The media is noisy these days with opinions about controversial issues. People on both sides of the issues advocate for something they call “kindness.” But, what sort of kindness creates love and kindness in an environment of hostility?
According to the dictionary, ‘kindness’ is behavior marked by ethical characteristics, a pleasant disposition, and concern for others. It is known as a virtue, and recognized as a value in many cultures and religions.
The Bible’s pages are filled with references to kindness. The Apostle Paul told the church at Galatia (Galatians 5:22) that
- The fruit of God’s Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.
God’s love is also linked to kindness:
- Love is patient and kind. (1 Corinthians 13:4)
We see many examples of kindness in how Jesus treats people in the Gospels: Jesus dines and socializes with people cast out by society; He befriends people who are rejected by others; He reaches out to people who are lonely and hurting.
Ephesians 4:31-32 tells what those who follow Jesus must do the be kind:
- Put away from you all bitterness and wrath and anger and wrangling and slander, together with all malice, and be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ has forgiven you.
But being kind in this way is risky; it is based on a vulnerability to others, a capacity to identify with their problems and sufferings. We must link our well-being to the well-being of others, particularly those who are the most different from us. This means that being kind is about more than charitable acts or volunteer service. This kindness is a matter of the heart. And kindness that stands up to heartlessness by standing with those who are mistreated is not meek. It means standing up to hatred, violence, and bigotry. And that sort of kindness can be hard to find and even harder to know how to live out. We can all open our hearts to people we encounter, but this not always easy. Not all people respond to kindness with gratitude, and some people even return kindness with anger or cruelty.
In these times when racist violence continues to wound people, in these times when it is tempting to be anything but kind to those with whom we disagree, we need to hear again the old Gospel call:
- “Be ye kind to one another.” (Ephesians 4:32)
To open our hearts, eyes, and hands to others is to open our lives to God. To do anything else is to slight God and to cease reflecting God’s mercy and love in our lives. I believe that God’s kindness, flowing out through us as we live and move and breathe each day, can change the world.
Don’t wait for people to be kind. Show them how. And always be kinder than necessary because you can never be too kind.
The author Henry James was more emphatic when he said, “Three things in human life are important: The first is to be kind. The second is to be kind. And the third is to be kind.”
Maya Angelou said “People often forget what we say and usually what we do, but they always remember how we made them feel.”
When we come to the end of our days, don’t you want these three words to be said of you:
- “She/He was kind.”
Let us pray:
Dear God help us to learn and keep practicing the art of being kindness; help us to continually be kind to all people when they are in need; give us kind hearts to help us make peace in the world, and that we follow Jesus who modeled kindness through His deeds, actions and teachings. Amen.
Delivered at In The Garden, Trinity Episcopal Church on Capitol Square, Columbus, OH 12 July 2015