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"The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, and KINDNESS."
The word in the original language of the New Testament is "Kreystotais," The word has to do with being useful, helpful, beneficial. The King James Version translates it as "gentleness." "Kindness" and "gentleness" are very closely connected to each other.
Last Sunday our focus was on 'patience.' Several of you mentioned after the service that you appreciated a sermon on patience because it's one of those things that we know that we lack and we know we need to work on.
I don't think that 'kindness' is quite like that for us. Oh, occasionally we may be disappointed with ourselves because we were unkind to someone. But for the most part we're not mean. But how often have we thought about how we might deliberately show 'kindness,' not just to someone, but to everyone? How often do we pray that the Lord would help us to show kindness to everyone whom I will come into contact with this day?
I guess what I mean to say is, when it comes to patience, we're aware when we're not being patient like we should be. But how many opportunities for us to be kind do we walk right past every day and it simply never registers with us that we did not show kindness when we could have, and should have. It's not that we were mean. We're just not kind.
Why is it that some communities feel it necessary to sponsor programs to stimulate "random acts of kindness?" Perhaps we're too busy with the daily demands to think about such things. Or maybe it was the road construction or that Massachusetts driver that cut in front of us that smothered any thoughts of showing kindness. Maybe it's the stress of meeting family demands and work deadlines and the uncertainty about the future that so overwhelms us that there's little or no room for any thoughts about how we might show kindness to others.
Whatever the reasons may be, 'kindness' is a precious commodity because it's in short supply. And maybe it's for that reason that this facet of the fruit of the Spirit really sticks out when it is present. Think about the impact that even a small act of kindness can have on someone.
In both the Old and the New Testaments, 'kindness' always has two parts to it. Kindness begins with an inner disposition of compassion or mercy that results in an outward act that is meant to benefit someone. Let me repeat that. In the Bible, 'kindness' begins with an inner disposition of compassion or mercy that results in an outward act that is meant to benefit someone.
One of the clearest and most powerful teachings in the Bible on 'kindness' comes from Jesus' parable of the Good Samaritan, which is next Sunday's gospel reading. The story centers on a man who was stripped and beaten and robbed and left for dead. The sting of the story, as Jesus tells it, is that the good, church-going folks who passed right on by this poor man and showed him no kindness. Jesus says, they 'saw him.' And who knows that they may have felt at least some measure of compassion for the poor guy. But they had schedules to keep and destinations to reach and duties to perform. They were busy people with important lives. No time to be 'kind.' When we put the best construction on the priest and the Levite, their compassion for the poor man resulted in nothing more than 'pity.' But 'pity' is not the fruit of the Spirit.
"But a Samaritan, as he journeyed, came to where he was, and when he saw him, he had compassion. He went to him and bound up his wounds," and took the man to the hospital. Seeing that the man obviously had no money to pay for his care, the Samaritan used his own credit card to pay the bill.
Kindness begins with an inner disposition of compassion or mercy that results in an outward act that is meant to benefit someone. And of course the real sting in this parable is that the man who showed 'kindness,' in whom the Spirit was producing His fruit, was a Samaritan, an unchurched fellow.
The key to the parable is that the Samaritan "came to where he was, and when he saw him, he had compassion." What Jesus shows us in this marvelous parable is that 'kindness' requires us to see another person as a real person, not just an impersonal category like, 'the disadvantaged,' or 'the immigrant,' or 'the homeless.' Kindness sees the individual person whose individual life we are being led to touch through a simple act of gentleness or kindness, as a servant of the Lord.
Like all of the other facets of the fruit of the Spirit, it's God's own kindness that defines what kindness is and that produces real kindness in us. St. Paul writes to Titus and says that the Son of God is the embodiment of God's kindness. "When the goodness and loving kindness of God appeared, he saved us." (Titus 3:4-5).
Wherever the Gospels report that Jesus had compassion, His compassion is always followed by an outward act to benefit someone.
"When Jesus saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd." In response, He sent the 72 to go into every town and place to prepare the way for His coming to them as the Good Shepherd. (Matthew 9:36).
Later on, "when he went ashore he saw a great crowd, and he had compassion on them and healed their sick." (Matthew 14:13-21)
At another time and place, "Jesus called his disciples to him and said, 'I have compassion on the crowd because they have been with me now three days and have nothing to eat. And I am unwilling to send them away hungry, lest they faint on the way." In His kindness, He fed 4000 with seven loaves and a few fish. (Matthew 15:32-39)
We could go on like this for along time. Jesus had compassion on two blind men and restored their sight. He had compassion on a leper and healed his skin. His compassion for a boy with an unclean spirit moved Him to cast out the demon from the boy. His mercy for a grieving mother resulted in His raising her son from his casket.
I find it amazing that the Son of God with His divine agenda, far more important than any agenda we might have, comes to His people, sees the individual and performs His act of kindness?
This may be more than we can wrap our minds around, but the infinite God who created the universe and who will judge the living and dead, came to us. And he saw you, individually and personally. He saw how those who care nothing for you have injured you and how you have been robbed of all that is true and real and good and stripped of all of your righteousness before God. And He had compassion on you.
Listen, if your baptism means anything at all to you, then let it be what it truly is. It is where Jesus came to you and saw you, dead in your sins, as if you were the only one in the universe that He had His eye on and was paying attention to.
In your baptism, the loving kindness of God, saved you. Jesus Christ is the compassion of God for you and He is the outward act that benefits you. This is no 'random act of kindness' here. It is His act of loving kindness to you that He had all planned out from before you were born, from the creation of the world.
Baptized into Christ, we have been baptized into the 'loving kindness of God.' As the Holy Spirit grows and produces His Fruit of Kindness in us, we see individual people, regardless of race or color or nationality or income level or lifestyle. And like Jesus, we have compassion and our compassion results in an outward act meant to benefit them. In other words, we show kindness to others, not because of any merit or worthiness in them, but because of the loving kindness that God has shown us, without any merit or worthiness in us.
As we were reminded in our Small Catechism review this morning, the summary of all of the Commandments is 'love.' Love the Lord your God and love your neighbor as yourself. The Scriptures make it very clear that 'kindness' is an indispensible facet of love. St. Paul writes to the Corinthians saying that along with patience, 'love is kind.' Apart from 'kindness,' our love is either incomplete or maybe, it's not love at all.
Jesus makes it clear that the acts of kindness that we do or do not do, reveal the faith or lack of faith that is in us. In the 25th chapter of Matthew's Gospel, Jesus speaks about the final judgment. The goats that are on His left wonder why they have been cast into "the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels." Jesus never accuses them of being mean. He accuses them of not being kind. He points to all of the opportunities for kindness that were right there in front of them but that they failed to notice. "I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink. I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me."
It wasn't that they were intentionally mean or unkind. It was that they were so wrapped up in themselves and their own life that they never even saw their neighbor in need, never came to their neighbor in need, never felt compassion for their neighbor. Never gave the Holy Spirit the opportunity to produce His fruit in them.
On the other hand, Jesus welcomes those on His right into the kingdom, "prepared for you from the foundation of the world." Their faith was evident by their inner compassion for others that moved them to acts of kindness. Not necessarily the great big acts that get recognized and win awards. But the little things done to the least of these, whom Jesus calls, 'my brothers.'
"I was hungry and you gave me food; I was thirsty and you gave me drink; I was a stranger and you welcomed me; I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me." (Matthew 25:31-46).
The fruit of the Spirit is 'kindness.' May the Holy Spirit produce it in abundance among us.