God of Love who became of one kind with us and calls us one of your own, guide us this morning by your Word and your Holy Spirit, so that in your light we might see light, and in your truth, we might find freedom, and in your will, we might truly discover peace through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Scripture – Isaiah 56:1-8
Thus says the Lord: Maintain justice, and do what is right, for soon my salvation will come, and my deliverance be revealed. Happy is the mortal who does this, the one who holds it fast, who keeps the sabbath, not profaning it, and refrains from doing any evil. Do not let the foreigner joined to the Lord say, “The Lord will surely separate me from his people”; and do not let the eunuch say, “I am just a dry tree.” For thus says the Lord: To the eunuchs who keep my sabbaths, who choose the things that please me and hold fast my covenant, I will give, in my house and within my walls, a monument and a name better than sons and daughters; I will give them an everlasting name that shall not be cut off. And the foreigners who join themselves to the Lord, to minister to him, to love the name of the Lord, and to be his servants, all who keep the sabbath, and do not profane it, and hold fast my covenant — these I will bring to my holy mountain, and make them joyful in my house of prayer; their burnt offerings and their sacrifices will be accepted on my altar; for my house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples. Thus says the Lord God, who gathers the outcasts of Israel, I will gather others to them besides those already gathered.
“There’s a Wideness in God’s Mercy” — Frederick W. Faber (YouTube video for in-home worship: https://youtu.be/7hSn6kNecxg)
There’s a wideness in God’s mercy, Like the wideness of the sea. There’s a kindness in his justice, Which is more than liberty. There is welcome for the sinner And more graces for the good; There is mercy with the Savior; There is healing in his blood. If our love were but more simple, We would take him at his Word, And our lives would be more loving In the likeness of our Lord.
When I went over to have “the talk” with Sara’s parents, I didn’t tell her. I thought it would be neat to keep the whole thing a surprise, but in hindsight, I should have asked her for some advice. The night started with dinner, which was awkward. Each of us — Tom, Terri, and myself — knew exactly why I was there. Have you ever noticed how very small small-talk seems when there’s a proposal on the line? Well, my nervousness must have been obvious because Tom mercifully invited me to join him in the living room when we were done.
I’d like to say that I finally found my courage and exhibited some gallant fortitude, diving right in with the question I had come for, but I didn’t. Again, my father-in-law saved my bacon. “Jason — Sara is the kindest person we know.” “I…I know,” I fumbled a reply. “I mean, I agree. She’s great.” The words came out haphazardly, as if I hadn’t been preparing for weeks. “That’s…that’s why I love her.” “We love her, too.” They said it in sweet unison, letting the sentence trail off into a thick silence that I read — no doubt rightly — as a call for me to get on with it.
I must have, because I don’t remember anything else from that night, and here we are, married and still FaceTiming with my in-laws. In fact, the only thing I clearly remember are those very first words Tom said: “Sara is the kindest person we know.” Coming from him, that’s saying something. Kindness is Tom Castleberry’s middle name. When he worked as an insurance agent, I once heard a friend say that she’d happily buy anything from him. Tom exudes comfort and ease — like you can trust him with your life. Many did, along with their houses and their cars and their 401(k)s.
I do, too, now. But, not simply because he’s nice, agreeable, and knows his stuff. It’s because he’s family, in the deepest and truest sense of the word. The word “kindness” that we use today comes originally from the old English word kyndnes, which meant “nation” or even “produce.” It had much more to do with kinship rather than how sweet someone was. That’s a definition we’ve kept up with when we talk about being someone’s “kindred spirit” or when we ask questions like “What kind of cat do you have?” Nobody in their right mind would ask that wanting to know if my orange tabby likes to curl up next to me at night. (The answer is no. He doesn’t.)
Kindness, then, is what God showed us when Jesus became one of us — one of our kind — as Paul explains in Philippians 2 and John describes so materially when he says that the Word of God “pitched his tent” among us. Jesus became our brother, our family, our kin. This is the great meaning of the incarnation and the amazing fact of creation itself — that we were all made “in God’s image.” We’re of the same kind (see Genesis 1:26-7).
I take it that this is the kind of thing Mr. Rogers was talking about whenever he’d look us in the eye and kindly tell us that he loves us just the way we are. We’re all made of the same stuff. We’re all of one blood. We’re all beautiful and loved because we’re all God’s children. Amy Peterson, in her book Where Goodness Still Grows, puts it this way:
Kindness has little to do with being blandly nice, being the right kind of person…Kindness is, instead, about seeing the image of God in everyone, outsiders and insiders, and learning to love our kin in ways that don’t oppress others.
To be sure, this is how the Bible understands kindness. Isaiah 56 links God’s (and Israel’s) kindness directly to kinship and the benefits that come with it. Foreigners, eunuchs, and outcasts — all people generally considered distinct and separate, outside the community, and of a different kind than those inside and within — these are the ones God says emphatically that he will welcome. They will even be treated better than kin, better than God’s “sons and daughters.”
This is what is so striking about the genealogy of Jesus. It includes not just the “People of the Promise,” the Israelites and Jews, but also Rahab the Canaanite and Ruth the Moabite, outsiders — even enemies — who were grafted into the family. When Jesus overturned the moneychangers’ tables in the Temple because they were robbing the poor and the foreigners who were coming to worship, he was acting out of righteous anger. But he was also acting out of genuine kindness. How dare those moneychangers take advantage of their kin!
Frederick Faber understood this well, making it the central theme of his famous hymn:
There’s a wideness in God’s mercy,
Like the wideness of the sea.
There’s a kindness in his justice,
Which is more than liberty.
This week, let’s let that verse be our motto. Ask yourself, Where do I need to show more kindness this week? Who is God calling me to see as kin when my inclination is to do the exact opposite?
Prayers for Our World
Let us pray today for our neighbors, our strangers, our church, and our world:
- For everyone caught in the midst of this resurgence of the coronavirus and for the teams of technicians, doctors, nurses, researchers, and volunteers who are on the frontlines helping us to stay safe.
- For all those who have experienced an increase of fear and uncertainty these past few weeks — especially those in nursing homes and other multifamily complexes.
- For all who are traveling or planning to travel, that God would give them wisdom and safety.
- For peace, justice, and understanding to reign in our world today and for all racism, bigotry, injustice, and hate to be overcome with love.
- For the church here and around the world, which is tasked with sharing the good news of kindness, love, justice, mercy, freedom, and salvation for all people.
- For all those who have died this week because of COVID-19, we pray that God would receive them into his open arms of love.
Holy God, show us today your loving kindness so that through your grace we may proclaim your truth with boldness, perform your justice with compassion, and treat all of our neighbors and strangers as beloved brothers and sisters, for the sake of our Savior Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.
*For further reading on today’s theme, check out chapter two of Amy Peterson’s book, Where Goodness Still Grows.