Homily for the First Sunday After Christmas December 30, 2012

EUREKA! WE’VE DISCOVERED KINDNESS!

 What are your prevailing images of 2012? I was watching a “year in review” the other night and there were many things that seemed significant.

 One that really stood out for me was the image of a beautiful and intelligent 15 year old High School girl, Amanda Todd, a girl who would seem to have had every reason to be happy, pathetically holding up a series of cards to the camera, attempting to communicate with some anonymous constituency, with whoever would listen, spelling out her reasons for ending her own life.

In two of the readings this morning we have images of young children learning the way of wisdom from their elders, and so these readings serve as reminders of the importance of early moral and spiritual education for our children, as well as the importance of mentoring our children into a meaningful way of life.

We read of Samuel, the young miracle child born to Hannah, serving at the temple in Shiloh, who later went on to become one of the great leaders in ancient Israel.

And we read the story of the 12 year old Jesus, pictured by the Gospel of Luke as becoming so fascinated by the great learning and debates he heard in the Temple, that he totally lost track of the time and where his parents were.   “I must be in my Father’s house,” is his only explanation.

These readings may not offer easy answers to complex social problems in our day, but I believe they provide important clues.

A new study conducted by researchers from UBC in cooperation with scholars from the University of  California (Riverside) worked with 400 elementary school students in various Vancouver schools.  The study found that if you encourage people to be nice, they get along better.

(No-brainer alert)

The study found that nine- to twelve-year-olds who perform kind acts for others are not only happier themselves, but tend to be more accepted by their peers.  They discovered that “kindness has some real benefits for the personal happiness of children but also for the classroom community,” and “increasing peer acceptance is also an important key to preventing bullying.”

It’s amazing to me that the study seems to suggest that this is some kind of discovery!   But, really, it’s not as if no one had ever thought of this before!

“Be kind” – “Do nice things for other people” – “Observe the Golden Rule.” These were elementary aspects of any kid’s Sunday School learning up until the 1960’s.  And up until that time I don’t recall having problems like school room massacres and teachers fearing for their lives and kids graduating from Grade 12 still functionally illiterate, and 35 year olds still unable to launch into adulthood.  Nor were there the disturbing levels of bullying that kids now routinely face in schools and social settings all over the world.

There are many other factors contributing to the growing level of violence and social sickness in our society, and I don’t want to be simplistic, but the loss of basic social skills, inter-personal respect and some agreed upon cultural and social norms has certainly been a key factor, and anyone with even a moderate amount of intelligence knows that already.

But any time concerned parents, or educators, or citizens in general have tried to confront these serious social issues, they have routinely been met by a wall of denial from people in authority, from academics to politicians to social theorists to media representatives, who have refused to acknowledge the disintegration of a safe and peaceful society and the rising levels of fear and threat and real violence. Pollyanna-like, they just keep reassuring us everything’s great.

It’s obvious that rude, ignorant and abusive behaviours are everywhere, so pervasive that we may not even think we notice any more.  And simple virtues like kindness, respect, manners, and concern for others have become as rare as pearls in oysters.

But now, validated by science, suddenly these simple values and behaviors are being “discovered” as the vital social building blocks that they are.  But really — who in their right mind would ever think we could ignore these for long and be better for it?  Why did we ever stop teaching our kids such basic life lessons in the first place?

One of the study leaders, Professor Kimberly Schonert-Reichl, a professor in U.B.C.’s faculty of education, says “We show that kindness has some real benefits for the personal happiness of children, but also for the classroom community … those findings mean it’s likely teachers can create a sense of connectedness in the classroom simply by asking students to think about how they can act kindly to others, and that can reduce bullying.”  The study is definitely good news, but really, you shouldn’t need to have a doctorate and conduct an expensive study to be able to figure that one out!

To quote St Paul (from the second reading today): “Clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience.  Bear with one another and, if anyone has a complaint against another, forgive each other; just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.  Above all, clothe yourselves with love . . .”

It seems obvious that many of our young people aren’t aware that things could be any other way than they are.  One of the points made by today’s Gospel reading is about the need for young people to expand their world, to be able to ask questions, and explore their experiences with people who have been there, with people who have walked that path and can give kids a bigger sense of perspective and something to aim for in life – some sense of life’s meaning and purpose.

So, if, as the UBC study indicates, these kinds of virtues are important if not essential to a decent society, Where are kids to learn this in our time?

 

Every time we celebrate Baptism we point toward the solution: that we learn these important things by participation in communities dedicated to learning and living by those values and principles.  Every person undertaking Baptism does so as an act of commitment to the concept of community, of living their life in context and not in isolation.   By agreeing to participate in community we are choosing to become part of the solution.

That is why Baptism is never an act unto itself.  For it to be validated it must be completed by communion; it points us toward communion, which is spiritual life in the Body of Christ – membership in the Church which follows the way of Jesus.

As with any form of community, the Church is largely what you choose to make it.  Christian life is the community we make, and one of the greatest signs of our faith is the quality of relationships that we establish and maintain.

As we reflect on the readings this morning, as we see the way in which Jesus spent time in the presence of the learned and the wise, developing his intelligence, exercising his curiosity and exploring the important questions of life, we might want to consider how we might start building a different kind of society, and realize it’s already in our power to do it.

So, never mind the absent-minded person who let the door slam in your face; instead, give thanks for the person who made room for you to get into another lane in traffic; give thanks for the ones who are choosing to set a different standard by practicing acts of kindness.  And even more importantly: be one of those difference-makers yourself.

As we close 2012, with painful memories of children taking their own lives to escape the violence and abuse, with the awareness that there are many children feeling isolated, alone, and unaware that there are people out there who can offer support and understanding — and as we look forward to a new beginning in 2013, let us be aware of how close at hand the solutions to our problems actually are.  Sometimes it’s the simplest solution that’s the best one.

To paraphrase St Paul:

Be kind to others.

Practice compassion.

Clothe yourselves in love.

See what happens.

The Rev. Grant Rodgers+

RCL appointed readings for the First Sunday After Christmas:

Samuel 2:18-20, 26 Samuel was ministering before the LORD, a boy wearing a linen ephod.  His mother used to make for him a little robe and take it to him each year, when she went up with her husband to offer the yearly sacrifice.   Then Eli would bless Elkanah and his wife, and say, “May the LORD repay you with children by this woman for the gift that she made to the LORD”; and then they would return to their home.  Now the boy Samuel continued to grow both in stature and in favor with the LORD and with the people.

Colossians 3:12-17 As God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience.  Bear with one another and, if anyone has a complaint against another, forgive each other; just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.  Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony.  And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in the one body. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly; teach and admonish one another in all wisdom; and with gratitude in your hearts sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs to God.  And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.

Luke 2:41-52 Now every year his parents went to Jerusalem for the festival of the Passover.
And when he was twelve years old, they went up as usual for the festival.   When the festival was ended and they started to return, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem, but his parents did not know it.  Assuming that he was in the group of travelers, they went a day’s journey. Then they started to look for him among their relatives and friends.  When they did not find him, they returned to Jerusalem to search for him.  After three days they found him in the temple, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions.  And all who heard him were amazed at his understanding and his answers.   When his parents saw him they were astonished; and his mother said to him, “Child, why have you treated us like this? Look, your father and I have been searching for you in great anxiety.” He said to them, “Why were you searching for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?”   But they did not understand what he said to them.  Then he went down with them and came to Nazareth, and was obedient to them. His mother treasured all these things in her heart.  And Jesus increased in wisdom and in years, and in divine and human favor.