But of course we've learned much since then about mental instability and those who struggle with all kinds of disorders. But it doesn't make it any less scary. This morning I turned the radio on, and you guessed it, Imagine by John Lennon was playing:
Imagine there're no countries
It isn't hard to do
Nothing to kill or die for
And no religion too
Imagine all the people living life in peace,
You may say I'm a dreamer
But I'm not the only one
I hope some day you'll join us
And the world will be as one
I remember not liking that line about imagining there's no religion as a kid. I think I was actually taught NOT to like it. But for the last 25 years I've tried to move people away from religion to a more robust spirituality: A life in pursuit and in relationship with Jesus. A life that is wide open daily to being animated by the Holy Spirit. In fact, a world of peace, a world of unity, and a world of no religion is the future hope of the Christian narrative.
Galatians is all about this. Moving people away from their religious law into an empowered and adventerous life with God's spirit. In fact Paul writes that the law was just a placeholder, a short term solution. It was unicorn hamburger. To live by the law is like asking for unicorn meat = it doesn't even exist. It was because of our own sinfulness that the law had to be established in the first place. Paul calls the law a prison and a nanny. The law is the servant who walks you to and from, school: "Don't do that! Don't look over there! Hey, stop touching yourself!" Why? Because you are a little kid and the law is your babysitter. But with the Christ event, everything has changed. We are now the dwelling place of God's Spirit. Those who live a spiritual life in tune with the Spirit, get to mature and that nonexistent unicorn burger, that nanny, just disappears and is no longer around. Poof, all gone! Not necessary anymore.
Paul was adamant about this. The Galatian people were struggling with going back to and practicing the law. Paul thinks they've been tricked or a spell has been cast over them. "What in the world are you doing believing in and following unicorns?! They are not even real!"
He goes on to describe a dream world, one that is actually based more in reality than the life they've gone back to with the law. He asks them to Imagine a life that is run by love and joy and peace and patience and kindness and goodness and faithfulness and gentleness and HEY, lets throw in a bunch of self-control while we're at it.
Paul actually believes they've left that imaginative and beautiful world for a world that doesn't even exist. Now, I know the world they were living in was very complex. They were going back to the law for various reasons, politics being among them. Rome was getting confused because Israel had been given certain benefits. Rome had been generous to allow them to worship their god, to observe their laws and rituals, and to not worship Caesar (they didn't really let ANYONE do this). But the temples were now being filled with Jesus' followers who were no longer observing the law. This caused major problems. And what they were saying about Jesus was upsetting Rome, to say the least. Many believe this is why Paul (Saul at the time) was out trying to kill christians - they were ruining Israel's standing with Rome. He wasn't upset that they believed Jesus rose from the dead, he was upset because they were allowing people to stop observing the law. So out of safety and in order for political benefits to continue, these Jewish Christians went back to the law, leaving a life filled by the Holy Spirit - which was the whole point of Jesus coming and doing what he did.
A very complex world I know.
We are living in a world that is kind of scary as well. Christians and others are being killed for their beliefs. People are stocking their homes with guns and ammunition right now out of fear for their lives. American Muslims are doing the same thing, because they are fearing for THEIR lives... what we have is a big mess right now. It's so confusing to know what to do.
Paul even writes a kid named Timothy - who was was trying to pastor through all of this stuff - that, "God did not give us a spirit of fear, but of love, power, and a sound mind." A life of the Spirit. No fear, but peace. Peace in the midst of struggle, in the midst of persecution. Peace that passes all understanding. In fact, we are the peacemakers, the peacekeepers, pointing everyone we know to Jesus, who will move all away from religion, to a life filled with all that amazing and tasty fruit.
I think John Lennon was on to something, I really do. And I can Imagine a better way - I long to LIVE a better way. A life that is not marked by fear, or addiction, or brokenness but one that is full of love, power, and a sound mind.
May we DAILY be empowered by God's Spirit to live and move and have our being. And may the fruit of the Spirit travel in and out of us wherever we go! Amen!
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