We have been focusing on the Apostle Paul’s Letter to Ephesians this summer to help us think about what it means to have a growing and mature faith, a varsity level kind of faith.
I’ve been wearing a different varsity jacket each week during the sermon. Today’s varsity jacket belongs to Nathan Rickey who lettered in hockey at Athens High School. Thank you Nathan, for letting me wear your varsity jacket!
God must have a sense of humor because our focus today is on the importance of being kind to others, and this isn’t something we usually associate with the sport of hockey.
In Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, we find these words, counter-cultural words, “And be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ has forgiven you.”
Paul says to us, to be kind toward one another. What do you think of when you hear the word, “kind?”
Hockey? Presidential debates?
Or do you think of being gentle, loving, thoughtful, caring, compassionate, and maybe going out of your way to help someone?
My wife, Penny has a way of responding to someone who shows her kindness. She will say, “Well, aren’t you kind!” She almost has this southern accent when she says it. “Well, aren’t you kind.”
Underneath that response, it’s like she’s saying, “You really went out of your way, and I noticed.”
So what do you think? Do we live in a kind world? Do we live in a world in which people are constantly showing kindness left and right?
Probably not, otherwise, we would constantly be saying all day long, “Well aren’t you kind! And aren’t you kind!”
Here in chapter 4 and into chapter 5, Paul’s letter to the Ephesians offers specific and practical instructions in what it means to be a mature follower of Jesus Christ and to have a varsity level type of faith.
I think what’s going on here, is that Paul wants the Ephesians to realize that being followers of Jesus Christ means that we are to be distinctive in the world. We are to stand out in a good way, not a bad way.
Showing kindness day in and day out is how we are to be distinctive in the world. Paul is reminding us, that showing kindness is a huge part of what it means to be mature disciples of Jesus Christ.
A lot of what Paul has to say in this passage has to do with the tongue. What we say and don’t say. This is extremely important for Paul.
Paul writes that we are to speak the truth, but not twist the truth to make someone else look bad; not that any of our presidential candidates would ever think of doing something like that.
But it’s not just politics. I wonder if Paul was writing today if he would include how we conduct ourselves through Facebook and other forms of social media.
If you don’t already know, I love social media. I see it as a way to stay in touch with all of you in between Sundays as well as with the larger community. Just like our tongues can be unkind, what we type through social media can be unkind.
If you ever want to get really, really depressed, go online, read an article, and then read the comments and opinions that people posted about that article. Even if the article wasn’t that controversial, chances are that there will be some very unkind comments.
Some of these comments have no basis in fact whatsoever. Even people who have disagreements, express their opinions in such a way that is just plain nasty. It’s very challenging to consistently show Christian kindness in a world that has so much negativity.
I like that Paul tells us to think about what we say about our neighbors because, Paul says, we are members of one another. We should want the best for people, and that doesn’t mean resorting to gossip and snooping around for the dirty details.
And then Paul talks about anger. Not that anger in and of itself is wrong, but it’s what we do with our anger that makes all the difference. Anger is meant to help us to work for peace and justice in a particular situation.
Anger is not meant for us to belittle someone or do something that is counter to our faith. That’s why Paul says to not make room for the devil when we are angry.
There’s always that fine line in using our anger to do what is right, rather than to say something or do something that we will later regret. The mark of a mature faith, of a varsity level of faith is to not allow anger to get the best of us, but to make a situation better.
And then Paul offers a solution to help thieves to stop stealing. I love this. Paul says, “If you are in any way taking money from people in a dishonest way, you need to stop doing that, not only because it’s wrong, but so that you can live in a way that will help the poor.”
Paul is saying that instead of spending your time and energy in acquiring wealth in an unethical way, you should be making money the right way so that you can give back to the poor.
I love it that Paul just doesn’t quote from the Ten Commandments about “Thou shall not steal” but he’s getting at something much deeper. He’s saying, “We can’t afford as Christians to be involved in unethical behavior, because we need to be helping the poor and the needy.”
And then Paul tells us to speak words of grace to those around us. Paul specifically says to use words that build up. Talk about counter-cultural! One of the most practical ways that we can show Christian kindness toward others, is to offer words of affirmation and encouragement.
Husbands and wives – These are great words to help us have a marriage that is built on trust and appreciation.
I love it when Penny says to me things like…Here are some things she will often say to me…“You are such a hunk. You are so strong and muscular. I really hit the jackpot when I married you.”
Actually, one of the many kind things she says to me is, “You take good care of me.” That makes me feel so good! Isn’t it amazing how powerful a kind word can have on you?
We once had a microwave that was kind. Yes, you heard me correctly. We had a kind microwave. After you would heat something up in this microwave, the phrase, “Enjoy your meal” would appear on the little digital screen.
Our microwave was showing us kindness whenever we used it! That’s pretty incredible when you’re appliances show you kindness.
The exception is the refrigerator. Every one of our refrigerators has been really cold toward us. I don’t know what we say or do, but they always come across really cold.
Speaking of kind words, I remember meeting with a married couple who was having marital problems. You could just feel the anger and coldness in their relationship.
They each took turns telling each other everything they didn’t like about the other. At times, the conversation became very heated.
After I let them vent for a while, I said to them, “OK, for the past several minutes, you’ve shared your frustrations about the other person, but now I want you to share what you appreciate about the other person.”
You could have heard a pin drop in the room. They were caught off guard. The tension in their faces began to relax.
After a long pause, one of them said to the other, “I love your smile, especially when you’re playing with the kids on the floor. You have the most beautiful smile.”
I call these break-through type of moments, “God entering the room moments” because it felt like God had entered the room in that very moment.
The focus immediately shifted from anger to kindness and it was one of the most beautiful things I have ever witnessed.
Now, they still had a lot to sort out, but that moment of kindness became a turning point in their relationship. They were now on the road to healing as a couple.
Showing kindness is important for any relationship. Words of affirmation go a lot farther than words that put someone down.
Ella Wheeler Wilcox has this wonderful quote on the importance of offering affirmation. She says, “A pat on the back is only a few vertebrae removed from a kick in the pants, but is miles ahead in results.”
Affirmation is an important way that we use words of grace for the purpose of building each other up and not tearing others down.
And then Paul concludes our passage of scripture by talking about the touchy topic of forgiveness. He says to “be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ has forgiven you.”
Forgiveness is at the heart of what it means to be a follower of Jesus. Forgiveness can be hard though, and often it is.
The story of told of two businessmen who were roommates in college, meeting at a convention with their wives. The men, reliving the days of happy go lucky youth, sat in the hotel lobby and before they knew it, most of the night had slipped away.
They knew they would be in trouble and the next day, they happened to see each other.
“What did your wife think?” said the one.
“When I walked in the door, my wife got historical.”
“Don’t you mean hysterical?” the other man said.
“No. Historical. She told me everything I ever did wrong. She got historical on me.”
Paul tells us toward the end of our passage, that God does not get historical on us for our past sins. When we confess our sins to God through faith in Jesus Christ, we can be assured that our sins have been forgiven and God remembers our sins no more.
And in the same way, we are to forgive one another for the ways we have hurt one another, intentionally and unintentionally. Why? Because God has forgiven us.
This is kindness at its very best. When we forgive one another, just as Christ has forgiven us.
A varsity level type of faith always includes kindness which is rooted in the unconditional love of Jesus Christ. And just think what a difference an entire church can make, when it offers God’s unconditional love to its surrounding community.
Chances are that you have been on the receiving end of a random act of kindness. During the Christmas Season one year, I was leaving a department store and someone from a nearby church was handing out free rolls of gift wrap paper.
I remember thinking how this was such a kind and thoughtful thing for a church to do.
I’ve had people ahead of me in a fast food line pay for my order as a random act of kindness. I had never done this for anybody before so I thought I’d give it a try.
One day, I was in the drive-thru lane at a fast food restaurant and a really big van got in line behind me.
As I sat there just waiting to place my order, it was like God was saying to me, “This is your chance. Pay for the person behind you.”
I remember thinking, “Lord, I’m a little low on disposable income this week, and what if that van is filled with a bunch of kids? This could be expensive.”
As these thoughts were going through my head, it was becoming more and more apparent that this was something God wanted me to do.
So when I finally pull up to the window to pay for my order, I say, “Here’s the money for my order and I also want to pay for the van behind me. I don’t care how big their order is. I’ll pay it all.”
This person at the window smiled at me and said, “Oh, OK, that will be another $3.10.” And I went, “Yes!!”
And this guy just laughed, knowing that I got off easy. I told him, “Just tell the person behind me, “God bless you from First United Methodist Church.”
So here’s the deal. That was the best $3.10 I have ever spent in my life!
God is good! Amen? Amen!
Random acts of kindness!
A friend of mine who’s a pastor was telling me about how his church has been involved in random acts of kindness in his community.
This pastor told me, “Our church chose for one of our “random acts of kindness” to go to a local Speedway gas station and clean their restrooms for free.”
And my first reaction was, “Yuck!”
But then he said, “An amazing thing happened through this ministry. One of the workers at that Speedway gas station, was so taken aback by this act of kindness and self-sacrifice, that she ended up joining our church and she’s now singing in our choir.”
This was because a few Christians showed kindness in a world that can be so very unkind.
In just two weeks, our church will have an opportunity to show Christian kindness to incoming students by giving out free water right here in front of our church building. This will be a simple and practical way of letting our community know that we are a caring church.
But why wait until then? How about this week, let’s be intentional in being kind to the people we see.
Let’s build people up with our words. Let’s do a kind deed that is helpful to someone.
And maybe, just maybe, someone will say to you and to me,
“Well aren’t you kind!”