Kindness. Today we are celebrating loving, merciful, kindness.
I think people tend to focus more attention on great, or grand, or radical actions, rather than small, simple, kindhearted actions. I know people do this, because I am aware that I do this.
Two weeks ago for All Saints Sunday, we gave thanks for the faith and witness of saints who show us the fruits of God’s grace in their lives. We celebrated:
- Gregory of Nyssa one of the greatest theologians of his age;
- Francis of Assisi whose grand gestures included giving away a fortune to live in poverty;
- Lucien Tapiedi a martyr of New Guinea who radically laid down his life for his Christian siblings.
They are all far more widely celebrated than Hanna Whitall Smith, a Quaker who wrote about finding joy in simple acts of service.
And look at the people to your left and right. I bet it is hard to identify a single person in this room who is the world’s greatest theologian; the grandest disciple or most radical martyr. But I bet you can see someone who was simply kind this week.
Today for kindness Sunday we want to correct that balance and intentionally celebrate what is considerate and compassionate, generous and gentle, small and simple: We want to share stories of loving, merciful, kindness.
Because it is Kindness Sunday I got to choose the Bible reading. So, I chose my personal favourite – the story of Ruth. I love it. At the end of the story I will tell you why this is my favourite.
Naomi lived during a time of great famine. She became what we might call an economic refugee and migrated with her immediate family to Moab. But while there first her husband and then both her adult sons died. She was left destitute. After such losses she was so hurt she changed her name to Bitterness and she was angry with God for what had happened.
I went away full,
but the Lord has brought me back empty;
why call me Naomi, call me bitter.
the Lord has dealt harshly with me
and the Almighty has brought calamity upon me.
But, Ruth, one of her widowed daughters-in-law, was kind to Naomi. She promised to not leave her side and to see her through this time of sorrow. They migrated back to Israel in the hope of finding support from their nearest living relatives. (This is captured so evocatively in this painting by Sandy Freckleton Gagon.)
They have no money to buy food so Ruth takes the initiative to be the breadwinner and goes out to pick over what was left behind in other people’s fields after the harvest. In today’s terms we might call it “dumpster diving” stealing food from the bins behind the supermarket. Back then it was called “gleaning”.
Boaz sees what is happening and instead of harassing her, he is kind to Ruth. He gives her lunch and says to his workers “make sure you leave extra so she can collect enough to take home”.
When Naomi finds out where Ruth had been gleaning, the story takes a dramatic turn. It turned out Boaz was a relative of Naomi’s late husband. By serendipity, Ruth had been found by the very people she hoped to find.
Naomi, who once complained that God had abandoned her, now blesses Boaz and praises God for his loving kindness:
“May Boaz be blessed by the Lord, whose kindness does not forsake the living or the dead!”
In the kindness of Ruth and Boaz we see an expression of the kindness of God. God’s love and mercy and kindness endures even beyond our experiences of grief and loss and poverty.
It was the kindness of Ruth and Boaz that helped healed Naomi’s bitter heart and allowed her to see once more that God had not forsaken her. Her life changed from bitterness to blessedness.
When we are kind to others we are showing them the loving kindness of God. We are being a blessing to them. It may be just what they need to heal their hearts too.
Ruth is not the story of great social justice for poor migrants; you can read that in the book of Exodus.
Ruth is not a story of grand miracles to feed the starving; you can read that in the book of Kings.
Ruth is not a story about radical inclusion of widows; you can read that in the book Ezekiel.
No. The story of Ruth is not about the great, or the grand, the radical – but it is still central to the story of how God is acting in the world, because it is about loving, merciful, kindness. Ruth is the story of people simply being kind to one another.
I promised I would tell you why Ruth is my absolute favourite book of the Hebrew Bible.
The reason is this: The kindness shown by Ruth not only made a difference in the life of Naomi. We are still blessed today by that kindness.
Boaz would marry Ruth and they would have a baby who would have a baby, who would have a baby, … who would have a baby who would be Jesus. Ruth and Boaz are Jesus’ great great … great grandparents.
At Christmas we will sing carols of Jesus being born in “O little town of Bethlehem.” Why? Because that very farm where Boaz first met Ruth was in Bethlehem. And the family lived there ever since. Those acts of kindness had a part to play in how God would give us the gift of himself in the person of Jesus.
As we heard from Ephesians, Jesus plays the central role in how God shows love, mercy and kindness to the world.
Some people say that we have to believe in ourselves and work hard at being kind enough to everyone around us, if we are to see the Healing of the World or the Kingdom of God that we long for.
Trying to be good enough or kind enough to reach some ideal, can feel like being stuck at the back of a large crowd and looking for the action up on the stage but barely being able to see it, let alone reach it and join in.
If church is just a place where everyone has to act kind enough to attempt to be a perfect organisation. It will pretty soon disappoint us because the church is full of imperfect people. No wonder people hurt in churches become disillusioned or even bitter. When people let us down or are unkind to us – especially in church – we might think “Calamity! it is God who has abandoned us.”
But that is not the Gospel. Ephesians says:
Your salvation doesn’t come from anything you do. It is God’s gift. It is not based on anything you have done. No one can brag about earning it.
The Good News is that God is bringing about a transformation of all creation through the resurrected Christ. The church is not a perfect show but it can show the world the one who is perfect – the Christ who has not abandoned us, the one “whose kindness does not forsake the living or the dead!”
Again to quote Ephesians:
“God raised us up with Christ. He has seated us with him in his heavenly kingdom. That’s because we belong to Christ Jesus.”
God has already seated us in his heavenly kingdom.
We are not stuck in a jostling crowd far from the action of God. God has saved a seat for us in his kingdom. God has saved a seat for you. You can have front row seats to see how God is healing the world. Front row seats to see how God changes lives from bitterness to blessedness.
Why does God want you sitting next to them? Because God loves you so deeply and God has prepared a role for each of us to play:
We are God’s creation. He created us to belong to Christ Jesus. Now we can do good works. Long ago God prepared these works for us to do.
In a moment I’m going to ask you to think of an example of these good works of kindness that God has prepared for us to do.
We want to have our eyes open to the kindness that is happening all around us. But before I invite you to share – let me give you a few examples I observed this week. Kindness can come in many forms.
Charity as Kindness
This week I saw adults and children setting up the giving tree in the foyer, to collect gifts for disadvantaged families this Christmas. Does it solve multi-generational poverty? No, but it is kind and generous.
Listening as Kindness
Living with someone when they are sick, especially if it is a chronic condition, can be taxing. When a family member needs extra care from us – doesn’t mean it is easy just because we love them. This past week I got to witness a woman in that situation sharing with a friend how she was feeling. She was describing getting impatient with her sick family member.
And the friend just listened. Supportively listened. No judgement. No condemnation. No correction. Just the kind act of listening. Listening can be a beautiful act of kindness.
Gratitude as Kindness
We group in the church that makes quilts. And they often give the quilts as gifts for special events: from a baby’s baptism to a 90 year-olds birthday.
They made several quilts to give as a thank you gift to the people who volunteer at our Playgroup. It was such a thoughtful and meaningful way to thank people who serve others in the community are are reaching out to connect them to the church. Expressing gratitude can be an act of kindness.
Service as kindness
My wife Gerry, brought me a cup of coffee in bed on Wednesday morning. Nothing more than that. The smallest act of service is kind.
Affirmation of Acts of Kindness
So what kindness have you seen this past week? Turn to the person next to you and share an example. Either a kindness you do, or a kindness done to you. Let us have eyes open to kindness and see how it can heal hearts and express the kindness of God to others.