God’s Gravitational Pull, Tying Knots & Waking Us Up!

Romans 13:8-14
Owe no one anything, except to love one another; for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. The commandments, “You shall not commit adultery; You shall not murder; You shall not steal; You shall not covet”; and any other commandment, are summed up in this word, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” 10Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore, love is the fulfilling of the law.
Besides this, you know what time it is, how it is now the moment for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we became believers; the night is far gone, the day is near. Let us then lay aside the works of darkness and put on the armor of light; let us live honorably as in the day, not in reveling and drunkenness, not in debauchery and licentiousness, not in quarreling and jealousy. Instead, put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires.

Pent12 / John Stiles / Holy Cross Lutheran Church / 9-4-11

Children’s Time: I have a rope here and I need 2 volunteers: 1) to be “God” and 2) to be a human. God, you hold this end of the rope and human, you hold the other end. Now, let’s say the human gets tired of having God around and wants to be alone. Well, I have this scissors here (cut the rope). Now what? You might drift away for awhile… until you need help! (call to God for help). Then God comes and ties a knot, bringing you back together. But what if you get angry with God and swear using God’s name? (cut rope) That might make you drift away again, until (call for help). When we call on God in our time of need, God is there to re-tie the knot. But sometime later we may decide to do things by our own rules (cut rope). That may make us feel powerful and important, and we may not even notice we’re drifting away from God. When we realize how foolish we’ve been (call for help)…God is right there to tie the knot again. Do you see anything different from when we started? Yes, there are a lot more knots, but notice also that the human is much closer to God with each new knot. This is what forgiveness is all about: it’s not something we do, it’s what God does for each one of us. When we are truly sorry and call to God for help, it brings us closer to God. Let’s pray: God, we thank you that you are always ready to tie the knot when we cut the string and drift away from you. Help us to be honest and to depend on you for all we need. Amen.

Intro: Dear friends in Christ: grace to you and peace, from the One who is and who was and who is to come: our living Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.

Well, it’s Labor Day weekend – a time to rest and reflect on what we do for a living, maybe take in the MDA telethon, or spend time with your family. Think for a moment about what sort of “labor” do you do. We labor all week building homes, cutting wood, cutting hair, waiting tables. Some of us manage stores, sew clothes, provide security or hit the books, laboring as students. There are jobs in tech support, life support, teaching, nursing, consulting, banking, preaching – most of our lives are spent doing something for a living – for the betterment of society. Even in retirement, we find ourselves grandparenting or volunteering in our communities. But there is a labor that is even more important than what you do for a living.

When it comes to hard labor, the “labor of love” ranks at the top of the list. In our 2nd lesson for today, Paul tells the Romans, “Owe no one anything except to love one another.” He concludes by telling them to “put on the Lord, Jesus Christ.” “Slip into your ‘Jesus coat,’” Paul might have said, “and wake up from your sins.” But there was a problem: they wanted to sleep in. Paul writes: “Now is the moment for you to wake up from sleep for salvation is near”

The Greek word used here for ‘sleep’ is hypnos. So, of course, the Romans weren’t really sleeping… but were likely hypnotized by sin, in need of a wake up call.

This week, on Tuesday morning, there’ll be a lot of hypnos to overcome as my children go back to school. “Get up! It’s time for school! Come out from under those covers and greet the brand new day!”

It’s a hard habit for kids to break – that sleeping in until 9 or 10 o’clock business! The same is true of our faith. When we become hypnotized by sin, we need a reminder to “put on the Lord, Jesus Christ.”

It’s hard to admit we’ve fallen away – or cut that string between us and God. Oh, we’re good at putting on a good front. We put on airs. But putting on the Lord takes careful attention.

I’m a people pleaser. I want everyone to be happy. Oh, I know that’s not possible… but with God… (I tell myself). So, I worry sometimes about making sure everything is “just so.” Just this morning coming to church…. I forgot my children’s sermon bag. My wife met me halfway on Helmo Ave. and we passed each other! I’ve never met anyone who truly “had it all together.”

Sometimes when we come to worship we have this idea that we have to be shiny and presentable – putting on airs – as if only saints were allowed. The truth is we’re a mess much of the time, if we admit it. We’re imperfect people with weaknesses and vices, addictions and flaws. We sometimes fight or don’t get along. We grab with a “me first” mentality and talk behind people’s backs. We’re easily distracted by bright, shiny things – sleek things, sexy things, chocolatey things, ice-creamy things. We fall to pride, lust, gossip and selfish ambition. We don’t, in fact, help the poor as much as we could. And, if anyone ever knew this about us, they might not like us anymore.

Philip Yancey, in his book What’s So Amazing About Grace? says this about coming to church as a little boy:

As a child, I put on my best behavior on Sunday mornings, dressing up for God and for the Christians around me. It never occurred to me that church was a place to be honest. Now, though, as I seek to look at the world through the lens of grace, I realize that imperfection is the prerequisite for grace. Light only gets in through the cracks.”(p. 273)

So, with all the doing that goes on around us this Labor Day weekend, how about we sit back for a moment and consider “God’s labor.” There’s one thing we can’t do for ourselves: only God can truly forgive and extend us grace.

You might argue that we can forgive others – in fact, we’re commanded to in the Lord’s prayer. But that reminder is more about God forgiving us – as we release the debts owed to us by others. God is still the one who forgives sins.

Simone Weil (French philosopher & and Nazi reistor) spoke of the concept of Gravity & Grace. When we are drawn into our own gravitational pull – we’ve cut the strings with God. When we’re living by the rules of gravity, we’re trying to draw people to ourselves: “Look at me, over here!” It’s all about power and influence, persuasion and loyalty.

But when we’re living by grace, we are drawn into God’s gravitational pull. It is a posture of receiving as “jolly beggars” (to use a phrase coined by C. S. Lewis).

That grace is pure gift. Yes, it is a labor of love (as Paul reminds us) but it doesn’t happen without God’s hand involved. Even when the disciples fought amongst themselves, Jesus gave them the promise that where 2 or 3 are gathered in my name – I’M THERE in the midst of them. This is how human community is restored – how God wakes us up to love one another. “Owe no one anything except to love one another.”

Loving others is perhaps the hardest labor we will ever perform this Labor Day weekend. But we don’t do it alone. “Where two or three are gathered, there am I in the midst of them,” says Jesus.

Everytime you “take it to the Lord in prayer” a knot is tied, you draw closer to God.
Everytime you “speak the truth with love” a knot is tied, you draw closer to God.
Everytime we gather at this table and receive this bread and this wine – a knot is tied, we draw closer to God’s gravitational pull of grace.

Come, all you who labor – all you who’s lives are a mess – come. Come one and all. Come two or three. I am there, says the Lord. I am there.

Amen.

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