Sunday, April 30, 2017

“Pay It Forward” (Psalm 116:1-4, 12-19 and Acts 2:14a, 36-41)

Who among us has ever experienced a “random act of kindness”?  This past Thursday a coworker and I had to go to Lame Deer and Wyola to do hearing screening in the schools there.  It was a dreary, cold, and rainy day.  Nothing went right in the schools, they had forgotten to get the permission slips from the parents . . . of the 130 kids I needed to test, I only got to test about 35.  Needless to say, it was a frustrating day.  Nothing was going right, and I was getting soaked.

On the way back to the university we stopped for lunch at the Burger Dive . . . an expensive gourmet burger place.  As is the custom, when dining with co-workers, I asked for separate checks . . . and, much to my surprise, my co-worker said lunch was on her.  So, of course, I ordered the most expensive burger on the menu.  No, I didn’t; but, I was floored by her generous and hospitable offer to buy my lunch.  I was the recipient of a “random act of kindness”.

Maybe you remember the movie from 2000 that starred Kevin Spacey, Helen Hunt, and Haley Joel Osment called Pay It Forward based on a book by the same name by Catherine Ryan Hyde.  In the story Reuben St. Clair, a social studies teacher, challenges his student to “change the world”.  One of the students in the class is Trevor, who takes the challenge to heart.  As he goes about his day, he wonders what he could do, just a twelve year old student, to change the world.  He starts by showing kindness to a stranger, and from there, moves on to the next person he can help.

Each time he helps someone, he answers their question of what can they do to repay him, with the words, “Pay it forward.”  In other words, he wants them to do as he has done . . . he wants them to do a random act of kindness for someone else.  In fact, he is a little pushy because he tells them not to do it for just one person, but for five people.  Plus, he tells them to challenge those that they help with the same task.  In this way he figures he can change the world with a pyramid scheme of kindness.

Hang on to that idea.

The psalm we heard this morning, Psalm 116, is a psalm of thanksgiving.  The person speaking is thankful for the mercy and grace that God has shown in a time of great need.  In an overwhelming sense of gratitude the person asks, “How can I repay the Lord for all his goodness to me?”  Personally, I think that is a powerful question.  Think about it, what can any of us do to pay back God for what God has done for us?  In this Easter season we have received a gift . . . a wonderful gift of salvation, redemption . . . or grace and mercy.  Jesus paid it for us.  So, what can we give to the Lord to ever repay such a gift?  Kind of throws us into the same boat as the speaker in Psalm 116 . . . we echo the words of the psalmist: “How can (we) repay the Lord for all his goodness to (us)?”

There is nothing . . . absolutely nothing . . . except, ourselves.  The person speaking in Psalm 116 comes to this realization.  The only thing that can be offered to God for this act of kindness, grace, and mercy is one’s life.  The speaker proclaims, “O Lord, truly I am your servant; I am your servant, the son of your maidservant . . .”  In this realization, the speaker comes to the conclusion that there is only one thing that anyone could ever offer God for such redemption, and that one thing is a person’s life . . . the way that he or she lives life in thanksgiving to the wonder of God’s love and grace.

From that moment on, the psalmist proclaims: “I will fulfill my vows to the Lord in the presence of all his people, in the courts of the house of the Lord . . .”

And, how shall this individual fulfill these vows?

The person is going to “pay it forward”.

This is how the recipient of God’s love, grace, and mercy pays back the debt of such a huge act of kindness . . . by living a life that reflects the gift received.

Surprisingly, I do not think that there is a person sitting in this sanctuary that does not know what that means . . . to love the Lord with our whole being, and to love our neighbors . . . to reflect the random act of kindness display by Jesus through his life, death, and resurrection.

It is what will change the world.

The Easter Story is not just about the resurrection of Jesus; no, it is about more than receiving the gift . . . it is about how the recipients of the gift respond to it.  And, the only response that anyone can have to such a gift is to “pay it forward”.  Which is exactly what the disciples did . . . they
“pay it forward”.

In our epistle reading this morning we hear Peter stand before a crowd to share the gift of Jesus . . . to share the gift of grace and mercy . . . and, to let the people know that it is theirs for the asking.  The writer of the Book of Acts records the people’s response: When the people heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and the other apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?”

Peter tells them to receive the gift and give their lives to God.

The writer then goes on to tell the reader that “about three thousand were added to their number that day.”  Peter was paying it forward . . . he was changing the world.  And, he and the others did . . . they changed the world.  We are here this morning because they chose to “pay it forward”.

This morning we are confronted by the psalmist’s question: “How can I repay the Lord for all of his kindness to me?”  That is the question of Easter.  The response is to receive the gift and to go out into the world and share it with others.  The psalmist proclaims: “I will lift up the cup of salvation and call on the name of the Lord.  I will fulfill m vows to the Lord in the presence of all his people.”

How do we answer the question of Easter?

We answer the question, if we have truly received the gift into our lives, by living our lives through random acts of kindness as we pay it forward.  It is all in the way that we live our lives on a daily basis.  Do our actions and words reflect a love towards God and others?  

That is the challenge of Easter.

It is reflected in the random acts of kindness as we pay it forward.

It is the only way that we will ever change the world.  One random act of kindness paid forward into the lives of others.  The psalmist recognized the power of this response . . . in the end, he proclaimed, “Praise the Lord!”  Amen.

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