I remember when I first learned how to play chess.
For a period of time, it’s all I wanted to do with my free time. I’d play with anyone who would take the time to play with me, and if they didn’t know how to play, I’d teach them.
Most of the people I played with were older than me and more experienced, so it usually didn’t take too long for me to lose the match.
But I did have a cousin who learned how to play chess at about the same time I did.
We were about the same skill-level, so when I played with him, it would take me maybe 20 minutes to lose instead of my normal minute or two.
We were playing chess on his front porch one lazy summer day, and he was well on his way to defeating me when he came up with a great idea to achieve world peace.
It stuck with me ever since.
He said: “Why don’t all the world’s leaders just agree that when there’s a conflict, instead of going to war against each other, the leaders of those countries would just sit down and play chess instead?”
The benefits were obvious; chess is a lot cheaper than war, nobody would die, you still depend on strategy and skill, and the conflict could be resolved in an afternoon instead of taking months or even years.
On top of all that, people would choose smart leaders instead of merely powerful ones.
I thought it was a brilliant idea, and I still do!
In fact, I’d be supportive of casting aside the election process we currently have and replacing it with a big chess tournament. Everyone who runs for office would enter, and the winner would be the one who wins the tournament.
Now, you know as well as I do that there’s no way world leaders would ever be able to agree to such a civilized way of resolving their differences.
I don’t think we could even get some of us in the church to resolve our conflicts without some mud-slinging and name-calling, much less the heads of state around the world who have powerful weapons and devoted militaries at their command.
So it was that my cousin and I learned to say “That’s just how things are”, and go on with our lives.
It helps us, somehow, to recognize that even though we can imagine a better world, we are ultimately powerless to do anything about it.
So we’ve invented a powerful kind of lullaby to sooth our troubled minds and souls. We repeat it when the discontent grows within us and threatens to disturb our comfortable lives.
“That’s just how things are.”
It’s one simple phrase, but it suits us on so many occasions.
That’s just how things are.
You know what I mean. Maybe you’ve silenced your own fifth grader when they’ve asked a few too many “why” questions and you just don’t know what else to say.
“Why doesn’t our country just send lots of food to those hungry people we see on the news?”
“That’s just how things are.”
“Why don’t those homeless people just get jobs?”
“That’s just how things are.”
“Why didn’t you look at that guy when you walked past him?”
“Why does that church group hate homosexual people so much?”
“Why was BP drilling that deep in the Gulf of Mexico?”
“Why are we still fighting these wars?”
“That’s just how things are”!
The questions we wish nobody would ask; the questions we can’t begin to answer for ourselves, much less anyone else, the “Why” questions that nag in the back of our minds and haunt us when nobody else is looking “Why can’t I be better? Why can’t I be smarter? Why can’t I seem to pull my life together? Why do they hate me?”
The only way we can get through the nights sometimes is to comfort ourselves with the knowledge that this is just how things are.
But you know, every question; especially every question that starts with “why” has unseen actors at its root.
Assumptions, perceptions, attitudes and judgments; these are the unseen powers that produce something like condemnation within each of us.
Sometimes it’s condemnation we feel for ourselves or our actions; other times it’s condemnation we feel for others for what they’ve done or what they stand for.
Condemnation can be passive and it can be active.
We can both receive it, and we can give it to others.
But according to Paul, “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set us free from the law of sin and of death. For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do: by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and to deal with sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, so that the just requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.”
In other words, God condemned Condemnation through the resurrection of Jesus Christ!
So, to persist in the flesh; to persist in the way things are, and to believe that this is the way things will always be, all that is really a denial of the freedom Christ freely gives!
I don’t believe my cousin’s idea that day when we were playing chess; I don’t believe it was just his idea.
While I don’t believe it will ever happen, I do think that’s the kind of imagination Paul is really talking about here in this chapter.
We are condemned to live as if the way things are is the way things will always be unless and until our eyes are opened to what can’t be seen.
And you can only see what can’t be seen by looking beyond the flesh with eyes that are not physical.
We are called not to walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit.
To set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace.
God is Spirit; God is Spirit who became Word who became Flesh and lived here among us. He continues to live among us and continues to show us what can not be seen merely with our eyes.
It is the Spirit of God who gives us imagination enough to imagine a world where chess and not war determines a conflict. It is the Spirit of God who draws our eyes to what cannot be seen; to see things not as they are, but as they aren’t …yet.
As disciples of Christ, what we say and what we see depends entirely on the Word that was made flesh and dwelt among us, teaching and healing and liberating all who can hear it, see it, and live it.
For we are children of God, led by the Spirit; and we did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear; but rather we received a spirit of adoption.
When we cry Abba Father, it is that spirit testifying; bearing witness that we are children of God.
In our dying and in our living; in our brokenness and in our times of great joy, we are children of God, adopted into the new creation that was spoken by Jesus, the Word made Flesh!
And you know, Adoption is a good metaphor to use.
Paul has some good reasons to use adoption imagery in this passage.
First of all, God himself only had one biological kid; and even he was adopted in a way!
The rest of us have been adopted into God’s family. See, nobody is born into God’s kingdom; not biologically at least.
But secondly, adoption is one of the most concrete examples I can think of to illustrate what Paul is talking about. When you adopt, your attention is completely focused on what can’t be seen.
And we’re learning that it will be like that for a long time.
Adoption is a good example of uniting that which isn’t yet with what has always been, and coming away completely enriched.
*God hasn’t adopted us merely for his joy, or merely for our happiness!
Adoption is for keeps, in the good times and the bad, in the joy and the sorrow that we call life.
It’s scandalous when you think about it!
Jesus came and died and rose again; not just for the people who acknowledge it; but for EVERYONE!!!
The creator God created all of humanity in His likeness; not just the people who call themselves by His name; but EVERYONE is created in His likeness.
Some acknowledge that reality and strive to live by the Spirit into the freedom our adoption brings.
Others rebel against that adoption and continue in the flesh.
But I think what Paul is saying is that it’s not our job to condemn those walking in the flesh. It’s maybe not even our job to judge.
It is enough to walk as brothers and sisters created in God’s likeness.
For we have received a spirit of adoption; not fear.
Now, there are two parts to having the spirit of adoption that we’ve been given.
One is to be adopted, which all of us have been into God’s family.
The other is to adopt.
Can you think of someone you could adopt? Maybe not legally; maybe not even someone younger than you; but someone you can welcome into God’s family with open arms, being the brother or sister they never knew?
Maybe it’s a coworker or just an acquaintance you’ve never really gotten to know.
What would it take to adopt that person or that family; to treat them as a beloved member; not just of God’s family, but of your own physical family?
Can you imagine what that might look like?
It’s not the way things are; I know. It’s the way things aren’t…yet.
Millersburg Mennonite Church
P.O. Box 16
288 E Jackson St
Millersburg, OH 44654
Phone: (330) 674-7700
Fax: (330) 674-7700
Rachelle and Keith Lyndaker Schlabach
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