by John Roy, Pelham Road Church
As God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience. 13Bear with one another and, if anyone has a complaint against another, forgive each other; just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.14Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. 15And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in the one body. And be thankful. Colossians 3:12-15
If someone was to say of another “they are so Pollyanna” what would they be saying? This is the first of three places where your participation is expected.
An overly optimistic and cheerful person.
I’ve been preaching pretty frequently on being kind, using kind words, and other practices that prioritize forgiveness and mutual respect. Of course if you’ve been awake during recent months you might say the world is in open rebellion against my words. I would of course remind you that I am preaching to YOU and that as far as I can tell you have doubled down on kindness—your generosity toward the 40 for 40 campaign, your enthusiastic support of the Easter basket project, the continued concern you have for children by supporting project pinwheel, the way you rally around the bereaved and the newcomer. So I’m not Pollyanna I’m simply looking at the results and saying—Praise God from whom all blessings flow.
Now if you lift your eyes beyond our church family and watch the news—you could make a reasoned argument that kindness cannot stop a bomb or create a job. In Pakistan a bomb explodes killing Christian’s, in Belgium a bomb explodes and kills Muslims. In Greenville a man shoots a police officer. In New Jersey a teenager commits suicide due to bullying. There is an appalling lack of kindness that we must acknowledge. Should we then conclude that being kind is fruitless and join the rest of the madness?
The madness we are facing today is nothing. Consider the events of September 11, 2001 now that was a maddening day. One of the most remarkable and memorable aspects of the tragedy, was when faced with human tragedy even the tragedy of strangers people ran to help.
Not to minimize the effort of the police or fire fighters but they are trained to run toward tragedy. But if you can stand to watch the footage you will see bankers, custodians, and construction workers and they are carrying and bandaging total strangers. I encourage you to look at some of the footage. It’s horrific that people care so little about human life but it is also heroic that people care so much about strangers. What I found compelling was everybody was gray—due to the ash. You could not tell who was white, black, or Latino so race was not a factor. Neither was age or religion—-there were no strangers, no enemies—-just neighbors.
No one trained these sandwich makers and custodians how to love. No instruction videos were circulated to teach kindness and generosity. These people without financial motivation carried people to safety, helped people find loved ones, gave fresh water, and medical attention because they knew what was right. It would appear they were wired this way.
As God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience. 13Bear with one another and, if anyone has a complaint against another, forgive each other; just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.14Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. 15And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in the one body. And be thankful.
Of course others might argue we are not wired to be kind. Scripture directs us to “cloth” ourselves which may be a subtle or not so subtle way of saying there is effort—-in forgiveness, kindness, humility, etc. I agree there is effort, but effort does not mean it is not natural. What makes it effort is that in life we learn or witness other values that compete against patience and kindness. The effort is to listen to our original programming and not listen to the software installed at a later date.
Scripture refers to this software as the fruit of the flesh—-and we might summarize the fruit as decisions which result in self-preservation and pleasure. Sure these compete against the way of kindness but when you observe from afar, kindness has as many converts as self-preservation and on our worse day’s (like 9/11) maybe MORE.
Now for your second audience participation question; the following is a song—from what musical does it come.
Carousel, South Pacific, or State Fair
“You’ve got to be taught
To hate and fear,
You’ve got to be taught
From year to year,
It’s got to be drummed
In your dear little ear
You’ve got to be carefully taught.
You’ve got to be taught to be afraid
Of people whose eyes are oddly made,
And people whose skin is a diff’rent shade,
You’ve got to be carefully taught.
You’ve got to be taught before it’s too late,
Before you are six or seven or eight,
To hate all the people your relatives hate,
You’ve got to be carefully taught!”
–Rogers and Hammerstein
It’s the last stanza that troubles me. Hate is taught to the young, the impressionable. As we are considering our children and protecting our children, one of the things we need to protect them from is hate and prejudice. If we teach hate we poison our children and that does not make us a hero that makes us a villain.
What should be our curriculum for our children? The temptation is to make our curriculum modern or post-modern something relevant for today. Something that takes into account the technology, surveillance, and the lack of privacy world we live in. Yet the human heart, the one that beats in our child’s body has not changed, it remains the same and so I think some ancient advice may be in order.
14Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony.
This sounds a bit Pollyanna—–love is good but it’s not duct tape.
Scripture is not written to call us to do the sane and predictable, our symbol is not a weather vain but a cross, we don’t follow where the wind is blowing. Scripture is often counter cultural, that’s what makes it worth living by. It ask us to do the hard thing—
“turn the other cheek,”
the unpredictable “pray for those who persecute you”
and the lonely—-“go into your prayer closet.”
While I think it is in our DNA to be kind, loving, and patient, I recognize there are other values that compete with even these natural tendencies. In the age of the bully, the selfish, and the hater I think we are summons by God to ignore these “values of the flesh.”
In the book Wild Justice: The moral lives of animals we learn that animals can show compassion. Your third question this morning. Which animal did research show was most often compassionate—–squires, cats, or spiders?
It turns out that red squirrels are kind and compassionate in that orphan baby squirrels are often adopted by other squirrels. Due to the high rate of squirrel deaths from encounters with cars many squirrel pups are orphaned. After the death of a mother a neighboring squirrel will go over and retrieved one of the orphaned pups and bring it back to her nest to raise as her own. There was really no reason for her to do this and further there’s no reason to reject the idea that she did it out of kindness and compassion.
But what about us—can we be this compassionate?
If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him?[i]
Think for a moment about the ways this can be applied?
If you have the time to hold a child who needs holding.
If you have a book another person would enjoy?
If you see a teenager with their head hanging low and you have a nice thing to say?
If you have time to do the dishes for your spouse?
If you have time to pick up the dry cleaning?
If you have money to treat your mom and dad to dinner?
If you have an extra coat and you see a person without a coat?
And our response is to have no pity (to not be kind) then why do we bother calling ourselves Christian.
In other words, if WE haven’t mastered the ability to be kind, to see and do, then why even bother with more bible study, more singing, because the love of God is not end us.
Love and un-Love are two different actions.
If what we feel and do is limited to certain people, conditional, and is exclusive what we have is the makings for a country club, or civic organization—we have un-love. Un-love is not hate but it is not love.
But if what we have is unconditional and unlimited and is inclusive, not exclusive what we have is the Kingdom of God. We have found and practice love.
What can we do this week which makes the world into the world God desires?
Coach an employee up instead of putting them down?
Give some time to visit someone who is sick?
Pass down some clothes to another and save them some money?
Speak with a person of another faith or a different color?
Send a card or email to someone who needs a word of encouragement? Acting on love and being kind doesn’t cost anything, except giving our time and paying attention.
Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. 13Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.[ii]
[i] I John 3:17
[ii] Colossians 3:12