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May 6, 2018

“The Theology of Kindness: Generosity”

By Rev. Katrina Pekich-Bundy

1 John 5.1-6

Matthew 25.31-46

May 6, 2018

You’re driving through an intersection and you see someone with a sign. In abbreviated words you find out this person is homeless, looking for a few bucks, and anything would help. The person clearly hasn’t slept in days and their clothes are disheveled. Do you stop? Do you give money? Do you pray for them? Is it safe? How will they use that money if you give it to them?

Maybe these are some of the questions that go through your head. As Christians we are called to help one another, especially the “least of these” – or those who cannot seem to escape the cycle of poverty or violence. Yet, we also know that we can’t solve everyone’s problems, nor can we give money to everyone. Where do we draw the lines? How do we know when to help, and when not to help? How do we determine if they “really need help”? You can’t ask to see the last three paycheck stubs or to have them sign a document that they won’t use that money to go buy alcohol. Presbyterian minister John Buchanan wrote that we aren’t just helping “the certifiable, hungry, and truly deserving,” we are called to give generously when we see God.[1] Giving is not always as cut and dry as we’d like it to be – and being kind isn’t either. I wonder if you have come upon moments of struggle in the past forty days while we have done the kindness challenge. Perhaps you’ve wondered if you should take the risk, or if not.

The Matthew passage shows the results of what happens when we help others, or don’t help others. Jesus is telling the disciples that they should show love and compassion to people – to all people – not just when they think they should help. It’s the equivalent of teaching kids not to cheat or steal a cookie even when they think the parents aren’t looking. Or, that we shouldn’t just help the people who are really poor, but even those who are just going through a difficult time.

No one is excluded from this. Even the author of the passage tells us that all nations are gathered together. No one is left out of this scene where Jesus is separating the sheep and the goats. Everyone comes before this judgment – Christians, Muslims, Buddhists, Jews, and more. This isn’t meant to be a threat. Jesus isn’t trying to scare people into being nice, but reminding us that this is a call – we are to care for one another. If we don’t, we face consequences.

At the beginning of the passage Jesus tells us that the righteous will inherit the realm of God. This is our inheritance – the people of God. We think of inheritance as being about money or things – that antique dresser that our grandmother owned, or the earrings our mother wore, or the woodworking tools our grandfather used. Yet, we also inherit some things before they die – things like sayings or words of wisdom. We inherit life lessons and genetics. Maybe you have your mother’s eyes or your father’s hair. Perhaps your aunt always had a saying that you carry with you for just the right moment. We inherit all of this – an inheritance is not just financial or something that can be appraised – it is more often something that cannot have a price tag – that is the realm of God.

The righteous are to inherit the realm of God – it falls into the latter category. It is something we inherit in the here and now – something that is not necessarily seen, but is very valuable. At the Wednesday morning prayer time we did a practice called lectio divina where we listened to the text. Afterward we discussed how the realm of God is the people who are in it – those who are poor, those who need to be clothed, those who need to be visited, and those who are reaching out and sharing God’s love in these many ways. The inheritance is this community – this communion of saints and sinners. We have heard that our “reward” is the realm – but we hear that the realm is an inheritance – not a reward. There is a difference between an inheritance and a reward. We earn rewards – an inheritance is something given to us – usually bequeathed – because of someone’s love for us. Do we always deserve an inheritance? Does a spoiled adult who demands everything and has no respect deserve an inheritance of a million dollars? Probably not – but that doesn’t make a difference. Yet, sometimes we do not deserve an inheritance, but God is gracious and generous.

When we think of familial inheritances we might imagine that the gifts go back a few generations, maybe even more. Yet, most likely, it is what our parents gained from working hard and saving up in a challenging world. The inheritance from God is much older – it is from the beginning – from the start of creation. God has been saving this for us from the beginning.

So, if our inheritance is our community, we must treat it with care. We can’t “spend it all in one place,” as the saying goes. The passage in 1 John reminds us of the importance of this community, and that we are all children of God. Generosity to one another is important. This is the third week we’ve read from the first letter of John, and the message of love continues. In all of these passages the author has stressed the importance of abiding in God, which leads us to love, which encourages us to act lovingly to one another. In this pericope we hear about how loving one another by abiding in God portrays our belief in God – and that we have been born of God.

Being born of God means that we are God’s children. This helps the author transition to the next line of thinking, which is that if we love God, the parent, we love the child – everyone. This is an interesting argument. Have you ever met a parent you really liked, but their child was someone you struggled to like? Perhaps this is the point being made. We love God, but we don’t always love one another. We fight, we disagree, we struggle. Yet, because we love God, and we know that God loves others, we love one another, too. We love the children of God because we value our relationship with God. We respect that everyone is different and that God loves those differences, even if we do not understand it.

 

When we have this faith and this community, we can overcome anything. The author of 1 John tells us that we must love one another, and that love will help us to overcome the struggles of the world. We read that we love when we follow the commandments. Of course, the author does not give us concrete examples.[2] What are we supposed to do when we see that person asking for money in the intersection? What are we supposed to do when someone is stopped off the side of the road? What do we do when we see a black man arrested for what appears to be no reason? How do we respond when we see a homeless person asking for food? What do we do? The answer might seem easy – but when we are in the situation, we aren’t always so sure because other factors come to play – our safety, our resources, and other perceived circumstances.

Yet – God gives us the idea of how to love through Jesus Christ.[3] He ate with people who were different than himself. He talked with women at the well. He was kind to tax collectors. He spoke with people who were considered outsiders because they were a different ethnicity. He overcame barriers with love. We can overcome racism and hatred and sexism through love. The passage tells us that it is not a burden. I’m not sure that’s always true. As we have discussed sacrifice and how we must give up that which is comfortable for us, that can be a burden. Loving people who are different can take energy and patience. Yet, I believe that when we do this, we are filled by God’s love because we continue to abide in the One who made us and sustains us.

So, we come to a close on our kindness challenge – yet I pray that parts of it stuck with you. I pray that you continue to do something kind, even if once a week. I pray that others are kind to you. May you abide with God and inherit the beautiful realm of God that surrounds us. Amen.

 

[1] John M. Buchanan, “Matthew 25.31-46” in Feasting on the Word: Year A, Vol. 4. (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2011), 332.

[2] Bonnie J. Miller-McLemore, “1 John 5.1-6” in Feasting on the Word: Year B, Vol. 2. (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2008), 492.

[3] Ibid., 492.