The Federated Church of Marlborough
Marlborough, New Hampshire


Guest Sermon - November 25, 2018
  Larry Upton

Sermon Title: Simple Acts of Kindness: Are You Here For Good?

Are You Here for Good?

I grew up in this church.  It was here that I spent the first 20 years of my life.  I was baptized in this church, attended Sunday school, sang in the youth choir, and lit the candles. 

Life and career took me elsewhere for the next 50 years.  But I’m back. 

My brother recently asked, “Are you here for good?”

The smart aleck in me replied:  “Well I’m not sure.  Maybe I’m here for good.  Maybe I’m here for ill.  Time will tell.”

My brother meant the question one way:  He was asking if I was here to stay? But I switched the question around to mean:  Am I here to do good, to help others, to make things better?  Or am I here to cause trouble?  Anyone care to offer an opinion on that subject?

Simple Acts of Kindness

During my graduate school days, I took courses in counseling psychology.   That wasn’t my specialty area; the courses weren’t required; I took the courses purely out of interest.

One of my favorite professors was Dr. John Brantley of the University of Minnesota Hospitals.  At a seminar one afternoon, he made a point that has stuck with me ever since. 

It goes like this.  During a brief, chance encounter with a stranger, something you say or do could change the whole trajectory of that person’s life.  You sit next to someone on the bus – on a park bench – on an airplane -- someone you have never seen before and likely will never see again.  What you say or do could change that person forever. 

You make a comment or give a compliment to someone.  That comment could end up being a life-changer.

In a way that’s a little scary.  That’s an awesome responsibility.  I am mostly talking about change for the better.  But it could go the other way.  “Are you here for good, or are you here for ill?”

I am sure we all have examples.  Allow me to share four of mine.  I’d love to hear yours sometime.  Please be aware:  In these stories, I didn’t do what I did to earn points with God.  And I’m not telling them now to earn points with you.  I simply did what came naturally.

Story #1:  The Spanish speaking lady in the Amtrak station

A few years ago I was in the Amtrak station in Philadelphia.  A little girl came up to me and asked if she and her mother were in the right place.  The mom looked anxious.  I checked their train tickets.  All was good.  They were going to Florida.  I was going to North Carolina.  The three of us would be on the same train. 

Just for fun I tried out a little of my best Spanish.  I counted in Spanish to five.  The lady quickly corrected my mispronunciation – to everyone’s amusement.

Story #2:  Children in the grocery store

Young children can make a lot of commotion in public places.  Running around, yelling.  Kids throwing tantrums when they don’t get what they want.  Little girls with that piercing scream in an octave high enough to break glass; you know what I’m talking about.

Then again, every once in awhile, you see well behaved, well mannered children.  In the grocery store one day, there was a woman with two children, a boy and a girl, maybe around age 8 or 9.  The children didn’t run around; they didn’t raise their voices.  When they saw something or wanted to say something, they would stand close to the woman and quietly speak in her ear.

As it turned out, the three of them were in the check-out lane right behind me.  I turned to the woman and said:  “More often than not these days, I see children who are acting badly.  Your children are so well behaved, so well mannered.  You certainly did something right in raising them.”

The woman smiled and said:  “Thank you for the compliment.  They aren’t my children.  I’m just looking after them this afternoon.  But I’ll be sure to pass your kind words on to their mother.”  We both smiled.

Story #3:  Woman and boy in the Dollar Store

One day when I was in the Dollar Store, I overheard a woman publicly and loudly scolding the boy who was with her.  The boy looked to be 9 or 10.  I couldn’t figure out what he had done wrong.  Maybe he was asking the woman to buy him something.  I don’t know.

All I know is, it wasn’t just a single occurrence.  Every few minutes the woman resumed her scolding.  “Stop it.  I told you to stop it.  What is wrong with you?  I don’t know why I take you anywhere.” 

Awhile later I was standing in the check-out lane and guess what?  The woman and boy showed up right behind me.  The woman was still berating the boy:  The boy just hung his head.

I pretended not to notice.  I thought about correcting the woman.  I played over in my mind the words I might say:  Perhaps something like, “Excuse me, I couldn’t help but hear.  I don’t know what the problem is.  But I think you could be handling things better.  After all, you’re the adult here.” 

How do you think that would have gone over?  Badly, I suspect.

God must have been listening to my rehearsal.  He nixed that speech.  Instead he gave me other words to speak. 

After a minute or so went by, with no yelling or scolding from her or me, I turned to the woman and said:  “You have a fine boy here.  I’m sure you are very proud of him.”  Then I leaned over and said to the boy:  “You are a good boy, a fine boy, I know you are.”

I left the Dollar Store and started walking back to my car.  I heard a small voice behind me calling, “Mister, Mister.”  I stopped and turned around.  It was the boy.  He had been chasing after me.  As we looked at each other from a distance, the boy simply waved his hand and said goodbye.  I waved and said goodbye back.  As I turned away, the tears started to roll down my cheeks.

Story #4:  Another woman in another grocery store

A couple of weeks ago, I was in the Market Basket store in Rindge.  I kept encountering the same woman in aisle after aisle; she was going one direction, I was going the other.  Often it’s a bit humorous.  In this case it was not humorous at all.  The woman had a puffy face and two black eyes.

I wasn’t sure if she was in a bad situation at home.  She wouldn’t make eye contact with me; then again she didn’t turn away.  As with the woman and little boy in the Dollar Store, I played over in my mind what I might say:  “Are you okay?  Do you need help?”  But if she said she needed help, I wouldn’t know what to do or say.  So I said nothing.

The next day I made it a point to drive to Keene and stop by the Monadnock Center for Violence Prevention in the basement of the old Court House.  There I picked up a bunch of brochures and other materials describing their services, from the 24-hour crisis phone line, to in-person counseling, to legal assistance and hospital advocacy.  Next time I will be ready to act.

For today’s church service I brought along a stack of posters and brochures and phone cards to share with you.  They are available on the front window sill.  Please help yourself.


Jesus commands us to help one another, to love one another, to be kind to one another.  Some people’s efforts are truly heroic.  They pull a stranger from a burning car or spend weeks or months rebuilding people’s homes after a disaster.  Other people spend countless hours volunteering at homeless shelters or food banks.  We have these people in our congregation.  I have nothing but respect for them.

The rest of us might think, I don’t have the time or skills to do all that.  To this latter group I say:  Sometimes 60 seconds is all that is required to be an angel, to work a miracle.  All we need to do is be observant, to see and recognize a need where it exists and offer up a small act of kindness.

I conclude my sermon with the Unison Prayer that appears in the Sunday Bulletin.  I have written three verses to get us started.  Thereafter, please suggest other things which need remedy and we’ll pray for those as well.

Unison Prayer

Dear Lord, help us to see and to recognize the stranger in our midst; give us the tools and show us the way to be of assistance.

Dear Lord, help us to see and to recognize the abused person, the battered woman, the meanly treated child; give us the tools and show us the way to be of assistance.

Dear Lord, help us to see and to recognize children or young people who are being bullied simply because they don’t look, act, or talk exactly like everyone else; give us the tools and show us the way to be of assistance.

Dear Lord, help us to see and to recognize [whatever need may exist]; give us the tools and show us the way to be of assistance.

We ask all these things in Jesus’ name.