Yesterday, on September 11th, many remembered what they were doing in 2001 when two planes crashed into the twin towers of the World Trade Center, one crashed into the Pentagon, and a fourth was brought down in a Pennsylvanian field by passengers who bravely fought back against hijackers. I can remember exactly where I was and what I was doing the morning of September 11th. A more hopeful memory comes from that evening when I attended a church services at North Point Community Church in Alpharetta. We poured out lamentations for the death and destruction caused by evil and we prayed for our country. They cut in with a broadcast of a brief message from President Bush on the screens in the church. I was struck by how the President quoted Psalm 23 and his obvious faith in God that fortified his resolve to lead the nation through the crisis. While the terrorists sought to destroy America, their evil act united us as we set aside all our differences and came together as Americans--at least for a few weeks.
Twenty years later, we are under attack from a different kind of enemy—a virus so small you cannot see it. What’s more, we’ve been under attack for a year and a half. People are weary. We just want our world to go back to normal. Unfortunately, normal seems a long way off. At this very moment, they are conducting a funeral at Salem Baptist Church for Rodney Lee, a beloved PE teacher from Varnell Elementary School, who died from COVID. It is clear that we have not returned to normal yet.
Will we ever return to normal? I don’t know. God hasn’t shared those details with me. However, God has reminded me that what the world needs now, more than anything else, is love. Whether we find ourselves under attack from terrorists or a virus, love is the answer. Some may think it is just like a preacher to say something like that. “What an empty, cliché!”
Friends, don’t mistake my statement as froo froo, pie in the sky religious nonsense. The love of which I speak is not some empty, worldly platitude. The love of God described in the Bible is as deep as the ocean and more powerful than an atomic bomb. It not only changes people, it changes generations and alters empires. And biblical love, God’s love, is not the same as the love offered by the world.
God’s love was demonstrated when Jesus died on the cross for our sins, not because we deserved it, but because we desperately needed God’s grace and forgiveness. And so Jesus, God’s only son, who was perfect in every way, atoned for our sin. Jesus died in our place, to pay the price for our sin, even though He was totally innocent. In Christ, we see the picture of real love. For he said in John 15:13, “There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.”
1 Corinthians 13:4-7 defines the kind of love Christ demonstrated, the kind of love that changes people and generations and empires. It is the kind of love the world needs now and Christians are called to give at all times and to all people.
1 Corinthians 13:4-7
4 Love is patient and kind. Love is not jealous or boastful or proud 5 or rude. It does not demand its own way. It is not irritable, and it keeps no record of being wronged. 6 It does not rejoice about injustice but rejoices whenever the truth wins out. 7 Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance.
Today, I want to focus on only the second element of divine love—love is kind. Kindness is being friendly, generous, and considerate. It’s not hard to understand kindness. It’s so simple, even a child understands it. The challenge with kindness is doing it and doing it to all people, even those who are unkind to you. We get so wrapped up in ourselves it is hard to turn our gaze outward to others who need kindness. When we struggle to meet our own needs and wants, who has the energy to be kind to someone else? The ironic thing is that I find showing kindness to be energizing. When I am depleted and show kindness, it doesn't empty me. Somehow it fills me up.
Jesus was kind. In his day, like our own, they practiced strict social distancing. In particular, you were not to come near anyone who was unclean. While they weren’t worried about COVID-19 in the first century, there were many things that made a person unclean. The most obvious was leprosy. Leprosy is a contagious skin disease that causes severe, disfiguring skin sores and nerve damage in the arms, legs, and skin areas around your body. Lepers were required to live apart from the rest of society, so as not to spread their disease to others. While in quarantine, they couldn’t work normal jobs, couldn’t go to worship, and couldn’t visit with family and friends because that would make them unclean too and they would have to quarantine for 7 days—even if they didn’t get sick (see Leviticus 13).
Of course, being that Jesus lived in the first century, a time with little understanding about how to properly diagnose one disease from another, any skin disorder could be mislabeled as leprosy. I have heard it said that even a teenager with severe acne could be labeled as a “leper” in first century Israel. People were irrationally afraid of leprosy, because it was a social stigma as well as a legitimate health risk and it was something they didn't understand.
12 In one of the villages, Jesus met a man with an advanced case of leprosy. When the man saw Jesus, he bowed with his face to the ground, begging to be healed. “Lord,” he said, “if you are willing, you can heal me and make me clean.”
Here was a leper who was required by law to stay away from people. He was supposed to stand off at a distance whenever people came around and yell out a warning that he was “Unclean! Unclean!” But this leper has already committed a social taboo by approaching Jesus. He is desperate. He begs Jesus to heal him. And Jesus loves him and is kind.
13 Jesus reached out and touched him. “I am willing,” he said. “Be healed!” And instantly the leprosy disappeared.
The Antonine Plague (165-180 AD)
Jesus was the Son of God, imbued with miraculous power. We might think it was easier for Him to put His health on the line by reaching out in kindness to touch and heal a leper. Surely, God would not allow His only begotten Son to be infected by leprosy because of an act of kindness. But what of Jesus’ followers? Are we to show similar acts of
kindness, even if it risks our own health?
To be sure, Christ does not wish Christians to be cavalier with their life and health. I believe Jesus would encourage American’s today to take proper precautions to limit the spread of COVID-19. It is an act of kindness to the community to wear a mask, take a vaccine, and limit physical contact with others. However, Jesus is clear that His followers are to be willing to suffer and even risk their lives for the sake of the Kingdom. For Jesus said, “If you cling to your life, you will lose it; but if you give up your life for me, you will find it.” (Matthew 10:39)
Early Christians in the first century showed incredible loving kindness in the face of plagues far deadlier than COVID-19. The Antonine Plague during the second century killed 1/3 of the population of the Roman Empire. the plague, thought by modern historians to have been measles or smallpox, killed 25% of the people who contracted the disease. Non-Christians Romans were so scared they fled from the infected cities, which merely spread the pandemic further because they took the disease with them wherever they fled. Pagans abandoned their sick to die alone, while “the earliest Christians would stay and tend to the sick and dying, knowing full well that it would likely result in their own deaths. They showed works of unreasonable, sacrificial mercy that simply dumbfounded the pagans. In Rome, the Christians buried not just their own, but pagans who had died without funds for a proper burial. They also supplied food for thousands of people on a daily basis.”[i] In another plague in the fourth century, the Emperor Julian, who was not a Christians, said pagan priests needed to act more like the Christians and show love and kindness.[ii]
Christians’ loving kindness during the darkest plagues of disease and death during the Roman era changed society so much that the Roman Empire itself adopted Christianity as the official religion in the fourth century. Christian ideas about forgiveness, love, kindness, and sacrificial service changed Rome and the world forever.
Two thousand years of Christian influence teaching people to love to the point of putting your own life on the line for the sake of others has left an indelible mark on our world—even among non-Christians. It is Christian core values that led firefighter and first responders to rush toward the burning twin towers on September 11th, putting their own lives at risk for the sake of others. Whether they were Christian or not, whether they were conscious of it or not, their bravery and self-sacrifice traces roots back through the centuries to those early Christians and to Jesus himself, who died on the cross for the sake of a world who desperately needed His love, even though they didn't deserve it. Some might think self sacrifice is a universal human trait. It is not. It was not normal for people to do this before Christ taught the world to do so by his teaching and his actions.
If you are a follower of Christ, you are called to love one another and to exhibit Christ’s love to the world—even to your enemies. Last week, we learned that Christian love is patient. Today I tell you love is also kind.
When I think of our world today, of how mean-spirited we are with one another, and how we are so quick to condemn and argue and accuse and think the worst of each other, when I think of I think of how we call each other names and demean those with whom we disagree and call people evil, it breaks my heart. We are tearing each other apart. We are destroying each other in way the 9/11 terrorist could not. And self-professed Christians are sometimes the worst. We must repent and do better. We must follow Christ.
The Kindness Challenge
I challenge you to be more kind this week. Make a commitment to be kind. Start each day with a prayer that God would help you be kind. The type of kindness real love requires is something beyond human capability. It must be empowered by God’s Holy Spirit. So choose today to follow Christ as your Lord that He may save you and fill you with His love.
What are some practical things you could do this week to be kind?
- Write a note to someone to encourage them.
- Pray for someone and pray that God would show you one way you could do something kind for them. Then do it.
- Buy for a stranger’s meal if you are out to eat.
- Offer to return a stranger’s grocery cart to the front of the store.
- Don’t take the closest parking spot in the parking lot. Leave it for someone else.
- Sponsor someone to receive and Operation Mercy Drops grant.
- Bring treats to your local fire station.
- If you use social media, use it to be kind to others. Wish someone a happy birthday. Say a kind or encouraging word to someone online. Be creative, but don't be mean.
- Be kind to yourself. Sometimes, we are our own harshest critics. Cut yourself some slack. Be kind to yourself.
What are some other things you can do to be kind this week? Share your ideas in the comments.