Imagining with Lars

July 6, 2008

“There is therefore no condemnation for those who are in Christ
Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you
free from the law of sin and of death”
(Romans 8:1-2).

This
is a mind-bending declaration. For Paul, freedom does not come from
legislation, a social program or a better moral instruction kit.
Freedom is achieved by the saving act of God in Christ, who dealt with
sin by taking on human flesh. This is an act that has inaugurated a new
world order for human liberty for all who are in Christ. It is only
living in Christ, says Paul, that we can experience freedom from what ails humanity. This is not a freedom from relationship but to relationship. It is this relationship that allows us the freedom to live anew.

Paul
presents an agonistic polarity between those who live according to the
flesh and those who live according to the Spirit (Rom. 8:5-8). Those
who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the
flesh—meaning their lives are shaped by selfish passions. In contrast,
Christians are called to think with the “mind of the Spirit.” Those who
are in Christ, think with the mind of Christ. In every situation we are
to use our minds to imagine the love of Christ for others. (Samuel
Well’s wonderful book Improvisation comes to mind as a resource.)

An
either/or sermon might be framed around this polarity between the flesh
and the spirit. Or try constructing a sermon where you depict a
situation first using the mind of the flesh and then using the mind of
the Spirit. How would the situations be different? What might this
contrast look like in your community?

It’s not hard to look
around and find empirical examples of what’s wrong. We know the pulpit
temptation to wag the finger. Seeing the possibilities in a way that
inspires grace is a lot harder, because it requires us not to reason
with common sense, but with the sense of the Spirit. It is more
difficult to portray goodness than evil. Illustrating a mind that has
submitted to God’s law of intensified love requires a disciplined
imagination. I find story helpful as an aid. Is there a concrete story
in your congregation that embodies what it looks like to think with the
mind of the Spirit?

A beautiful picture of what it might look
like for a church—or pastor, brother, doctor or friend—to imagine with
the mind of the Spirit appears in the movie Lars and the Real Girl. It’s that rare movie that displays goodness without falling into sentimentality. Lars
shows us a community that saves a struggling young man whose life is
crippled by anxiety. The community uses its freedom to move towards
Lars, not away from him. Who is Lars in your pew?

We all have
artificial ways of trying to cope with real life. Lars’s way is a just
little more odd (well, a lot more). We all need those who can see, with
the Spirit, past our habits of self-protection. As Philo of Alexandria
said, “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a great battle”?

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