Adapted from a previous sermon series at Southminster Presbyterian Church in Prairie Village, Kansas
and inspired and using ideas and content from the Rev. Chris B. Herring
preached at Westminster Presbyterian Church of Saint Louis. Original citation lost.
Lets review briefly a few basic insights we’ve uncovered so far.
We said earlier in this sermon series
that each of the fruit of the spirit
love, joy, peace,
patience, kindness, goodness,
faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control
that each of these
is really a different facet of the same jewel,
different gifts of a life that has been filled by the Spirit of God.
This is why Paul uses a singular verb, is, to describe the fruit…
The fruit of the spirit *is* Love, Joy, Peace, Patience, and so on
instead of saying The Fruits of the Spirit *are* Love, Joy and Peace…
All these Fruit of the Spirit
emerge when the Holy Spirit dwells inside of us.
Its like when you look at both sides of a coin…heads or tails
or each side of a six-sided, or in our case, nine-sided dye.
They’re all distinct, and they’re all interrelated.
And sometimes, we learned last week,
the particular qualities are often very similar,
sometimes shining in only slightly different ways as the light strikes them.
This is particularly evident in the trio of virtues that make up
the middle-third of Paul’s list:
the fruit of patience and kindness and goodness.
New Testament authors might use two
or even all three of these qualities in the same sentence
as they attempt to flesh out what a Christian life looks like.
Perhaps the best known example of this
is Paul’s famous ode to love
which we find in First Corinthians. “Love” he says, “is patient and kind.”
The nuances between those two words—patience and kindness—
are not well drawn.
An act that seems like patience might also be seen
as kindness and vice versa.
Yet, in offering both qualities, Paul encourages us to reflect
in greater depth about the type of fruit that we are to bear when we love—
and so how we might more fully reflect the qualities of God.
Because, as we have discovered, the key to understanding any of these fruits,
these manifestations of the spirit,
is to look and see how they are exhibited in the being of God,
in God’s very self.
It is from the Bible’s insight about WHO God is
that WE find clues about how might be able to live
if we live in the Holy Spirit.
It is in understanding HOW God acts
that we know how the indwelling spirit would have us act
if we can only open ourselves to the New Life we are offered.
Now, what about today’s Fruit of the Spirit, the gift of Kindness.
What is scripture talking about when we hear that word?
Is it a saccharine, over-the-top false-niceness
that people can see isn’t quite real a mile away?
No, I don’t think it is.
Is it a warmth of character, a goodhearted-ness
that seeks to be polite, respectable, upstanding.
Perhaps it is some of that
though we should be careful not to confuse it with what comes to us
more from victorian era values than from Scripture.
Indeed, when you look at the way the Greek word Kindness is used in the bible.
the qualities of kindness and goodness are so close
that the same Greek word can be translated as either in English.
So Biblical Scholars sometimes point out how,
in the New Revised Standard Version of the Old Testament,
when God is described as good,
most often the quality being lifted up is not moral goodness,
not holy righteousness,
a sort of moral correctness
that would separate the divine from human beings,
not that quality, but KINDNESS.
For instance, though you might read in your bibles
the first verse of the 106th Psalm as
“Praise the Lord! O give thanks to the Lord for he is good…”
the more accurate translation is
“Praise the Lord, give thanks to the Lord for he is kind.”
Specifically, the divine attribute being lifted up is the way that
God looks with sympathy on human shortcoming, on human sin,
on the hurt we cause, the pain we inflict,
even to the extent of being willing to FORGIVE our trespasses.
To be Kind, the way God is Kind, is to incorporate forgiveness
into your love, as an avenue to joy, as a way of peace.
This fruit of kindness, then,
is a step beyond the fruit of patience we talked about last Sunday.
We saw last week that PATIENCE is that quality
which does not give up on a relationship,
PATIENCE is a tempered temper,
which does everything it can to keep the door open.
On the other hand:
KINDNESS, today’s Fruit of the Spirit, is not only is willing
to pursue the relationship, but also goes so far as
to extend forgiveness to those who may have harmed it.
You see this in the reading from Ephesians that Don offered for us today
where the Pauline author ties kindness and forgiveness together explicitly.
“Be KIND to one another,” he writes,
“forgiving one another as God in Christ has forgiven you.”
Well then. Fair enough.
But what about Jesus?
Well, Jesus himself uses the Greek word for kindness only twice in the gospels.
In Luke, in the passage I read this morning,
Jesus EXPLICITLY ties Kindness to Forgiveness as well.
As Jesus is talking about loving our enemies,
he says that our compassion to them will be rewarded by God,
by God who is KIND (there’s that fruit of the spirit)
EVEN to the ungrateful and the wicked.
Jesus goes on to warn about judging and condemning
and concludes “forgive, and you will be forgiven…”
So that’s one time Jesus uses this Greek word for kindness.
The other occasion where Jesus uses it,
most bibles translate the word as “Easy”.
In Matthew, Jesus beckons those who are weary and carrying heavy loads
to come to him,
and Jesus offers those weary and burdened ones his yoke—
you know, the same thing you put over oxen or horses
beasts of burden to tie them together
so they can work in sync
Jesus offers those who are weary his yoke
which he describes as easy, as KIND.
My yoke is easy, and my burden is light….
Certainly, in one sense, our heaviest burden is often our feeling of guilt,
particularly regarding our shortcomings, our sinful deeds
and it is a kind God who sent Jesus to forgive us our sin
and to reconcile us to God and to one another.
It is a kind Jesus who is willing to go to the cross,
from which he petitioned to God as he was dying:
“Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.”
But it is also a heavy burden, in a different sense
for us to forgive those who have harmed US. Who have hurt US.
Its one thing to talk about God’s forgiveness of us,
God’s kindness in dealing with us, but
when it is our hurts, our pain, our grief that is on the line
well, that’s another story.
Jesus’ kind yoke is for us in these situations, too, I believe,
where his example and his strength and his encouragement
can open our heart to this spirit of forgiveness,
this fruit of kindness…
So, from the Biblical perspective, if we want to be kind, as God is kind,
we need to be forgiving, as God is forgiving.
Now, here is where we need to be careful
not to bring in all these different modern construals of the word “kind”
into what the text might be meaning.
We aren’t being asked to just smile and tolerate the one who hurt us
or certainly not the one who keeps doing harm.
The point is that when the biblical writers use Kind to describe God
its about a God who deals graciously, mercifully with us
and we’re called to cultivate that in our own lives too.
This is the important facet of this fruit for us to consider,
and I know, I know, this is a very personal, and often a very emotional issue.
Forgiveness—and the hurt, the pain, the real damage behind the need for it—
is always very personal, very emotional.
But the challenge is there before us.
Something for us to find and make our own…
Presbyterian author Frederick Beuchner, in his book Wishful Thinking,
offers me some helpful thoughts about forgiveness:
To forgive someone is to say one way or another,
“You have done something unspeakable,
and by all rights I should call it quits between us.
Both my pride and my principles demand no less.
However, although I make no guarantees
that I will be able to forget what you’ve done
and though we may both carry the scars for life,
I refuse to let it stand between us. I still want you for my friend.
“To ACCEPT forgiveness means to admit
that you’ve done something unspeakable
that needs to be forgiven, and thus both parties
must swallow the same thing: their pride.
This seems to explain what Jesus means when he says to God,
“Forgive us our trespasses
as we forgive those who trespass against us.”
Jesus is not saying that God’s forgiveness is conditional
upon our forgiving others.
In the first place, forgiveness that’s conditional
isn’t really forgiveness at all, just Fair Warning,
and in the second place
our UNFORGIVENESS is among those things
about which we really need to have God forgive us the most.
What Jesus apparently is saying
is that the pride which keeps us from forgiving
is the same pride which keeps us from accepting forgiveness,
and will God please help us do something about it….”
Someone once said that forgiveness is a human being’s greatest need
and highest achievement.
And I think that might be right.
Forgiveness can be really hard. Both the extending it and the acceptance of it.
Its not something you can demand of anyone whose been hurt either;
it’s something that has to come naturally.
This isn’t a sermon where the preacher
is trying to guilt you into letting go of something
besides, I don’t traffic much in guilt
because I don’t think God does either.
Instead, this is more an exploration of the way that Forgiveness
ultimately is a good,
because we each of had so much forgiven
and because forgiveness can free us
free our souls and our minds
from so much of the burden
that the hurts do to us.
And because when we’ve damaged relationship
enough to warrant forgiveness
only forgiveness will bring reconciliation.
And we’ve all been there.
Can you think of times in your life
when you needed forgiveness so badly that you longed for it,
more than you’ve longed for anything else?
Forgiveness from God? Or from someone else?
Can you remember a time when you were able to forgive someone else,
lifting from your heart the burden of anger or hatred or hurt,
and from the other person’s heart the burden of guilt?
I would argue that these are really fundamental human experiences.
So much so that we marvel at times at which great harms are met with
reconciliation and healing.
These are never done without hard work
a recognition of the harm done and a heartfelt attempt at healing on both sides.
This is why Elie Wiesel, maybe the loudest voice for the victims of the Holocaust
who died yesterday at age 87
struggled his whole life with forgiveness
knowing the depth of the suffering he and so many experienced
even as he acknowledged all Germany was trying to do
at righting a wrong that could never really be made right.
Too often we think of forgiveness as making it all better again
but that’s not kindness either.
Forgiveness doesn’t forget the harms done
it resolves to not let them bind us any longer
and to seek healing in a new reality of peace and love.
So I’ve been thinking about those times when we’ve marveled at when
forgiveness has taken place.
And maybe, surprising to me, there are tons and tons of examples out there.
Just try google, and you’ll find many.
Not just the most famous ones,
the schoolhouse tragedy
among the amish community in Lancaster, Pennsylvania
or the community of the
Mother Emmanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church
after the shooting there a little over a year ago.
Those are iconic, in a way.
But there are others.
I have just a couple of quick stories to share
that might be new to you,
ways we might consider what forgiveness might open up for us
if we let it.
They are illustrations of the human ability
to exhibit this trait in extraordinary circumstances.
Author and Playwright June Bingham
as written quite a bit about the suffering she experienced
by the hands of her parents as she was growing up.
We don’t need to know the details to appreciate what she writes.
In speaking about her work on coming to terms with her childhood harm
and a decision to find a way to move beyond it
she ties forgiveness to another one of the fruit of the spirit
the gift of Joy.
Here’s how she puts it:
To my surprise, in the latter half of my life,
a new form of Joy has arisen.
Up to then my night-time dreams of childhood
had been in black and white.
One day—or night—
by the grace of God
and the mysterious workings of the human consciousness,
it dawned on me that the intense suffering that my parents
had inflicted on me had never been intentional.
Instead, they too, in that useful modern phrase,
had been “victims of victims.”
As the French say, “to understand all is to forgive all”—
though, surely in the public realm,
even more than in the private realm,
one can understand but still not forgive
major crimes against other people than oneself.
In any event, no sooner did I forgive my parents
that my dreams of childhood burst into living color—
and have remained so ever since.
I can see as clearly as if it were today,
a little blond girl in a smocked pale blue dress,
her matching hair ribbon sliding down over her brow
and her socks sliding down over her white sandals,
as she runs joyously across the green grass toward the kitchen door.
Her aim is to help spoon the vanilla ice cream off the paddle
in the hand-operated metal churn
that every Sunday is placed in a tub of combined ice and rock salt.
In short, together with the return of color
came a raft of happy memories to join the miserable ones.
A joyous reward, I feel,
for trying to follow the edict about seventy times seven.
A Kind Find: Forgiveness, Our greatest need and our highest achievement.
Derek Gill wrote a book entitled Quest: The Life of Elizabeth Kübler-Ross
where he told about the Swiss-American psychiatrist
who was a pioneer in near-death studies
and wrote about stages of grief.
In his book, Gill tells about the time when,
as a young woman,
Kübler-Ross visited the Nazi extermination camp in Maidanek, Poland,
where she found many grizzly, horrible,
agonizing reminders of the holocaust.
At the camp she met a young woman,
a German-born Jew whose name was Golda,
who also happened to be visiting the site that day as well.
Golda told Kübler-Ross that her whole family
had been herded into the gas chamber in that place,
mother, father, older brother and sister,
none of them made it out.
Golda had been separated from them on that terrible day,
and chanced to survive.
When Kübler-Ross asked about Golda
about her life now, after the war,
what she was now doing, how she was getting along
Golda hesitantly told her
that she was working at a children’s hospital in Germany.
Golda replied that, in order to purge the hate
and the bitterness
and the HURT from her heart,
she had deliberately chosen to work with, to care for
and to love GERMAN children,
many of whose parents were Nazis.
She gave her life, she said,
to love the needy, hurting, indeed innocent offspring
of those who caused her so much heartache.
The children she was working with
all had been badly injured in the Allied Invasion.
Many of them were paraplegics.
It was to THESE children that Golda had dedicated her life.
Gill writes, “In the long silence that followed,
Elizabeth tried to fathom how
within the human mind and heart
there lay the potential for such cruelty
and hatred as could create a Maidanek,
and yet such forgiveness and love as was epitomized by Golda.”
I’m not sure what this looks like for you, in your life.
I think we all harbor hurts, slights, real pains that we haven’t let go of
and we all need, no, yearn in some instances,
for others to forgive us for things we cannot undo.
It isn’t an easy thing.
Maybe that’s why God’s in the middle of it.
Maybe that’s why it’s a gift of the Spirit.
This fruit of the spirit, it is a delightful, sweet, wonderful fruit.
It is hard to be kind, as God is Kind.
That’s because reconciliation is hard.
Forgiveness is hard.
But we need it.
And we can do it, with God’s help.
My prayer is that we can seek out God’s care for us day by day
so that we can have strength in the one who loved us and forgave us
So that we can find this fruit growing in our lives too…
May it be so.
 Cited in The Living Pulpit: Forgiving, Apr-Jun 1994. p. 25
 Cited in The Living Pulpit: Joy. Oct-Dec 1996.
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