October 20, 2019 | Bryan Simmons
Passage: Matthew 7:1-12
So I'm going to use both texts for this sermon as we venture into the fruits of the spirit and particularly focus on the spirit of "Kindness." This fruit of kindness, I should say. It's an ongoing struggle that I would say we have throughout history. And I would also say that we are no different than the people that have gone before us or the people that will come after us. If you look at Zechariah, this idea in Zechariah, where the word of the Lord comes to Zechariah and Zachariah says: render true judgment, show kindness and mercy to one another, do not oppress the widow, the orphan, the alien or the poor, and do not devise evil in your hearts against one another.
This all came after the exile. Zechariah is a prophet that is speaking to the folks after they return from being exiled. If you recall, the ancient Israelites, they had a charge that proclaimed the one true God--slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love to the nations, but instead fell into the trap and the temptation to become like other nations and worship the other gods as well. And they became rather irrelevant in that moment, and so fell the northern kingdom to Syria and the southern kingdom to Babylon.
And so when they come back in this era of hope to rebuild, there is this humility that starts when they come back. But there's also this expectation that now would be the time when the messianic era, when Jerusalem will be fully restored and all nations will come to it. And that would be the fulfillment of the Israelites mission.
And so they're doing this. They're spending several years in rebuilding Jerusalem and rebuilding the temple. And they're getting into this feeling about how it seems to be taking too long for the ultimate fulfillment of what's supposed to happen here in the messianic era. And so they ask Zechariah, "hey, we've started doing all this stuff, the law says again. And we've been doing the ritual fasting and caring for the orphan and widow and all of that. But what's the deal here? I feel like it should been happening by now, this big messianic era thing."
And so this is what Zechariah responds with. And he's not talking to the current people directly -- he's charging them with the same thing, but reminding them, "hey, listen, the generations before you heard this same stuff: render true judgment, show kindness and mercy to one another. Do not oppress the widow, the orphan, the alien or the poor. Do not devise evil in your hearts against one another." And Zechariah reminds them that they refused to listen -- turned a stubborn shoulder and stopped their ears in order not to hear. And so the Lord's word through Zechariah reminds these people, "since they refused to listen, when they called out to me for help, I refused to listen. And they were scattered to the winds."
We can't use the law in the Bible to try to win favor with God, but we do fall into this trap, we fall into this trap and we fall into it rather easily. Where we take these things as something to do, as an accomplishment to achieve. We tend to pat ourselves on our backs when we're doing it well. Because when we work on these things, frankly, we want the recognition. And it's tempting to do the rituals for the sake of ritual. To show up to worship and look around in the pews and notice that you're here and maybe see who's missing this week and wonder what they're up to, and just feel good that you're here and they're not. And maybe comment on things throughout the week and noticing that you're putting in the extra effort and others aren't. When you go serve somewhere, a soup kitchen or the food pantry or something like that, you advocate for justice and you want the recognition. You want these checkboxes for God when you show up to heaven.
The reality is, when we're confronted with our life on the last judgment, we will be confronted with our motivations for why we do what we do. And in Zechariah saying the ancient Israelites are no different than they are, so too Jesus -- almost five hundred years after Zechariah -- is telling the people of Jesus's day that they are really no different. Jesus admonishes this judging. Jesus admonishes this idea of pointing out a speck in a neighbor's eye, while we have a log in our own eye.
Jesus was addressing the same issue several generations after Zechariah. And the funny thing about it is Jesus IS the start of the messianic era. So these people are there. They are in the midst of Christ. And yet are struggling with the same thing.
I don't think it's a stretch to say that we live in an era of unkindness. I don't think it's a stretch to say that we live in a log society where we frankly don't care what's going on with us. It's much easier to point out what's going wrong with others. And in our Twitter society it's so much easier to gang up, and destroy somebody with the push of a few buttons.
Now, that's pretty heavy load. I'm gonna make it heavier. I'm glad there's laughing. There is two types of sins that we commit. There's the sins of commission. Those are the fun ones. Those are the ones we know we are doing because we're trying to get something out of it. And then there's the sins of omission. That's the more difficult one. That's the ones where we know we should have done the right thing, but we didn't, or we were completely ignorant to what the right thing was to do, and we failed to do it because of our own ignorance. That one's really hard to get out of. And so even if we do all these wonderful acts of kindness, and we worship the Lord right and we come to the table and we receive communion, we still end up falling short because of the things we're not doing -- the things we're not aware we should be doing.
It is very hard to please the Lord through our acts of kindness. Thanks be to God, that's not all there is to it! Thanks be to God that it doesn't solely depend on our acts of kindness to build the kingdom, or glorify God, or even elevate ourselves a tiny bit, or elevate the ones we're serving.
Because of Jesus.
Because of the ultimate kindness of God shown to us through the cross of Christ, through the resurrection. You and I, in that forgiveness, in that promise of life, in that hope we are invited to enter into this kindness in a new way.
We can show up and we can try to help somebody out and say, "listen, I don't have it all together. I don't know everything. I'm just as sinful as you are. I can't please God any more than you can. But I know the gospel, the good news of Jesus Christ. And I want to share that with you." And maybe that's motivating me to help in a tangible way. Maybe that's motivating me to just share the good news in a way that somebody may not have heard before. But the beauty of the death and resurrection of Christ in our lives is that we can allow it to change us, to humble us, to realize that we don't have it all together, that we can't just earn our way.
After all, the bar is set very low. Jesus says, "you didn't give your kid a snake. Congratulations!"
We can live changed, humbled. And our acts of kindness come out with humility. Our acts of kindness stem from the kindness God has already shown us. Our acts of kindness are not our own to build upon, but to point to the God who has shown kindness to us.
We are no different than the ancient Israelites. We are no different then those who returned from exile, we are no different than any generation that has come before us or after us.
But we are one in the body of Christ, born anew into baptism into that reality. And we can live proclaiming that good news in an unkind world. Amen.