Rev. Kit Billings
September 5, 2004
In the midst of the hustle and bustle of every day life, and within the challenging hardships and pain of life in the natural world that the peasant Jews dealt with during Jesus' days on earth about 2004 years ago, God came into our world with a message to help us all see into the deeper riches of life, to help us open our spiritual eyes and recognize and feel what makes life truly a joy to embrace. His message, in part, was this: the truth of Reality is that there are spiritual treasures that surpass anything we may be blessed with on the material plane of life, and these are pearls to the human mind and heart. This morning I want to talk with you for a bit about the biggest “pearl” of all—our glorified Lord, the Christ, who once had this awesome little dialogue with His struggling disciple, Phillip. In John's fourteenth chapter we read:
Philip said, "Lord, show us the Father and that will be enough for us." Jesus answered: "Don't you know me, Philip, even after I have been among you such a long time?
Anyone who has seen Me has seen the Father. How can you say, 'Show us the Father'? If you really knew Me, you would know My Father as well. From now on, you do know Him and have seen Him."
When, if ever, did you begin to realize and perceive that Jesus Christ was Divine? When did His other name, “Immanuel” (which means `God with us'), start to hit home? Perhaps you are in a place in your journey right now where the Divinity of Jesus Christ is a serious question mark for you. If so, then I hope that my message for you today may help in some way. And for those of us whose spiritual development has reached that point of perceiving the God-Man quality of Christ then I hope that this sermon might help you to clarify just how special that perception within you realy is.
With our natural eyes and senses we can see and experience life on the natural level of things—that is, life on planet Earth where babies are born and where old people die; where business and advertising builds and grows and tells us about the weekly specials down at Schnuck's supermarket; where we encounter animals, plants and weather patterns that bring delight and peace to our bodies and others that inspire fear, illness or destruction. God has given us a natural degree of humanness, both a physical body and a natural (or lower) degree of mind, which is important because it enables us to deal with the issues and concerns of making a living, or of figuring out how to balance homework with music lessons.
One of the many things I appreciate about our New Church theology is that it does not say that the material world and its riches and material things are inherently bad, but rather that the outermost level of life was designed by God to be the “container” God's kingdom of heaven. That is, the way in which we look at being useful at work, the way in which we approach our relationships with others, and the overall meaning we see in life while we are alive on earth is meant to be infused with spiritual principles, with spiritually warm and illuminating thoughts and beliefs.
But the bottom line here, my friends, is that even though our lower aspect of thinking and reasoning and feeling can get in harmony with our higher, spiritual mind, the two degrees of our minds will always be distinct and different. Swedenborg learned that our natural mind must one day desire to serve our spiritual degree of the mind, just as Joseph was to be served by his brothers. The natural mind can indeed become warmly connected to the spiritual mind. And yet, if we happen to be in a developmental phase where the natural degree of self is the primary (if not only) part of our consciousness that is awake, then it's going to be hard to see and understand what the “pearl of great price” is. But still it needs to be preached for the entire world to hear (especially within that awesome little world that exists between our two ears…within our very own human minds).
In the opening chapter of the Bible, in Genesis 1, we read that God created the heavens and the earth, which has a special message for us to hold onto, and it reveals first of all a most basic and important truth—that there is a God and the Divine Lord is the Creator of all things in both the spiritual and the natural worlds. Those of us who tend to struggle with a puffed up ego and delusions of grandeur may be helped to return to the opening verses in God's Holy Word. But given that the Bible contains both a literal and an inner meaning, which is an insight we learn through the revelations brought to earth through the Lord's cosmic Second Coming, the opening verses of Genesis have another depth of truth for our thoughts to feed on this morning. The Creation Story was primarily given to humanity not to give scientific truth but rather spiritual enlightenment about what is involved in the creation of a human angel. In telling us that God created “the heavens and the earth” we are also being reminded that every human being starts out with both a spiritual and natural degree of life—that we are inherently spiritual beings with a natural “shell” around us, and that it is our Creator's intent that we grow through seven distinct stages of spiritual and psychological development in order to one day reach our highest degree of humanity, in order to grow into an angelic human being ready and fit for life in heaven following our natural death and departure from this world into the next.
This all may sound rather paradisiacal and fairytale-like as we reflect upon it this morning. In fact it is meant to sound like that, since our earliest ancestors were rather golden people, very innocent and beautifully pure inside. But then, long, long ago things began to change. Human beings began to develop an imbalanced ego of large self-importance. They began to see themselves and their ability to understand life as above their Creator, biting into the forbidden fruit of evil, which expelled them out of their original garden of innocence and spiritual wisdom, which is what the story of Adam and Eve represents. And so we read also about the murderous outcome of Cain killing Abel, which is an important parable revealing that early humanity grew to falsely believe that intellect should rule over our love and affections, and that human evil is dangerous, to be sure. Ultimately our early ancestors came to convince themselves that they could reach into heaven and life's deeper purpose without God's help, guidance and Divine love, and so we read in Genesis 11 about the Tower of Babel and man's selfish downturn once again.
God's Word reveals important spiritual truth—how humanity began with innocence and then fell into lower and lower degrees of spiritual corruption and difficulty, turning his natural mind into a jungle full of wild beasts. In Genesis 12 we enter real human history, with the story of Abram and Sarai, which leads into the birth and growth of the Israelite nation, who struggled up and down in their relationship with God. The historical account of the Chosen people ultimately reveals why it was that we needed God Himself to enter into the lowest degree of natural life by putting on our humanity, in the birth of our Savior, Jesus Christ, and that in the person and life and transformation shown in Christ's journey here in the natural world the Almighty and infinite Creator brought the human and the Divine back into deep re-connection and strength, opening a new path of potential spiritual regeneration for all people to engage.
This morning, in this special parable that the Lord shares with us in our Gospel lesson, we are blessed to deeply reflect upon two very important spiritual realities open to that heavenly degree of mind God created within us way back in our beloved infancy, which Genesis 1 reminds us of. The Lord had many beautiful and sometimes challenging parables, and in today's lesson we discover more than that there is a kingdom of heaven, which is a fact of life very hard for many to believe. We also hear that the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls. This parable reminds us that we are each so utterly valuable to God and the citizens of heaven that they are passionate to search for us! This parable teaches that our angelic brothers and sisters are so full of love and concern for us that they are in search of you…they simply want you because you are a precious jewel to the Lord. You are their brother or sister, and you were created to become a citizen of God's heaven.
The Lord's parable about a merchant in search of fine pearls, however, is also saying that we have been designed by our Creator to possess “pearl-like” qualities and live in a way that has high, spiritual value and ideals. In this angle of this parable you and I now become the merchant seeking goodly pearly, since our basic life-force is connected to and a part of the Lord's kingdom of goodness and usefulness. Pearls correspond to beautiful spiritual truths…valuable spiritual truths, such as that life is a precious blessing from our Creator and that we are meant to grow through many stages of life so that we may discover the sort of deep-down, strong inner peace and angelic selfhood represented by the seventh day of creation (the Sabbath day). Another fine pearl of wisdom is that a truly rich man or woman is the person who has at least one or two truly deep friendships in life.
This week on the radio Dr. James Dobson talked a bit about this special pearl of life. He shared how much our culture has changed regarding women's ability to develop and nurture friendships with people of the same gender. Decades ago many families had several generations of women living under the same roof, which enabled daughters, mothers and grandmothers to nurture their inter-connectedness while mending clothing together, while hanging up the wash outside and while peeling and preparing green beans. Neighbors typically knew one another and enjoyed each other's company. Today, many of American families and single women move several times at least in their adult years. And modern conveniences, which have helped us to minimize the drudgeries of daily living make it somewhat more difficult for female neighbors to talk and visit. There is a general loss of community in our country, and women need to be encouraged to maintain and nurture their family and friendship connections even over great distances.
Men, to be sure, are also in the same boat, and we need to encourage men as well to develop and nurture connection with one another. Think about all the wonderful little pearls of spiritual knowledge (and the living, enlivening spiritual truth!) you possess in your mind right now.
Now, there is further significance that Christ chose the image of a merchant in this parable this morning. We are reminded that a good merchant is one who trades and buys and sells his goods with other traders and businessmen. And so, the Lord is helping us to realize that we join more consciously with our brothers and sisters in God's kingdom when we give and receive the important spiritual truths we learn in life with others who need them just as much as we do. And this brings me to the most important point in my message with you this morning. Our parable this morning contains these words: “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant looking for fine pearls. When he found one of great value, he went away and sold everything he had and bought it.”
Thus, as spiritual merchants, you and I are born to discover a form of truth that is of greatest value—a pearl of such size and greatness that we would sell all that we have in life and give all of our will and understanding to possess and enjoy its deep beauty and significance. Without a doubt, as we read in the theological pages of our church, the spiritual pearl of greatest value is discovering the truth of Jesus Christ—that in Him, God the Infinite is seen, felt and known. In other words, that in the visible Christ the limitless and eternal Power, the infinite Divine Love Itself, which is beyond our scope and grasp really, has entered creation and human living in the Divine-Humanity of the Lord. And (now be sure and listen carefully to this next one!), what is even more important is that through the Divine-Humanity of the glorified Lord, God Himself can greatly enter into the finite human heart and mind in a much more complete and penetrating way-----and this is something to do cartwheels over! Wow. God's wonderful Love moves into and through the humble Divine Humanity of our glorified Lord Jesus Christ.
One of the simplest and most cherished illustrations of what I mean is that famous painting of the risen Lord Jesus standing at the doorway of a humble, first-century home (with purple flowers in the foreground……perhaps you know of the painting I'm referring to) and what is He doing? He's standing at the doorway of someone's home and He's knocking upon their door, isn't He? That painting is a great little image of you and me, of our minds pictured by that humble home and how God in His Divine-Humanity can come so much more personally and warmly and intimately to your front door, and gain entrance into your mind if you will allow Divine Love in as your person Guest.
God, indeed, is more than the unreachable, unfathomable infinite Mystery—God is also “God with us.” He is here, He is Immanuel, no further away than one molecule is to the next right there in your left index finger—for the Infinite Divine is also the Divine Human. Jesus Christ, totally glorified and infinitely One with the Divine Father, is with you always, as He promised, and is capable of joining with you in a great and transforming way. And through your receptivity of the Infinite Father in His Divine-Humanity you can enjoy life's most wonderful blessing—which is the union of yourself with your Lord, who is Goodness Itself.
This awesome truth is the greatest pearl of life—more than that God is real, but that God may be felt and known in Divine-Human terms, that God is personal, which helps us better understand how truly beautiful we are as the Lord's finite human beings, capable of receiving the Lord so deeply into our hearts and minds.
Jesus Christ glorified is the God-Man, who stems from infinity and therefore is everywhere, inside of all people and all things, in every split moment of time. The Divine Human is everywhere and connects and joins us all, eliminating that typical worldly inner feeling of separateness that many of us struggle and suffer with every day. How easy it is to feel removed not only from God but also from one another. But how false that perception really is. As a growing and slowly maturing part of God's kingdom on earth, you are one of God's merchants too. You are blessed to sell everything you have to possess this awesome pearl, and then trade it with others, who are learning spiritual things and can trade with you too.
May the Lord bless us now and always as servants of His heavenly grace and truth. Amen.