2020 Vision: Going the Extra Mile
Second Mile Living
Today we begin a series dealing with our 2020 vision for the church. There will never be another year in which we can talk literally about having 2020 vision. So this is a series looking at where our church is going. As begin please join me in prayer…
During my break after Christmas I read a book once I secured my personal shade on the beach everyday. I borrowed it from daughter Julie. It’s called The Industries of the Future by Alec Ross. It’s a couple years old now, but he offers some amazing predictions for the future. The industries that will be big include:
--Robotics. He sees in the coming decade the development of robots in the service industry, even able to take care of aging adults.
--Genomics, which has to do with things like mapping chromosomes, will become a $1 Trillion dollar industry.
--Cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin will be the cash of the future.
--Cyber security will be the biggest developing industry.
--And soon there will be the “internet of everything.” More and more items will be made with internet capability like appliances, toys, tools, and so forth.
As I read this I thought these predictions made sense. I considered some of the developments of the past decade. Ten years ago I used a flip phone. Then I went to a smart phone. Last Christmas I bought Susan a smart watch. Now there are smart homes. You would think I would be a smarter person, but maybe we’ll get there one day!
In the past decade we have seen the rapid development of electric cars and driverless technology, drone use, and 3D printers that can actually manufacture human organs! Companies like Uber, AirBNB, and Whatsapp all started in the last decade.
So what might the next decade look like? What can you imagine for our world?(pause) Make that more personal now, what about your life? What do you see for yourself in the next decade? Don’t just think conditionally—where you will live, what you will be doing, whether you have a dog or a cat. Think about who you want to become. I believe that determines the tangible realities of our future. Where we go in the future will be determined by who we are becoming. And notice I didn’t say become. We never fully become until we reach heaven. In this life we are always becoming. And often when we talk about our vision for the future we think about goals, what we want to build, what we will do, and those are important. But what really determines those things, is who we are becoming.
So let’s turn our attention to St. Luke’s. Where will St. Luke’s be in 10 years? What will be doing? What will our church look like? Our leadership has been grappling, and continues to grapple with this question. We have some hunches. Going back just over a year ago we started work with a consultant that yielded some very helpful outcomes. In this series we will share the ideas and directions from this work, but as I said last week, I have been balanced in this process by this idea that most of the incredible advancements of God’s work in the church I have experienced were never planned. We were open to what God wanted to do. We set a direction and along the way God gave us clearer instruction.
So this is a vision series for our church. 2020 vision. There will never be another year in which we can talk literally about having 2020 vision. We are going to look ahead at this year and beyond, but I’m not going to cast vision around specific goals about programs and buildings. Those are important. No doubt they will be a part of our future. But what I want to do is talk about a vision of who we are becoming, and to guide us in this vision we will use an important metaphor of Jesus.
Notes on an Important Metaphor
Jesus used an image that was no doubt meant to guide and shape the behaviors of his followers. While it is a foreign idea to us today it was a familiar sight in Jesus’ day. This metaphor, you could say, is meant to offer Christ followers a rule for living. It is stated this way: “If anyone forces you to go one mile, go also the second mile.”
We are going to use this to shape our thoughts about our vision for the future, because it is really a metaphor that shapes who we become. This morning I just want us to understand the historical and biblical background for this metaphor and consider what Jesus meant in offering it to us.
So let’s start with some context. This metaphor appears in the Sermon on the Mount. In that sermon there are six antitheses: statements that begin with Jesus saying, “You have heard it said,” and then he quotes from the Torah. Then Jesus says, “but I say to you,” and he goes on to offer an antithetical idea. In the fifth antithesis Jesus says, “You have heard it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.” Jesus is referring to the law known as lex taliones. Which stands for “law of retaliation.” Most likely Jesus observed people taking revenge on others and quoting this law to justify themselves. “I have a right to get even,” they would say, and then quote scripture. Ever notice how much people believe in the Bible when it suits their purposes?
Of course, the lex taliones wasn’t to give people a right to get even, it was to limit the justice they sought. If someone knocked out your tooth you couldn’t cut off their leg. But Jesus took this a step further. He said, “If anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also.” Why does Jesus specifically say “right cheek?” To understand this I will need someone from the congregation to come up and help me…if someone slapped right cheek which hand would they use? Left? Never! That was used for dishonorable things—remember these are the days of pre-toilet paper. So if someone slapped right cheek with their right hand it would mean they used the back of their hand. What’s the point. This is a show of great disrespect. They just disrespected you. They didn’t just disagree with you, they have now taken it public and shamed you.)
That’s the point of this story. Not that you have had violence done to you. Not that someone has stolen from you. They have gone beyond disagreement and disrespected. Bring this to our world. Is this an issue today? Absolutely.
Jesus is dealing with something he probably watched play out all the time. People who got mad at each other and let it escalate, and cause hut feelings, and division. And he’s saying, “Look, if our world needs a desperate change it is in this area. We need a different rule to live by. We need a different model.” And two lines later he offers this idea of going the extra mile.
Palestine was occupied by Roman forces in Jesus’ day. Romans borrowed a custom from Persian times which was meant not only to take advantage of slave labor but to humiliate and subject a conquered nation. The custom worked this way, a soldier could conscript an ordinary citizen at any time and force them to carry his equipment or pack. Unlike the Persians, the Romans used a little restraint. They would only force a person to go one mile. Roughly a thousand steps.
Think of what happened to Jesus on the way to the cross. When he wasn’t able any longer to carry his cross, soldiers conscripted a man named Simon of Cyrene to carry the cross the rest of the way. This is what Romans could do. You can imagine the animosity this practice stirred in people. It happened all the time. People probably saw this taking place on a daily basis.
Jesus’ listeners may have taken issue with him for using this metaphor because they may have felt Jesus was condoning the practice. But Jesus used this example not to say it’s right, but to recognize it is the way things are. This is the world we live in. We live in a world where people can sometimes get away with doing things that offend us, outrage us, even humiliate us. So what does Jesus mean by recommending to his hearers that if this ever happens to them, don’t get angry, offer to go a second mile? This is where we’ll make some application to our lives and our world and consider what second mile living means.
SECOND MILE LIVING MEANS:
Notice for one thing, it means We always have a choice. Sure, there are things we have to do; things we might not feel much choice about doing, but just because we have a responsibility does not mean our choice is taken away.
If you were to list the things in life you feel you have to do, what would they be? Go to work? Take care of your family? Pay your bills? Other tasks? If you see these only as have-tos, what happens to your attitude about them? What happens to the way you look at the people you help through them? You can soon resent not only the chores, but the people for whom you do them. They can become burdens who hold your life back.
A got a little lesson in this principle years ago when I was fairly new in ministry. A retired bishop invited me to attend an event on a Sunday. I said, “I regret I can’t but I have to preach that Sunday.” He said, “No you don’t.” I thought he was joking with me. I said, “Actually I do. I have to preach that weekend.” He said, “No you don’t.” You don’t have to preach, you get to preach.” I said, “Right, that’s what I meant.” He said, “Then why didn’t you say it.” Then he softened a little. He said, “I want you to understand something important. The words we use matter. Over so many years of having to preach you’ll stop enjoying preaching. It will become a job. And the Lord doesn’t need any more pastors just doing a job.” Then he said this line I’ll never forget: “Don’t let the things you have to do dampen your call.”
The first mile is always what we have to do. It’s a responsibility. It’s a chore. It’s a commitment we made. But the second mile is what sets us free. The second mile is a choice. The second mile keeps us from becoming a victim. We can choose to serve. We can choose to bless. We can choose to love anyway and forgive when underserved.
Jesus recommended to people not to live just in the first mile. Go the second mile.
And that brings us to another observation: Second mile living means Turning Attention from Self to Others. The first mile is about us. It’s about our requirement. But second mile living sees what we do as an opportunity to do something for others.
Go back to your list of responsibilities, all the things you feel you have to do. How can those become opportunities to influence other people around you? How can you use those times to do something that surprises someone by going an extra effort to help them? Just imagine a soldier conscripting a citizen. Every other time he’s done this, the person gets to the 1,000 step and drops the bags to the ground and maybe even mumbles something under their breath, but this time a person says, “You mind if I carry another mile for you?” What might the conversation be like in that second mile? What might be the chance to turn an enemy into a friend? To help them in a way you would have never expected?
I read a story the other day about a pastor who picked his son up from practice and stopped at a gas station. As he was pumping gas a truck driver walked over to him and asked if he knew the area very well. The pastor said yes. The man said, “Well, can you tell me where this address is?” The pastor looked at it, but he wasn’t sure.
Now this was in the early days of GPS devices before smart phones. Not everyone had a device, so the pastor looked it up on his GPS and started to give directions but it was just too complicated. He knew the only way the guy would find it was if he led him there, but the pastor was in a hurry to get home. He had some things to do. His son said, “Come on dad, just drive there, he won’t find it otherwise.”
So he did. Took about 20 minutes. As he turned around to leave, the truck driver got out of his vehicle and walked over to thank him. The pastor thought, “Well, I should at least take a moment to interact with him.” He asked where he was from and the man told him. The pastor said, “Oh, I’ve got some good friends in churches there. Do you happen to have a church home?”
The truck driver said, “You’re a pastor aren’t you?” He said, “Yes.” The man said, “Well, God must have put you in my path. I’m just having a hard day today. My daughter was murdered last year, and this is one of those days I can’t seem to get her off my mind.” Suddenly the pastor realized this extra trip was not about him.
Paul said, “Make the most of your chances to tell others the Good News.” (Colossians 4:5 LB) That simply means be aware of everywhere we go, everything we do and how God can use us in those moments to be an influence, to be a help, to make a difference. That’s why you have a shoe prayer this morning. Each week, you are going to get a prayer to put in shoes you frequently wear. This second-mile business makes us think about walking. Today, we want you to put this in your sneakers. At the start of the year, many folks make resolutions to get back in the gym, but don’t let that just be about you. Pray this prayer every time you put those shoes on and be mindful of ways you can be God’s instrument to people you meet there. When you come home and get ready to put the shoes back in the closet, put the prayer back in there til next time. If you do that until the paper falls apart you should find your attention and emphasis changing.
It’s not about just about you. This single attitude factor is the difference among churches. Did you realize that on average 6,000-10,000 churches die each year in the US? Why do most churches decline? Because they don’t change, they don’t reach out. And it’s a counter-intuitive idea. You would think that churches that keep people really happy and satisfied are the ones that stay healthy, the churches that exists for the sake of the members. But it’s really the other way around. The churches most sacrificial, the ones most committed to reaching out, are the healthiest. The churches that say, “It’s not about me.” We exist for others. We are here to be God’s blessing in the world. We are second-mile servants.
I know there is a lot of uncertainty about the future, particularly this year, especially for the United Methodist Church. We can’t say for sure what’s going to happen to our denomination this year, and for as much time as I have invested in this matter the past couple of year this is probably going to sound very strange, but I don’t care. Now, I don’t completely mean that. I do care about the United Methodist Church. I care about our mission, our schools, our ministries that serve people around the globe. I care deeply about these matters, But I don’t care about the bureaucracy or just preserving an institution. I care about the mission of the church and that always gets local. I care about St. Luke’s, and no matter what happens in the UMC this year, what till determine our health and vitality for the future will be our willingness to live as people willing to go the second mile; people who say “It’s not about me.”
I would not be here today were it not for Bishop Mike Coyner. At the start of this past decade he was bishop here in Indiana. The decade began with the news that there would be a change coming as senior pastor. He gave a lot of freedom to St. Luke’s to work with him in selecting a new senior pastor, and because of his friendship with my bishop at the time who would have probably not given consent had the request come from anybody else, I ended up here.
I along with a lot of other people were just shocked at the news this past week of his death. His service will be this coming Saturday at 11:oo here at St. Luke’s.
Bishop Mike’s last Facebook post was Friday a week ago. He shared about the news of his cancer and the seriousness of it. Then he shared how his prayers fall into three categories: 1-Why me? which leads to a pity party. 2—Why not me? Which reminds me that