capacity for them are perhaps the most important attributes that we share with God as His children created in His image. Relationship is an essential element of who we believe God to be. God is a triune God: God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. We, created in His image, are created to be in relationship with each other, with God, and love through the power of the Holy Spirit, is the tie that binds all these relationships into solid bonds. We, created in the image of God, as God’s representatives on earth, have a tremendous power and responsibility in relationship. We have the ability to affect others deeply and we can do so to great harm or to great benefit. By a mere 4 words, my 6th grade self, impacted that girl so much that she was affected in a significant enough way to remember that event for at least 6 years. The reverse is also true, and today we talk about the call we have on our lives as followers of one who demonstrated an unimaginable kindness and compassion, who saved our lives, and who calls us to walk in light of that with love and kindness in our relationships. 

Last week pastor Michael talked about patience, that 1 Corinthians 13:4 begins with “Love is patient.” In the King James Version, the passage says “Charity” or “[Love] suffereth long.” Last week we began with the passive, the receiving aspect of love. Love suffers and endures and this week we look at the other side of the coin, so to speak, in the next half of that verse which says that Love is Kind. Today, we look at the active side, the side of love that propels itself outwards to see positive change in our relationships with others so that we don’t merely have meager relationships, but great relationships.
Now the word “kind” appears throughout the Bible in many ways, in many fashions and in many uses. It comes from the Greek word, Chrestos, not to be confused with Christos which is Greek for Christ. The word can translate as kind, loving, merciful, upright, easy to bear. It can mean good, in a moral sense, like that’s a good man, that’s a kind man, who takes care of the homeless, but it can also mean good in a quality sense, like that’s a good wave, that’s a kind wave that behaves as waves ought to behave. We’ll be examining a variety of Scripture this morning as we listen to what it means to be kind and the kind of kindness that comes out of us to others to build them up towards being the people they were meant to be, the people God intends for them to be, people that are a part of his kingdom, a kingdom of love and kindness.

So first, we’ll examine the use of this word, kind, as a verb as it is used in 1 Corinthians 13. I know when we read the English here it looks like nouns. Love is patient, love is kind, but in the Greek, in the original language, the author Paul actually is using 15 different verbs to describe love. That should convey something to us about love. Love, the binding force in relationships, in this context is not primarily a feeling, but an action. Love is kind, love is being kind. You’ve heard the phrase “kill them with kindness before” right? Well we’re going to take a little different slant and instead, as we explore the verb, the active part of kindness, we’re going say kill yourself with kindness for others. I know that’s strong language, but God is a strong God and He has strong things to say about kindness. The kind of kindness described in the bible is one that requires us to pour ourselves out completely for others until there’s nothing left. The kind of kindness that actually changes people, that produces great relationships, has to be something different than what the world offers. The kindness that the bible talks about is radical kindness, it’s self-sacrificial kindness, it’s a kindness that when people receive it, it doesn’t make it sense them. It’s the kind of kindness in which people experience a taste of the divine, of something not of this world and we, as instruments of God, give up our lives to Him to accomplish such things for the sake of others. I say it again, the acts of kindness that we’re called to by our God, are not simple things like letting someone in front of you in bad traffic, or a smile to someone as they walk down the street. These are nice things, but they aren’t the kind of kindness that we’ve received from our God in our own lives and that we’re called to actively to seek out and to do unto others. Follow along in the bulletin or on the screen in Luke chapter 6 with me, verses 27-36 as I read the words of our Lord and master. Jesus says:

27 "But I tell you who hear me: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, 28 bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. 29 If someone strikes you on one cheek, turn to him the other also. If someone takes your cloak, do not stop him from taking your tunic. 30 Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back. 31 Do to others as you would have them do to you. 32 "If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even 'sinners' love those who love them. 33 And if you do good to those who are good to you, what credit is that to you? Even 'sinners' do that. 34 And if you lend to those from whom you expect repayment, what credit is that to you? Even 'sinners' lend to 'sinners,' expecting to be repaid in full. 35 But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked. 36 Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.

These are the words of our Lord and master for those who follow Jesus. We love others, we love our enemies, in a way that is beyond what the world does, beyond what “sinners” do for each other. We live, as Christ followers, as God lovers, in ways that are beyond normal experience. In ways that people say, what was that? What just happened? What did I just experience? And we stand ready to say “You just had a taste, the smallest glimpse, of the kind of kindness and love that I have received through Jesus restoring my relationship to God.” Live your life in a way that demands a gospel explanation.

I had considered having a video clip to illustrate this point from the movie Gran Torino, but after watching I realized that Clint Eastwood said so many curse words in the final scene that our poor audio tech would have been editing it for hours and I don’t know that the little dialogue left would make sense, and then I pictured the kids in 9:00 service crying when they saw it, and decided it’s probably just better to describe it. So in this movie Gran Torino, Clint Eastwood is a grumpy old man, he plays the part really well, and he’s a widower in addition to being a Korean war veteran who is pretty racist, and as fate would have it, his neighborhood has shifted demographics to become predominantly Asian. In the process of the movie he becomes friends with his next door neighbors and ends up trying to help that community escape the influence of a gang that is terrorizing the neighborhood and trying to get his neighbor to give up hope of a future and join the gang. At the end of the movie, Clint goes to the house where all the gang members live. Everyone comes out of their house to see what’s happening, and Clint Eastwood pretends to reach for a gun and the gang members all shoot him down. Since there are so many witnesses they get arrested and Clint’s shocking act of self-sacrifice literally saves the neighborhood and the future of his next door neighbors. On youtube where a clip of the ending is posted someone wrote the following:

“I will never forget the feeling I had in this movie theater..I watched just about every clint eastwood movie with my dad. He always tore apart those bad guys like it was nothing...This ending was so shocking for every single person that saw it. It was incredible.”

It’s this kind of kindness that we, as followers of one who laid his life down for us are called to. It’s this kind of kindness that is incredible, that is shocking for every single person that experiences it.

Now I could end the sermon here, and in doing so I would have done us all a great disservice, by proclaiming this incredibly high standard of kindness, this God standard of kindness, and saying, now you go and do without us understanding the noun version of kindness, the inner being of kindness from which the actions, the doing flows, the source of the power for such radical love, for such amazing kindness. The noun version of this word, kind, appears all over scripture as well and when it does, it’s a state of being. I’m sure you’ve heard this verse (5) from Psalm 100 before:

“For the LORD is good and his love endures forever; his faithfulness continues through all generations.”

The word good there, is the same word in the Greek translation of the Old Testament  for kind: “For the Lord is kind and his love endures forever.” It’s who God is, it’s an attribute of God. God is kind.  It’s a part of His being. Here’s another fun one, in Luke 5:39:

“And no one after drinking old wine wants the new, for he says, 'The old is better.'"

In this case the word “better” is actually, again the same word for kind. “And no one after drinking old wine wants the new, for he says, ‘The old is kind.’” Again, the nature of the wine is good, it’s kind. Its flavor, its effects on the palate all come from what it essentially is, from its being. The wine is kind, and so its kindness, its goodness, flows out of it. The Lord is kind, is good, and His actions of goodness and kindness flow out of that being. The problem we have in doing acts of kindness, and especially in doing the kind of kindness that we’ve been talking about, the divine kindness that gives people a taste of the kingdom of God, is that deep inside, by our natures, we aren’t divine, and we aren’t kind, and good people. We are all born navel gazers. I think most of you have seen those pictures of babies in the womb, and they are literally curled up on themselves. Well this is a good metaphor for how we’re born spiritually speaking. We’re born spiritually broken, separated from the divine, bent inward and focused on ourselves and on top of that we're born into a fallen and broken world. That’s who we are so that it’s actually contrary to ourselves, our state of being, to turn outward and focus on others. We, and many man made religions, often make the mistake of thinking that the solution to changing our brokenness is to try and do good, to do kindness and in working hard and doing whatever list of rules we’ve adopted that our being will be changed, when quite the opposite is true. We are healed by God, made whole by Him. Our spiritual brokenness is healed by Him through Jesus, by his wounds we are healed, and our very being is changed. We are reshaped from being curled in on ourselves and being selfish to being focused on others and being kind. It is an external source of amazing kindness as we experience God that changes us from the inside out, that recreates us and then from our new being flows acts of true kindness, and not only that, but divine kindness that has the power to change others, because our Spirit has been replaced with a divine Spirit, the Spirit of God.

The same principle applies in our relationships with others. The way that you turn people from being selfish to being kind is not by creating a list of external rules and tell them do these things, to change themselves, and then they will be kind. It’s to be kind and loving to them in such a way that they experience God and in doing so are changed from the inside out by God’s kindness through you. Then, as they are changed to being kind by this external source, they will not be able to help but be kind in their own relationships.

Look with me Titus 3:4-7:

But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life.
Yes, we are called to pour ourselves out radically, but the reason we can do this is not through force of will, but because within those of us who have been recreated in Christ Jesus is an ever- and overflowing fountain, the Spirit of God, that constantly refills us, that has been poured out on us generously and overflows into our relationships. Also, we as heirs of God, having the hope of eternal life, fear nothing, not even death because it has no power over those of us who are in the one who conquered death. It’s in Jesus, and through the abundance of His Spirit, that we receive the power to show the kind of kindness that is of God and of His kingdom.

When we read 1 Corinthians 13, it’s clear that love is being personified. Try it out, put a person’s name in there and you’ll see it reads very well. Try out your name. “Samuel is patient, Samuel is kind. Samuel does not envy, Samuel does not boast, Samuel is not proud. Samuel is not rude, Samuel is not self-seeking, Samuel is not easily angered, Samuel keeps no record of wrongs. Samuel does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. Samuel always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Samuel never fails.” Now, unless you’re incredibly delusional, you realize that your name isn’t the name that goes here. It’s the name of Jesus, the King of kindness, that does go here: “Jesus is patient, Jesus is kind. Jesus does not envy, Jesus does not boast, Jesus is not proud. Jesus is not rude, Jesus is not self-seeking, Jesus is not easily angered, Jesus keeps no record of wrongs. Jesus does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. Jesus always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Jesus never fails.” Something amazing, something divine, something mysterious, happens when we come to our senses and recognize that it’s not in trying to fulfill 1 Corinthians 13 that we are saved, that our relationships become Great Relationships, it’s in giving up and putting Jesus there as our hope and trust that results in us being transformed as we receive His Spirit.

I’m a very different person than I was in 6th grade when I was so unkind to that girl, I’m sure just about everyone in this room (save any actual 6th graders) are very different from who they were in 6th grade. I can tell you, though, in all certainty and clarity, that sometime about 8 years ago, God reached down and pulled me out of a pit. He ripped out my heart, my spirit of selfishness, and put in a new spirit within me that started as a mustard seed of faith, and has continued to grow and express itself in new ways of kindness. Indeed God has done and continues to do a marvelous work in me and in you as His people. The more we surrender to that new Spirit within us, and die to our old selves, killing ourselves with kindness, the more we experience the kinds of relationships, Great Relationships, with God and with others that God intended in creating us in the beginning and restored in recreating us in Jesus Christ our Lord.

1 comment:

  1. I have a few nasty memories like that. Amazing what God does with such wretched raw material.