July 24, 2016

Ephesians 4:26-32
Luke 6:27-38
Philippians 2:1-11

“The Fruit of the Spirit is KINDNESS”

When you think of kindness, what comes to mind? An encouraging note sent by a friend? A caring shoulder to cry on? Someone assisting you with a difficult task, or allowing you to have a break from your work when you are tired? Whatever you think about, it most likely includes a warm fuzzy feeling. Kindness just does that. No wonder it’s a fruit of the Spirit. When we’re kind, others get to experience that warmth, and whether they realize it or not they’re experiencing some of God’s character.

Over the years here at St. Andrew’s, I have come to know many of you as people who demonstrate kindness on a regular basis. Of course, there are ways in which the church programs encourage us all to grow in kindness. During one of the arts and crafts sessions at Vacation Bible School last week, our children made cards to distribute to elderly homebound people in the congregation.

Our refugee sponsorship program has encouraged many of us to give extra offerings and household items to make one family’s settlement in Canada possible. And all summer you’ve been bringing in fruit offerings every Sunday to bless the lives of people at the Saskatoon Native Circle Ministry.

And all these things are acts of kindness, inspired by people in our congregation with good ideas and kind hearts. But I know that your kindness is expressed in all kinds of other ways in your daily lives at work, school, and home. I’ve heard about the kindness you show to neighbours and friends who need help or encouragement…

Someone hosting new immigrants in their home… Someone looking after a distant relative who is sick… Someone sticking by a classmate who is depressed and thinking about suicide… Someone taking extra shifts at work so that colleagues can attend the wedding of a good friend… Someone driving someone to church, or to a doctor’s appointment, or to a special event… I could go on and on.

Most of the time, doing acts of kindness feels good. We get thanked. We get praised. We feel useful, and helpful, and we feel good about ourselves for what kind, and generous, and good people we have been.

There was a fad a few years ago of people doing “random acts of kindness” – things like paying for the coffee of the person behind them in the Tim Horton’s drive-through line, or setting up a free car wash. At one of our Saskatchewan Presbyterian Youth weekends back then, we went door to door in Yorkton, asking random households if we could help them out with some yard work… just to show some kindness.

And that kind of thing can be fun – surprising people with a kind deed, and making us all feel good about ourselves. But the kindness that we are really called to enact as people of faith is the daily, deliberate, commitment to be kind even in a world that is not always kind, to people that are not always appreciative, and even though it sometimes makes us tired rather than making us feel good.

Jesus’ Sermon on the Plain emphasizes what our kindness should look like, and how determined we must be to keep on making an effort, even when being kind is very difficult. Jesus said, “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you… Do to others as you would have them do to you.”

So we’re not just talking about being kind to our friends and relations. We’re not just talking about being kind to people who are reasonably kind to us. Jesus wants us to be kind when there is nothing to inspire such kindness… when kindness is not deserved, and there is no expectation of kindness returned or even thanks being offered.

Jesus explains, “If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. If you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners do the same.” But he explains that God “is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked.” And therefore, we should “Be merciful, just as [our] Father is merciful.”

That’s the thing about every single one of these “fruit of the Spirit” that we’re reflecting on this summer. Every one of these virtues is a characteristic of God-self. Every one of these ways of living and interacting with others is embodied perfectly in the life and ministry of Jesus first.

In Paul’s letter to the Philippians, he describes the kindness we are encouraged to show to one another. He writes: “Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others.”

And then Paul explains how Christ Jesus showed that kindness in his whole way of being in the world. He didn’t just give a few examples of some random acts of kindness performed by Jesus, but he showed how Jesus’ whole life embodied kindness.

He writes: “Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death – even death on a cross.”

Jesus’ whole life was focussed on the needs of others. Jesus’ whole life was given for the life of others… not because we had earned such kindness, or deserved such kindness, but out of God’s great mercy and love for us.

And once again, we Christ-followers are called to pattern our lives after his… to humble ourselves, to serve as he served, to give our lives for others in daily acts of kindness and love to those who do not deserve such kindness.

I would like to think that if we all focussed on practising kindness that we could create a culture of kindness… not only in our churches, but in the wider community.

And I’m thinking especially of the online community… a place where people so often feel free to post comments and write blogs that criticize, belittle, and insult others. Online discussions so often turn into debates, and hurtful words, and hateful sentiments. Even in Christian forums, things can easily get out of control when online arguments flare up between people with different perspectives.

But online communities on Facebook, Twitter, and other social media can also provide opportunities for building each other up, sharing words of kindness and encouragement. Just using that simple “Like” button freely and generously can make a difference for someone who is feeling alone, unheard, or unloved. And posting comments that are positive and respectful can be a ministry of encouragement in itself.

And have you heard about this Pokeman game that everyone is playing? Well, perhaps not everyone… but there have certainly been lots of people out wandering around our city with their smart phones catching Pokeman characters all over the place!

Last week when the VBS kids were out on the grass playing old-fashioned games like “duck, duck, goose,” people were out there on the sidewalk playing Pokeman. And I’ve learned that there is something called a “Pokeman Gym” out in front of our church on 20th Street… so we’ll likely see many more people coming by.

Perhaps you’ve heard that some people are getting upset about all the kids (and adults) wandering around playing the game. They don’t want people wandering onto their private property or knocking on the doors of their churches to look for Pokeman to catch!

But others are taking a different approach – a kinder approach. A friend of mine who is a Presbyterian minister in Edmonton is getting right into the Pokeman frenzy. And when he found out that there were a few inside the church and a PokeStop just outside the church, he decided to be kind and helpful instead of shooing the gamers away. A welcome sign on the church door, a charging station to help people whose phone batteries might be dying, bottles of water available, and a friendly chat.

Others have suggested that churches could use the Pokeman phenomenon to get young people into their churches – maybe hand out some Bible tracts or information about church programs, maybe engage with the people and try to evangelize them. But that would be kindness with an ulterior motive, instead of unselfish kindness and neighbourliness.

Although you do have to be careful if you’re going to play the Pokeman game (so you don’t accidentally wander into traffic or into a tree while you’re walking and staring at your phone), many people are commenting that the game is getting young people outside, walking, and enjoying summertime. And it’s also getting people interacting with each other out in the community… even ministers and other church people who have the opportunity to use those interactions to show kindness in the name of Christ.

But creating a culture of kindness is something that we can work on wherever we are, whoever we meet, and whatever we are doing. We just need to remember Jesus’ example, and look to the interests of others instead of our own.

Let me conclude with an encouraging story of kindness that I read online, written and shared by a woman named Valerie Taylor in Toronto.

“So after a hectic week I arrived at Union Station to head home. A family from Syria was also caught in the hustle of Union rush hour and only the oldest child (11 years old) of the 5 in the group spoke English. They were trying to get to London to be with family. They came to Canada 4 months ago.

A young woman in her early 20’s was helping them and she bought their train tickets to be kind. They had 2 baby strollers and 3 other kids and heavy bags so I helped them get to the train, but other random strangers picked up strollers and bags to help them up the stairs as well.

Once on the train I realized they had gotten some incorrect advice as they were on Lake Shore West and were headed the wrong way. I spoke to the helpful man working on the GO train to find out where they had to go to get a bus to London. It was Aldershot but there was only a Via train which cost a lot and they had budgeted for much less. The error was not their fault.

So I missed my stop and went with them, planning to buy 7 train tickets because that’s what we do in Canada. We help. Everyone on the GO train was also helping, calling friends who spoke Arabic, and giving me money to help cover their ticket costs. We got to the train station, and right before I could pay the fares, a lady came running out of the GO kiosk yelling, STOP! Somehow the main GO company had heard what was happening and was sending a bus to take the family to London.

It was almost overwhelming, the way people wanted to help. It has been one of the most moving experiences. The number of people who on a random hot July Wednesday during rush hour who tried to help a family of strangers who are our newest Canadians. Lots of bad things happening in the world right now and not enough compassion. Compassion is better. A huge thank you to GO Transit and all the random kind people I encountered today. You are why this is an amazing country.”

 As Jesus would say, “Go, and do likewise.”