Monday, May 21, 2012

Love Dare #2: kindness

Galatians 5:22-26
Luke 6:27-36

"Kindness is love in action.  If patience is how love reacts in order to minimize a negative circumstance, kindness is how love acts to maximize a positive circumstance.  Patience avoids a problem; kindness creates a blessing.  One is preventive, the other is proactive."  excerpt from "Love Dare", Kendrick

If "kindness is love in action", we must understand "love" in its purest term as the sacrificial love expressed to all of humankind on the Cross.  It is not enough to simply refrain from doing harm and it is not enough to only offer a smile to everyone we meet, even though each of these are good starts just as “patience” is a good start.  It's all good stuff from Above in which we are reminded that being justified before the Lord goes far beyond simple acknowledgement or a "personal" relationship to be kept to oneself.

If it is hard to love those and do good for those who hate us, I think it may be even harder to accept Jesus' words in Luke's version of the "Sermon on the Mount": "[The Lord] is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked."  Our Lord is "kind" to those who do not even acknowledge His goodness?  Our holy God and Father is "kind" - not merely tolerant but "proactively" kind?? - to those who are "wicked"??  How can we see a gracious God who would bless those who do not even acknowledge His goodness just as He blesses those who are thankful for every morsel of blessing, however great or small?  It comes dangerously close to suggesting that being a disciple of Christ and trying to emulate His life is an exercise in futility if those who are "ungrateful" and "wicked" get the same divine consideration!

Yet they did.  And they do.  "Kindness" extended is the expression of grace personified in Christ, not only in His sacrifice on the Cross but also by the life He led.  He extended Himself even to those whom He knew would betray Him; we are reminded of this at the Last Supper as Jesus looked Judas in the eye, knew what was coming, had predicted Peter would deny knowing Him and others would cut and run, and STILL went through with it!  Why?  For the sake of the Lord's Covenant.  Not in the vain hope that "some" might choose to receive the gift of grace but for the sake of the Eternal Covenant.  Not only for the “faithful” but ALSO for the “ungrateful” and the “wicked”!  All for the sake of the Covenant - the ONLY thing that is eternal and unchangeable.

The book of Hosea is worth a re-read if we have forgotten that the Lord showed His fidelity time and again.  The prophet was commanded by the Lord to marry "an adulterous wife", a prostitute, so that the Lord could show His people in a real way what His love really looks like even in the face of infidelity.  Gomer, the prostitute, was given a home, gave birth to Hosea's children, and like Israel, she failed to see and appreciate the good she had at home - and so she left.  Like Israel, she departed from the Covenant.  "She said, 'I will go after my lovers, who give me my food and my water, my wool and my linen, my oil and my drink" (2:5).  Yet the Lord responded, "She will chase after her lovers but not catch them; she will look for them but not find them.  Then she will say, 'I will go back to my husband at first, for then I was better off than now" (2:7)

In other words, she will seek that which seems to offer some sense of personal gratification and pleasure but in the end is just empty and meaningless – as Israel did.  She will earnestly seek, but she will never find "true love" because the world will only use her for its own purposes and then throw her back when she is used up.  Just as the world did to Israel then, and just as the world will do the Church today if the Church foolishly turns its back on the Lord and pursues the world and its lusts.  But due to the “kindness” of the Lord, "home" is never far away, again, for the sake of the Lord's Covenant and those who freely choose to abide by its terms.  And yes, dear friends, there are terms; unbendable, unchanging terms.

To illustrate His fidelity to His people, the Lord commanded Hosea: "Go, love a woman who has a lover and is an adulteress.  Love her as the Lord loves the Israelites, though they turn to other gods ... "(3:1).  So just as surely as 1 John expresses that “God is love", we must surely see that the love which springs forth from the Lord is the same love expressed to the wicked as well as to the good; the same love expressed to the ungrateful as well as to the grateful.  If it were any less, it would not be "love" at all because such conditional affection offered only to those from whom we may expect something requires no heart at all, no real sacrifice.  It is only an "investment", a lust for what we expect to gain.

"'The mountains may depart and the hills be removed, but My steadfast love shall not depart from you, and My covenant of peace shall not be removed', says the Lord who has compassion on you" (Isaiah 54:10).  The prophet is reminded, as we are reminded, that the Lord's steadfast love is for the sake of something much greater than any individual, just as Peter was reminded that the Lord "shows no partiality" (Acts 10:34).  When we understand this, when we come to terms with this, we can more fully appreciate the Lord's "steadfast love" for those "in every nation"; even those who are “ungrateful” and those who are “wicked”.  

You and I are fickle.  More often than not, we are inclined to respond to that which appeals to us at any given moment.  Even though we are justified before the Lord by faith and baptized into His Covenant (not ours), we can still be easily distracted by things and persons who are sometimes "less than holy" pursuits and not worthy of our time and efforts – but we think they are … in the impulsive moment!  We are actually inclined to call these things "blessings"; not because they are but only because we want them!  These are the things we would pursue as relentlessly as Gomer pursued her own heart's desires and realized there was nothing there.  This is why such attention must be afforded the Lord's Covenant - because it is not a "moving" target that will only move when we get closer! 

"We ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, despicable, hating one another.  But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, He saved us - NOT because of any works of righteousness that we had done but according to His mercy ..." (Titus 3:3,4).  

It is this very "goodness and loving kindness" we are called, commanded, and commissioned to extend to others - not because they have or may do right things but because such "goodness and loving kindness" comes from something much more enduring than anything we can offer.  We offer fruit of the Covenant of the Lord because the Lord Himself is "kind to the ungrateful and the wicked".  Dare we choose to be or to do less than what was done for us ... in spite of our active "disobedience"?  When we looked more like "Gomer" than like Jesus?

"For this very reason, you must make every effort to support your faith with goodness, and goodness with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with endurance (patience!), and endurance with godliness, and godliness with mutual affection, and mutual affection with love.  For if these things are yours and are increasing among you, they keep you from being ineffective and unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ; for anyone who lacks these things is short-sighted and blind, and is forgetful of the cleansing of past sins" (2 Peter 1:5-9).

For the disciple there is nothing benign about following Christ.  We are challenged by these and many other biblical examples to rise above ourselves and our own desires and impulses.  We are transformed by the Living Spirit of the Risen Lord for His sake and for the sake of His Covenant - and not our own purposes or pursuits - because it is the Covenant sealed with His Blood.  It is then that we are called in such a spirit of "kindness" toward not only one another but perhaps especially toward those from whom we will expect and probably receive nothing.    At least, nothing in this life except perhaps the satisfaction that as we continue to grow in faith and love and as we continue to faithfully endure the challenges we face, that we can look to the Lord with confidence and say, "I think I get it." 

Last week was a challenge to exercise "patience" by saying nothing negative and by not responding in anger to those things which easily anger us.  This week we are challenged to move a step further.  Not only shall we refrain from fits of anger by displaying the same patience our Lord displays to us by His grace, but this week must be marked by "unexpected gestures" as simple acts of kindness. 

We must do this especially with our spouses and our children but not ONLY our spouses and children - because all good knowledge and social stability springs forth from a home filled with and informed by grace.  We must do this with every single person we come into contact with; those who are desperate for some sign - ANY SIGN - of compassion as well as for those who actually deserve a fat lip!  The fat lip is not ours to give, but patience, mercy, compassion, and loving kindness ARE those things we have been given in abundance – to not only HAVE a good life but to SHARE that good life in abundance.

It won't be easy, but True Love as personified in Christ will never be easy for us, just as it surely was not easy for Him - but always worth the effort for the sake of the Eternal Covenant!

In the name of the Father, the Son, the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

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