I read some words today.*
It was a list. A litany of things that would keep one (myself) from inheriting the kingdom of God. Some of those things I had done last week: fits of anger, idolatry, rivalries, envy. Some I committed within the past few months: drunkenness, dissensions. And as the words wrapped themselves around my heart, I tried to glance away. I tried not to see.
But my kind and gentle Savior led me forward.
I thought the opposite of drunkenness would be sobriety. Or the opposite of rivalries would be forcing myself not to want good things for myself, sort of a lack of competitiveness. I thought it would be robotic control of thoughts, feelings, and emotions.
But that’s not what is written in Galatians. Consider the words that follow. It’s another litany of words. Words we’ve read often and turned into kitchy little plaques that we hang in our homes. I want to pause and rest on these words.
Because the opposite of drunkenness isn’t sobriety.
The opposite of drunkenness is love.
The list continues with kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.
And I am led back to that place where it isn’t about so much what I do or don’t do, but what the Spirit is growing in my heart. This is the Spirit’s work in me. It’s the work of love. The work of kindness. The work of gentleness.
And it breaks my heart because I see the lack of that inner-working when I interact with the world. I am not quick to show love and kindness to the ones who are different from me. Or even the ones closest to me. In the name of truth, we forget gentleness. The world looks at our Church and they don’t see our Jesus. Our words have become hurtful and divisive. We don’t make room at the table for the ones who scare us with their different-ness. We tremble at discussion and are fearful of the unknown. We don’t trust the work God does in the hearts of those around us.
We’re so afraid of “false” doctrine that we’ve castrated the Spirit.
We tell people how to read the Bible, how to interpret it and give them rules in place of relationship. We don’t meet people where they are—we ask them to conform before we are willing to bend down and wrap our arms around them. Or if we do, we connect strings to our aid, “Believe this,” we demand. Love is absent. Often gentleness and kindness too. Our hearts are hardened to people’s stories. We stop our ears, and the ears of those around us. We try and silence them—and when that doesn’t work we yell insults and defame characters.
We don’t trust the Spirit is working out salvation with fear and trembling in the hearts of the individual—ours, their’s, and even the ones listening to their story. We are not tender-hearted. We are so fearful of what’s to come, of God being forgotten, that we’re acting like we have to save God—and it’s a desperate act. An act that doesn’t allow for anyone to have a different experience or to ask questions.
Instead of showing the world how good we are at love and kindness and gentleness, we show them how good we are at hate. We are no longer known as the people who love the unlovable—we are the people the unlovable avoid. Rather, they turn to the government to find people to fight for their injustices, to give them aid, food, and shelter.
It’s amazing, really. The things the Church in Acts was known for, we are not. People hear the classification “Christian” and cringe. I know I do too.
We’re not all like that. I know. Some are in the trenches, with full selves and all the messy brokenness creating space for other’s full selves. They strive to bring the kingdom of God to the ones whom God would give it. They read the litany of words stacked against them, and cling to Jesus to make them new, knowing they understand less than an iota, and giving love instead of fear or judgment. They sit. They listen to stories. They allow questions and the unknowns, the unanswerable hanging thick with wait. And with one breath at a time, they make space for the Spirit to do the work that the Spirit does in the Spirit’s time and the Spirit’s way. Letting the stories play out over lifetimes and trusting fear will not overcome.
This is God’s work.
We don’t have to try so hard—doesn’t God say God will bring about God’s good purpose?
I breathe God in.
I breath God out into the world.
*Passage from Galatians 5:16-26