Epiphany 7A; Kinder Than Necessary
Scripture appointed for today can be found here
To God the Glory
Around this time last year, our then five-year-old started to repeat a short phrase that we later learned was the guiding principle of his kindergarten classroom.
Be kinder than necessary.
Four words. Four simple words born of love and care, that have truly reshaped my own understanding of what is sufficient.
To be kind. Yes. But, to be kinder than I need to be…well, that has proven transformative on more than one occasion.
To be kinder than necessary is born of grace and generosity. It assumes that we are capable of so much more and in this it is empowering. To be kinder than necessary offers us an opportunity to convey grace, to shine a light, and to embody love.
In this, the phrase itself, is a challenge and a declaration; an affirmation and a gift.
And, I learned it not in the bowels of the seminary library or sitting listening intently to some sermon or another, but in a kindergarten classroom.
A kindergarten classroom where the oft repeated instruction to be “kinder than necessary” arguably sums up all that we have heard today in the proclamation of scripture.
Leave the edges of the field for the poor.
Provide sustenance to refugees and immigrants.
Extend compassion upon those in need.
Pray for those who persecute you.
Live according to the grace of God.
And in living, thus, be perfect as God is perfect.
We are called to perfection.
Not because we can obtain it, God knows, we can and will fall short and, hence, the reason that confession and absolution are offered on such a regular basis in the church. But, because in striving for perfect love, as God loves, we move ourselves and each other closer to the full embodiment of God’s desire for the wholeness and restoration of creation.
But, where to begin with this weighty task? Perhaps, most simply, through the recognition of our power to shape a child’s understanding of God.
Psychologist James Fowler whose body of work has been on the spiritual development of children, writes that our core understanding of the nature of God is formed by the time we are six years old. And, this understanding is formed not through the reading of weighty treatises or an understanding of the contextual implications of life in the 1st century—but rather through impressions gained from the important adults in a child’s life. The kindness of a beloved adult at church, the warmth of a gentle embrace, laughter at a silly face, arms reaching down as arms reach up. Gentle instruction as we rise and kneel and sit and sing. Communion bread gripped in a little fist and blessings given freely. A second cookie at hospitality hour.
But it’s not just the sweet things, the boundaries we set and the expectation we offer also shape an understanding of God. Don’t run, you could knock someone over! We don’t wrestle in church. Be still for a bit while we pray together. Done well and offered with love, boundaries and rules serve as reassuring markers of care and model respect for others and for self.
And, all of this together, form a child’s understanding of the perfect love of God. A love learned and reinforced by this community we call the Body of Christ, the Church.
Over the coming year we will be spending a great deal of time considering how we as a faith community root our children with an understanding of God’s love and equip them with the tools of a community of faith to lean into throughout their lives. We will work with an interim in faith formation for children and young people to discern how we can model the love of God as made known through Christ to each and every child who worships in our midst.
This seems a daunting task. But it is one born of love and care and the desire to let each and everyone of every age in this place know that God’s Spirit, as Paul affirms and proclaims in the passage we heard from Corinthians today, dwells within.
As we consider this, I invite you to consider each other. To consider that God’s Spirit dwells within young and old, rich and poor. It dwells within people of all races, sexualities, genders. God’s Spirit is not constrained by our bodies and it cannot be restricted or denied by human leaders.
God’s Spirit is a gift, and it has been given to each and every one of you.
And, in remembering this, let us remember that we possess the power to be kinder than necessary.
And that this this kindness, this kindness is not pursued for the sake of kindness--but for the sake of God. All we do, say and are in the world is an offering to God--so too our kindness. In the passage from Leviticus, the kindness is justified by the very nature of God, "I am God"; perfection in the Gospel, "perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect"...
The power and ability is a gift, and we use it to the glory of God.
And, in our kindness we ourselves reveal God's nature!
I wish to close with a book, written for children, but we were all children once…so listen with your heart and consider how one little girl learns about God’s grace and forgiveness…
If you are a child in this congregation, I invite you to come to the front steps so that you can see the pictures—if you want to bring a grown up who loves you with, please do!
Down the Road by Alice Schertle…
Thanks to the good folk of Storypath for the lovely book recommendation!
To God be the glory!