A New Age and a New Beginning

A Sermon by Rev. Ian Arnold

“The reason why the Word is interiorly revealed that is, as to the spiritual sense before the Church is fully devastated is that a new Church will then be established, into which those who belong to the former Church are invited. And interior Divine truth is revealed for the new Church which could not be revealed before …

The case herein is similar to what took place at the end of the Jewish Church: for at its end, which was when the Lord came into the world, the interior Word was opened; for the Lord, when He was in the world, revealed interior Divine truths which were serviceable to the new Church [that is, to the Christian Church] to be established by Him ….

At this day also, for similar reasons, the interior Word is opened and Divine truths still more interior are revealed therefrom for the uses of the new Church, which will be called the New Jerusalem.”

(Apocalypse Explained, paragraph 948.2)

Turning, friends, to the book of Revelation, chapter 21, and reading verses 9, 10, and part of verse 11:

Then one of the seven angels who had the seven bowls filled with the seven last plagues came to me and talked with me, saying, “Come, I will show you the bride, the Lambs wife.” And he carried me away in the Spirit to a great and high mountain, and showed me the great city, the holy Jerusalem, descending out of heaven from God, having the glory of God.

You will probably not be surprised when I tell you that when the Christian church, in its early decades, was grappling with the question of which books it would regard as scripture, and include in the New Testament, the greatest question and the longest-running debate rested over the book of Revelation. And in fact, for the first 300 years of the Christian church, more or less up until the Council of Nicaea, the debate continued, and uncertainty surrounded, the book of Revelation as to whether it qualified as a book of scripture: whether it measured up to be regarded as an equal partner of other books, the 26 other books, which comprise the New Testament.

One of the words I found used to describe Revelation, all those centuries ago, and which was behind the uncertainties and questions going on, was that people found it “strange”. And to this day, people find the book of Revelation strange. Even at the time of the Reformation in the 1500s, there was a renewed debate about the book of Revelation and whether it qualified to remain a book of the New Testament. But in our day, I’ve come across references to the book of Revelation as being “weird”, “impenetrable”, “difficult to get into”, “off-putting” and its contents “seemingly random”. Now all of these I’ve heard or read or come across: ways in which people have described the book of Revelation.

Now as far as the book of Revelation being off-putting is concerned, I want you friends to realise that it is a book that is based within the spiritual world. The apostle John, in his old age, had his spiritual eyes opened so that he saw all sorts of things represented before him, strange and weird. The words are applicable: strange and weird. But we’ve got to remember that when it comes to the book of Revelation, in many ways it’s not unlike dreams: because in dreams, all sorts of imagery can cross our mind, and even trouble us, but behind it all there can be disappointments or changes, decisions to be made, or crises being gone through. And the dream can often be penetrated and interpreted, so we get to bottom of what lies behind: the cause, the truth, of what is going on with us or with the person who is dreaming.

And so far as the book coming across as random is concerned, it is not random. It is not nearly as random or as disconnected as it first may seem. The reality is that the contents of the book of Revelation fall into three main sections, and each follows the other in wonderful sequence. The book begins with a vision of the Lord, and a call to a right relationship with him. What follows next are chapters of what seem like chaos and upheaval: beasts, and strange things happening. And finally there comes breakthrough and a new beginning: the holy city New Jerusalem descending out of heaven from God. Which brings us back to the words I chose as my text:

“Come, I will show you the bride, the Lambs wife,” and he carried me away in the Spirit to a great and high mountain, and showed me the great city, the holy Jerusalem, descending out of heaven from God, having the glory of God.

In this book of the Writings of our church called The Last Judgement, in paragraph 40, the statement is made that “all things contained in the book of Revelation are, at this day, being fulfilled”. So the book warrants, it demands, our attention because it is speaking to us about a time you and I are living in. To illustrate this, we need to stop just for a moment on the second of the three great parts within the book: from chapter 4 to chapter 19, and the descriptions of chaos and upheaval. We would have to have our heads buried in the sand to deny that we live in an age of chaos and upheaval. Just contemplate for a moment the things that are going on in the world: the anxieties, for example, with regard to the proliferation of nuclear war and armaments; the concern there is over the environment, global warming; and the difficulty that even the greatest and most powerful nation on earth is having containing and controlling and resisting terrorism. How can we, as we look out on the world, deny that this is a time of chaos, anxiety and upheaval?

And so it is also, friends, when we go a little bit deeper and look at things on a spiritual level, where there are competing religious teachings and philosophies. It may be the same with you as it is for me, that when I see a rabid Islamic cleric shouting and screaming into a microphone to try to energise his followers to acts of terrorism, I’m ashamed. I’m ashamed because I’m a representative of a religion, and I am in some oblique way tarred with the same brush by people out there who would prefer not to have anything to do with religion, if through their television screens and the news bulletins of the night-time, they’re confronted with religious fervour that leads to division and people hurting, maiming and killing one another. How can we say that this is not a time of chaos and upheaval, even, as I say, at a spiritual level? And it is also, when it comes to our actions and lives, that this is, and it will be known as, an age of moral relativism. In other words, there is a resistance to the whole idea that there are any such things as moral absolutes: that what is moral is what suits me as long as it doesn’t hurt anyone else. What is right is what’s right for me: that’s moral relativism. And it is rampant is our society, in our western society, at the moment. People don’t like to hear about moral absolutes.

So friends, I go back to what I said, that you and I would have to have our heads buried in the sand not to see that we live in this age of chaos and upheaval, of anxiety and uncertainty. And it beings home to us the truth of this statement here in paragraph 40: that the things that are said in the book of Revelation are at this day being fulfilled.

But the book of Revelation, as we saw before, doesn’t end there. And it is so important for us to grasp this: yes, this occupies the chapters 4 to 19, but that’s not where the book cuts off. The book goes on to describe a wonderful breakthrough, a new beginning: the holy city New Jerusalem descending from God out of heaven:

“Come, I will show you the bride, the Lambs wife,” and he carried me away in the Spirit to a great and high mountain, and showed me the great city, the holy Jerusalem, descending out of heaven from God, having the glory of God.

How important and how useful it is for us also friends, to pause a moment and to realise that what has just been said with regard to humankind as a whole also applies to you and me in our individual lives. Of course there are times of chaos and upheaval that we go though, times of anxiety and uncertainty, times when we feel challenged and can’t make sense often enough of what is happening. The book also, you see, speaks to us personally. But hold on to this again: that it doesn’t finish at chapter 19. It doesn’t finish with chaos and upheaval: it goes on to talk about breakthrough and new beginnings. And so it is with our own experience and lives. Though there be dark and difficult, anxious and uncertain, troubled and challenging times we go through, beyond it there is breakthrough and a new beginning. Light dawns:

“Come, I will show you the bride, the Lambs wife.” And he carried me away in the Spirit to a great and high mountain, and showed me the great city, the holy Jerusalem, descending out of heaven from God, having the glory of God.

There is an amazing passage in the first volume of the Arcana Caelestia, which, ever since my attention was drawn to it years and years and years ago, I have never forgotten. I have often gone back to and drawn a lot of strength from it. And I just want to read the early part of it, its 842:

Before anything is restored to order, it is very common for everything to be reduced, first of all, to a state of confusion resembling chaos, so that things that are not compatible may be separated from one another. Once these have been separated, the Lord arranges them into order.

Phenomena comparable to this take place in nature. There too, every single thing is first reduced to a state of confusion before being put into its proper place. Unless atmospheric conditions included strong winds to disperse alien substances, the air could not possibly be cleared, and harmful toxic substances would accumulate in it. The same applies to the human body. Unless all things in the bloodstream, those that are alien as well as those that are congenial, were flowing along together unceasingly and repeatedly into the same heart where they are mixed together, the vital fluids would be in danger of clotting and each constituent could not possibly be precisely disposed to perform its proper function.

The same also applies to a persons regeneration.

…842 from the Arcana Caelestia.

Chaos, yes. Expect it; don’t be surprised by it. But hold on to what lies beyond it: break-through and new beginnings.

Friends, its one of those things, always so important to remember: that with regard to our times of chaos and uncertainty, when things are so much in upheaval whether personally or collectively the Lord doesn’t come riding in over human freedom and personal responsibility, openly intervening to rescue us. We would all like Him to, that’s for sure! At such times we would like Him to set everything back on track, right the obvious wrongs, replace strife with peace and take away hardened hearts. But it’s not the way He operates. Its not what would be in our best, eternal interests.

If we think back 2000 years, that’s exactly what people expected of the Lord when He made His first coming into the world. There is a description in Lukes gospel of two of the disciples returning from Jerusalem to Emmaus on the day of the resurrection with their faces as long as a wet week. When the Lord unknowingly came in alongside them, they complained that “we were hoping that it was He who was going to redeem Israel; we were hoping that He was going to openly intervene and rescue us; and He didn’t do it.” That says so much of how it was with people and their expectations of the coming of the Messiah.

It doesn’t happen that way. The Lord never openly intervenes and rescues us, plucks us out of a situation. But what He does do is that He restores and replenishes the resources that we need to deal with the situation in which we are, or into which we have entered; and that’s very important. As recently as last night, you may have seen it yourself, there was just a little news item about a one-armed shearer; he lost his arm when another vehicle collided with his truck, but it hit him on the drivers door and his arm was crushed and he lost it. And he was interviewed, but was so remarkably positive about it; and I only cite this because the help, the strength, is available to be called upon. Can you imagine how dark it must have seemed him: a shearer, a country man, who needed his hands, his arms, his body, his strength, his muscles? Can you imagine what chaos he must have gone through when the doctors said, “Sorry, but your arm is going to have to come off”? And yet he found the resources to deal with the situation that had arisen. And that’s promise of the Lord: that He will always restore and replenish the resources that are needed for us to deal with the situations that have come up on us, or like I said, into which we have entered. And that’s the case today.

In this day and age, the Lord has restored and renewed the resources that the human race needs to negotiate these uncertain, difficult, challenging, chaotic times we are living in, and these renewed resources are sufficient to bring us through to the other side to breakthrough and a new beginning. As we saw from that reading from Apocalypse Explained earlier in the service, when He came on earth, when Jesus was here in this world in Galilee, what did he do? He opened the Word to people, the Word that He said the people had made of no effect by their tradition. He showed them that there was beauty and truth and light and insight, treasures within that they had not even begun to see. And so it is, that reading goes on to say, so it is in our own time and age, that the Lord has opened the Word again, so that we may discover levels of meaning and treasures that you never dreamt of exist within there. He has provided, He has restored, and He has renewed the spiritual resources that the human race needs to find its way forward in the age we are living in and to come through to breakthrough and a new beginning.

The Lord has restored the Word to us. He has restored the truths that have become lost to humanity. He has brought back in to focus the great foundational truths on which decent human living exists and which make for connectedness with God, and they have been known from the beginning of time. The twelve foundations of the holy city New Jerusalem are the great eternal truths which have been known though the ages, which have been known in different cultures, and which now the Lord has regathered and reclaimed for us and given us again in His revelation that is so precious to us, the revelation of His second coming. We have the resources.

Friends, I mentioned earlier in my sermon things like concern over the environment, global warming, anxiety about the proliferation of nuclear armaments, the wasting away of our mineral resources, the religious ideologies which have people at one anothers’ throats and at loggerheads with one another. It’s not surprising, it’s surely not surprising, that at times it seems as if this planet, and this race, is winding down and will eventually come to an end of its own doing. And maybe it will do. But that is not what the Lord has in mind! The Lord has lead the human race down though the ages, through its infancy, through its childhood, through its adolescence, through its early adulthood; and He has now brought it to the cusp of its adulthood. In other words, the human race is only now at the point at which the Lord hoped from the beginning would be the case: when with insight and understanding, people everywhere could enter into a mature, equal, insightful partnership with Him, understanding and seeing the truths of human existence in a new way, and so connecting more closely with the Lord, and enabling Him to connect more closely with us.

I’ve often said, and I say it again, that though we love our children as infants, the richest relationship that it is possible for us to have with them is when they are adults, because then they have entered into that relationship of their own free will and choice. And so it is with the human race: that now we have come to this point of adulthood, the Lord can enter into the richest kind of relationship with us as a race.

We seem, I know, to be going against the crowd. I know that as a group and as a church we are struggling with issue to do with our future, and so might well we do that, that’s healthy! But friends, the struggle is not new. The Lord Himself struggled against the crowd, against the flow of human perception. He stood, a very lonely figure, against all that was going on around Him. Not, even at times to His closest followers, truly appreciated for who He was and what He was about.

Over these two most recent Monday evenings we have watched the ABCs “Australian Story” about a man who, at least until very recently, was marginalised and scoffed at because of his theories about land management and water conservation. Yet he had hung in there, so passionate and convinced has he been. We too, need to hold on to what we believe, notwithstanding all that would discourage us. We believe we have in our hands not just the key to good land management and water conservation, but both the promise of, and the basis for, a new spiritual Age for humanity:

Then one of the seven angels who had the seven bowls filled with the seven last plagues came to me and talked with me, saying, “Come, I will show you the bride, the Lambs wife.” And he carried me away in the spirit to a great and high mountain and showed me the great city, the holy Jerusalem, descending out of heaven from God, having the glory of God.”

Amen.

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