Rev. Kit Billings
April 18, 2004
…Anyone can see that intending and not acting when we can is not really intending, and loving and not doing good when we can is not really loving. It is only thinking that we intend and love; so it is a matter of isolated thought that disintegrates and vanishes. Love and intent are the very soul of the deed or work. It forms its own body in the honest and fair things that we do. This is the sole source of our spiritual body, the body of our spirit; that is, our spiritual body is formed entirely from what we have done out of love or intent [#463]. In a word, everything of our character and our spirit is [embodied] in our works or deeds.
Heaven & Hell # 475
There is a powerful spiritual truth, which under girds the whole Bible story, which comes out in vibrant fashion here and there, as in our lessons in Isaiah and Luke this morning. This truth is about the nature of spiritual love, or love that is fully REAL. This means that love does not become fully REAL or COMPLETE until it is grounded within the behavior that embodies it.
Isaiah learned about this important truth, in part, by observing the nature of the Lord and His Love through the wonderful way God's creation functions. The sunlight (its warmth and light) and the rain do not fall to the earth without intent. They come here earnest! They come with a plan. That is, to bring forth new life…new plants from seeds, which bud and grow, making new leaves, then flowers, and finally succulent fruit. New seeds then are produced, which renews the cycle again and again. The vegetation becomes food for creatures which eat it and need it. And so, the circle of life perpetuates. Ultimately, you and I, as God's highest order of creation, reflect God's purposeful Love at its best. The Lord's Love needs to ground itself within beings who can receive it willingly, and then who can choose to return it from a place of spiritual freedom. You were born to become an angelic citizen of heaven, and everything that happens in this earthly life can serve that greatest end, for in you the Lord's Love can find fulfillment as you let it live and move and have its being in you—as you allow it to flow ultimately back in union and in joy and in peace and wisdom to the Source from which it flows. In this sense, you are deeply and eternally needed by God, and also, we see and realize what makes love substantive and real.
It begins with intent, moves into truth and wisdom, and then produces a good and useful EFFECT. And within the final use and action, the love itself discovers its full and greatest DEFINITION. For example, I can have a loving intention to care for the homeless. I can theorize with good affections in my heart and body what it will mean to care for those who are in hardship—I can imagine what it would mean to love and care for strangers who deserve to be helped. However, thinking about it and even having good feelings about this good deed are one thing, actually doing it is another. I learned this in Boston, in the downtown district, when I was interning at a homeless shelter there while in seminary. I discovered a piece of what true spiritual love for others is for me. It is a kind of caring and concern that doesn't care what someone looks or smells like. It doesn't mind if another person seems to be going through things very differently from my daily routines. And it doesn't have to be thwarted and derailed by others who may become rude or totally disinterested in the concern I feel for them. There was a substantiveness, a truth and a realness to the concern I felt for God's many, many children in life (homeless men in this case) only AFTER I took the time and energy to put myself where it really counted—in the soup and food lines, in the lounges and game rooms, and in the areas where the homeless struggle and sometimes suffer. In these places (where the “rubber meets the road”), I began to experience a love for them that was complete.
The same is true of the Living Word, or rather, God's Divine Wisdom from Love. It pours itself into the created universes of heaven and the earth, and never comes here void. It accomplishes what it pleases, and it prospers in the thing for which it was sent. God's Love becomes fully and truly REAL by ultimately creating and landing within the externals of life—within that which is USEFUL and good. For love becomes only real when it forms within intentions that have an end to produce…to “…become fruitful and multiply.” We can have good affections and thoughts that just swim around inside our heads, but do not have that life and purpose to really go forth to make a real difference, right? Have you ever had such thoughts and interests? The kind that think about and have good feelings toward doing something good, but never actualize into good behavior and use?
Our Lord and Savior understood the difference between good intentions and true, spiritual love. The fig tree symbolizes, as you may know, love that's making itself felt, heard and seen…the fruit of the fig symbolizes this I should say. Fig fruit corresponds to or symbolizes love which is grounding. It may not be the kind of loving behavior that deeply understands God's presence in it, nor that the merit for the good actions belongs truly to the Lord. But still, plants that bear fruit correspond to you and I when we are feeling loving ends and purposes, and then letting goodness flow from our hearts into behavior, which actually defines and contains the love which inspired it to happen in the first place. Sometimes people have difficulty getting focused into being a person of real, spiritual love—the kind of love that doesn't make excuses, but gets things done, and expresses loving words, and is able to touch, to hold and embrace others, since this is what God did in the Lord, in the Redeemer, Jesus Christ from Nazareth. When we do get mixed up, and aren't passionate in life to love in ways that people need and enjoy, then for a time the Lord will help us to “get fertilized.” He will prune us in ways that will help us to change and transform.
But if we wind up rejecting a life of real love, and instead choose to be someone who thinks good thoughts and feels feelings but does not act on them, ultimately there is a spiritual cutting down process that happens, a closing off to the warmth of heaven, which is a sad and unfortunate time.
The hells will do their very best to trick us into believing that we are not good enough to accomplish God's will in the world, and they will inspire fears of many kinds to try to make us feel powerless to participate in a life that's fruitful, a life full of simple meaning and love. But nothing could be further from the truth. For God came into our world, incarnate in Jesus Christ. His glorification made certain that nothing would ever separate us again from the Lord and the blessings of Divine Love. For true there can be many, many instances when we just don't yet possess the truth as yet to know how to love others in a way that will be useful to them. But there is generally a way to learn what we need to, in order to understand better avenues for loving intentions to bear fruit that will last.
The Lord is a God of spiritual Love. He is Love which is REAL. Or as Swedenborg said so well, the Lord is VERY Real. “Father-Son-Holy Spirit” represent Divine Love which has good ends to start with, and then moves into life through Wisdom and enters its full power and character as it moves into creation—helping, comforting, blessing, regenerating, and serving. Long before you were born, God came here as Jesus Christ and glorified His humanity, uniting it with the Divinity of which it was begotten. He stand at the door of your heart and mind each day, knocking to gain entrance. All you must do is make that awesome choice! Open the doors to Jesus Christ, and let Him come in and sup with you. This is the choice to let Love inside of your conscious mind and heart, every morning of your life.
And whenever you do this, every day of this great life that God has graciously given, true love makes a home in you, and in many, many ways makes plans toward useful ends for fulfilling itself through your wonderful life. And the great circle of life rises anew, uniquely living inside of you…flowing, growing and regenerating your life in the process, bringing God's Kingdom of love, joy and peace even more into this world, as the trees clap their hands and the birds sing for joy. Now I believe you can see why salvation does not simply involve having faith alone in the Lord. Believing in the Lord must surely involve believing in and becoming vulnerable to the Love which is His very Life. As we become consciously grafted onto Christ as the True Vine, His Love enters in a very juicy and fructifying way. Discovering the wondrously deep and marvelous Spirit of the Risen Christ of life, opens one deeply to the Love which saves us, a love that automatically seeks out good deeds and works, through which it can find fullness and definition. No wonder that Jesus' apostle James learned that “…faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.” (James 2:17)
Yet saving faith which is loving, still needs the inner acknowledgement that all goodness and truth belong to God—there is no wisdom in wanting the final merit for anything God purposes through me. A humble sense of self-worth and dignity, certainly, indeed. But self-glorification and egotistical pride makes my fruitfulness rot. We read earlier in James awesome Epistle, in chapter one: “16Don't be deceived, my dear brothers. 17Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows. 18He chose to give us birth through the word of truth, that we might be a kind of firstfruits of all he created.” No wonder Swedenborg wrote as he did: “In a word, everything of our character and our spirit is [embodied] in our works or deeds.”
It is these kinds of spiritual truths, placed in Isaiah's mind and also in the Lord's parables of fig trees, which inspire children's authors like Margery Williams who wrote the now famous The Velveteen Rabbit, which moves my heart every time I read it. As you know,
“THERE was once a velveteen rabbit, and in the beginning he was really splendid. He was fat and bunchy, as a rabbit should be; his coat was spotted brown and white, he had real thread whiskers, and his ears were lined with pink sateen. [Many toys pretended they were real, and often snubbed the Bunny, making fun of him.]
"What is REAL?" asked the Rabbit one day, "Does it mean having things that buzz inside you and a stick-out handle?"
"Real isn't how you are made," said the Skin Horse [his wise friend who was old and worn out]. "It's a thing that happens to you. When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but REALLY loves you, then you become Real."
"Does it hurt?" asked the Rabbit.
"Sometimes," said the Skin Horse, for he was always truthful. "When you are Real you don't mind being hurt."
"Does it happen all at once, like being wound up," he asked, "or bit by bit?"
"It doesn't happen all at once," said the Skin Horse. "You become. It takes a long time. That's why it doesn't happen often to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in your joints and very shabby. But these things don't matter at all, because once you are Real you can't be ugly, except to people who don't understand."
The Rabbit sighed. He thought it would be a long time before this magic called Real happened to him. He longed to become Real, to know what it felt like; and yet the idea of growing shabby and losing his eyes and whiskers was rather sad. He wished that he could become it without these uncomfortable things happening to him.
[Yet one day, after many months of sleeping real close, snuggled up to the Boy he loved, after his nice velveteen fur had become rubbed off and his nose pale with wear from hours and hours and hours of play in the bracket nearby, after the Bunny had discovered how happy life could be by coming down off the shelf, becoming useful to a Boy who needed him, the little Rabbit heard the words that brought new meaning to his life. In defense of the very worn and shabby little stuffed Bunny, the Boy one day exclaimed aloud to his nanny, “He isn't a toy! He is REAL!”
That night the little Velveteen Bunny was almost too happy to sleep, and so much love stirred in his little sawdust heart that it almost burst. And into his boot-button eyes, that had long ago lost their polish, there came a look of wisdom and beauty.]
Indeed, when we love and are loved, the love God's gives us becomes fully real. And again, God's Word does not return to Him void, it has accomplished what it pleases, prospering in the thing for which it was sent!
I'm curious as a spiritual New Church Christian congregation what kinds of good ends and uses are waiting for us to start together (beyond providing high quality worship services each week and a great Wedding Ministry too), as God's Love works to become more able to “be fruitful and multiply.” As we grow and increase in numbers, God's Love may have new uses for us to bring forth in this world which hungers for our help.
May God bless us all in His Kingdom of true love, good purpose, and usefulness. Amen.