PRACTICE RANDOM ACTS OF KINDNESS
On the third day there was a wedding in Cana of Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there. 2Jesus and his disciples had also been invited to the wedding. 3When the wine gave out, the mother of Jesus said to him, ‘They have no wine.’ 4And Jesus said to her, ‘Woman, what concern is that to you and to me? My hour has not yet come.’ 5His mother said to the servants, ‘Do whatever he tells you.’ 6Now standing there were six stone water jars for the Jewish rites of purification, each holding twenty or thirty gallons. 7Jesus said to them, ‘Fill the jars with water.’ And they filled them up to the brim. 8He said to them, ‘Now draw some out, and take it to the chief steward.’ So they took it. 9When the steward tasted the water that had become wine, and did not know where it came from (though the servants who had drawn the water knew), the steward called the bridegroom 10and said to him, ‘Everyone serves the good wine first, and then the inferior wine after the guests have become drunk. But you have kept the good wine until now.’ 11Jesus did this, the first of his signs, in Cana of Galilee, and revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him.
(John 2:1-11, NRSV)
As I mentioned a few weeks back, my father has been teaching the older men’s Sunday School class at my parents’ church for 37 years going back to 1982. Earlier this month my father turned 82. Not only does he teach the class but at 82 he’s the youngest person in the class. After my father retired from being an elementary school principal in Memphis, he began looking after the widows of those men who had been in his Sunday School class. These days he does small repair jobs—changing out a wall socket, installing a dead bolt lock, or replacing a broken window pane. To him these are small jobs taking less than an hour. For me these would be huge jobs. I’ve decided that being handy skips a generation! While the repair jobs are quick, my dad often stays a few hours because he recognizes that many of these people are lonely and need someone to talk to. He doesn’t take money for his repair work so sometimes he’ll come home with a jar of homemade jelly or a bag of warm cookies. Refusing the money is one thing but refusing these gifts from the heart (and to the stomach) would be rude.
My dad has always performed random acts of kindness going back as far as I can remember. For decades, he has kept jumper cables in his car to help people with dead batteries, and occasionally himself of course. Many is the time my dad has stopped to help someone change a tire. I guess you could say that it runs in the family. When Matthew was young, every time he saw homeless people he’d give them money even if they weren’t asking for money. Since Alina was a preschooler, she has loved Copley Pond and taken it upon herself to help the frogs and turtles. One summer the Village of Munsey Park tried to grow grass along the banks of the pond using plastic netting to hold the dirt and seeds in place. On Alina’s first visit to the pond with the netting in place, she found that baby turtles were getting hung up in the nets and dying. In a split second, it was Alina to the rescue! She ran home and got her Swiss army knife with its little scissors to rescue the baby turtles. Every day that summer, Alina went to the pond once or twice a day, Swiss army knife in hand, ready to rescue the baby turtles.
Random acts of kindness make the world go ‘round. They help make civil society…civil. They remind us of our common humanity. They bring a smile to someone’s face or cause a spark of hope in the life of someone feeling hopeless. In Judaism, God commands the faithful to perform a mitzvah, often thought of as a “good deed or an act of kindness. Judaism teaches that ‘the world is built on kindness.’”
In today’s scripture lesson, Jesus performs a mitzvah, turning water into wine at the wedding feast in Cana. I’ve often wondered why his mother, Mary, became so concerned when she heard that the party was about to run out of wine: Was she a close friend or perhaps even a family member? Was she embarrassed that Jesus showed up with five disciples and felt it was his fault that they were about to run dry? Or did Mary simply want to help her hosts save face, since hospitality was considered a sacred duty.
Whatever prompted Mary to get involved, she turned to Jesus for help. Mary didn’t know what Jesus would do, but her response to him demonstrates her faith that Jesus will work things out one way or another. Immediately she turns to the servants and says, “Do whatever Jesus tells you to do.” Glancing around, Jesus saw six stone water jars that held 20-30 gallons each. Water from these jars was used for ceremonial hand and foot washing. Jesus asked the servants to fill the jars up to the top and then take some of the water to the wine steward. The servants did this and the wine steward could hardly contain his enthusiasm. Calling the groom over, the wine steward exclaimed, “The best wine is always served first. Then after the guests have had plenty, the other wine is served. But you have kept the best until last” (John 2:10, CEV).
Compared to feeding the hungry or healing the blind, turning water into wine seems rather tame and subdued. And yet this is so like Jesus. He met people where they were. No need was too great or too small. If the need was for spiritual insight he gave it freely. If the need was healing from leprosy he could do that too. If the need was to bless the children he happily obliged. In this instance his concern was for a wedding couple on their big night. He wanted to spare them the humiliation and disgrace of being labeled inhospitable. Jesus showed a simple kindness that night but his compassionate act is still talked about to this day.
Whereas Christ’s mitzvah was turning water into wine, in Naples, Italy, sharing coffee is a mitzvah called caffe sospeso. According to one source, “Caffè sospeso is a tradition in the working-class cafés of Naples where a person who has experienced good luck financially pays for two coffees, but receives and consumes only one.” Later in the day someone in need enters the café inquiring if there is a sospeso. It is then that the second cup of coffee is poured and given to the person who couldn’t afford it in the first place. It’s a small but beautiful act of kindness.
From the first time I heard it, I’ve always loved the phrase, “Practice random kindness and senseless acts of beauty.” “These words were written by Anne Herbert on a placemat in Sausalito, California in 1982. It was based on the phrase ‘random acts of violence and senseless acts of cruelty.’ Herbert’s book, Random Kindness and Senseless Acts of Beauty, was published in February 1993 speaking about true stories of acts of kindness…The phrase is commonly expressed as the suggestion to ‘Practice random acts of kindness.’”
When the world gives us “random acts of violence and senseless acts of cruelty,” our faith and our human decency call us to respond with “random kindness and senseless acts of beauty.” Sometimes the news is so bad we just want to stick our heads in the sand. I felt that way on March 15 after the Christchurch mosque massacre in New Zealand. The murder of innocent people is always a tragedy. When it happens in a place of worship, it hits even closer to home for me. After the attacks, I knew in my heart that our church needed to respond. We can never remain silent in the face of violence in any of its forms.
When I am tempted to say nothing and look away I always remember the words of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. who said, “There comes a time when silence is betrayal.” He also said, “In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.” I did not want to be a silent friend. The day after the killing of 50 Muslims, I reached out to Dr. Isma Chaudry, Manhasset resident and President of the Islamic Center of Long Island. She has spoken in our church at least 3 times including a sermon in this pulpit during a 10 AM service. A retired physician, Dr. Chaudry is always gracious and kind.
Next, I did not want anyone to think that our church was indifferent to the slaughter of 50 Muslims who had gathered for a service just like we have gathered this morning. I decided to put a message on the church signs on the corner of Northern Blvd. and Copley. This is harder than it seems because we only have 4 lines with approximately 30 characters each. We ended up with this message:
WE MOURN WITH NEW ZEALAND’S
AL NOOR MOSQUE,
Linwood Islamic CTR, &
VICTIMS OF VIOLENCE EVERYWHERE.
I never know who, if anyone reads these messages, but I discovered at least one person who emailed to say thank you. Here’s the email.
Subject Line: “Thank you from a Muslim”
Dear Reverend Jimmy Only,
I have the good fortune of driving by your church every now and then. The traffic on Northern Boulevard is often a blessing in disguise. It sometimes gives me the opportunity to read and appreciate your roadside sign.
This weekend, I noticed that your sign mourned the loss of the innocents massacred at the mosques in New Zealand. It has been a painful week for me and many other Muslims around the world. But your church’s statement of empathy brought ease to my heart. I would be remiss were I not to express my gratitude to you and your church.
May God bless you and your congregation.
(I substituted this name)
I replied to Fareed’s email saying in part:
Your email touched my heart. My favorite quote is, ‘It is better to light a candle than to curse the darkness.’ Sometimes we light our candle and no one notices. Thank you for seeing our candle.
Peace to you and your family,
So today, let’s leave this good place inspired to spread as much kindness, beauty, love, compassion, and gentle humor as we can muster. It might mean more to a person than we will ever know. AMEN.
Written by Rev. Jimmy Only
March 31, 2019
The Congregational Church of Manhasset, New York (UCC)
 William Barclay, The Gospel of John, Vol. 1, p. 97
Loving God, we are oft perplexed by the world in which we live. Cries for justice and peace arise from every corner of the earth, yet we hear of wars, and oppressive injustice. Instill in us the vision of your kingdom, built in grace and love for all peoples, whatever their religion or creed. Teach us the value of grace as we endeavor to love you with our whole being and our neighbor as ourselves. Give us the courage and the wisdom to act toward others in the same manner we desire others to act towards us. Amen.