Sermon by Rev. Deborah Hannay Sunoo
Have any of you been watching the show John Krasinzki kicked off earlier this spring called “Some Good News?” Back in March, finding himself overwhelmed by devastating COVID-19 headlines around the world, Krasinzki knew there was plenty of good news to be shared too. So he began gathering his favorite stories of kindness, generosity, and courage and showcasing them in a weekly online program. Each of his 8 episodes highlights ordinary people making a positive difference, whether their particular contributions involve lifting spirits or meeting concrete needs.
Mr. Rogers called it looking for the helpers. In any crisis, however frightening, he’d remind his young viewers (and all of us) to watch for those stepping in to lend a hand. Certainly, we long for good news in the midst of bad news. Fortunately, helpers abound. And hearing about kind hearts, generous spirits, selfless acts does our souls a tremendous amount of good.
You may have noticed there’s also a lovely copycat dynamic at play where certain acts of kindness go viral (in a good way) and spur others to reach out? Admittedly we live in a fallen world, so we also see copycat acts of selfishness and violence. Still, it’s heartening to know that so many people are actually encouraging one another to think beyond themselves as we weather this crisis together. The best ideas are well worth repeating.
We’ve seen it right in our own Magnolia community. For instance, our neighbors at the United Church of Christ conducted such a successful food drive for Ballard Food Bank – gathering over 1000 pounds of nonperishable food on just a couple Sunday mornings – that they’ve inspired our own church Deacons to do likewise. For three Sundays, beginning next week, we’ll have MPC Deacons waiting with open car trunks at our highly visible corner at the top of the hill to receive more food bank donations. And who knows? Maybe another group will pick up the baton from us, in turn.
At our best, witnessing acts of compassion spurs us to greater compassion. Witnessing kindness motivates us to greater kindness. Which is why I love this brief mention of Barnabus in today’s text from the New Testament book of Acts. Later in Acts, Barnabus becomes better known; he’ll end up accompanying Paul on some of his missionary journeys. But that’s not how he’s introduced. He’s known, first of all, for modeling generosity. We’re told in Acts 4:34 “there was not a needy person” in the early church, “for as many as owned lands or houses sold them and [shared] the proceeds of what was sold.” And this man Joseph, nicknamed Barnabus or “son of encouragement,” is lifted up as an example as he sells a field and brings the proceeds to the apostles to share with the community. (Acts 4:37) Here's how we do this, folks, he seems to say, as he gets the ball rolling.
Sadly the chapter that immediately follows offers a glaring example of what not to do. Acts 5 tells the story of Ananais and Sapphira, who famously do not share what they have, lie about it, and are struck dead as a result. That text offers some serious preaching challenges, let me tell you! We’ve tackled it before, and we can tackle it again someday, but for today I’m far more interested in the contrast between chapter 4 and chapter 5 of Acts. The “do it right or you’ll drop dead” fire and brimstone approach has always had its adherents, I suppose. Some people apparently are motivated to do what’s right primarily by threats of punishment. But I personally find it far more motivating to look to role models, inspirational examples, encouragers of good behavior like Barnabus in Acts chapter 4.
Can you identify a Barnabus among the people you know? A son or daughter of encouragement? Someone who has shown you what it means to be faithful, or who has modeled for you what it looks like to live a generous life? They may not be well known to others. But their kindness inspires you to greater kindness. Their compassion prompts your compassion.
And have you ever considered how you might be a Barnabus to others? Are you living in such a way that others are inspired by your example? If Mr. Rogers were talking to the children of this congregation, asking them to identify the helpers, which of your own acts of kindness might they notice? Where have you been generous with the resources God’s entrusted to you? Where would you like to be more generous? How many lives could you touch, in your own quiet way?
If we as a church family were to produce a segment of “Some Good News,” we’d have plenty of stories to choose from. I think about beautiful cards sent to encourage others, and about little caps and blankets knit by church members for babies in need. I think about those of you whose work life has you teaching children, ministering to hospital patients, supporting those with mental illness, reaching out to families suffering from domestic violence, serving at homeless shelters. I think of meals lovingly cooked - for one another and for your immediate neighbors and for Operation Nightwatch and the Interbay Tiny Cabins village - and I think of clothes and furniture shared with refugee families.
I suppose crises bring out both the best and the worst in human behavior. Scarcity of resources prompts some to hoard, others to share. Worries about the future prompt some to arm themselves with weapons, others to equip themselves with masks and hand sanitizer and get out there and make a positive difference.
There are plenty of examples of what not to do as we make our way through this extremely unusual year. But I’m inspired by all of the sons and daughters of encouragement out there doing their thing. Like them, I want to enter each day not with clenched fists but with open arms. Seeking out opportunities to be generous. Looking for ways I can make a difference.
We know there are limits to what any one of us can do. But we also worship a God who can take five loaves of bread and two small fish and use them to feed a great multitude. (Matthew 14:13-21) A God “who by the power at work within us is able to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine.” (Ephesians 3:20)
So my prayer for each of us individually, and for all of us together, is that we will find Encouragers to inspire us, and that we will be known as Encouragers too. May we at Magnolia Presbyterian Church be known for our kindness and compassion in the community in which God has placed us, and may our spirit of generosity become contagious.