Sunday, October 5, 2008

Pay It Forward and Be Sons of God

There was a great movie in 2000 about making the world a better place. Pay It Forward was about a young boy who became famous when his theory for making the world a better place in deed made a difference. If you don’t remember or if you never saw the movie, the little boy believed that if each of us who had something nice done for us did something nice for three other people, what he called paying it forward instead of paying it back, the wave of good deeds would spread. The idea seems to have caught on. There is now, in real life, a foundation called the Pay It Forward Foundation which is dedicated to encouraging and assisting in projects of good deeds around the country.

Paying it forward is the essence of this morning’s Gospel. It is not just some cutesy marketing ploy to gain publicity. We heard this morning, “And just as you want men to do to you, you also do to them likewise.” (Luke 6.31) According to Saint Cyril of Alexandria, this “Golden Rule” is the basis of Christian ethics and life. Last week I spoke about how nice it would be if we each put the desires and ideas of others ahead of our own ideas. This is exactly what our Lord is commanding us this week.

We are expected by our Lord to treat others as we would expect to be treated. I doubt we would want people talking behind our backs about our family struggles. I doubt we would be happy if someone was nice to our face and then stabbed us in the back when we turned around. Yet isn’t that the very thing that we have come to expect? My brothers and sisters in Christ, our American Society is filled with greed and hatred for each other and who do you think is to blame?

We are to blame. We are to blame because we not only have come to expect it; we tolerate it in our businesses every day when we don’t insist on Orthodox Christian ethics at a business deal. We tolerate it in our government when we refuse to get involved in the process of our democracy. But the worst part is that we tolerate it in our own actions when we talk about others behind their backs or when we complain about a decision someone else made to everybody BUT the person who made it. And when we tolerate it in ourselves, it should come as no surprise that we expect it in return.

But there is Good News this morning my dear brothers and sisters in Christ. Christ says, “But love your enemies, do good, and lend, hoping for nothing in return; and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High.” (Luke 6.25) When we love without worrying about being loved back; when we do good without worrying about someone doing good for us in return; our reward will be great. Our reward will be a better world. Our reward will be the freedom to not expect to be hated or resented because we will not hate or resent others. In fact, when we pay it forward we will become children of God and nothing can be greater.

I remember a story once about a very stern bishop who was known for losing his temper at his deacons. One deacon would simply bow to the bishop and say, “Yes your Grace, I’m sorry.” He would say this over and over until the bishop would say, “How can I yell at him when he just sits there and bows and apologizes?” The deacon’s love and humility was rewarded with an improved relationship with his bishop.

If we want to become children of God, we must first believe as we hear in the Gospel of John, “To those who believe in His name, He gave the right to become children of God.” (John 1.12) This morning we are told that if we pay it forward and expect nothing good in return for our mercy and love for others, we will be sons of the Most High. In other words, after we first believe, we will be transfigured when we follow Christ’s commandments and are imitators of Christ love for others. From the cross Jesus forgave those who killed Him yet we cannot even forgive those who question our decisions on how to spend the Church’s money. It is not enough to say we forgive them and then return home and call our friends and complain if we want to become children of God. We must truly forgive them and the struggle to forgive will be rewarded.

We can only become children of God when we struggle to be imitators of Him rather than live as sinners. When we love those who love us or do good to those who do good to us, Christ says, “What credit is that to you? For even sinners do the same.” (Luke 6.33) There is a clear challenge here from God; live as sinners or, “Be merciful, just as your Father also is merciful.” (Luke 6.36) And we know what living as sinners get us.

In the movie, Pay It Forward, the little boy becomes famous all around the country. The news even begins to report of the new love and helpfulness that is spreading throughout the country. Our challenge in this morning’s Gospel is nothing less than to pay it forward in love, good deeds, and mercy. When we do this we will already be living as children of God.

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