Isaiah 62:1-4, 11-12
Rev. Kit Billings
Nov. 2, 2003
This past weekend Paul and I attended the Evangelization Conference in Boulder, Colorado hosted by our sister branch of the New Church (the branch which refers to itself as the General Church of The New Jerusalem). Let me tell you that IT WAS A VERY SPECIAL EXPERIENCE to be sure! In fact, I would say that I'm on fire about it and about our potential as a New Church congregation here in St. Louis. I feel this way not only for the content of the conference but especially for the Spirit of the Lord I felt and experienced there throughout the weekend, and the fact that now I have approximately 125 new friends and acquaintances who also love the New Christianity. To be candid with you, I encountered a sort of “revelation” there—in part because I admire the way in which the General Church laity and clergy can speak with clarity, discernment and boldness about this fantastic theology centered in our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ and His Second Coming, which brings His saving Love so beautifully and deeply into our grasp.
There were many other things about the conference that were terrific blessings to me too, such as learning a lot about the support for evangelism in both the Holy Scriptures and our theological writings. We learned about some fascinating stories of outreach within the General Church, which I'll share more about with you in a month at our congregational meeting. We learned about the practical issues of outreach and advertising, press releases, and also the long journey it often takes for a small New Church congregation to grow from 25 to 125! We learned about some mistakes that have been made in the past in our sister church, and we enjoyed a Holy Communion service that was perhaps the most beautiful and tender one I've ever experienced.
Paul and I were both simply overwhelmed with how many special and precious things kept happening, and I can say this too—that it was such a joy to have so much time to enjoy Paul's company and have such a great chance to get to know him more.
Not long into the conference Paul was invited to lead part of an evening of singing in worship music, and he was welcomed to play keyboard during many musical times of the church. Another highlight was how much I enjoyed talking with Grant Schnarr over lunch one day who has authored some of my favorite New Church books such as Return To The Promised Land, and The Art of Spiritual Warfare. I also enjoyed a couple of nice visits with their new Bishop, Tom Kline, who I truly love and enjoy, and who seems eminently capable of becoming the new leader of that denomination. And there were many others I feel blessed to have met. Again, Paul and I will be sharing a great deal more with you in a month at our congregational meeting.
As part of the conference program, we were asked to think and reflect upon all the many, many blessings and gifts we've been given by being led by the Lord to discover the New Church. It offered me an opportunity to reflect about how truly HEALING it is for me to be a part of it, since so many of our theological principles and values have healed many damaging ideas and beliefs that certain parts of classical Christianity has so deeply rooted within it---ones that create fear, low self-esteem, judgmentalism and deep confusion.
For example, through the INNER SENSE of the Word, we find that the doctrine of “original sin” goes too far. And yet our theology recognizes that while we do come into life with a deep core connection to God and His love and truth, we also inherit great leanings toward self-centeredness and an ease with rationalizing bad behavior, in addition to a tendency to put love of self and the material world above love for the Lord, heaven and the church. But to say we come into life fully sinful and “bad to the bone” is false and damaging.
Also, for example, our theology helps to heal us of the mistaken belief that only Christians are going to Heaven. Through the inner layers of truth in the Word, which the early church fathers were essentially aware of, we learn that anyone who loves God and has tried to live sincerely a good life through their faith will find the atmosphere of love and truth of Heaven pleasant and enjoyable. The heart and lungs of Heaven, where Christians typically reside, may not be the place where a fully devout Jew or Muslim's home would be found, but the “body of Heaven” has many other places in it for their residence and usefulness.
In addition, our theology has healed so many, many people of the deep confusion of God in three Persons. That truly, the Christian vision in the Gospels is one of Jesus Christ fully glorified, a visible God in whom exists three essential aspects of Divinity—Divine Love, Wisdom and Power—also known biblically and symbolically as Father, Son and Holy Ghost. And perhaps most important of all, the inner sense of Scripture reveals what I would call the true nature of Divine Love, which is most deeply what saves us. God, who IS this Infinite Love, is never wrathful and punishing, is never angry but can certainly be zealous in His work with us. We find the clearest and greatest expression of God's Infinite Love shown in the life and words of our Lord Jesus, who was “Immanuel” or “God with us.”
The New Church teaches that true, Divine Love is always merciful and welcomes everyone into a path of love and truth, but leaves us free to reject Him and it. In many places in the literal level of the Bible this comes through—God is forgiving and wise, and will forever remain Personally and closely within your deepest inner being—He is never far away or tempted to be distant toward you, yet is all-knowing and all-seeing and eternally committed to helping us to truly see and understand ourselves in fullness and truth. Divine Love is more than the most powerful Force in the universe—It is also more tender and intimate than even the most caring father or mother on earth. The Lord is our Heavenly Father, and it is He who creates every sunrise and sunset, and every baby animal on earth. He has created the Butterfly, the gentle breeze in Autumn, and so much more to remind us of His redeeming Love for us. The Lord is the Creator of marriage love—the kind of love between a man and woman that grows forever and moves us to conjoin together as husband and wife for all time.
The New Church also helps Christians to understand the full nature of the Holy Bible and why some parts of it literally speaking contradict other sections. If one believes in the truth of science then the Creation Story in Genesis causes terrible confusion, since the plants and herbs grow in the third day and the sun and moon and stars weren't created until the fourth day. The vital truth given to the world after the Lord's Second Coming reveals that the first eleven chapters of Genesis were never intended to be taken literally; they were given as sacred myth but loaded with spiritual significance when their inner sense is opened up by the science of spiritual correspondence. That story was given to describe the seven essential phases of spiritual growth, pictured by the seven days of creation, needed for every one of us to become an angel.
Our church and its theology heals the mind of false understanding. When the Bible is dealing with any kind of illness or disease, it's telling much more than a literal story that happened thousands of years ago. It is also helping you to look and see if there are times when your spiritual life may feel crippled of confidence to achieve God's uses. Or, when spiritual blindness regarding the light and meaning of God's Word or being able to see the Lord clearly present and active in your daily life. Many Christians have been sadly blinded by the falsity that salvation happens by faith alone. But we know that Jesus came into the world to bring His Light into the world—a Light of understanding and faith, which reveals that salvation happens instead by a combination of faith, love and kindness in life—recognizing that all power to love and understand goodness and truth comes only from our beloved Lord.
There is SO MUCH for us in the New Church to evangelize the world with…but I believe any form of life and outreach in the New Church must obviously be embraced with every ounce of depth, tenderness, joy as well as boldness we can muster! Another healing teaching our church brings is that the Last Judgment and Second Coming were finished in the spiritual worlds in the late 1700's after Christendom had begun to climb out of the dark, dank cellar it fell into in the Dark Ages. Our teaching on the Second Coming is one of the most important of all—allow me to elucidate.
First of all we know that in reality the Second Coming of Jesus Christ isn't about Him returning to us after leaving us. In short because He never “went” anywhere. The Lord told His disciples that indeed He would be with them always, in His fully glorified Divine-Human presence, which is why God can and has been able to manifest Himself to so many people in visions and dreams and near death experiences for centuries. However, the Lord made it clear in His ministry on earth that the first Christian Church era would be a temporary one and that people back then in 1st century Palestine could not bear the full truth of things. The books of Daniel and Revelation prophesied that a cataclysmic end of the age would take place (where spiritual goodness and truth would die away and humanity would fall into very dark times). Such dark times would have had to have happened first in the spiritual realms since they're the realms of causation and Earth that of effect. After the terrible “end times” were to happen, then a rebirth was prophesied to take place, and a new Heaven and a new earth would be born afterward.
The First Christian Church would eventually topple as the Lord predicted in Daniel, Revelation, and in the Gospels. And then the Lord would perform His final Judgment, His Last Judgment, which reordered all life and gave Heaven its pure and eternal order and structure to last forever. Life on earth was effected greatly, by means of a sudden burst of political and philosophical and spiritual freedom everywhere, as well as the birth of science and a much great ability to delve into the true mystery of things, in Scripture and in science.
It's an ENORMOUSLY STABILIZING AND RENEWING TRUTH to embrace that indeed the Last Judgment has already happened when Christendom had bottomed out, just before the Renaissance Period blossomed into the Age of Enlightenment. It's deeply edifying to one's inner being to become connected to this awesome truth—that the Last Trump has sounded and the Lord has reordered and renewed all of life. Try and connect with this energy and strength as I read a few more passages about it with you:
New Heavens and a New Earth
17 "Behold, I will create
new heavens and a new earth.
The former things will not be remembered,
nor will they come to mind.
18 But be glad and rejoice forever
in what I will create,
for I will create Jerusalem to be a delight
and its people a joy.
1 Awake, awake, O Zion,
clothe yourself with strength.
Put on your garments of splendor,
O Jerusalem, the holy city.
The uncircumcised and defiled
will not enter you again.
2 Shake off your dust;
rise up, sit enthroned, O Jerusalem.
Free yourself from the chains on your neck,
O captive Daughter of Zion.
6 Therefore my people will know my name;
therefore in that day they will know
that it is I who foretold it.
Yes, it is I."
9 Burst into songs of joy together,
you ruins of Jerusalem,
for the LORD has comforted his people,
he has redeemed Jerusalem.
Jerusalem to Be Inhabited
24 "This is what the LORD says-
your Redeemer, who formed you in the womb:
I am the LORD ,
who has made all things,
who alone stretched out the heavens,
who spread out the earth by myself,
26 who carries out the words of his servants
and fulfills the predictions of his messengers,
who says of Jerusalem, 'It shall be inhabited,'
of the towns of Judah, 'They shall be built,'
and of their ruins, 'I will restore them.'"
I hope you can begin to see and feel the meaning of these texts. They describe the gift and birth of the Lord's Second Christian Church era on earth, one where more of the Lord's power and Light are available to you. And a major part of that Light has been given through the writings of Emanuel Swedenborg, which is the basis of this church you're sitting in. This Light of truth gives us so very much knowledge of life after death and why how we live every day here on earth matters so much.
Our Lord Jesus spoke a parable once about the truth that the “harvest is plentiful,” a spiritual harvest full of ripe spiritual fruit for all to enjoy. He said in Matthew 9:35-38,
“35Jesus went through all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the good news of the kingdom and healing every disease and sickness. 36When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. 37Then he said to his disciples, `The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. 38Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.'”
There is SO VERY MUCH for us to share with the world---in the way we know to love and care for one another, in church programs that can deeply assist others and ourselves in our spiritual growth, and in our awesome theology held here for all to know. Let us enjoy the inspiration we feel in our church, not because we may think that we are right but because we believe we have something glorious to live and to share.