Rev. Kit B. Billings
October 31, 2004
I'm sure that many of you know the comic strip named “Family Circus.” One of the characters in that newspaper cartoon created by Bill Keane is a little girl, who in one scene was shown singing in church. This particular cartoon was created for Halloween weekend, which was made obvious by the fact that the little girl had a happy smile on her face as she sang. Below, the caption of her singing read: “Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound…that saved a witch like me!”
Well, thank goodness our little children sometimes get confused over words and bring us such warm humor. All Hallows Eve, in its original sense, was based upon that special time of year when Autumn was at its peak when it was believed that the veil separating the spiritual and natural worlds thinned out a bit, and because of that people believed they could see ghosts and spirits more easily and there was a special thrill, if not fear, in the air. Thus, people could easily get confused as to whether what they might see some moonlit night was actually a ghost or really a figment of their imagination.
Confusion. It, interestingly enough, is not a figment of our imagination. Confusion is very real and often has unfortunate, if not unhealthy, consequences and ramifications. Sometimes we can get confused within our own minds regarding the Lord Jesus Christ and the power He has to help and save us. Sometimes, when the hellish influences around us have whipped up a nasty spiritual storm inside of us (which excites the evil or selfish interests and ambitions we all have) our spiritual eyesight can get rather foggy. At such times, very much like the time when some of Christ's disciples were in that fishing boat late at night going over the Sea of Galilee (also called Gennesaret) and another sudden storm had whipped down from the mountains surrounding that large lake, we can confuse our spiritual allies for our spiritual foes.
I mean, just think how many times you may have been in a confused and rattled state of mind and you found yourself feeling afraid, when all the while our Lord Jesus Christ was right here with you, offering you aid and support? But before going further into the correspondence (or spiritual symbolism) of our lesson in Matthew this morning, let us back up a bit and address the context of this stormy miracle.
Just prior to the Lord being seen by His disciples to walk on the water when Jesus' followers were in desperation was another miracle—which was the feeding of the five thousand—that is, when the Lord turned two fish and five barley loaves into an abundance of food that fed a starving hoard of people. Such is God's potential; He can turn very little love and understanding into a very lot! But be that as it may, John's version of this miracle story reveals that right after the people were fed, many wanted to seize the Lord and forcefully make Him their king. I can have compassion for that desire since thousands of people were regularly being healed by the Lord of many diseases and maladies. The people were jubilant about Jesus. They thought, “Who else would make a better Messiah?! Who else wields such power?” The problem, however, for God-incarnate was that the Jewish understanding of the Savior back then was that he would be not first and foremost a spiritual king, but a natural king and warrior, who could overthrow the Roman Empire and free them of many worldly woes. And what did the Lord do when this started to happen? He dismissed the crowds and went off, up a mountain near the lake, to pray.
I appreciate Christ's decisiveness here. He'd seen such temptations before, in the desert following His baptism by John in the Jordan. One might hazard to guess that since the people were pressing Him to use His powers to reign supreme in a natural kingdom on earth, that perhaps the Lord's adversary, the devils of hell, were tempting Him again to enjoy the experience of worldly rule, forcing love and goodness on humanity. The natural aspects of Christ's mind, which He inherited from Mary (His human mother) were the doorway for the hells to tempt the Lord, and so it would appear that Jesus needed some vital prayer time, alone with the Divine Itself that actually made up His very soul.
Now, before dismissing the crowd the Lord sent His disciples over the Sea of Galilee in a boat. And evening began to approach. Here is where it is important that we start delving further into the inner meaning and significance of this Gospel lesson.
It is easy for us, as well, following a miraculous experience of being fed by God, either by spiritual or natural food, to start to think that the primary focus or purpose of my life here on earth is to develop a natural kingdom or form of existence that will have no end. Do you ever experience this temptation? The thought that confuses the real purpose of life on earth—that is, instead of understanding and honoring God's plan that our journey of life on earth is primarily one designed to help us grow and mature spiritually into a being of heavenly and loving, faithful character, our mistaken main purpose for living becomes to create the most comfortable materialistic home and setting that puts our needs first. Also, along with this “goolish” fantasy, we may believe that more important than spiritual growth is figuring out how can I try to live forever on earth? How can science work for me like a “fountain of youth” and make me live forever…healthy, young, and immortal?
The peasant Jews following the Lord some two thousand and four years ago were confused about Jesus' identity, and about His purpose for being on earth. Both the crowds and the Lord's disciples believed He was sent to be a worldly king. And often, we can do the same. In truth, the natural parts of us only go “skin deep.” We are first of all spiritual beings. We've been created to learn and discover what it means to love God first and foremost and our neighbors as ourselves. We are here to develop a truly strong and heavenly character, and be of use to others as a way of worshipping the Lord who made us.
Yet how easy it is for us to get our main purpose for living all fuddled and muddled up, isn't it? We too may go from higher, peak experiences of being fed by the Lord up on the grassy slopes above the lower sea down into the higher density of air and atmosphere, represented by the lake water the disciples sailed over, which makes us easy prey for the nasty, sudden winds from the hells that can whip up our evil, selfish states of mind, creating confusion and loss of spiritual eyesight for a while. And it is at such times that instead of seeing the Lord and His angels around us, we see phantoms, ghosts and other unfortunate companions, which for most of us take the form of fearful thoughts and mindsets.
Our Gospel lesson reads that evening wore on as the disciples were rowing or sailing over the Lake of Gennesaret. That represents a movement spiritually away from the Lord's Divine presence. Also, again let me address the awesome meaning of them moving over the sea. Our theology informs us that heaven is much like our earth. Heaven has skies, mountains, hills, oceans, seas and many other geographical settings as well. The people of heaven experience their environment in these ways, but with one major difference. Their environment exists as a direct representation or correspondence of the spiritual condition of their hearts and minds. Thus, it is the higher angels (the ones whose first passion and love in life is the Lord, which flows into the greatest love for their neighbors, since God is truly Love-Itself…infinite and personal) who live up on the mountaintops. They enjoy life in the “third” or highest heaven. The mid-range angels, whose first passion and love is their fellow human beings (which has God connected to it in secondary fashion) live in the hill country, while the natural-minded angel communities enjoy life in the lowlands, and some even lower down in the oceans and seas.
Air, as you know, is primarily water vapor. Air is a liquid you might say. But it is thin enough that we do not experience it as water much of the time, except when things cool down enough and then it rains. Well, in God's eyes and in the eyes of the third or second heaven angels, the people in the lowest regions of heaven appear to be living down in the ocean or lake waters. Why? Because the truth that these people are willing to apprehend is natural. It is thick and dense in comparison with the higher thinking and insights of the angels who dwell above them—but let me remind you that these varying levels or degrees of closeness to the Lord are by choice. God loves us all fully and unconditionally, and pours Herself out completely for all to enjoy and experience. However, the WAY in which people choose to receive the Divine and spiritual love and truth varies in great and serious ways.
Some, as you know, choose to make time in their life to continually read and study and learn from spiritual resources, especially from the Lord's holy Word. Within the New Church setting, some choose to be raised by God into higher, more refined atmospheres of truth and understanding by using the great doctrines of our church to help them sharpen and intensify their whole understanding of God, of the Lord's incarnation and the great power He has here constantly with us to support, lead and save us from the temptations brought our way by the hellish crew. Some will choose to organize their understanding of life, their understanding of heaven and hell, and of the vital details of the spiritual journey itself and how useful it is that we undergo inner battles and wars, which enables the Lord to help us overcome the many fears, anxieties and problems life does bring.
Those who choose to rise above a mere natural degree of life and understanding will not undergo the storms over the seas that the disciples encountered that night. But that takes time, study, reflection, prayer, and spiritual growth powered by God. Many of us seem to choose to want immersion in fairly natural degrees of thought and perspective. Many will prefer the dark and obscure and uncertain, wavering faith and belief, which is illustrated by Peter walking on the water and then sinking down when the waves beset him. These waves, for example, may be those false, yet familiar and tempting thoughts, that God only loves and cherishes me part of the time. Or, that we are not inherently worthy down deep due to our sonship and daughtership of being God's finite children to inherit the Kingdom of Heaven prepared for us every day. Such thinking, as well as choosing to have a largely natural world agenda of success and riches as our highest goals in life, make us sink down into thicker atmospheres, putting us down into the waters of the spirit where things get murky and confusing.
The hells, interestingly enough, understand that we are easier prey at such times. They will whip up a great, quick storm for us, which excites and invigorates our own selfish fears and thinking, and then bam! There we are. Right in the middle of one of those scary, tumultuous spiritual storms, and we row hard and work so feverishly to make our way across the sea, trying to find the other shore. Storms at sea represent a state of temptation when worldly thoughts and ambitions are aroused and threaten to swallow us up from the light of heaven. The strong, dangerous winds represent the unseen influences from hell that arouse the evil thoughts in us. And then we fear and cry out to the Lord for help, as King David did so often, seen so poetically and dramatically in his many psalms written down for us to peruse.
But when we do find ourselves in a small boat out at sea and a storm finds us, the storms of worldly glory and greatness, we also can take heart and not confuse the Lord for some ghost. We can remember that the Lord came into this world here and He “overcame the world”—the world of worldly temptation and thinking. “Be of good cheer,” the Lord told them, “for I have overcome the world.” Our perspective must rise above a natural one. We too, as did the disciples that early morning, must recognize Jesus as the Son of God, as God in human form, come to save us.
We can remember our calling by the Lord to be fishers of men, fishers of women and children. We were meant to lift others and ourselves up, inwardly speaking, from a natural, worldly state of life into a spiritual one. We are to teach ourselves, and others, by means of the illumination only God can provide, how to make natural things to be of service to spiritual life. This is such a GREAT purpose for living, isn't it? That God gives us the inherent power and ability to make natural, worldly living a way of serving the Lord's will to love and help others, while also making a decent or great living for ourselves too.
What a truly comforting lesson this is! No matter how dark and seemingly frightful things may get, we may take courage that in truth the Lord is always with us. We but only need to reach out to Him and take hold of Him as Peter did while sinking down into the water. For the Lord's life comes to even those who dwell often within the seas, the dense atmospheres of truth. And at such times we can choose to trust absolutely that He will give us the thoughts and affections and life needed, knowing that God watches over us. He will save you when you need Him to.
For indeed, the Lord is present everywhere, for all time. Let women, men and children, even those of us dressed up in funky or strange Halloween costumes, be willing to pray to the Lord, have confidence in Him, and strive to do His will. Amen.