Sermon of the Week:
Love is Kind–Kindness is Great!
Part one of a six-week sermon series about Kindness and the Christian Faith, called Love is Kind.
Special Music: In Remembrance
Hymn: The King of Love My Shepherd Is
Keywords: Bruce Reyes-Chow, Paul, Billy Bragg, Harry Styles, Kindness, Humanize Everyone. #pcusa
Permission to podcast / stream the music in this service obtained from ONE LICENSE with license #A-733469. All rights reserved.
I’ve known it in my bones longer than I’ve had words to put to it
But we have a kindness problem.
Not exactly a civility problem.
Or a niceness problem.
A kindness problem.
I put words to it last spring,
When we as a nation were elbow deep in some argument or another about the pandemic.
Back then it was just the flu.
It was going to pass by Easter, or shortly thereafter.
Things were lightening up a bit, because it was getting warmer out
and we as a nation were debating things like wearing masks out in public.
And a pastor friend of mine was in a grocery store in his hometown
When someone spat on him.
My friend was wearing a mask
And that simple thing made him a target
Of all this stuff we were feeling at the time
The worry and the dread and the anger
Because we were locked down and locked in and frankly worried about all of that
Worried about getting sick or what would become of our job
Upset because we weren’t seeing our loved ones…
And some people started lashing out over all of that
Particularly people who seemed to be living through all of this differently…
And so my friend went to the grocery store
And he was wearing a mask
And because of that, this guy came up to him and yelled at him and spit in his face.
It was disgusting, sure, and dangerous, frankly
And now, looking back at it a year later, a clear sign of our kindness problem.
That’s one moment when it crystalized for me,
but there are other moments from the last few years…
Maybe you can name some of your own.
So it was a breath of fresh air when a different pastor friend
Wrote a book this year that he called
In Defense of Kindness: Why It Matters, How it Changes our Lives,
And How it Can Save the World.[i]
Bruce Reyes-Chow leads a congregation in Palo Alto California
And has been a wise and thoughtful theologian for the church for a while now
Even before became the youngest person ever elected to be Moderator of our Denomination
The Presbyterian Church USA, back in 2008.
He has written about curating conversations about race and racism, parenting,
and now, gratefully, about kindness.
I’m going to be using his work throughout this sermon series.
This is a timely subject,
Because if I were to ask you to close your eyes
As a thought experiment,
And I asked you think a bit about
two experiences in the past week when you saw kindness,
Someone being kind to another…
And gave you a few seconds to do that,
And then I asked you, conversely,
to think about two experiences where you saw the opposite,
When someone was just awful to someone else…
Which would come easier and quicker to mind?
Bruce Reyes-Chow argues that we see far more examples of the later
Of people being unkind to one another
On social media
Driving around town or on the interstate
At the store or in the park.
Bruce is in California.
I’m here in the Midwest, where “niceness” is almost a virtue.
This question might land differently in Boston or New York
Than it does in Minnesota
But I think Bruce is right: this seems to not be a geographical phenomenon
But something becoming more prevalent throughout our culture.
Let’s start by explaining what we mean by Kindness.
Even though I suggested a moment ago that Kindness might be another word for Nice,
That’s not what we mean.
Being kind isn’t being nice,
In part, that’s because being nice is often not really about being kind at all…
Here’s how Bruce puts it:
While being nice is not a bad thing in general,
Often being nice is an outward action
that is more about not rocking the boat
than about acknowledging the human dignity of others.
Being nice is often about avoiding conflict,
Letting inappropriate actions slide,
Or bottling up words and actions
That ought to be spoken and enacted
To prevent creating an uncomfortable scene.
At its worst, being nice reinforces actions and attitudes
that strip away human dignity.
So if that’s what you are doing, then yes,
I say stop doing that.[ii]
What do you think about this?
Some examples of being nice, but not being kind,
Might be when we say “bless your heart” to someone,
when we let a bully get away with it because its too much work to tell him to knock it off.
Niceness is closer to politeness, which, again, isn’t itself bad in many circumstances
But it isn’t what we’re talking about when we talk about being kind.
Some of the worst things ever said to me were uttered with a niceness to it.
Some of the worst things ever done to my friends, to people I love,
Where done by someone who uttered “I love the sinner, but I also have to hate the sin…”
As if that excused the most dehumanizing sort of response in return.
Ok, fair enough.
But what then do we mean by Kindness?
Turns out, many people have tried to answer that for us.
Aristotle attempted to define kindness as
“helpfulness towards someone in need,
Not in return for anything,
Nor for the advantage of the helper [themself],
but for that of the person helped.”
So, maybe that’s one way to look at it:
Helpfulness for another, not for our sake or advantage, but just for theirs.
Then there was Mark Twain, who took the approach of an author, a novelist,
When he argued that Kindness is a sort of compassion,
“a language where the deaf can hear and the blind can see”
Twain was talking about fulfilling the need of another person,
Seeking out what is good for them.
When I was a teenager,
I remember listening to British punk and folk rocker Billy Bragg,
I had one of his cassettes[iii]
And I’m sure I listened to it a lot
But I can only remember one song he ever sang
I Am the Milkman of Human Kindness,
Inspired by a line of Shakespeare, from Macbeth.
Bragg’s song is just him and his electric guitar
Singing, alone and passionate:
If you’re lonely,
I will call
If you’re poorly,
I will send poetry
I love you
I am the milkman of human kindness
I will leave an extra pint
If you’re sleeping, I will wait
If your bed is wet, I will dry your tears
I love you
I am the milkman of human kindness
I will leave an extra pint
So much more than mere niceness.
Or maybe you’re a Harry Styles fan,
And you know about this Treat People With Kindness campaign.[iv]
He started using that phrase on his debut concert tour in 2017
It was a sort of slogan, often abbreviated TPWK
Treat People with Kindness.
He wrote it on his guitar.
Sold it on pride t-shirts and for GLSEN fundraisers,
Which helps all students, particularly LGBTQ students, have a safe place to learn
And apparently it took off,
So he wrote a song about it, with that title,
Which includes this lyric:
Maybe we can find a place to feel good
And we can treat people with kindness
Find a place to feel good
Given second chances
I don’t need all the answers
Feeling good in my skin
I just keep on dancing
And if we’re here long enough
We’ll see it’s all for us
And we’ll belong
Harry Styles has worked hard
To help vulnerable people feel loved and accepted
To feel good in their skin, as the lyric says
To say that “you’ll belong” just keep on dancing.
This is Harry being kind.
It is so much more than being nice.
It is Styles being warm and empathic and human
And urging us to do the same, to be the same.
What do you think?
How would you define Kindness?
What qualities, emotions, commitments are implied by that word?
Kindness is kinda a big deal
for those of us who follow God on the way of Jesus,
and that is because
“Kindness” is a big deal in the Bible.
We will explore some of this over the rest of this sermon series
And there is a lot to talk about. [Read more…]