I was recently talking to my dear friend Margaret on the phone. We have laughed over the past homebound year about how we can talk and talk when neither of us has anything to say because we’re living such incredibly dull lives. We do tend to drift to the same topics though: COVID 19, loneliness, climate change and the drought we are both experiencing. We wonder aloud about how some days just feel so apocalyptic.
When we spoke the other day, I started in on one of our same tired conversations, feeling frustrated about people refusing the COVID vaccine. Quickly, Margaret stopped me, pointing out that we both agree about this and there is no reason to go over it again.
What I realized in that exchange is that I run the risk of turning into an old woman who rants and raves about the same things, over and over. My distress, my anger and worry accomplish exactly NOTHING. Since then, I’ve been watching my speech and trying to shut down my rants at their inception. I realize that I’m not going to change the world on my own so maybe I need to work on finding the good around me and focus on that instead.
I find good in acts of kindness. I’m touched to the bone when someone offers to let me go in front of them at the grocery store or holds a door open for me. My feet hurt pretty much all of the time but unless I’m using my walker or wheelchair, it’s not obvious from looking at me that I am in pain. Those random acts of kindness mean all the more because strangers can’t see that I need help.
In our reading from Ephesians today we get a lot of very good advice on how to behave. Paul is writing from prison to the people at Ephesus when he learns that they are having trouble getting along. I’m going to paraphrase Paul’s letter, as written in the Contemporary English Version of the Bible:
“We are part of the same body. Stop lying and start telling each other the truth. Don’t get so angry that you sin. Don’t go to bed angry and don’t give the devil a chance.
Stop all your dirty talk. Say the right thing at the right time and help others by what you say. Don’t make God’s Spirit sad.
Stop being bitter and angry and mad at others. Don’t yell at one another or curse each other or ever be rude. Instead, be kind and merciful, and forgive others, just as God forgave you because of Christ.
Do as God does. After all, you are his dear children. Let love be your guide. Christ loved us and offered his life for us as a sacrifice that pleases God.”
Let’s break this down: This letter starts by stressing the need for truth. Truth has somehow become a slippery concept lately as definitions of truth have come to seem arbitrary. But what I like about this guidance is that we must speak the truth to our neighbors because we are all of one body, members of one another. It’s always good to be reminded of our communion with others. No matter how great our differences, we are all still God’s children.
Paul advises us to “Say the right thing at the right time and help others by what you say.” In my withdrawn life these days, much of my interaction with others is through social media. It’s WAY too easy to be snarky or downright mean there. Now I’m trying to ask myself if this comment or post helps others or demeans them. So, I’m not posting as much as I used to!
Paul says: “Stop being bitter and angry and mad at others.” Flight attendants are having to take self-defense classes as physical attacks on them are becoming so prevalent. Since when did the flight attendant become the enemy? They enforce rules to keep us safe and alive. That’s all. Quit beating them up!
“Instead, (Paul says) be kind and merciful, and forgive others, just as God forgave you because of Christ.” Be kind. Be merciful. Forgive others. When I say the Lord’s Prayer now, I hear it differently. “Forgive us our trespasses AS we forgive those who trespass against us.” God forgives us AS much as we forgive others. We have to forgive others first. Boy, that can be hard.
Lastly, Paul gives us one more challenge: “Do as God does. Let love be your guide.” Our presiding Bishop Michael Curry says it best: “If it’s not about Love, it’s not about God.” That’s an easy litmus test to use for our own actions.
It all boils down to this: Be kind. We see so many examples of kindness in how Jesus treats people in the Gospels: He eats and socializes with people cast out by society; He befriends people who are rejected by others; He reaches out to people who are lonely and hurting.
When Jeff was in high school, he did very well academically, getting all A’s for years and becoming the valedictorian for his class. Of course, we were massively proud of him. But a woman in town told Kevin about another part of Jeff, something we didn’t know about. Her son was one of those really quiet kids who kind of blends into the background in high school. She said that when her son broke his arm, Jeff quietly carried her son’s books for him, and helped him get to class. She said that Jeff was kind to her son. Honestly, that meant more to us than all of the academic acclaim he was getting.
The Rev. Deniray Mueller writes: “In these times when it is tempting to be anything but kind to those with whom we disagree, we need to hear again the old Gospel call: To open our hearts, eyes, and hands to others is to open our lives to God. To do anything else is to slight God and to cease reflecting God’s mercy and love in our lives. God’s kindness, flowing out through us as we live and move and breathe each day, can change the world.”