This week I received a unique invitation through facebook. Some of you don’t use facebook or computers – but those of you who do probably know that facebook is a fun way to share pictures and updates with friends instantly. Anyway, I received the invitation through my friend, Tami, whose friend Rosey is having her fortieth birthday soon. She said that as her birthday approached she was going to attempt to do one kind deed for another person every day for the next forty days and she invited all her friends to join her. She called it 40 days of nice. What Rosey didn’t expect was that her friends would pass on the idea to their friends and then those friends would pass it on to their friends and now there are over 1000 people in this facebook group who are intentionally every day looking for ways to extend a special kindness to someone else each day. And oftentimes, members of the group will take a moment to write a post on the page for others to see what they did that day. From shoveling their neighbors driveways to buying coffee for strangers, from Nebraska to Minnesota to the UK, a tiny groundswell of Nice began.
At first when I received the invitation I didn’t think I’d join. I don’t know Rosey personally and although it was a fine idea, I figured I had enough going on. But as I thought about it, the idea captivated me. I liked the idea of being part of a movement of people not just doing good things when the opportunity happened to come our way, but taking it a step farther and looking for those opportunities. There’s good energy in it. And in a world full of brokenhearted people, a little nice, a little good energy goes a very long way. A kind word, a thoughtful deed can provide shelter in the storm of life for others in ways that are magnified far beyond the action itself. You know what I mean. A cup of coffee and an hour of time shared with that friend whose husband just left is more than some caffeine and 60 minutes of the day. It is a lifeline, a glimpse of hope, a safe place where strength is gathered to go on. That mother with an infant whose driveway you just shoveled after the big snowfall – for her that probably didn’t just save her a few minutes, it very well could have helped save her mood for the entire day. No, the more I thought about it, I realized that 40 days of Nice was sounding better and better.
And as I read our Scriptures for this week, it was the words about God being our shelter and comfort that spoke deeply to my heart. The image from our Gospel of God desiring to gather to gather all God’s children as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and the verse from the psalm where the psalmist sings that “even if my father and mother abandon me, the Lord will take me in.” In the old testament reading, the Lord appears to Abram in a vision. Abram, afraid of never having a child, and the Lord lifts Abram’s eyes to the stars and gives him the news that God isn’t done yet. Do you think there are a lot of stars in the sky? Well, Abram, that’s how many descendants you will have. God is not done yet. What feels like a barren place, Abram, it’s more fruitful than you can even imagine.
In a world of brokenhearted people, the news that God is not nearly done yet, the news that our God is able to comfort you and you and you even and especially when things seem the worst, the news that for the orphan, the widow, the lonely, the lost, the sick, the frustrated, of every age there is a shelter under God’s wings, a home you have right in God’s own heart – well, that is good news. That is some very good news.
And it is a great comfort. And a promise. But I don’t think it stops there – unless this were a funeral sermon – and then it would be fine if we ended with God’s action and God’s blessing and God’s promise and comfort. But this is no funeral. No, it’s morning worship on a typical Sunday. Today is today – or as Frederick Buechner liked to talk about it – today is the only day there is. Yesterday is gone, tomorrow is but a hope, all we have for sure is today. When we think about these 24 hours in that light it gives them a hint of urgency – and that’s good – because then perhaps we will take to heart the truth that we get to share, each of us, in imparting God’s shelter, God’s comfort, and God’s good news to one another. What begins and ends with God, includes us somewhere in the middle. God has made it so. God has made us necessary in being shelter, in being comfort, in being hope to one another. Our words about God’s love are important but they begin to sound quite hollow to others and feel even more hollow to us if our hands and feet aren’t out in God’s world living that love.
This place, these pews, this pulpit, that altar rail – all of it is just a starting place, a launching pad sending us into the week ahead. It’s a place to get our heads on straight, get our vision focused in the right place and then go on out, down the driveway and back into our lives to be God’s people there. Speaking God’s peace there. Sharing bits of kindness and moments of grace there. Bringing things like hope and mercy and justice along with us into stores and gyms and workplaces and hospitals and nursing homes and the pot o’ gold and school and wherever our paths lead us in the days to come. We don’t leave this gospel of Jesus Christ here – no we put it in our pockets, place it in our purses, carry it in our hearts out there. Everywhere.
And of course, it’s more than just being nice – but isn’t kindness a good place to start? We may not know how to share all that the Gospel of Jesus Christ means to us with friend or stranger – but we remember Jesus did say something about loving each other – so yeah, let’s start there – and then see where it takes us. A journey of a thousand miles begins with that first step – and so we take it in faith – trusting God guides us the rest of the way.
Sometimes I get so disheartened, brothers and sisters. Sometimes my heart gets so heavy it feels hard to carry it. I take note of all the bad things happening in the world, or good people getting sick or suffering. I start to feel small and so powerless to share a good word in the midst of it. And about right then the devil starts to whisper in my ear the statistics – the hard and cold numbers to prove his point – the Lutheran church is shrinking, the Christian church has slipped quite far from the center of family and community life it once was. And then if I’m not careful I’ll slip easily into a few too many nights when my brain is too full to sleep, a few too many times I’ll give in to the temptation to wallow in worry.
And I’d be terrified to tell you that sometimes I feel that way except that I think each of you might understand in your own way. Life can get awfully big, far too unwieldy.
But every time my mind brings me to that place, it is never me that gets me out of it. Left to my own devices I’d stay stuck in my head, or stuck in my worry. No, it’s always been a word or action from someone else that jars me loose and sets me on the right track again. Most of the time they haven’t meant to do it, in fact, most of the time they probably have no idea how their kind word or thoughtful action set me back on my feet, but they did. God working right through them. Angels with skin on, each one.
God gives us the power to be that for each other. The devil uses subtle things to distract us from that power – making us too busy or too distracted or too whatever to really see each other most of the time – but if we pay attention, if we have our eyes open and our listening ears on – there is a world of healing and goodness we can bring.
Catharine Brandt tells a story in a poem she wrote about in the months after her husband died how she experienced profound loneliness. One particularly difficult morning she called a friend and they talked for quite some time about old times, their children and grandchildren. She said she began to feel lighter and better as they talked, like she had taken some medicine that was slowly working its way into her system and bringing healing.
Finally Catherine said, “I hope I’m not interrupting your day. You probably have much to do.”
Her friend said, “You should receive a special blessing today. Before I started work I asked God to bless my interruptions.”
She writes. “God did bless me – blessed me with a friend who listened, who didn’t make me feel like an interruption.”
God has done great things for us – and by God’s grace – allows us to do great things for one another. Be looking for ways to be kind. Be looking for ways to show kindness to neighbors, to strangers, even to people you don’t like – imagine that! It’s all a good thing – it’s all a God thing! If we start today during this season of Lent I can’t help but think that when it comes, on Easter morning, the sun will rise a little brighter because we will have honored the One who first showed us such great kindness.