What God Expects – Kindness
January 21, 2018
Back in 2012, Christina McMenemy visited the Gaylord Opryland Hotel in Nashville for the third year in a row. She loved staying there and one of the things that Christina liked in particular about the hotel was something small and something often unnoticed. What Christina really loved were the Gaylord Opryland alarm clocks and the soothing, preloaded music that the clocks had been manufactured to play that made each guest room feel so relaxing. In turn, as her third visited moved toward an end Christina asked the hotel staff where she could buy one of those alarm clocks so that she could feel like she was in the hotel even when she was back home. Unfortunately, she learned that those clocks were manufactured specifically for the Gaylord Opryland Hotel and that while you could buy a clock similar to the one in her hotel room, you could not buy one exactly like it. Christina was disappointed but she appreciated the reply and she realized that in the end it really wasn’t that big of a deal – after all, it was just an alarm clock.
Imagine then, Christina’s surprise when she returned to her room later that evening and found two alarm clocks, just like the one on her beside table waiting for her. With the clocks was a note that read, “hope you enjoy these spa sounds at home”.
Christina’s story may seem trivial and in many ways it is. But, it was also one of ten stories featured in an article recently about ten real companies and their attempts to go the extra mile in terms of customer service. (10 Outstanding Examples of Going the Extra Mile in Customer Service, by Natalia Chrzanowska, brand24.com)
We can all relate. Almost all of us have a few businesses that we frequent and that we will go out of our way to patronize because we appreciate their quality of customer service. They are the places that go above and beyond what might be expected by delivering a quality of customer care at a high level. We recognize such care. We appreciate it. And, we respond to it.
I want to say to us this morning that a similar idea is behind the second leg of Micah’s three legged stool in terms of what God requires or is looking for in us as God’s followers. Last week, we dealt with the first leg – doing justice. We said that a good way of thinking about doing justice in through the idea of being a neighbor. As we expand our understanding of who our neighbor is and thus expand our idea of our responsibilities to our neighbors we find ourselves treating one another in a fashion that is just, gracious and merciful.
Today, we wrestle with the second leg of the stool the call to love kindness and again I connect it to the story we started with today of the two clocks at the Gaylord Opryland and going the extra mile.
You see, the Hebrew words that we offer in English as “love kindness” or in some of your translations as “love mercy” are terribly difficult words to translate. The real idea here, according to most Biblical scholars, is a kindness or a mercy that is loyal, unfailing and that does not give up even when the subject of one’s kindness or mercy isn’t deserving of our kindness. The Hebrew word here for love is the famous Israelite term “hesed”. It is a love attached to a covenant. In other words, I will love you because I have promised that I will love you. I have made a commitment. Thus, my covenant love, my committed love, will cause me to be kind, merciful and caring to you no matter what. Said another way, I will always go the extra mile to show you my care and commitment to you because I have said that I would. I will always go the extra mile in showing my kindness and mercy because I have pledged to do it. I will go the extra mile, even when there is no reason for me to do so.
In this way, we can almost envision Micah’s second requirement of “loving kindness” as being one step beyond “doing justice”. In other words, to “do justice”, is to treat one another in ways that we all agree is fair or right. But, to “love kindness” to remain loyal even to an underserving person is to do what no one expects of us other than God. It is again, going the extra mile.
To this day, I remember a very pivotal moment in my eleventh grade year of High School. I had a big event coming up that I was both excited and nervous about at the same time. On the day of the event, our youth minister at our church dropped off a note at school and a small gift of encouragement to me. It was a simple act, but, it went above and beyond my expectation of him. When I think about that one moment, I come to a couple of conclusions. First, I am cognizant of all of the interactions that I have had with other ministers over the years as both a life long member of churches and now as a minister myself. In light of all of those interactions over all of those years, there are very few concrete moments and vivid memories that quickly come to my mind that after a long period of years still remain important to me. But, the second conclusion I am forced to come to is that this moment is one of those memories that I continue to hold on to and value. Again, it was a moment that happened when I was 16 years old. Why do I remember? I do so because it was an act of his commitment and loyalty to me as my youth minister that went beyond my being deserving of it. Yet, it was an act of loving kindness, a going of the extra mile that exemplified the love of God that constantly goes the extra mile for us.
I wish that I could tell you this morning that just getting by with God and with others is sufficient. I wish that I could tell that just doing the minimum would be enough. I can tell you that I have tried at the times to do the minimum in life, in my spiritual journey, in church life. It may be easier but it is rarely satisfying, rarely effective and rarely makes a difference in the world.
Go back to where we started today with Gaylord Opryland and their gift of the two clocks to the customer who inquired about them. Remember the statement I made about our own attraction to businesses, service providers or restaurants who go above and beyond. When do any of us get excited about doing business with or patronizing a place that just gets by?
We certainly don’t serve a God of the bare minimum. We serve a God of the covenant. God has promised to be faithful, loyal, committed to us – no matter what. This leads God to love us with a kindness and a mercy that exceed our expectation, that defies what we deserve and that surprises us in its tenderness and mercy more times than we want to admit.
Our world will be changed by a church of the extra mile. And, truth be told, we will create a church that our community needs through the extra mile. In fact, this whole capital campaign that we are embarking upon today lives and breathes in light of this very idea. We don’t want you to take what you already give and just swap it to the capital campaign. No, the Capital Campaign is about gifts above and beyond because above and beyond is what is required at this moment for us to function as well as we can with the use of the best facilities that we can have.
Now, let me say this. The extra mile, above and beyond or giving to others, to God or the church more than is expected is not about our leaving nothing for ourselves. We can’t give every moment of our lives away to others or the church. We can’t give and are not being asked to give every dollar away. We don’t want you to give every spare ounce of energy. We are not looking for folks who destroy themselves or their families in the process of building the church. Instead, God is looking for folks who find a balance in this life. God is looking for folks who have made a commitment to him, to each other and the church and who will honor that commitment no matter what it takes while at the same time still living a rewarding and meaningful life for themselves.
There is a moment in the musical Fiddler on the Roof where Tevia and his wife Goldie sing a duet called Do You Love Me? Tevia asks the question “Do You Love Me?” Goldie answers with not words but with the actions of her commitment to their wedding vow – their marriage covenant to each other. “For 25 years,” she says, “I have washed your clothes, cooked your meals, cleaned your house…” In essence, Goldie says for 25 years I have kept our promise. I have done whatever it takes, even going the extra mile, to keep my promise. The proof of my love is in my behavior. (As referenced in James Howell’s What Does the Lord Require?, pg. 47-48)
What is our proof to a God and a world that asks, “do you love me?” Amen.