(This was my final sermon of 2008 and is the start of a monthly series that I will do during our Communion Sundays. Our school system, as I indicate in my remarks, has begun a program called ‘Character Counts’ that is designed to address the character issues of our students. I will be addressing one of the 6 ‘pillars’ each month for 2009.)
I begin this morning with a question that I would like to have you respond to, okay? Take a moment to think and then I will call on you. Here is the question (Slide 1), ‘What is the most caring thing someone has ever done for you?’
(Kids, what about you? Teens, what about you?)
This past fall the East Noble School Corporation adopted a program for use in the schools and community called, ‘Character Counts.’ In October, a member of the corporation staff briefed the pastors on the program and we have given it our support. You can learn more about it at charactercounts.org but here is the core of the program, the six pillars of character:
When it comes to Trustworthiness think “true blue.”
When it comes to Respect think The Golden Rule
When it comes to Responsibility think being responsible for a garden or finances; or as in being solid and reliable like an oak.
When it comes to Fairness think of dividing an orange into equal sections to share fairly with friends.
When it comes to Caring think of a heart.
When it comes to Citizenship think regal purple as representing the state.
Each of these is mentioned, directly and indirectly, in the Bible and they are important qualities that call for some attention and thought. So, during our communion meditations this year, I will be featuring one of these six since our kids will be present with us during communion and seek to illustrate how Jesus demonstrated each character trait.
Now the one given attention this month has been caring which is appropriate for this time of year. Caring is defined by Character Counts as (Slide 3):
• Being kind
• Be compassionate and show you care
• Express gratitude
• Forgive others
• Help people in need
For our time this morning, we are going to examine ‘being kind’ ‘being compassionate and showing you care,’ and ‘expressing gratitude,’
What does the Bible have to say about each of these things? Well, in Ephesians 4:32 we read (Slide 4) “Instead, be kind to each other, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God through Christ has forgiven you.”
Notice that it begins with the word ‘instead.’ This is a word used to contrast statements and refers back to a prior statement, which in this case is verse 31 that says, “Get rid of all bitterness, rage, anger, harsh words, and slander, as well as all types of malicious behavior.”
Kind talk and kind responses are considered the norm for us as followers of Christ. This does not mean that we cannot express our views and opinions or we simply become a doormat. It means that our speech and attitudes toward others must include a kind and gentle tone. I don’t know too many people who respond well to yelling do you?
And there are those moments when we are being verbally attacked and want to respond in kind. It becomes very hard to not respond with verbal put-downs or get defensive.
Many books are written on how to win an argument. But is winning always the point? Relationships and friendships have ended because one person always had to be right no matter what.
(Slide 5) In Proverbs 15:1 we read, “A gentle answer turns away wrath, but harsh words stir up anger.” One of the best ways that Jesus illustrated caring is found in Mark 14:3-9:
“Meanwhile, Jesus was in Bethany at the home of Simon, a man who had leprosy. During supper, a woman came in with a beautiful jar of expensive perfume. She broke the seal and poured the perfume over his head. 4 Some of those at the table were indignant. “Why was this expensive perfume wasted?” they asked. 5“She could have sold it for a small fortune and given the money to the poor!” And they scolded her harshly.
6 But Jesus replied, “Leave her alone. Why berate her for doing such a good thing to me? 7You will always have the poor among you, and you can help them whenever you want to. But I will not be here with you much longer. 8She has done what she could and has anointed my body for burial ahead of time. 9I assure you, wherever the Good News is preached throughout the world, this woman’s deed will be talked about in her memory.”
(As we read this story again, we prove Jesus’ point about her kind act being remembered.)
Kindness is shown in two ways in this story. First it is shown by the woman in her sacrificial act. And kindness is, at times, sacrificial for in doing something kind it often costs us time, money, and maybe even a few friends who refuse to be kind.
Second, Jesus shows kindness to the woman by affirming both her and her act. He refuses to join the chorus denouncing her act as one of wasteful extravagance.
As we move to the next point about kindness, I simply want to remind us that kindness is very important right now. It is a needed commodity during our economic crunch when it is easier to let our anxiety and fears drive us to sharp and cutting comments. Just remember at this point, Jesus is about to be betrayed (read a little farther down in Mark 14).
The second way we demonstrate caring is through compassion by showing we care.
I think that we do that well here. We graciously gave to another pastor in time of need a few weeks ago and then again in our support of a sister congregation who has lost their facility to fire. However, compassion is a year round thing not just a Christmas time expectation.
Last Sunday, we learned from Luke 4 what some call ‘Jesus’ mission statement.’ Let’s hear it again from the perspective of compassion. (Slide 6)
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
for he has appointed me to preach Good News to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim
that captives will be released,
that the blind will see,
that the downtrodden will be freed from their oppressors,
19and that the time of the Lord’s favor has come.”
Compassion is laced throughout this statement and while Jesus at times called His opponents on their duplicity, compassion and love is what drew the crowds, desperate in their situations, to Him.
Compassion, like being kind, also costs us. It costs us to show compassion. One of my favorite stories about the costs of compassion is a story about the businessman running for a train many years ago.
In his haste to catch the train, he inadvertently knocked over a cart of apples a young boy was selling. As he started to pick up his stride, he stopped a looked back at the chaos and then turned around to help.
Probably missing his train (and he was travelling with some business partners) he help the boy with his cart and even gave him some money for damages. As he turned to leave the boy looked into the man’s face and said, ‘Mister, are you Jesus?’
I simply remind us on this point that compassion was a major theme of Jesus’ ministry. But in His compassion, He also called those who followed Him to repentance. He does the same for us.
Finally, caring is demonstrated by being grateful.
(Slide 7) In John 17 we read these words: ‘I have told these men about you. They were in the world, but then you gave them to me. Actually, they were always yours, and you gave them to me; and they have kept your word. 7Now they know that everything I have is a gift from you, 8for I have passed on to them the words you gave me; and they accepted them and know that I came from you, and they believe you sent me.’
This is Jesus speaking. I think that implied in these words is gratitude to God the Father for the honor of working with and teaching the disciples.
It is easy to be grateful this time of year because of the presents that we have received. Jesus was expressing gratitude to God the Father on the eve of His execution. I don’t think that I would be too grateful if I was in Jesus’ place, would you?
I like what Aesop once said about gratitude, ‘Gratitude is the sign of noble souls.’
The Bible has many statements about being thankful and grateful.
Gratitude is very important these days. I think that gratitude is one way that we overcome cynicism and despair. Jesus demonstrates that in His comments as recorded in John 17.
So, in expressing His gratitude to the Father, Jesus also demonstrates His care for the disciples even though what was about to happen would cause havoc in their lives for a time.
As we prepare for communion, I want to ask another question but for your reflection and not public answer.
(Slide 8) Who have you recently expressed caring to?
Sources: Aesop quote is from ‘Quotationary.’ Edited by Frank Roy Leonard.