Preface: This is a shortened lesson to help us think about a class project we are going to do with the rest of the church – a day of service in the community.
For the shortened lesson this morning I want to focus on Galatians 6:10.
“Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people.”
This comes at the end of a passage where Paul is writing about reaping and sowing – and the natural cycle of cause and effect. There is no season for doing good. It is a constant sowing but there is a season for reaping the results of doing good. Sometimes the reaping follows soon after the sowing but then there may be many years between them. We talked a few weeks ago about one of the joys of having been a teacher is hearing from former students and their telling you what you had meant in their lives even though you did not know it at the time. You were worn down by discipline, grading papers late into the night, angry parents and low pay. Somehow, those words thirty years later make it worth it. Or, to hear a thank you from one of your children when they are adults. I know Jesus wondered about the nine lepers who did not return to thank him but he was grateful for and impressed by the one who did.
Do not become weary. The word does not mean tired or even exhausted. It means despondent or having your spirit broken. Paul is talking about our not allowing ourselves to become cynical or embittered by not seeing the results of doing good. Do not be broken by ingratitude. Do not be hardened and discouraged by not seeing any progress. Someday there will be a harvest if we do not give up and quit. It likely will not be right away but it will come.
Isn’t it ironic that while Paul calls us to be “do-gooders” that term has come to mean something almost completely negative?
Henry David Thoreau wrote: If I knew for a certainty that a man was coming to my house with the conscious design of doing me good, I should run for my life.
In Henry Weaver’s 1947 book, “The Mainspring of Human Progress” he writes: Most of the major ills of the world have been caused by well-meaning people who ignored the principle of individual freedom, except as applied to themselves, and who were obsessed with fanatical zeal to improve the lot of mankind-in-the-mass through some pet formula of their own. The harm done by ordinary criminals, murderers, gangsters, and thieves is negligible in comparison with the agony inflicted upon human beings by the professional do-gooders, who attempt to set themselves up as gods on earth and who would ruthlessly force their views on all others with the abiding assurance that the end justifies the means.
It sounds like there is nothing worse we can do than what Paul encourages. The last thing we might want to be is one who is doing good at every opportunity.
But Paul does not tell us to be that kind of do-gooder or someone who cannot stop thinking of things to do for someone else – whether they want it or not. No, he says we are to continue to do good at every opportunity. That does not mean we are obsessed with doing good or trying to fix the world. It does not mean being a slave to the problems of everyone but it means when there is an opportunity. The actual word is “kairos” or the word used in Scripture for “the right time” How do you know when there is an opportunity and not just guilt or an unhealthy obligation driving you? An opportunity is a situation that can use whatever you have to offer – large or small. An opportunity is a situation that might well improve with your particular contribution. It is not a black hole. It is not one more request for a donation or time. It is something that just fits – and not every need is an opportunity.
As we talk about the opportunities we have this morning I want to give you a short list of reasons we do good things and, in the end, what I think our motivation should be.
The Jews have a phrase – tikkun olam – which means “repair what is broken in the world.” I don’t think that is what we hope to do with the time we have that day.
We often hear the phrase, “make a difference”, and while that might be worthy over a long period of time I don’t think we should go into this with the intention of making a difference or moving the needle.
We could see it as an assignment given to us by the staff of the church. It is an expectation – even a duty. Otherwise, we might not even think about doing good. I don’t think that is what we want to do.
We could see it as a transaction where we get a psychological benefit. There is a payoff for doing something good. We feel better about ourselves. Ministries and non-profits dependent on volunteers often have to spend valuable time thinking of ways to motivate people by convincing them they will benefit from their service. Let’s not fall for that.
Instead, I like what Aesop said about kindness. “No act of kindness, no matter how small, is ever wasted.” That’s not in the Bible in so many words but I think it is true for us this morning. We are just doing a simple act of kindness and leaving the results up to God.
After all, it was a simple act of kindness that changed the world. Remember the story of Peter, John and the beggar at the entrance to the Temple after Pentecost.
Peter and John were not looking for an opportunity to do something spectacular. They were not on a mission of healing or out to eliminate poverty. This was not part of the strategy for church growth. There was no plan other than their consistent way of life. They came together to eat and praise God. They went to the Temple to pray and there Peter would preach. It was simple. Mary Poplin in “Finding Calcutta” writes, “I never heard a Missionary of Charity discussing how to rid the world of poverty. No one wrung their hands over the fact that many needy people on the streets of Calcutta went untouched by the work of these few hundred women. The sisters simply took in the poorest of the poor, those least likely to get other help.” They were not fixing the world or changing systems. They were paying attention to each individual – not the whole of humanity.
And that is exactly what Peter was saying when he spoke, “such as I have, I give to you.” The Sadducees called it a “miracle” but Peter said it was only “an act of kindness.” You could say that kindness – then and now – is supernatural in itself. We are not expected to perform miracles or even great deeds but only acts of kindness in the name of Jesus. But even that kindness lands them in jail for the night. Kindness disrupts the normal. It unsettles the way things are and threatens people with vested interests. I think that is why Peter wrote late in his life, “Do not fear what they fear.” Do not fear the unpredictable effects of kindness.
Look at the chain of events set in motion by this chance meeting in a routine day of three men in a crowd.
∙ The church grows to 5,000.
∙ The church is persecuted.
∙ The church is forced to leave Jerusalem.
∙ The church through the conversion of Saul goes global.
One act of kindness is the turning point for the future of the church. It puts in play a series of events none of them could have shaped. They were not looking for a niche, a plan, or even a ministry focus. They did not turn the miracle into a separate ministry. Instead, they were only ordinary and unschooled men who had been with Jesus. They were merely in their daily routine when everything changed forever.
Maybe that is our invisible opportunity this morning. We cannot know what the effect of one act of kindness on our part will be. We don’t need to know.