(Swedenborg's Birthday Sunday & Evangelization Discussion)
Rev. Kit Billings
February 15, 2004
Apoc. Revealed n. 926 “Verse 17 `And the spirit and the bride say, Come' signifies that heaven and the church desire the coming of the Lord. `And let him that heareth say, Come; and let him that thirsteth come; Whoever desires, let him take the water of life freely' signifies that he who knows anything of the Lord's coming, and of the new heaven and the new church, and thus of the Lord's kingdom, should pray that it may come; and that he who desires truths should pray that the Lord may come with light; and that he who loves truths will then receive them from the Lord without labor of his own.”
This morning Paul and I are sharing with you about evangelization and outreach, what it means to be a good disciple, because they are commanded in God's Word. It also happens to be true that I will therefore be preaching this morning about the most wonderful and meaningful kind of service that exists! How can I make such a claim? Because to be a disciple of the Lord is to be a learner and worker and servant of pure Love Itself! That's what God is—that's what Jesus Christ Risen and Glorified is! God is pure, all-powerful Love and Truth—and knowing and loving Jesus Christ brings the All-powerful Love of the Infinite God into our human level of life. This is why Jesus' life and presence is so vital, because in Him the Infinite and mysterious Creator is reachable. The Lord contains the Power within Him to overcome the self-centered, fear-producing and enslaving spiritual forces of the hells symbolized by the ravenous dogs, the sinful magicians, “…the sexually immoral, the murderers and idolaters and everyone who loves and practices falsehood” as our lesson in Revelation describes.
Everyone in the whole world is called to know and love and serve the One True God, who is known by many names, who alone has the Power to overcome the dark side of life, because doing this ushers in a goodness to life in the Lord which enables us to find and discover heaven here and now. Modern science reveals what we need to have a healthy body, such as enough sleep, good, healthy food and exercise. Spiritually speaking, human beings need the nourishing food of God's Love and the thirst-quenching waters of God's truth. There is a heavenly goodness and beauty flowing into the core depths of your humanity, and good, healing Christian living is the primary means for re-discovering it and developing it. It's a way of life based within the Ten Commandments, and calls for a regular prayer life, which is meaningful conversation with the Lord. So this morning, I want to talk with you about being a disciple of our Saving Lord Jesus Christ. I want to talk with you specifically about serving the Lord as a New Church Christian.
The Lord's message to you, when boiled down is simple—COME! ALL YOU WHO THIRST for pure Love and the truth to set your life free from bondage to what creates dissatisfaction and unhappiness, COME!! Take freely the gift of the waters of life! Once a human being gains a real taste for the waters of pure truth as to the Infinite Goodness that God is, there really is only one direction that makes sense after that—to learn more and more about the Lord and do all we can to help others who also thirst to join in on salvation that is gradual and lasting.
Our Lord Jesus speaks to our hearts and minds right now through every book in the holy Bible. And, He reaches us through the “still, small voice” He uses through our conscience. The Gospels reveal God Incarnate, they reveal God in human form and they bring God's saving Love down to earth where we live every day. Those who come to be touched and deeply inspired by the Gospel of Jesus, and by the promise of His presence with us every moment of every day, begin to “get it” that the Almighty Lord is Lord over the hellish energies and forces of life. You know the ones I mean—the various things in the world and also certain feelings and thoughts we are prone to IDOLIZE and worship above the Lord.
In order to discover the joy, the deep meaning, and the awesome responsibility of what it means to be a disciple and an apostle of the Lord's New Christian Church on earth, we first must get our own full exposure to the living Lord Himself. The three interconnected means of this are: 1) meet God in the literal sense of His Word and put its truth to work in your life; 2) meet the Lord through the inner sense of the Bible and likewise put its even deeper truth to work in your life; and 3) gain the immensely helpful insights from the theology or teachings of the New Church, which add more color and music to the foundation and structure of heavenly living and character we learn in the holy Bible.
I recall various times in my life when the living Power of Christ's presence have reached me in deep and lasting ways. As background to my story, let me draw you first to the early chapters in The Book of Revelation that describe when the Lord, our divine Lamb, had a scroll which had seven seals or ribbons around it. Revelation describes how Jesus Christ took off those seals from the scroll, which symbolizes the uncovering of the literal sense of the Bible. Through the teachings of our wonderful church, hundreds of stories and passages in the Bible are opened up as if they had been sealed within a literalistic approach alone, revealing a deep yet fairly simple application to our personal growth journeys.
For example, I will never forget the first time I began learning in our church about the inner or symbolic meaning within the descent of the Holy City New Jerusalem coming down out of heaven in the final chapters of Revelation. That book of the Bible tends to be seen in confusion. It used to confuse the heck out of me. Most people are not sure how to interpret it or what to really make of it. Our theology heals the mind of such confusion by unveiling the clear, understandable and sensible deeper truth of the last book of the Bible.
Now, some passages in Revelation stand out pretty clearly in their base, literal sense, such as chapter one where our glorified and risen Lord Jesus reminds John His apostle that He, the Lamb of God, is the One True God of the universe—He is “the Alpha and Omega, who is, and who was, and who is to come, the Almighty.” For Christianity we need to be crystal clear that our glorified and risen Lord Jesus is not a separate God from God the Father, but rather One and the same, yet in visible form. Jesus says to John, “I am the First and the Last. I am the Living One; I was dead, and behold I am alive forever and ever! And I hold the keys of death and of Hades.”
But then we read later about the great battle between a terrible dragon and the woman clothed with the sun, and how the dragon wanted to swallow up her male infant. We read in our helpful theology about how the good and healing doctrines of the New Church would tend to want to be swallowed up by this terrible seven-headed dragon, which is the mind-set of the fundamentalist or First Christian church era. But, that God would make certain that these helpful teachings would remain and would be the leaves on the Tree of Life for the healing of the nations.
With the Scroll of the Lord opened up I learned joyfully years ago about the inner meaning of the Holy City New Jerusalem coming out of heaven and landing upon the earth. That city had a foundation, which is life lived according to the Ten Commandments. It's streets were paved with gold and were translucent, which we understand to mean that heavenly life is one where the steps we take each day are centered in the greatest (or golden!) love of all—love for the Lord, which leads us to deeply want to love one another. This city had high walls, which are the important doctrines of the New Jerusalem which discuss the great importance of living a life of charity and faith and usefulness every day. Also, as we read in Revelation that at the end of our lives we will awaken in the next life and meet up with our all-loving God who will have our personal “book of life” in His hands; He will also have the holy Scriptures in His other hand and will look at our personal life in light of the holy Bible. Revelation says we will be judged according to our deeds, which is more than the kind of behavioral life we have chosen here on earth but also the vital intentions and affections from which we led this life.
As the Lord said in Luke: “For there is nothing hidden that will not be disclosed and nothing concealed that will not be known or brought out into the open. Therefore, consider carefully how you listen.” (8:17-18)
If we live our earthly life with faith in God and have chosen to serve from an intent to love and bless others, then our book of life will reveal the most important thing of all—that our ruling love was in harmony with the Greatest Commandment Christ revealed (which was a summary of the Ten Commandments given to Moses)—to love God above all else and one another as ourselves. Our theology reveals that this one chance of life on earth is our sole opportunity to reach out to the Lord and help us to grow and develop into a human being whose ruling love is the love of God and serving others, which then includes a good, healthy love for one's self as well. If we die after many years of life on earth and have maintained a selfish ruling love, or one of materialism above spiritual ways of life, then our destiny after death will be the hells where our ruling love will never change. Those whose ruling love does fundamentally change (or get regenerated by our Saving Lord) can be led into even greater growth and fulfillment after death. Christ talked about the “great gulf” between the heavens and the hells—part of our motivation as disciples in the Lord's New Church is to reach out to the world with this vital truth. This one lifetime here is really it. We'd better be powerfully focused and apply ourselves to Jesus and the greatest purpose of our being here. We can surely do this as the Old and the New Testaments show by opening up regularly to the Lord in prayer, seeking help with specific forms of evil and selfishness that we discover by examining ourselves in light of God's holy Word, and then simply relax and trust that the Lord is doing His awesome transformational work within us, forming us into likeness, giving us joyous entrance into the Promised Land of goodness and love as we live and move and have our being in God our Savior.
We are warned not to create excuses through “spiritual lukewarmness.” Revelation depicts what happens to those who are neither hot nor cold, but instead half-hearted in our love and commitment to the Lord in daily life. Learning what Revelation is really saying gave me a good, inspiring “wake up call” years ago—I've never lacked living an EARNEST LIFE ever since. And, discovering what those paved streets of gold symbolized touched my heart so deeply, filling me with the love of God so much. Most of the messages young people get from our society are not about this core, central truth—hearing it and reading it in the New Church has warmed my heart forever.
There is only one way for human beings to really grow and discover spiritual salvation—it is NOT through a fearful God of wrath and anger but rather one who is Infinitely strong through pure Love and Truth. I believe that great discipleship must come first through living our own Christianity in the great truth and spirit of which I've been speaking. That is, a deep and empowering journey of life in Jesus Christ which taps into the depths of life and energy that all people around you can simply not help but take note of.
I can hear the questions now forming in the minds of your friends and acquaintances: “Gosh, where did Bob get this light I feel beaming from inside of him? I gotta get me some of that!”
Some of the first male disciples of Christ were fishermen. Jesus Christ our Lord trusted those men, and many women as well, to help Him reach out to a world that hungers and thirsts after righteousness! Our church can be so much—a beacon of light for a deeper and more meaningful truth which shines from the literal and inner meaning in the Lord's holy Word, a center for healing where hurting people may find a depth of God's Love which can heal them of their selfishness (not to mention their stubborn woundedness within given that the New Church fosters careful self-examination which exposes the roots of our inner struggles and weaknesses). Our teachings can heal others and ourselves of the tremendous doubt of what the afterlife is really like, and gives solace to parents whose children die young, as we learn that every infant and child is given to very loving angelic couples whose deepest affection in life on earth was to lovingly parent children in service of God. And our theology can bring such meaning and understanding to those deep and painful spiritual “temptation battles” which many people misunderstand, thinking they're lost and distant from God when really they may well be truly facing their real weaknesses, gaining opportunity to grow and strengthen their spiritual muscles, just as a weight trainer needs struggle and resistance to gain muscle tone and strength by lifting heavy weight every day.
Yet most of all, any faithful congregation, of whatever religious bent, can help God heal our world by being a fellowship of love, kindness and mutual concern. For it is through our love for one another that our discipleship is most clearly seen. On top of such love and caring we can help heal a world that suffers from religious division and separation given that the New Church teaches that the Lord can reach people through so many different paths other than our own.
Let me conclude then by sharing what are the core benefits of evangelization? Grant Schnarr …….
“Give and it will be given unto you?” What you give will then be given back to you a hundredfold! Look what happens when you and God together touch someone else's lives?
Being a part of a church that grows, caring for the “church” which is really you, me and everyone! That is, to be a part of what the church does for others, for the people whom the Lord touches------as God gives them their deep, abiding hope!, as a human being learns that God is truly loving. No need to believe in a fearful God. And how confidence then starts to develop and grow in us all!
Ultimately, we're helping God in the growth and perfection of Heaven!
So you see, evangelizing as a disciple of Jesus Christ is about helping this kind of heavenly joy to grow and develop, and the increase of spiritual perfection in God's Kingdom which surrounds us and lives inside of us.
And so, ultimately the question we each must ask ourselves is, “Am I living up to my calling in discipleship? Am I helping the Lord to evangelize the New Christian Church on earth? Am I fulfilling the last Commandment my Lord and Savior gave as He ascended into Heaven: “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”