Sermon: Second Mile Society
Scripture: Matthew 5:38-42
Date: November 19, 2017
If you were here last week, you know that I confessed that I had intentionally avoided preaching on this passage because I knew the implications that it would have on my life and faith, but this time God was not going to let me off the hook. And so I talked about feeling that too often in my faith walk I was content to just go the first mile, do the minimum that is required of me. But Jesus has so much more in mind for his disciples. This passage calls on us to go the second mile. So when I finished last week’s message, I thought I was done with this passage. But God had more in mind. Because last week we talked about the implications for our individual lives of going that second mile. But what about the church. How do second mile disciples impact the church?
Last week I finished up with Max Lucado talking about the Society of the Second Mile that he has within his church. Remember he talked about a couple of people who went way beyond the minimum expectations of membership in their service within and through the church. And that’s where I want to pick up today because the more I thought about it, the more I began to imagine what kind of church we could be, if the whole church belonged to the Society of the Second Mile. (Refer to Toolbox)
Now here’s the thing – we already have a lot of second mile disciples at St. Luke. If that were not the case we would not be able to do all the things we do. People are always saying to me that there is a lot going on at St. Luke. Even the Bishop said to me when he was leaving several Sundays ago that he couldn’t believe how much we had going on. I think sometimes those of us in the church take for granted just how many lives are being touched through the ministries of St. Luke. Just this week we had six hundred in worship, a couple of hundred in Sunday School, a big crowd for the Wed.Comm make a difference night, hundreds receiving food through the pantry and commodities program, kids from the neighborhood being touched through Kid’s Cafe, welcomed several new members, and the list goes on and on. Tuesday we will help make it possible for hundreds of families to have a blessed Thanksgiving. When I was a District Superintendent in two different districts, I had the privilege of working with more than 120 churches, and I can honestly say that none of them were touching the number of lives with the Gospel of Jesus Christ as does St. Luke. St. Luke is a wonderful, caring, dynamic church because we have quite a few who are willing to go the second mile in many areas of ministry and life. But the call of Jesus is for disciples who are willing to go the second mile in all things, because He went the second mile in all things for our sake, and that’s where most of us fall short. We are willing to go the Second Mile in some things, but not all things. And we also have quite a few who are content to stop after the first mile. Maybe come to worship most Sundays. Maybe get involved in a Sunday School class. Volunteer every once in a while in one of the outreach ministries. Perhaps put some money in the plate. Go the first mile. Do what we define as enough. Are you like I have been for too much of my ministry – content, comfortable with being a first mile Christian? Or are you ready to join the Society of the Second Mile? Because as good a church as St. Luke is, this passage of scripture gets me excited thinking about all the possibilities God has for us, as more and more of us decide to join the ranks of Second Mile Disciples. What will it take from each one of us in order for St. Luke to become the Society of the Second Mile, to be a church that always goes the second mile. Well I think those are the questions that Jesus had in mind when He called on disciples to always go the second mile. So for a few minutes this morning, we’re going to think about what it will take to transform St. Luke from a good church to a Society full of second mile disciples.
So the first thing is that second mile disciples don’t come to church seeking what we think we deserve from God, but it is often just the opposite of that – second mile disciples often get worse then they deserve from the world. Think about this scripture. The crowd followed Jesus to try and get what they thought they deserved from Him. Healing, forgiveness, and other blessings from God, because, they believed that’s what followers of Christ deserve in this world. Too many of us are like that. We confuse worldly blessings with the blessings of God. And so we come to church in order to receive the blessings we think we deserve as a follower of Christ. We often call this the prosperity gospel. Some of the fastest growing churches in the world today preach a prosperity gospel because that’s what we want to hear. A Gospel that says, if you are a believer, a follower, then God will bless you with good health. Healing of all infirmities. Financial well being. Those things that cause the world to say we are blessed. From a minimal investment of our lives, enough to meet expectations, we expect great rewards.
And so we think if “I go to church regularly. Not every Sunday. Maybe once or twice a month that will be enough for me to be blessed. Or if I lift up a prayer at a meal or in the midst of a great tragedy or for a friend in the hospital, and pray at church but certainly not pray regularly – not pray without ceasing like Paul suggested. And if I occasionally drop some money in the offering plate. Certainly not the tithe that is expected of me (and by the way that’s what the tithe is – the minimum expectation) and never go beyond the tithe- but if I do those things, then God will certainly pour out His blessings on me. But those are first mile believers not second mile disciples. First mile believers commit to the church based on our willingness – according to our will. But Jesus is saying that second mile disciples commit because of God’s will, ready to get that which they don’t really deserve. And so Jesus says, it is in our humiliation that we are exulted. And we will be blessed out of our poverty. Jesus is not saying any of us deserve to be slapped on the cheek, much less both cheeks. To really understand what Jesus is requiring of His disciples we need to know that in the First Century there were two things that people did to show great disrespect for others. One was to spit in your face and the other was to slap you on your cheek. It was demeaning. Later in his Gospel in describing what happened to Jesus at the hands of the Roman Soldiers when He was on His way to the cross, Matthew writes this. He said: “they spat on His face and beat Him; and others struck his face with the palm of their hands.” They humiliated Him, and then they killed Him. But He endured that for us. So when Jesus talks about offering the other cheek to your enemy, He is calling disciples to be ready to endure anything for the sake of the Gospel, just as He did for us, and never run from it, but rather take up your own cross to follow Him. Second mile churches are full of disciples who are willing to endure what they don’t deserve, not in order to receive the blessings of God, but instead to be a blessing to others. What could St. Luke be, if all of us came here not to be blessed but rather seeking ways to be a blessing to others.
And then He says that Second Mile churches are filled with members who always give more than what is asked of them.
When I first started serving churches, the Annual Conference would ask each local church to give “a portion” of the churches income each month to the Annual Conference. They would send each church an amount that they would be expected to give annually and we called that the apportionment. And along with that they would send out a list of approved missions, causes, ministries that were not supported through apportionments and encourage the churches to support those through what was called “second mile” giving. The apportionments were what was expected. Second mile giving called on churches to give beyond what was asked. When Jesus says that if an enemy sues you and the court requires you to give him your shirt in restitution, but you should go beyond what is asked, what is expected, and give them your coat also. Even though the law did not require it. In fact just the opposite. The law said that if you ever take your neighbors coat to repay a debt, you must return it before the sun goes down for that is the only covering he or she has to offer protection from the elements. And so what Jesus is proposing here is that when it comes to generosity, and forgiveness and reconciliation, disciples go way beyond what is required and expected of them, give sacrificially, even if that means essentially giving your most valuable and important possessions. Second mile giving is giving far beyond what is expected and required. Giving sacrificially. We often talk about what the church could do if everyone would give their tithe, give what is expected of them. I remember preaching one Sunday in one of my previous churches on Tithing and making the statement that the tithe was not the goal that we were to reach in our giving to the church. In fact, the tithe is the minimum expectation. The goal is to give more than the minimum, to give sacrificially. That Disciples give above and beyond the tithe. And so if the expectation is that you give your shirt, go the second mile and give your coat also. Well, after I said that, on Monday morning a man in the church, who was known to be rather wealthy, came into my office and said he wanted to ask me a question. He said I listened intently to your sermon yesterday and I left wondering “How do you know when you are giving sacrificially?” And much to his surprise I think, I said, “I can’t really answer that because though I have tithed since I was a teenager and often given above the tithe to a variety of ministries and missions, I don’t recall that ever requiring me to sacrifice anything that was important or essential in my life to give to the church.” Disciples are second mile givers. They give more than that which is asked or required of them in order to serve God and others. And that is often going to require making some sacrifices in order to go that second mile. In order to allow the church to go the second mile in service. Down through my years of ministry, as the year was coming to a close, I have had to stand in the pulpit and talk about how far the church had fallen behind in giving and was facing the end of the year with a pretty substantial deficit, and that we needed everyone to step up if we were going to be able to meet all of our commitments. (And that is certainly true here.) But Jesus is not calling on the church to just meet commitments, fulfill expectations. In order to be a second mile church we must go beyond what is expected. God is always challenging us to do more. And I always hated to preach those sermons- until one year after making that kind of plea from the pulpit, someone came up to me and made this statement: “I would have been giving more all along, if just someone would have asked. I didn’t know that the church needed the money.” Well here’s the thing, that is a one mile attitude- Jesus didn’t say that Disciples should give their coat too but only if they first checked to make sure the person needed it, or asked for it. No, second mile disciples give from their hearts to God, and trust Him to know where the need is. We give out of faith, we give out of love for Christ and our neighbor and our enemies. That’s second mile faith, that’s costly faith. Second mile churches are filled with second mile disciples, who give more than what is expected of us, who give beyond expectation, who give sacrificially.
And then lastly, second mile churches are filled with second mile disciples who always go farther than what is required of them. One writer says: “In Jesus time, the Pharisees had all of life, all of faith, boiled down to the minimum.” When I was a kid I had this nightly battle with my mother over eating vegetables. Every night she would place vegetables in front of me and she would say to me before you leave this table you must eat a little bit of your vegetables. And I would immediately start to negotiate with her. My question was always “What do you mean by a little bit.” You see I was always thinking “how little can I get by with?” Well in this requirement of the law to carry the pack one mile the Rabbis and priests taught a Jewish boy when he came of age, to mark off exactly one mile from his house in every direction, so that when he was compelled to carry a soldiers pack for a mile, he knew the exact distance and when he reached that, in an act of malice and defiance, he would drop the pack to the ground, give a look to the soldier that said “not one more step” and walk away, back in the direction they had come. First mile believers are good at drawing lines in the sand and communicating that we will only go as far as required. Going exactly one mile only serves to expose our hatred and animosity towards our enemies. Churches that only go the first mile are willing to love their neighbors. But Disciples go the second mile in order to show our love for our enemies. It’s in the second mile that lives are changed. And enemies are loved. And salvation takes place. Going the second mile in the church witnesses to our love for our neighbors and our enemies.
Today, is Confirmation Sunday and these young people will be pledging to support the church with our prayers, and our presence, and our gifts, and our service and our witness. Those are the expectations of church membership. But too many of us are like I was with vegetables, trying to figure out the minimum commitment that our pledge requires of us. But second mile disciples are the ones who pray without ceasing, and make being present with God our priority in life, and give sacrificially, and serve out of our unconditional love, and witness in all we say and do. Second mile churches are full of disciples who are always willing to turn the other cheek in love, and give sacrificially and love unconditionally. Second mile disciples follow Jesus, not in order to be blessed by Him, but rather to be a blessing to others because of Him. Are you ready? (Hold up Tool Box) Will you covenant with me and with these young people and others who are joining the church today, to commit your life to go the second mile in your prayers, and your presence, and your gifts, and your service and your witness? Because in order to establish His Kingdom now and forever, Jesus doesn’t need anymore first mile believers. What He is looking for are disciples who are willing to go the second mile. Because it’s in the Second Mile where we truly share Christ, today and forever.