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It may not have been the actual first time I heard about Jesus, but my first memory of learning about Jesus is from when I was a very little girl. I was in a doctor’s office, I think maybe a dentist’s office. Either way, it was an office for kids, so there were a lot of kids’ books on the table in the waiting room. I was a brand new reader, loving the worlds newly available to me so I read all the time. I took one off the table and read a story about Jesus, how special he was, how much good he did over the course of his life, how he was always honest about everything he said and did. At the end of the book, it said that he would come back some day and when he came back he could be anybody, even you.
I was amazed. What a thought! Maybe he would come back while I was alive, I thought. And then I though – oh my gosh – maybe he could be me! What if I could be Jesus! What if I could be that special person, do that much good. It was dizzying, thrilling. I was so excited – for a moment. Because I kept reading and what I read next said that whoever he came back as, the way we would know it was Jesus again would be that amazing honesty – that he never lied. Now I later learned that this is not usually held up as the way to recognize Jesus, but that’s what it said in that one book I read at the time… and immediately my heart sank. Because – yeah – as you may have guessed – I had already lied. Twice. I could remember both lies I had told, to try to avoid getting in trouble for something I’d done – by accident but still – something I’d done and I didn’t want to get in trouble for it, so I lied about it. And now I’d ruined everything. I’d already known lying was wrong, but now I realized there was even more bad about lying than I’d already known. Not only was lying wrong, not only did lying make me feel terrible and give me a sick feeling in my stomach, but now it had also ruined any chance I’d ever had to be Jesus. I was only a few years old and already it was too late for me. I was crushed. I was so crushed that I still remember it in all this detail all these years later, what I thought and how I felt.
These days I’m more reconciled. And I don’t expect Jesus to return. But I do expect to pay attention to what he taught, especially how important it is to respect and care for other people, all other people, and not just ourselves. This is why so many religions, including ours, hold him up as a great religious presence. Last week we heard what the great Unitarian minister and American philosopher Ralph Waldo Emerson said about Jesus back in the 1800’s; that what set Jesus apart was not divine birth but an extraordinary capacity to recognize and honor the divine in everyone, which in turn magnified the sacred within him, a capacity we all have if we would only perceive it. If we put this in simpler terms, Emerson said Jesus being like everyone, just lived into his sacred ability to be good, to care for others, to be kind, compassionate, loving, so loving it was for some loving beyond belief. If we put this in contemporary Unitarian Universalist terms, Jesus set a unique standard for living into our first principle of Unitarian Universalism, ‘respect for the inherent worth and dignity of every human being.’
This morning, in celebrating some marvelous youngsters, welcoming them into this faith and this particular community of faith, we restated the commitments we make to this faith and to each other, to freedom, to peace, justice and world community, to respect, to responsibility, to love. We tend to use a lot of formal language, because these are high beliefs and deep promises. But one of my favorite examples of a dedication is sort of the opposite, it was first shared with me by the Ken Sawyer, Minister Emeritus of First Parish in Wayland Massachusetts. It comes from from Kurt Vonnegut’s novel, God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater.
“Rosewater, a wealthy, alcoholic philanthropist, has been asked to baptize a set of twins from the wrong side of the tracks; no minister will. He is asked, “What will you say? What will you do?”
“Go over to her shack, I guess. Sprinkle some water on the babies and say, ‘Hello babies, welcome to earth. It’s round and wet and crowded. At the outside, babies, you’ve got about a hundred years here. There’s only one rule that I know of, babies–:
“’God damn it, you’ve got to be kind’”
‘Hello, babies – all of us. Welcome to earth. It’s round and wet and crowded. True. At the outside, we’ve got about a hundred years here. The rule that matters most, out of which everything flows – or not, if we spurn it: God damn it, we’ve got to be kind.’
We’ve got to be kind, which is so much more than being nice. Kindness is active caring that extends to other creatures and to the earth, at its biggest and broadest, it becomes seeking and making justice.
How many books have been written about what Jesus taught, about what he said, what he meant? It all boils down to this: we’ve got to be kind, we’ve got to live into that sacred gift, our ability to be kind.
This brings me to your basket. Traditions at Easter are often about hunting for Easter eggs and sweet treats and putting them in your basket, or hunting for clues that lead you to your basket, full of those sweet treats. The baskets we’ve made together in this service are to hold a different kind of sweetness. All this week, we invite you to reflect on kindness in your life – on kind things you do this week, on kind things that are done for you this week, from now to next Sunday. Keep track of them. Write them down in just a word or phrase, or draw a quick picture, of the kind thing you did or that was done for you. Take the piece of paper you wrote or drew on and put it in your Easter basket. You can fold it if you need to make it fit. Try not to overlook anything. Put it all in your basket, all that sweetness in your Easter basket. At the end of the week, take them out, and look at them all together. If you’re with friends or family, do it together with them, and think about – and talk about – the difference giving and receiving kindness made in your life this week.
I think I know why that book said, all those years ago, that in order to be like Jesus, the most important thing was not to lie. I mean, I get it – it’s a powerful way to teach young people how important it is not to lie, how bad lying is, and that’s true, it is bad and we need to not lie to each other or ourselves. But telling the truth is not the most important thing. The most important thing is kindness, is love, love beyond belief, living more deeply into that, stretching our ability to just do that – to be kind, to be compassionate, to be love. And I agree with Emerson that it’s a sacred gift available to us all, more available than we really recognize, more important perhaps than life honors, more important perhaps than our own lives honor. Never too late for a change. Never too late for a new life. New Love.