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April 8, 2018

“The Theology of Kindness: Intentionality”

By Rev. Katrina Pekich-Bundy

Hebrews 13.1-16

Acts 4.32-35

April 8, 2018

            If you have ever been to a yoga class you might be familiar with the idea of setting an intention. Typically, at the beginning of class the instructor will ask what you want to work on during the next hour or so. Sometimes the question is about what muscles are aching or what needs to be stretched, but also there is a mindfulness aspect. Maybe you want to focus on being nicer to yourself or perhaps your focus is connecting with God or the earth. The idea is that throughout your practice of yoga you come back to this intention, which is instilled within you. Then, throughout your day and your week you come back to that intention and practice it over and over again.

            Whenever we begin a new liturgical season or do spiritual disciplines we should have an intention. For example, in Lent I had the spiritual discipline of using technology less, meaning my intention was to focus on being in the present, and not somewhere else in my mind. We are now in a season called Easter tide, which goes until Pentecost. During Easter tide we will be joining with the community in celebrating the Kindness Challenge. The Kindness Challenge is forty days of doing one kind thing for someone each day. This idea was started by the Zero Suicide Initiative of the Healthy Communities group through King’s Daughters’ Hospital. There are three subgroups of the Healthy Initiatives, and they are the Zero Suicide group, a group dealing with addiction, and a healthy lifestyles group. The Zero Suicide initiative is exactly what it sounds like – attempting to stop suicides from happening, because the suicide rate in Jefferson County has more than tripled in the past four years. Our goal is to educate and support those with mental illness and those battling with suicidal ideation. One issue is bullying, and so we thought we would begin by how we treat our neighbors, which is something we talk about as a church often. Kindness is not the only prevention for suicide, but it is one aspect of this committee.

            So, as we begin this challenge, we begin with an intention – how will you proceed? Do you want to follow the one kind gesture per day, or maybe start with one a week? It may seem like having a challenge to be kind is silly – that it should just be natural to be kind to one another. Except, if you have ever driven on a highway during rush hour or opened a newspaper, you can see that for many kindness isn’t natural. I’m sure there are some of us in this room that struggle to be kind at times. When someone cuts you off in traffic or when someone calls you a bad name or someone treats a family member poorly, kindness may not be the first to pop in our heads. Sometimes we have to be intentional about our kindness and how we will be generous to others. Sometimes we have to be intentional about how we are kind to ourselves.

            Diana Butler Bass recently wrote an article in Christian Century about a gratitude journal that she began. Shortly after being fired from a job, she was fuming because she didn’t feel her employer had been fair. A friend of hers patiently listened to her complaints and encouraged her to begin a gratitude journal to just write down one positive aspect of her day for which she was grateful. Bass was resistant at first, but tried it out. She found that it began to shape her attitude. She wasn’t upset about the loss of her job because she recognized that the job had never been a good fit for her. She was able to recognize and focus on the positive events that were happening in her life and to celebrate them. She shared one entry in her writings: “I went out with J and told her about two things, about winning the dissertation prize and about that meeting where none of my colleagues would speak to me. She said, ‘You know, Diana, I’ve never seen anything like your life. People hand you a bouquet of roses in one hand and a bag of manure in the other.’ Funny enough, I hadn’t really noticed that. I was so excited about the roses that I had barely thought twice about the cruelty. Maybe it does make a difference to pay more attention to the flowers than the crap.”[1] Her intention changed, and her focus changed.

            As we begin our kindness journey and the celebration of the resurrection, we recognize that kindness and resurrection go hand in hand. Kindness is more than just being nice – it is a way of life – perhaps an outlook. This is not just positive thinking. Being kind does not mean that you ignore negative things or are always happy or that you let people walk all over you. Kindness means choosing your response to adversity. Jesus could have risen from the dead and gone after those who killed him, but instead he continued his ministry of teaching and empowered his disciples to preach and heal. He had an intention after his resurrection.

            The people in both of our scripture passages had an intention, and it was to live in solidarity. In Acts we see a glimpse of the early Christian community gathering together to learn how to be church. Not only were they sorting through life without Jesus but they were living in troubling times. Peter and John had previously been arrested for following Jesus’ call to preach and teach and heal. They are attempting to live life in the chaos of stress and are merely trying to protect themselves.[2] They are on survival mode in many ways. They are focusing on themselves because they are just trying to make it through this difficult time. Yet, they are not so narrowly focused, because they are extremely generous. They are meeting the needs of everyone present and are giving and caring.

            Yet, I am a bit skeptical about this passage, because it says that there was not a needy person among them. What were the needs? How were they being addressed? Were people voicing their needs? I wonder if this was a bit overstated, because there was no way to know if everyone’s needs were met. Perhaps there was one person who didn’t speak up because they didn’t want to rock the boat, but could really use a friend to whom they could talk. I certainly think there is truth to this passage, and that there was much sharing and many needs were met – but perhaps it was simplified a bit.

            What we can take from this is that there was an intention behind this community. They were intent on being unified and were genuine in their actions and intentions. In order to meet needs in the community they had to be united and have a similar goal. Their sharing was done through a couple of methods. They gave their possessions to people who were in need outside the community, and were also called to be non-materialistic.[3] If they were attached to a physical item there was no way they could give freely to those in need or be able to travel to share God’s Word.

            So, what does this all mean for today, in a world that is very consumeristic and we are surrounded by things? What needs of ours need to be met? Famous psychologist Abraham Maslow came up with a pyramid of needs – or a hierarchy of needs – stating that the base needs should be met before the higher needs come into play. The base need is physiological, like water and food and air to breathe. Once those are satisfied, Maslow argues that people need safety and shelter. When those basic needs are met, people seek out relationships. He would say that if someone is not eating or clothed, they won’t seek out relationships until those needs are met.

            In many ways Maslow’s theory makes sense, but it neglects the faith needs of a person, which may or may not coincide with these needs. Someone can be simultaneously in need of shelter and also of prayer. Maslow would probably argue that the shelter would be sought first, but that need of faith does not go away. There are stages of faith, just like stages of development. James Fowler writes about these various stages and how we progress through different needs of faith in our lives. His follows more by age than by basic needs, because our faith often changes as we age and as our worldview changes. Though, whatever stage we are in, I think it is important to pay attention to what our needs are in our faith each day – as they might change depending on circumstance. Maslow might argue that we can’t look at the needs of others without satisfying our own, but I wonder about this community in Acts, who is taking care of themselves and others at the same time.

            What are your needs today? Are they spiritual? Are they more physiological? Are they a combination? How can they be met? We all had a need in coming here to worship – we need to be nourished and need to know how we have been called. Sometimes we struggle to acknowledge what those needs are and how they can be met. The beauty of kindness is that sometimes when we are kind to someone else we meet a need and may not even know it. Perhaps that person cannot put their finger on what is wrong, but your kind gesture puts a name to it, and gives them comfort. How can we meet the needs of the world? The Hebrews passage tells us it is through mutual love. Needs are met through the act of love.

            The author of Hebrews frequently says “don’t neglect” or “forget.” This is another way of telling the people to “be intentional.” The author tells us to be in solidarity with one another, just like in Acts, and to be content. When we do these things, we are transformed. God transforms us as we worship and as we act out the Gospel.[4] When we do kind things for others, it is contagious.[5] Our love for God shines through in our actions, and pours over so that others are inspired by God’s mercy and grace.

            So, first, I want you to check where you are in your faith needs. What are those needs, and how can they be met? Then, we look around us – do you know of a need you can help with? Then, let’s set an intention for these forty days of kindness. There are calendars with ideas, and there is also a kindness wall. The envelopes on the top have ideas for how to be kind to one another – take what you need. The envelopes below are for those who need to receive some kindness – take what you need. Maybe you take from both.

            Look to the Risen Lord, who shows us how to live in mutual love and kindness. Thanks be to God. Amen.

 

[1] Diana Butler Bass, “Practicing Gratitude” in Christian Century, Vol. 135, No. 7, March 28, 2018, p. 11.

[2] Samuel E. Balentine, “Acts4.32-35” in Feasting on the Word: Year B, Vol. 1 (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2008), 383.

[3] Fred B. Craddock, John H. Hayes, Carl R. Holladay, Gene M. Tucker, Preaching Through the Christian Year: B (Valley Forge: Trinity Press International, 1993), 238.

[4] Gray Temple, “Hebrews 13.1-8, 15-16” in Feasting on the Word: Year C, Vol. 4. (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2010), 16.

[5] Lisa Barrickman, A Case for Kindness, (Tennessee: Worthy Inspired, 2017), 7-9.