The Gift of Kindness

On Monday, a young woman walked into the church and asked to use the telephone. Not a problem, I said. And while she sat in the office dialing numbers and getting no response, I sat at my desk trying to pick out hymns for this Sunday.

Are you stranded? I asked. She had just been released from the county jail, she said, was far from home, and no one was coming to get her. She finally got a hold of a friend or a neighbor… someone she thought might help and was chewed out over the phone. She hung up in frustration.

And so I asked her if she needed a ride. She had no other options. She was seven months pregnant and needed to get home. We got in my car and headed out. And on the way out the door, she asked if she could have one of the bibles on the shelf.

As we drove, we talked about where we grew up. We talked about semi-trucks. We stopped for food, because she hadn’t eaten all day. We talked a little bit about church – but only enough to learn that she had never found one that had felt like home. She had dreams that she wanted to fulfill… but also was raising her kids by herself and didn’t know if it would ever happen.

But she got home. And for the moment – that was all that was important.

An outsider might look on that situation and see a random act of kindness. Going out of your way to do something nice for a complete stranger. But what I did on Monday morning was far from a random act… and this young woman was far from being a stranger.

This morning, we get to think about kindness… about where it comes from and what it looks like… and we are going to do so through the story of Joseph in the land of Egypt.
Do you remember Joseph? He was one of the 12 sons of Jacob – the same Jacob we talked about last week. And he was the first born to Jacob’s most beloved wife Rachel. That fact alone gave him a special place in his father’s heart and the rest of his brothers hated him for it. They schemed against Joseph and captured him one day and sold him into slavery.

Now – if my brothers had just kidnapped me and sold me into slavery, I’m not sure that I would be a very happy or nice person. But as we heard the story of Joseph’s time in Egypt this morning – we find a young man who doesn’t let anything stop him from being a kind person.

In the new testament greek – the word for kindness is chrestotes and it describes a sort of temperament that is respectful and helpful without expecting anything in return. Rick Renner describes this word in his book, Sparkling Gems from the Greek, as “being adaptable to the needs of others.”

Adaptable might be the best way to describe the young man Joseph. When sold into slavery, he tried to figure out what he could do to best please his master Potiphar. He served him with respect. Respect – even to the point of denying the advances of his master’s wife.

When that got him in trouble… Joseph adapted. His new home was the jail. His new task was to be the best prisoner he could be. And his willingness to be obedient and courteous put him in good favor with the jailor. Joseph was promoted in the prison system and was put in charge of the other prisoners.

And although he was their unjustly… and although he had no reason to treat the other prisoners with respect, he did. He cared for those other prisoners and did what he could to help them. Which means that when the royal cupbearer and baker are thrown into jail… Joseph is the same person that he was the day before… he treats them with the same respect he would have treated anyone else in that prison. And his kindness eventually gets him out of that jail and in front of the king.

In the letter to Titus, we see that kindness, chrestotes, is obedience, it is avoiding a fight and not picking one either, it is showing courtesy…. But I think above all – it is being ready for every good work. Kindness is always looking for the next person that you can bless. Kindness is seeing others not as competition or as obstacles to your success – but as recipients of your grace. It doesn’t matter if those people are beneath you or the very kings and rulers and presidents of your nations. Kindness is not just being nice or saying nice things… kindness is being ready to act on behalf of another person… and OUR job is to look for ways to bless others.

So we have learned from the greek word for kindness… and we can learn even more about kindness by looking at the Hebrew word for kindness – khesed. Khesed teaches us that kindness is not random and spontaneous behavior… but kindness is the way we behave when we have a commitment to another person.

Just as we sometimes play word games – we too can see the meaning of this word khesed by playing around with it also. In the book of Job… God compares the ostrich to the stork…. You see, the ostrich abandons its young by leaving them in the sand where anything could step on them and any animal could eat them. The stork however is loyal to its young and protects them at any cost.

Now, that is all well and good, until we hear that the word for “stork” is khasidah… which sounds an awful lot like khesed – or kindness. In fact… in some bibles, this passage from Job actually uses the word “love” instead of “stork” as it compares the ostrich.

In the Hebrew understanding, kindness was not something shown to a complete stranger – but it was based in your relationship with that person.

Relationships come in many forms… We can have master/servant relationships …which is part of the reason Joseph was so kind of Potiphar and for so long warded off the advances of his wife.

We can have covenantal relationships like marriage, and commitments that arise because we are citizens of a town or a state or a nation. In fact – it was because they were all children of Israel that there was such a strong urging to care for the widows and orphans in the midst of the people…

One of the threads in this story of Joseph is the continual presence of God. And Joseph knew that every person he encountered was someone that God had put in his life. And so he treated Pharaoh the same way as he treated his fellow prisoners.

As Christians, I think our obligations to other people go farther than our families and our civic belongings. We have been made children of the Most High… and because of our relationship with God… we must love who God loves. We must show kindness to whom God shows kindness.

And… we must show kindness in the same way that God has shown kindness to us.

In the gospel of Luke we hear these words from Jesus: “even sinners love those who love them, and are good to those who are good to them… love your enemies, do good to them – then you will be children of the most high, because he is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked”

It is the same message we get in Titus… the loving-kindness of God saved us not because of anything worth that we had done… but according to his mercy. We were once the ungrateful and the wicked… and some days we still are.

Our job, as recipients of this grace and this mercy is not to go out and point to the sin in the lives of others… but to love them as we have been loved.

When that young woman walked into the church on Monday, my heartstrings tugged a little. It was like God was saying… I know that you want to serve me – so here is your chance – Feed my sheep. Open your eyes and let go of all that stuff you think you are supposed to be doing on a Monday morning in the office. Go…. do… love.

This beautiful young woman had a thousand different needs, and I couldn’t begin to meet all of them. But I could get her home. I could stop and have lunch with her. I could let her know that I didn’t care if she had spent a few nights in jail or a thousand years or if she was Mother Theresa – but she was loved by God and by me and she deserved to have someone help her. I could do that. God could do that through me.

And God can do wonderful and amazing things through you, also. Live so that you might be open and adaptable to God’s promptings. See everyone around you as a child of God who you have a sincere obligation towards. And remember that if we live in this open way and pray for the Spirit to fill us… that God’s kindness will be your kindness. Amen and Amen.

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