1 December 31, 2006 First Sunday after Christmas Psalm 148 Colossians 3:12 17 A New Year s Revolution As God s chosen ones, holy and beloved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience. Myron Finkbeiner loves to tell stories. The 73 year old retired basketball coach was showing a group of kids and their parents around the museum that he founded, the World Sports Humanitarian Hall of Fame. The group stopped before an exhibit honoring former NBA star David Robinson. Myron asked the group how many of them knew that, about 10 years ago, Robinson went to a fifth grade class in a low income neighborhood in San Antonio and told the students: If you will work hard, stay off drugs, stay off tobacco and graduate with a C+ average, then I will personally insure that you are accepted to college and I ll pay for you to go. And that is precisely what David Robinson did. Years later, Robinson presented scholarships to 72 high school seniors. How many of you had heard that story? Finkbeiner asked. Not a single hand in the group went up. Then he said: If David Robinson were picked up tonight for DUI how many of you think that you would hear about that? Everyone in the group raised a hand. That, said Finkbeiner, is why he founded the World Sports Humanitarian Hall of Fame. Olympic champions Wilma Rudolph and Mary Lou Retton are inductees along with baseball great Jackie Robinson. So is Olympic champ Billy Mills, who has raised more than $34 million for the education of Native American children, and former tennis pro Andrea Jaeger, whose Silver Lining Foundation is a home for children with cancer. Last year former NBA star Steve Smith was selected for his contributions $3 million over the past several years to his alma mater, Michigan State. For that, and his other notable work, Smith joins 21 other world class athletes and one team (the Harlem Globetrotters) in the World Sports Humanitarian Hall of Fame. The name makes some people giggle. Sports Humanitarian seems like an oxymoron but Coach Finkbeiner has his eye for how character is developed in young people. As a coach Myron believed that:
2 2 If [my players] were not better people at the end of the year from when we started, I felt like I didn t do a good job. Tom Goldman i reported on the Sports Humanitarian movement a few days ago on NPR s Morning Edition. He told the story about the good guys in sports and what people are doing to recognize them and then Goldman said something that struck me as very important. He said: We live in a society fascinated with bad behavior. Boy is that ever the truth! We love the lurid stories of self destructive, malicious and even illegal behavior, and not just in our athletes, but in everyone from celebrities bitter divorces to actors racist rants. You can hardly make it in the music industry unless you ve been picked up or locked up for something. Remember author James Frey? Last fall his grizzly memoir of drug addiction and violence shot to the top of Amazon s and Oprah s lists of best reads until it was discovered that he made the whole thing up then it sold even more. Coach Finkbeiner has a point. We need to look at what we re teaching our kids about how you become someone significant in our society? Beat up your wife, get a DUI, get into a bar room brawl and you ll be famous, at least for 15 minutes. Do the right thing and nobody knows you exist. This week one of you asked me, What are you going to preach on this New Year s Eve? I told him, and he said, Oh, you re going to blame the media. No. The media really only brings us the stories we want to see. This December 31 I want to start a New Year s Revolution of kindness. I want to wish everyone a Happy New Year, not a New Year full of angst and strife but genuine happiness, glorious joy! How do we do that? A great place to start would be following the advice of the author of Colossians. Listen: Beloved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience. Forgive each other; just as the Lord has forgiven you Above all, clothe yourselves with love. In Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis says that every morning when we get up (or in the case of our college students every afternoon) we Christians ought to put on Christ the way we put on a shirt, pants and shoes. In a chapter called Let s Pretend he notices that children learn by dressing up like grown ups. Grown ups can do the same thing by pretending to put on the character of Christ, wrapping ourselves in compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, patience, forgiveness and love. How would you like to receive those as Christmas gifts from your girlfriend, your husband, wife, boyfriend, sister, neighbor or friend 2007 would be the best
3 3 year of your life! What if we were to become as enthusiastic about celebrating the people who make a difference as we are about people who make a scene? What if we were to consistently praise and acknowledge people like Gerald and Betty Ford whose legacy is forgiveness, healing, reconciliation, advocacy for women, cancer survivors and people suffering from addictions. What if we would all daily put on the qualities love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self control ii like a glorious robe and crown. It would be a revolution! Listen to C.S. Lewis: Each time we pray the Lord s Prayer, we say, Our Father. Do you see what those words mean? They mean quite frankly, that you are putting yourself in the place of a son [or daughter] of God. To put it bluntly, you are dressing up as Christ Of course, the moment you realize what the words mean, you realize that you are not a son or daughter of God not a being like The Son of God, whose will and interests are at one with those of the Father: you are a bundle of self centered fears, hopes, greeds, jealousies, and self conceit, all doomed to death. So that, in a way, this dressing up as Christ is a piece of outrageous cheek. But the odd thing is that He has ordered us to do it. iii Yes, He did. And maybe it s not in our basic nature to be Christ like to be kind, gentle, forgiving and patient, but we can pretend, we can put on the character of Christ and revolutionize our lives, and probably our world. There s a bumper sticker you sometimes see that says, Just be nice. While I have nothing against civility be nice is not at all what this passage is saying. In fact, in the entire English bible the word nice doesn t show up at all, not once. That s because "niceness" is not a Christian value. Kindness and compassion, gentleness, humility are. What s the difference? Plenty. For one thing, kindness is sincere. Nice is full of words. Gentleness, love and compassion are full of action. Remember the counsel in the book of James: My friends, what good is it if you see someone who doesn't have adequate clothes or food, and you say, Go in peace, be warm and have plenty to eat." What good is it to say this, unless you do something to help? iv Jan Fuller is a chaplain at Hollins University in Virginia. This Christmas her 13 year old son, Sam, pored over the World Vision catalog looking for a gift to give. World Vision is a
4 4 Christian organization that combats poverty worldwide. Sam chose to give a pair of chickens to a family in a developing country so that the family could have eggs. Sam paid for the presents with his allowance. Sam s mom said that Sam s just your everyday 13 year old. Deciding to buy chickens for a poor family as his Christmas gift was no big thing for him except that a reporter at the Roanoke Times happened to hear about it, and suddenly Sam, and a handful of other kids practicing similar acts of compassion, became front page news. v And I can t think of anything more newsworthy! We have got to quit telling our kids to be nice all the time. (It really doesn t work anyway.) We need to teach them about compassion and kindness. A friend of mine calls this looking into God s future. When the bible uses the word kindness, it means looking at other people in light of everything God is doing in the world [as] God is recreating the world, taking a broken and bruised humanity you and me and making us altogether new creatures, forming us again in the image of God. Kindness is a refusal to look at other people in light of how they are in the present tense and insistence on looking at them in light of what God is making of them in God s future. In the bible kindness is an act of civil disobedience, a refusal to accept the way things are in light of the status quo and an insistence on seeing them in light of God s future. vi I am fairly sure Sam would agree. That same friend told about something that happened at the airport. He went to catch a plane and found that the flight was delayed, so he sat down to read in the snack bar next to the waiting area. It was in the middle of the afternoon, and the restaurant was almost empty. There was only one person there, a woman who appeared to be homeless with a huge gaggle of stuff beside her, shabbily dressed, and her head resting on the Formica tabletop. It wasn't long before a man who appeared to be the manager of the restaurant made a beeline for the table and my friend thought to himself, "Uh oh, he's going to throw her out." But instead, as the manager walked past the homeless woman's table, he put down a hot dog, just a hot dog. Then he went back to the kitchen and returned with a cup of coffee. A hot dog and a cup of coffee. From one point of view it was kindness, simple kindness. But from the point of view of the faith, the manager was in effect saying, "In a few minutes I'm probably going to have to be the manager of this restaurant, and you're going to have to be a homeless person, and I'm going to have to ask you to leave. But for a moment, just a moment, let us be who we will be in God's future. vii What kind of a world would it be, what would the future hold for all of us if we all treated one another with that kind of simple respect and kindness? I have no doubt in my mind that we would find it to be a happy New Year!
5 5 Susan F. DeWyngaert, D.Min. First Presbyterian Church Sarasota, Florida i Tom Goldman, A Sports Hall of Fame for Good People NPR s Morning Edition, December 20, ii Galatians 5:22 23 iii C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity (HarperSan Francisco, 2001) iv James 2:14 16 v Kevin Kittredge, Lessons in Kindness Roanoke Times, Friday, December 22, 2006, The story says that Sam bought his chickens through World Vision. World Vision, however, does not sell chickens. Gifts of chickens for families in developing areas are available the through Heifer Project International vi Tom Long, Kindness Simple and Not So Simple Thirty Good Minutes, January 19, vii Ibid.