For in hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what is seen? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience. (Romans 8:24-25 NRSV) May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit. (Romans 15:13 NRSV) We didn’t see it coming. Not at all. It had been “one of those days.” (Mama said there’d be days like this; there’ll be days like this, Mama said...and Mama was right, at least where this day was concerned.) It was not a devastating day, or a horrible day, or a tragic day - it was just a day of numerous mishaps and mounting frustrations, one of those days when nothing seemed to be going right (read for that, going as planned - by us). Too many minor errands and incomplete tasks were vying for limited time, and I was beginning to feel a bit like wailing and gnashing my teeth. The fact that we were famished probably wasn’t helping any; there’s a reason they call it “hangry.” So we pulled into the Dunkin’ Donuts Drive-Thru and hoped that grabbing a bite of late lunch would help. The number of times I’ve eaten fast food in the last year could be counted on the fingers of one hand; I neither like it nor trust it...but if you’re hungry enough, you’ll eat anything. So I scanned the menu for the least unhealthy items, and began estimating what this salt and sugar laden “meal” would cost in dollars and cents. But I was totally wrong. We pulled up to the window, and Doug stuck out a $20 bill, which should have more than covered it, only to hear the lady behind the window say, “You don’t owe a thing. The guy in front of you paid for you. He saw your NC plates, and wanted to do something nice for you. He said to tell you, Welcome To Maine.” We were astounded. I looked ahead to see if we could catch up and thank him, but he was already turning out into traffic. We gratefully received our order, and talked about his generosity as we ate. Despite the fact that it gave me indigestion, I was thankful for that meal, because the guy who paid for it changed our day. Suddenly, everything seemed brighter. My energy level began to rise, and I couldn’t wipe the smile off my face. For the first time that afternoon, I felt hopeful. All because a man whose name I’ll never know decided to pay for the lunches of two unknown people from NC. As we headed out to tackle the next item on our Get It Done list, Doug said, “We really ought to do that for somebody else.” “You’re right,” I replied, “We can’t pay it back, so we’ll have to pay it forward.” Amazing, isn’t it, how one small act of random kindness can lift the spirits and restore hope? And when have we ever needed hope more than we need it now? As the pandemic “horizon” stretches ever more forward into an increasingly unpredictable future, the need to Do Something becomes more and more compelling for many of us. Helplessness is not a feeling we tolerate well. Which is, perhaps, why the Christian concept of grace is unpalatable to many people. “You don’t owe a thing because Jesus paid it all” is not the Good News to folks who want to earn their own way. The Cross causes deep discomfort to those who want to believe that they’re as good as the next guy. Only when we have experienced our utter helplessness to undo or erase our sins, only when we’ve acknowledged our inability to change our lives in any lasting or significant way, only then can we accept our need for a Savior who has done for us what we can never do for ourselves. Only then can we be truly grateful for the saving grace that we can never, ever repay. We cannot pay God back for such amazing grace; we can only pay it forward. Every time we practice random kindness, every time we surprise someone with an unexpected gift, every time we deliver an unanticipated compliment or word of affirmation, that’s exactly what we’re doing. We’re paying forward the grace we can never pay back. And there’s something about being surprised by grace that gives us hope all over again! As St. Paul puts it in his sign-off to the book of Romans, “May the God of peace fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” May each of us find an opportunity to pay God’s grace forward in some small way today. After all, overflowing with hope is a contagious process!
“Pass It On” UMH, #572, stanza 1
It only takes a spark to get a fire going,
And soon all those around can warm up in its glowing.
That's how it is with God's love once you've experienced it;
You spread his love to every one;
You want to pass it on.
O God of every good and perfect gift, we give you thanks and praise for your amazing grace. Fill us up with hope so that it may overflow to others. Grant us inspiration and imagination to pass it on today. In the name of Christ we pray. Amen.
Pastor Susan Pate Greenwood