Sermon for January 12, 2020
The story is told of a young man who was driving one day when he saw an older lady standing outside her car on the side of the road. It was clear that she needed some help. He pushed aside any concerns he had about stopping to help a person he did not know. As he approached her vehicle, she was worried about what this young man might do. After all he wasn’t dressed too well. She was a little frightened and so he tried to calm her saying, “I‘m here to help you, don‘t worry. My name is Bryan Anderson“.
Then he changed her flat tire. When he finished, she asked how much she owed him for his help. Bryan smiled. He said: “If you really want to pay me back, the next time you see someone who needs help give that person the needed assistance. And think of me“.
That evening, the lady stopped by a small cafe. She was served by waitress who was expecting a baby. The waitress had a sweet friendly smile even though she looked tired. The lady appreciated her kindness and it caused her to remember Bryan. The lady had finished her meal and paid with a hundred dollar bill. The waitress went to get change and when she came back, the lady was gone. She left a note on the napkin: „You don‘t own me anything. Somebody once helped me, just like now I‘m helping you. If you really want to pay me back, do not let this chain of love end with you“. The waitress found four more one hundred bills under the napkin.
As the waitress arrived home that evening, she was thankful for the lady who had helped her and wondered if the lady knew how much she and her husband needed the money. She knew that her husband worried their financial situation so she went to him and said, “Now everything will be all right. I love you, Bryan Anderson“. Yes, the older woman repaid Bryan without knowing it.
I don’t know if this particular story is true but we all know people who have helped strangers and expected nothing in return. We even have a name for this kind of giving. We call it Pay it Forward. The name comes from a novel by Catherine Ryan Hyde about a twelve-year old boy Trevor McKinney who started the movement.
The concept of giving to others has been around for a very long time. Our reading from Isaiah is a good example. Some six hundred years before the birth of Jesus, Isaiah wrote about the importance of being a servant. Today’s passage is the first of four servant poems or songs found in Isaiah. In this, God spoke to the people telling them about a servant God has chosen. The servant is a person in whom God delights. The servant has been selected to bring justice to the world. In fact, justice for all people is mentioned three times in this passage. Justice means that all people are taken care of. We don’t know who the servant was. It could have been a king or a queen. It could have been Isaiah himself or another prophet. Many think the servant was the entire Jewish community. As Christians, many believe this was a reference to Jesus.
The prophets of Israel often accused the people of committing injustice. Kings and Queens were usually harsh. The Servant of the Lord in contrast will be gentle and persistent in the pursuit of the responsibilities given by God. The Servant of the Lord will care for the poor, the blind, and the prisoners. The Servant of the Lord will be a light for all nations. The words of Isaiah offered great hope for the people who had just returned from exile and were experiencing the destruction which had been bestowed on Jerusalem. I would say that the Servant of the Lord described in Isaiah fits perfectly with our understanding of paying it forward. The Servant gave help to those in need and created so much hope that everyone would turn and give to those who were struggling.
The gospel story is about the baptism of Jesus. It is the first mention of Jesus as an adult, the beginning of his public ministry. Matthew indicates that Jesus came specifically to be baptized, it wasn’t some spur of the moment decision. John the Baptist made clear that John should be baptized by Jesus not the other way around. But Jesus responded with,“Let it be so now; for it is proper for us in this way to fulfill all righteousness.” We think if righteousness as being upright, being right with God. For the Jewish people of Jesus time, it meant living into a covenant relationship with God. It meant following God’s will. It meant being a servant to God and been a servant to others.
I wonder if you heard the connection between the servant song in Isaiah and the story of the baptism of Jesus. At the baptism, God proclaimed Jesus as “ my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.” It sounds so much like the words of Isaiah, “Here is my servant, in whom my soul delights”. In all things, Jesus followed the direction of God. Jesus proclaimed not long after his baptism that ‘The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.’ It is another reference to Isaiah and a statement of his servanthood. Even when he was in the Garden of Gethsemane Jesus prayed, Not my will, but yours be done.
We can find simple stories of people helping others around us all of the time. Recently, a Phoenix policeman stopped to help a homeless veteran who had fallen out of his wheelchair. He helped the man get medical attention that he needed. When we think of those who serve, we are thankful for our service men and women. I thought and prayed for them a great deal this week as the tensions between the United States grew significantly and more soldiers were sent to the Middle East to protect people from harm. They truly are servants for us.
Jesus committed himself to the responsibility of doing God’s work. His life and work are an example to all of us. Jesus taught us to do the same. He frequently told people that the first shall be last and the last shall be first. Jesus taught us that with stories like the good Samaritan, a man who cared for his neighbor. The good Samaritan was one who paid it forward.
In our own baptism, we either committed ourselves to follow Jesus or our parents made the commitment for us. In our baptism, we said that we would renounce Satan and all spiritual forces of wickedness. We renounce all evil powers of this world and we renounce all of our sinful desires. We turn to Jesus and accept him as our Savior and we put our trust in his grace and love. We promise to life the life of a servant seeking Christ in others and striving for justice and peace.
We seek then to be servants of God just as Jesus was. It can be a joyful task and it can also be a difficult task. Billy Graham also offered words of encouragement for us to be servants, “When we come to Christ, we’re no longer the most important person in the world to us; Christ is. Instead of living only for ourselves, we have a higher goal: to live for Jesus.” It requires that we give up something we may want to do and we try to do what God wants us to do.
Martin Luther King Jr. offered this prayer, “Use me, God. Show me how to take who I am, who I want to be, and what I can do, and use it for a purpose greater than myself”. Our goal to be servants of God is something that requires God’s help, we cannot do it on our own.
The goodwill movement that we call pay it forward is a great idea. It has a great name and many good examples. But it is not really a new concept. It has existed for thousands of years and it is a part of our Christian heritage. We are inspired by the baptism of Jesus, we reconnect with our own baptism and we try our best to bring justice to the world and to care for those who are less fortunate. In all that we do, let us remember the words of Joseph Prince who said, “It will never be about our love for God. It will always be about His magnificent love for us.” May you feel God’s love as you seek to live as a servant to others. Amen.
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