Monday, June 25, 2007

Acts of Planned Kindness

2 Samuel 9

Remember the phrase: "Acts of Random Kindness?" Someone got tired of hearing the phrase “senseless acts of random violence” that so permeated the news media during the early 90s, they decided to do something about it. Now there’s a website, school curriculum and a national movement.

Don’t you love hearing some of the stories generated by kindness? On the acts of kindness website there are testimonies of people having the opportunity to be kind. One guy drops coins or a dollar bill on newspaper stands, in cafes, on the ground or under windshields hoping it will put a smile on someone’s face or even provide a cup of coffee for a homeless person. Another guy found a $50-dollar-bill in a large shopping center bathroom. When he joined his wife he noticed a family nearby who seemed very agitated. The husband was turning out his pockets. The guy walks up to the family and asks if he could help. “I’ve lost a $50 bill!” The guy gives him the note and explains where he found it.

As a kid, I was impressed with the almost legendary stories of the kindness exhibited by Elvis Presley—many of them were actually true. He donated hundreds of thousands of dollars annually to various charities. He personally delivered a brand new wheel chair to a poor woman, and when the woman’s daughter admired his car, he gave it to her!

We are inspired by stories of kindness. In 2 Samuel 9 we have an incredible story of kindness. But it wasn’t a random act of kindness. It was a thought out and planned act of kindness.

Saul and his sons had been killed by the Philistines. David was then made king over Judah and Israel. Obviously there was fighting to be done to secure David’s place on the throne. After it was all over and David established as King one would have expected him to do something common among all kings for generations in the past and generations to come: kill off anyone who has any claim to the throne.

Instead, David looks around and says: “Is there anyone who belongs to the family of Saul to whom I might show kindness for Jonathan’s sake?” There was a servant who at one time belonged to Saul and his name was Ziba. David called him and said, “Is there anyone left of Saul’s family to whom I can show the kindness of God?” Ziba says, “Well yes, there is Mephibosheth, the son of Jonathan. He is crippled in both feet. Right now he’s living with some friends at Lo-Debar.”

And so, David sends for Mephibosheth. You can just imagine what he’s thinking: “Well, it’s time for the purging to begin—I wonder if he’ll kill me quickly?” When he comes into the presence of David he throws himself on the ground. David says, “Don’t be afraid; I am going to extend to you kindness for the sake of your dad, Jonathan. You are going to receive all of the land that belonged to your grandfather Saul.” What? This is so foreign to the ways ancient kingdoms were established! A stunned cripple asks David, “Who am I that you should show kindness to a dead dog like me?”

David doesn’t even answer the question. He calls for Ziba and says: “Everything that belonged to Saul and his family is now given to your master’s son. You, your sons, and your servants are now going to work for Mephibosheth and work his land for him.” Mephibosheth is raised from a poor man living with friends to a wealthy landowner with a staff of 36 employees! Furthermore David decrees Mephibosheth will always eat at his table like one of his own sons. The story ends with: “Mephibosheth lived in Jerusalem since he always ate at the king’s table. He was crippled in both feet.”

There are several things I’d like for you to notice about this story. One of the overarching ideas is the constant theme running throughout the four books of Samuel and Kings—the arrogant exalted will be humbled and the humble will be exalted. We see it throughout the books. The childless Hannah is exalted by receiving children. Eli's sons were arrogant and powerful, they are brought low by God. Samuel, the serving boy in the temple is exalted to a prophet of God. Saul is raised from obscurity to be king of Israel. When he becomes arrogant and disobedient and his heart removed from God, he is humbled and his throne taken.

Now the family of Saul has been reduced to humility and poverty and a former sheep-herder, David is exalted. But David is no Saul—he takes seriously his calling to be an instrument for God’s use. So he looks around for a way to demonstrate the kindness of God that he himself has received. And he finds the humbled Mephibosheth—doubly humbled, he is the grandson of a deposed king who would normally expect execution—and he is crippled in both feet, unable to take care of himself. David exalts Mephibosheth to the status of a son. So we see the theme of Samuel coming to a complete circle with the exaltation of Mephibosheth.

But there is more. Pay special attention to why, who, and how. Why is David kind to Mephibosheth? He didn’t have to be. He could have ignored him, or he could have killed him. But David has a reason. It’s actually a two pronged reason—he demonstrates kindness for the sake of his friend Jonathan. David’s motivation is not to make David feel good, or to get good press, or to shore up his authority. His motivation is purely to honor a friend—but not just that. He wants to show the kindness of God. This is what separated David’s attitude from Saul’s attitude. David never forgot he was a recipient of God’s kindness. We see this throughout the Psalms attributed to David. We also saw it when he defeated the Amalekites and freely gave the spoils to the men who didn’t fight and even shared it with others not involved with the conflict in any way. His reason? “We’ve been given a gift of God! We share and share alike!”

If our motivation for kindness is just our own sense of well-being or it’s something to do—we will eventually lose motivation. But when we recognize all we have is a gift of God, the motivation is something which is greater than us. As the Rabbinic writers would say: "Does not the kindness of God lead to radical life change?" I’d like to suggest too, our kindness can be motivated by our great friend who died for us; and our acts of kindness are also done for his sake. Jesus told his followers in John, “No greater love has a man than this, than he would lay down his life for his friends…I no longer call you servants, but friends…”

Notice, too, the recipient of David’s kindness: the family of an enemy who had tried over and again to kill him. Do I have to point out the obvious: this isn’t the natural way of doing things? Most folks express kindness to people they like or with whom they have relationship. Occasionally people will perform an act of kindness to strangers—but to enemies? In this act of kindness, David shows us the normal mode of operation for those who claim to follow Jesus! Jesus said it:
You’ve heard it was said: “Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.” But I tell you: love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you that you may be sons of your Father in heaven…If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your brothers, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that?
Following Jesus is not about getting my felt needs met! I think we’ve really commercialized Christianity by appealing to consumerist motivations: Come to church and we’ll offer you the best services and programming! Following Jesus is about caring for hurting people in a hurting world. Following Jesus is a counter-cultural movement that calls Jesus followers to exhibit kindness, especially to one’s own enemies! Again, why? For the sake of God and for the sake of Jesus!

Finally, notice the how. Random acts of kindness to people you encounter has its place. In fact, I think all Jesus-followers should regularly be looking for ways to demonstrate these random acts of kindness. There is a need for what I call guerrilla kindness: Handing out bottles of water to trash collectors, holding open a door for someone, paying for someone's groceries on a whim—those moments when you can quickly do something nice. However, random acts of kindness to strangers is only a good first step. The greatest kindness we can do is what David did. David didn’t just throw money and land at Mephibosheth. He said: “I'm going to treat you like my son! You are going to eat with me at my table every day.” David gets personal. Ultimately, that is what people really need!

In America we think the best way to help people is give them money. Sometimes I think we give money to people in order to get rid of them: “Here’s some money to take care of your problem, now go away!” What people need most, though, is someone who will give them the time of day! My wife, Terri and Brent Estes a few years ago were in Austin at Youth WAVE. They ended up sitting down with a few homeless people and visiting for a couple of hours. One girl told Terri: “People are always throwing money at us—nobody ever stops and visits with us! It’s really nice for someone to sit down and talk.”

Don’t you love hearing stories about kindness? Isn’t neat to hear someone share a story of how they either gave or received a random act of kindness? But what is more impressive is a life-style of kindness: kindness motivated by love for a dear friend, kindness extended even to one’s enemies; a kindness blinded to the barriers erected by hatred and history. What is most impressive is not a random act of kindness, but true sacrificial kindness which welcomes the stranger into your midst, into your life and inviting that stranger to become a friend.

So may you, like David, understand the kindness God has given you. May the sacrificial kindness of our friend Jesus motivate you to extend kindness to others. And beginning today may you go out and bless others with the kindness of God.

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