There are some amazing people out there. But you have to pay close attention, or you might not see them.
There was an all-star professor at Harvard. Brilliant career, successful writer. Also a priest. And then he gave up his career. He gave up the prestige of a post at Harvard, and gave up his life of recognition and rewards.
He did it to become a personal aide in a group home. He took care of a severely disabled 25-year old man named Adam. Adam could not speak. Adam could not dress himself. Adam could not walk by himself.
He couldn’t feed himself, he did not cry or laugh, and he only occasionally made eye contact. It took that brilliant priest an hour and a half every morning to wake Adam up, give him his medication, do his morning toilet, and feed him breakfast.
And when that priest wrote about Adam, this is what he said: It is I, not Adam, who gets the main benefit from our friendship. Adam teaches me that what makes us human is not our mind but our heart — not our ability to think, but our ability to love.
I have sometimes had the privilege of making speeches to people whose job is to care for the profoundly disabled. I have presented to special education teachers. I have presented to direct care workers of group homes. These are the people who care for my daughter and all those fragile people like her. I always thank them, and I always tell them that they are not paid anywhere near enough for their work.
Because let me tell you, it’s hard work. I know this from years of struggle with my daughter, and years of observation of the special needs community.
You know what they always tell me? They tell me they love the difficult, wounded people they serve. They tell me, yes, it’s hard, but it’s a mission, a calling. They tell me it’s not about the money, it’s about the people they serve.
So let me say this: When I was younger, I admired superstars. I was drawn to watch athletes and actors and celebrities. But now — now that I’m older — I admire kind people. I am drawn to people who are kind and caring. And I believe they are the only hope for our world.
I bet that some people who hear my sermons sometimes think, “Okay, I get it — be kind. He says it all the time. Can’t he get off that topic for a while?”
I would be delighted to move on to some other topic — but I’m still working on it in my own life, and I still see the need in our church and community.
And I still see the need in our nation and the world. I don’t hear much conversation about kindness apart from in church. And I believe that people who are kind and caring are the only hope for our world.
The Dalai Lama is one of the most admired and loved people in the world. He’s the leader of Tibetan Buddhists, but I don’t think that’s why he is so loved. He often says, “Kindness is my true religion.” I think he’s loved because he has a zone of joy and kindness around him.
I believe all the greatest religious leaders have that zone of joy and kindness around them. I’m sure Jesus did.
A grandmother took her grandson to the zoo. They spent the day together there. In one spot, an artist was doing some face-painting. Kids could get faces painted with tiger paws. So the grandma and her little grandson got in line.
Now, this little boy had a face full of freckles. And a little girl standing near them in line looked at him and said, “You have so many freckles, there’s no place to paint!” The little boy was embarrassed and bowed his head.
Immediately his grandma knelt down beside him. She put her arm around him and said, “Honey, I love your freckles! When I was a little girl, I always wanted freckles. Freckles are beautiful!” And she traced her finger on his cheek.
The little boy looked up at her and said, “Really?” Grandma smiled and said, “Really! Why, you tell me one thing more beautiful than freckles!” The little boy looked at his grandmother with love, and said, “Wrinkles.”
There’s a sweet story of kindness.
One of our Scriptures today is maybe my favorite line from the entire Old Testament, the entire Hebrew Bible. It’s from the prophet Micah.
What does the Lord require of you
but to do justice,
to love kindness,
and to walk humbly with your God