Sermon 1 of 4: Be Kind, by Justin Rossow (Relational Structure)
The sermon notes for this manuscript can be found here:
1. ME (my personal interaction with the topic)
In the name of Jesus, dear friends.
I remember a cartoon. It was one of those religious cartoons – just one of those single panels. Back when, I don’t know, I must have been only two or three years into the ministry at the time. (At least I hope so.) I remember the cartoon fairly vividly. It was black and white and it had a preacher man, kind of middle age, overweight, wearing a coat and tie.
And in the cartoon there was a thought bubble. He is kind of in a hurry, running down the hall, and there is a thought bubble that says: “Oh, no! There’s Susan! I told her I was going to pray for her, and I haven’t yet. ‘Dear God, please be with Susan.’” And then out loud he says, “Oh, Susan, how are you? I’ve been praying for you!”
I remember that cartoon vividly because at the time it absolutely nailed me. I mean, I had done that very thing, probably that week, and more than once. That’s why I say I really hope it was in that first year or two of my ministry.
You know things get busy, and someone tells you something, and you say you will pray for them, and you forget. And I remember being ashamed to let the person know that I had forgotten; I was ashamed of what they would think of me, as their pastor, if they knew that I had not prayed for them like I said I was going to.
I remember doing things like, “‘Oh Lord, there’s Susan; please be with her.’ Hey Susan, I’ve been praying for you, how are you doing?” I’ve done that before to save face.
I don’t do it (at least very often) anymore. In fact, if you ask me to pray for you, I will often say, “Hey that’s awesome, could we pray right now?” See, that’s a learned behavior. I know that if we pray right now, I’ll remember it. And if I tell you I’ll pray later I might forget. Sometimes it’s easy for me to get caught up in what’s important in my life to the point where I kind of down play the other people around me.
You see it on Tuesday mornings sometimes here at St. Luke. Tuesday we have a home school group in our building, and anyone who works in the church office knows you need to shut the door and kind of hide behind your desk if you want to get anything done on Tuesdays.
And if, heaven forbid, you need coffee, which is out in the hall, and you have to come out from behind your desk and behind like, three different closed doors, then the way to get coffee on Tuesdays—this is just how it works—the way to get coffee at St. Luke on Tuesday is to keep your head down and go as quickly as you can to the coffee and try not to make eye contact so you can get back to your important job that you have as pastor.
The good news is that most of the people out in the hallway are trying to work on their computers and they don’t really want to be bugged by a pastor anyway. So we both ignore each other quite effectively most Tuesdays.
Maybe four or five weeks ago I had that terrible need for coffee on a Tuesday morning and so I kind of went out with my defensive position and there was a woman who was heading down the hall away from the coffee who said something to me in passing. So I noticed her and actually made eye contact with her, and she said something like, “Yeah, I needed to get that morning caffeine, too.”
And I said, “Oh, yeah; I need to get my coffee! So you like coffee, too?” She replied, “No, no; I don’t drink coffee, but I needed caffeine this morning!” And that was fine because she was moving away from me, so I was safe. We had that interchange and I knew I was not going to need to talk to her again.
So in the time it took me to fill up my coffee mug, she turned around and started walking back in my direction. And I found that I actually had a conscious decision I had to make. Do I put my head down, or do I re-engage this woman who has already engaged me?
And I don’t know if it was because I was getting ready for this sermon series, or because of a sermon I heard Pastor Matt preach that week—I don’t know, if you have gotten this idea that over the last couple of years at St. Luke, we have actually been trying to encourage you in relationships, so therefore, we’ve been trying to live out this fundamental idea that Jesus puts people in our lives and that, if we were paying attention, He does stuff.
And so I took a deep breath, and here’s my opening gambit: “So what’s your caffeine of choice?” And she went, “Huh?” So things are going really well so far, right?
I said, “Well, earlier you said you needed some caffeine, and you said you didn’t like coffee, so I was just wondering how you usually got your morning caffeine.” And she said, “Oh, I really don’t …”
Now I’m in the middle of a conversation I really don’t need to be in. There are six e-mails that need to be finished and I’ve got a sermon I’m working on. And I better go get the budget ready, but she begins talking: “I don’t really do caffeine very often. I guess if I really have to, I usually do Diet Coke. It’s just that I haven’t been sleeping very well lately, so I’ve been having a Diet Coke in the morning for the last week or so.”
I found I have a second conscious decision to make. I could have said, “Oh, OK; thanks… Would you like a Diet Coke?” And instead, I took a deep breath and I said, “You know, when I find I’m not sleeping very well, it’s usually because I’m worried about something important…”
And she said, “Yeah, you know, we are moving again. We have moved four times in the last six years. My husband is already living down in Ohio, which means I’ve got all four kids to myself. In fact, the last time we moved, all four kids were under the age of four, and we had one of them between houses. And moving has always been stressful, and we are doing it again, and I am kind of anxious and nervous about a lot of things.”
At that point I didn’t say–I did NOT say, “Wow. When I moved to Texas, you should have seen what happened to us!”
Instead I said something like, “That sounds pretty hard.” And she said, “Yeah, it has been a couple weeks of real struggle, and the anxiety has got me up at night, so I’m drinking Diet Coke in the morning.”
And I didn’t say: “I’ll be praying for you.” Because I knew that was a promise that I might not keep. I said to her, “I think Jesus said something about bringing burdens and cares to Him. Would you mind if we prayed together, right now?” And she said, “Sure.”
So I had just gone out to get my coffee, but I ended up praying with a woman I didn’t know at all. We prayed for her husband and his work down in Ohio, and we prayed for her kids who were really on her heart. We prayed for rest that night and for peace of mind.
That felt pretty good: to put her agenda above mine; to be open to her and her needs; to not be quite so worried about what I needed to get back to at my desk.
Now, as it turned out, she finished the conversation by telling me about her pastor, and how much she liked him, and how he was also named Justin, and how she was going to worship that week. I think she wanted to make sure I knew that, just because I had prayed with her, I didn’t need to, like, invite her to become a member of St. Luke. She wasn’t buying what I was selling. But I wasn’t really selling anything, so we just got to talk about her church a little bit, too.
So I find that there are times when I really struggle with being open to other people, to see them as real people with real needs, instead of just people that fit into my agenda one way or another. Either they are a threat to my agenda, or they are helping me get my agenda done, or they just don’t really count. I sometimes experience myself seeing people that way.
Every once in a while, I actually am open to people. I actually care what they are experiencing and I care about what’s going on in their life, even more than I care about my life.
See I wasn’t concerned in that moment when I asked the woman if we could pray; I wasn’t worried about looking foolish because I started the whole conversation with, “What’s your caffeine of choice?” (Not high on my list of effective ways of starting conversations.) I wasn’t really worried in that moment about looking foolish in someone else’s eyes; I was just worried about her, and I didn’t really care if I looked foolish or not. That wasn’t important.
So sometimes I’m pretty closed and pretty self-centered; and sometimes I’m pretty open, and I think that is a lot more fun. And that is kind of what’s at the heart of what we are talking about today.
How do we live out our lives as broken, fallen, sinful people who still are redeemed and belong to Jesus in a way that doesn’t turn us off to people, but opens us up to other people? How do we get more of the second, and less of the first?
2. WE (how the topic affects the range of people gathered today)
Because if I’m experiencing that, I know that you are experiencing it too, right? I mean, we can be honest with each other. You have those times in your life where you would like to put your head down and go get your coffee without having to look at the person in the cubicle next to you. And it is a dangerous thing, because someone might actually say something to you in the hallway.
You know what that is like. You know what that is like in the grocery store or in the gas station line, or at a family gathering where you keep circling to the other end of the room so that one family member doesn’t engage you in conversation. You know what that’s like.
St. Augustine in the early church had a way of talking about our status and the way we behave as fallen, sinful beings. He said it is like we are “incurvatus in se,” which, when translated from the Latin means, “a circle turned in on itself.”
As human beings, according to our sinful, fallen nature, we are naturally circles turned in on ourselves. We want to defend ourselves; we value other people in as much as they help us; we protect ourselves and put our own selves first. Our intention, our attitude, our desires, turn inward naturally.
Did you know Martin Luther was an Augustinian Monk, and so he was building on some of Augustine’s work? Luther would go on to say, even in our relationship with God, we approach it as circles turned in on ourselves. We only have a relationship with God, we only desire him naturally, in so far as He does something good for us. As long as God is answering our prayers and giving us the things we thought He should give us, we are on fine terms with God. And as soon as He doesn’t give us what we wanted all along–well, then we have a real problem with our relationship with God, because ultimately, as fallen human beings, our relationship with God is motivated by self interest. We are naturally circles turned in on ourselves.
And yet, even as fallen, sinful people, we do experience those moments where we are open to other people in a way that makes our agenda take a back seat. Where, as Paul says in Philippians, we take that same attitude of Christ Jesus, where we humble ourselves because we view other people as more important than ourselves.
So how do you get less of the first and more of the second? How do you take a step forward? How do you actually be open and be kind to people in your everyday life, when we are naturally circles turned in on ourselves? I think that is where the text for today, that story from Luke, helps us out quite a bit.
3. GOD (Letting God’s Word inform our experience)
I love this story. Jesus is in the crowd and I love what must have been going on in the disciple’s heads at the time. Jairus, the text tells us, is a synagogue leader. He’s an important guy. He is a CEO of the local synagogue. And Jesus in Luke has already gotten into some trouble with the religious leaders.
So I have to be thinking that the disciples are thinking, “Man, if this thing comes through with Jairus, we can maybe get past some of the early hiccups we’ve had in our career. If Jesus can just heal this synagogue leader, this CEO’s daughter, well then, we are going to kind of take a step forward here in the mission and ministry of Jesus.” I imagine the disciples are focused on how, perhaps, this could affect their status and they are not thinking about this woman who really brings nothing at all to the table.
Jesus stops and says, “Somebody touched me.” And you can hear the exasperation in Peter’s voice: “Jesus, I mean, there are people like, stepping on your toes all around and we’re all huddled together, and what you mean, somebody touched your robe?! Let’s get on to the important business of healing this important man’s daughter, Jesus! Keep focused here. We’ve got a real opportunity!”
But Jesus takes time out to draw attention to this woman—a woman who, because of her bleeding, should not have been there at all. It wasn’t allowed by ceremonial law for her to touch Jesus; otherwise, she would make Him unclean.
For this woman, who had no social standing at all, Jesus stops and says, “Hold on, time out. I know you all have some business to do, and I know I said that I would go with the CEO and see what I could do for his daughter, but there is someone here who’s just as important to me.” He stops the crowd, and the woman finds herself called out.
Did you notice what she did? The second time that Jesus says, “Who touched me?” she feels like she has been caught red-handed. She comes forward and tells her story; she justifies her own actions. She says why she touched Him, and why she did what she did. She comes trembling in fear because she knows this Rabbi is going to get her good for interrupting His busy day.
And although she comes expecting condemnation and law, what Jesus gives here is nothing but gospel. “Your faith has healed you,” He says.
You see, Jesus was interested in that woman. Jesus broke the circle turned in on itself. Jesus places this woman, who was at the margins of society, higher on His agenda than his own reputation or social standing. Jesus values her specifically, individually, personally.
In fact, nothing matters more to Jesus in that moment than this woman and her well-being. Not just her physical healing of her body, but the restoration into society and relationship. And that fact, that Jesus valued this woman, that He took time with her, must have been a shock to the crowds. It was certainly confusing to the disciples. And you get the impression that it had the potential to break a father’s heart.
Jairus, in the kind of self-centeredness that only comes with great need, must have been going out of his mind while Jesus took time with this insignificant woman. I mean, his daughter was dying. Jesus had said He would come with him and heal her, and now He gets sidetracked with someone else’s problems.
“But what about me, Jesus? What about my needs? Don’t I matter to you, too? Certainly this little girl near death is more important than a woman who has been struggling with this problem for thirteen years. Just give it, like, another week.”
“Jesus, come on, get your priorities straight. Help me in my need right now. Because my daughter is more important right now rather than that woman is.”
And then Jairus gets confirmation of his deepest fears. Jesus has delayed too long. His daughter is dead. What Jesus says to Jairus next, He says to you; He says to me; He says to anyone who has ever asked that question: “What about me Jesus? What about my needs? Don’t you care?”
To Jairus and to every individual crying out for affirmation and a sense of value, Jesus says: “Don’t be afraid. I’m going with you. And the story isn’t over yet.”
4. YOU (Application of God’s Word to individuals)
That’s the secret. That’s the promise. That’s the hope of breaking your circle turned in on itself, and being open to other people in a way that genuinely values them.
Does it feel like God is answering everyone’s prayer but yours?
Don’t be afraid. Jesus is going with you. And the story isn’t over yet.
Do you feel like, if you don’t stand up for your rights or religious freedoms, no one else will? Don’t be afraid. Jesus is going with you. And the story isn’t over yet.
Does it seem like our culture is spinning out of control and your voice is being lost in a sea of competing worldviews? Don’t be afraid. Jesus is going with you. And the story isn’t over yet.
Does it feel like you have to defend yourself or even take someone else down a notch just so you don’t get trampled? Don’t be afraid. Jesus is going with you. And the story isn’t over yet.
Do you feel a need to answer every question and correct every misunderstanding? Do you need to be better than other people so you can feel good about yourself? Are your thoughts and feelings telling you your actions are justified, even though they tear other people down?
What Jesus said to Jairus, he says again today to you: “There is no one I value more than you. Don’t be afraid. I am going with you. And the story isn’t over yet.”
5. WE (Looking to the future together)
When we live out of our own natural tendencies, we’re nothing more than circles turned in on ourselves, using our relationships with other people and even using our relationship with God to try and make us feel better about ourselves.
But when we live out of the confidence that Jesus values us deeply and individually, we have the chance as a community to be open to people and value others even above ourselves.
What kind of church would we be if we lived out that confidence in the midst of all of the change we see around us? We might still feel marginalized. We might still struggle. Some will still walk away.
But the more we engage in people not like us with openness and confidence and genuine kindness, the more they will experience Jesus through us.
This week, look for an opportunity to be open and genuine with someone who can’t help you get more status, or more credit, or more money. Be interested in them just because they are unique and uniquely loved.
Jesus values you deeply and individually. You are justified by Jesus! You don’t need to justify yourself.
In that confidence, you are free to break the circle; you are free to let go of having to look good, or be right, or not seem foolish. In the confidence that you are justified by Jesus, and only by him, you are free to: [The following list is taken from the discussion questions at the end of the Be Kind section of the 42 Seconds book by Carl Medearis.]
- Go out of your way to look people in the eye and say hello.
- Acknowledge the people you normally fail to recognize.
- Refrain from giving answers and ask another question.
- Do a small act of kindness or thoughtfulness for someone. Just because.
- Get to know the kids of some of your friends and neighbors. Ask a question about them. Learn their names. Show that you see and value them.
This week, try treating others as if their agenda was more important than yours.
And see what Jesus does with that. Amen.
Editor’s Note: This resource supports preachers and congregations in the use of the book 42 Seconds: The Jesus Model for Everyday Interactions by Carl Medearis. You can visit the 42 Seconds Resource page at justinrossow.com to see more (when it is ready).
This sermon also produced two other reflections: