February 24, 2019
Norwalk First United Methodist Church
Fruits of the Spirit
7th Sunday after Epiphany
Zechariah 7:1-14 (2 Kings 25:8-10)
Mark Twain once said, “Kindness is the language which the deaf can hear and the blind can see.” The Tyndale Bible Dictionary defines “kindness” as “the state of being that includes the attributes of loving affection, sympathy, friendliness, patience, pleasantness, gentleness, and goodness.” It goes on to say that “kindness is a quality shown in the way a person speaks and acts. It is more volitional,” that is, a conscious choice, “than emotional.”
This Fruit of the Spirit, kindness, is one of the three fruits of patience, kindness, and goodness that reflects the Christian believer’s attitude toward other people. Kindness is more than compassion. The very nature of exhibiting kindness to another person makes that person have a sense of worth and usefulness. By exhibiting kindness to another person we are affirming their worth as a person. We are telling them that they are important enough for us to be inconvenienced by them or that we would give them special attention.
In Matthew 19, Jesus’ example of kindness for us believers was exhibited with the children. Then little children were brought to Jesus for him to place his hands on them and pray for them. But the disciples rebuked those who brought them. Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.” When he had placed his hands on them, he went on from there. Jesus, by allowing the children to come to him, showed them their worth to him, which was unusual for that time period.
Our problem today is that many times we think we are showing kindness to others or we give lip service about how kind we are, but our actions prove us otherwise. The story is told of the Focus on the Family founder, James Dobson, coming across a sign on a Catholic convent in southern California. It read, “Absolutely No Trespassing – Violators Will Be Prosecuted to the Full Extent of the Law.” It was signed, “The Sisters of Mercy.” A person or a group of people must consciously practice kindness. It is not something to be talked about or put on a sign.
Our scripture story today, from one of the Minor Prophets, Zechariah, is about the Jewish people who are so self-involved, so worried about their image, that is, about getting a certain fasting ritual correct, that they forget what God had commanded them to do for others. They think they are doing God’s work, but their actions prove otherwise. Their justice, kindness, or some of your Bibles say mercy, and compassion are almost non-existent. Kindness is a Fruit of the Spirit that must be shared with others if the Holy Spirit is truly working within the Christian believer. Would you pray with me?
The people of Judah, the Israelites, had just spent 70 years in captivity in Babylon. They had spent those 70 years in captivity because they had failed to follow God’s command in verse 9 of our scripture and so God punished the whole nation. Listen to verse 14: I scattered them with a whirlwind among all the nations, where they were strangers. The land was left so desolate behind them that no one could come or go.
But now the Israelites were once again home in the Promised Land and had rebuilt the Temple of God under Nehemiah and had restored their Temple worship under Ezra. During their 70 years in captivity, the Israelites had added several fasts followed by a period of feasting to their yearly calendar to commemorate the losses they had experienced through God’s judgment on them.
They had added at least three fasts. The one mentioned in verse three, done in the fifth month of Ab, our July-August, was a fast commemorating the destruction of the Temple by King Nebuchadnezzar’s troops in 587 B.C. If fact, we can read about it in 2 Kings 25: 8-10: On the seventh day of the fifth month, in the nineteenth year of Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon, Nebuzaradan commander of the imperial guard, an official of the king of Babylon, came to Jerusalem. He set fire to the temple of the Lord, the royal palace and all the houses of Jerusalem. Every important building he burned down. The whole Babylonian army, under the commander of the imperial guard, broke down the walls around Jerusalem. The Jews fasted on this date during their whole captivity in Babylon.
Now here’s the problem. The only fast day required by God was on the Day of Atonement. It is thought by scholars that many of the other fasts and festivals created while the Hebrews were in captivity was so they could have days off or rest periods from working for their captors. In fact, the fast that the people of Bethel were inquiring about was really no longer needed because the Temple had once again been rebuilt in Jerusalem. Why continue to mourn over a destroyed Temple some 70 years earlier, when the Temple had now been completely restored?
Fasting is to be done with prayer in reverence to God, but this fast had degenerated into a self-absorbed time in which people could show off their religiosity. Listen again to what God said through Zechariah: (starting with verse 5) Say to all the people of the land and to the priests, “When you fasted and mourned in the fifth and seventh months these seventy years, was it actually for Me that you fasted? When you eat and drink, do you not eat for yourselves and do you not drink for yourselves? Are not these the words which the Lord proclaimed by the former prophets…
What were “these words” that God proclaimed by the former prophets? Look at verse 9: Dispense true justice and practice kindness and compassion each to his brother; and do not oppress the widow or the orphan, the stranger or the poor; and do not devise evil in your hearts against one another. This was all that God desired, but the Hebrew people had refused to listen and so the 70 years of captivity ensued. Now, back in Jerusalem, they wanted to keep up the “poor us” image by celebrating a fast that was no longer needed or required. It was about keeping up a false image for their former captors.
We sometimes keep up a false image when it’s not necessary or not needed that often doesn’t reflect our present reality. I read a recent article in which a small college town tavern that was frequented by students ran an ad in the campus paper during the days before Parents Weekend. Talk about keeping up an image. The tavern ad said: “Bring Your Parents for Lunch Saturday. We’ll Pretend We Don’t Know You!” Underneath that ad was another by the college chaplain that read: “Bring Your Parents to Chapel Sunday. We’ll Pretend We Know You!”
Sometimes we try to keep an appearance of piety and kindness while missing the true meaning of our reality. The Israelites were keeping up an appearance of piety but missing the true meaning of what God had wanted all along, true justice, the practice of kindness or mercy, and compassion for one another.
The Fruit of the Spirit kindness is something that is to be practiced and shared. We have to ask ourselves this question: are we just going through the motions, keeping up an image, or does our kindness, compassion, and justice result as an outpouring of the Holy Spirit truly working in our lives for others as a response to God’s kindness, mercy, and compassion for us? After all, showing undeserved kindness imitates God’s character.
Jesus said in Luke 6:35: Love your enemies! Do good to them! Lend to them! And don’t be concerned that they might not repay. Then your reward from heaven will be very great, and you will truly be acting as children of the Most High, for he is kind to the unthankful and to those who are wicked. You see, genuine kindness to others is our response to God’s love for us.
Just like the Israelites, who were pretending to fast for God, most of us have learned how to pretend to love or be kind to others – how to speak kindly, how to avoid hurting feelings, and how to appear interested. We may even be skilled in pretending to feel moved with compassion when we hear of other’s needs, or to become indignant when we learn of injustice. But God calls us to real and sincere love and kindness that goes far beyond pretense and politeness. Sincere kindness requires concentration and effort. It means helping others become better people. It demands our time, money, and personal involvement.
None of us has the capacity to express loving kindness to a whole community, but this body of Christ, Norwalk First United Methodist Church, can. We need to look for people who need our loving kindness. We need to look for ways we can love our community for Christ.
Kindness is one of the characteristics of God’s people. Kindness is about living the life that God wants. It is about holy living. Kindness is something we consciously demonstrate to others. God had told the Hebrew people how they were to live, with true justice and practicing kindness and compassion, but they ignored him. In the New Testament, listen to what Paul told the Church at Colosse in Colossians 3:1-17:
Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. 2 Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. 3 For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. 4 When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.
5 Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry. 6 Because of these, the wrath of God is coming. 7 You used to walk in these ways, in the life you once lived. 8 But now you must rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips. 9 Do not lie to each other, since you have taken off your old self with its practices 10 and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator. 11 Here there is no Greek or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all.
12 Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. 13 Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. 14 And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.
15 Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful. 16 Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom, and as you sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God. 17 And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.
From this scripture passage, living in the Fruit of the Spirit of kindness means that you and I are to
- imitate Christ’s compassionate, forgiving attitude,
- let love guide our lives,
- let the peace of Christ rule in our hearts,
- always be thankful,
- keep God’s Word in us at all times, and
- live as Jesus Christ’s representative here on earth.
All of these things are a strategy for living a life of kindness. They are all from God and they all imitate the life of Christ.
Kindness is not an image builder for you and me. Kindness is a satisfying fruit that is to be passed on. Kindness is meant to be shared, to be consciously shared as a representation of Christ’s love for you and me. The Fruit of the Spirit is kindness, pass in on.