As I’ve said, this morning we are exploring one of our church’s values – loving each other, and in particular we are thinking about how we value kindness. Now, one of our other values is celebrating, and I’ve heard it said that you should celebrate what you value. So, this morning, I thought we might celebrate kindness. To help us do that, I’m going to be sharing some things that we can celebrate about God’s kindness and the human kindness that I’ve seen over the last couple of months. As I speak, there will also be images of kindness coming up on the screen. I’d love it if you could share stories of kindness in the comments stream, so that we can build each other up and encourage each other.
Now, one of the most important words in the Old Testament part of the Bible is the Hebrew word Hesed.
We’ve already heard it three times today – it’s the word used by Naomi to describe Boaz’s acts in looking out for Ruth in his fields, in Micah 6:8 it is translated as “mercy” and in Hosea 6:6 – which Jesus quotes as he tells the Pharisees that what God requires is not sacrifice but “mercy”
As we can see, hesed is translated as mercy in some places, but it has a wider meaning than what we might understand as mercy, letting someone off – forgiving them. In other places it’s translated as kindness, lovingkindness, and goodness. It is celebrated all the way through the Old Testament as one of God’s fundamental characteristics – this is what God is like – God is kind.
It appears all the way through the Psalms, perhaps most famously in Psalm 23, “surely your goodness and lovingkindness will follow me all of the days of my life”
One of the strongest messages of the Old Testament is that God’s love is expressed in kindness, that we can celebrate that and rely on it, and that God expects us to be kind to each other.
This core characteristic of lovingkindness is, unsurprisingly, also seen in Jesus. We see at work here, in the story of this meal that Jesus shared with tax collectors and sinners. It is a practical kindness that makes time and space for people that are difficult. It seems to me that if we romanticise this, and imagine Robin Hood type lovable rogues, who are actually nicer people than the hypocritical and boring religious types, then we risk losing sight of the power of what Jesus is doing. Jesus’ lovingkindness is not one that sweeps sin under the table, but it faces it head on and gives people a way out of it.
I think this lovingkindness is also seen in this response to the Pharisees. It’s true that at times Jesus could be fairly direct, and even angry with the Pharisees, but on this occasion, he doesn’t trap them into a corner, he doesn’t harangue them, he just invites them to go and consider and meditate on the Scripture, and particularly on what they already know about God’s priority for lovingkindness.
In a little while, I’ll be leading a communion part of the service. I know that many of you find this helpful, and join in at home in some way. I know that some of you find this difficult, and think it would be better if we waited until we were physically together to share in the bread and wine. As we remember Jesus on the cross, in his lovingkindness crying out “Father, forgive them” and ensuring that his mother Mary had someone to look after her, I hope that whatever we feel about this, we can be kind to those who think differently to us.
This livingkindness is also seen being lived out in the young church. We read in Acts 2, “They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need.” This is a practical expression of kindness.
As I look around at our response to Covid-19 I have seen many examples of this type of practical kindness. Yesterday was the third drive through foodbank drop off at the Woolpack, organised by the local community to support those who are struggling for the basics of life at the moment. We’ve been supporting the setting up of the community fridge at Wrekin View school, and folk from the church to distribute food packages from there. I know of one church member who saw an elderly neighbour, who she didn’t really know, out shopping, got talking to her and discovered that she didn’t have anyone to do shopping for her, and so offered to do a weekly Morrisons shop for her. I don’t want you for a minute to think that I am celebrating the circumstances, but I do want to celebrate these responses. We value kindness, and we are showing that.
I’ve also seen this in the pastoral work that is being done across the church. There has been the pastoral team and small group leaders and members phoning, emailing, dropping round to folk for socially distanced garden visits. There have been informal conversations and people catching up with each other. People have volunteered to do shopping for those who can’t get out. Recently we’ve realised that people who have been stuck in for a while might feel nervous about going out for the first time, so we’ve got some volunteers who would be willing to go and accompany them on their first walk out. If that’s you, and you’d like someone to go with you, then please do get in touch with me and I’ll put you in touch. Again, this is care and kindness that we can celebrate.
Many of you have filled in the survey I sent round, to see how we can support you in your discipleship in these strange times. The responses to these are going to go to PCC a week on Monday, and I plan to share the headlines more widely after that. But, I’ve been so encouraged by the many kind words and positive responses that have come in. I’ve also been encouraged by the care and kindness shown for those who may be isolated, and aren’t able to engage in online services. The responses have shown me that there is a deep well of kindness in this church, we value it and we can celebrate it.
Having said all that, I do also know that it is likely that there are those of you out there who are finding all this talk of the celebration of kindness difficult, because you don’t feel like anyone is kind to you, or that the church has been cruel to you. If that’s you, and you feel like I’ve let you down, or the church has let you down, then I’m sorry. Please do get in touch with me, and we’ll see what can be done to put things right.
As a church, we value kindness. We have experienced God’s lovingkindness, and we want others to experience it as well, both directly, and through us. We consider our words, spoken – emailed – facebooked – tweeted carefully, considering the impact they might have on someone, for good or ill. We don’t just do the things we were going to do more nicely, we go out of our way to do and say things to others that will communicate love and care to them. We do kind things. We say kind words. We live kind lives. Because we all love, follow, and serve a kind King.