Forty Acts of Kindness

Sermon by the Rev. Dr. Cheryl McFadden on Sunday, February 7, 2021.

In the Name of the Holy One: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.

I take great comfort in our lesson from Isaiah and from the psalm appointed today. In fact, I often quote this particular passage from Isaiah:

“but those who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength,
they shall mount up with wings like eagles,
they shall run and not be weary,
they shall walk and not faint (Isaiah 40:31).”

Do these words bring you comfort? I particularly like the verse, “they shall run and not be weary” because you all know of my passion for running and moving in general. The words from the psalmist also give me comfort: “He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds,” “The Lord lifts up the lowly but casts the wicked to the ground (Psalm 147:3,6). Mary, the mother of our Lord Jesus, proclaims this sentiment eloquently and beautifully in the Magnificat, “He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly; he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty (Luke 1:52).” If you are a fan of the Magnificat, I invite you to Choral Evensong where you can hear these powerful words sung twice a week by our choirs, Thursdays at 6:30 and Sundays at 5 pm. Every time I hear these words, I am comforted. It is as if a warm blanket has been put around my shoulders. It is good for my soul. We have a God who gives us strength and cares deeply and compassionately for those in need of comfort and consolation. Couldn’t we all use a dose of comfort during these trying and tense times?

Our lesson teaches us about our relationship to and with the Almighty God. Isaiah makes a distinction between the One “who sits above the circle” of the earth” and its inhabitants (us) who are like grasshoppers” (Isaiah 40:22). True to form, Isaiah points out God’s preeminence and our insignificance, God’s vastness and our smallness, God’s powerfulness and our powerlessness. God is the creator of this world and his strength is everlasting.

There is another important point to glean from Isaiah’s words and that is a message of hope and we could all use a dose of hope right now. Isaiah is telling the Israelites who were in exiled in Babylon, that God has not forgotten them. They are not hidden from the Lord. God strengthens the powerless (v. 29). The Lord does not tire as we humans do. God’s knowledge is unfathomable, beyond our understanding. We may not think that God truly understands what we are going through, our day-to-day struggles, but God does. Isaiah says that the Lord’s ways and thoughts are higher than our ways and thoughts (Isaiah 55:9). We cannot comprehend the inner mind of God and it would be a mistake, a misnomer to think that God doesn’t get the picture. God created the picture. Just as God saw the pain and suffering of the Israelites in captivity, in their exile from their homeland, God sees our weariness, our exhaustion with the effects of Covid, racial unrest, and the general state of disarray in our personal and professional lives. As the Israelites longed for Jerusalem and wept by the rivers of Babylon (Psalm 137:1), so too, does God see our longing to be freed from isolation, racial injustice, and general unrest in our lives. The lesson from Isaiah speaks of people who think God has forgotten them. How many of us have thought that God may have forgotten us over the past year?

If this is the case, our lesson from Isaiah points us in the right direction. Isaiah tells the Israelites that God is not only transcendent, but God is in the midst of their human struggles. Karl Barth, a twentieth-century theologian, says to see God only as transcendent and not connected to humanity, is “corrupt and pagan.” The God who “sits above the circle of the earth” (Isaiah 22), is also the Shepherd who claims, gathers, and carries us. Our Good Shepherd stained glass window above the high altar reminds us God is also our shepherd through his son, Jesus. “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life (John 3:16). So, when we are downtrodden, when we are feeling discarded and need of comfort, let us reminder that God lifts up the lowly when we seek him in our lives. God is both transcendent and immanent. It is this message from Isaiah, the reality of a transcendent and immanent God, that gives us hope. God binds our wounds and renews our strength. We are lifted so we can mount up with wings like eagles, run without growing weary, and walk without fainting for the purpose of carrying out God’s mission in the world. When we are strengthened, we are able to do God’s work in the world. As Christians, devoted disciples of Christ, we can passionately and actively be God’s emissaries in the world.

It is to this latter state of being strengthened by God and living in hope and grace, that I invite every one of you as members of this congregation, to participate in the “Forty Acts of Kindness” during Lent and Holy Week. Right now, I want you to pull out your phones and go to the Christ Church website at Christchurchgreenwich.org and clink on the link that says, “Forty Acts of Kindness” and register on Realm and make this commitment. Children and youth, we want you to commit to doing forty acts of kindness along with your parents, your grandparents, other relatives, and your friends. By registering on Realm, you are committing to engage in forty acts of kindness to people in your lives and beyond. These acts of kindness might involve volunteering at the many organizations supported by our parish such as these Neighbor to Neighbor, Inspirica, Pacific House, Midnight Run, Food Bank of Lower Fairfield County, and Domus. If you are interested in international opportunities, consider getting involved with the Diocese of Mt. Kilimanjaro, the Episcopal Church of Cuba and our companion parish of San Marcos, Holguin, Cuba, or Greenwich World Hunger. You can check out these all of these offerings on our website. Please contact Melissa Liebre and Dan Broderick for more information about opportunities within the U.S. and Angenette Meaney and Karen Royce for opportunities abroad.

As you engage in these Forty Acts of Kindness, please consider posting your acts to inspire others. Please log on your Facebook account, navigate to Christ Church’s Facebook page, and post your acts using the hashtag #CCGactsofkindness. We can all share the love in the world as God’s emissaries, as people mounted up the wings like eagles, offering hope and comfort and being transformed as we are in relationship with others. May God give you the grace and strength to do these acts of kindness. Amen.