One afternoon when I was serving the church in Marengo, a young woman walked into the church and asked to use the telephone.
Not a problem, I said.
We talked for a bit and I learned she had just been released from the county jail, was 80 miles 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 if I could give her a ride. 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 my shelf.
As we drove, we talked about our lives and stopped for food. 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 kids by herself and had put her goals on hold. But she was going 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.
Each week this summer, we are exploring how the Holy Spirit moves in our lives and provides what we need for any situation. Today’s gift of the Spirit is kindness – and so we are going to wrestle with where it comes from and what it looks like, in part through the story of Joseph.
When Joseph finds himself sold into slavery in Egypt, he is purchased by Potiphar, a very important man and an official of the Pharaoh. It is like he was sent to work for one of our government’s cabinet officials.
In Paul’s letter to Titus, he writes about Christians who find themselves living under the authority of government officials. He tells Titus, “remind them to submit to rulers and authorities. They should be obedient and ready to do every good thing. They shouldn’t speak disrespectfully to anyone, but they should be peaceful, kind, and show complete courtesy toward everyone.” (Titus 3:1-2) Paul reminds Titus that it is God’s kindness and love that has saved us so that we can do these things.
The word that Paul uses here for kindness, chrestotes, describes a sort of temperament that is respectful and helpful without expecting anything in return. Rick Renner describes this attitude “being adaptable to the needs of others.”
Adaptable might be the best way to describe 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 there 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 Pharaoh.
In Paul’s letter to Titus, we see that kindness is being ready for every good work. In that sense, it is not random at all, but an intentionally willingness to let God use you in every moment.
Here in Iowa, we are really good at being nice, but kindness is not just being nice or saying nice things… The Holy Spirit empowers us to live out a spirit of kindness so that we are ready to act on behalf of another person.
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.
The people who enter your life are not strangers… but they are children of God. The Hebrew word for kindness, Khesed describes how we should behave when we have a commitment to another person. And because we have a relationship with God, we have an obligation to love and care for every person we meet. It doesn’t matter if they are beneath you or the very kings and rulers and presidents of your nations. Every single one of their lives matter and the spirit of kindness urges us to look out for their best interests.
Last week, a number of us from Immanuel attended our Iowa Annual Conference. Our theme for this year is about being difference makers. Throughout our work and our worship, we heard stories of how people of the United Methodist Church are making a difference all across our state and received encouragement to come back to our churches to make a difference in our own communities.
Friends of Immanuel, you already have been difference makers. We go out in mission to make a difference at places like CFUM and under the bridges with the homeless here in Des Moines. We put together kits that make a difference in the lives of people all across this world. In your personal lives, you are part of service organizations that are making a difference for people far and wide. And before our service is over today, we will commission the Bell Tour, who have turned their musical offerings into service and who share God’s love with people who are lonely through the gift of a teddy bear or doll or stuffed animal.
And that is because the spirit of kindness is flowing through this place. We believe that God has called us, in Christ, to live lives of love and service and prayer. We believe that God is sending us outside these walls to bring healing and hope to broken people and places. We are ready for every good work.
One of the ways we have tried to live out that service this year has been through our 5th Sunday Service projects. In January, we put together care packages for some of our local police departments, in gratitude for their service and as a way of reaching out in love after the loss of some of our local police officers. We wanted to bring healing in the midst of their grief and we continue to pray for them.
At the end of April, we put together May baskets for our neighbors and our homebound folks. Those small offerings of love were a good work, a blessing, that we hoped might bring healing to those who were lonely.
We have another fifth Sunday coming up at the end of July but as we have been reflecting on what it means to go out and serve others, what it means to be ready for every good work and to act on behalf of others, and what it means to be open to where the Holy Spirit is sending us, we have a challenge for you.
On July 30th, our next Fifth Sunday Service project, we want to share 100 acts of kindness in this world. Instead of all picking the same project, you now have six weeks to get together with friends, and neighbors, and pew mates, and to figure out together what good work God is prompting YOU to do in the world.
Maybe you want to wash your neighbor’s windows and you can pull together 3-4 people to help you.
Maybe you are feeling called to visit some of our homebound folks. Round up a friend, or even better, a couple of children from the church and go and spread some joy.
Perhaps you know of a local agency that needs help with a project. Find out what is needed and take your book study group with you.
You could pull weeds, or write cards, or play bingo, or clean gutters.
All that we ask is that 1) you do it with at least one other person and 2) you make a difference in the world.
All together, we are hoping to bring about 100 acts of kindness on July 30th. If you can’t be here that day, plan your project for the week or two ahead and send us a picture of what you have done so that we can lift it up and celebrate all the ways Immanuel is making a difference in the world.
We can only do this big, amazing, and wonderful thing if YOU let God use you… if you let the Spirit of God fill you with kindness so that you can be ready for every good work.
Throughout the tale of Joseph, we discover that he is continually in the presence of God. He knew that every person he encountered was someone that God had put in his life. And so he treated Pharaoh the same way he treated his fellow prisoners.
In the gospel of Luke, Jesus tells us that even sinners love those who love them, and are good to those who are good to them. We are called to do even more… to love our enemies and do good to them. We are supposed to love all people the way God, our Father, loves us. And if God is kind and generous and gracious even when we are at our worst… well, that’s how we should treat all people (Luke 6:27-36).
As the Message translation puts it in Luke 6:36: “Our Father is kind; you be kind.”
And the loving-kindness of God saved us not because of anything worth that we had done… but according to his mercy. We were once ungrateful and 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 my church in Marengo, I knew that the Holy Spirit was prompting me to be kind.
I couldn’t begin to meet all of her needs, but I could get her home. I could buy her lunch. 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. Or rather…. God could do that through me.
And God can do amazing things through YOU. Live so that you might be open and adaptable to God’s promptings.
See every person you meet as a child of God, your brother or sister.
And remember that with the Spirit’s help… God’s kindness will be your kindness. Amen.