The Rev. Peter M. Carey
12 August 2012 Sermon
St. Paul’s Memorial Episcopal Church
Practice acts of kindness
Acts of kindness are those things that are the bedrock of a society, a family, a workplace, and even, the church. In daily interaction, these acts of kindness may be the things that our grandmothers taught us. Looking people in the eye, shaking hands firmly, saying please and thank you, waiting your turn, sharing your toys, writing thank you cards, and seeking the best in one another.
I recently presided at the memorial service for my grandmom, Ann Titsworth Carey, and I was reminded of many of the “little things” that Grandmom did herself, and also demanded of her kids and grandkids. She was the ultimate churchlady. She took seriously God’s command to love one another. She brought flowers to shut-ins for 18 years, and stuck around to chat and visit every Sunday afternoon. She wrote all 5 kids and 11 grandkids frequent cards. She wrote thank you notes. She took in people in need. She picked up hitchhikers and people who were not even seeking a ride. She really did so many acts of kindness, and I was reminded of the fullness of her gifts for others, which went far beyond our own family. The ancient command of God to show hospitality for the stranger was not an academic construct, but an actual part of her daily “to do list”. For her, the walls were permeable, she did not see what divides us, but rather what connects us. She was not an Episcopalian, but she did, I think, embody the maxim, “The Episcopal Church Welcomes You.”
Spending time with my family and remembering Grandmom, I realized just how important these acts of kindness are, and just how much I can do more. I can forget that God really wants us to sweat the small stuff! Even the most basic habits such as saying please and thank you, looking people in the eye, saying hello, writing thank you cards, visiting those in need – these most basic habits are not to be trifled at by each of us. Of course, we dream huge dreams of what God may be calling us to do! We seek a vision and goal, which excite and animate us, however, without the bedrock of these little acts of kindness, we may not have the foundation to build our dream.
To use other examples, at every level of music and sports, the fundamentals are essential. In music, doing proper warm-ups, and practicing scales and patterns is required of all musicians. Of course, music is more than mere warm ups and scales, but without these “basics” nothing else can be accomplished. In sport, I have seen that no matter the level, the basics have to be taught and retaught and retaught again. The basics have to be practiced and re-practiced and re-practiced again. Go out and watch Coach London’s football squad and you will see many of the same sorts of drills that I was doing 30 years ago in my aborted attempt to be a football star. Go out and watch our field hockey and soccer teams and you will see those women running sprints. Running. Just running up and down the field. Wouldn’t you think that they could move to a higher level of drill? Well, even they have to hammer home the basics. If you think you’re going to play Bach’s Cello Suites or win a gold medal, you better keep concentrating on the fundamentals.
In our lives should seek to reach audacious goals, however, I would also hope that we keep concentrating on the little things. “We cannot all do great things, but we can do small things with great love.” – Mother Teresa. In this loving church family, I thin of the ways that we “build one another up” and that we “bear each others burdens” (Galatians), and I celebrate all the ways that this loving community reaches out one to another. I reflect on what Nik preached about last week about the ways that we all are “empowering the saints for ministry,” and those saints are you and me – think of the ways that we each are helping one another to consider the “better angels of our natures” as we seek and serve Christ in all persons. God wants us to keep practicing acts of kindness.
I think of the little things that my Grandmom did in her church, such as invite strangers to church (how audacious!), greet newcomers, visit the shut-ins, reach out to those in need, volunteer for Hospice, teach Sunday School and work for Meals on Wheels. There are saints among us who are doing all these things and much more. How much more can we do? Can we say hello to someone who looks new, or is perhaps someone who is returning to church? Can we be curious about one another, and build up those connections between us – making contact and building relationships? I have experienced the deep and abiding love of God made real in this parish already, and I am so grateful, and I know that it is this love and community that brings us here, and keeps us coming back.
Many of these acts of kindness are written about in the letter to the Ephesians, “be kind, tenderhearted, forgiving one another” … “be imitators of God, as beloved children, and live in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself for us, a fragrant offering and sacrament to God.” Lord knows that we can truly be bold in our love and compassion for one another, and that as we love and build up one another, we also naturally find ways to reach out to the world in need. As we find ways to be bold here in this place, building up the body of Christ, and empowering the Saints for ministry, we also will naturally be bold outside our walls. However, our boldness is always grounded in the little things, our dreams and goals find their foundation in the acts of kindness that we do as a Christian community. Just as the letter to the Ephesians says, “speak the truth” and “be members of one another.” When we are truly kind, loving, tenderhearted, and forgiving, our boldness will be grounded in wisdom and humility, and God will empower us to help transform the world – starting first with the doing all these little acts of kindness with great love.