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“Concerning the Kindness and Goodness of God”
The Fourth Sunday of Eastertide
“And God will wipe every tear from their eyes.” Those words, from today’s epistle lesson, like all the words in the Revelation, were probably originally written to a late first-century community of faith, located in western Asia Minor, struggling to resist the demands of the Roman emperor, Domitian. In that sense, the Revelation’s original audience was as specific and local as the recipients of Paul’s letters to the Romans, Corinthians, Philippians and Galatians. All of which is to say that, as one wise soul once observed, “Whenever we read the Revelation, we are reading someone else’s mail.”
However, just because the Revelation wasn’t written to us or about us, that doesn’t mean that it doesn’t hold an important message for us. To the contrary, we regularly find, in the last book of the Bible, comfort and hope, for our lives, just as the original readers of the Revelation found comfort and hope for theirs; perhaps never more so than when this morning’s lesson places in our path one of the Bible’s most tender, gentle images of the kindness and goodness of God; the image of God wiping every tear from every eye, over on the Other Side.
That beautiful image of the kindness of God first appears in the book of Isaiah, chapter twenty-five, verse eight, which says that, someday, God will prepare a banquet for all people, at which God will wipe away all tears from all faces; one of many images in the Bible for the kindness and goodness of God.
The most familiar of which, of course, is the twenty-third psalm, which says that God is with us and for us, not in ways that spare us from the worst, but in ways that see us through the worst. And then, of course, there is Psalm 100, which says that “God’s steadfast love endures forever,” and Psalm 145, which says that “The Lord is gracious and merciful, good and kind,” and Isaiah 66:13, which likens God to a mother who carries and comforts her children; the kind of mother who, in today’s lesson from the Revelation, will someday dry the tears from our eyes, and all eyes; just a handful of the Bible’s many images for the kindness and goodness of God.
Which is not the same as saying that God is sweet and nice. Given all the evil and harm which happen in this world, God, one imagines, must be kind and good in ways which are more true and clear than sweet and nice. Violence, abuse, injustice, oppression, deception, manipulation, discrimination, ridicule, meanness, unkindness; the list of sins which bring hurt and harm to people’s lives is long, and no one should ever confuse the kindness and goodness of God with a sweet, nice tolerance of that which needs to be confronted and changed.
Our task, as the children of God, is to learn to know what the sins are; and, what the human struggles, complexities and differences are. One of the most important journeys any person ever takes, along the path to spiritual depth, is to walk in the Holy Spirit prayerfully enough, for long enough, to eventually learn to discern the difference between a difference and a sin. And, then, to respond to each the way God would, with clarity and courage in the face of the real sins, and with kindness toward all else, and all persons; letting the kindness and goodness of God which has come down to us go out through us, until, as the poet Naomi Shihab Nye says, “It is only kindness which ties our shoes every morning and sends us out into the day,” drying more tears than we cause, until we reach that far away Someday when God will wipe them all away.