Continuing the Mission by Praying It Forward

given on Sunday, April 3, 2016

Thank you, Margie!  You post triggered this sermon.

Scripture: John 20:19-23

19 That Sunday evening[a] the disciples were meeting behind locked doors because they were afraid of the Jewish leaders. Suddenly, Jesus was standing there among them! “Peace be with you,” he said. 20 As he spoke, he showed them the wounds in his hands and his side. They were filled with joy when they saw the Lord! 21 Again he said, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I am sending you.” 22 Then he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 If you forgive anyone’s sins, they are forgiven. If you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.”

Reflection: Part A

The catch phrase “Pay it forward” may be overused. The movie about a middle school student’s social experiment has impacted our society for about 20 years. The theme is a version of John Wesley’s saying to do all that you can for all you can in any way you can.

Why do catch phrases like “pay it forward” or “what would Jesus do” or even movements such as “Random Acts of Kindness” make such an impact on society? Do such phrases make life changes? Do they teach God’s story? Do they keep God’s mission alive? Yes.

Scripture: John 20:24-29

24 One of the twelve disciples, Thomas (nicknamed the Twin),[b] was not with the others when Jesus came. 25 They told him, “We have seen the Lord!”

But he replied, “I won’t believe it unless I see the nail wounds in his hands, put my fingers into them, and place my hand into the wound in his side.”

26 Eight days later the disciples were together again, and this time Thomas was with them. The doors were locked; but suddenly, as before, Jesus was standing among them. “Peace be with you,” he said. 27 Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here, and look at my hands. Put your hand into the wound in my side. Don’t be faithless any longer. Believe!”

28 “My Lord and my God!” Thomas exclaimed.

29 Then Jesus told him, “You believe because you have seen me. Blessed are those who believe without seeing me.”

Reflection: Part B

Put yourself in the position of Thomas. He has walked side by side with Jesus. He talked with him in casual banter as well as serious theological discussions. He witnessed with his own eyes the miracles Jesus performed. There was no uncertainty that he knew God’s mission much less that God’s messenger was Jesus.

Jesus had selected or called him to be one of the next generations of Abraham’s descendants. He was identified as one of the faithful entrusted to keep The Story and the mission alive. Thomas had no reason to doubt who Jesus was. But Jesus knew that there was doubt even in this Apostle.

No matter what age we are, doubts will creep into our thoughts about the reality of Jesus. No one can fully comprehend the reality of Jesus’ birth, life, death, and resurrection. Only upon our own death will we erase that last thread of doubt. Until then, we must practice faith. And while practicing faith, we learn that God’s story does include the immaculate birth of Jesus Christ, the human life of Jesus developing physically as any other human being, his three short years of ministry,

Yet the key to life as Christian is living our faith with confidence in God’s story and with Christ-like actions. “Do unto others as you would have others do unto you.” Most of us sitting in today’s pews grew up with that verse (Luke 6:31) being repeated in Sunday school lessons, used in worship service, and even from repeated parent lectures.

Even Wesley had doubts, especially about his own faith. His brother is credited to encouraging him to live his faith until it became a reality to him. The Aldersgate moment when Wesley felt “strangely warmed” reportedly erased his private doubts, and history records the dramatic difference his ministry made, even becoming a global movement.

What does this mean for each one of us here today? Simply, we continue. We practice our faith. We use our faith. We keep God’s mission by “paying it forward,” by asking ourselves “what would Jesus do” and we pray.

Scripture: Acts 5:27-32

27 Then they brought the apostles before the high council, where the high priest confronted them. 28 “We gave you strict orders never again to teach in this man’s name!” he said. “Instead, you have filled all Jerusalem with your teaching about him, and you want to make us responsible for his death!”

29 But Peter and the apostles replied, “We must obey God rather than any human authority. 30 The God of our ancestors raised Jesus from the dead after you killed him by hanging him on a cross.[a] 31 Then God put him in the place of honor at his right hand as Prince and Savior. He did this so the people of Israel would repent of their sins and be forgiven. 32 We are witnesses of these things and so is the Holy Spirit, who is given by God to those who obey him.”

Reflection:   Part C

Today we are living safely in our communities. We do not worry about conversations about our faith. We do not worry that each time we “pay it forward” or decide to join in a ministry that reaches out to others who may or may not share our faith. We are living in a society that values our Christian beliefs, even encourages us to act in service to others.

Yet, there is the challenge to our faith, too. Evil keeps exploding around us. The news shares the face of evil globally. Maybe we do not easily identify evil in our immediate community, but it is there. Evil hovers around each one of us and we must defend ourselves from it. Keeping God’s mission alive means doing all that we can for all we can in as many ways as we can. It means “paying it forward.” It means self-checking our own actions with the question “what would Jesus do.”

The defense against evil not only in our own lives but also in our community whether local, national or global must have us actively involved in action to preserve God’s creation. Can you do it? Can you continue to maintain your own faith while doing whatever you can for others? Can you keep paying it forward for God?

Scripture: John 19:19-23

19  Again he said, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I am sending you.” 22 Then he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 If you forgive anyone’s sins, they are forgiven. If you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.”

 

Reflection: Part D

When Jesus appeared to the Apostles upon his resurrection and when he appeared a second time eight days later, this time with Thomas present, Jesus repeated God’s message. He breathed on them empowering them with the Holy Spirit to continue the ministry Jesus trained them to do.

We, too, have accepted God’s mission upon our baptism. We have joined in with the Apostles and all the descendants of Abraham chosen by God to “do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” In Jesus’ words we are to forgive anyone’s sins

How, even as we physically continue to age, how do we do what we can do to help others? Serving in God’s name is not always easy, but there is a way as long as there is the will. In fact, borrowing from a friend in ministry, Margie (lay missioner for two local small churches): “Pray it forward.”

Christ’s resurrection empowered each and every one of his disciples with the power of the Holy Spirit. Adding in the resurrection transforms a social credo to “pay it forward” to “ PRAY it forward.”

Prayer is a powerful tool in fighting evil. Prayer calls God into action even though we may not understand how or when he responds, we must be confident that he hears our prayers and will act. Today, every single one of us here and around this world must pray it forward.

Today, and every day this week, commit to praying it forward.  Complete a “Pray it forward” card for at least one identified cause. It can be a person who needs extra God attention or it can be a situation that needs resolving in a Christ-like manner. Whatever is in your heart whether it is a passion or is a personal concern is worth this focused and very concrete practice of faith.

God has done everything he can to make sure the world is not consumed by evil, have we done everything we can? Praying it forward needs to be the automatic response, not only a first step but a continual step in maintaining God’s mission.

Scripture: Revelation 1:4-8

“I am the Alpha and the Omega—the beginning and the end,”[c] says the Lord God. “I am the one who is, who always was, and who is still to come—the Almighty One.”

 

Reflection: Conclusion

Do not be a “doubting Thomas,” be you. Be the one who prays it forward now and on throughout your lifetime. Praying is the one faith practice that becomes like our own breath. If there is a doubt, practice praying until there is no doubt.

Look at others who practice prayer full time and you will see God in action. Look at others who are living a life without prayer and you will see evil. Pray it forward so that you are an active part of God’s mission.

We may not always understand how effective our prayers are because we do not understand the scope of God’s grace nor his timing, but we do know that God is the Alpha and the Omega. We do know that God loved us so much that he stepped onto this earth to make sure that we can trust in his words, “I am the one who is, who always was, and who is still to come—the Almighty One.”

Concluding prayer:

Dear Almighty One,

Hear our prayers today, tomorrow and always.

Let our lives serve as the beacon for your love.

 

Hear our prayers morning noon, and evening.

Let the words we share provide answers for others.

 

Hear our prayers racing through our thoughts.

Let them reveal sources of sorrow, pain and evil.

 

Hear our prayers found in tears of empathy.

Let them cleanse the dirt in wounds of society.

 

Hear our prayers of praise and thanksgiving.

Let them shine your light upon new life in all forms.

 

Hear our prayers of excitement and joy.

Let them tell you what a difference your love makes.

 

Hear our prayers for strength and grace.

Let them ask you for refueling so we may do more.

 

Hear all our prayers, Lord,

so your mission continues

and our faith erases doubts

of your Story and your love.–Amen

 

 

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