No Traffic Jam in the Second Mile – January 17, 2016

“No Traffic Jam in the Second Mile.”

Leviticus 19:1-2, 9-18 Matthew 5:38-48

How would you feel if you had been one of those disciples with Jesus? He had just told you that four of the basics of the Law you had learned all your life were not quite correct interpretations of what God had meant…that the Pharisees and teachers had taught you incorrectly. What’s next? Well…He’s about to tell you that two more interpretations of the Law were wrong…and that you should strive for perfection. Are you going to stick around…or…is it time to leave? Fortunately for us the disciples stuck around so that Jesus could share with them…what some would consider the defining characteristics of Christians. Putting it another way…Jesus was telling them that interacting with others as they had been doing…traveling the first mile with the crowd as they had always done…was not sufficient. They had to travel the second mile. While Jesus did not say it…we know from our observations of the world…from some of our own experiences…that there is no traffic jam in the second mile. With just a little change…just like the disciples…we could make a great difference…in our lives and in the lives of those we touch. It’s traveling in that second mile…where there is no traffic jam that has made a world of difference…that has built the Christian church and Jackson Grove United Methodist Church. As we approach our future planning retreat in three weeks I want us to ask ourselves if in any way we are stuck in the slow…heavy traffic in that first mile that we have always traveled…and what will it look like if we’re traveling in that second mile where so few others are traveling. Before I tell you how we’ll do that asking…let me give you a simple piece of real data that we’ve all experienced. You see…as we’ve discussed the need for this planning retreat over the past three months I have heard this from more than one person. “Jackson Grove was here long before us…since 1831…and it will be here long into the future. Why get excited and change anything?” Here’s the piece of data. A few weeks ago we celebrated All Saints Day. At that time we celebrated the lives of nine faithful members of Jackson Grove United Methodist church…members who had died in the previous two years. During those same two years no new members joined our church family. Some have suggested that the arrival of a new preacher would change things. So far, I have had second-hand inquiries on behalf of two persons looking for a church home…but none has become a member. How many more pairs of years can we do as we’ve been doing…and as a result lose nine members and add none? Here’s how we’re going to ask ourselves whether we’re stuck in the traffic jam in that crowded first mile and what it will take to get into the second mile…a mile that isn’t all that difficult to travel…a mile that makes all the difference…a mile for which God has given us all the time…talent and resources needed. Once again we will use a resource of the United Methodist Church to support us. In this self-questioning we’ll use a specific and quite successful and uniquely helpful resource. You see…the United Methodist Church wants us to succeed…to walk in the second mile. The resource is Reverend Robert Schnase. He is currently bishop of the Missouri conference of the United Methodist Church. He has a track record of helping strengthen local churches throughout his years of ministry. He has written for all to read a book entitled “Five Practices of Fruitful Congregations.” He calls those five practices…”radical hospitality”… “passionate worship”…”intentional faith development”…”risk-taking mission and service”…and…”extravagant generosity”. Over the next three weeks…leading to our retreat planning our future…we’ll look at these practices. As we do so I invite you to ask whether his descriptions apply to us today…or describe what we want to become. And as you do the asking…also note the time…talent and treasure…it will take to achieve these practices. You’ll probably find that walking that second mile will not be so difficult…and it will produce the strength we seek for our church family. This week we’ll look at the practices Bishop Schnase calls “radical hospitality” and “passionate worship”. Out of genuine love for Christ and for others…laity and pastors…all laity not just pastors… take the initiative to invite…welcome… include and support newcomers and help them grow in faith as they become part of the Body of Christ. This is what Bishop Schnase calls “radical hospitality.” Just as Jesus…and we…were once strangers…just like Jesus does…the church family welcomes those who are now residing outside our church family. And…as the community of faith receives and assimilates newcomers and accepts their spiritual gifts and natural talents, their life experiences and perspectives, the church changes and ministry expands. God uses newcomers to breathe new life into churches. The greatest contribution we can make to the Body of Christ is inviting someone else or helping a newcomer feel genuinely welcome so that she or he receives the love that we have received. With less than half of Americans attending a church there’s no traffic jam in the second mile of inviting. Sometimes the greatest strength of churches is also their greatest weakness. Church members love each other so much that their lives are so intertwined and their interests are so interwoven that church groups become impenetrable to new people. Closeness can close out new people who feel like outsiders looking in…and those on the inside don’t even notice. Church members feel content because their own needs are met. Hospitality is a quality of spiritual initiative…that takes many forms…more than opening the door for a meal or worship service. It is an opening of ourselves and our faith community to receive others. There’s no traffic jam in that second mile. Those practicing radical hospitality never miss an opportunity to woo people into the life of the church. They focus on how to communicate better with greater numbers of people…constantly develop lists of visitors, active and inactive members, Christmas and Easter attendees and infrequent guests in order to invite them to special services…new ministries…new service projects. They don’t give up on anyone. No traffic jam in that second mile. In churches practicing radical hospitality members look at the church as visitors would look at the church. Do all signs clearly give directions to the church and facilities inside the church? Are the signs well maintained? Are cleaning items stored in accessible, but out of sight places? Are all lights inside and outside in working order? Are all records and reports complete…easily understood…and readily available. No traffic jam in that second mile. A church grows one person at a time…and it’s radical hospitality that brings that person to the church. In the second mile that creates “passionate worship” there is no traffic jam. Through passionate worship God draws people to Christ…many for the first time…deepens understanding and relationship with Christ…and over time…transforms lives as disciples grow in the image of Christ. Worship plays an essential role in the making of disciples. Without passion worship becomes dry…routine…boring and predictable…keeping the form while lacking the spirit. Passionate worship means an extraordinary eagerness to offer the best in worship…honoring God with excellence and with an unusual clarity about the purpose of connecting people to God. Flexibility to change the way of presenting God’s Word runs through the United Methodist heritage. John Wesley stretched himself beyond his own traditional tastes and practices and, in his own words, “submitted to be more vile” when he began to preach outdoors in fields to reach those beyond the church’s touch. Wesley kept the end in mind …helping people find a way to God and helping God find a way to people…even if it required forms he himself found distasteful In churches marked by passionate worship…people don’t merely show up and sit passively in their pews; they are actively engaged…genuinely connected…personally addressed…and deeply challenged. The message touches them. The music moves them. The service changes them. Special emphasis is placed on Christmas Eve and Easter Sunday services because of the greater opportunities these services offer for the church to touch the lives of visitors and infrequently attending members. In addition to Easter and Christmas spiritually passionate congregations plan one or two exceptionally high quality, widely publicized special services per year. Widely attended special services strengthen the sense of belonging and identity, reinvigorate infrequent worshipers and attract visitors. Worship soars on the God-given gifts of members of the congregation. There’s no traffic jam in the second mile when every person offers themselves and their best to serve and participate in worship? Passionate worship begins with our love for God…our desire to open ourselves to God’s grace…and our eagerness for relationship to God. Is that the kind of attitude and eagerness we bring to each worship service…and we take away from every worship service to share with others? Worship is God’s gift and task…a sacred trust that requires our utmost and our highest. There is no traffic jam in the second mile of passionate worship. “Radical hospitality” and “passionate worship” are just two of the practices Reverend Schnase calls characteristics of fruitful congregations. For each of these he gives many more examples. I encourage each of you to read his book…ponder his suggestions…and note that none of them is beyond the capability and the time…treasure and talent God has given to each one of us here today. Are we stuck in the traffic jam in the first mile…or can we discover…to our delight… there is no traffic jam in the second mile?