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April 29, 2018

“The Theology of Kindness: Acceptance”

By Rev. Katrina Pekich-Bundy

Deuteronomy 16.14-22

1 John 4.-21

April 29, 2018

            The Disney movie Frozen is a staple in my household. I’m giving you a spoiler alert – if you haven’t seen it, I’m going to give away the ending. The older sister, Elsa, has magical powers. She can control snow and ice. As a child she accidentally hurts her younger sister, Anna. Their parents take Anna to some trolls who heal her, but warn Elsa to hide her magic. The repetitive line is that she must “conceal, don’t feel.” Anna and Elsa become very isolated and Elsa becomes obsessed with hiding her powers. On the day of Elsa’s coronation her powers are revealed, and she worries she will hurt people. Anna tries to help her control her snow and ice powers but the more fearful Elsa becomes, the larger the snowstorm. She freezes over all of Arendelle, the land in which they live.

            In the end, Elsa breaks the power of the ice by kissing her sister, who has been frozen. Love melts away all the ice. Love controls fear – exactly what our scripture passage says this morning. Verse eighteen in the 1 John passage tells us that there is “no fear in love. Perfect love casts out fear.” When we fear, we haven’t reached perfect love. So, when we fear someone because they look different than us, we must love them. When we fear someone because they speak differently, we must love them. Our world has cast many different fears – of immigrants, outsiders, and those whom we don’t understand. But as we begin to love people, we realize we are not nearly as different as we thought.

            Our world is very binary and people often categorize into “good” and “bad.” I enjoy what theologian Reinhold Niebuhr expressed in his writings, which was that “evil is often done not by obviously evil people but by righteous people who forget the limits of their righteousness.”[1] We are all sinful and we all have the capacity for sin, but we also have the capacity to love.

            We might back up a bit in the passage, though, and remember that this is a continuation of what we heard last week. The author of 1 John tells us to abide in God, for God is love, and love is an action, not an abstract feeling. Whenever we abide in God we are compelled to love one another because this action and abiding in God are so closely linked. God’s love in action is portrayed through the incarnation – through God becoming human to be with us.

            Going back to Niebuhr, we know that we were created “good” but that we can - and will - sin. We may not feel as though we deserve God’s love, but that is part of the beauty of grace. God loves us even when we don’t deserve to be loved, or that we feel we don’t deserve it. We are humans and we make mistakes. Sometimes we fear people being too close to us because we worry we will be rejected. I think some people – especially Christians – push others away because they worry that if someone sees their “true” self they would never be accepted in the church.

Author Rachel Held Evans wrote a book about leaving church, and she addresses how we need to be “real” with one another. She believes many people are leaving church because of a “fakeness” that is portrayed. We need to be honest and be our whole selves, no matter how hard it might be. She says: “We think church is for good people, not resurrected people. So we fake it. We pretend we don’t need help and we have our act together and we act like we aren’t afraid, even though no decent AA meeting ever began with, “Hi, my name is Rachel, and I totally have my act together.”[2] None of us have our act together. We are all going through something – even if it is small, even if it is huge.

We don’t have to be “good” people – we need to be “resurrected” people. During Eastertide, we remember that the disciples struggled with Jesus being risen. We remember that the disciples doubted. We remember that early Christians struggled with what it meant to be a church. None of them had their act together, and we aren’t expected to, either. Don’t be a “good” Christian – be a “resurrected” Christian. That means recognizing our faults, but also recognizing God’s grace. It means that we abide in God, and God’s love pours out of us.

            Sometimes we push people away because we fear losing them – like Elsa. What if our fear of loving others is that they have to reciprocate that love? To love someone else means that they have to love us – for who we are, faults and all. Elsa pushed her sister away because she was afraid that Anna would see her powers and reject her or be scared of her – or that her powers would hurt Anna – and they did, but she didn’t see that love was the cure. We will make friends, we will mess up, we will break hearts, we will have our hearts broken, but love is always right there, waiting for us, usually in the last place we expect.

            Love, and I would argue kindness, means making yourself vulnerable. Last week we discussed sacrifice, and to love is to sacrifice – to put yourself out there and risk losing something precious. Since we are in the midst of the forty days of kindness, someone sent me a poem about kindness, and I loved it, and wanted to share part of it with you. It’s by Naomi Shihab Nye. She writes: “Before you know kindness as the deepest thing inside, you must know sorrow as the other deepest thing. You must wake up with sorrow. You must speak to it till your voice catches the thread of all sorrows and you see the size of the cloth.”[3] We must walk in one another’s shoes. To do that means to reveal yourself and your identity, and to be open to the identity of the other person. You must be willing to sit with the pain, to rejoice with the joy. To be kind means to part with judgment and be willing to accept people as they are.

            When we share love and kindness we use the gifts we have – nothing more and nothing less. The passage in Deuteronomy is about the Festival of Booths, or Sukkot. This happened in the fall and was a celebration of the bounty of the harvest. People brought forth the fruit of their labors, and we are to do the same when sharing kindness with one another. We don’t panic if we feel our offering is too small, for all love, all kindness, all offerings are the right size. To give what we have been given is enough. The farmer doesn’t go back out to the field and scrape the stray berries off the ground or the ears of corn that have fallen to the dirt. The farmer accepts the harvest and shares. We accept the gifts we have been given, knowing that the gifts are enough – and that we are enough – for God always provides.

            We are coming to a close for the forty days of kindness. Next week will be our last Sunday celebrating. I’ve asked you to consider an intention for this time – how you will conduct yourself for these forty days. Each week, I hope you are revisiting that intention – not as a way to feel guilty if you’re not always following it, but as a reminder – because we all need to be reminded. Whatever that intention, go forward without fear. Trust in the love of God and abide in God. Love God, be loved, and let God’s love pour out of you in all that you say and do. May your actions be filled with the mercy and grace of the One who created you, loves you, and walks with you. Amen.

 

[1] Peter Marty, “Are we sure we’re right?” in Christian Century, (April 11, 2018, Vol. 135, No. 8), p.3.

[2] Rachel Held Evans Searching for Sunday, (Nashville: Nelson Books, 2015), 70.

[3] Naomi Shihab Nye, Kindness, https://www.poets.org/poetsorg/poem/kindness.