Sermon for Sunday, July 10, 2022 || Proper 10C || Luke 10:25-37
A few years ago, Leah bought a T-shirt for a school fundraiser, and every time she wears this T-shirt, it makes me smile. The T-shirt says, “In a world where you can be anything, be kind.”
In a world where you can be anything, be kind.
It’s an incredible statement…an incredible statement that sounds a little fluffy, a little too optimistic for our gritty, grimy world. A little too full of gumdrops and rainbows and unicorns. A little too trite. I read the words again – In a world where you can be anything, be kind – and I consciously resist the urge to think of them as trite. “Sure, sure…be kind,” this urge tells me, “everyone should always be kind.”
More and more, I am convinced that much of what we think of as trite is really just true. But the truth of it has been strangled by skepticism and cynicism. “Yeah, yeah, see how far your kindness gets you. You be kind. I’ll be ruthless. And we’ll see where we end up.”
In a world like ours that continues to suffer under so many compounding crises, the invitation to kindness seems so small and insignificant. There were literally dozens more mass shootings over the Fourth of July weekend. Last week, police officers shot another unarmed Black man named Jayland Walker 60 times while he was fleeing. War rages. Famine is coming to much of the world. Climate disaster is imminent.
And some T-shirt somewhere just wants me to be kind? Gimme a break.
You can see how this train of thought leads to complete inaction. It’s a similar problem to the one I talked about last Sunday where we get overwhelmed by seeing the entire spiritual journey at once, and so we never take the first step. And here, we get overwhelmed by looking at the whole horrible picture of a world on fire, and so any little thing we choose to do in response seems so laughably inadequate that we might as well give up before we get going.
This insidious inertial force towards inaction and immobility in the face of injustice and violence is one definition for evil. I know I feel it. I bet you do too – that feeling of utter helplessness to change anything for the better because we can’t change everything for the better. And this brings us to another seemingly trite statement. The idea comes from the Jewish Talmud. I’m sure you’ve heard it: “Whoever saves a single life has saved the world.”
Be honest: when I just said that, did you want to roll your eyes? Did you think to yourself, “Gimme a break, Adam.” That’s the kneejerk skepticism and cynicism I’m talking about. That statement, whoever saves a single life has saved the world, is true. If we just sit with it for a minute and allow that cynicism to ebb away, the triteness will fade with it, and we will hear the truth of those words ringing like a well struck bell.
And that brings us to a trite statement in today’s Gospel lesson – or, at least, what the lawyer thinks is trite. The lawyer asks Jesus about inheriting eternal life, and Jesus, predictably, turns the question back on him, asking what he finds in the scriptures. The lawyer recites a version of the bit after the Shema Israel, known as V’ahavta, which comes from the book of Deuteronomy: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.”
Jesus certainly doesn’t consider these words trite: “You have given the right answer,” Jesus says. “Do this, and you will live.” But the lawyer isn’t satisfied with what he thinks is a trite answer. And so he asks Jesus to clarify who his neighbor is.
Jesus senses that this lawyer is impervious to simple truths, so he doesn’t say, “Um…dude, everyone is your neighbor.” Instead, he tells a story, a story about one man choosing kindness over his personal safety and saving the life of another man. And by saving that man’s life, saving the entire world. At the end of the parable, Jesus asks a comprehension question: “Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?”
And finally the lawyer gets it. He could say, “The third guy.” But he goes a step further: “The one who showed him mercy.”
Mercy. Kindness. They’re often synonyms in the Bible. “Go and do likewise,” Jesus says.
Show kindness. In a world where you can be anything, be kind.
With this invitation, Jesus echoes one of the most famous commandments in Holy Scripture, which we find in the book of the Prophet Micah: “What does the Lord require of you but to do justice and to love kindness and to walk humbly with your God?”
Here is another statement that could sound trite if we let that cynicism in. But it’s not trite. It’s true. Do Justice. Love kindness. Walk humbly with God. Love God and love your neighbor. Help one person and you have changed the world.
That’s the seed of God’s truth that is planted in our hearts. We water this seed with each kind action, with each stand for justice, with each hand extended in love. The seed grows like the tiny mustard seed in another of Jesus’ parables until it is the largest of all shrubs and birds make nests in its branches. And that’s how Jesus describes the Kingdom of God.
This week, I invite you to reflect on kindness, especially how the kindness of others has changed your life in even the smallest of ways. Such reflection can inoculate us against the cynicism that strangles the truth. In writing this sermon, I thought back over the last year, and came up with a handful of examples from my own life.
Last August, I cut my hand open while making chili, and I needed stitches. A friend from this church came and picked me up at Pequot Health Center so that Leah wouldn’t have to pile the kids back in the car after bedtime. That’s kindness.
In January when my whole family came down with Covid-19, people from this church brought us groceries because we couldn’t leave the house. Talk about kindness.
In February, another saint from this church drove me to my jaw surgery in New Haven and stayed literally all day in the waiting room before driving me home again. That kindness changed my world, and I get teary just thinking about it.
Remembering how kindness has changed my life helps me to break free from that insidious force of inaction and to embrace Jesus’ call to love God and to love my neighbor. For this love leads to life. And that’s the truth.
Photo by Ryunosuke Kikuno on Unsplash.