Saturday, October 10, 2009

Not So Random Acts

Forgive me if I seem a bit rushed today while I put this together. I’ve only got so much time to get done all my usual Saturday chores (Bible Study, Sermon final prep, Finalize Class notes, stuff like that - oh and someone wants me to take laundry down and help rearrange the basement! But that’s for another complaint session). Because I am performing a wedding out of town this evening, and I’ve got a two and half hour drive before me (and then one back, duh). The wedding is for a former member of my youth group in a previous church. I’ll pause here for all the gratuitous getting older comments. ... All done, great. Let’s move on then, shall we.

Sarah and Zach are getting married in Lebanon (Indiana!). Well, outside Lebanon, at this resort/wedding place called Lumiere which is tucked away in the middle of the corn fields. It’s a nice place, I think. And I say "I think" mostly because we didn’t get to see much of it last night for the rehearsal. It is an outdoor wedding place and it was pouring down rain yesterday, so we couldn’t actually rehearse where the wedding is going to take place. There is this chapel like place perched on a pile of rocks and they wedding party stands in the chapel, and I stand on a pile of rocks sort of halfway up and everyone else sits on chairs on the green lawn below. At least that is how it is supposed to go.

We did the rehearsal in the side room of the reception hall, looking out the windows. The coordinator would line us up and then point out the window. "You see that copper post?" "What the one there by the big rock?" "No, over there, a little further. It’s a white post with a copper top." "No." "Well, its there, trust me. Stop there and wait. Then when the bridesmaids come down that sidewalk.." "You mean the one here?" "No, the big one over there." "Over the creek?" "No, on this side." "Oh."

Well, you get the idea. Suffice it to say, once we had run through the ceremony, sort of, no one really felt like they had any idea what was going to happen. And did I mention that the groom got lost and was over 45 minutes late? And we still had to wait on half the wedding party that they were trying to direct via cell phones like air traffic controllers dealing with rookie pilots way off course. By the time it was over and I was about to drive back home, the bride and the groom were nervous wrecks, looking a lot like the too young teenagers I remembered from youth group all those years ago.

While Sarah was fighting back tears and still trying to give instructions to her bridesmaids for the decorations, I came to say goodbye to let her know I was leaving. I patted her on the back and said, "I’ll be all right tomorrow." "Really," she looked at me with pleading in her eyes, saying even if you don’t think it is lie to me! "Really," I said confidently, "Trust me." She took and deep breath and nodded before going back to handing pumpkins out to her nervous bridesmaids and family. Her mom, who was a member of that church, shook my hand and smiled, thanking me for trying to help calm Sarah down. Then as we walked past other family members who introduced themselves, someone said "where are you from?" "Fort Wayne," I said. "Wow, and you came all the way down here for this?" "Yeah, and I’ll be back tomorrow!" "That’s very nice of you." "It’s nothing," I shrugged and ran out into the rain to my car before heading back, two and half hours to Fort Wayne.

It’s nothing. That’s our normal response to acts of kindness. Sometimes it is humility. Sometimes it is a feeling of inadequacy. Sometimes it is a recognition that it was a small thing when we could have done a bigger thing. But often it is because we don’t really recognize the enormity of an act of kindness.
In Paul’s list of the aspects of love that make up the Fruit of the Spirit there are some that might raise an eyebrow or two. Some of the words seems to inspire greatness, some demand great sacrifice, others call for lots of commitment and or energy. But then a few seem so insignificant in the greater scheme of things. Kindness is one of those words. We almost want to skip over that one and get on to the more significant matters. We want lessons on how we go about changing the world, how we go about saving souls for Jesus Christ! Kindness? Come on. We invited Dear Abby to this party? Why turn to Miss Manners when we’ve got more important things to do? We want John the Baptist talking about the axe laid at the root of the tree, not a big purple dinosaur telling us to say please and thank you!

What comes to mind when you hear the word Kindness? Does it somehow describe the Christian life for you? Is it something that you can rally behind as a watchword? As a motto for our faith? Or our church? How’s that for a mission statement: "At Our Church, We’re Just Really Nice!"

Or maybe I’m being unfair to the concept. Micah thinks so anyway. Take a look a what the prophet says in one of the most powerful verses in the whole bible.

Micah 6:6-8 "With what shall I come before the LORD, and bow myself before God on high? Shall I come before him with burnt offerings, with calves a year old? 7 Will the LORD be pleased with thousands of rams, with ten thousands of rivers of oil? Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?" 8 He has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?

I probably should have taken the whole chapter as the reading, to get the full impact of verse 8. The writings of the Prophet Micah begin with an appearance from God, and needless to say, God isn’t happy with the way God’s people have conducted themselves. In fact things have gotten so bad, that in Chapter 6 we find ourselves in court. Micah depicts a trial for divine favor. And so here in verse 6, we are basically throwing ourselves on the mercy of the court. The pleading gets higher and higher, bordering on the ridiculous. Until we sinners offer everything, even our children as sacrifice to the God of Judgement. Maybe that will appease, maybe that will reduce the punishment so richly deserved.
But Micah, who represents a God more gracious than the people’s desperation could ever imagine, tells us we are way off track. God doesn’t want bribes, or offerings, or sacrifices. God wants lives well lived. God wants lives lived in three dimensions. And Micah names those three for us.

The first and the last make sense to us right away. God wants Justice! Do Justice. Let make things right. Let’s treat people rightly, fairness, equality - of course that makes sense. And God wants connection. Jesus told us that. God wants us to walk with God, side by side, but with humility. What’s that old joke? "Many people want to serve God, but only in an advisory capacity." Humbly walk with God, means knowing our place, means listening more than talking.

But that middle one - love kindness. Huh? Surely there are more important things than that. But no. It’s on the list. Kindness. Treat people well. Respect, politeness, value the other. There are two things about this kindness idea that we need to know. First of all, love kindness is not so much an attitude as an action. Second of all, the Hebrew word for kindness is really an attribute of God. So, the call from the prophet is to act like God, even while we remember we aren’t God. Take on the aspect of God, who does justice and who loves acts of kindness.

Now, does that mean it is sort of like blasphemy when we say "It’s nothing"? Hope not. For my sake. And yours. Thank you for taking time to read this. That was kind of you...