Category Archives: Other Subjects

The Wisdom of Old Age

By Rev. Thomas L. Kline

“Thus says the Lord of Hosts: Old men and old women shall again sit in the streets of Jerusalem, each one with his staff in his hand, because of great age. The streets of the city shall be full of boys and girls playing in its streets” (Zechariah 8:4,5).

What a beautiful picture this is: old men and old women filling the streets of Jerusalem. Because of their great age it says they are carrying staffs in their hands. And then the picture goes on: alongside of these old men and women are boys and girls playing in the streets elderly people and young children together in the streets of Jerusalem. And the Lord looks at this picture and says it is marvelous in His sight. It is marvelous in His sight because it is a picture of a community that is whole and well, a community that is alive. And why? Because all ages are present and valued.

This morning we want to talk about the blessings of old age, the fact that the period of human life known as old age is a crowning step for our lives, the fact that old age is a state of life to be valued for its wisdom and enlightenment, the fact that old age is an essential part of a healthy community, church or society.

It is interesting that the Writings of the New Church divide our lives into four stages: our childhood, our youth, adult age, and finally, the last step is said to be old age. Our childhood is said to be a time of instruction (that’s when we learn); adulthood is said to be a time of intelligence; but old age is said to be a time of wisdom. Old age is a time of wisdom, a wisdom that comes from innocence. It is a willingness to be led by the Lord.

But why is wisdom associated with the final years of our lives? First of all, we are told that true wisdom is not just a matter of learning, but a matter of life. True wisdom is not up here (in our head), but wisdom is down here (in our heart). True wisdom comes from the life-long journey of walking hand in hand with the Lord. It is the life-long journey of discovering who the Lord is the journey of finding that we can trust Him to be with us every step of the way. That’s the wisdom of old age.

True wisdom is the life-long journey of seeing the truths of the Lord’s Word down here in the uses and activities of our lives. In that process of bringing truth into our lives, over a lifetime we make that truth our own.

Finally, the wisdom of old age is the magnificent realization that we can’t do it alone, the realization that without the Lord we are nothing. In old age we look back over our life and see that the Lord has been there all the while.

What do the Writings of the New Church teach us about old age? Just listen to this passage from the Writings: “Old age is the last age, when earthly and corporeal things begin to be put off and the interiors of a man begin to be enlightened” (AC 3492). So in the last stage of our life the Lord allows the things of our body to wane gradually and grow dim. We find that our physical bodies are not what they used to be. The Lord does this on purpose, so that during the last stages of our lives our minds can be elevated toward more interior things. The Lord, in His wisdom, provides a gradual giving up of the things of this world as a preparation for the eternity of heaven.

It is interesting to ask elderly people what things they value most. How often they respond with memories of friends, family, and human relationships. In old age a transition is taking place. It is a time of uplifting our lives toward heaven.

Another beautiful teaching in the Heavenly Doctrines: We are told that the body grows old but the spirit itself does not age. The body grows old, but if anything the spirit grows younger. This is why we all find ourselves in the unusual situation where as years are put on, we still feel the same. The body may feel older, but the person inside that body is still the same. We still feel just as young as we ever did. And in this sense we are all young. It is the timelessness of the human spirit.

The Writings teach us: “To grow old in heaven is to grow young” (HH 414). In relation to eternity we are all in our spiritual infancy.

A final teaching from the Writings of the New Church (an unusual teaching): The Writings say that old age begins at the year sixty. This is an unusual teaching because we don’t often think of ourselves as being old as we approach sixty. At sixty we are often still involved in our day-to-day uses. The events of our natural life don’t suddenly change at sixty. But still the Writings suggest that this is the beginning of old age because it is a time when subtle changes are taking place in our spiritual attitudes toward life. At age sixty, even though we are still involved in our life-long occupations, we see those uses in a new light. Gradually we are willing to accept the limitations of the human spirit. We begin to have the humility that we may not accomplish everything we set out to accomplish in life. We begin to see the reality that this life is not forever. We begin to face the reality of the next life. The things of this world are not as important as they once seemed. Our values change and are uplifted. We not only believe but we actually feel and see that there are higher realities worth reaching for. It is the beginning of an uplifting in the growth of our spirit.

Old age need not be a time of decreasing usefulness. If anything, as age advances, the uses of life can become higher and more heavenly in their form. Retirement sometimes can be feared and seen as a time of uselessness. But retirement can also be a new opportunity to pursue the real loves of the heart. So often, because of life’s circumstances we are forced into careers and occupations that we do not truly love. Yet in the autumn of our lives, the opportunity is there to find our ruling loves, to pursue those dreams we always held to, to find those uses that more match our eternal character.

Old age is also a time of reflection reflection on life in the light of the Lord’s Word. Those approaching old age may not think of themselves as theologians or scholars, but they need to realize that even a simple understanding and reflection on the Lord’s Word in the light of that period of life known as old age can bring about a wisdom not known in any other period of life. A person reading the Word in the wisdom of old age brings about a conjunction with the heavens that is essential both to the individual and to society as a whole. The power of the heavens to one reading the Word in the light of a lifetime of experiences is the very heart of the church on earth.

Every age has blessings and it also has its challenges and hardships. And this can be especially true with old age. It can be a time of physical decline, a time of extreme loneliness. It can be a time of seeing lifelong friends pass on and apparently leave. It can be a time of loneliness when a spouse has already gone to the other world. It can be a time of depression, physical pain, a time of wondering, “What is my use in this world? Am I merely a burden on society?”

We may not fully understand the working of the Lord’s providence and permission. At times we may have to trust that uses are being performed in old age that are greater than we can see and understand. We may have to trust that at times the uses accomplished by prolonging life in this world are greater than the individual.

The Lord may extend life in this world to provide a plane of innocence here on earth innocence that is more far-reaching than the individual can consciously know. Or the Lord may be secretly implanting heavenly remains and memories as a final blessing on a long life of use. We need sensitivity, love and care for those in the hardships of old age the courage to trust in the Lord’s will. The Psalmist said, “Cast me not off in the time of old age; forsake me not when my strength fails” (Psalm 71:9).

I would like to end with a picture of Moses. This picture is from the 34th chapter of the book of Deuteronomy. It is that beautiful picture of Moses, in the last hours of his life on earth, standing on the top of Mount Nebo, looking over the promised land of Canaan. For forty years Moses had led the people through the wilderness. He had led them out of their captivity in Egypt, and now he had led them up to the very border of the promised land. And now we see that glorious moment when Moses, now an old man 120 years old, is ready to die. The Lord allows him to see the promised land before He dies.

That picture of Moses’ viewing the expanse of the promised land, the land where the Children of Israel would now live, is a picture of true wisdom, the wisdom that comes in old age, that wisdom that comes when we have walked long enough through the journey of lives to really know and see that the Lord is with us. The wisdom of old age: it is a wisdom that comes when we begin to put off the captivity of earthly and corporeal things and are truly willing to see and accept the reality of heaven and the next life. That picture of Moses viewing the promised land before him and at the same time remembering the long journey that was behind him (both sides of the mountain) is a picture of true spiritual enlightenment.

In the book of Zechariah we have a picture of old men and women sitting in the streets of Jerusalem with the streets of the city full of boys and girls playing. It is a picture of the spiritual ages of our lives from childhood to old age. And the Lord looks at this picture, and His response is that it is marvelous in His eyes.


The New Church: The Difference

By Rev. Grant R. Schnarr

Today’s talk is entitled the New Church: the difference. Many people who have come to us recently have asked, “What is the essential difference between the New Church and traditional Christianity?”

In many ways we can look at the externals, the life of the church, and not see that much that is different. Some things are different though. A lot of people have said that to come here there is a real freedom of thought that exists, that you can use your mind when it comes to this religion and learn and keep the mind open, keep your understanding open and continually progress. Other people have particularly liked this cafe, how we worship here because it’s a very casual atmosphere here. You come in and sit down at a table. No one’s looking at you to see what you are wearing or anything like that. There’s a real good atmosphere. Other people have said that there’s a friendliness here and a warmth that they haven’t found elsewhere in other churches, much larger, or much smaller. There’s a real warmth that exists here and a comradeship.

A lot of these things we can find other places. What is the difference at the heart of the New Church and at the heart of Christianity, talking about the doctrines? These doctrines are like the spring that brings forth these other things. The doctrines are the heart, the essential. When it comes to the doctrines of the New Church and the former Christian church (and I use that “former” on purpose) then we see what a vast difference there really is in these two teachings and how new the New Church really is.

The Writings of the New Church say, for example, that the two doctrines cannot come together in a person’s mind. If they come together, if one isn’t rejected and the other one accepted, such a collision would take place that a person wouldn’t know what to believe any more because they are so diverse.

What would these doctrines be?

Who is God in the Christian church? Some people may say that God is a God of love, and that’s true, but when you look at a person’s thoughts about God, they sometimes differ very much from what the doctrine of the church is teaching. This idea that God is a God of love is relatively new, is a new idea. It doesn’t come from the doctrines of the church. What it comes from is people using their minds, moving away from those doctrines. The doctrine for the most part teaches that God the Father, the Creator is a condemning God. God looks upon the human race sometimes with disgust, with condemnation, with wrath. That is one of the reasons why, one of the reasons why in traditional Christian doctrine that Jehovah sent His Son into the world, and that His Son when we are clothed in His blood and righteousness, then God can no longer condemn us.

Where does this idea come from, this idea that God is a condemning God? It is taught in the Old Testament. To be fair, it is taught there in many places where it talks about God being condemning. One of those is taken from Jeremiah. It says here, “Though Moses and Samuel stood before Me, yet My mind could not be favorable toward these people. Cast them out of my sight….Thus says the Lord, “Such as are for death, to death; and such as are for the sword, to the sword .. I will hand them over to trouble….You have gone backwards, therefore I will stretch out My hand against you and destroy you; I am weary of relenting!…I will bereave them of children; I will destroy My people since they do not return from their ways.” Clearly in the Old Testament it teaches God is a God of anger and of wrath.

That’s interesting if you look at that. God can change His mind. He can forgive and then He can turn around and condemn, a very human concept of God in traditional Christianity. God Himself, apart from Jesus, is a God of condemnation.

How does Jesus fit into the picture in traditional Christianity? There are many ways of stating it. Most commonly it says there, in the Trinity there are three persons in God, three separate persons that make one essence. In fact, in Leo Rosten’s book “Religions of America,” a Lutheran put it this way for the Lutheran view, (and that’s kind of middle of the road in Christianity) God the Father is our creator, God the Son is our redeemer, God the Holy Ghost is the sanctifier and nourisher of souls. Yet there is one God in three personalities. Other people say three persons in one essence, just like three diamonds and they are made of the same essence, don’t they make one diamond? No, they don’t, do they? We’ll get into that later on. Three persons, each having a different type of function that they perform. God is the sustainer; Jesus is the savior, redeemer; the Holy Spirit is the sanctifier, the purifier; very separate and unique. In fact, in some of the creeds that have come along, Jesus was born from eternity. co God, all from eternity, He was always there.

Where are some of the places that this can be found in the Word? This is really interesting, is it taken from the Word? Is this idea of three separate persons in God actually taken from the Word, or was the idea thought up somewhere else and confirmed in certain passages in the Word because you’ll find that there are passages of the oneness, and then there are passages which seem to appear to have a separation. What are some of these passages?

Right in the beginning of Genesis it says, “Let us make man in our own image.” The Christian church says right there, “See, ‘Let us make man.’ It’s in the plural right there.” And then later on there is a very famous passage, John 3:16. (If you were ever watching a football game on TV, you’ll see a person holding up a sign “John 3:16.” You’ll notice that– somebody’s paying somebody to hold these signs up all over the country–and this is what it says, “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.” The idea that God gave His Son to the world, to sacrifice His Son so we could be saved.

Also, many times we find that Jesus is praying to the Father in the New Testament as if there is some sort of separation. Now today people pray in the name of Jesus to the Father. Some people pray in the name of Mary to Jesus and the Father. People pray to other people to Mary to Jesus to the Father, and so forth, to get in with God, this condemning God.

What is salvation in the Christian church? For the most part in the Protestant world salvation comes through, as it said here, “He who believes in Him should be saved,” that salvation comes through faith only. It was Luther who said, “It is my faith that saves me. I cannot do one whit of good. It is purely through my belief in God, that Jesus Christ died for my sins. And then grace comes over me through that faith, through having that faith.

Where is this taken from in the New Testament? Of course it says, whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but we might question later on, what does it mean by belief?

Also in the Code of Romans, Paul’s works, it says, “All have sinned, and come short of the glory of God; being justified freely by His grace through redemption that is in Christ Jesus .. Where is the boasting? It is excluded. By what law? of works? Nay: but by the law of faith,” Paul says. “Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith without the deeds of the law.”

It’s interesting that idea of “we conclude.” Paul sometimes said, “Sometimes I speak from inspiration; sometimes I speak from myself,” he said. Can you imagine the Lord saying to His disciples, “Therefore my brothers, we conclude that you should love your neighbor.” I think here we can see that this is Paul speaking. We’ll talk about that later too.

Today we are saved by believing that Jesus Christ died for our sins. We believe that. We accept Him into our lives through our faith. If we do any works, those works don’t count. It’s not through what we do; it’s through what we believe that we are saved. And if we accept Him into our lives, let go of our responsibilities and let Him take over, then we are saved from our sins.

There’s life after death and things that are believed there in the Christian church, and it’s interesting today, basically in the doctrine of the Christian church, we are supposed to rot in our graves until the last times. In the last times we will be raised up and that’s when the dead will be judged according to their works. Works? Isn’t that interesting? The Bible does say “according to their works.” But wait a minute, we’re saved by faith, aren’t we? Never mind that. The idea that we have to wait in our graves until the last time, and then we’ll be resurrected before God. The good people will be sent to heaven and the bad people will be cast into the fiery pit of hell forever and ever.

And yet it’s interesting, again, when people move away from their doctrine they begin to understand the truth. James Dobson, minister, a Christian psychologist, when he gave his father’s eulogy–his father had died–James Dobson was saying, “I know that right now he is in the other world with God and with his relatives, and he’s having a grand old time.” James Dobson may be right, but he’s not a very good scholar when it comes to his own church’s doctrine because his own church’s doctrine teaches that we are in our graves until the last days.

Where do these things lead? That’s the important thing. The Lord said, “By their fruits you will know them.” By their fruits you will know them. Think about God, think about the teaching we should love our God with all our heart, with all our mind, with all our soul, with all our strength. Let me ask you, is it possible to love someone who condemns you? Is it possible to love someone who looks upon you with disgust? Do you even feel a need to come to close to a God who is pushing you away, or has to have someone sacrificed in their name so that then He can approach you in life? Imagine that on a human level, with somebody who you are supposed to draw close to and they’re always condemning you, putting you down, not seeing any good in you? It’s hard to do. It’s really hard to do.

Is God a God of love? Or is He a God of hate? He’s either one or the other: He’s not both. We’ve got to use minds and see that. And how can we approach and be conjoined with and love a God of condemnation? We can’t.

Is there a trinity of three separate persons in God? Think about that. If you have three separate persons, the Writings say, then you have three gods. The Writings are the first to admit, everybody will say with the lips, one god, but if you are thinking three persons, then you’re thinking three gods. Who are you praying to? Are you praying to the Father? Are you praying to the Son? Are you praying to the Holy Spirit? There’s a separation there. There really is. Are we praying in the name of Jesus? If Jesus is God co-equal with Jehovah, when we pray in the name of Jesus, aren’t we sort of praying a little lower to get into the real guy, the guy that really counts? And the Holy Spirit the affect that it has on us, is that Holy Spirit really a separate person? Three persons, one essence. And the Writings say, look, you can have three diamonds. You can have three beautiful diamonds. They’re all the same essence, and yet they don’t make one diamond, do they? No, they don’t. In the same way, if you have three persons in God, especially if they all have different jobs, you can say they all have one essence, but do they make one? Not if they’re three different personalities.

So we have people coming here who have said to me after they’ve found the Writings, “Before I didn’t know who to pray to, to pray to the Father? God scared me. Spirit, to pray to the Son? I saw Him as a human being. It was a very confusing time. A lot of people turned away from the Bible, many people turned away from the Bible because they were taught that God is a God of condemnation and they couldn’t read the Bible any more because all they read about was how much God hated them, how much God condemned them, because that was their view of the Bible. It wasn’t helping them any to read that book any more. It just filled them with guilt and remorse.

Are people really saved by having faith only? If you have only faith, if you have only belief but never live according to that faith is the faith real? No. The Writings say, if you believe something but never do it, then you never really believed, did you? I know I’ve used this example before but it really makes the point. If you are stuck in a cave somewhere in the dark and somebody comes down and says, “I know the way out. You’ve got to believe me,” and then takes off to find out the way out, if you really believe him you are going to follow him out of that cave. You’re not going to say, “I believe him so I’m going to sit in my corner there and keep on believing and I’ll be saved.” It just doesn’t work that way.

When the Lord said you’ve got to believe Me (and He did many times) He meant us to do what He says. Obviously, “he who loves me keeps my commandments.” When we believe that we are saved by merely having faith, then we shut the blinds. What we say is, we have a false sense of security in our lives, because I’m saved I don’t have to look at myself any more. The Writings say that the reason that this faith alone doctrine developed because people began to be uncomfortable with the idea of looking into themselves and having that responsibility of changing their lives. They wanted an easier way, so through a process of time this doctrine developed.

It becomes much easier just to say, I believe and I’m saved and I can live how I choose. It’s a lot easier, I admit it. It is a lot easier to do it that way, but does it work? Does it really go anywhere? I wonder, “How many people will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ and I will say to them, ‘I never knew you. Depart from me you who work iniquity.'” Isn’t that talking about, when the Lord said that, as those who profess belief and yet it didn’t come into action? The doctrine of faith alone says, “It is your belief, not your life; works do nothing for your salvation.”

The Writings of the New Church have a different explanation to offer for all of these things, and the beautiful thing about it is that you can use your mind, that you can look around in nature and science and the wonder of creation and see how it all fits together in a beautiful picture.

God is not a God of hate. God is a God of love. And more and more people are coming to see that today, and that’s a beautiful thing. More and more Christians are leaving that doctrine of hate behind and going on to follow a doctrine of love. Think about it. God is life itself. He is love itself. He is the creating force itself, and if you can accept it, He can do no other than love us. He can’t help but love us. Is that limiting God to say that, that He can’t help but love us? Can God make a rock so big that He can’t even lift it up Himself? There are questions like that that you can get into. There’s all kinds of ways that we can limit God. Is it limiting God by saying, God is love? No, it’s limiting Him by saying that He can hate. God can’t hate.

The reason God created us is because He is love and He wants to be with us and He wants to be joined with us. Those teachings in the Old Testament of God being a God of condemnation is how the Israelites perceived God at that time. That’s how God had to appear to them because they were so simple, they were so childlike, they had to be told, “You do that, you’re going to get it,” because that’s the only way they could obey. The Lord couldn’t come to them and say, “Now listen, I really love you. I want you do follow Me because you’ll be happy.” They weren’t like that. They wouldn’t have responded to that. They had to be told to do this or die. That’s not what God is. It’s only an appearance, and so many times in the Bible the Lord accommodates to us. He comes to our state, even as He did in coming down and taking on a human form, accommodating Himself to us so that we could see Him.

How does the trinity fit in here? The trinity the Writings say, is not a trinity of three separate persons in God. There is no trinity like that. There is one God, one Lord. “Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God is one.” In Genesis when they talk about, “Let us make man in our own image.” That’s just to deify God, to magnify Him. Any Hebrew scholar would tell you that of course the Israelites, the Hebrews, didn’t believe in three separate persons in God. The fundamental doctrine of the Hebrew church is “Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one.” That’s clear. No one ever thought about there being a trinity back then–a trinity of different persons in God. And this is also taught.

The Lord said in Isaiah–we read this in our lesson–listen to this. This is Jehovah, “‘You are My witnesses,’ says the Lord, ‘that you may believe Me and understand that I am He. Before Me there was no God born, nor shall there be after Me. I, even I, am the Lord, and besides Me there is no Savior.'” Now think about that. Jesus is the Savior, isn’t He? We all know that. If Jesus was standing beside Him, was Jehovah lying to us at that time by saying, “I am the Savior. There is no God besides Me.” Get back there, Jesus. How did Jesus feel about that? The point is that there was no Jesus standing beside Jehovah.

Jehovah and Jesus are one and the same. Jehovah bowed the heavens and came down. Jesus Christ was the man at the station of God, the same person; not a separate person today, not a separate person ten thousand years ago. There was no something born from eternity. Find that in the Bible where Jesus was born from eternity. It’s not there. It doesn’t exist.

All the prophecies leading up to the Lord’s birth were not about the Son of God coming to earth. They were about Jehovah Himself, the Messiah was Jehovah Himself coming down, God coming to save man. “For unto us Child is born. Unto us a Son is given, and the government will be upon His shoulders, and His name shall be called ‘Wonderful, Counselor, the Mighty God, everlasting Father [not Son, everlasting Father] Prince of peace.” “Behold your God will come with a vengeance, with a recompense of God. He will come and save you.” And the Psalmist said, “And Jehovah bowed the heavens and came down. His name shall be called Immanuel.” What does Immanuel mean? God with us.

And in the New Testament there are so many places too where the oneness is shown. The Lord said, “I and My Father are one. Before Abraham was,” He said to the scribes and Pharisees, “before Abraham was, I am.” You know what “I am” means? “I am” means Yehowah, Jehovah. Why do you think the scribes and Pharisees wanted to stone Him? He was saying before Abraham was, “I am Jehovah.” He didn’t say, “Before Abraham was, I was also with Jehovah.” He said “I am.” He identified completely with being Jehovah.

And then Thomas said to Him, “My Lord and My God.” And even Philip–we read about–he said, “He that has seen Me has seen the Father. Have you been with Me so long a time and not recognized Me?” the Lord said when Philip asked to see the Father.

There is a trinity in God, but it is not a trinity of different persons in God. That’s separates it out. There’s a trinity of different aspects of God. The same way we have a trinity. The Father, the invisible, is like the soul of God, the unknowable, the invisible, love itself, life itself. We can’t really understand it or comprehend it. That’s like the soul. The Son is His body, how He showed Himself. He that has seen Me, the body, has seen the Father, the soul within. “No one comes to the Father but by Me.” It is through that human picture of Jesus Christ that we understand God, that we see Him in human form as He holds little children and blesses them, as He heals all people of their spiritual and their natural diseases. We can see God in Jesus Christ. He wasn’t saying to us, “If you don’t know about Me you’re going to go to hell.” That’s not what He was saying. He was saying, if you know about this human part you can see it and understand it then you can know God. “He that has seen Me has seen the Father.”

And the Holy Spirit of God is not a separate person sent out. It’s His spirit. It’s His effect on us. It’s how He moves us. There is no difference there. There are not three persons in God. There’s one person, one Lord, one God, one Savior, one Creator, the Lord Jesus Christ.

Isn’t it true that in the New Testament that there that is that appearance of separation? Yes. That is true. When the angel appeared to Mary, he said, “The Holy Spirit shall come upon you and the power of the highest shall overshadow you and that thing which will be born of you shall be called, shall be called the Son of God.” And that human part that was from Mary was indeed the Son of God, that purely human part, that receiving vessel that received the Divine. The difference with Jesus Christ was that He had the Divine within Him. It flowed into Him in a different way than it does with us. Through a process of time, through temptations and victory over hell, that Divine came down more and more into Him and became one with that Human, until finally we are told that that Human, that Divine became totally one. It became glorified even to those vessels themselves. And so now, when we worship the risen Lord we worship the same personality as Jehovah Himself. Now Jehovah, Jesus Christ are one and the same. We can see Him through His Human. We can understand Him, we can love Him.

The Writings say, if you want to picture it, picture it as a man with his arms open wide, stretching them out over the waters, beckoning all to come to Him. One God full of love. What is there in religion that we’re going after in this picture? Are we trying to do God’s will because we’re afraid of hell? Are we trying to do God’s will because if we do what the Son says or have faith in Him that we’ll be saved from God’s wrath? No. There’s one love, one Creator, one Redeemer, one Savior with His arms stretched out, beckoning all to come to Him, and we want to come to Him because He loves us with all His heart and He’s simply asking us to do His will. Why? Because that’s how we’ll be happy, by doing His will, by letting Him come into us in our mind, in our belief, but also in our life.

What is it that saves a person? It is not merely belief alone. It is not merely works alone that save a person. You can believe and still be a rotten person. You can do all the good in the world and still inside be rotten. It’s bringing your faith and your charity together. It’s putting your faith into life. It’s believing in the Lord and then going on to do what He says.

How can it be any more simple than that? “He who loves Me keeps My commandments.” And when we do that we open up our minds and our hearts and allow the Lord to come into us. “Behold I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and sup with him and he with Me.” We open that door by following the Lord’s words. It’s as simple as that. Talking about putting that faith into life and how important it is. The Lord spoke of that all along. He says, “Come now you blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave Me food; I was thirsty and you gave Me drink; I was a stranger and you took Me in; I was naked and you clothed Me; I was sick and you visited Me; I was in prison and you came to Me.” He didn’t say, “Come you blessed of My father, you believed in Me; you didn’t do any of these things but you believed and now you’re in.”

The whole emphasis was on love. Love not just in the mind, but in life because if we have love in our hearts, in our lives, we have God in our hearts and in our lives. One God. One love. One way. One path to follow.

What’s the difference between the New Church and traditional Christianity? It’s a difference between a loving God and a God of condemnation. It’s a difference between worshiping one God with His arms stretched out beckoning all to come to Him, or worshiping three separate persons, three different gods with all different kinds of aspects and motives and methods. It’s a difference between having a candy-coated religion that says I’m saved by merely having faith or a progressive religion which–yes–has a lot of responsibility to look inside yourself to see what’s wrong, to shun it as a sin against God, and to move on to find our Creator. It’s a religion that makes you move forward in life and keeps the blinds up. It’s a difference as one person in this room has said, of coming out of the darkness into the light.

So, in the New Church we believe that these things don’t come from manmade doctrines. This is all found in the Bible, in the Word of God. It depends on how you look at the Bible. Some people look at it so one-sided they only see certain things, but if you take the Bible in its whole and you use your mind in looking at it, you can see that the Lord is speaking to us there, that there is only one God, that He is a God of love, that that God simply wants us to obey His commandments, to find the order of life so that our hearts can be opened up to Him, so that the kingdom of God can indeed be within us. And so the spirit and the bride say, “Come. Let him who thirsts come, and whoever will, let him take of the water of life freely.”


The Church As A Mother

By Rev. Eric H. Carswell

Then one said to Him, “Look, Your mother and Your brothers are standing outside, seeking to speak with You.” But He answered and said to the one who told Him, “Who is My mother and who are My brothers?” And He stretched out His hand toward His disciples and said, “Here are My mother and My brothers!” (Matthew 12:50)

On this day when many of us reflect with gratitude on contributions made to our lives by our own mother and other mothers that are near and dear to us, Jesus’s distance, at times, from His own mother can seem off-putting. For example, when his parents thought Him lost at age twelve and searched for Him with great sadness for three days, His response was “Why is it that you sought Me? Did you not know that I must be about My Father’s business?” (Luke 2:49) The account does go on to say that Jesus then went home with Joseph and Mary and “was subject to them,” but still this distance can be troubling from some perspectives.

The Lord told His disciples that His life was an example for them. We can regularly ask ourselves as we face difficult situations, “What would Jesus have done in a situation like this?” But how are we to take from this particular example? Are we also to feel little allegiance to our biological mothers?

The explanation of the fourth commandment given in the True Christian Religion states the following:

Honoring your father and mother means in the natural or literal sense honoring one’s parents, obeying them, being devoted to them, and showing gratitude for the kindnesses they do. These include feeding and clothing their children, and introducing them into the world, so that there they may live civilized and respectable lives; also bringing them into heaven by teaching them the rules of religion. (True Christian Religion 305)

Honoring, obeying, being devoted to, and showing gratitude to the women who gave birth to us is an essential foundation for our spiritual lives as we grow from infancy toward adulthood. And it is also important that as we grow and mature that the first commandment comes more and more to be the central guiding force in our lives. The Lord has commanded us, “You shall have no other gods before me” and in the New Testament the first and great commandment is stated as, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your hear, with all your soul, and with all your mind.” (Matthew 22:37) As we grow and mature I would hope that the vast majority of us can grow in appreciation for the ways in which our mothers served our welfare in the upbringing they provided. But even the best mothers are still fallible human beings. And with some certain flaws are conspicuous. A person’s allegiance to the desires and principles of his mother should not supersede that of his allegiance to following his best understanding of what the Lord wants him to do. Anytime our allegiance to another human being or any motivation or principle exceeds our allegiance to follow the Lord we are transgressing the first and great commandment to some degree. Certainly a seven-year-old isn’t shouldn’t be in the position of questioning fundamental issues with his mother. Sadly enough there are some children who at very early ages need to start forming a somewhat independent life from their mother or their father because of fundamental flaws in these parents. The failure to form this independent life would be destructive to the child’s growing spiritual health. Some children have a mother who so regularly puts down healthy qualities in them that they have the choice but to either reject their own lives in accepting their mother’s judgment as correct or they have to recognize that the person with the problem in this situation is their mother.

In the short story read as a lesson from Matthew, the Lord said, “Who is My mother and who are My brothers?” And He stretched out His hand toward His disciples and said, “Here are My mother and My brothers!” In doing this He was not rejecting them as unworthy of any attention. Instead He was qualifying their importance in relationship to higher priorities. Can you picture it making any sense for me to interrupt my sermon at this point because a phone call had just come from my mother who just wanted to chat? If you got that phone call, wouldn’t you be inclined to say, “Can I give him a message to phone you as soon as he gets a chance?” This is true of all relationships. Being willing to drop all other considerations to follow the inclination of one person can be quite spiritually unhealthy. This is true of parents with their children, and husbands and wives with their spouses.

But enough of this qualification.

Mothers do wonderful things many of which can be so regular and can show themselves in such small ways that they become nearly invisible. Warm smiles, supportive words, gentle nudges toward different perspectives, even clear exhortations to better behavior are all part of the environment of the home that mothers can help create. As they day-to-day oversee the natural pattern of wants and needs within a household, they create the environment that allows for healthy growth. For many of us the foundations we have in very deep parts of our perspective on what it means to be loved, to be safe, to be cared for have been provided by our mother. In many families the majority of the family patterns at holidays and through out each day–all the different family rituals–were directed and formed by the woman or mother in the household. Nearly all of us can look back and recognize that our mothers did many wonderful things for which we can be grateful.

A powerful comparison is drawn in the Writings of the New Church between the role of a mother and that of the church. The church as a healthy organization of human beings dedicated to being led by the Lord in His Word produces a powerful matrix for the birth and growth of our spiritual life. The connection between natural mothers and that of the church is drawn in detail.

In David:

But You are He who took Me out of the womb; You made Me trust while on My mother’s breasts. I was cast upon You from birth. From My mother’s womb You have been My God. (Psalm 22: 9, 10)

This describes the regeneration of the spiritual person by such things as belong to natural birth from the mother; therefore “You are He who took Me out of the womb” signifies that one is regenerated by the Lord and made a member of the church; “You made Me trust while on My mother’s breasts” signifies that one is afterwards led and spiritually educated, “the mother’s breasts” signifying spiritual nourishment in such things as belong to the church, “mother” meaning the church; (Apocalypse Explained 710:6)

Quoting from the Arcana Coelestia:

The Lord’s kingdom on earth is the Church, therefore “the womb” also means the Church. For the Church exists where the marriage of good and truth exists. This explains why “opening the womb” means the resulting doctrines taught by the Churches, as well as the ability to receive the truths and goods of the Church, while “going out of the womb” means being born again or being regenerated, that is, becoming the Church since a person who is born again or regenerated becomes the Church. (Arcana Coelestia 4918:1)

Also quoting from the True Christian Religion:

Regeneration is effected in a manner analogous to that in which a person is conceived, carried in the womb, born, and educated. In each human being there is a perpetual correspondence between what takes place naturally and what takes place spiritually, or between what takes place in his body and what takes place in his spirit. This is because each person as to his soul is born spiritual, and is clothed with what is natural, which forms his material body. Therefore when this body is laid aside, his soul, clothed with a spiritual body, enters a world where all things are spiritual, and is there affiliated with its like. Since then, the spiritual body must be formed in a material body, and is formed by means of truths and goods which flow in from the Lord through the spiritual world, and are inwardly received by a person in such things in him as are from the natural world, which are called civil and moral, the way in which its formation is effected is evident; and since, as before said, there is in each person a constant correspondence between what takes place naturally and what takes place spiritually, it follows that this formation is like conception, gestation, birth and education. It is for this reason that natural births in the Word mean spiritual births, which are births of good and truth (True Christian Religion 583)

This quality that is the Lord’s church can grow within an individual’s life and can be shared between two or more people. Remember the Lord said, “Where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.” When we gather together to try to make a home for the church on earth, whether it be a family unit, among a close and supportive group of friends, or on the level of a congregation, this gathering to be led by the Lord through His Word creates a powerful spiritual climate that is good for each of us. It is a spiritual mother. It is a living presentation of the truth that makes the church. It can bring not just the hard rocks of truth to our lives but the living bread that the Lord offers us. By working together with others we can see wonderful examples of what truth in life means for the people around us. By gathering together to worship, and to share the ups and downs, joys and tragedies that exist within this world a quality that is very much like a mother’s role in a family can take place within our lives.

On this Mother’s Day, may we turn our thoughts in gratitude for what the natural mothers we have know have done for good. May we thank the Lord for His work through them, and thank them for their willingness to do so much. May we also recognize the importance of the church as a spiritual mother. May we thank the Lord for His work through the church, and thank the people who help make that church in our lives for their willingness to do so much as well. May each of us be blessed with a spiritual home that cares for us, guides us, yes even exhorts us to be the kind of person that the Lord is leading us to be.


The Breaking of Bread Today

By Rev. Julian Duckworth

Text: Luke 9.16

Then He took the five loaves and the two fish, and looking up to heaven, He blessed and broke them, and gave them to the disciples to set before the multitude.

Arcana Caelestia 5405

‘And Jacob said, Behold, I have heard that there is provision in Egypt.’ This word ‘provision’ here stands for a word which means ‘a breaking’ in the original language. The reason for this is that in the Ancient Church bread was broken when it was given to another, by which action was meant the sharing of what was one’s own and the passing of good from oneself to another to be his own. Thus it meant making love mutual. For when someone breaks bread and gives it to another he is sharing with him what is his own. Or when a loaf is broken and shared among many, the single loaf becomes one shared mutually by all, and all are consequently joined together through charity.

What do you think of when I say that something is breaking or has been broken? Maybe it’s your washing machine or your computer, or your leg, or your will-power. Perhaps it’s a friend’s marriage after twenty three years. Or the recent strong gales in Sydney which broke huge branches off so many trees. Or maybe it is yourself, under stress in a fast and demanding world, finding it hard to cope and breaking under the strain. It’s a real shame that our first association with something breaking tends to be with these sorts of things, things or people breaking down, breaking up, falling apart, coming to an end.

Let me remind you that there is the other side to ‘breaking’ which, because it’s gentler and quieter, doesn’t come so quickly to mind. There is of course, every morning, the daybreak, the break of day as the sun rises. There is your breakfast as you put morning food into your body to energise you for the day ahead of you, and you break your night’s fasting. And more spiritually, there are those amazing breakthroughs when you see something, feel something or can do something that you’ve never seen or felt or done before and the world – your world – feels a very different place than it did only yesterday. And so on. So things can sometimes ‘break’ in very positive and purposeful ways.

And let’s add another insight into this idea, that many (if not all) of the situations in which anything breaks – whether it’s the computer or your marriage or your mind – these bring the same opportunities for change and growth and newness that we might think of at daybreak, breakfast or during one of those personal breakthroughs. Breaking down can be the means of breaking the mould. Breaking up is a chance to break through into new things, new ways.

I’m going to re-read that passage from our church’s teachings which is on your service sheet and this time I would like you to follow it carefully and get into what it’s really trying to say. ‘And Jacob said, Behold, I have heard that there is provision in Egypt.’ This word ‘provision’ here stands for a word which means ‘a breaking’ in the original language. The reason for this is that in the Ancient Church bread was broken when it was given to another, by which action was meant the sharing of what was one’s own and the passing of good from oneself to another to be his own. Thus it meant making love mutual. For when someone breaks bread and gives it to another he is sharing with him what is his own. Or when a loaf is broken and shared among many, the single loaf becomes one shared mutually by all, and all are consequently joined together through charity.

Breaking involves sharing and distribution. Breaking bread brings mutual love and unity through charity. Strangely the bread itself which is broken into lots of little pieces actually brings everybody who eats a morsel of it together into the same company partaking of the one original loaf which is the Lord of course, who is the Bread of Life. The Lord offers Himself like this and says ‘Share Me among you. Share Me among you so that each of you receives Me and then you will come together in My name.’ Jesus took the bread and fish, and looking up to heaven, He blessed and broke them, and gave them to the disciples to set before the multitude. And it goes on to say … So they all ate and were filled. Breaking bread means making love … mutual. When someone breaks bread and gives it to another he is sharing with him what is his own. But you’ve got to see it happening both ways … you the giver, you the sharer, but also you the receiver, you the gainer. And THAT is what we’re all about. If you ever get the idea of mutual love you will understand everything there is to understand, and if you go further and practise this mutual love you will taste the bread of heaven which comes down and gives life to the world.

The Lord gives you your life – your bread – but He gives it to you in a special way full of great respect. He so generously allows you to find things out for yourself. He allows you to explore all the possibilities, all the philosophies, so that you can make up your own mind. He doesn’t force anything on you at all. And what’s more, He allows you to go through a whole range of different experiences, some of them are wonderful (fresh-baked bread), some of them are hard (like rusks), some of them are just plain ordinary and boring (yesterday’s cold pizza), some of them are passionate (apple strudel). There they are, the Lord’s gifts, these breads of life. And it is up to you to use them and see the process, this creative process of how He is constantly leading you on but never once demanding or forcing you against your will. He is simply inviting you to supper and the breaking of the bread of this mutual love … the Lord and you, you and the Lord.

But it’s not only us and God. We’re also in this together, in community, which is another of the Lord’s great gifts of course. Here we are today, Saturday 20th September 2003, celebrating 150 years impressive continual community of this church, the Melbourne Society, in this building and in others before it. But mercifully for you I am no historian.

What I do want to do, in terms of a celebration, is to tell you what I believe the New Church is all about, and why I am personally happy to be in the New Church and stay in it for ever. I’ve just shared with you a truth about God and His huge respect for you and me, and the freedom that comes from this respect. I believe that is what the true New Church is about, about encouraging people to think about their beliefs, what feels true to them, and to stay alongside them in their journey, without making them or expecting them to fit some kind of pattern. That is the noblest gift we can give. It allows us to break bread together, both ways. For when someone breaks bread and gives it to another he is sharing with him what is his own. Or when a loaf is broken and shared among many, the single loaf becomes one shared mutually by all, and all are consequently joined together through charity.

But don’t get me wrong. This open-mindedness doesn’t mean that we are all things to all people and don’t really believe in anything much. If you DO know anything about the New Church you will know that while we don’t have hundreds of people we do have hundreds of books. We have a complete theology and a very wholesome one at that. But that theology is based on freedom and responsibility. So the one thing we stand for is your right to find out for yourself and make up your own mind. We are fervently dogmatic about your freedom! Because God is too.

And what this means, in a very real and wonderful way, is that we can accommodate a very wide range of outlooks and approaches and we’d even encourage that because we will all grow in the sharing of ideas and experiences together. It’s our breaking of bread. You share yours with me, I share mine with you. And we use a special word “charity” which really means having the Lord in our mind while we’re swapping and exchanging; having the Lord there so that we look on someone else’s feelings and ideas with acceptance and good grace. When a loaf is broken and shared among many, the single loaf becomes one shared mutually by all, and all are consequently joined together through charity. And that’s essential, because in breaking bread it would be all too easy for us to say Hey your bit’s bigger than mine. My piece is better than yours. And then we’ve lost it.

The other day, there was a radio news item about health. They were talking about the common cold. We tend to think you catch a cold by being too close to people but what they’ve recently discovered is that people who socialise actually catch less colds that people who keep more to themselves. So socialising is good for your health. We always knew it was good for the soul. For by breaking the Lord’s bread together and sharing ourselves in mutual love, we strengthen ourselves and gain immunity.

The world we now live in is breaking down many longstanding bastions, heralding a future that is different from the present or the past. I for one celebrate that development because it demands we face up to our own individuality. But hopefully we will continue to do that together in the breaking and sharing of the Lord’s bread among us, to the benefit of us all.


How Things Seem and How Things Are

By Rev. Julian Duckworth

Text: I Samuel 16.7

Then the Lord said to Samuel, “Do not look at his appearance or at the height of his stature, for I have refused him. For the Lord does not see as man sees; for man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.”

Doctrine Arcana Caelestia 9128

Since it is so important something must be said about what seeing from a more inward level means.

A person sees within himself whether what he thinks and intends and what he then speaks and does is good or bad and whether it is right or wrong. This is not possible unless that person is seeing things from a more internal level. Seeing like thing happens when things are seen internally within external things, or seen by the mind through things seen by the eye. This is how a person can see the good and the bad that he has within himself. However, one person will see this more than another, and there are some people who do not see it at all. The ones who do see in this internal way are those who have received a sense of spiritual life from the Lord because this level of life is the level of internal sight. In fact, to see from a more internal level is to see things from the Lord.

I want to talk about the way things seem to us and the way things actually are, using this wonderful verse in the story of David being chosen to be king. The verse hits the spot … “The Lord does not see as man sees; for man looks at the outward appearance but the Lord looks at the heart.” If you understand what that is saying, then you yourself are right now seeing things not as they seem but as they really are! You are having an accurate idea about the Lord who sees everything perfectly.

I guess I could fill up this sermon with a list of ways in which we get taken in by the way things seem to us when in fact those things are not what they seem at all. We do get taken in quite a lot especially when we are only relying on how things look to us. Our physical senses take us into a world of impressions and even into wrong thinking and assumptions. And one of the real benefits of being a spiritual person is that you are helped to watch out for this and you are able to cut through these impressions and see things more accurately because as it said at the end of that passage, to see from a more internal level is to see things from the Lord. So every time you take yourself in hand and say “What’s going on here?” or “Is this actually true?” or even “Am I missing seeing something?” you are working more internally and more accurately.

Let’s take two simple examples. Perhaps the easiest of them all (which interestingly also gets mentioned in the story of David being chosen) is the whole area of good looks. Some people are just very good-looking! There are some very good-looking men and there are some extremely good-looking women. Does it necessarily follow, though, that these very physically-attractive people are as attractive on the inside as they obviously are on the outside? Certainly not. Some of them are of course, because their good looks give them an immediate appeal and they can be comfortable and confident about themselves and when they’re with other people who find them attractive in every way. But some of them are not such nice people inside and if you could actually see what is going on inside them you might well be horrified. Some people are pretty; some people are pretty awful. It pays not to begin with the way things seem but to bear in mind how things might actually be. And I haven’t said anything about the reverse situation of those people who aren’t so good-looking or who feel they are unattractive. But I must say one thing though: whatever our physical attributes are or aren’t or seem, we can make choices on the inside about the kind of person we want to become and that is what finally counts and it has little or nothing to do with what we’ve been made to look like because now we are dealing with spiritual qualities. It’s rather amazing to think that we are involved ourselves in creating our own eternal looks. And we’re told that angels in heaven are all very good-looking (far far more than anyone here) because they love the Lord and the Lord’s way of life, and this gives them their good looks.

The other example of how things sometimes seem is a bit subtler. It’s the area of friendship. Such a lot is going on or is not really going on in the way that we call people our friends or people say that we are their friends. People sometimes say that you get to know who your friends really are when something happens for the worse in your life, some hardship, a loss, some new situation. For a genuine friend, this won’t make any difference and in fact it may make them a truer friend, but for others it will change everything. I can’t go into all the ramifications of course, but if we could see the reality of our supposed friendships with more spiritual eyesight rather than how they seem, then quite a lot of regroupings might start happening. And we’re told too that we should form close friendships in this world with quite a lot of care and wisdom because in the next life – where things really do sort themselves out as they actually are and not how they seem – in the next life, some of those dependent friendships are going to take quite a bit of sorting out and working through for the best for everyone concerned.

And so we could go on exploring all kinds of ways in which the ways things seem are not the way things actually are, if we could only see them with our spiritual sight rather than our physical eyes or even our suppositions about things. To see things from a more internal sight is to see things more from the Lord. For man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.

Now, having said this, perhaps a word of caution is needed. As we become more aware that things are not always what they seem and that other factors need to be taken into consideration, we are not to become neurotic about what we see going on. We’re not to start thinking that good-looking people are bad on the inside or that our good friends are not such good friends after all … but simply to appreciate the point that sometimes things are not what they might seem. That’s all. Let me put it this way. A non-spiritual person tends to go for what feels loving and nice, even for something which immediately seems like a good idea. A spiritual person uses love along with wisdom, and knows that one of the important aspects of bringing wisdom into things is that you should check things out a bit and keep your eyes open. Wisdom involves discerning, and one of our more modern translations of our teachings always uses this word discernment where before it used to say wisdom.

The Lord told Samuel to go to Jesse in Bethlehem from among whose many sons one would be chosen to be the next king of Israel. And the Lord said, “I will show you what you shall do; you shall anoint for me the one I name to you.” And Jesse’s sons came where Samuel was. And he saw the first son, Eliab, and thought, ‘Surely the Lord’s anointed is before him.’ And then the Lord said, “Don’t look at his appearance or his height for I have refused him. For the Lord does not see as man sees, for man looks at the outward appearance but the Lord looks at the heart.” You know the story which we heard earlier.

This is a remarkable story which is not simply a framework for those words of the Lord we know so well. The story goes a lot further but always in this area of getting behind the appearances of life into the reality – or should I say the heart of things. Let’s push the story right through to its important conclusion when David is finally chosen. Samuel saw the first son and made his assumption. Perhaps we make an assumption here that Eliab was the oldest but it doesn’t say that. Maybe they were all there and Samuel saw that Eliab was the best-looking, the tallest, obviously the most likely candidate. This could be pointing out to us that we should watch those first impressions, those quick assessments. You see a smart Porsche outside a house and you make twenty deductions about the people who live there and none of them are true because the Porsche belongs to the visiting doctor.

And one by one the sons are inspected and none of them are accepted by the Lord. And what was there for the selection has now run out. I wonder what that means! Is this telling us perhaps that all our own personal assessments about life are a bit suspect. Let’s go back to friendships for a moment. I could give you a hundred reasons for you and I becoming friends – I need you, you need me, we get on, you like me, we both like talking, you listen to what I say, you make good coffee etc., but none of them really touch on the true friendship, with its freedom, respect and value of another person for who they are. My reasons are all conditional. Real friendship goes beyond conditions. And now we’ve run out of sons! Where then do we go from here?

And Samuel says to Jesse, “Are all the young men here?” That’s an incredibly wise question but it’s even more. Samuel was told by the Lord that a son of Jesse would be chosen. So then, there must be another son somewhere. But Jesse has brought together all the sons he considers to be in the selection-process. It’s now almost the other way round. Life as it looks on the surface offers us a whole range of things that are said to make us contented, so here’s your choice and take your pick. What more could you ask for! But it’s not there and we know it isn’t. There is something, some aspect about life that is still missing but I can’t put my finger on it. “Are all the young men here?” Oh, umm, well, there’s the youngest of course and there he is looking after the sheep. But surely …

“Send and bring him in for we will not sit down till he comes here.” And the moment he comes in the Lord says, “Arise, anoint him. This is the one.” Instant recognition. This is what was missing. This is what I knew must be there in life but I never got it before. It’s interesting that Jesse says to Samuel, “Look, there he is, over there, looking after the sheep.” Implication: if we’d been looking at life in the right way we would have seen David who was not out of view at all but only over there.

And finally, and perhaps paradoxically, David is said to be good-looking. Well, of course he is because spiritual life is good-looking, truth itself is good-looking, the Lord’s things are all the best- looking and best-feeling things there are when you know what you are dealing with and you’ve seen them. But it’s put rather well. It simply says, Now David was good-looking. Can you see the difference? Samuel thought Eliab was surely the one because he thought Eliab was good-looking. Everybody would say Eliab was good-looking! But that’s not the point. David just is … good-looking because the Lord says he is. And that, you see, is the way we should say that anything in life is finally good, because God says it is.

Then Samuel took the horn of oil and anointed him in the midst of his brothers and the spirit of the Lord came upon David from that day forward.

May we take this story to heart and look at life more from the Lord than from ourselves, with His love and with a truly discerning wisdom.


Don’t Mix Your Spirits!

By Rev. David Moffat

In my personal Bible reading, I have been reading the book of Isaiah. It has been a surprise to see so many references to wine – both positive and negative – occurring within a few chapters in the early part of the prophecy. They have an important lesson to teach us.

Firstly, let’s remind ourselves of the references in today’s lesson:

Woe to the crown of pride, to the drunkards of Ephraim, whose glorious beauty is a fading flower which is at the head of the verdant valleys, to those who are overcome with wine! … The crown of pride, the drunkards of Ephraim, will be trampled underfoot; … But they also have erred through wine, and through intoxicating drink are out of the way; the priest and the prophet have erred through intoxicating drink, they are swallowed up by wine, they are out of the way through intoxicating drink; they err in vision, they stumble in judgment. (Isaiah 28: 1,3,7)

Similar words in the following chapter help us to understand something of the significance of “wine”:

Pause and wonder! Blind yourselves and be blind! They are drunk, but not with wine; they stagger, but not with intoxicating drink. For the LORD has poured out on you the spirit of deep sleep, And has closed your eyes, namely, the prophets; and He has covered your heads, namely, the seers. (Isaiah 29:9-10)

This is in contrast to its more positive use in the preceding chapter:

In that day sing to her, “A vineyard of red wine! I, the LORD, keep it, I water it every moment; lest any hurt it, I keep it night and day.” (Isaiah 27:2-3)

Of course, these are not the only uses of the image of wine in the Bible. The Holy Supper, is one of the more well known examples, but there are others. In the first book of Samuel, we read of Hannah’s prayer to the Lord, when she longed to bare a child:

Now Hannah spoke in her heart; only her lips moved, but her voice was not heard. Therefore Eli thought she was drunk. (1 Samuel 1:13)

A similar event occurred in the book of Acts, when the disciples gathered in Jerusalem at Pentecost:

And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance. … So they were all amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, “Whatever could this mean?”

Others mocking said, “They are full of new wine.” (Acts 2:4, 12 & 13)

Even our Lord himself was falsely accused of drunkenness:

For John the Baptist came neither eating bread nor drinking wine, and you say, “He has a demon.” The Son of Man has come eating and drinking, and you say, “Look, a glutton and a winebibber, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!” (Luke 7:33-34)

Do you see the connection between all these passages? Wine is representative of religious expression and fervour – religion in the sense of being a “reconnecting” (the three letters “-lig-” also occur in the word “ligament”, a tissue in the body which connects muscle and bone). In its best sense, this is a living connection with the Lord, which flows into our life bring blessing, joy and insight. In its worst sense, it represents a connection with something other than Him, which can only cloud our view of reality. Religion can do all the things too much wine can do – it can give us a false sense of security, make us belligerent and angry, even kill us spiritually. We only need to look at events which have taken place on the world stage in the last few years to see that.

If we return to chapters 28 and 29 of Isaiah we can see what it is that is getting in the way of our relationship with the Lord, and its effect.

For with stammering lips and another tongue He will speak to this people, to whom he said, “This is the rest with which you may cause the weary to rest,” and “This is the refreshing”; Yet they would not hear. But the Word of the Lord was to them, “Precept upon precept, precept upon precept, line upon line, line upon line, here a little there a little.” That they might go and fall backward, and be broken and snared and caught. (Isaiah 28:11-13)

Hundreds of years before the Lord’s advent and ministry upon earth, we read one of his major criticisms of the Jewish religious establishment – that of neglecting the spirit of the law in favour of a merely external adherence to its letter. The Word had become a means of control and a stumbling block to the people instead of the help and guide it was intended to be (compare Matthew 23:1-33, Mark 7:5-13 and Luke 11:37-54). Mark’s gospel even quotes Isaiah 29:13:

… these people draw near with their mouths and honour Me with their lips, but have removed their hearts far from Me, and their fear toward Me is taught by the commandment of men.

External, natural aspects of religion had become all important. The Jews of Isaiah’s time had placed this empty external on a pedestal and begun to worship it, as though it was God Himself. How did it affect the people? The following verses are from Isaiah 29:

… Add year to year; let feasts come around. Yet I will distress Ariel; there shall be heaviness and sorrow… (vv, 1-2)

It shall even be as when a hungry man dreams, And look–he eats; But he awakes, and his soul is still empty; Or as when a thirsty man dreams, And look–he drinks; But he awakes, and indeed he is faint, And his soul still craves: So the multitude of all the nations shall be, Who fight against Mount Zion. (v. 8)

For the LORD has poured out on you the spirit of deep sleep, and has closed your eyes, namely, the prophets; and He has covered your heads, namely, the seers. The whole vision has become to you like the words of a book that is sealed, which men deliver to one who is literate, saying, “Read this, please.” And he says, “I cannot, for it is sealed.” (v. 10-11)

Religion no longer brings us peace and joy, but frustration; it no longer brings satisfaction, but emptiness; it no longer brings enlightenment from the Lord, but spiritual darkness and a distorted perception of reality; and significantly, for a church which cherishes a deeper meaning to the Word, that meaning becomes sealed, inaccessible. Why? Because we only focus upon the outward aspects of our faith, we have stifled our living connection with the Lord.

This is an important lesson for us to learn – it is all too easy to get confused between true spirituality and what is false and misleading. We do this in two ways.

Firstly, it is easy to think we’re doing religion when we are in fact merely intoxicated with natural things. It might be numerical success (“Aren’t there a lot of people in church today! We must be doing something right!”). We might begin to believe that our material success is a result of the Lord’s “blessing” – a reward for our righteousness. We might get carried away with the lyrics of a song. Or we might pride ourselves on the paragraph numbers or Biblical references we can quote in every sentence we utter. But not one of these things is true religion. Not one of these things brings us the peace, joy, inner satisfaction and enlightenment which a living relationship with our Lord does.

Secondly, it is easy to misjudge another’s religious experience, just as our Lord was misjudged (see Luke 7:33-34 above). What we must realise, however, is that when we misjudge another, it is indicative of OUR spiritual state, not theirs – OUR dependance upon natural things of religion, OUR failure to see the reality of the situation. The pot is calling the kettle black! Take numerical success as an example. As members of a smaller congregation it is easy to look at other, larger churches with envious eyes. But when we do so, we often justify ourselves by muttering about their “obvious” dependance upon numbers – “it’s all about bums of seats – that’s all that matters to them!” This is an accusation of spiritual drunkenness. It may be true, but it also may not. We ought to look at people in the way the angels do, looking for the good, and excusing or placing a good interpretation upon evil when we see it. When we fail to do this, we only demonstrate our own dependence upon the very thing we claim to despise, our own drunkenness. Psychologists call this “projection.”

Now, as we receive wine as part of the Holy Supper, we should consider what all this means for our participation in this most holy sacrament. I believe it is making a commitment to Divine Truth, to seeing reality as it truly is, as the Lord shows us, not as we want it to be. In taking wine from the Lord’s table, we should examine that commitment within ourselves. Do I listen the voice of the Lord as He speaks to my life? Or do I spend my time justifying my own mistakes, and pointing out apparent faults in others? These are crucial questions, which we all do well to ask from time to time.


Created For A Specific Purpose

By Rev. Jan H. Weiss

“Thus says the LORD who created you, and who formed you, Fear not: for I have redeemed you, I have called you by your name; you are mine.” (Isaiah 43:1)

I have good news for everyone of you. The Lord has a plan, and a reason, and a destiny for your life, that is specific to you alone. Even before He created you, the Lord had a plan and a reason and a destiny for your existence and life. And you have a choice to accept or reject this plan and destiny. The Lord gave you total freedom to do what He has intended for you, or to do what YOU want to do, what feels right to YOU.

If you deny or reject the Lord’s destiny and you choose yourself as the supreme king of your life, then that amounts to denying the Lord’s purpose and His love for you. If you choose to trust yourself and pursue your own goals, you also choose to trust your own intelligence, and you are on your own. But if you choose to trust in God and you accept His destiny for your life, common sense tells you that He will show you the way and give you His intelligence.

The Lord has to show your destiny, and give you earthly signs in such a way that at all times you will feel a free agent. The Lord wants you to feel that you made the choices and you did the work. This excludes input from prophets, psychics and card readers.

The New Church teaches that your God given destiny is a love relationship with the Lord and a heavenly relationship with a partner of the opposite sex, which will last to eternity. You will have a spiritual home in the heavens where you will perform a use to the overall spiritual health of the heavens. Your destiny is filled with hope and excitement.

It is not filled with doom or terror. The earth is not coming to some terrible end. The Lord is in control of the universe at all times, and protects those who are in sink with His goal. This is my general message. Now let’s go into details.

The Lord is infinite love, and from this love He was moved to create beings outside Himself, whom He could love and who could love Him in return. But the essence of His love is such that He will never force or manipulate anyone to love Him in return. Human freedom is inherent in His creation, and all human beings have two choices. They either love the Lord or they love themselves. In this the Lord does not have any say.

If you choose yourself in preference to the Lord you will be in the happiness of self love. The Lord never retaliates if you choose yourself. He does not bring you any retribution or punishment. But loving yourself above all others has its natural limitations in happiness. It can bring frustration, anxiety, and unhappiness.

But if you choose to love the Lord, your possibilities are unlimited. The more you attune yourself to the influx of His love, the more possibilities are opened, and the happier you become. This increase of happiness continues to eternity (that is, in the dimension of time) and in degree (that is, in the dimension of state), so even if you could stand still in time, your love relationship would still become deeper and deeper.

In heaven you are happy because you perform a use to the whole of heaven. All the heavens are before the Lord as a GRAND man. So performing a use is best illustrated with the model of the human body.

If your body is healthy you feel it as one, though your body consists of many substances, parts, organs, and kinds of cells. All these substances, parts, organs and cells perform a use to each other. The life of each one produces something or does something that can be used by all the others. The more you learn about the workings of the human body, the more you can see, that this is true, and how complex the interaction is.

At conception that body begins to develop, but in the process of time this development progresses more and more. An organ has a small beginning, but it develops in time. It may grow first in size , and then later it may renew itself. This illustrates somewhat what I mean by developing in the dimension of time and the dimension of state.

Another useful model for illustration is a company. In each company there are some who function as the brains, others as the muscle, and others as the bones. All are needed to do their part, so the company as a whole can perform a use to a customer, to give a service or a product. In that model we can see people performing a variety of uses. There is a continual effort to perfect this performance, so that if we would abruptly and randomly change people around in the various jobs, the company would fall apart and would cease to exist.

From both models we can see that each human being has a destiny, but there is the destiny of today and the destiny of tomorrow, and there is the destiny far into the future. The more people come into the heavens, the more perfect the performance of each one can become.

So God does have a plan and a destiny, specific to you alone. The destiny of males is two fold. They work in the world in a forensic use, and they perform a use to their wife when they are at home. The destiny of females is also twofold. Her most important use is to receive from her husband either natural seed leading to birth in this world, or spiritual seed (truth) which she conjoins with good leading to the birth of a new use in the spiritual world. But we know that not all wives in the heavens have the same love for children. Some have a great love and care for many children there. Others have little or no love, and therefore care for few or no children. Yet they are all in heaven and therefore all have a love relationship with the Lord and a conjugial relationship with their husband. Apparently it is a matter of temperament. There does not seem to be a difference in the happiness that they receive from the exercise of their love for children.

While husbands in the heavens are forensic, we also see women out in society performing uses. Sometimes they appear with their husband, but sometimes they appear by themselves and independent of their husband. There is a tremendous difference between husbands and the way they perform their use in society and at home. The same difference exists between the wives that are on earth and in the heavens. There are no carbon copies.

So you should not look for your destiny outside of yourself. You should not see it in others or in general principles. You should look for it within yourself. You should look for the Lord’s handwriting on your own heart and soul, seeing His destiny for yourself in your own heart and spirit. Your destiny is unique and different from all others.

One very important point must be made here. Do not look for some supernatural, overpowering and unmistaken sign. The Lord wants you to operate in complete freedom. Unmistaken signs are never given, because these would take away your freedom. You would not feel that you are living your own life, but you would feel the Lord has taken over your life. So you expect to see your destiny gradually, by listening to your own heart, by seeing your own abilities and your own likes. Sometimes you see these in yourself and by yourself, but sometimes you see them in yourself through the eyes of others, who are close to you. You will approach your destiny gradually. Also, your search for your identity is unique. You will find it in your own way, because of your own abilities and your own doubts.

There is no doubt that the Lord wants to help you find your destiny. He first helps you to find the general direction of that destiny, and then He continually helps you fine tune your approach to that destiny, and He will do that to eternity.

The general direction of your destiny is either a state of heaven in which you perform a use to others, or a state of hell in which you exclusively satisfy your own desires. This is the first and most important choice you have to make. You do not need any signs here. It is a decision of the heart.

After that you will have to make series of small decisions, and I can best talk about them and illustrate them with the story of a person entering the spiritual world and going to his spiritual home. When a person arrives in the other world, he/she is first prepared by three types of angels, and after that is set on a path towards the eternal home. Enough of the path ahead is seen so that he/she feels confident to start walking. But the end the path is seen to curve so the final destiny is not seen. This experience is repeated every time the end of the road is reached.

This visual representation illustrates the way the Lord gives you signs to help you reach your eternal destiny. First you have to be prepared, and then you begin to work towards your destiny. In the first state of preparation you are shown your final destination in a dream. Then you wake up to reality, your eyes are opened to reality. In this state you begin to see who you are and who others are. The third state is a state in which you get down to doing what you have been thinking about. This is the moment you set foot on the path and begin to move on the path.

If you did not have a dream, you would not be willing to think about it, or do something about it. But facing the reality of yourself and the world around you, is very important. Our dream may be very unrealistic. You may think you can do something or cannot do something, but you could turn out to be incorrect in either case. Here you have to learn from others around you, which is usually hard on yourself and on the others. You can be very stubborn or you may find it hard to unlearn old habits. You may have a hard time seeing signs, reading signs and acting on signs.

This series of states of preparation and walking is repeated many times. You do not get the dream completely, you do not verbalize your destiny completely, you do not see your own reality the first time around, and you learn only a certain amount when you make a step on the path. It all goes gradually, day by day, and year by year. But this walking, though sometimes frustrating, is also exciting and exhilarating.

Listen how Isaiah describes this walking. “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overflow you: when you walk through the fire, you shall not be burned; neither shall the flame kindle upon you. For I am the LORD your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior.”

Passing through the waters is coming in contact with falsities in your mind, facing and going through them. Here the Lord is with you every step of the way. Walking through the rivers means facing fantasies about yourself. They will not overcome you. From drowning in these fantasies the Lord protects you. Fire and flames represent selfishness and the foolish desires that arise from these evils. They will not harm you.

At the end of all these experiences is the Lord your God, the One with whom you will have a relationship of love, your Savior, the one who will save you from your selfishness. This relationship will be something very special, and this specialness is expressed by our text.

Thus says the LORD who created you, and who formed you, Fear not: for I have redeemed you, I have called you by your name; you are mine. If we were to compare the literal sense of the Word to the Lord while He was on earth, this text would correspond to the Lord’s hands. We can see His hands, there is no cover, there is total clarity. He has created you, and He has formed you from infinite love and according to infinite wisdom. He has redeemed you, which means that He has given you freedom to be your own person, and to have your own relationships with Him and with your partner and with your friends. He has called you out of the womb of your mother, but He has not just called you, He has called you by your name, and He has told you that you are His.

When the Lord calls you it means He wants to teach and lead you to His heaven. But He calls you by your name! By name is meant the essence or quality of a person.In heaven a person is distinguished from another person by his quality. In heaven every person is special and unlike anyone else. It is by this quality that you are known, and distinguished from other people. The Lord calls you by YOUR name, so He teaches and leads you according the state of your love and wisdom. So you are very special in His eye, and once you see this, you can also see yourself as something very special. It is in your seeing and following your special destiny that you resolve and restore your feeling of self esteem. This leads you to a new self love, for first you loved and esteemed yourself as you viewed yourself, but after the Lord has called you by your name, you now love and esteem yourself as the Lord views you and loves you. This is a glorious experience. And so I pray for everyone of you that the Lord in His infinite love, will call you, and that He will call you by YOUR name.


Church and The Human Form

By Rev. Alan M. Cowley

Lessons: Luke 11:33-36; Psalm 139:13-16;
Heaven and Hell 59, 63, 64; Arcana Coelestia 4528

The lamp of the body is the eye. Therefore, when your eye is good, your whole body also is full of light. But when your eye is bad, your body also is full of darkness. (Luke 11:34)

There is a reason we are all here this morning. If everything in our lives made sense; if the entire world was perfectly clear; if we already understood everything there is to know; we would not need to be here, would we? We all come here with circumstances, prejudices, pains, fears, hopes, opinions and curiosities. None of us has life all figured out; none of us knows exactly how we should act, or exactly what we should be doing, given all of the events and sights and sounds which we have preceded this moment in time.

In the children’s talk this morning, and in our lessons, we were looking at some of the things the Lord tells us about the eye. Jesus tells us in the Gospels that the eye is the lamp of the body. And that if our eye is good, then our whole body will be full of light, yet if our eye is bad that our body will be full of darkness.

When we think about this on the natural level, it can be hard to understand why Jesus would have made such a basic comment. Of course our eyes need to be good in order to see the world in front of us with clarity! But there is a very interesting natural element to our sight which might be able to help us understand how profound this statement from the Lord really is on the rational and spiritual levels – the levels on which we might be trying to figure out our lives, wishes and actions.

When our eyes take in light and through the optic nerve transmit the data to our brains, an interesting phenomena takes place. When the information originally transmits, it is upside down. It is not until the brain interprets the information that it is flipped right side up so that we can understand what we see in a way that makes sense. In other words our eyes rely on the brain to make sense of what is seen, and only a correct understanding of what we see could possibly be useful to us.

In a way, we all have come here this morning having used our mind’s eye to see the life we have lived so far, and the circumstances we have to work from, and not everything that we have seen makes sense. In fact, if left to our own understanding of life, the image we have taken in would stay upside down and inverted from a correct understanding of the life the Lord wants us to live.

So we have come here this morning in the hope that turning to the Lord in His Word will bring us some clarity, and help us to understand our lives from a view that is right side up. We cannot see life right side up on our own, just as our eyes cannot see anything without our minds to receive and interpret.

There is an interdependence between our eyes and our brain, and between our spiritual sight and the Lord’s Word. Psalm 119 reminds us of this: “Your Word [the Lord’s Word] is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path.’

The eye and the brain are not the only parts of our bodies which rely on other parts for proper functioning. In fact, every part of our body serves some use to the whole, and the whole cannot perform well or with health without the individual functioning of each part.

The Lord in the Heavenly Doctrine for the New Church tells us that this is not only true of our individual bodies, but is also true of the Church, as well as being true for every heavenly community, and on the broadest level is true for heaven as a whole.

Heaven as a whole is in the human form, and when we speak about the entire complex of heaven we use the term the “Grand Man of Heaven:’ What this means is that heaven has different parts, and organs, and that each part or organ serves a specific use to the whole, just like the eye serves the specific use of filling the body with light.

There is a great passage in 1 Corinthians chapter 12 in which Paul is pleading with the church in Corinth to function better together. We can imagine the circumstances they might have been dealing with: the people of that church were struggling with all of the cultural influences infiltrating their lives and worship from the surrounding pagan society in Greece. Because of those circumstances, the people were at odds with each other, probably arguing over how the church should be, and what practices were most important, and what influences were harmful. When a church is faced with these issues it is very easy for one group to think that the church would be better off without the voice of their opposition! But in chapter 12 Paul reminds the Corinthians that they are all a part of one body, and that they cannot succeed without one another:

For as the body is one and has many members, but all the members of that one body, being many, are one body, so also is Christ. For by one Spirit we were all baptised into one body – whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free – and have all been made to drink into one Spirit. For in fact the body is not one member but many.

If the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I am not of the body,” is it therefore not of the body? And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I am not of the body,” is it therefore not of the body? If the whole body were an eye, where would be the hearing? If the whole were hearing, where would be the smelling? But now God has set the members, each one of them, in the body just as He pleased. And if they were all one member, where would the body be?

But now indeed there are many members, yet one body. And the eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you”; nor again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.” No, much rather, those members of the body which seem to be weaker are necessary. And those members of the body which we think to be less honourable, on these we bestow greater honour; and our unpresentable parts have greater modesty, but our presentable parts have no need. But God composed the body, having given greater honour to that part which lacks it, that there should be no schism in the body, but that the members should have the same care for one another. And if one member suffers, all the members suffer with it; or if one member is honoured, all the members rejoice with it.

The church in Corinth is not the only church susceptible to such divisions. All churches have these kinds of struggles, as I’m sure we all in this church, both specifically in London and in the New Church as a whole, can feel. We struggle with what the Word says, we struggle with cultural influences, we struggle with different personalities, and we struggle with the different church uses which at times may seem incompatible. But these struggles don’t mean that an individual in the church should abandon the body when it is struggling, just as these struggles don’t mean that the body should abandon any individual who might not agree with the body’s direction.

Now, this is very clear to us when we think about the essential functions of a church. We know that if we abandon the Lord’s love for every individual’s salvation the Church would no longer have a purpose. We know that if we abandon the Lord’s Word the Church would no longer have a means to salvation. We know these things just as we know that our bodies must have a heart and lungs. But the further we get away from those central uses, the more difficult it becomes to see the necessity of each organ, part, or use.

To move slightly out from the essential heart and lungs, let’s think about the kidney as an example. The Heavenly Doctrine explains that in the Grand Man the angels who make up the kidneys are those who are in interior truth with a love to explore, examine, separate and correct. (Cf. Arcana Coelestia 10032; Heaven and Hell 96-97)

I chose to look now at the kidneys first because we know they are essential to the health of the body since they are a filter for our blood. They separate out toxins, regulate electrolytes, and help to stabilise our blood pressure. When our kidneys fail our bodies cannot go on living.

The second reason why I want to look at kidneys is because in the functioning of the Church, they would represent some of the least popular people and uses. No one enjoys being criticized, yet we must be critical in determining what is true and what is false. No one likes to have his or her life examined by another person or group, and yet without those who care about the purity of the truth our church teaches, we would spiral downward into a false sense of morality which would lead us to harm
others, not help them. We must have people in the Church who love to examine the way our church functions, making sure that the collective life we lead together adheres to the Lord’s Word.

There has to be a balance to the critical processes of the kidneys in our church body. If all we heard were criticisms of the way we live and love, few people would be happy, and few people would act in useful ways because they would be too depressed about their current state to do so.

The balance in the body comes from hormones excreted from the hypothalamus and pituitary gland in the brain. The primary hormone which brings this balance to critical examination is oxytocin. Oxytocin, as well as dopamine, increase our sense of happiness and empathy.

So we can imagine that the people in a church body associated with the hypothalamus would be the people who pay attention to the needs and loves of other people. They notice who is hurting, who is depressed, and who is in need of inspiration. They work to balance the harsh feelings brought on by honest self-examination by showing the happiness and benefits to come in the future.

Now we could spend all day looking at the various parts of the human body and the uses they serve to the whole, and how each part is interdependently necessary to the whole. But let just one more example help to round out our understanding, and inspire a sense of unity among all of us brothers and sisters in the Church.

In a rather obscure passage from the Spiritual Diary Swedenborg relates a story about meeting someone he had known in his lifetime who had since passed into the other world. He described this man as someone who would get very angry when he would pray for something and not get it. And yet he says that when this man came out of his state of anger he would return to a simple state of obedience to the Lord. Swedenborg tells us that this man in heaven was a part of the Grand Man’s earlobe.

Think about this. The earlobe seems relatively useless, doesn’t it? What does it do? Maybe it is just a place to put a beautiful earring. But it is a part of the body! It is a part of the Grand Man! And as such, what would happen in our body if we were to get an infection or abscess on our earlobe? Our immune system would do everything it could to fight the infection, and everything it could do to heal.

We are all a part of one body. And though in this world that body is bound to be imperfect, bound to have sickness, and bound to struggle within itself, we must work together to bring peace within struggle, to heal sickness, and to grow toward perfection. And here is the most important part of all of this: We are all here for a reason. That reason is not just to answer our own individual questions. The reason is not just to bring our church into a healthy state within itself. The reason why we are all here, in this church, is to come together as one body to work for the happiness and salvation of those within our influence.

We are told that the Lord’s ruling love is for the salvation of the human race. He demonstrated that most notably through taking on a human body and fighting in temptation to restore order and freedom in the world and in our lives. The Heavenly Doctrine also tells us that heaven as a whole, the Grand Man, works together for that same purpose.

The sphere of the Grand Man is the sphere of divine truth conjoined with divine love, expressed in the use of leading people to heaven. And since the Lord’s Church in this world is meant to reflect heaven, the purpose of church is also to lead people to heaven.

We cannot do that as individual members. A hand can help a person up, but it cannot perceive that someone is down. A heart can express love, but it will only be true love if it is filled with wisdom as the lungs fill blood with oxygen. It is also true that the heart and lungs can become unhealthy, and the only way to keep that from happening is through regular exercise in the rest of the body, and a healthy diet, so our muscles and digestive system must get involved.

In the Lord’s Prayer we pray that His kingdom will come, “as in heaven, so upon the earth.’ As a church we hope to grow into the reflection of heaven and work in conjunction with heaven and the Lord to teach and lead people to the blessed state of salvation. We can only do that together, and we can only do that with the Lord.

We all came here this morning hoping for direction, inspiration, comfort and fellowship. May we depart with the knowledge that all of these things will be more immediate and more perfect the more that we work in conjunction with each other, interdependently focused on the uses we love to do for the Church, for our loved ones, and for society.

We came to church for a reason this morning. And though we may mostly think about church as an individual act, an act which hopefully helps us individually grow toward heaven, it is also very important to remember the individual contribution we all make to our body as a whole. And also that we, as a church, must work together, not only for ourselves and our own salvation, but for everyone else around us and within our influence.

To close I would like to revisit one of our lessons from Heaven and Hell, and instead of hearing this as if it were only about heaven, or the human body, let us think about it from the perspective of a church. How do the different people and uses in this church fit together into the “inclusive body”?

The reason why so many varied elements act as one in an individual is that there is nothing whatever there that does not contribute something to the common good and do something useful. The inclusive body serves its parts and the parts serve the inclusive body, because the inclusive body is made up of parts and the parts make up the inclusive body. So they provide for each other respectively, they focus on each other mutually, and they are united in the kind of form that gives every single component a relationship to the inclusive entity and its well-being. This is what enables them to act
as a single unit. (Heaven and Hell 64)


Baptism As A Gate of Entrance

By Rev. Michael Gladish

“Most assuredly,” Jesus said, “unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God” (John 3:5).

Baptism is a sign. It is a symbol, a token, a reminder, a representative act that bears witness of a deeper reality. It is not the cause of anything spiritual, it is an effect, a result of a person’s determination to enter into the life and teaching of the Christian religion (or, in the case of a child, a person’s determination to introduce the child into that life and teaching).

So the ritual of baptism is said to be “like a gate,” not a gate that opens or closes the way to spiritual life, but one that marks a person’s entrance into it through the commitment to learn and practice spiritual principles. That commitment is open to everyone, and it certainly is a valid one for any parent to make for his or her child.

Imagine, if you will, a great stone arch like l’Arc de Triomphe or the Prince’s Gate down here at “the Ex.” These are ceremonial gates, and if you walk through them you will not automatically be-come someone different than you were before. But when you walk through them you may have a feeling of entering into a new or special world, enjoying a new experience, or reliving the experience of those for whom the arch was built. Certainly as you pass through such an arch you will be aware that you are making a statement: “Now I am going THIS way; now I am doing something special.” It’s a point of reference. You notice it. You remember it. And you think about the things it represents.

So it is with baptism. In itself the act is very simple, in fact nothing could be simpler or more routine. The word itself means washing, or dipping in water, and we do this every day of our lives, often many times a day. Babies, especially, have to be wiped and washed constantly (for obvious reasons). And yet this particular ceremonial washing stands out just as walking through a special gate stands out from the regular walking we do every day.

And what does it mean? The doctrines of this church make it very clear – but they also say that without a knowledge of the spiritual sense of the Word it’s not clear. So, many people go through the act of baptism knowing that it means something special, knowing that it is a gate of entrance, but not knowing why or how. But it’s simple: water represents the knowledge of truth, in fact it corresponds to the knowledge of truth, which means that the knowledge of truth does for the spirit exactly the same things that water does for the body: it nourishes, cleanses outwardly and also provides for purification inwardly. The application of water does not cleanse the spirit, but in cleansing the body it represents the cleansing of the spirit, which is the real point of baptism.

Once we see this we can understand that baptism as a gate of entrance is a ceremonial introduction to the specific teachings of the church in which the baptism takes place, just as l’Arc de Triomphe leads into the Champs-Elysees or the Prince’s Gate leads into “the Ex.”

In this case the gate of entrance leads into a whole wonderful world of new knowledge revealed by the Lord that we might understand and live the Christian religion in its true essence, as a matter of spiritual freedom and rationality, rather than mere custom and tradition. It is like one of the symbolic gates of the New Jerusalem described by John in the book of Revelation. It opens up into a fabulous city all of gold and full of light, with streets and walls as clear as crystal, representing the enlightenment of the mind through the understanding of the truth and how it works in the everyday affairs of life. But we don’t get this enlightenment, we don’t get this understanding unless we enter into it through the gate of knowledge, in fact the gate of acknowledgment which involves the application of the truth that is known to one’s own life.

In describing this situation, the Writings introduce a comparison of the different uses served by the TWO sacraments, baptism and the holy supper. Both are said to introduce people to everlasting life, but the first introduces to the teachings that can take us there, the second actually invites us in. We read,

“These two stages can be compared with the case of a prince who is born to be king; he is first introduced to the knowledge which will enable him to govern; the second stage is his coronation and reign. Another comparison is with a son born to a great inheritance, who first learns and absorbs the sorts of things which are relevant to the proper management of estates and wealth; the second stage is when he comes into possession and administers his inheritance. Another comparison is with building a house and living in it; also with the way a person is brought up from childhood until he comes of an age to make his own decisions and judgments, and with his rational and spiritual life after this. One period must inevitably precede in order to achieve the second, since the second is impossible without the first. These illustrations show that baptism and the holy supper are as it were two gates through which a person is introduced to everlasting life; and after the first gate there is an open space to be covered. The second gate is the goal, where the prize is which he set out to win; for the victory comes only after the encounter, and the prize only after the contest” (TCR 721:2).

Next week we will review more of the teaching about how the holy supper introduces into heaven itself; here we note simply that it has more to do with the experience of the Lord’s love than of His truth, thus more to do with living than with learning.

Meanwhile, it is worth considering that each of the gates in the vision of the New Jerusalem was made of a single pearl. It is hard to visualize a pearl as a gate, especially when we know that it is not a door, as such, but a doorway, that is, a passageway like the arches mentioned earlier. Maybe instead of thinking about it as a solid gate we can picture the pearl in the vision as a sort of hologram, a real thing filling a real space but composed of LIGHT reflecting the qualities of a pearl rather than a solid structure that would form a barrier to those entering. Indeed, seen in this way the passages in Revelation describing the scene might take on new meaning as we read,

“…(T)he city had no need of the sun or the moon to shine in it, for the glory of God illuminated it, and the Lamb is its light. And the nations of those who are saved shall walk INTO its light, and the kings of the earth bring their glory and honor into it. Its gates shall not be shut at all by day (and there shall be no night there)” (Rev. 21:23-25).

Certainly we know from the Writings that the pearl of great price is the acknowledgment of the Divine authority of the Lord. This can never be an obstacle to anyone who is entering into the light. In fact, to acknowledge this is to enter through the pearl, like walking through a crystal ball, into another dimension where everything is light – and love, and the fulfillment of a meaningful relationship with God.

But now we are not in the spiritual world – at least not consciously, and so we may wonder how a ritual of washing can be so significant and so important as a gate. Surely if we are going to learn the truth we can learn it without getting baptized! If we are going to enter into life according to the truth we can do so without having a ceremony to mark the occasion. Indeed, to some the whole thing may seem rather presumptuous, like the Pharisees of the New Testament hiring someone to sound a trumpet ahead of them as they walked through the city giving alms to the poor. Wouldn’t it be better just to learn and do what’s right, or in the case of children to teach them by example, and NOT make such a big deal of the promise to do so? After all, who says we will be successful? Who says we will be able to fulfill the commitment before we try? (The last thing we may want to do is set up an impossible goal and then look like hypocrites when we fail.)

The Lord even told a couple of parables about this, saying,

“…(W)hoever does not bear His cross and come after Me cannot be My disciple. For which of you, intending to build a tower, does not sit down first and count the cost, whether he has enough to finish it – lest, after he has laid the foundation, and is not able to finish it, all who see it begin to mock him, saying, ‘This man began to build and was not able to finish.’ Or what king, going to make war against another king, does not sit down first and consider whether he is able with ten thousand to meet him who comes against him with twenty thousand? Or else, while the other is still a great way off, he sends a delegation and asks conditions of peace. So likewise, whoever of you does not forsake all that he has cannot be My disciple” (Luke 14:27-33).

But these questions, these doubts about the outcome are some of the very reasons for baptism. (Incidentally, they are also good reasons to come forward for adult confirmation of baptism. For by these signs we commit in such a public way, and with the benefit of such powerful symbolism, that we attract the very affirmation and spiritual support we need to get the job done. It’s like a contract or a business commitment: we may know very well what we intend to do, and we may know what we expect from the other party, but we still almost always sign the documents describing the commitment so that it can be verified and confirmed whenever doubts arise. This signature is like the sign and seal of baptism: it doesn’t really guarantee anything, but it brings the force of what the Writings call “ultimates” into the equation.

“Ultimates” are all external, natural, material things and the actions that go with them. They are the chemical elements, the physical substances, the circumstances, words and deeds that form the lowest or most basic, outer shell of life. While it may seem that this outer shell is the least important of all things, and certainly less important than the spiritual elements within, there is a sense in which it is actually more important than everything else, and even more holy, because it embodies all the internal things and gives them form (AC 9824:2). Of course, an external form may not appear to embody the things contained within, especially in cases of hypocrisy, but one way or another it always does. And the form holds them all together, giving them a basis or a foundation in what we often call “the real world” as distinct from the world of mental abstractions.

It is good, for example, to feel kindly disposed toward someone in need. But it is always better and more fulfilling to act on that disposition by doing something kind for her. Again, to illustrate by contrast, it is bad to feel anger and jealousy toward someone who has done no wrong, but it is even worse to act on that anger by doing something harmful. Why? Not just because this hurts others but also because it confirms and establishes the feelings even more deeply within ourselves, giving them a place to thrive, like worms in rotting compost.

So the “ultimates” or physical circumstances of our lives help us modify and define our character. They also give others a basis for relating to us, or making judgments about us.

In regard to baptism what this means is that the external act contains, confirms and strengthens the commitment. It also sends a clear message to the people around us that there IS a commitment, something that might well be in doubt until the ritual takes place. And this in turn attracts the support even of the angels in the spiritual world, who identify through bonds of love and wisdom with our act. Let’s face it, we are not going to have an easy time forsaking all that we have to be the Lord’s disciples!

But why baptism (washing) instead of a handshake or a signature, anointing with oil, or some other ritual such as the Jews had with circumcision and other cultures have with smoke or fire? Why not a ring or a tattoo, or why not just lay hands on the child’s head and say a blessing?

The answer, as it was so neatly summarized in our third lesson, is that water corresponds to truth. So with the natural application of water in a cleansing rite there is a complex and powerful foundation for the thought of people here on earth and in heaven about the spiritual application of truth. Furthermore water covers 70% of the surface of the earth and is essential for human life on the planet. So the rite of baptism is readily accessible to all people, and it is easy to do. Indeed, it represents how readily accessible the Lord makes His truth, and how easy for us to apply.

Still, what if we commit through baptism, and then fail? What if, after passing through this gate of entrance, we turn back and go some other way? It happens of course. Are we then worse off than we were before? Do we then invalidate the act itself or take the name of God in vain? Well, maybe, but not necessarily. It all depends on where we have come and how much we have been able to integrate into our whole lives. Remember, the act of baptism represents a commitment to learn, and through the learning to acknowledge and follow the Lord. If we do this we are regenerated by the Lord, but if we don’t do it we are not regenerated. In a sense nothing is lost, but then again, nothing of heavenly life is gained – except perhaps some remnants from the early stages of the commitment – which all help! But in such cases the act of baptism isn’t much more than a symbol of what might have been, or of what could be for others. It still serves a use, but not for the one who turns aside from what it represents.

Jesus said, “unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God” (John 3:5).

To be born of water is to live according to the truth. To be born of the spirit is to live according to the understanding of it. May the children who have been baptized today grow strong and wise in these two heavenly blessings, even as their parents love and learn to guide them from the Lord. And may the rest of us enjoy the privilege of giving our support, not only to these parents, but to each other as we continue in our efforts to fulfill the promise of eternal life that God has given to us all.