September 17, 2023


Psalm 103:1-13 /  Ephesians 4:25-5:2

Merri Alexander

 I want to tell you a true story that comes from the mid-west in the early 1900s:

            A merchant had two sons. They were identical twins. They went to the same college together. Their lives were entwined together. They enjoyed being together. After college they returned to work in the store with their father. They never married. When their father died, the brothers formed a partnership and worked happily together for a long time.

            One day a customer came in the store and purchased something from one of the brothers. Instead of putting the dollar in the cash register, he placed it on top of the register and walked out the front door with the customer for a brief conversation.

            When he returned, the dollar was gone. He asked his twin brother if he had seen the dollar. He said he had not seen a dollar on the cash register. About an hour passed and the other twin said, “Hey, about that dollar, I know I left it on the cash register. Are you sure you did not see it?”

            The brother who left it on the register would not let it go and constantly insisted that the other twin must have known something about it.

            It got to the point that every time they talked about it, they would get into an intense argument and old angry feelings would emerge. So much hostility surfaced over this that they broke up their partnership… divided the building in half… and built a wall between them. It was a devasting experience for that small community as each brother continued their war of hatred against the other.

            Early one morning a car drove up and parked in front of the store.

            A well-dressed gentleman got out of the car and came into the store. He asked the man behind the counter how long he had been in business there. After he told him he had been in business there about twenty years, the man said, “I have an old score to settle with you for my conscience will not allow me to rest until I have done it.” He said, “about twenty years ago, I came into this town in an empty car on the railroad. It was during the depression. I was hungry and had not eaten for three days. As I was passing this store, I saw a dollar on the cash register. I took it and used it to buy breakfast. I was raised in a Christian home, and I knew it was not right to steal. I have come today to give the dollar back and pay whatever damages you assess.”

           He saw the old man was shaking and tears had filled his eyes. The old man said to him, “would you step around the corner and tell this story to the man on the other side?” He went around the wall and noted the man there looked very much like the man he had just spoken with, and he told him the story. Both men stood there weeping. Just think about all the hatred, hostility, and pain those brothers caused each other and the whole community over that one missing dollar bill.

Our text today calls us as Christians to live a different kind of life…to live out of our new life in Christ……to live by the new standard we are given in our Baptism as we are called to be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ has forgiven us.

Who are the people you remember as you think back over your life? Is it not those people who were kind to you? People who had your back. People who you knew were on your side. A grandparent? A teacher? A nearby neighbor? Even a stranger at the grocery store?

I believe it was Maya Angelou who said, “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”[1]

Martin Marty told the story of two boys: one became a dictator, and one became an Archbishop. “In a country church of a small village an altar boy serving the priest at Sunday mass accidentally dropped the cruet of wine. The village priest struck the boy sharply on the cheek and in a gruff voice shouted, “Leave the altar and don’t come back!” That boy became the dictator Tito. “In the cathedral of a large city an altar boy serving the bishop at Sunday Mass accidentally dropped the cruet of wine. With a warm twinkle in his eyes, the bishop whispered: “Someday you will be a priest.” The result was this boy took his first step from being an altar boy to becoming Archbishop Fulton Sheen.

What a contrast in what happened to two young boys in the community of faith. One received hostility from a follower of Christ, and one received kindness from a follower of Christ.[2]

The Letter to the Ephesians is a compelling retelling of the story of God’s grace and God’s power and it calls us — the church — to live lives worthy of that divine grace and compassion at work in our lives…sealed in us by God’s own Holy Spirit. Ephesians is considered by many to have been a “circular letter,” probably written by a disciple of Paul. The letter was copied and sent around to several congregations in the area designed to guide these recently baptized believers, many of whom were Gentiles, into their new life as disciples of Jesus Christ. This letter helps the newly baptized Gentiles understand what it means to be called by God to be a member of the household of faith and how Christians are to live together. And it provides a list of specific behaviors to avoid while it also offers a detailed list of behaviors to embrace…including our topic for today: kindness.

The word kindness is one of the most important words in the Bible. It is found over 150 times in the Old Testament and 27 times in the New Testament—especially as fruit of the Holy Spirit’s seal placed on us in baptism.

It is no accident that we, as God’s people, are called to be kind, tenderhearted, forgiving one another… because we know that’s the way God has dealt with us. So, it is not surprising that’s the way God calls us to deal with each other and with everyone else we encounter in God’s beloved world.

Our text says we are to forgive one another as God in Christ has forgiven us…and even calls us to be imitators of God’s kind ways!

  • It was God’s kindness that led God to give humankind the responsibility to be stewards of creation in the garden.
  • It was God’s kindness that called Abraham to a land of promise.
  • It was God’s kindness, God’s tenderhearted mercy, that called Moses to lead God’s people from slavery to freedom.
  • It was God’s kindness, God’s steadfast love, that sent the prophets to speak God’s word to the people and call them to obedience…century after century of the people turning away from God.
  • It was God’s kindness, God’s courageous intentional tenderness, that sent God’s Son into the world to live, to die, and to rise again, that through him the world might know resurrection life.

One of the most powerful stories of kindness we know in the New Testament is the Good Samaritan. You know the story well. A man was robbed, beaten, and left to die along the side of the road. A Priest and a Levite came by and passed on the other side of the road. They were not kind. They did not help.

Of all people, our Lord makes a Samaritan the hero of the story. We all know the Samaritans were hated by the Jews. The Jews would not touch the Samaritans nor allow a shadow of the Samaritan to fall on them because it would make them unclean. Yet, it was the Samaritan who stopped to bind up his wounds and take him to the nearby town for help and pay the expenses for his care. It was the Samaritan who showed the man compassionate kindness.

Our text today doesn’t simply tell us to offer a gentle word to one another on Sunday morning—what we might call our “southern politeness.” The letter presses on to define kindness as “tenderhearted” kindness… compassionate, forgiving kindness …the kindness we know we have already received from God in Christ Jesus.

Remember the words from our morning Psalm? Psalm 103 says this about God’s dealing with us:

“For as the heavens are high above the earth,

so great is God’s steadfast love toward those who fear him;

As far as the east is from the west,

so far God removes our transgressions from us.

As a father has compassion for his children,

so the Lord has compassion for those who fear him.”

We know God’s love for us in Christ is reconciling love that breaks down the walls of hostility separating people. What might have happened with the two brothers in our story this morning if there had been reconciling love between them rather than literally building a wall to separate them from each other for decades?

God’s love for us in Christ is costly, self-giving love that shows up in person. We know that in Christ, God comes to stand with us and by us as one of us, to share our hurt and suffering.

One of the reasons I’ve loved this congregation for years is the way you do, in fact, show up for each other and for the community at large in your life together.

  • For years you’ve shown up for our neighbors on Saturdays through Saturday Sanctuary in the colder months of the year.
  • More recently you’ve shown up for Afghan refugees in our area, helping them with the day-to-day struggles of settling in a new country, breaking the language barrier, finding housing and employment, and the variety of details that living in a new country requires.
  • As members of FPCA you show up for more than 10 area organizations that provide vitally needed services for people of all ages whose lives are shrouded in poverty and need.
  • You show up internationally for our neighbors and siblings in Christ in Madagascar and Guatemala.
  • And you show up for each other in myriads of ways as you care for one another in prayer, with a phone call, a text, a card, with a gentle word of encouragement, or a heartwarming visit.

God’s love for us in Christ is renewing love that forgives us and accepts us as we are and empowers us to become the kind, tenderhearted, forgiving people God calls us to be.

I’m reminded of the many times in scripture Jesus forgave dear Peter, the impetuous one, who so often spoke or acted before his mind was fully engaged.

I think about Jesus’ response to the scribes and Pharisees who wanted to stone the woman caught in adultery when he said to them, “Let anyone who is without sin be the first to cast a stone at her.” When they all walked away, Jesus looked at her and said, “neither do I condemn you. Go your way and from now on, sin no more.”

I’m reminded of the time Jesus met the woman at the well and his kind, life-giving interaction with her.

Kindness is more than emotion. Kindness is an act of the will. Kindness is a chosen gesture of love played out not simply in the sanctuary of our church but also in our families, in the public squares of our communities, and in the world in which we live.

My goodness! There is so much division and enmity swirling around us these days…

  • on the world scene—wars and rumors of wars;
  • in our own country—political divisions; striking workers fighting for fair pay and benefits in multiple industries; divisions over issues such as gun control, abortion, climate change and many more that keep us divided;
  • And, in local communities—school boards arguing about vaccines or library books or what history to teach to our children…and on and on.

A simple act of kindness—whether it is at church, in the grocery store, at the doctor’s office, in the parking lot, or at school—a simple act of kindness is a welcome respite in our world of chaos and divisions.

A friend of mine, Dan Thomas, who was pastor of the First Presbyterian Church in Brunswick, GA, was returning from a road trip with his wife Doris.        They had a flat tire on I-95. It was getting dark, and many people passed by. Finally, one car stopped. The driver got out and helped Dan with his tire. He took Dan to the nearby town to get his tire repaired.

The man’s wife stayed with Doris and kept her company while the men were gone. When they returned and the couple started to leave, Dan thanked him for his kindness. The man said, “my religion teaches me to be kind and help other people.” Dan asked him what religion he was. He said, “My wife and I are visiting from Sudan. We are Muslim.”

Beloved of God, our Ephesians text challenges us to live with intentional kindness in all that we do. May we all let this text sink deeply into our hearts this week as we live out its truth in days to come.

  • Neighbors be kind to your neighbors, tenderhearted, forgiving one another as God in Christ has forgiven you.
  • Spouses and partners be kind to one another tenderhearted, forgiving one another as God in Christ has forgiven you.
  • Republicans and Democrats be kind to one another tenderhearted, forgiving one another as God in Christ has forgiven you.
  • Boomers and Gen Z be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another as God in Christ has forgiven you.
  • Employers, be kind to those who work for you and you who work for others, be kind to your employers.
  • Teachers, be kind to your students and students be kind to your teachers.
  • Parents be kind to your children, and children be kind to your parents.
  • People of God be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ has forgiven you.

The gospel news for us this morning is that through our baptism God has already sealed in us the Spirit’s power to be practitioners of tenderhearted kindness—with each other and with all whom God loves.

Beloved our charge is simple: “Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ has forgiven you.”

May it be so.  Amen


[2] Martin Marty, Context, 1990


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