• Liz Ullery Swenson

Fruits of the Spirit | Sharing Divine Love


While WildWood is Christian leaning, we are not exclusive. And we certainly don’t expect you to profess any particular beliefs to be a part of this community. Together we bring a wide breadth of perspectives and experiences and it is in those collective experiences that I think we can find the most truth.

That said, one of the perspectives I bring is that of Christianity, and I think that regardless of theological lens or experiences there is something to be learned from the biblical texts and narrative, so today I bring part of a letter written by Paul to a fledgling group of Jesus followers, several years after Jesus’ death, but many years before the formal creation of Christianity. This letter is written to a small group of Celts in the Roman city of Galatia, whose own religious and cultural practices resonated well with what they had heard about Jesus. Except that some roving Jewish missionary types had arrived to tell them that they had to become Jewish first, and follow all of the intricate, confusing Jewish laws before they could follow the teachings of Jesus. That, of course, didn’t sit well with them, nor did it sit well with Paul, the author of this letter and the person credited with starting many of the early churches following Jesus’ death. This whole letter to the Galatians is about this upside-down world that Jesus believes in and preached about, this kingdom where, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave, nor free, nor is there male of female, for you are all one…” (Galatians 3:28) Paul is writing to affirm that they do not have to become Jewish, they do not need to follow ALL of the Jewish laws to believe in, and be a follower of the teachings of Jesus. Sort of like how you don’t have to be Christian to be a part of WildWood…

So that gets you caught up to the part of the letter we’re talking about today. This is Galatians 5:13-26 as translated in The Message.

"13-15 It is absolutely clear that God has called you to a free life. Just make sure that you don’t use this freedom as an excuse to do whatever you want to do and destroy your freedom. Rather, use your freedom to serve one another in love; that’s how freedom grows. For everything we know about God’s Word is summed up in a single sentence: Love others as you love yourself. That’s an act of true freedom. If you bite and ravage each other, watch out—in no time at all you will be annihilating each other, and where will your precious freedom be then?

16-18 My counsel is this: Live freely, animated and motivated by God’s Spirit. Then you won’t feed the compulsions of selfishness. For there is a root of sinful self-interest in us that is at odds with a free spirit, just as the free spirit is incompatible with selfishness. These two ways of life are antithetical, so that you cannot live at times one way and at times another way according to how you feel on any given day. Why don’t you choose to be led by the Spirit and so escape the erratic compulsions of a law-dominated existence?

19-21 It is obvious what kind of life develops out of trying to get your own way all the time: repetitive, loveless, cheap sex; a stinking accumulation of mental and emotional garbage; frenzied and joyless grabs for happiness; trinket gods; magic-show religion; paranoid loneliness; cutthroat competition; all-consuming-yet-never-satisfied wants; a brutal temper; an impotence to love or be loved; divided homes and divided lives; small-minded and lopsided pursuits; the vicious habit of depersonalizing everyone into a rival; uncontrolled and uncontrollable addictions; ugly parodies of community. I could go on.

This isn’t the first time I have warned you, you know. If you use your freedom this way, you will not inherit God’s kingdom.

22-23 But what happens when we live God’s way? God brings gifts into our lives, much the same way that fruit appears in an orchard—things like affection for others, exuberance about life, serenity. We develop a willingness to stick with things, a sense of compassion in the heart, and a conviction that a basic holiness permeates things and people. We find ourselves involved in loyal commitments, not needing to force our way in life, able to marshal and direct our energies wisely.

23-24 Legalism is helpless in bringing this about; it only gets in the way. Among those who belong to Christ, everything connected with getting our own way and mindlessly responding to what everyone else calls necessities is killed off for good—crucified.

25-26 Since this is the kind of life we have chosen, the life of the Spirit, let us make sure that we do not just hold it as an idea in our heads or a sentiment in our hearts, but work out its implications in every detail of our lives. That means we will not compare ourselves with each other as if one of us were better and another worse. We have far more interesting things to do with our lives. Each of us is an original."

So the Galatians have been told by this missionary group from Jerusalem that they have to abide by ALL of the Jewish laws before they can be followers of Jesus. This was long before the New Testament was written down, so the laws that they were instructed to follow were the Hebrew Laws in the first testament, those laws outline in Leviticus mostly. We’ve all probably heard a handful of Levitical laws, this laundry list of things that are considered “abominations”, right? Homosexuality, divorce, eating shellfish, the list goes on and on. The leviticus law that Paul writes about specifically is about religious purification through circumcision. The Jerusalem missionaries were insisting that all Gelation men had to be circumcised. And Paul’s response is basically, Jesus really don’t care if you circumcision or not, he is only concerned with “faith working through love.” Paul goes on, “everything we know about God’s Word”, about God’s Law, the law of humanity of the universe, “is summed up in a single sentence: Love others as you love yourself.” Paul is directly quoting Jesus, who was directly quoting Leviticus. Leviticus 19:18, “You shall not take vengeance or bear grudge against anyone of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Of all of the Hebrew laws, when Jesus is asked which law is the most important, this is the one he pulls out. Love God. Love neighbor.

For as easy as that sounds, love God, love neighbor, we all know we make it more complicated than that, and Paul knew that the Galatians were making it more complicated than it needed to be to, so he expanded on it. He says that they, and we, have a free spirit, we are not slaves to laws, we have a free spirit, but how we choose to use that freedom is the important thing. This free spirit is not for us to do whatever we want, take whatever we want. If we seek revenge with our freedom we will annihilate each other, and we will have nothing. But if we use our freedom, or free spirit to ask how can we freely be in service to one another? How can we freely give to each other? Our freedom, or spirit or relationship flourish when we give, care and love freely.

Paul says that we can’t have it both ways, we have to choose. We know we can’t have it both ways. If we fall pray to quick fixes and instant gratification we are shortchanging ourselves and those around us. If we instead choose “the fruits of the spirit, love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control; if we choose to love, wholeheartedly, live compassionately. I love the words the translator of the Message chooses here; “God brings gifts into our lives, much the same way that fruit appears in an orchard—things like affection for others, exuberance about life, serenity. We develop a willingness to stick with things, a sense of compassion in the heart, and a conviction that a basic holiness permeates things and people. We find ourselves involved in loyal commitments, not needing to force our way in life, able to marshal and direct our energies wisely.”

I went on a walk with a friend this week, I was telling her how frustrated I was that I was working so hard on so many different projects and every time I came up with a really good idea, someone else, someone older who had been doing this kind of work longer, would steal it and claim it as their own. I came up with it, but they did it and took credit for it. I was feeling like my work and energy is pointless. She, as really good friends always do, asked me some hard questions. I was a little defensive in my answers because I wanted to be right. She gently reminded me, the way really good friends always do, that it wasn’t about me. It was about the movement, the ultimate goal, and my feelings in the moment are valid, but if someone could be so excited about my idea that they took it on as their own, and that little idea caught on and helped us move forward toward the ultimate goal, that’s what it was really about. My friend reminded me, that it wasn’t about me, and that by staking claim and copyright on my ideas I was limiting the Divine’s ability to work within the idea. My selfish need for possession was stifling the creative and creating power of the spirit within me and within each idea.

I was reminded of a poem by Rumi which says:

"Your acts of kindness

are iridescent wings

of divine love

which linger and continue

to uplift others

long after your sharing"

My friend, and Rumi, reminded me that by sharing my good ideas, my acts of kindness, my divine love, I encourage others to share their good ideas, their kindness and their divine love and together, but only together, we might actually be able to change the world, our country, our communities, our churches.

Paul, the smart guy that he was, knew that all these words about God’s way and the Spirit moving were great, but really pointless unless the Galatians and we are able to liven them out. To figure out how to live with a compassionate heart and to see holiness in all things and all people. To live a life of rules it’s only about doing the “right” thing, but by choosing to live a spirit-filled life we live a life of based on love. Our own unique and creative life, but it’s seamlessly woven with divine love. Since we have chosen, the life of the Spirit, the fruit of the sprit, “let us make sure that we do not just hold it as an idea in our heads or a sentiment in our hearts, but work out its implications in every detail of our lives.”

I invite you to take a berry, these fruits of the season. Close your eyes and put in your mouth. Focus on what you mouth is experiencing. Bursting with flavor, gushing with sweetness. This little berry fulling your mouth.

What would it look like if you were to do things, little things, that could make someones heart feel the way your mouth feels? What would those things be?


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