“What shall I bring when I come before YHWH, and bow down before God on high?” you ask. “Am I to come before God with burnt offerings? With year-old calves? Will YHWH be placated by thousands of rams or ten thousand rivers of oil? Should I offer my firstborn for my wrongdoings — the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?”
Listen here, mortal: God has already made abundantly clear what “good” is, and what YHWH needs from you: simply do justice, love kindness, and humbly walk with your God.
My sermon of October 23, 2022 at St. Timothy’s Episcopal Church in Washington, DC.
We continue today on our three week exploration of that amazing summation of God’s will for us given by the prophet Micah, to do justice, love kindness and to walk humbly with our God. Last week we began with doing justice, and as we looked at the scriptural record, the prophetic witness and the teaching of Christ and others, we arrived at the point of defining justice as the upholding of human dignity. Acting and speaking to establish and protect and dignity of all people is how we are a just people in God’s eyes. Today we come to the second of the three admonitions, to love kindness.
When we speak of kindness, does someone in your life come automatically to mind? We know kindness when we see it, it’s compassionate and generous, it builds people up, increasing joy and lessening hurt. If someone says “well, I was actually being kind” we know that’s suspect, don’t we? Kindness doesn’t need an apology and it’s easily recognized because of the fruit it bears in life.
It makes sense that we build our understanding of kindness on the justice we defined last week, the upholding of human dignity. Kindness is justice in action. It comes from a place of seeing the intrinsic value and worth of a person, and acting on it. It’s going to look like courtesy and compassion and it will be evidence of our just view of people. You’ve known kind people; kind people are the folks who practice the welcome and hospitality that the prophets said God expected to see among the people. Kind folks are quick to share, quick to compliment, slow to turn away, slow to judge and more curious than condemning. Many English translations have the word mercy in place of kind, and that works too… the merciful overlook the little things, give the benefit of the doubt, forgive, and lend a hand when they can.
According to the English dictionaries I perused this week, Kindness is the quality of being generous, helpful and caring for other people… the Hebrew for kindness in Micha’s writing is chesed, a love and generosity between people, ultimately modeled on God’s covenantal love. Though it’s never an easy task to fully render an ancient Hebrew word into English today, with all of its nuances, there’s no hidden messaging or major traps here… it’s talking about deliberate, chosen kindness.
We really see this in Jesus, don’t we?
- Jesus saw people’s value and honored it with compassion and time, like with the woman who snuck up to touch his garment in Mark 5 and Jesus stopped to talk with her,
- Jesus saw people’s potential and invested in it, like when he saw short-statured Zacchaeus up in a tree top in Luke 19 and didn’t laugh, but said, “I’m coming to your house!”,
- Jesus saw people confused and in need and didn’t judge them for it, like the crowds who were directionless as sheep without a shepherd at the end of Matthew 9,
- Jesus saw people in all their human complexity and refused to discard them, as when someone caught in adultery in John 8 was dragged before him and he chose not to judge, but to rescue.
Kindness changes lives for the better! Kindness creates possibilities and opens opportunities.
You know the familiar passage from St. Paul… “By contrast, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against such things. And those who belong to Christ have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also be guided by the Spirit.” Galatians 5:22-25
Kindness is the fruit we bear in our lives which plants seeds in other lives. You know that’s the difference between fruits and vegetables, right? In general, fruits have seeds in them while vegetables don’t. Besides a few troublemakers like tomatoes, the rule generally holds. Kindness is a way of life that can be contagious and can multiply.
Things like kindness, the fruit born in our lives by the work and presence of the Spirit, can be powerful in reach and implication. I spent some time this week looking back at a powerful chain of kindness in action which is still blessing people today. Perhaps you know the story of Father Trevor Huddlestone an Anglican Priest in South Africa who bitterly opposed Apartheid. He would doff his hat in respect to a young Desmond Tutu’s mother, and because of his example of kindness Desmond decides he must follow the same path into the priesthood. The story of Fr. Huddlestone’s kindness varies slightly from source to source, but his kindness paves the way for an Archbishop Tutu to become the force he was against Apartheid, fighting for the dignity of all people, leading in reconciliation, and especially being outspoken in upholding the dignity of LGBTQ folks. His example and life continue to bless us, today.
Kindness is not meek and mild. Kindness is powerful, active and challenging for our world!
Exploring the call to love kindness from Micah, we might ask ourselves:
- What fruit of kindness am I cultivating in my life with intention?
- Who has been compassionate, generous and caring for me, and how can I pass that along?
- Who is in need of my compassion, generosity and care?
- What might be getting in the way of my kindness? What am I loving instead?
- Earlier and later in Galatians 5 St. Paul does give a list of things that get in the way… self-indulgence, biting and devouring each other, sexual immorality, impurity, idolatry, sorcery, fights, strife, jealousy, anger, argument, divisions, choosing sides against each other, envy, drunkenness, conceit and competition. I’m not sure about you, but sorcery isn’t a struggle for me… but anger? Envy? Being argumentative? Being selfish? Yeah, there are things in my own heart which would fight against kindness.
Too often, it seems, that kindness is the first thing to be sacrificed on the altar of our political, economic, social or religious competitions. Kindness is left behind in the dust cloud of our angers, divisions and biting at one another.
Kindness is a choice, like choosing justice. It’s a calling; it’s the way we live. It’s who we were meant to be. Remember when St. Paul told the church in Ephesus in the middle of Ephesians 2, “we’re made for this, made for goodness, made to be doing good.” (That was my paraphrase!) We just have to move over all the other stuff that has gotten in the way, and then follow God on the world changing path of kindness. May God’s Spirit give us the wisdom, courage and opportunity to be wildly kind!
Be blessed, Rev. Todd
A four-year-old blog post of mine on preachers inciting violence has been coming to mind lately in light of the recent events in Orlando, and the hate-filled preaching of some pastors. Violence is a sickness, especially violence shrouded in religious piety. More than ever, our world needs those who will love in the face of hate and work to heal the sickness of these preachers. I’m sharing a recent nasty example from a pastor’s Facebook postings, and then linking in my blog from four years ago on preachers who incite violence. Lord, have mercy.
Recent nastiness in the name of Christ…
My post of four years ago: On Preachers Who Incite Violence
We must loudly and strongly, with civil tongues and constant hearts, repudiate these voices and their messages. We must stand against these messages of hate and violence. Silence is not an option, no more than violence. Answer them with sure, true and sincere messages of love. May our voices never cease to sing and weave the story of God’s unending love.
I’m sitting at Starbucks before heading to work and I get a the urge to play with making glyphs. Now, I’m no linguist and I’ve not spent time with any ancient glyphs, so I’m no authority here. I simply had a canvas that I had prepared in Procreate on my iPad and was thinking of looking up a cool Japanese symbol to add to it. But, since I don’t know any Japanese symbols, I’m at the mercy of websites to supply me the image and the meaning.
I don’t know about you, but that always scares me. Like what happens if the website says this is the symbol for purity, but it’s actually the symbol for dunce, as in “Look at this dunce who saw something on the Internet and copied it!” I decided instead to work through a short exercise of what it might be like to create my own glyphs, my own symbols to convey an idea.
It wasn’t terribly easy, and I’m aware that we’ve all seen symbols and used them all our lives. I can’t do this in a vacuum of experience or culture, but can I move somewhat outside of my own experience to make something a little new? It won’t be totally new, but maybe a little novel?
I chose to convey the idea of compassion, compassion being our ability to see the suffering of someone and feeling moved to alleviate the suffering. My glyph is read left to right, top to bottom. I decided to convey four distinct ideas with the glyphs to represent compassion. First, there is awareness, the eye, that is looking upon a person. Second, that person is suffering, as seen by the downward movement of the arrow. Third, there is identifying with that person and making a communal bond, when the curving walls bring us together, like cupping hands. The final and fourth idea is a reversal of the downward trend of life to an alleviation of the suffering, an upward arrow.
The value of this little exercise of mine was not the work of deciding how to draw a person or make an stylized eyeball, but it was the meditation on compassion as a movement, an action and a process. Can I live this way? Can I see people and move to identify with them and work together to bring healing? Do I want to? It seems to me that we have a daily choice to go beside people in their worst of times, or to retreat and hope that less is asked of us when next we meet someone. This decision was poignantly played out in the story Jesus told about the man we now call The Good Samaritan.
In that story we see two people choose to ignore the suffering of another person, and one person choose to face the suffering and help alleviate it. Jesus taught this story to illustrate love for one’s neighbor, for all of ine’s neighbors. The story transcended ethnic divides, religious divides and national divides. The story unites us as a single humanity that cares for one another. That’s a concept worthy of some imagination. That’s a story worth doodling and imagining as a template for our own walk down the road.
I rarely show anything I’m doodling until it’s completely done, but I realized this morning that I haven’t opened my sketch book in a week! This is a piece I started a couple of weeks ago that I need to finish.
I recently made another move in my job with Apple, from retail sales back into the tech support group. It’s a step on my journey into a new role with Apple as I go full-time. I’m one our store’s newest Creative, joining the team that leads workshops and does training sessions. Until I finish my own training for my new position, I’m doing a lot of tech support for mobile devices again, and that can be a stressful job. We work with people in stressful situations. From the failure of a device to incidents of accidental damage, we are helping folks get through some anxiety filled time as they feel the withdrawal pains of being momentarily unplugged from our tech-connected lives.
One thing I do to prepare for each day at work is practice my work mantra on my drive to the store. It goes something like this:
I love my customers.
I am so glad I can serve them.
I love my customers.
I’m going to do my best for them, today.
This mantra helps me get in the mindset of service. It helps me center on the truth that our customers are coming to us with real needs, and my response must focus on those needs. It would be too easy to just become defensive or upset, to reflect back their anxieties and stress. No, I have to let their anxieties and frustrations be authentic and real, spoken and experienced, and let those anxieties and frustrations pass through me and past me without landing in my own spirit. Then, I’m ready to get down to business with helping them determine the best solution for their situation.
My mantra is an action of intentionally deciding what will be planted within me so that I can choose what I’ll be producing from the soil of my heart and mind. This is not just a service industry principle, but a life principle. I must choose the seeds of peace, compassion, empathy and love as what I cultivate within myself if I want to have those things to share with others. This is a daily effort, forever unfinished and being finished. I guess it’s ok to share a doodle before it’s done, as its unfinished state can meaningfully reflect the on-going becoming of life.
Old Time Religion: Why I’m a Jesus Fan Boy
Let’s be real at the outset… I’m a white guy who grew up in Texas. When the phrase old time religion gets bandied around I automatically hear banjoes in my head and start quoting scripture in the Authorized King James Version. If at any point while reading this post you begin to hear banjoes or an inordinate number of thee’s and thou’s, keep calm and know it does pass.
I do want to talk a little about old time religion, but a bit older than either the banjo or the KJV. It may seem a bit odd, but current media/faith messes like the Kentucky clerk who uses her personal faith to undermine other people’s civil rights are just the kind of things that remind me why I’m such a Jesus fan boy. I love Jesus, so much. I want the kind of religion, the old time religion, that he taught.
Jesus was always serving and calls us to serve. The work of Jesus was not marked by a denial of service to people not like him. He didn’t seem to have a test of deservedness or reciprocity before offering himself to those around him. Looking closely at the gospel accounts we find people, even his closest friends, constantly wondering why he’s talking to someone that he shouldn’t be talking to. But that’s just Jesus. And it’s what Jesus calls us to do, today. I don’t hate that poor county clerk in Kentucky; I blame the pastors and preachers who taught her that her faith sets her apart and above others in a way that permits her to judge them and deny them their legal rights as fellow citizens. I blame the folks who are egging her on and supporting her illegal and unconstitutional actions in such a way that it sounds like liberty and freedom are not Christian ideas. Liberty and freedom are not antithetical to our faith but part of the foundation of our old time religion.
Jesus loved people, all kinds of people, and calls us to the same. Man, Jesus loved people. All people. The Jesus who said “do not judge” also refused to throw a single stone. He walked his talk. He felt no need whatsoever to judge people before giving them grace. He didn’t need to point out and sermonize their faults before reaching out to heal them. The only exception to this was when he spoke to the religious leaders of the day who did not love as they should be loving. Their faults and sins he clearly enumerated. The only hell-fire and brimstone homilies from Jesus were directed at the religious elite. I am such a fan of this Jesus who had no time whatsoever for the religious establishment when it strayed from the work of God. This is something that every pastor and preacher needs to keep in mind, every day and every Sunday when we stand to make a proclamation.
Jesus did not repay violence with violence, and he taught us to also break the cycles of violence. Jesus did not strike back. Jesus did not taunt Satan when he was tempted and did not raise an army against those who sought his life. But we’ve created a Jesus culture that weirdly smashes him up somewhere between a Mighty Morphin Power Ranger and Rambo with the barest hint of Ghandi’esque rhetoric and dress. We have at times made as a much a violent caricature of Jesus as we daily condemn Islamic extremists for doing with the concept of jihad in their own religion. Jesus taught us to turn the other cheek, and then did it himself as he stood before Pilate and defined his kingdom as one that did not fight the battles of this world, did not fight back and did not seek world domination. How have we strayed so far from our old time religion? Christians who fight daily for their religious convictions to override their fellow citizens’ freedoms have gone past the edge of the map, folks. They have moved off the path.
Yes, I know that Jesus cleared the Temple courts. I have had people throw that at me before as an example of a violent Jesus. Really? The Temple event falls in the same basket with the condemnation of the religious leaders. Jesus did not go to the courts of Governor Pilate or King Herod to re-order reality, he did it at the Temple. He went to the heart of religiosity and demanded people stop abusing others in God’s name. Once again Jesus is moving against the religious establishment to reassert some humanity and care of people. He quotes a passage that highlights what he is trying to do; the Temple was to be a place of connecting with God and spiritual blessing, not a place of usury where people are relegated to monetary transactions. He is not recorded to have struck anyone, killed anyone, hurt anyone or whipped anyone… though it does sound a lot like he cracked a whip and most definitely moved some naughty folks around. =)
Yeah, give me that old time religion. But let’s just be sure to go back to the time that Jesus was in control of things. It was a time of humbled clergy, served sinners, loved people, less violence and way more grace. It was a time when a dream of a better world created through love was preeminent to a world where those obsessed with their moral correctness self-martyred on the steps of their local courthouse. Ouch, I might have gotten a little carried away with that one. Maybe not.
Jesus said we’d known as his disciples by our love for one another. Anything else we choose an an identifier or mark of faith and religiosity is a distraction, and everything that distracts us from the path leads us astray by our own willful negligence. Lord, have mercy.