Rev. Kit Billings
March 6, 2005
Last week I spoke with you about the heart of Lent, repentance, and how critical it was that John the Baptist preceded the Lord’s ministry so that the Lord’s eventual victory over the hells might be had. This morning it is my pleasure to reflect with you about the purpose behind which we repent and do battle with evil and selfishness within ourselves and the world around us, which is spiritual rebirth as symbolized in Springtime. But also what I want to impress upon you this morning is a mindset where we have a central expectation that spiritual Springtimes are coming, that this is God’s promise that they will come, just as nature shows us that a natural Springtime is something we can count on. The parallel, and even more important reminder to us of God’s plan that we be steadily reborn in His image and likeness, is our yearly return to Easter, and the reality of Christ’s resurrection after His death.
So really, Christ’s resurrection and Springtime are essentially teaching us this same message, but this morning I want to focus more with you on the spiritual significance of Spring.
Throughout the entire Bible, the message is loud and clear that our salvation rests in God because the Divine is all goodness and truth Itself. Our theology states that the closer our hearts, minds and lives get to the Lord the happier we get and the better life gets. This is talking about a beautiful intertwining, you might say, of God’s outpouring love and truth with the inner workings of your own mind. In other words, the more deeply conjoined we become with the Lord (with love and wisdom shining down into us from Him) the more our interior life enters spiritual springtime. As we recall, the Lord said, “Remain in Me, and I will remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in Me. I am the vine; you are the branches.” (John 15:4,5) While it is true that periods of spiritual trial, tribulation and distress (which we understand to be temptation) are also inevitable and part of our journey (just as the Lord went in and out of spiritual distress and struggle throughout His life on earth), we need to not allow our minds to get glued into focusing entirely upon the painful and the difficult, but instead remain focused OVERALL (as a marksman aiming at a bulls eye) at where the Lord is intentionally and purposefully leading and drawing us—that is, into His love, warmth, light and therefore into the Springtime of life.
This, to me, is why overall life is a celebration, because I know (and can experience) that God’s overarching purpose with me and others is to transform, regenerate and save us.
Repentance is designed to lead us toward the Lord, which enables Him to draw us closer and closer to His love, and this is what renews and transforms us inside. Every time your internal perspective grows and changes toward the better, every time you experience a new internal Springtime blossoming within you, these are tangible signs that God’s plan is working…that His agenda is indeed coming true. God (or Divine love and truth joined into a perfect oneness) does this, and does it with joy and delight! Springtime, therefore, has some great lessons for us—let us give our attention to them this morning.
Our theology recognizes that many of God’s great spiritual truths are portrayed marvelously and dramatically within the amphitheater of life, the natural universe, and therefore our planet, Earth. And right now as I speak, something incredibly awesome, precious, wondrous and important is happening outside, all around us—the first signs of Springtime are unfolding, aren’t they? Have you noticed a gentle increase in warmth outside and other wonderful things? These are early signals of Spring coming, and with it comes one of the simplest, yet most powerful, lessons life has to offer. For indeed, Spring represents spiritual rebirth and regeneration; it corresponds to the greatest spiritual agenda God has for you and me in life—that is, the re-creation of your inward being (your spirit), which the first chapter of Genesis symbolizes. God’s plan for you is that you should grow, period. His Divine will is working constantly toward this end and agenda, and you can have serious (and sometimes even exuberant!) faith that God is accomplishing His goal within you, assuming that you are consistent with cooperating with Him in life.
Do you want to have faith in Him in this way, have faith (an interior knowing and trust) that the most powerful and indeed unconquerable Being in existence created you for this purpose and life journey? The inner meaning of the first chapter in Genesis welcomes you to reach out and open your mind for such a faith. In short because God’s entire Word reveals this truth for your mind to understand and grasp! This truth and lesson starts right away in the amazing Book of Genesis.
Is it an accident that God’s Word starts with a powerful symbolic story involving the creation of new life out of a lifeless void? Is it just happenstance that the holy Bible begins with a story of creation? One might wonder if these speak to the core journey that you and I were thrust upon at birth—I’m referring to the overall change we need to make (and have made to us!) from spiritual lifelessness to spiritual “life-fullness”? Is Genesis speaking to the change from being oriented in self-centeredness (as well as shallow forms of thinking) to life oriented around a deep love for God and others and higher forms of thinking and understanding?
And the answer is, yes. Genesis IS speaking to our deep, fundamental need for internal change and transformation, a parallel form of it as we saw demonstrated in the life of our Lord Jesus Christ—the difference being, however, that Christ’s transformation process was a Divine one, while ours is a spiritual-natural one. It is no accident that the Bible begins this way, starting out with a story of creation. For just as a loving and wise infinite God would purposefully do, the Lord has given us our “manual for spiritual living” (the holy Word) that begins right out summarizing for us the seven stages of spiritual transformation we each will need to traverse with His almighty help—a transformation process which eventually will deeply and fully save us.
Our salvation, indeed, rests within a great and marvelous transformation process, symbolized by the change we witness every year from the relatively “dead” time we call winter to the incredibly alive time we call Springtime. The secrets of heaven (the secrets of our salvation) are revealed in the life, death and resurrection of Christ, our Lord. They are also shown in the movement and dynamics of nature, God’s creation, and the cycles of birth, growth, fruitfulness, seed sharing, and death, and then eventual new life once again when Springtime returns. I appreciate so much being in a temperature and weather zone where we experience the four seasons, because this time of year we get re-reminded of two things: 1) how wonderful it is to experience a substantive new joining with our Lord and Savior, when His Divine love and truth come anew and growing within us; and 2) Spring reminds us of the great spiritual growth agenda foremost in God’s mind as the Lord leads us down a path that guides us evermore into the Springtime of love and faith which God’s Kingdom actually is.
Well, I don’t know about you, but I could use a good illustration of what I’m talking about here right about now. Let me preface it by reminding you of what must happen outside for Spring to begin. There needs to be a gradual increase in warmth, first of all, which is accompanied by an increase in natural light. Wintertime has plenty of natural light really, but just not much warmth to speak highly of. Temperatures can be frigid, while one can have many bright, sunny days. The real key of Spring coming is an increase in warmth, which teaches us how crucial it is that we invite the Lord’s LOVE to make an ever renewing home in our hearts, minds and living. God’s love coming more and more a part of our living is the real essence of our salvation, and with it comes an infinite variety of pleasures, delights and new ways of thinking. Now, with that said, we need to remember that the heat of the sun never comes in darkness—it always pours forth into the medium of light, doesn’t it? Which teaches us that wherever God’s love is, so is His light of truth and understanding. The Lord’s creation is a constant reminder to us that we will always need both His love (most of all) as well as His truth, which is found most abundantly within God’s Word—it’s literal and inner levels of meaning.
A great example of this wisdom happened to me, actually, back in the first year of my seminary life, when my sister, Renee’, and I began our seminary training together. Prior to that time in my life I had chosen to keep my relationship with my sister at more of an arms length, overall. I had cultivated a more intimate kind of love and closeness with my two brothers in prior years, but fate had it that it was just my sister and I whom God called into ministerial training. And there we were, brother and sister, working and studying our tails off in the high pressure life of seminary, along with several others. Never before had Renee’ and I been challenged by life to rely so much upon one another for love and support—I know that Renee’ had already been loving me as her brother with a very deep love, but until this time in my life came, I had not been willing to love her with full openness and vulnerability. Well, the pressures and difficulties came, and then I decided it was time to open my heart to my sister in a new way and I asked the Lord to help me in doing this—I remember that Season of Lent (in 1992) I repented of my emotional hardness “stiff-arming” I had been doing toward my one and only sister and asked the Lord to melt my anger toward her. And you know, the Lord did His great work of melting those icepacks inside of my heart, and a great and never-ending kind of spiritual springtime began back then, and has never quit. When I repented, the Lord transformed and changed my heart.
Spring is truly amazing isn’t it—when an increase in warmth as well as more light from the sun, when new shoots of flowers suddenly begin to break their way through the soil, and when new, baby creatures of all sorts start to hum, buzz, crawl, chirp, hop or leap their way into life!? Let me ask you, what signs of Spring have you been noticing of late?
Well, more than several new signs have started to show themselves to my senses: I have felt more warmth coming down upon us from above (gradually, but it may well be happening), which is triggering our beautiful Jonquils to sprout around the church; I’ve smelled a new and wonderful smell in the air as Mother Nature begins to awaken, the smell of fresh, living earth warming and readying for new life; I’ve noticed the return of the beautiful Mourning Doves (and that ever so soft and tender cooing they do); and I’ve seen the return of my favorite bird of all, the great Cardinal himself along with his spouse, Mrs. Cardinal, whom I love. Isn’t it invigorating to suddenly see a sleek, beautiful little bird zoom its way into your field of vision and then land like an inspired little soldier all upright and happy upon a branch still looking lifeless without its leaves? I love it! I hope you do too.
There is no more invigorating time of the year than Spring, in my opinion. Let me share with you this lovely poem by E. L. Marsh, titled, “The Magic Piper”:
There piped a piper in the wood
Strange music—soft and sweet—
And all the little wild things
Came hurrying to his feet.
They sat around him on the grass,
And listened, as with shining eyes
Sweet melodies he made.
The wood grew green, and flowers sprang up,
The birds began to sing;
For the music it was magic,
And the piper’s name was—Spring!
Let us think about the many blessings that come with Spring: freshness in the air, awesome breezes, singing(!), chirping, so many thing growing, both heat and light increasing, baby animals of many kinds emerging, snow and ice melting, fresh streams of water flowing and filling earth with their peaceful sounds, trees and plants budding and starting to blossom, and of course Easter enters our minds again. Every one of these wonderful blessings associated with Spring represent and reveal to us the positive and beautiful changes that happen to us when the Lord comes to us anew, afresh! That is, once repentance and reformation have been sown well into our daily living, then the Lord’s spiritual regeneration and transformation happen again! And our journey through the seven stages of spiritual growth symbolized in chapter one of Genesis moves forward.
In short, the kind of good, healthy, invigorating faith in the Lord’s power to change and transform us deep down inside (where it really counts!) is the sort of faith which is led and enlightened by those key words in Revelation, which read: “Behold, I am making all things new!” You and I are being called by the Lord to get on board with this reality and perspective in life—and allow our everyday thinking and expectations to be lit up by the great power and energy that feeds the Lord’s regenerating forces all around and within us.
From a spiritual standpoint, it is very helpful for us to believe in what this renewing time of year represents and how it is connected so well with the bursting forth of new and multiplying life we find in the awesome parable in the opening chapter of Genesis. Those of us who choose to engage this pathway of repentance and reformation open ourselves spiritually to the Lord’s power of internal transformation when we believe that our spiritual regeneration belongs to the Lord and not we ourselves, as God changes our minds into living, growing and fructifying internal landscapes symbolized by the rebirth of nature we experience in the Spring. You are welcomed by your God to cultivate an energizing expectation of this renewing life-force that is going on inside of you. It is from this beautiful and inspiring interior place that a New Church Christian can move out into the world with hope and anticipation—spreading the Good News indeed that the Lord God, Jesus Christ, reigns and is constantly bringing His power of renewing life (from His divine love) into this world…into our very lives. Spiritual trials and tribulation will always be a part of this cycle of spiritual life, but we can know that the Lord continues His movement toward us, and with Him comes the springtime of Heaven itself.
In Revelation we read: “Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes…. To him who is thirsty I will give to drink without cost from the spring of the water of life. He who overcomes will inherit all this, and I will be his God and he will be my son.”
Praise the Lord for His gift of rebirth and new life! Praise Him for His mighty deeds. Amen.