Acts 27: 21-44; Acts 28: 1-10
21 Since they had been without food for a long time, Paul then stood up among them and said, “Men, you should have listened to me and not have set sail from Crete and thereby avoided this damage and loss. 22 I urge you now to keep up your courage, for there will be no loss of life among you, but only of the ship. 23 For last night there stood by me an angel of the God to whom I belong and whom I worship, 24 and he said, ‘Do not be afraid, Paul; you must stand before the emperor; and indeed, God has granted safety to all those who are sailing with you.’ 25 So keep up your courage, men, for I have faith in God that it will be exactly as I have been told. 26 But we will have to run aground on some island.”
27 When the fourteenth night had come, as we were drifting across the sea of Adria, about midnight the sailors suspected that they were nearing land. 28 So they took soundings and found twenty fathoms; a little farther on they took soundings again and found fifteen fathoms. 29 Fearing that we might run on the rocks, they let down four anchors from the stern and prayed for day to come. 30 But when the sailors tried to escape from the ship and had lowered the boat into the sea, on the pretext of putting out anchors from the bow, 31 Paul said to the centurion and the soldiers, “Unless these men stay in the ship, you cannot be saved.” 32 Then the soldiers cut away the ropes of the boat and set it adrift.
33 Just before daybreak, Paul urged all of them to take some food, saying, “Today is the fourteenth day that you have been in suspense and remaining without food, having eaten nothing. 34 Therefore I urge you to take some food, for it will help you survive; for none of you will lose a hair from your heads.” 35 After he had said this, he took bread; and giving thanks to God in the presence of all, he broke it and began to eat. 36 Then all of them were encouraged and took food for themselves. 37 (We were in all two hundred seventy-six persons in the ship.) 38 After they had satisfied their hunger, they lightened the ship by throwing the wheat into the sea.
39 In the morning they did not recognize the land, but they noticed a bay with a beach, on which they planned to run the ship ashore, if they could. 40 So they cast off the anchors and left them in the sea. At the same time they loosened the ropes that tied the steering-oars; then hoisting the foresail to the wind, they made for the beach. 41 But striking a reef, they ran the ship aground; the bow stuck and remained immovable, but the stern was being broken up by the force of the waves. 42 The soldiers’ plan was to kill the prisoners, so that none might swim away and escape; 43 but the centurion, wishing to save Paul, kept them from carrying out their plan. He ordered those who could swim to jump overboard first and make for the land, 44 and the rest to follow, some on planks and others on pieces of the ship. And so it was that all were brought safely to land.
28 After we had reached safety, we then learned that the island was called Malta. 2 The natives showed us unusual kindness. Since it had begun to rain and was cold, they kindled a fire and welcomed all of us around it. 3 Paul had gathered a bundle of brushwood and was putting it on the fire, when a viper, driven out by the heat, fastened itself on his hand. 4 When the natives saw the creature hanging from his hand, they said to one another, “This man must be a murderer; though he has escaped from the sea, justice has not allowed him to live.” 5 He, however, shook off the creature into the fire and suffered no harm. 6 They were expecting him to swell up or drop dead, but after they had waited a long time and saw that nothing unusual had happened to him, they changed their minds and began to say that he was a god.
7 Now in the neighborhood of that place were lands belonging to the leading man of the island, named Publius, who received us and entertained us hospitably for three days. 8 It so happened that the father of Publius lay sick in bed with fever and dysentery. Paul visited him and cured him by praying and putting his hands on him. 9 After this happened, the rest of the people on the island who had diseases also came and were cured. 10 They bestowed many honors on us, and when we were about to sail, they put on board all the provisions we needed.
When Henry James, American author, was saying goodbye once to his young nephew Billy, his brother William’s son, he said something that the boy never forgot. And of all the labyrinthine and impenetrably subtle things that that most labyrinthine and impenetrable old romancer could have said, what he did say was this: “There are three things that are important in human life. The first is to be kind. The second is to be kind. The third is to be kind.”
What is remarkable about those simple statements to me is that Henry James did not usually write short sentences or repeat himself. As I recall from the reading I was required to do, his sentences were usually about a page long, riddled with punctuation marks and required constant rereading to remember what the sentence was saying.
Be kind. It’s easy enough.
It’s our normal modus operandi, isn’t it? We automatically do nice things for those we love; we respond to others with kindness.
Kindness is especially easy to reciprocate. You do something nice for me and I feel like doing something nice for you.
This story of Paul being shipwrecked shows kindness in times of stress.
First, God is kind to Paul and the people on the ship by sending an angel with a plan: 23 For last night there stood by me an angel of the God to whom I belong and whom I worship, 24 and he said, ‘Do not be afraid, Paul; you must stand before the emperor; and indeed, God has granted safety to all those who are sailing with you.’ 25 So keep up your courage, men, for I have faith in God that it will be exactly as I have been told.
Then Paul shared the plan with the 276 passengers and crew:
34 Therefore I urge you to take some food, for it will help you survive; for none of you will lose a hair from your heads.” 35 After he had said this, he took bread; and giving thanks to God in the presence of all, he broke it and began to eat. 36 Then all of them were encouraged and took food for themselves.
Paul was being transported as a prisoner, so his life was not so precious to the crew. They thought that they would just do away with any prisoners, but the centurion’s kindness and concern prevented that:
42 The soldiers’ plan was to kill the prisoners, so that none might swim away and escape; 43 but the centurion, wishing to save Paul, kept them from carrying out their plan.
Once they were safely on land, they experienced the kindness and hospitality of strangers:
28 After we had reached safety, we then learned that the island was called Malta. 2 The natives showed us unusual kindness. Since it had begun to rain and was cold, they kindled a fire and welcomed all of us around it.
Paul and the others received kindness from a prominent citizen of the island. Paul returned the kindness.
7 Now in the neighborhood of that place were lands belonging to the leading man of the island, named Publius, who received us and entertained us hospitably for three days. 8 It so happened that the father of Publius lay sick in bed with fever and dysentery. Paul visited him and cured him by praying and putting his hands on him.
We are given opportunities to be kind every day. I posted a question on Facebook: “What is the kindest thing anyone ever did for you?”
Some people found the question overwhelming and could not name a single instance, but several people shared cherished experiences.
From M: Gave me their kidney.
From B: Someone I have great respect for made a complementary comment about me when I wasn’t there, there was probably no way I should have ever heard about it but it was relayed to me months later by someone that was there.
From J: Told me if I truly wanted a better life and better relationships I had to own my responsibility in my own pain.
From C: Friends of ours took our daughter in last minute when her housing for the summer in another town fell through. They aren’t letting her pay rent and are including her in their family life.
From L: Kept me as family.
From D: Lent us the use of their second home when we had a medical emergency in another state. They would not take a cent for anything, such good kind people, God bless them.
From K: A kind note and a $50 bill to treat us to dinner out when our kids were all 10 and under. Found between our doors on Christmas morning.
From F: I was a single parent. My daughter was not quite two, I lost my job, a kid hit my car and totaled it. I had an opportunity to go to college, but needed a car. A wonderful person sold me an orange Ford Pinto for $800 and let me pay $40 a month. Getting my degree changed my life, and it wouldn’t have happened without that person’s kindness!
I will say that it is not easy to be kind if we are ill or distressed. I remember in 8th grade, I had one of my spells of depression. I was standing by the water cooler crying. Our teacher sent in the two nicest students to try to comfort me. I threw water on them. My personal experience is that depression distorts all perceptions and makes me strike out like a rattlesnake when help is offered.
I share this with you as a warning to be conscious about choosing kindness over selfishness, over meanness, over anger.
It is easy enough to be kind when we are in neutral situations where there is not threat.But sometimes, kindness is not our first impulse. We want to punish or get even with someone who hurt us or someone whom we don’t like.
One of my daughter’s classmates died at the age of 32. The funeral was packed with her classmates, both from high school and college. One of the attendees seemed out of place. This young man, John, had not been in Jessica’s circle of friends or in any activities with her. Jessica’s mom thanked John for coming and he revealed that his presence was prompted by Jessica’s kindness to him when he was a student. John was the kind of student others either bullied or ignored. Jessica went the other direction and showed him kindness.
I want to try a little exercise with you. I received this in a daily devotional from a priest, Richard Rohr.
Begin by finding the place of loving kindness inside your heart (Christians might call this the indwelling Spirit).
Drawing upon this source of love, bring to mind someone you deeply care about, and send loving kindness toward them.
Now direct this love toward a casual friend or colleague, someone just beyond your inner circle.
Continue drawing from your inner source of loving kindness and let it flow toward someone about whom you feel neutral or indifferent, a stranger.
Remember someone who has hurt you or someone you struggle to like. Bless them. Send them your love.
Gather all these people and yourself into the stream of love and hold them here for a few moments.
Finally, let the flow of loving kindness widen to encompass all beings in the universe.
Fr. Rohr says that “The quality of loving kindness is already within you, but if you don’t practice daily and deliberately, it is unlikely that a year from now you will be any more loving.” He suggests that “As you move into the world, find ways of extending loving kindness to yourself and others in practical ways. Remember that love is the very foundation of the universe. You are simply a conduit for the inflow and outflow of love.”
In other words, don’t let kindness happen as an afterthought. Seek out ways to be kind. Be alert to opportunities.
Let me share one other response to my Facebook question.
From D: Forgiveness of my sins.
Is that not the kindest thing anyone has every done for you, for me? Jesus experienced life as a human, with all its joys and sorrows, with all its pleasures and discomforts. His kindness was surely one of the reasons he was so popular. But the ultimate act of kindness was doing something for us that we cannot do ourselves. He forgave, he forgives our sins.
We can easily snap at someone, scold someone, or accuse someone. Let us practice kindness, even when we are challenged, in the name of our kindest Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.