A sermon preached on June 28th, 2020 based upon Matthew 10:40-42, entitled “The Kindness of the Little Ones.”
Our reading comes at the end of the tenth chapter of the Gospel of Matthew The entire chapter has been devoted to Jesus’ instructions to his disciples as he sends them out into the world to do what they’ve watched him do. They are to announce that God’s kingdom of love is breaking into the world, and put to use the power Jesus has given them to heal the sick. They are to go from village to village, house to house without money – relying on the kindness of strangers. He has told them that in some places they will be rejected – even accused of being evil.
In the concluding words of his instructions, Jesus refers to his disciples as “little ones” – an acknowledgement that they go into the world without worldly protection or status, in a state of open-hearted vulnerability like that of little children.
Listen for the word of the Lord.
Jesus said, ‘Whoever welcomes you welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me. Whoever welcomes a prophet in the name of a prophet will receive a prophet’s reward; and whoever welcomes a righteous person in the name of a righteous person will receive the reward of the righteous; and whoever gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones in the name of a disciple—truly I tell you, none of these will lose their reward.’
Jesus assures his disciples – his “little ones” – that those persons who welcome them — show them hospitality – offer them even the simple kindness of a cold cup of water – will be blessed. Their presence will convey Jesus himself.
Part of what Jesus is emphasizing here is the importance of simple kindness – both on the part of his disciples who go in his name as well as those who they will encounter. Kindness is something that can only be offered with gentleness of heart.
We put the word “kindness” in the opening line of our church’s mission statement: “In a hostile, hurting world we reach out with kindness and laughter.” We talked about laughter a couple of weeks ago when we spoke of Sarah’s laughter – a story that involved hospitality. Now I want to focus on kindness.
We “kindness” in our mission statement in part because it’s not complicated. It’s pretty easy to recognize when it’s present.
It’s simple, and you hear the word used a lot, but it is actually far more counter-cultural than we usually realize.
There was a study done of middle school students and their parents a couple of years back. The young people were asked: “What do you think is more important to your parents: that you be a success, or that you be kind?” The students overwhelmingly responded, “It’s more important to my parents that I be a success.”
When they asked the same question to the parents the vast majority answered, “Well, of course it matters more to me that my child be kind,” and then when they were informed that their child had said the opposite, they were horrified.
From the point of view of the kids, however they had head heard their parents speak a lot more often about the importance of working hard at school and doing a good job on their homework so they could get good grades and get into college and afterwards get a good job, etc. than they had heard their parents emphasize the importance of being kind to people.
Jesus spoke of a little thing — a small act of kindness – offering a thirsty person a cold drink of water to a “little one” – somebody with no worldly status.
In the end, the measure of a person’s life will not be found in big things: how successful a person is, how many degrees they acquire, how “important” and prestigious their job. No, the measure of a person’s life will be found in little things: whether or not they routinely practiced kindness in their lives.
The was a popular preacher of a century ago who used to present his audiences with a provocative question: ”If you had to get into heaven on the testimony of the ‘little people’ you encounter in life — the waiters who served you, the cashiers who checked you out, the custodial staff who cleaned the building you work in — where would you land?”
Sarah and I are grateful that our daughter Kate is with us during this time of quarantine and does most of the shopping for us. Kate returned home after one such trip to the grocery store with a distressing story of rudeness. She was in the line of a cashier who was an older woman who – like many of us who are older can understand was apparently challenged a bit by technology and consequently taking a little longer than the other cashiers. Behind Kate in line was a well-dressed younger woman who began to complain loudly so all could hear about how slow the cashier was – how she should be fired. Kate was horrified by the well dressed woman’s treatment of the older woman who had shown up to serve in this capacity at some risk to herself. Kate made a point of making a connection with the cashier, letting her know how much she appreciated her service, and making a point to linger a while to savor their interaction.
Who knows, maybe the well-dressed woman who spoke so disparagingly and loudly of the poor cashier has earned a PHD. When she stands before God, I suspect God will be more concerned by her lack of kindness than God will be with the PHD.
Kindness makes a person feel welcomed – that they are noticed rather than invisible – that they are worthy of care.
The thing about kindness is that it typically expressed in small ways – the cup of cold water offered to someone who is thirsty – little, simple actions that really aren’t hard to do. It makes you wonder why we don’t practice kindness more often.
Here’s a couple of little things that are really easy to do that I would encourage you to do more of this week:
Address people by their names. It’s a little thing, but it matters. It conveys, “I see and acknowledge you. You are not just somebody filling a function, a generic type. You are a specific, unique person.”
Express a word of appreciation. Offer a compliment. Take time to listen. As your mother probably taught you, say “please.” Find little ways to convey the message, “I value you.”
More often than not the difference between a happy marriage and an unhappy marriage aren’t “big things” – they’re “little things” – that is, habits of doing little things that express love. Little things that are actually quite easy to do, but for various reasons we sometimes neglect to do. For instance, regularly speaking a word of appreciation for what the partner does for the household. Giving a simple compliment. Taking a few minutes to really listen when the partner is having a bad day. Gently saying “please” rather than speaking in a tone that sounds like you’re giving orders to a subordinate.
If you have a partner, try doing more of these little things this week and see the difference it makes.
In our deeply divided country, do not underestimate the power of simple kindness. That’s why I included that video earlier of the young African-American protesting police brutality that provided bottles of waters to thirsty police officers doing their stressful jobs monitoring a protest. These kinds of deeds change peoples’ hearts.
We’re so polarized. When we argue with others who disagree with contempt in our voices, we can count on it that our contempt will simply harden that person’s opposition to us.
Kindness offered to the one who disagrees with us opens the door to the possibility that the other will actually be willing to try to see things from our perspective.
Back in the 8th century St. Francis of Assisi began an order of friars that was based upon the directions Jesus gave his disciples when he sent them out into the world without money, weapons or status symbols. Francis referred to his friars as “the little ones.” Embracing a vow of poverty the friars of Francis’ order wandered the world in a spirit of humility and gentleness. They had a profound impact on the world. Some say they saved the Roman Catholic Church.
Francis is reported to have once said, “Go into the world and preach the Gospel; use words if you have to.” Which is to say the spirit – the intention — with which we go out into the world is more important than the actual words we speak.
In fact, without the right spirit or intention, any words we might speak about Jesus or God will be sabotaged — indeed we will end up misrepresenting Jesus.
I’ve given you a couple of assignments already for the coming week. Here is another — a little exercise to try.
If you know you are about to have an interaction with another human being, take a moment to try as best you can to get your spirit or intention right.
Maybe it’s a family member you’re about to interact with, or maybe it’s a phone call to someone you barely know – a business interaction, say. Or maybe it’s with a cashier when you are out shopping.
Take a moment to clarify the intention – to ask, “What is my primary objective in this interaction?”
If we are trying to go as a follower of Jesus, our primary objective should be to embody peace, love, humility. To be — as best we can – fully present to the person in the interaction. To approach them in such a way that our very presence will be a blessing.
There will likely be, of course a secondary intention you bring to the interaction: Maybe you want to get this person to do something (you’re a parent, for instance trying to get your child to put on her clothes) or maybe you are looking to get some information from the person.
Maybe if you work as some kind of salesperson, you may be trying to sell something. That’s fine. There are all kinds of secondary objectives that we can bring to an interaction.
The point though is to clarify that this is the secondary, not the primary, intention.
Try this experiment and see how it changes your interactions with people. I suspect you will be pleasantly surprised.
It will change who you are in the interaction, because it lowers the pressure you feel to succeed on your secondary intention (that obsession of our society that gives kindness a back seat), because even if you fail you can still succeed in your primary intention which was to come with peace, and if you can succeed in doing this your presence will be a blessing, and if people are paying the least bit of attention, they will recognize this, even if is only on an unconscious level.
What I’ve been talking about in this sermon can be summed up in the Apostles’ opening words in his 13th chapter of 1Corinthians: “If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if” (I’m as smart as the dickens, and super powerful and can make all kinds of things happen in this world, “but have not love I am nothing.”