Sunday, November 14, 1999


Asbury First United Methodist Church

Text: Galatians 5:22

El Aqueducto

Have you tasted the kindness of the Lord? To acquire such a taste for kindness, especially in 1999, especially for you, will mean a rejection of lesser tastes, and willingness forever to leave behind the little treats that mean-spiritedness does afford. A taste for life means a distaste for death.

The middle of one ancient Spanish town, Segovia, is parted by the hundred foot high remains of an ancient acqueduct. The Romans built the duct before the birth of Christ, and it channeled water through barren Castille until 1914. It stands now, parting the village and attracting tourists, its many stately roman arches raised like hands into the sky.

Beneath the acqueduct, at the corner of the town square, you find a small restaurant, "Los Alamos", which has little space, little atmosphere, little distinction. On Sundays they serve a roast lamb, a local specialty, tasty and rich. Some years ago a young American writer frequented "Los Alamos", writing in the afternoons on the broad pine tables, then sharing the town's evening paseo and conversation from the restaurant's porch. A writer's life is necessarily a lonely life, a constant and draining scrap with his craft. This writer found the evening comraderie, underneath the silent acqueduct, just the elixir his mind required, and in "Los Alamos" he wrote a great novel.

At the same time, as the novel progressed, he quit smoking. Writers and nurses seem to smoke more than anyone else, and quit less often. Underneath the two thousand year old Roman arches and carried along by a kindly people, the writer wrote his masterpiece and at the same time gave up tobacco.

Years later, Ernest Hemingway stood on the porch of "Los Alamos", just beneath the Segovian acqueduct, and remembered the writing and the fun, the tables and talks, and his newfound break from addiction. He was asked about the year he spent there, writing For Whom the Bell Tolls. "I remember at last having the will power to stop smoking. The local people were so kind. The local wines were so fine. The book was going so well. I realized one day that to live well and to write well and to be able to taste the wine as it deserved tasting, I would have to give up smoking."

A Torrent of Kindness

A native of Rocky Mount, NC, and a victim of Hurricane Floyd, wrote this fall about seeing his hometown underwater: traffic lights blinking red and green underwater; furniture and unearthed coffins floating underwater; homes full of childhood memories underwater. He wrote for the NY Times (10/2/99) though under the theme, "a torrent of kindness": "We Southerners invented the phrase 'the kindness of strangers'. But nobody ever talks about—the strangeness of kindness. I mean the curious intuition that lets one person imagine what might, right this second, help others the very most. When those jeopardized are our friends and neighbors, whatever class or color, when we see them stranded screaming in treetops, and if we happily own a boat that hasn't left our garage for eight months, and if there is gas sloshing in its outboard, we still know, not why this happened, but what to sort of do. In our millennial paranoia, we suspect that the Book of Revelation's last days are now quaking up among us, fault-finding. If you're scared the world is ending in fire, reconsider. May we, the waders of North Carolina (all these snakes) half-reassure your? It'll probably be water. But even in this catastrophe's toxic wake, we're inching toward the high ground of a glum communal hope. Some 19th century willingness to act is yet there, if called upon. People are still imagining each other so they can rescue each other. A strange, radical thing, kindness."

The Taste of New Wine

Have you tasted the kindness of the Lord? You have no doubt acquired some habits along the way. The spiritual nicotines that we confront. Looking out for number one. Some secret pleasures. A lazy willingness to take the short view. A nursed and venemous grudge. Television. Delight in the downfalls of others. A willingness to minimize the good in others. Savoring gossip. A trained and rancourous irreverence for reverence. The arrogance high. We have our spiritual nicotines, which offer a present excitement at the expense of corruption to come. They make it hard to taste the fine wine of love. Your lips and tongue and psyche get so coarse that the good taste no longer differs from the bad. Mean words and thoughts, conversation and daydreams, cause us to lose over time a taste for God.

Have you tasted the kindness of the Lord? Without such a taste you are dead, or nearly so, even now. With this taste alone, you come alive to real life. You can rejoice when you should and weep when you should and be patient, patient, patient with all your circumstances.

Have you tasted the kindness of the Lord?

Kindness and Scripture

The Bible says that God is kind. The Bible is our measure for words about God, being itself the word of God. Hence our interest in the Bible, weekday and Sunday. A love for Christ and a love for Scripture go always together, siamese twins. A person who scorns the Bible scorns also Christ Whom Scripture attests. Said John Wesley, "Let me be a man of one book!" The Bible says that God is kind.

Have you tasted the kindness of the Lord? You may be a member of the church, and yet not really turned on to kindness. You may be teaching children, and yet not convinced by kindness. You may be in the choir, a lover of the muses, and yet skulk daily in meanness. You may be a clergyman, and yet in all an unkind whited sepulchre. You may be new to the church, and waiting to test the church's kindness. You may be a hearer of sermons and a clever religionist, and yet still addicted to the nicotine of vicious spirits.

God is kind, says the Scripture. God is good, so sing to his name, for he is gracious (Psalm 135). He is a Mighty King, a lover of kindness and justice (Psalm 99:4). He is A God ready to forgive, gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love (Nehemiah 9). With everlasting love God will be kind to us (Isaiah 54). God is kind and merciful (Joel 2).

Jesus looks us in the eye from the pages of Luke and says, "Be sons of the Most High, for He is kind to the ungrateful and the selfish."(Luke 6:39)

Have you tasted the kindness of the Lord? I wonder.

Kindness in our Time

I wonder how deeply we trust that God is kind. I look out at the great sea of life and see much harshness, and of course this harshness washes over you, day by day. It is a rough and tumble world we are building. In our construction business, we are all to some degree in the world construction business, do we trust that God is kind? Is this kind of construction what pleases a God of kindness? Harsh realities surround us. Abducted children. Rancorous marriages. Abortion for sex selection. Child abuse and neglect. Racial misunderstandings and hatreds. All in the shadow of a nuclear arsenal that still could make this world silent and dark, darker than a hundred midnights down in a cypress swamp.

It is no wonder then that on this harsh cultural sea, the religious sailing ships of our time have a harshness to them as well. These past ten years have seen the rise of harsh religion, the success of unkind religion. Violence in worship that parallels musical and political violence. We have grown gradually accustomed to religious talons and fangs, expecting such meanness as a price for success in the religious market. So, American Protestantism with Methodism its largest denomination, seems slightly antiquated in the new age. So much so that some, across our church, seem ready to discard the diplomatic arts of kindness in favor a more warlike approach to difference.

God is kind, yes. But have you really tasted his kindness? Isaiah had his lips tinged with holy fire when at last he saw the kindness of the Holy One. How about you? Are your lips seared?

Have you become convinced that no matter what else, at home or at work, your life is saved for the Master Jesus, and not meant for meanness? Paul says, "Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another as also God in Christ has forgiven you." (Ephesians 4). God is kind to the ungrateful and the selfish.

How will I know if I have tasted the kindness of the Lord? Ah, here the Scripture answers with gusto. When at last this taste for the fine wine of loving kindness overtakes you, you will fall to repent, and so you will know. It is a shock, a mortal blow, to realize how terribly kind God has been to you. When it comes, then you know for you want to repent, leave off the nicotine, in favor of another finer taste. Paul says, "Do you think lightly of the riches of God's kindness? The kindness of God is meant to lead you to repentance." The kindness of Almighty God is meant to lead you to a kindly life.

Vision and Mission

We can become so invested in our own activity that we lose a taste for the New Wine of God's love. The moon of human mission can temporarily eclipsed the bright Sun of divine vision, the fruit of the spirit, today named kindness.

Every so often we sing:

Like a mighty army moves the church of God
Brothers we are treading where his feet have trod

We might better sing:

Like a festive party moves the church of God
Filled with royal kindness, all have tasted God.


A while ago we had lunch with a college student who was struggling through a conflict. A teacher with whom she studied was causing her grief. It was humbling to listen to her careful step through the reasons why, as far as she could tell, she could not manage to work well for this one professor.

"It's not just the willfulness, nor do I mind the rigor and demand, and it isn't even the aloofness. I guess what really bothers me is that there is no kindness, no kindness. I was raised with kindness, so I guess I expect to find it in others."

Dear John

John took pretty rough treatment growing up in his small town. People discounted him, and much worse, because they knew his parentage. It scarred him for life, these silent taunts, and much worse, and he grew up and left. His bright red hair and good looks took him quickly through education and into the work world where he made good. But the hurts of grammar school linger. Take heed you who watch out for young children. John developed a quick tongue to go with his congenital quick temper and he used it like a sword whenever he felt the slightest taunt coming his way. Over time the verbal sparring became second nature to him, and he took some energy and pleasure from it. Once, though, in a soft-ball game, something happened. The young pitcher for the other team was mowing down John's side, and mocking John to boot. John stood at the plate and glared at what looked like a younger version of himself. In baseball and in conversation, John liked to swing away, swing for the fence. And in baseball and in conversation he hit some homeruns. He also struck out alot at the plate and in his judgments. The third strike was just called when John threw down his bat and yelled at the young pitcher, "Go back to where you came from you no-good." He saw the boy redden and then turn away. John heard some murmuring and a little laughter from the opposing team's fans. And he recognized, keenly, that he had said more than he meant. This boy was growing up with the same harsh words he had known, and now John was himself delivering the blows!

Driving home, alone, John was overtaken. For some reason, in that one verbal strikeout, he became aware of all the meanspirited living he had ever done. What a thing to say! I of all people should know better! He began to think back a week. To a cute, hurting jest in the office. Back a month. To a play on words at another's expense. Back a year, to a full swing sentence that laid his cousin down in agony. John cried. Hard. The tears of someone that hasn't cried in ten years. He pulled the car over and wept at the wheel. "My Lord, all this time spent in parsimonious and niggardly talking. My Lord. How kind all this while you have been to me, as I, unkindly, have hurt others. I know better. I'm sorry."

Do you presume on the riches of God's kindness? It is meant to lead you to repentance. John left off the nicotine of verbal agility for a finer taste, the taste of kindness.

Have you tasted the kindness of the Lord?

The fruit of his spirit is present by grace in persons and churches and nations. Kindness, in the Bible, is just this: It's that great experience of God's love, which is revealed in Christ and shed abroad in the hearts of his people by the spirit (Romans 5:6), and it works itself out in life and the church as kindness toward one another.

Deliver De Letter De Sooner De Better

The fruit of the spirit called kindness is found in people. Joe bears kindness. Joe is a mailman. At age 59, though, he has been a lot more than a mailman to his neighbors. They know his kindness:

"When my son was wounded in Vietnam he waited on the porch for me to get home to give me the news himself. He didn't have to do that."

"I was out at age 69 knocking down icicles. I lay on the walk for almost an hour. Then Joe came by. He saw me and ran to me and put me over his shoulder and carried me into my house. He called the doctor, too."

"I was in college and asked if there were any pretty girls on the route. Joe said yes, he set me up on a blind date. We were married two years later. Joe was at the wedding."

"As a little girl I would walk part of his route with him. Joe was my favorite. I swore that when I grew up I would be a mailman too. And I am!"

The fruit of the spirit is kindness. In people like Joe Corbin, walking his route in upstate N.Y. for 36 years. They call him "Joe". We call it kindness, God's spirit bearing fruit.

Have you tasted the kindness of the Lord?

Even in Church

Kindness grows in churches, too. There is no kinder, gentler group of people than those in our own U.M.W. As pastor, I am an honorary U.M.W. member, and proud, very proud, to be so. At Christmas lavish baskets go out to the needy and shut-ins. On Sundays, flowers travel in kindness to hospitals and nursing homes. There is a monthly report made of the number of visits by each circle. But kindness is not just in deeds, it is a spirit, dwelling in kind hearts. Let's get busy and bear some fruit!

Have you tasted the kindness of the Lord?


Is there not, though, a "kindness that kills"? An unwillingness to speak the truth, when only brutal honesty will do? An avoidance, for the sake of ease or safety, of the sterner virtues, in the name of this fruit, kindness? A reluctance, even to a dangerous degree, to ruffle feathers, let alone pluck those that need plucking? A distaste for pruning that finally leaves the garden overrun? Is there not a kindness that kills?

Yes, it is so. Odd, though, how we tend to raise this point in the first inning, when it is a ninth inning question.


But kindness is found in nations, too. You have to look a little harder, maybe, and discern a little more carefully. History shows us kindness in nations. Since we began in Spain, maybe we can end there, not far from that same porch and aqueduct, in old Castille, out in the hills north of Segovia. The year is 1938, and war tears the land apart. The Spanish Civil War was as cruel and brutal a war as the world has known, mainly because it combined internecine civil strife with 20th century weaponry. It was Bull Run with bazookas instead of bayonettes. And yet. In that utter darkness, the light of a spirit of kindness yet lived. Hemingway captured a look at such kindness in the figure of Robert Jordan, a teacher from Montana, who joined the Lincoln Brigade and went to Spain to fight Hitler. There he too was entranced with kindly people caught in the whirl of war. And there, in For Whom the Bell Tolls, Robert Jordan died, giving his life as a sacrifice of American kindness, against the mean spirit of Hitler's Germany. (Quote ending?)

How about you? Is it time?

Are you ready to leave the spiritual addictions behind and taste at last the fine wine of Love?

Have you tasted the kindness of the Lord?

As Socrates meant to say, "The unkind life is not worth living."

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