House Rules: Grace

Romans: House Rules  •  Sermon  •  Submitted   •  24:23
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Love for One Another

(Cp Mk 12:31; Jas 2:8)

8 Owe no one anything, except to love one another; for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. 9 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.” 10 Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore, love is the fulfilling of the law.

An Urgent Appeal

11 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; 12 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; 13 let us live honorably as in the day, not in reveling and drunkenness, not in debauchery and licentiousness, not in quarreling and jealousy. 14 Instead, put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires.

What is the invitation here to discuss racism and racial tension?
Good morning. If you recall, last week we began a short series on House Rules. What are the rules we will abide by in our house, as we seek to be a house of God, a community of faithfulness to the way of Jesus?
Last week, we focused on Love. Before all else, to be a community of Jesus is to be a community that does what our morning’s reading reiterates: Love your neighbor as yourself. This is fulfilling the law, the way of God, the journey into Christ.
For a community to love, though, there are other attitudes and practices we must then embody. I hope you sense the urgency in today’s text, as well. The call to love is reiterated and then, in vs. 11, there is an urgent appeal to wake up — the time has come! Night is almost over, dawn and light are upon us. Time to rise up and live out this love. It is time to put other distractions aside, time to put on the armor of Christ’s light and get on with the work.
How? Isn’t love enough? Love and let live?
Underneath this passage, under the surface of our community rising to the occasion of love and awaking with the dawn of Christ’s light in our midst, I hear a call to grace. A hum of deep grace, a way of radical grace that must be lived into if that love and light is truly to be a part of the rules of our house.
Today, we’re gonna talk about that grace.
Being shown grace
When I think about grace, I think about a time when I was offered grace in its simplest and yet most radical, loving form. 10 years ago, in the weeks following my wife Stacy’s cancer diagnosis, I was a wreck. It was the end of the school year and, as a campus minister with students at WWU, we were wrapping up our program year and preparing to honor graduating students.
It was the morning of our graduate brunch. I was one of the core staff members of the campus ministry I served and I never really missed a gathering, program, or responsibility. I showed up, regardless of how I was doing. And that morning, I was not doing well. I sat in my small office, trying to prepare some music and words to share with students. The page in front of me was blank, the guitar sat at my side.
The director of our organization came in to my office to check on me. And in that moment, I broke down and wept. Some of the first tears I was able to shed as I was wrestling with the fear of cancer and how to care for my partner. I wept and wept. And this man, the director, a lifelong mentor of mine, placed his hand on my shoulders and prayed for me. He breathed with me. And then, he told me to go home.
The grace of this moment was that I didn’t need to hold it all together. The burden was too great at that moment and…it was ok to let others bear it. The tears were ok and a bit of absence was ok — this was grace. Deep grace, loving grace, the grace of the way of Jesus.
Radical Grace, Cheap Grace
I think we often define grace in an unhelpful way. Grace gets framed as forgiveness for wrongs done, patience for a person’s bad attitude or naiveté. We offer grace in a way that accepts someone’s faults, which is lovely, but simple acceptance is enough and doesn’t fully encapsulate what grace is or what it requires of the one who offers it or the one who receives it.
Rather, this morning, I want to expand on our imaginations for what Grace looks like, especially as we make it one of our house rules.
We have no interest in cheap grace — grace quickly given, with no strings attached and no teeth to it. “Oh, it’s ok, don’t worry about it” is such a weak phrase, an offer of cheap grace.
The grace on offer here is so much deeper. It is a grace that does accept the nature of the harm or brokenness or disruption…certainly…but then, it takes a deeper step, a next move. This grace radically accepts, but also propels us forward. Grace doesn’t stop with acceptance. Grace fulfills the law of love by offering a way forward for all people involved.
Grace, as I hear it humming underneath this text, is shining the light on the pain and moving into and through it together. Grace is covenantal, or put another way, grace is an agreement we make to one another to accept each other, but to never let each other stay stuck.
My friend and mentor offered me grace, not simply by welcoming my tears, but then by sending me home to heal and breathe. Grace is active.
Grace in the Pandemic
Think about our current situation and the need for deep, active grace. I’m not sure if you have seen the studies being reported upon regarding the impending mental health crisis that looms as we move into the 6th month of this global pandemic. Basically, researchers who study traumatic events and the human response have outlined the typical trend that many people follow in responding to a moment of great disruption and trauma, like we are in right now. For many of us, there is a period of rallying, a response and active engagement with the traumatic instance that serves to bolster our resolve and moves us forward. I’m sure you felt that a few months back — we’re going to conquer this, we’re going to redefine how we do things and move ahead. It was euphoric!
But the problem or reality is that that energy boost fades — and fast. In the following months of typical trauma response, our bodies move into a downward slope, declining into more despair, coping, and less than healthy methods of dealing with the trauma we are embedded in. Mental health issues increase: anxiety, depression, despair. Abusive patterns increase: addictions, violence, self-harm all grow more prevalent.
The curve, in typical trauma responses, eventually rebounds and most of us will experience a period of new growth and resiliency out of this event. That is hopeful. But the dive is deep. And researchers argue we are only at the top of the downward curve.
Why share this? Why this depressing bit of psychology today?
Because, we need to bring awareness to this reality. We are living in the midst of a global traumatic event. Then, add to it the racial apocalypse occuring: the smoldering pain of centuries of injustice has burst into flame. Add, as well, the fallout of financial burdens that many are experiencing due to the decline in our economy and loss of jobs. Add, as well, that America is in an election cycle and in 8 weeks, the tension and division that is ripping our country apart is likely to reach a head with a contentious vote. We are in the middle of a great shift and it is hard for many of us to bear.
We see glimmers of hope for what this grace looks like amidst the movement for racial justice right now. The grace is not that we simply accept our history and the wrongs that have been done…that is a start. But the grace comes from acknowledging the pain so many of us have cause AND THEN finding paths forward to listen, learn, grow, and change to create a better way forward. Grace does not allow us to stay where we are. The light of dawn comes and grace invites us to move into it with restored perspectives, ears that hear, and voices that speak for that light to bring on a new day.
Again, why point this all out? Why add to the despair? Why make us uncomfortable?
My intention, like Paul to the Roman church, is to highlight that the dawn is breaking. The night is ending, we are waking up. And it is an urgent time.
Our House Rules
And into this urgent time, we need to strongly define our rules of life together so we may be able to weather and emerge from this storm as one people.
This, my friends, is where we must embrace the house rule of deep grace.
We need to be expecting the grief and tears and anxiety and disillusionment from each other as we look to the months ahead. We need to expect that tensions even between each other, as members of this body, are going to run higher and higher.
Have you noticed this? Have you noticed feeling a little more on edge with the people around you lately? Have you noticed your patience running a bit thin? Have you noticed that it is getting harder to hold it together?
Here is the space for that grace.
Let me articulate this house rule very clearly for us, as we look forward:
We will live as a people of grace amidst a world of great tension, despair, and unknown. We will forgive and give each other space to feel this pain…not because we wallow in it, but because we accept each other’s struggle and wish to journey alongside it with each other. We will offer a grace that receives this struggle, but not only does it receive each other in the struggle, it does the work to help lift up and carry each other on a little further down the road.
Back to the image of my friend and mentor with his hands on my shoulders. I was in a very dark and sad place. And his grace to me was to make space and encourage me to rest. This is what he could offer me. And, in reflecting, I know he held his own burdens and his own pain…he was not immune. His wife had experienced cancer years before, as well. He was under the stress of watching someone he cared for in pain, in his own life and now in the life of a co-worker. His grace did not wipe out the reality of pain that he knew, either. Rather, his grace made space for the light of Christ to shine in me a little more…giving me grace was a grace for himself too.
Friends, a rule of our house must be grace. We must give that space to those around us who are suffering. We must not only listen to the pain, but also help each other take the small steps forward toward healing. Grace doesn’t simply accept, it seeks restoration.
To close, I look back out our text and find great hope in putting on the “armor of light”, wearing Christ’s likeness as a means to strengthening our life together. This light is the light of grace — shining into the darkness of our pain and illuminating a way forward.
Will you agree to this house rule with me?
Will you receive each other with grace and make space for each other’s pain?
Will you radically welcome each other, not for having it all together, but because we call each other beloved and seek to reconcile and bring forward into the light all who come in our doors? Will you? This is what it is to live out the love for one another in the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Will you?
Let us pray.
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