Dear brothers and sisters of RCAC,
I recall a movie that I really like some years ago, “Pay it Forward” (2000), an American drama film based loosely on the
novel of the same name by Catherine Ryan Hyde. It is set in Las Vegas, and it is the story of 14-year-old Trevor McKinney's launch of a goodwill movement known as "pay it forward". Trevor’s 7th grade social studies teacher gives the class an assignment to devise and put into action a plan that will change the world for the better. Trevor's plan is a networking of good deeds, and the recipient of a favor does a favor for three others rather than paying the favor back.When I first saw the movie, I was deeply moved, because it is a good example of kindness. Kindness is paying forward to others without the need of the recipient paying back. Sounds like a really great concept, however, can we do it?
Last week we looked at the overall call by Dr. Bonnie Henry to “Be kind, be calm and be safe.” We recognize from our brief review that at least part of the vigilance she advocates comes from the work by the French philosopher Albert Camus’s book “The Plague.” The extraordinary fear people faced in the plague is just like the pandemic we are facing today. We need to stay vigilant, taking seriously the call to “be kind, be calm and be safe.” First let’s look at “Be kind.”
Ever since the Coronavirus began to spread from Wuhan, China at the end of 2019 and became a worldwide pandemic, there is a blaming game on where the virus originated and how governments had either not been truthful about the outbreak or have managed the pandemic so poorly that the Coronavirus has spread and now has affected millions and millions of people around the world, including each and every one of us. There is also the racial discrimination against Asian people, and many verbal and physical attacks on the elderly and on women from the Asian community reported in the last two or three months. But lest we just point to others, we all are guilty to different degrees of being impatient, rude and unkind with each other, adding unnecessary pressure to the discomfort, loss (of loved ones, job and security) and fear of being infected that all people are experiencing during this period of lockdown and physical distancing. Indeed, in our vigilance to curb the spread of this Coronavirus, we need first of all to be kind one to another. But obviously it is easily said than done. We often try to show kindness by drawing from our human strength and will, only to find that we all frequently fall short.
What is kindness anyway?
Since the dawn of modern psychology (Freud and others) at the beginning of the 20th century, the focus on mental health has been mainly on “abnormal psychology“(psychopathology)and “treatments” have been based on the medical model of treating mental illness. But since the rise of positive psychology (Seligman) in the last 20some years, there has been a shift of interest and research into the character strengths and virtues in human beings, and the emphasis is on nurturing and tapping into the inner strengths in humans in dealing with mental health issues.In the theme of Humanity in positive psychology, we have the virtues of love, kindness and social intelligence. Kindness as a virtue includes generosity, nurturance, care, compassion, altruism and “niceness”. Pam (2013) in the Psychology Dictionary online defines kindness this way: It is a benevolent and helpful action intentionally directed towards another person, it is motivated by the desire to help another and not to gain explicit reward or to avoid explicit punishment. This definition is helpful for us to understand what kindness is before we put it to practice.
Many researchers have studied the relationship of kindness and mental health. For example,Rowland and Curry (2018) have found that after seven days of performing kind acts, happiness increases, and there is a positive relationship between the number of kind acts and the level of happiness someone experiences.
So Dr. Henry is right in promoting “kindness,”for it is directly related to our mental health.
What does the Bible teach us about kindness?
One description of Biblical kindness I found online is: “Kindness is selfless, compassionate, and merciful; its greatest power revealed in practice to our enemies and amongst the least of these. Love your neighbor; show kindness to everyone”.
I recognize immediately that I do not measure up.
In the Old Testament we have an abundance of teaching on kindness. The prophet Micah teaches Godly spirituality includes the key element of kindness, “He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and
to love kindness,and to walk humbly with your God?” (Micah 6:8) Kindness is a godly way of life.
We also read that kindness sometimes come in the form of a kind rebuke: “Let a righteous man strike me—that is a
kindness; let him rebuke me—that is oil on my head. My head will not refuse it….” (Ps. 141:5) Kindness is often “tough love,” chastisement in kindness.
Jesus - A perfect emblem of Biblical kindness
Fora perfect emblem of Biblical kindness, we need look no further than Jesus. Indeed the life of Jesus in His days on earth is living kindness par excellence. We see it in his gentleness to His mom Mary when he was a 12 year boy at the temple; countless times when he showed compassion to the crowd, healing the sick, feeding the hungry, caring for and reaching out to the poor and needy;and even on the cross he prayed for those that nailed him there: “Father,forgive them, for they know not what they do”. (Luk. 23:34)
Jesus also taught: “And as you wish that others would do to you, do so to them.” (Luk. 6:31) We are motivated not by the return of kindness, but we are to be kind to others, just as much we wish others will be kind to us. In all that we do, we do well to ask “What Would Jesus Do?” (WWJD) Kindness is following the example of Christ in His loving kindness.
The story that comes to mind that illustrates Christian kindness is the parable of the Good Samaritan (Luk. 10:25-37) told by Jesus himself. In the parable, the traveller is stripped of clothing, beaten, and left half dead alongside the road. A priest and then a Levite come by but both avoided the man, but then a Samaritan (who was despised by the Jews) come along and helped the poor traveller. In response to the question by the lawyer, “Who is my neighbour? The conclusion is obviously the man who shows mercy to the injured man—that is, the Samaritan. Being kind is being that good neighbour,the Good Samaritan, who is willing to help a stranger when others won’t.
It is Jesus who said to the disciples: “Come to me, all who labor and heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” (Mt. 11:28-30) Kindness comes from being a disciple of Christ and following His example.
Paul: “be kind to one another”
Similarly,in Paul’s teaching we are told: “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy,peace, patience, kindness, goodness,faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.”(Galatians 5:22) So kindness is an attribute of the fruit Christian gets as a result of a life in the Spirit. Paul also teaches, “Love is patient and kind;love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.” (I Cor. 13:4-7) Patience and kindness top the list on love.
In another place, Paul teaches because we are forgiven by Christ, “Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you,along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.” (Eph. 4:31-32) He emphasizes this again, reminding us we are “God’s chosen ones” and kindness should be in our very nature, reflecting God’s nature, in these words: “Put on then, as God's chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience.” (Col 3:12) We should never take God’s kindness for granted either, Paul states, “Or do you presume on the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that God's kindness is meant to lead you to repentance?” (Rom. 2:4). So Christian kindness is a response to God’s kindness towards us, we can do no less.
Be Kind:starting at our Church
In facing the pandemic, as well as facing the systemic injustice in the world, the least we can do is “Be kind”, even though we feel helpless and people may be unkind to us. As children of God, we need to have God’s kindness in us. Kindness does not only lead to good mental health, but to true Christian spirituality. At RCAC in the new normal, let us learn to be kind one to another, first within the Church, and then to others outside the Church. As a Church with nearly 1000people, we are from Asia: China, Hong Kong, and South East Asia or are born in Canada, we have all sorts of cultural, educational and socioeconomic backgrounds.But we can show others we are Christians and one in Christ because we love one another and can be kind to each other. We can have critical minds but not critical spirit. Then having learned to be kind in our own community, we can try to reach out to others and show the same kindness towards, the kindness that comes only from Christ. Be kind, in Christ.
Your servant in Christ,
Rev. Simon Lee, Senior Pastor