Tuesday, February 27, 2007

The sermon passing near you....

On Sunday evening, I had one of those moments that preachers frequently have while delivering a sermon: a better sermon crossed my path, winked and said 'you ought to be preaching me!'

I was mid-way through some reflections on kindness based on the story of David and Mephibosheth. Most of us know this story from 2 Samuel 9. I was tracing the story from where Saul's grandson enters the narrative in 2 Samuel (4:4) through chapter 9 and on into 16:1-4 and 19:24-30.

It's a wonderful and subtle piece of writing and I managed to make some valid points along the way - things such as kindness is about welcoming people into our community, is willing to take risks and is what God wants. Furthermore, the narrative in 2 Samuel is a great illustration of what Paul is talking about in Galatians 5. There the apostle is arguing that if we keep in step with the Spirit we will display the social qualities needed to ensure that our differences don't tear our communities apart.

All well and good - and people said so afterwards.

The reason I felt a better sermon was drifting just beyond my reach was that I should have stayed rooted in the Samuel narrative showing how our kindness is a political and social act that has the power to change the context in which we do our politics. More than that, David's kindness to Mephibosheth is contrasted with the way he treated other people - notably Uriah, Bathsheba and members of his immediate family.

We see a hint of it in 2 Samuel 16 where David, under pressure and desperate to save his own skin, acts in an unkind way towards Mephibosheth because another person has interpreted Mephibosheth's behaviour unfavourably to the fleeing king.

Here we have an illustration of how the pressures of life and circumstances affect our ability to be kind.

It, of course, raises the question of what kindness is. In one sense it's about being faithful to one another - the word used in 2 Samuel 9 is hesed which means covenant loyalty. To honour a promise to his friend, David takes risks with his safety and his political advantage to show kindness to a potential rival for his throne.

We often see kindness as a bit of a warm and fuzzy quality, offering tea and sympathy to those who need it but hardly world-changing. What this narrative reveals is that being kind to one another is the basis for a social ethic that could make the difference between young people carrying guns on our streets and those same young people being steered into productive and fulfilling lives.

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