Practice Our Kindness Like An Art

Good morning! I’m Christopher Epting now serving as Assisting Bishop here in the Diocese of Chicago thanks to Bishop Lee’s kind invitation. I’m the retired Bishop of Iowa and also served on our Presiding Bishop’s staff in New York as the ecumenical officer for The Episcopal Church for a number of years. It’s a joy to be with you today at Holy Nativity and to be able to confirm (and receive) some new folks into a new stage in their Christian lives and in The Episcopal Church.
As you know, confirmation is the time we “confirm” the vows made on our behalf at Baptism. We’ll be rehearsing those vows and promises in the Baptismal Covenant in a few minutes. When we “receive” people into our church, that usually means they came to us from another Christian communion or denomination and now wish to live out their Christian commitments with us here in The Episcopal Church. And we welcome them all!
I can’t think of a better set of Bible reading for this occasion than the ones we had today on the Sixth Sunday of Easter! We began with the Acts of the Apostles (Acts 10:44-48) and Peter preparing to baptize his first set of Gentiles into the Christian Church. When we confirm and receive people today, as I said, they are confirming or renewing the vows made at their own baptism, and we will be joining them in that by renewing our own!
In other words, we are continuing in Peter’s footsteps in these sacraments of initiation into the Church. Today’s Psalm then celebrates all that by saying, “Sing to the Lord a new song, for he has done marvelous things!” (Psalm 98:1) Indeed God has! And we are the recipients of those “good things.”
Then, all the rest of our Scripture today is about love! In the Collect we prayed, “O God…pour into our hearts such love towards you, that we, loving you in all things and above things may obtain your promises…” In the First Epistle of John we learn that “…everyone who loves the parent (God) loves the child. By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and obey (the) commandments. For the love of God is this, that we obey (the) commandments.” (I John 5:2) And, finally, in the Gospel, Jesus tells us what the most important commandment is, “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.” (John 15:12)
The Christian faith is all about love! Love of God and love of neighbor. We hear that so often that it doesn’t even make the impact upon us that if ought to make. When I was putting together this sermon last week, I was wracking my brain to come up with a way of describing what that kind of love might look like…in reality…in the real world…where you and I live.
And what should pop up on Facebook but a little reflection by a friend of mine, Bishop Steven Charleston. Steven is a Native American of the Choctaw Nation in Oklahoma, but also a former bishop of Alaska, a seminary professor, and a gifted spiritual writer who puts out a daily Facebook post on how to live the Christian life. This is how he says each Christian should face every new day:
“Here it comes again, another gift of time, another number of hours, in which to do something good. Each day opens the possibility, reveals the opportunity for us to practice our kindness like an art. We do not know who may cross our path or what may suddenly appear before us but we will know what they offer us when they arrive: an invitation from the Spirit to share in the work of creation, our chance to make the connections that link one heart to another, that sets in motion the process of change, that begins to heal an old hurt. This is the first step toward doing what we imagined when we first believed we were called to follow.” (May 4, 2015)
Isn’t that wonderful? What if we woke up every morning realizing that we’ve been given another number of hours to do something good? What if we saw each new day as an opportunity to practice kindness…like an art? What if we looked at every person we come across as an invitation from the Holy Spirit to share in the work of creation by making a connection that links one heart to another…that sets in motion the process of change…that begins to heal an old hurt?
That’s what I would pray for you today. Those who are being confirmed and received today and those of you who have been confirmed so long you can barely remember the experience! I pray that you would begin to see each day as an opportunity to do something good…to take a step toward doing what you imagined when you first believed you were called to follow Christ!
I think that’s what Jesus meant when he said that we were to love one another. I think that’s what St. John was writing about when he said that everyone who loves the parent loves the child. It may even be what the Psalmist was thinking when he sang, “Sing to the Lord a new song, for he has done marvelous things.”
I know it’s what we prayed for as we began this service. So let’s pray for it again:
“O God, you have prepared for those who love you such good things as surpass our understanding: Pour into our hearts such love towards you, that we, loving you in all things and above all things, may obtain your promises, which exceed all that we can desire; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

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