I John 5:19-21
Rev. Kit B. Billings
October 12, 2003
One morning, a good friend of W.C. Fields came into his hospital room to visit his dying friend. This friend was astonished to see W.C. reading the Holy Bible, given that he'd never been a religious man. His friend asked him why he was reading God's good book, upon which Mr. Fields replied, “I'm lookin' for loopholes.” Everybody looks for different things in the Ten Commandments. Some look for Divine guidance, some look for a code to live by, but many of us are lookin' for loopholes.
Today we begin a sermon series that will ultimately cover all Ten Commandments given to Moses on Mt. Sinai. There will be some Sundays that will require us to postpone this series of Ten Commandments sermons due to special holiday themes, but finally together we will culminate in early February, just prior to beginning a good spiritual growth program based within the Ten Commandments.
We will be examining together the bedrock of the Jewish and Christian faiths; the essence of what a Biblically based covenant with God is about, and how these Ten Commandments create a pathway of spiritual development in life.
The 10 Commandments are meant to be
used as a spiritual pathway in life.
And given that we're blessed with our New Christian Church ability to open the Lord's Scriptures, our overview will take us not only into the literal truth of these great Commandments but also into the substantive depths of the inner levels of truth contained in the Lord's Ten Commandments. A Christian layman once said, "Many a man has followed the Ten Commandments all his life but has never quite managed to catch up with them."
The Ten Commandments contain all of the essential spiritual truth to live a heavenly life on earth and prepare you for life in Heaven. The Lord continues His invitation to everyone to enter a deeper, more spiritual covenant and relationship with Him centered in these loving truths. But there are certain spiritual precepts and principles involved in approaching the Ten Commandments, which are important to remind ourselves of this morning.
It is noteworthy to examine the context in which these great principles and truths of life were given. We find that the Lord Jehovah, the God of ancient Israel, begins His Divine revelation on "covenant-making" to Moses and the people by reminding them that He was the POWER that freed them from slavery. The theme of liberation echoes in this prelude to the First Commandment. God wanted to free the Hebrews from bondage in Egypt so that a truly spiritual relationship might be enjoyed between both parties.
EGYPT was the learning center of the ancient world at one time, which is why it corresponds to “the state of acquiring knowledge” and how anyone can become enslaved in that state, instead of moving into being a servant of others and the Lord. A parallel issue is at stake for each of us and God - that is, the Lord wants to help us to be free from bondage to a worldly-only way of life that leaves our spiritual development and potential untouched, and instead if focused on ego-driven forms of life. The evil Pharaoh, Raamsees II, symbolizes this choice and how selfish our minds can get toward the Lord and the truth of His Word.
Swedenborg learned that all of us enter life on earth in a spiritual "tug of war" situation. Although we are created out of the Divine Love & Wisdom of God, we inherit leanings toward both heaven and hell (the good and the bad). Early on in our spiritual regeneration process, we are easily enraptured or enslaved by our naturalness—which in part makes it ever so easy to embrace obsessive forms of thinking, as well as addiction to unhealthy mental and emotional states of being, or behavioral practices. Yet, just as the Lord was passionate about freeing the Hebrews from natural slavery in Egypt, so He is JUST AS PASSIONATE and DEDICATED about freeing us from spiritual and psychological slavery in any of its many forms.
The Lord's design for our lives is that we be free from selfish and worldly desires that pull us off center. God's design is that we be free from our addictions or obsessions. The Lord wants passionately for everyone to find the greatest happiness and fulfillment life offers, which stems from being centered primarily on the Lord and His Commandments, which connect us with spiritual love. The real key is being centered in God, since the Lord is Divine Love and Wisdom Itself, which brings an indescribable peace when we're deeply connected with Him, and which makes serving life's needs in an easy, non-anxious way.
But to be able to inwardly worship God above all other “little gods” or psychological idols means we must be willing to shun certain obstacles in our minds, certain misguided aspects of ourselves, which feel very good to immerse ourselves in to be sure. To do this means we each must be willing to take a careful look at our internal and external lives. Are there "little gods," psychological or materialistic gods that you may be concentrating on above the Eternal, One True God of Heaven and earth?
"You shall have no other gods before me," says the Lord to Moses and the Hebrews……why? Because in reality, the Lord wants you to enjoy the greatest happiness and peace possible. This Divine precept, God's First Commandment, is immovable in its relevance for our daily lives. It is the CORE, CENTRAL ISSUE of spiritual development through life. The temptation we all face, however, is to often want something else other than the Lord's Presence and the truth of His Word to rest upon the “altar of our minds.”
Ambition to serve self more than God.
Addictions to sex, alcohol, drugs, food, entertainment, etc.
Obsession with outward appearance.
Perhaps a tendency toward anger or impatience.
Commitment to inner deadness (Scrooge-like attitude
toward the GREAT JOY of being alive!!)
What might appear on your own list of “mental or emotional idolatry” that enables unhealthy, unholy or unrighteous thoughts, attitudes, beliefs or rationalizations to maintain a central place upon the altar of your mind? The Book of Exodus' "nuts and bolts" question involved in finding heaven's happiness is: WHAT WILL I LOVE THE MOST IN LIFE…in my every day life? What will be my primary concentration? What will I put my faith in each day? Do you want to internally worship God most of all, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ and His dedication to service as well as realness and connecting with others in a more personal way? Certainly, you're the one who must examine yourself to answer these vital questions.
If Christianity is your chosen path, are you focussed on Paul's and John's visions of the Lord?: "In Christ dwells the fullness of the Godhead bodily" and that "He is the true God and eternal life." The wisdom of New Church is just this, that Jesus Christ is God-Visible. In the deepest degree of truth of the First Commandment, the question gets centered on whether we're serious enough inside to want the glorified Lord Jesus as our central love and concern. These are the essential questions that the First Commandment brings before us.
The Hebrews of Moses' time were immersed in other cultures, like that of Egypt, which saw many gods in life---all of whom were deemed worthy of their deep devotion.
Then MONOTHEISM saved the day. Jehovah called the Hebrews to have a clear, non-chaotic, and singular love and devotion to Him and to remain centered in worshipping the Divine without physical idols. The Divine knew that their ultimate survival as the chosen people depended upon this primary belief and understanding. WHY? In short because a statue is a physical thing and can be worshipped easily with our physical eyes. True worship of the Lord calls upon OUR DEEPER SPIRITUAL SENSES—IT'S INTERNAL—and that's where God lives, within your more inward being and is the only place where He can be truly felt and known. The Hebrew people often failed in this kind of worship—they were bent on being external, which is what led them to creating a religion based upon external ritual and behavior.
They fell into worshipping the Golden Calf after Moses seemed to be delayed in their eyes from coming back down Mt. Sinai. They chose, at times, to worship other gods and the idols that stood for them, such as when Achan hid an idol in his tent, which kept Joshua and his soldiers from winning against the city of Ai. And some, although not all, failed to recognize Jesus Christ as their promised Messiah, who brought the Divine-Human Love and Wisdom of God into full view, so that all might know and enjoy God in visible form.
The bottom line as we say is this, that there are a lot of forces within and around us that want to lead us astray from worshiping the Lord God above all else; and if we're drawn into Christianity, the hellish spirits around us will do their darndest to lead us away from loving and seeing Jesus as Lord of heaven and earth. For as Swedenborg learned, the spirits of Hell HATE THE LORD with passion!! They hate the love and goodness He brings into life, and they want nothing better to destroy Him…which will forever be a fruitless cause. But that doesn't stop them from trying, especially from leading us away from the Lord and drawing us into mindsets that obscure depth, realness and faith.
Living spiritually in the First Commandment is about being clear within you Who is on the altar in your mind and then taking your Christianity into every day situations, challenges and difficulties. So, I'll conclude by asking, "What sort of idols have you, perhaps, been worshipping in your life?" And, “Are you at a place these days of feeling ready to let them go?” Sometimes I still find myself putting certain fears or concerns in TOO HIGH a place in my mind, which places them I believe upon my internal altar within me, instead of allowing the Lord to rest there.
Our Divine Creator has blessed us with ten Divine precepts, ten "MUSTS," to help us zero in on all the joy and peace that life has to offer. We can look for loopholes, or for liberating divine truth. The First Commandment beckons us to repeatedly ask ourselves, "What will I love the most each day of my life?" There is God, and there are numerous little gods and idols. The choice, THANK GOD, is ours! Amen.