Grace is surprising. That’s the way it should be.
Just listen to Joe.
“What you guys did, it sends shivers up my spine,” Joe said, after the gas-giveaway our church did at his gas station.
After a long, slow summer with street construction that diverted patrons from his small-town gas station—a business that’s been in the family for three generations—there was a small-but-surprising ray of hope. Joe’s business more than doubled this particular day.
It was all a part of our Community Service Day. In an effort to mobilize our church for outreach, we planned projects like gas-giveaways, free hot dog stands, free bottled water, free lawn care and many other initiatives. During this crazy day packed with uncertainty, we discovered the surprising nature of grace. All day long we heard, “What’s the catch?” and “Why are you guys doing this?” It was electrifying to share with them—there was no catch.
For a long time, people have thought that Christianity always has a catch. It’s that little hesitancy that people have in the back of their minds that’s just waiting for that all-too-familiar Christian punch line. When they don’t hear one, they get uneasy. They don’t get it, and that part they don’t get—it’s grace.
Following Jesus makes you do things that are unnatural, like that whole going-the-extra-mile and turning-the-other-cheek thing. These lofty commands weren’t just high ideals, they were intentional patterns for living in the ways of Christ. Jesus-followers should live in a surprising, mind-blowing kind of way, out-loving the world at every turn. It’s like Jesus said, “Even the ungodly love their family and friends—you’ve got to step it up even more” (my paraphrase, of course).
As Christians, most of the time we’re really good at going the first mile, but it’s the second mile that makes an impact. In the second mile, grace starts to take shape and form and clarity. There’s great intrigue and mystery in the second mile.
At one home, there was an overabundance of weeds and overgrown trees that our team was working on clearing for an older single woman. The woman stayed outside and helped facilitate the clearing—and throughout the day she would say things like, “Oh, honey, don’t worry about that junk over there.” It’s ironic—she knew we were a church group, yet felt comfortable enough to be herself. We knew we were right where we needed to be, and it wasn’t at a prayer vigil in a candlelit sanctuary or at another Bible study, it was in a backyard listening to cuss words and clearing out brush and in parks passing out hot dogs. That’s where grace was for us—on that particular day. That was our second mile.
It may sound trivial—giving away food and clearing brush to share the love of Christ, especially when there are people dying in Darfur and orphaned children around the world—but grace is an attitude that rests in the details, not just the large politically charged agendas. Grace is practical; it’s active. I guess I think that giving away a hot dog or any small act of service—in the name of Christ—will help us become more aware of the ways we can help with overwhelming tragedies like Darfur.
I’m not delusional, either. I know that one day in the community doesn’t add up to a movement—but it’s a start. It’s a start in what might be the tipping point for our little town and the love of Christ. A love that becomes really vivid in the second mile of the journey.
Like I said, just ask Joe.