Micah 6:1-8, Colossians 3:1-17
September 27, 2009
By now I’m sure you’ve heard the catch phrase that says, “Practice Random Acts of Kindness.” I started seeing that on bumper stickers in about the 1990’s. Maybe it was earlier. Well, I have to admit that for me there has always been a certain note of the “arbitrary” in that statement. I know its intention. And it’s a good one. It’s about our being kind to people, regardless of whether we know them. It’s about showing kindness when it’s unexpected. It’s about spreading kindness, and Lord knows we need that in this world!! And by the way, I hope you’ve noticed that about these fruits of the spirit. They are things our world seems to be lacking!
Still, that statement has a “spur of the moment” kind of feel. It seems to imply that we are to react kindly to people that we might “randomly” meet, or that we reach out with kindness in random ways. And while that’s good, I think there’s more. When we think of “kindness” as one of these fruits of the spirit, I hope we remember that part of what it means to have these fruits is that the spirit gives us the power to choose to have these fruits, and in this case, the spirit gives us the power to be kindly people! There’s more than “randomness” in that. Kindness should be one of our characteristics! So, I’ve “chosen” today to alter that expression to read, “Practice chosen acts of kindness.” Or perhaps I could have made it, “Choose to be kindly people” but I’m afraid there wouldn’t have been much of the original statement left. So I’ll stick with what I’ve given you.
Actually I should have my wife preaching this sermon! She is one for whom kindness is a big word! And I’ve personally learned a lot about kindness in the relatively little time I’ve known her! But, (in lieu of getting her up here) I’ll try my best!
As I’ve said all along in this series, these “fruits” are the characteristics, the outward signs, that we have, and that we choose to have, when we are walking by the spirit. If you remember from way back at the beginning, I said that these were the “New Ten Commandments” for the New Testament times. They were the new “guides for living” that those “Original Ten” represented. I hope you remember that. And that’s all good. But even as we think about all that New Testament stuff, I want us first to return to the Old Testament today, as we begin to think about this fruit of “Kindness.” I want to have us hear again these great words from the prophet Micah. I’m sure you know this passage, or I hope you do. Perhaps you even remember that little song that goes with them. “What does the Lord require of you, but to seek justice, and love kindness, and walk humbly with your God.”
When Micah wrote those words, it was the time of the Law. That was the time Paul was talking about in Galatians when he gave us these fruits of the spirit. But here, even in the time of Micah, when the Law was “the Law,” we have this amazing statement that sounds very “New Testament.” And it’s a statement about what is really important to God. “With what shall I come before the Lord?” the prophet asks. He then describes a number of intensely religious devotional things! He talks about giving burnt offerings, which was a very important thing in those days. It was a regular part of their religious life. But he exaggerates that here by talking in terms of giving those offerings by the thousands. Then he talks about self-sacrifice. That was also a part of their lives. And again he exaggerates, asking if God would be pleased if they gave even their first born! “But no!” the prophet says. “What does the Lord require of you?” Not all those religious things. He requires of you “that you seek justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with him!” That is what is pleasing in God’s sight! And that sounds like the fruits of the spirit, doesn’t it? I hope so!
You may remember that verse differently. In some translations, the word “kindness” is translated “mercy.” And that’s fine. I think you’ll agree that mercy and kindness are very similar words. Although we might say that “mercy” refers to kindness which is given to a person in some kind of difficult or dangerous situation, or even to an enemy. But which ever word you find in your “favorite translation,” I want you to remember the context in which Micah says these words. Kindness, as well as justice and humility – these other words of Micah – is all about an orientation toward others. It is thinking beyond the self. And it is something the prophet tells us is more important to God than “religious stuff.” It is the heart of our faith! Micah is telling the people that God is more concerned that they love each other than that they “worship him rightly.”
Does that sound too far out to you? Well, hear these words of Jesus from the Sermon on the Mount. “So, when you are offering your gift at the altar, if you remember there that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift before the altar and go. First, be reconciled to your brother or sister, and then come and offer your gift.” (Matthew 5:23-24) Do you see? Be reconciled to each other, and then go and give your acts of worship. And the thing is, it is then, when you are reconciled to each other, that your gifts and your very worship becomes righteous! Do you think Jesus knew Micah’s writings?
How about Paul? He told the Romans in Chapter 12 to present their bodies as a living sacrifices. Not on an altar, but in how they lived! That was in fact their “spiritual worship!” How they lived, how they treated each other, was inseparable from their worship of God! Then, he says, “For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of yourself more highly than you ought to think…” in other words be humble. And why? Because “as in one body we have many members, and not all the members have the same function, so we are all together the body of Christ.” (Romans 12:1-5)
Do you see how important this is? Kindness is about thinking less of ourselves and more of others? That is a characteristic of those who are “walking by the spirit!” That’s quite a contrast in a world where self-centeredness is not only accepted, it’s encouraged! Doing for the self is seen as paramount for so many people today! And don’t get me wrong. There is something to be said for taking care of the self. The body is the temple of the holy spirit. We should care for and even be good stewards of this temple God has given us! But part of God’s message is that everyone else’s body is also that temple – that dwelling place – of the holy spirit, too!
I could go on and on. And perhaps I should. Because, even though Jesus and Paul were only teaching the people stuff they should have known already, (and some 80 percent of Jesus’ teaching was just that!) it needed to be said. And it still needs to be said. Because there is a natural tendency to live in our own world, to think only of our own needs, to concern ourselves with our own well being. And that natural tendency is one of the strongest there is!
We have to see that kindness is stepping outside of that world. Kindness is thinking of the needs of others. Kindness is not natural. It is not “random.” It is a choice! It is paramount in our faith. And kindness should be attended to just as the other “religious” things we do. In fact, it should be attended to before those other religious things! It is that important!
I like the way Paul puts it in Colossians. As I read this, I wonderer if he too had been thinking of this passage in Micah as he wrote these words. “As God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, put on compassion, kindness, lowliness, meekness, and patience.” I like that metaphor! He says “put on these things!” Wear them as a garment – as an outward sign! And notice, he didn’t say, “As God’s chosen ones, live by these things that God has automatically given you.” He said “put on these things!” Choose them! Wear them! Be them! (As the modern expression goes.)
Do you see how this all fits together? So as you think about this fruit of the spirit, ask yourself again the practical question. Are you a kind person. Not do you practice random acts of kindness. That’s great if you do. But do you “put on” kindness? Do you wear it like a garment? We choose our clothing to project certain things about us. Many of us even have T-shirts with words. And they say something about us. Do we choose to wear kindness as well? That is the choice for the day.
Eternal God, help us to choose to be kind people. Help us to “put on” kindness in the way we look on others, and as we choose to reach out to them with your love. Help us to uphold each other as your precious children, temples of your holy spirit. Help us to seek out and to love those who need your kindness and mercy. For these things we pray in Jesus’ name, and for the sake of his kingdom. Amen.