Job 5:1-11 #776 “Let Us Break Bread Together”
Mtt. 24:1-8 #395 “For Thy Mercy and Thy Grace”
Rev. Kit B. Billings
January 2, 2005
This morning we are fresh into a brand New Year, which often in my experience is a time of exuberance and joy, a time of hope for better days ahead as we take stock of our lives in 2004 and make some basic plans for the next twelve months ahead. Yet this year has begun in the wake of an extremely terrible calamity—the Tsunamis that killed more than 120,000 and have wiped many whole villages off the face of the earth. The thousands of dead, rotting bodies are bringing another kind of wave, one made up of disease and then more death. By the end of it all it has been predicted that at least 500,000 (perhaps as high as a million) will have lost their natural lives. Death and devastation permeate many shores in southern Asia and east Africa; the loud cry of mourning and pain are being felt by the collective consciousness of all humanity. This is not a joyful beginning to this New Year. It is partly, more than ever before, a time for prayer and a time for action. This New Year 2005 is an enormous calling for every nation to respond to the great suffering along many distant shores to reach out with resources, money and aid to help God's healing love be felt.
As you have probably read or heard, the greatest relief effort in history is under way. Humanity, born out of God's Divine Love, is responding, as we should. But the great suffering and agony are far from over. The sound of wailing and moaning will continue to be heard, in addition to a slowly growing feeling of some relief. Often times when a New Year begins I find it helpful to regain some perspective on life. Well, perhaps like never before this task presses very seriously upon my mind. I'd like to help every one of us here this morning to gain some perspective on life, and then after my message with you is over, I will invite you to commune with our Lord and Savior, our ever-present God Jesus Christ, in the great Sacrament of Communion, which He gave to us.
I believe there is a great deal for this Tsunami disaster in southern Asia to teach us, as well as for it to call every God loving person to action, in some way, shape or form. Part of what it means to be a Christian is to be ready to respond quickly as a Good Samaritan when any kind of stranger falls prey to disaster or peril. Caring and compassion are basic qualities of our Lord and Savior. This morning we have taken an extra collection so that those who wish to may be certain that some of your own financial resources and wealth will go to help the poor and the devastated, the “widows and orphans” suffering greatly across the globe struck severely by the effects of a very intense earthquake from the ocean floor.
In a moment I will talk with you about where natural earthquakes come from, in terms of their spiritual origin in the realm of “cause,” otherwise known as the spiritual world (which is made up of Heaven, Hell and an intermediary realm we may call the World of Spirits). But first let us reflect together…or rather, let us pull back our spiritual eyesight together…so that we can try to first look upon life from a higher, spiritual viewpoint, which I hope will bring a little bit of comfort to your aching heart and soul, not to mention a sense of positive outlook upon life to come.
First, let us frame life in the awesome vision brought into this world by the Lord's New Church, built from a biblical perspective that honors both the literal and inner senses of truth that God needs us all very much to engage. We recall that the Lord our God always has been and always will be, the Lord is the great “I AM.” Earth and heaven could pass away, but God always will BE. God is unchanging: in fact God is Divine or infinite love and wisdom Itself, who cares for us and loves us in ways best expressed by how Jesus Christ loved and responded to and taught all the people who deeply needed Him, as well as those who irritated and galled Him. We can recall such great passages in God's Holy Word as the story of the Good Samaritan revealing God's compassion for everyone, or the Prodigal Son revealing the Lord's infinite ability to forgive us when we sin and choose to return toward Him, or how the Lord said that He came to save the sinners and the lost, or how He lifted up and honored both women and children, and how often He healed those suffering from disease and ailment, and how He brought so much love and hope and courage into the hearts of so many in need of deep-down love and support. I think of how the Lord was so patient with Thomas, and worked purposefully to help Thomas out of his doubt and despair. I think of how the Lord heard the cry of the ancient Hebrews suffering and in despair in Egypt and how God sent them Moses and Aaron and ultimately brought them back on the road to salvation and fruitfulness.
The bottom line here is my friends is that God is Love Itself, which means we will be forever and always loved and cared for by our Divine Father, who reveals Himself most visibly in our Redeemer, Jesus Christ. Nothing can stop the Lord from loving you every instant of your existence. Even if you mess up in the greatest of ways, the Lord will always love you and be ever-ready to bring you back to Him when you may have chosen to reject Him. And it is the Lord's totally loving nature that inspires us to care for the downtrodden, for those in crises and loss. We are reminded now of the parable Christ taught about the shepherd who cares so much for all of His sheep. And when one out of a hundred wanders off and gets lost, that shepherd makes sure to go after that one lost sheep and bring him back to safety! (Mtt. 18:12,13)
The Lord has promised us that once we are created, nothing can actually destroy the real us or wipe you out of existence. Your spirit, not to mention your body, has been created in God's image, and nothing can destroy or cancel out your spiritual body, which is currently living an earthly existence being clothed with your natural body. Yet as the events of last week so loudly remind us, our physical bodies can quite easily be killed or destroyed, or they will eventually grow old and die. But this should not frighten us. As God's Word says so well, “Fear him who, after the killing of the body, has power to throw you into hell. Yes, I tell you, fear him.” (Luke 12:5) It is agony when people die physically. But it is almost unbearable when a human being chooses over many years time to destroy their practical chances of growing into an angel. From a spiritual perspective, that is the one kind of death we must try to avoid at all cost. Part of the New Church vision or framework of life we can keep aware of in 2005 is that our indestructible spiritual body is free to choose a pathway toward Heaven or a pathway toward Hell—the first is called spiritual “life” and the other spiritual “death,” but either way you are guaranteed an eternal life. God's Word makes it plain, however, that His highest agenda is to bring you into your spiritual inheritance from Him, which is spiritual growth and development throughout your life on earth culminating in a wondrous final transformation into the equivalent of when a little grub blossoms into a gorgeous butterfly(!), also known as finally becoming a human angel, ready and fit for life in God's Kingdom of Heaven.
Through His Holy Word the Lord has comforted and helped humanity to learn that the highest and best way for God to love and guide humanity was to create us within a bed of free will (imaged so well in the Garden of Eden), since the freedom to choose love and faith is critical for anyone who needs spiritual love and faith in the Lord to be real and substantial. Genuine spiritual or compassionate love, as well as faith in and love for the Lord, is something that simply cannot be forced or manipulated. We simply must exist and live within a freedom to love or hate, to learn or stagnate, to live in usefulness or helpfulness or in self-centeredness. Thus, it is a sign of God's infinite love for us that from the beginning we were left free to choose the path of life God puts before us (as He did before the ancient Israelites and His disciples who followed Him in the Gospels) or one that turns away from the Lord, in favor of self-centeredness and a bizarre yet attractive love for material things and natural comfort above our relationships with the Lord and one another.
The unchanging loving nature of God and your eternal existence, not to mention the blessing of having God's awesome messengers and support-network of angels, are guarantees. You do not have to ask for God's grace. But it is also true that since long, long ago humanity has enjoyed seriously getting lost in the “dark side” of life—the energies from Hell such as lewdness, hatred, intemperance, adultery, domination of others, seeing ourselves as above or better than others, and other evils that drive us away from our internal, spiritual nature given to us by the Lord. And it is this thousands of years old investment in Hell and hellish ways of living that has had a huge impact upon the natural world, upon the kinds of animals and plants we find here, upon the emergence of physical disease and natural disasters since long ago. For indeed, part of the perspective the New Church helps us to have is one that recognizes that the spiritual world is the world or realm of causes and the natural world is one of effects from those originating causes. The healthiness or unhealthiness of humanity's patterns of thinking and intending greatly affects what exists and evolves and happens here on earth.
For example, thousands of years ago when the most ancient peoples on earth chose to fall madly in love with evil, they flooded this world with falsity, which could have produced some enormous flooding on the natural scale of life. We see this pictured in the great story of Noah and the Ark. The spiritual world (humanity's world of thought and feeling and intentionality) is the realm of cause—mother nature, our natural bodies, and our weather patterns are the realms of effect. We see this demonstrated so easily by the entrance of disease and aging within our natural bodies. God did not create these things—we humans did, by means of our selfish choices and agendas. It is a helpful thing that God created life in the way He did. It is useful for we humans to see the evidence of our sinfulness shown in existence of destructive and noxious plants and animals, and in deadly natural disasters, such as tsunamis and hurricanes.
Far from being a sign of God's wrathfulness (which is an impossibility to be sure, since the Lord is only loving and wise in His nature and ways), the great earthquake under the ocean floor last week and the ensuing tsunami that wiped out thousands are signs of major rifts happening within the Lord's Church on earth. Our teachings reveal that earthquakes are signs of some kind of huge alteration of state, some major spiritual rift happening in the World of Spirits, which exists in between Heaven and Hell. Those huge tectonic plates were driven underneath one another first and foremost by great frictions happening within God's Church on earth. One kind of friction I can imagine is that between the very conservative Christians and the much more open-minded ones. Instead of really trying to seriously join forces and wisdom, many churches prefer an “us---them” kind of thinking, and there is still a lot of judgmentalism and condemnation going on throughout Christendom. This is why Jesus predicted there would be famines and wars and earthquakes: because the Lord our God must let us experience the effects of our choices in life—ultimately so that we all can learn from them, together.
The truth is, that only when humanity chooses to give up on evils of every kind for a long time will misfortunes such as natural disasters and diseases begin to subside overall. And it is the Lord's wisdom from His Divine love that saw from the beginning the immense importance that the choice to embrace and create evil in all its forms should have a destructive effect here on earth, as a cause simply produces its eventual effect.
And obviously, since long ago after human beings began choosing to love evil for its own sake, calamity and hardship entered the scene, and so God's wise Word teaches that grief and loss are simply going to be a basic part of human living. From a spiritual perspective, all of the 120,000+ people who have died from last week's tsunami are all starting off into a really good journey in the spiritual world—they are all anything but dead! But their families left behind are hurting in great agony. And they are all now plunged into needing the Lord more than ever.
Job tells us in 16:20, “My eye pours out tears to God.” And the psalmist wrote so well in 42:3, “My tears have been my food day and night.” Hopefully compassionate relief efforts will reach these pour souls very soon. And yet I can see a little bit of the Lord's great wisdom in other aspects of His wise providence over the entire universe. The reality is that we on this planet are all of one family—God's spiritual family. And God's permitting such destructive forces to happen spurs us all on to think and feel more compassionately toward one another, as brothers and sisters, instead of as distant aliens. In addition, the Lord's Word reveals to us that there is certain vital depths of love, strength and wisdom we do gain by learning how to move spiritually through our crises and losses, through grieving the loss of a loved one. Paul wrote that we must learn to bear our own burdens as well as learn how to bear another's burdens as if they were our own. Christ preached that “blessed are those who mourn, for they shall find comfort.” For when we choose to lean deeply on the Lord the Greek ideas found in the original words of this text show that there is spiritual fulfillment and eventual joy that arise out of suffering and pain. And the Greek word used here for “mourn” is the one out of several that denotes the most open and demonstrative form of grieving. And the Greek word for “comforted” implies strengthening as well as consolation. “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.”
The perspective we gain in the Lord's New Church is one that helps us better see that God is only loving and wise, that we are made in His image and have been blessed with eternal life, however we choose to use it. It helps us to see that God's plan for us is to grow into an immensely loving and wise human being, one that will eventually become a glorious angel after death.
For those parents last week and in the near future who have lost their child or children to natural death, I believe we have to face the fact that those kinds of wounds will not fully be healed until they see and hold their child later on in Heaven.
I believe that these perspectives on life make all the difference. With them and others in place, we can charge ahead into 2005. Yes, we are finite and vulnerable creatures, made by God's loving handiwork. But we are forever in His Divine love and care. The Lord will walk with us every step of the way. We are fee to either look to the Lord for help and sustenance, for His saving power and grace to help us grow into His likeness through life, or we can choose to cultivate the age-old forces of evil and selfishness, the ones that inspire destruction in all its forms, including earthquakes and tsunamis.
May our movement now into the Lord's Holy Supper lead us into a warm and person contact with our martyr-Master who was willing to suffer and die for the sake of others, who helps us avoid becoming hard-hearted toward the suffering and pain of others. Amen.