Micah 6:6-8 #337
Rev. 21:1-4, 9-14, 22-25
New Church Sunday
Rev. Kit Billings
June 27, 2004
AC 2304. Many may suppose that young children stay as young children in the next life, and are as young children among the angels. Those who do not know what an angel is may have become confirmed in that notion by the images seen here and there in places of worship, and in other places where young children are portrayed to represent angels. But in fact it is not at all as they suppose. What makes an angel is intelligence and wisdom, and as long as young children do not possess these, though they do indeed reside with angels, they themselves are not angels. But as soon as they have become intelligent and wise, they now become angels for the first time. Indeed what has amazed me, they no longer appear as young children but as adults, for their disposition is no longer that of a young child but of a more adult angelic disposition. Such is the effect produced by intelligence and wisdom, for it may be clear to anyone that it is understanding and judgment, and the life from these, which cause a person to seem to himself and to others to be an adult. I have not only been told by angels that this is so but also have spoken to a certain person who had died as a small child and yet after that appeared as an adult. The same also spoke to his brother who had died when an adult; and he did so out of so much mutual brotherly love that his brother who could not help weeping declared that he perceived nothing else than that this was love itself which was speaking. There are other examples besides this which there is no need to mention.
A man who had died as an infant was reunited with his brother in heaven, and the new arrival spoke with him and felt that love itself was speaking to him, which made him weep, unable to refrain from tears. Isn't that a beautiful story of what we're going to encounter after we die, if love and wisdom are our ruling love inside? But even more so, is this kind of information about what awaits you deeply important to your soul to hear, to hear reported from one of the world's faithful, useful, intelligent and stable Christians who took years to study God's Word in its original languages?
Let me ask you this too: is it important at all to you to learn a bit about the actual structure of reality itself, and hear reports (not unlike our evening news reports on T.V.) that reveal the most positive and encouraging information about the foundation of what holds our molecules together, every split second of every day? Perhaps not. But then, perhaps it matters to learn that in 1745 a courageous Swede, a great scientist, had a passion for understanding that took him through the natural sciences, finally into the meta-sciences. Swedenborg was a seeker, a learner. He was given a vision that told him, “Now it is permitted to intelligently discover the mysteries of faith.”
But before God called Swedenborg into service as the Age of Enlightenment was hitting full steam, not much was truly known about the afterlife, the worlds beyond this one. A few tidbits yes, but nothing comprehensive. In fact, many untrue things came into circulation, which made people terribly misunderstand both the nature of God's kingdom and also how that degree of reality profoundly impacts our lives here on earth. I say this because even though our Lord Jesus tried to get His core divine truth across to us, and to reveal that in Jesus the Kingdom of God had come near, humanity lost sight of it. Thus, instead of people really getting it that heaven must grow within your mind and life now, in this lifetime, the church began to teach that heaven and earth were totally separated. And other vital truths were lost as well, such as that “the country of your heart” (as Helen Keller once called it) and its QUALITY matters enormously regarding your final destiny after death.
Instead, humanity gradually learned that salvation rests only upon believing in the sacrificial death of Christ. In other words, the actual quality of your deepest loves and affections in life are not extremely relevant, but only what you believe, so the Apostolic church taught. Early Christianity taught that the quality of your choices and behavior every day do not intimately matter regarding your salvation within God, who is Infinite Love and Wisdom Itself! “Faith alone” is what saves you, which is still often taught today, and not the ultimate changes and transformations of your heart and mind, which follow having faith in the Lord.
And this is a sad state of affairs, because Christ our Lord did teach so comprehensively well that our growth into a spiritually angelic kind of love matters enormously. When Jesus was asked what the greatest Law in Judaism was, what was His reply? That we must come to love the Lord our God with all our heart, mind, soul and strength, and our neighbor as ourselves. When asked how we can surely walk a saving life, Christ replied at one point, those who want to enter into life must live a life according to the commandments. At other times He also lifted up the great importance of believing in Him and having faith. The summary: only God saves people out of our selfish evil—but without question we must cooperate with our Saving Lord by allowing Him to save and regenerate us by using the powers of love, faith, understanding and good works that the Lord pumps through us, as graces only He can give.
What was it that John said in his opening Scriptures, in chapter 3, verse 19-21:
19This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but men loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. 20Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that his deeds will be exposed. 21But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what he has done has been done through God
God did well centuries before to teach the Israelites the core saving principles of life, through one helpful prophet and leader after another. And we heard God's voice this morning in the words from Micah, which so many spiritual men and women have uttered, in parallel ways, throughout the world and in so many religions. Why so did Paul of Tarsus understand that our love, faith and good works are intimately interwoven, as we read in Romans 2:12-13:
All who sin apart from the law will also perish apart from the law, and all who sin under the law will be judged by the law. For it is not those who hear the law who are righteous in God's sight, but it is those who obey the law who will be declared righteous.
Swedenborg reminds us that “the law” Paul was talking about here was not all the man-made laws and rituals the Jewish leaders came up with, but the divine Ten Commandments revealed through Moses, which must not be thought lightly of, since they are one of the twelve gates through which people make their way into heaven. The Apostle John, whom we read from this morning, saw the importance of those desiring righteousness with God and entrance into heaven after death cannot divorce a saving relationship with our Creator from the way we live our lives, as we read in Revelation 21:6b-8:
To him who is thirsty I will give to drink without cost from the spring of the water of life. 7He who overcomes will inherit all this, and I will be his God and he will be my son. 8But the cowardly, the unbelieving, the vile, the murderers, the sexually immoral, those who practice magic arts, the idolaters and all liars--their place will be in the fiery lake of burning sulfur. This is the second death.
The bottom line as Swedenborg was shown by the Lord for twenty-seven years while exploring “life in the world unseen,” in the end what practically matters is what do you love and desire the most? It is true that everything that has to do with love and faith belongs to God Himself (to our Lord Jesus), and the only way to gain deep receptivity to them within our hearts and minds is to believe and enjoy the truth that God is the One source of these graces. Yet it is also true that your desire to be and live faithfully with the Lord each day of your life matters. Your choices matter.
I like Abraham Lincoln's way of putting it, which reads: “I believe that men weave in their own lives the garment they must wear in the world to come.” Does this remind you of that famous Christmas story about Ebeneezer Scrooge and the chains of death Jacob Marley spoke of which doomed him to hell? In that tale Mr. Scrooge had to take a long, careful look at his whole life, and repent, and change his ways while learning to believe again in the Lord.
There's so much to celebrate on New Church Sunday, in part that the shackles of misunderstanding about the essence of salvation are broken once and for all. You know, at least three times now in the last twelve months while in conversation with my wonderful mother, Sharon Billings, we have remarked to each other, “Gosh, I feel so blessed to have been introduced to this religion” (the Lord's New Christian Church on earth). Now, clearly, there are millions and millions of people around the world who feel that way about their beloved religious or spiritual organization or spiritual movement. And there are many wonderful and faithful good people in many religious persuasions of the world, people who value charity and faith. This only confirms part of the basic doctrine of our special church, that the One God of the universe, known by many names, is the Author and Sustainer of so many good religions of the world and that while genuine Christianity is the greatest of all sources of God's Light, still divine Love and Wisdom are present and living in other traditions too. For those who are ready to enter a much more mature degree of Christian understanding there comes a point when a pluralistic perspective takes on great importance.
I love this great poem, titled “The Divine Image” by William Blake, which expresses all these truths so well:
To Mercy, Pity, Peace and Love
All pray in their distress;
And to these Virtues of delight
Return their thankfulness.
For Mercy, Pity, Peace, and Love
Is our God, our father dear,
And Mercy, Pity, Peace, and Love,
Is Man, his child and care.
For Mercy has a human heart,
Pity a human face,
And Love, the Human form divine,
And peace, the human dress.
Then every man, of every clime,
That prays in his distress,
Prays to the human form divine,
Love, Mercy, Pity, Peace.
And all must love the human form,
In heathen, turk or jew;
Where Mercy, Love, and Pity dwell
There God is dwelling too.
My mom and I were talking this week about the incredible and beautiful mercy of the Lord and how God deals so expertly and wisely with us during our most intense spiritual struggles and temptations, which is one of many aspects of New Church theology that just rings many bells of truth within our souls and minds. My Mom and I were talking about those times in our lives when our deep and immense love and faith in the Lord gets attacked by that gravity well of spiritual darkness, certain evil spirits who prey at times upon our higher affections and principles, inspiring good Christians like us to feel deeply tempted to believe whatever manner of depressing thoughts. BUT!, that like Christ who also had to go through such grievous spiritual experiences, the Lord allows us to be drawn into such falsity that resides in our minds in order that it would be subdued, overcome, defeated…which enables the Lord to gradually regenerate us one step at a time. We talked about the teaching in Swedenborg which says that in reality, even though it is beyond our awareness, right in the midst of our tough, painful inner battles, the Lord is more tenderly and powerfully close to us than at any time of our conscious life—fighting for you, helping you, and supporting you—because He loves you.
This morning we're celebrating the awesome and marvelous day, back on June 19, 1770, when our Lord God renewed all life everywhere, which brought many, many terrific blessings into life, into our world—the actual date when the Lord called His original twelve disciples together in heaven and sent them into every “corner”, declaring with joy that the Lord God Jesus Christ reigns!! We are celebrating a spiritual EVENT, not to mention the real beginning of where our denomination got its genesis. We are celebrating the BIRTHDAY of the Lord's Second Christian Church era, which has been churning out so many great and helpful changes and improvements into life, all of which fall under the general heading of blessings from the Lord's Last Judgment, His Second (and cosmic) Advent, which has lifted everyone spiritually, not unlike what happened the first time God Incarnated within the physical birth of Jesus over two thousand years ago.
If I were to encapsulate the meaning of New Church Day, it is this: within the core spiritual structures of life since human beings were first created and eventually fell away from total trust and faith in God, everyone in both worlds (the spiritual and natural ones) is now held more brilliantly and more securely within God's divine Love and Light. In other words, if you could look past and through the great veil that separates the spiritual world from the natural world, you would find that with 100% wholeness, ALL IS WELL. The very structure and substance of what you and I look at every day, is totally and completely in GREAT-GREAT SHAPE! New Church Day is a day to be reminded that deep down inside of every little quark of matter in the whole universe lies the reality of what we often call in our church the spiritual world, God's spiritual kingdom, and no more will that level of human existence be weakened or disturbed ever again. And that, my friends, is an incredibly good thing to know and meditate upon. If the peace of God, which passes all natural understanding, is something you desire, then I recommend regular meditation upon the great truth that the last trump has sounded several centuries ago.
The Holy City of God from heaven is descending. What is your response to God's kingdom, which is ever so near? How can you help the Lord's New Jerusalem take shape in your life and in the lives of others? Amen.