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.
During difficult times I turn to stories,
and I’ve learned a lot in my life from the stories of Tony Campolo.
This one in particular stuck with me this week,
as I’ve been thinking about how particularly vulnerable I have felt
and how fragile I think much of our nation is feeling.
Here’s Campolo’s little story:
There was a schoolteacher.
She taught students in several grades
in a small, one-room schoolhouse in upstate New York,
including one particular child
who was euphemistically referred to as “special [needs]”.
That particular boy was what [some called] “slow.”
That’s how Campolo put it.
When Christmas came,
the teacher decided to put on a Christmas pageant,
and the … [kid] wanted to have a part in it.
He didn’t want to just stand around on the stage;
he wanted to have a SPEAKING part.
Now, they all knew that he could not remember lines very well,
but they came up with what seemed like a viable solution.
They told him he could be the innkeeper.
When Mary and Joseph knocked at the door of the inn,
he was to open it and say, “NO ROOM!”
That’s it. “No Room!”
Mary would then say something,
and when she finished her lines
he was to say again, “NO ROOM!”
They thought he could handle this,
but just to make sure,
they appointed someone to stand near him, you see
and to poke him at the proper time,
and whisper just the right words:
in his ear, in case he forgot them. “No Room!”
The night of the Christmas pageant, all seemed to be going well…
UNTIL, that is, Mary and Joseph got to the inn door.
Our little friend opened the door,
and he said what was expected of him: “NO ROOM!”
Mary responded: “But sir, its cold!
Have you no place at all where we can stay?
Its freezing and I’m sick.
I’m going to have a baby, and unless you help us,
my baby will be born in the cold, cold night.”
The boy just stood there, and said nothing.
The prompter nudged him and whispered, “No room! Say ‘No room!’”
The boy turned to the prompter and blurted out,
“I KNOW what I’m supposed to say!
But she can have MY room!”
Campolo concludes this little tale this way:
“To some, loving comes easily and almost without thinking.
The rest of us must be more deliberate,
and it is to that end that the Holy Spirit comes…”
What a good little boy!
That he would be so concerned with the needs of the people in front of him
that he can’t help but try to respond to them, to help.
Would that we all be filled with that kind of…goodness!
“And the fruit of the spirit…
is love, joy, peace,
That’s what the Apostle Paul says in his letter to the Galatians
as he describes the Fruit of the Spirit,
how God dwells within us, as we seek to dwell in the world.
Dear friends, this has been such a hard, hard week.
Maybe we’ve all been praying a bit more fervently
a bit more urgently
for the Holy Spirit to come and parcel
out some of that goodness.
So what are we going to do about today’s sermon.
If there ever was a week to think theologically
about what’s going on in the world
it is this one.
Someone in the Bible Study Class I lead on Friday mornings said that
it sure feels like a powerkeg
our society, after this week
two high profile shootings of suspects of color by police
Alton Sterling and Philando Castile
one in Baton Rouge and one in the Minneapolis suburbs
and two others that didn’t get as much news at all
four of the five hundred and twelve people
killed by Police use of Lethal Force so far this year…
There’s a lot about these recent shootings we don’t know,
and I would guess that there’s much we’ll never know,
but we all know by now that so many people of color
our neighbors, our fellow citizens
created in the image of God like I am
we know that they are saying they don’t feel safe,
that they don’t feel their children are getting a fair shot
that they kiss them goodbye when they leave their homes
and pray pray pray that they return safely at night.
I don’t know how you feel about that.
I don’t know if you tune that out,
that you find mitigating circumstances for most or all of them
or whether you worry, like I do,
that you’ll never really understand what that’s like
to worry like that about your safety
whether you’ll be mistaken for or seen as a threat
or worried about the safety of your kids,
just because of what they look like.
Some in this very room may feel worried that way, from time to time
even if I’ll never understand it, not in a visceral way.
But I also I think a lot of police families
know something of what that’s like
when they kiss their officers goodbye at the beginning of a shift
waiting and praying for them to come back safely and soundly
particularly in this country so awash with guns.
There are differences, of course.
Its not the same, the power dynamics are often way different
but the worry is similar. It is real.
It might help us to ponder that.
The shootings in Minnesota and Louisiana,
led to rallies and protests all across the country.
That included a march in Dallas, Texas,
where the local Black Lives Matter community
has been working really closely
with public officials
including the police,
so much so that both describe the relationship
as improving, productive, and strong
and so the rally, a peaceful rally, wrapping up
until a skilled sniper,
with an assault rifle and body armor
targeted the police who were there
accompanying the march
brutally killing five,
Lorne Ahrens, Michael Smith,
Michael Krol, Patrick Zamarripa,
and Brent Thompson,
and wounding seven other officers
and two of the marchers.
So senseless and horrific.
There continues to be much we don’t know
but we do know just how tentative everything feels.
There’s a lot we could say about these things
but right now I just want to name the angst of this space.
We’re not going to heal anything until
all of us recommit to care for each other
and to try to understand where people are coming from
where their fear and their hurt is coming from
and commit to seeing these as things we should try to alleviate…
We’re just going to name it, the angst we feel.
The hurt and the horror people feel.
But maybe we can also think theologically
about how WE can make things better. In our own way.
Maybe we can think theologically, each of us in our own way
asking the question our society might need to ask
that question raised by those blind men who saw Jesus:
Have Mercy on Us, Son of David
Let our eyes be opened….
We’ve been looking at these Fruit of the Spirit this summer,
and maybe we’re fortunate to land this particular week on Goodness.
Kindness: maybe seems a bit hard to grasp today.
Patience: certainly seems trite.
But Goodness: man, I want some to see some Goodness out there
Goodness among those who long for justice.
Goodness among those who work for peace and order.
So maybe this came around at just the right time.
In some ways, unlike many of the other fruit of the spirit
Goodness may be the hardest of the bunch to get our head around.
All of the other eight Fruit of the Spirit
refer to fairly specific qualities of human life,
qualities we can compare and contrast
most of them rooted in some clear scriptural clues.
But what does it mean to be good? Or to be filled with goodness?
One problem, I think, is that GOOD is such an open-ended concept.
On the one hand,
the Greek word that Paul uses for Goodness is new,
its unique to Scripture, not used anywhere outside of the Bible,
not in any of the pages and pages
of other Greek Documents we have:
letters, civil documents, poems,
grand narratives and histories,
tragic tales and love stories,
all places where you might expect someone,
somewhere, to talk about goodness.
Well, in fact they do talk about goodness,
but they use all sorts of OTHER Greek words to do so,
not the one Paul chooses in Galatians.
Its used a few other places in the Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible
in our Old Testament, but that’s it.
Not a big enough sample size to give us a consistent picture
of what the word would have meant—to Paul, or to those who read his letters…
On the other hand, if you were to look for help
by seeking out similar words translated as good: we have the opposite problem.
As you might imagine,
the word “Good” is one of the most common words in Greek,
just as it is in English.
The word occurs more than 620 times in the bible,
and millions of more times in other Greek literature.
In the New Testament alone, “Good” is used to describe
an individual’s conscience,
fruits and crops,
words and deeds, and so on…
What are we to do?
Well, last week, when we looked at the fruit of KINDNESS,
we noted how that word Kindness is often rendered in English as Good
and how the word good is often rendered as kind.
The idea of kindness in the Biblical Greek
is wrapped up in a view of a good, and merciful, and forgiving God.
But there are differences:
Kindness refers to an ongoing sympathy
about the plight of another person
a CONSISTENT WILLINGNESS to forgive
to seek reconciliation, to seek peace.
But God’s KINDNESS is often paired with God’s GOODNESS
how God acts in ways that are true and right and just
God’s moral behavior.
And by extension, through Jesus’s teachings, we see Goodness as
Treating others the way we wish to be treated
Treating them as God’s beloved ones, just as we are
Doing right by them, particularly when they are vulnerable
and we might have the upper hand.
So when Paul includes GOODNESS in his list of the Fruit of the Spirit
Paul is suggesting that
God expects us to be good, to be moral people,
really caring about how we live out our days,
that God expects us to act out God’s desire for righteousness
and justice in how WE order OUR lives
and how we act on behalf of others..
We see that in this reading from Ephesians this morning,
I’ve used the NIV translation this morning because that version
makes clear the use of the word, goodness,
in a way that gets lost in the NRSV bible I usually use.
The author is talking, as he so often does,
about the particular, distinct, different sort of life
believers are to live,
how being filled with God’s spirit is like existing under a new kind of seeing.
The imagery he uses in this passage is the familiar concept of light.
He urges Christians to allow Christ, the light of the world,
to shine on them, to illumine them to the world. The gift of new eyes.
“Live as children of the light,” Paul says,
“For the fruit of the light consists of all goodness, righteousness, and truth.”
Its as if he’s saying that our eyes open when we live that way.
And in that sort of GOOD living, we testify to Christ,
to what he has done for us,
to what we know he wants us to do for the entire world.
So you can maybe understand how he ties goodness to uprightness
to living a life that displays
the truth and the love found in the teachings of Jesus.
Or, to put it another way: we Christians are to be GOOD FOR SOMETHING.
GOOD FOR SOMETHING.
And not just any something:
but GOOD to live a life
that WITNESSES to the love and mercy and power and grace of God.
By the fruit we bear, by the light we reflect, by the love we share,
we show the world that Christ not only lives, but that Christ lives in US.
Genuine compassion for the needy.
Loving our Enemies. Loving our Enemies!
Being willing to lose our life that others might have it.
Putting the needs of others before our own ease.
Living the life of the servant, not that of a master…
The life of faith is different, in theory, because of the GOODNESS we practice,
the righteousness for which we strive,
the truth for which we advocate,
a DIFFERENT set of standards than those set by our world
reflecting instead the very God we follow.
I read another story this week
while I was in Branson over the fourth with my girls,
before things erupted the past few days.
This is from Glen Rainsley:
On a summer trip last year, in Battery Park on New York harbor,
a tourist couple gave their son a ten-dollar bill.
They told him,
“This is for ice cream now,
and the rest you can use, you know, to buy a toy
or a souvenir at the Statue of Liberty.”
The father then accompanied the boy, age six or so,
over to the short line at the ice cream truck.
Just after the child purchased
some multi-colored frozen concoction on a stick,
he noticed a homeless man
rummaging through the trash next to a hot dog vendor’s wagon.
The man pulled a small unfinished bag of potato chips
and he smiled when he shook a soda can to find it almost half full.
The boy stared and stood frozen in his tracks.
“Look how hungry he is,” he said.
Father replied, “Right,” and put his hand on his son’s shoulder
to direct his attention away and to get him moving.
Tears formed on the boy’s face, but an idea formed in a flash.
Before his father could grab him, the child darted away,
and with the decisiveness of a Shaquille O’Neal shot,
he slam-dunked every bill and coin in his possession
smack into the homeless man’s hand.
The startled fellow dropped a couple coins,
scurried after them,
then walked boldly to the back of the hot dog vendor’s line.
The boy’s parents simply did not know what to say
when they reconvened at a bench.
“Now you don’t have any money to spend,”
well, that seemed obvious and irrelevant.
“Don’t ever do that again,” seemed, well, stupid,
especially since Mom was now crying at her son’s [goodness].
Finally, the boy spoke through lips smeared pink, green, and purple:
“I couldn’t help it. I HAD to give it to him. He was hungry.”
The parents were wise enough to hug him rather than reprimand,
and they suspected that the boy would be taking back home
the souvenir memory of an act of Godly giving.
Its amazing how these youngsters just seem to get it.
NO ROOM? She can have MY room! How odd!
He was HUNGRY! I just HAD to give it to him… Just HAD to?
What Good kids…
What Goodness God wants from US…
To live…through not just our words and our thoughts but our deeds…
To live our faith, to be GOOD people
in a world that is so cold and cruel and hurting sometimes…
To defy all those conventions that tell us to look out for ME FIRST…
and to instead see Christ in our neighbor….
To WITNESS to God in our lives, through deeds of love and generosity…
These past four days or so,
I keep finding myself repeating the well-worn words
of the Prayer of St. Francis.
Its kept me rooted in Goodness,
in what God wants from me:
Lord, make me an instrument of thy peace.
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
Where there is injury, pardon;
Where there is doubt, faith;
Where there is despair, hope;
Where there is darkness, light;
Where there is sadness, joy.
O divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek
To be consoled as to console,
To be understood as to understand,
To be loved as to love;
For it is in giving that we receive;
It is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
It is in dying to self that we are born to eternal life
Look: I believe that Black Lives Matter,
which I say not because other lives don’t
but because people of color too often don’t feel like their lives do matter
and regardless of how we feel about that,
we need to hear that, and affirm unequivocally that they do.
And I believe also that Blue Lives Matter.
This isn’t a zero sum concern, an either/or proposition.
What can we do about any of this?
We can live in the light. We can DO GOOD for those that need us to.
We can refuse to paint with a broad brush,
and get down to the work of building friendships
so we can hear how other people describe
what they are feeling and seeing
and refusing to let these horrible events allow us to
and instead allow the fruits of love and peace
and kindness and goodness to lead us…
I think the world particularly needs that GOODNESS, right now.
It does, if we’re ever going to make things better for the most vulnerable
and hurting out there.
May I be Good for Something.
Let it be so.
 Tony Campolo, Let me Tell You a Story (Nashville: Word Publishing, 2000) p41-42.
 According to the Washington Post’s tracker found here: https://www.washingtonpost.com/graphics/national/police-shootings-2016/
(accessed on July 9, 2016).
 So Frank Matera writes “In the NT, goodness is only found in the writings attributed to Paul, and is predicated of human beings.” Galatians. Sacra Pagina Series, Volume 9. (Collegeville, Minnesota: The Liturgical Press, 1992), p 203.
 Adapted from Glen E. Rainsley, Thanks be to God: Prayers and Parables for Public Worship (Cleveland: Pilgrim Press, 2005) 145-146.
Image credit: the work of Rob Tornoe, found on Facebook July 9, 2016 at https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=10208346598155840&set=a.1063449659752.101040.1031283391&type=3&permPage=1