Rev. Kit Billings
July 22, 2006
“It has not been realized that divine providence focuses on our eternal state at every step of our journey. It cannot focus on anything else because Divinity is infinite and eternal, and what is infinite or eternal or divine is not in time. It therefore sees the whole future as present. Since this is the nature of Divinity, it follows that there is something eternal in everything it does, overall and in detail.”
Divine Providence, n. 59
This past week has been pretty rough for many of us here in St. Louis. Not one, but two, intense storms swept through our region, and some 420,000 residents lost their power. The first storm hit this past Wednesday evening, gusting up to sixty miles per hour, and the second storm struck two days later. What made it all worse were the three-digit summer temperatures and high humidity. Before the dynamically cooler temps flowed in Friday evening, things for some of us were downright awful! Naturally speaking it was hell, although given what we are seeing on the news in south Lebanon and northern Israel, life can get even worse. All power is still out at our house (except for the use of a generator loaned to us from a next-door neighbor, which keeps our refrigerator-freezer going), and I know there are others in our congregation with the same reality. My family and I are going on four days without electricity at this point, and it is likely it will take at least five total before that profoundly useful electricity is restored.
As a full-time dad there came a point on Thursday late morning when I was sweating profusely in our garage (in 105F heat and high humidity) working to get our garage door to close without power while at the same time caring for our nineteen-month old daughter, when I looked inward and said to the Lord, “Gee, You sure allow some pretty harsh circumstances down here! What in the world do You care about anyway?!”
And little did I know, but I had asked the key question I would be preaching on with you this morning. What are God’s primary concerns? How much does He care about our “creature comforts” as we call them…about us being materially and physically comfortable and well nourished? What do you say we gain a bit more perspective around here, eh? Let’s see what the Lord’s Word and the helpful teachings of His New Church have to share on this.
Now, to start with on all this, let us begin with the Bible’s highest assertion, which is that God is real. The Lord (or the Divine) has always been and always will be. He is the First and the Last—the Eternal One, we read. And this All-Powerful, All-Knowing Lord of heaven and earth is infinite—that is, beyond time and space and yet also flowing into natural time, space and creation. And through the gift of our New Church teachings we see regarding this highest truth of life that God is Love-and-Wisdom Itself who is always with us and caring for us. The Earth and all that is within it is God and heaven’s footstool—very important yes, since this is the incubator of life you might say. It is here that people are conceived and hopefully may live if we are blessed to be here for a while. Also, the natural degree of life is designed to receive and bring useful life and expression to the depths of spirit in heaven. However, it is vital that we learn through the Lord’s church, as well as many great mystical thinkers in history and today, that life in this natural world is fleeting relatively speaking and not of primary importance. It is important, yes, but not all-important. We can see how important our incarnate living is to the Lord by the mere presence of our passionate survival instinct. Also, that as part of the Lord’s covenant and blessings toward the Patriarchs were a “…land flowing with milk and honey,” and that they would “be fruitful and multiply.” But God was clear with them that the heart of His relationship with them was a spiritual one, and that lasting happiness was found through spirit instead of physical matter.
In the Ten Commandments the heart of our relationship and connection with the Lord was revealed: that nothing shall come before our relationship with the Lord, especially nothing natural or physical, no idol of any kind. Also, that our allegiance needs to start first with God and then second with our neighbor. As we delve into their inner depths of meaning and truth, the Commandments (as well as many passages in the literal level of the Bible) bring forth that we were made to have a life centered and purposed within the values of loving and caring for God by means of caring a lot for one another. Our care and concern for ourselves is still important, but not before our love for the Lord and others.
It means a lot to me to read in our New Church work, Divine Providence, that the sole purpose for creation is the creation of a heaven from the human race. And, that we are all born for heaven and not for hell. God’s perspective is centered on this major purpose, that we are born here into the natural realm as spiritual beings having an earthly experience, and that the way shall be paved for everyone to be spiritually regenerated and saved. However, that great book also expresses clearly that one of God’s many high laws is that human beings shall be free. And it is in our freedoms of choice in ages past that folks began choosing to love and care for themselves above God and others—which makes life here on earth much more adventurous in a sense. The spiritual “fall-outs” of several spiritual epochs in ancient history made it such that for thousands of years now we are born two-sided, you might say. The deeper part of us resides in heaven, the more shallow and natural depth leans quite happily toward the hells. Also, that until spiritual development has happened for a good while, it feels easier to reside consciously in one’s natural degree of self more than the spiritual degree.
And so, there I was, sweating it out terribly in that nasty “oven” called our garage. I could feel the physical discomforts rising, and also the ease inside of getting angrier about it all. I felt myself getting “testy,” irritable. But then I stopped myself inside, and I turned my attention toward the Lord, toward His spiritual heaven that lives deep inside of me. I chose to go deeper, and just allow my physical body to go through its thing, producing lots of perspiration in order to start lowering my temperature a bit. And I prayed and asked the Lord to help me, to help me focus and get centered on why I am here. The natural and unregenerate part of me wanted the whole world, God and heaven to enable me to regain control over my physical comfort zone and throw everything else to heck. So I prayed to the Lord that He might help me to not lose touch with His presence, and with my vitally important tasks at hand, which were to take care of my daughter’s and my life-support needs and to do it with care and compassion.
But to be sure, the natural degree of me was wanting to get inflamed with anger, hard-heartedness, and just stay focused entirely on my own physical wants and relieving my discomforts. And then I remembered the part of our theology, which was quoted briefly at the start of my message this morning, that the Lord’s primary concern is not with making sure we do not suffer naturally in this world, but rather that we get His help constantly to be on a path of spiritual growth, regeneration and salvation—for we are born for heaven, not for life here on Earth without suffering. Our eternal welfare is the Lord’s top priority, and to be sure that every small and large step of our lives can be a part of His path that gradually brings His kingdom of heaven within our consciousness. But it was clear to me that as the temperatures and humidity rose, the natural, unregenerate parts of me were showing their ugly head, so to speak. They wanted to have myself be the top priority and concern, and not the Lord and His will within the moments as they passed.
The Lord during His incarnation in our world as Jesus Christ came to raise our perspective a lot. He came teaching that God and heaven are by far of highest importance. “Seek ye first the Kingdom of God, and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added unto you.” Rather than finding peace and heaven through natural and physical comforts and resources, the Lord instead taught us the Beatitudes: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled. Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy. Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God….” (Mtt. 5:3-8) It’s heavenly depths of openness to the Lord and a heavenly character that are the Lord’s chief interest with us, and not keeping us always in natural comfort, ease and satisfaction.
One of the signs that God’s Word and our New Church theology help us to recognize when things within us are getting out of balance again is when that deep-down inner peace and calm that comes with being consciously in God’s presence ebbs away. And instead of feeling the peace of God, we begin feeling fear or anxiety. It’s that temptation to want to fear that Love Itself and Wisdom Itself is not running the universe and is therefore not caring for every least need of mine every mili-second of time. Instead of feeling and trusting in the Lord’s Divine presence and constant will toward drawing life toward Himself and toward heaven, it’s turning toward an overall fear and anxiety about life. But Jesus came to reverse that inner trend. And so He taught us, “Do not worry about your life, what you will eat and what you will drink; nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food and the body more than clothing? …Which of you by worrying can add one cubit to his stature? …For after all these things the Gentiles seek. For your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you. Therefore, do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about its own things. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.” (Mtt. 6:25-34 sel.)
And so, we hear the Lord here revealing that it is wise to have healthy concern and work dealing with meeting natural needs and comforts, but not to worry about them, nor be obsessed with them. Our Gospel lesson this morning touches upon a similar spiritual issue, one also dealing with our temptation to want to be fearful. Christ is teaching that even little birds can fall to the ground and God sees and responds to it. Nothing is outside of God’s care. However, that does not mean that natural suffering and also death may not be allowed. I’m sure you have seen as well as me that sometimes the little birdies do fall down and die, and God didn’t stop it. Also, that we all get sick, sometimes extremely sick, and the Lord allows it to happen. As Jesus expresses so poetically, though, even every hair on your head is counted and known to the Lord, and so do not be afraid. For you are of more importance to God than many sparrows. Obviously, our physical health is important to the Lord. I mean think about it: haven’t every one of us in this chapel been sick many times over in life…and goodness, look how we were healed by means of God’s love and concern for us?
The major issue here is what is of highest or deepest concern to the Lord—our natural bodies and physical concerns and comforts…or our spiritual well-being, our spiritual growth and development, our spiritual salvation?! And the answer of course is, our spiritual needs. Swedenborg was inspired by the Lord to write: “It has not been realized that divine providence focuses on our eternal state at every step of our journey. It cannot focus on anything else because Divinity is infinite and eternal, and what is infinite or eternal or divine is not in time. It therefore sees the whole future as present. Since this is the nature of Divinity, it follows that there is something eternal in everything it does, overall and in detail.”
Your salvation, your ability to choose to remain open to the Lord, even in great physical change and discomforts, your ability to not lose contact with the truth that the Lord (a Supernatural Person…the most powerful Force in existence) has ordained that you are daily on your way into heaven. And, that each day you can taste of that heaven by being of service and support to others, by being open to truly hearing them in dialogue and cooperatively forging out peaceful life together, and by remaining committed to the mighty spiritual flow of the Lord’s providence, which is constantly drawing all life toward Himself. God’s sphere of goodness and support, of course, is seen in the thousands of workers that get in gear, so to speak, after disasters strike and we lose electrical power. God’s sphere of love is shown, also, in the medical fields, and through engineering which produces useful tools of many kinds. And our heavenly Father’s divine love is shown by the merciful movement of weather patterns, which usher in new, fresh and cooler air, following these awful storms.
In our situation in our home, we saw God’s love manifest through enormous help from neighbors and by being able to help others also. Also, through our church friends who enabled us to find rest, nourishment, and a functional washer and dryer when we needed them. Perhaps most poignantly of all, was the inspiration for our church to become a safe haven (given that it did not lose power most of the time) for fifteen residents of Rainbow Village (which houses mentally retarded citizens). God worked mightily through Marty Mason, Dave Currall, and also Duane, who first heard the concept on the radio and then contacted me quickly about it as a way to help our local neighbors.
Indeed, natural and physical discomfort and/or suffering must be allowed to exist as long as humanity’s overall enjoyment with the hells remains intact. For the energy and impact of those twisted and perverted realms creates many forms of danger, disease and suffering. Yet through it all, the Lord’s divine providence and government will keep us in the flow of His infinite and eternal love, care and support, which ultimately will attempt to usher us into God’s kingdom of goodness and truth. And even more amazing, the Lord’s mighty flow of providential love and help actually responds more creatively and precisely to us when we choose to get on board with Him and believe!
Is this the sort of perspective that deeply rings true for you? The Lord spoke long ago to the futility of putting faith in what is natural, as He said: “The earth will grow old like a garment, and those who dwell in it will die in like manner; but My salvation will be forever, and My righteousness will not be abolished.” Amen.