The following comes from an article printed in The Seattle Times during the Christmas season in 2007:
“What started as a small gesture of holiday cheer, in 24 hours, grew to involve about 500 coffee drinkers in a chain of giving in Marysville.
At about 8 a.m. Wednesday, a woman purchasing a drink at a Starbucks drive-through at 3725 116th Street Northeast offered to buy the drinks for the customers in line behind her.
She told the employee who was working the window to wish the folks happy holidays, and she drove away, said the store’s assistant manager Michele Case.
Those customers were so touched that they paid for the order of the folks behind them.
Countless gingerbread lattes and peppermint mochas later, the spirit of reciprocity carried on.
As of 8 a.m. [Thursday], the line of giving had grown to involve 490 customers picking up tabs for those next in line at the store’s drive-through and lobby, said Case.
Case said it shows that a small gesture can have a big impact.
“Each time people were just so excited,” Case said. Often people paid more than needed to cover the tab, and that money was added to a pool for the cause. When people were unable to cover others’ totals, the pooled money was used.
Any leftover money in the pot will go toward buying toys for the store’s toy drive, said Case.”
“Each time people were just so excited.” The people who participated in this holiday gesture understood that they had received something special and they were excited to pay it forward.
The story of Joseph and his brothers has been told many different ways. Since it involves a multi-colored coat and sibling rivalry, it’s often presented as a children’s story but – much like the story of Noah and the great flood – the Joseph story is full of complex grown up issues.
The selection read today comes towards the middle of the story. Joseph, the favorite of his father’s many sons, has been sold into slavery by his brothers. The slave traders take him away from his homeland and sell him to an Egyptian officer. Joseph’s life appears to be ruined but we’re told that the Eternal One, God, is with him.
Joseph makes the best of his situation, gets on the rights side of his slave master and rose to the rank of personal attendant. Through it all, we’re told that God is with him.
But Joseph is maybe a little too blessed. Poor Joseph is so strong and good looking that his boss’ wife is all over him. He rejects her advances and she falsely accuses him of being the aggressor. And through it all, we’re told that God is with him.
Joseph is thrown in jail but even there things work out. Joseph becomes the most important prisoner, in charge of all the other prisoners. Through it all, God is with him.
The writers of the Joseph story obviously want us to see that God is with us, even when we are at our lowest. Even when all seems lost, when we’ve been betrayed, when others have lied about us, when it seems we’ve hit rock bottom, God is with us.
It’s a good lesson, one that I believe is true, but what do we do with that knowledge? What do we do when we recognize that we are blessed by God in good times and in bad?
Even at his lowest, Joseph remembered that he was blessed by God and he did his best to pay that blessing forward. He used his position in Potiphar’s house to care for others. Even in jail, he uses his blessing to show others the way of justice and equality. Eventually, he is able to get out of jail and he continues rising in power until he becomes an advisor to the Pharoah. There, he is in the position to help feed the Egyptians during a time of famine and, when the story puts his brothers’ fate in his hands, he treats them with kindness and respect and saves his own treasonous siblings from starvation.
Joseph recognizes God’s blessing and he chooses to pay it forward.
When we recognize God’s blessing in our own lives, we can be moved to pay it forward by helping others in their time of need.
When we remember that God is with us even at our lowest points, we can reach out for the help that we need.
As a church, we can amplify that blessing, reaching out to others in our community who are looking for a place to belong, a place to explore their faith, a place to find others who are on a journey of faith.
How do we pay it forward? We reflect God’s blessing when we witness and participate in a baptism, when we remember that we are all called to walk with children as they explore their faith. We can be with them as teachers in Discovery Kingdom and by sharing our own stories and questions.
In fact, we’re called to walk with people of all ages. We can pay our blessing forward by telling others about MCC and inviting them to walk with us on our faith journey. We can let them know that there is a place where they are welcome and where they can find support; a community that may not be perfect but where we are working hard to be welcoming and loving and to live by Jesus’ example.
God was with Joseph at the bottom of a pit, in the darkness of a jail cell, at the right hand of power.
God is with us, at our highest and lowest and everywhere in between,
God is in the car ahead of us, paying for our coffee and God is behind us ready to be surprised by our generosity.
As word got out about the Seattle Starbucks customers paying it forward, similar stories have popped up over the years. In the original story, about 500 customers paid it forward for about 24 hours. Last December a Starbucks in Connecticut had a chain that lasted days with a total of 1,468 customers paying for the next customer in line.
God blesses us so that we can bless each other. We may never know the effects of even a small gesture of blessing. We are called to pass along God’s grace to the next person in line, just like Abraham and Joseph and Jesus and everyone who came before us, we are blessed so that we can continue to work towards creating God’s kingdom on Earth by taking God’s blessing and paying it forward.
Let us pray: O God of Abraham and Joseph, thank you for blessing us. Help us to open our eyes and hearts to the many ways in which you are with us, in good time and bad. When we are down, lift us up. When we are at our best, help us to lift up others. Your blessing has been passed on to us from many different directions, help us to remember to pass it on. Help us to remember all that we have received in your name and in the name of Jesus and help us to follow in his footsteps. This we pray in his holy name. Amen.