No Traffic Jam in the Second Mile – January 31, 2016

“No Traffic Jam in the Second Mile”

Galatians 5:22-23 Matthew 25:31-46


I like Paul. In his letters he makes it really clear. He told the Galatians the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. In a different way…in today’s Scripture from Matthew…Jesus tells us the same thing. That is this…interacting with others as people did and continue to do…traveling that first mile with the crowd …is just not sufficient. We’ve got to travel the second mile. And in that second mile there is no traffic jam. With just a little change…just like the disciples…we can 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 this morning I want us to ask ourselves if in any way we are stuck in the slow…heavy traffic in that first mile that we and many others have long traveled…and what will it look like if we’re traveling in that second mile where so few others are traveling…a mile that makes all the difference…a mile for which God has given us all the time…talent and resources we might need. Two weeks ago I told you about a book entitled “Five Practices of Fruitful Congregations.” Its author is Reverend Robert Schnase…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 calls those five practices…”radical hospitality”… “passionate worship”…”intentional faith development”…”risk-taking mission and service”…and…”extravagant generosity”. This morning…I’ll offer descriptions of three of those practices …and 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 going that second mile will not be so difficult…and it will produce the strength we seek for our church family to transform the world by making disciples for Christ. First a brief review of the two practices we covered earlier. The first was “radical hospitality.” 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. It is an opening of ourselves and our faith community to receive others. A church grows one person at a time…and it’s radical hospitality that brings that person to the church. With less than half of Americans attending a church there’s no traffic jam in the second mile of inviting and truly making welcome. The second practice is “passionate worship.” 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. 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. Are we just comfortably and safely parked in the pews or going the second mile with “passionate worship?” Today we’ll spend some time with three more practices described by Bishop Schnase… intentional faith development, risk-taking mission and service, and extravagant generosity. As we do…please ask whether these are practices we now have or would like to have in our church family. Those who heard Jesus talk of sheep and goats that day…and today…will mature in their faith by learning together in community. Churches that practice intentional faith development offer high quality learning experiences that help people understand scripture, faith and life in the supportive nurture of caring relationships. Those churches help people probe God’s will for their lives and for the world. Learning in community is the way Christ taught his disciples. He taught us to learn our faith this way. We learn in community…also…because others keep us faithful to the task of growth in Christ. Intentional is a critical word here. It means a deliberate effort…purposeful action toward an end…a high prioritization. It points out the significance of faith development and creates a contrast with those congregations that take it seriously and those that offer it haphazardly and inconsistently…without new initiatives…plan or purpose. Intentional faith development describes the practice of churches that view the ministries of Christian education and formation…small group work…and meaningful Bible study as absolutely critical to their mission. They constantly offer opportunities for people of all ages…interests and faith experiences to learn in community. They regularly offer opportunities for new possibilities for people to engage Christ by engaging one another. Congregations that practice intentional faith development also start new groups particularly adapted to the needs of new members…visitors… and people not yet attending the church. These churches rely not only on their pastors to lead teaching and formation ministries. They also invite…support and train lay people to lead small groups…teach Bible study and coordinate small groups. These congregations display a willingness and eagerness to make their facilities available to reasonable requests of support organizations whose purposes are consistent with the church’s mission. In this second mile…there is no traffic jam. On that day with his disciples on Mount Olivet…Christ spoke to the fourth practice…risk-taking mission and service. Outreach or mission initiatives can change the lives of those who receive help and often change the lives of the volunteers giving the help. Those missions are expected…a basic part of the church. Risk-taking mission and service includes the projects…efforts and work people do to make a positive difference in the lives of others for the purpose of Christ…whether or not those people will ever be a part of the community of faith. Risk-taking congregations often focus on projects within their own community…such as after-school programs for at-risk children…food banks and soup kitchens…and ministries of witness aimed at helping to shape public policy. Others get involved in ministries to senior adults in retirement centers…regular services for those in jail…and efforts to challenge and change unjust or inhumane systems that affect the poor. Failure to practice risk-taking mission and service often results in the deterioration of the church’s vitality and ability to make disciples. When churches turn inward…using all resources for their own survival and caring only for their own people…then spiritual vitality wanes. The real qualifier is risk-taking. That takes us into greater uncertainty…a higher possibility of discomfort…resistance or sacrifice. Risk-taking mission and service takes people into ministries that push them out of their comfort zone…stretching them beyond the circle of relationships and practices that routinely define their faith commitments. God uses such ministries to expose church members to people…situations…and needs that they would never ordinarily encounter and that reveal to them spiritual qualities and practical talents that…apart from their deliberate intention of serving Christ…they would never discover. In risk-taking mission and service there is no traffic jam in the second mile. John Wesley and the early Methodists practiced generosity as a necessary and indispensable aspect of discipleship, essential for the maturing of the soul and for the work of the church. Wesley taught Methodists to “Gain all you can, save all you can, and give all you can.” The practice of generosity describes the Christians unselfish willingness to give in order to make a positive difference for the purposes of Christ. So, what’s this extravagant generosity? The words describe practices of sharing and giving that exceed all expectations and extend to unexpected measures. It describes lavish sharing, sacrifice, and giving in service to God and neighbor. Vibrant, fruitful, growing congregations thrive because of the extraordinary sharing…willing sacrifice…and joyous giving of their members out of love for God and neighbor. Such churches teach and practice giving that focuses on the abundance of God’s grace and that emphasizes the Christian’s need to give rather than on the church’s need for money. In the spirit and manner of Christ, congregations that practice extravagant generosity explicitly talk about the place of money in the Christian’s walk of faith. They view giving as a gift from God and are driven to be generous by a high sense of mission and a keen desire to please God by making a positive difference in the world. The practice of tithing blesses and benefits the giver as much as it strengthens the mission and ministry of the church. Despite saying we believe this Americans live in an extraordinarily materialist and consumerist society. We are immersed in a culture that feeds acquisitiveness, the appetite for more and bigger, and that fosters the myth that self-worth is found in material wealth and that happiness is found in possessing. With only about five percent of professing Christians actually tithing…and only two percent of personal income in America going to all charities including houses of worship…there is no traffic jam in this second mile. Hospitality that isn’t radical. Worship that isn’t passionate. Faith development that is not intentional. Mission and service done without risk. Generosity that is not extravagant. They’re common…a basic part of churches that are stagnant…churches in that crowded first mile. Radical hospitality. Passionate worship. Intentional faith development. Risk-taking mission and service. Extravagant generosity. They are routine practices of fruitful congregations… congregations with all members going the second mile. God changes lives through congregations… and this places on pastors…church leaders…and all church members…the awesome and joyful responsibility of cultivating strength…health…clarity of purpose and faithfulness in practice in congregational and individual life so that the mission of Christ thrives. Congregations are called to change the world…not just keep their doors open. God works through congregations and the members of the church family to transform lives. From the 1967 Indianapolis 500 there’s an important additional note especially for those of us who want to say, “Why get exercised? Jackson Grove United Methodist Church has been here since 1831. It will always be here.” I was at that race…in the infield…near the third turn. That was the year that Parnelli Jones had what was considered a revolutionary turbine car. It was believed to be unbeatable. Sure enough….Jones was leading going into the third of four turns in the next to last lap…in fact he had a good lead. I was among those who heard something snap in the car as he came into the turn. I was listening on the radio while watching the race. The announcers heard the snap…it turned out to be a $6 part on a race car costing close to a quarter million dollars. The radio announcers said the crew chief and pit crew were so in awe of Jones and his car that they thought he could coast to a win. He had done so well to that point in the race. He coasted…but he crossed the finish line in sixth place. As we leave this sanctuary and walk down the hill to our social hall…consider this reminder. For each of us here…and for so many others…the race has not been fully run. None of us here has seen the checkered flag or been the first to go through the tape at the finish line…and coasting to the finish does not get the job done. Let us not coast thinking we’ve done a great job and now it’s up to someone else. Let us not put on the brakes by saying “We’ve always done it this way”…or “We’ve never done that before” immediately upon hearing a new idea. Let us not be stuck in the traffic jam in the first crowded mile with so many others. Let us…instead…with the guidance of the Spirit…open our hearts…our minds…and our mouths…and discover…to our delight… there is no traffic jam in the second mile?