Gently does it…

Gentleness is our penultimate fruit of the Holy Spirit.  That’s not to say that the fruit of the Holy Spirit ever come to an end, but you know what I mean.  Paul uses the word which can be translated as meekness (KJV) or gentleness (loads of other versions).  Being gentle is something that some of us find difficult.

‘Gentle Ben’ is a great story – the Alaskan brown bear befriends a young child in the original novel.  It is a fanciful story of a usually fierce and unpredictable creature being friendly, kind and careful with the humans he comes across.  But in a dramatic turn of events he is provoked and he retaliates dangerously, his claws are revealed and he protects his territory with violence.  The tale returns to a calmer version of Ben and the image is conveyed once more of a docile animal, who exudes great gentleness to all around.

Why should we bear gentleness as a fruit of the spirit?  What good will being gentle do us?  Especially in our mission as a church; shouldn’t we be being strident, forthright and incisive?  When we are preparing for a mission project or event, we often are encouraged to speak about boldness.  We are often sucked into thinking that if we use the loudest voice, or the loudest music, or the loudest clothes, or the loudest colours, then people will flock to us!  Our event will be a roaring success.  Sometimes, though, people can see through the loudness.  Sometimes we might just come across as a bit too keen. A bit too loud.

Where does gentleness fit in to our mission?  We have to be careful in mission, we have to be sensitive, we have to have respect.  Ultimately we have to listen.  Gentleness is a way of being, which leads us to a space where we listen to what is around us.  We listen to one another, we listen to our culture and we listen to God. St Peter writes in his letter:  “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect..”  What a great way to sum up how we can include gentleness in our mission and evangelism.

Jesus also uses the same word, when he says “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth”.  I don’t know about you, but this is a glowing endorsement of gentleness.  It is another fruit of the spirit that goes against the flow of our society.  Success is equated to power and power is in the hands of the strong, the loud and the over-confident.  Gentleness as a way of being is not fashionable in social, political and (sadly) religious life.  In scripture it carries echoes of humility and mildness.  Do we show humility towards others?  Do we show humility towards God?

Our mission is not about a grand show, telling the world how clever we are.  It is a real response to God in humility.  It is best to engage in mission after we have listened, which I believe is part of gentleness. We can go boldly and we go with a message of power, but we do it with the gentleness that the Holy Spirit gives us.

 

 

 

 

deliberate acts of kindness

I once sat and listened to a new headteacher in a county Secondary school speak of her commitment to kindness as being central to the ethos she wanted for her new school community.  The school wasn’t a church school, so her choice of words was meant in general terms.  At the point of the new headteacher taking questions on her presentation, a local vicar raised his hand.  He asked, with a smile, the following question:  “Were you aware that, according to scripture, kindness is a fruit of the Holy Spirit?” Some of us gathered cringed inwardly.  His question was earnestly meant, and even though it may have had a mixed reception, he had a point.  What does kindness mean in our cultural context today?  How can it enhance our mission?

kindness

Kindness might come easily to you.  That’s great if it is true.  Maybe you are one of those people who is blessed with a kind countenance and cheery disposition.  Perhaps you are always ready with an encouraging word or a forgiving gesture.  Or it could be that we find being kind one of the hardest things to do.  The busyness of the day overtakes us; we get pre-occupied and distracted.  Then perhaps we forget to say “excuse me” or don’t let someone turn before us at a junction.  There are small kindnesses that can be the happy punctuation of our day.  The kindness that Paul speaks about is greater than just being a nice bloke or having a cheerful way of being.  It, like all the fruits of the Spirit, has a richness to it that can bring colour and life to our lives and also to the life of our churches.  Let’s have a look at the word and it’s use.

“For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” Matthew 11:30

The word Jesus uses for ‘easy’ in this quotation from the Bible, is the same root as Paul’s ‘kindness’ in Galatians 5:22.  It is also the same root as when Luke reports Jesus talking of the sweet quality of the old wine.  There is something here about freshness, sweetness, gentleness and ease.  Are they characteristics we associate with kindness?  Or do we see kindness more as a ‘quid pro quo’ arrangement?  If I’m kind, then others are more likely to be kind in return.  If I show kindness, then I might see it more.  That seems more cynical than sweet.  More futile than fresh.  More self-serving than Spirit-filled.

Paul encourages us to show kindness to one another.  To show gentleness, consideration and respect to those we live and work with.  Not to bolster our own well-being, but as a response to what God has done for us, through his Spirit.  It might take an effort.  It might be the last thing we want to be or to do.  It might take some sacrifice or other.  Let us start with ourselves.  We cannot force others to be kind to us.  We cannot control kindness in the wider world. But we can ask God to show us how to be kind.  We can then even practise it in our lives.  How could we show somebody kindness today?  Why don’t you see if you can be kinder to the people around you this week?

And what about our mission as a church?  Paul’s image of a body is helpful here.  If we are kind to our bodies in our diet, exercise and lifestyle, then it is more likely to stay fit, healthy and strong.  What a brilliant mission we would have, if the world saw how kind we were to each other!