Rev. Kit Billings
March 26, 2006
True Christian Religion 510 There are many means by which a person, as he progresses in his early years, is prepared for the church and introduced into it; but the means whereby the church is established in that person are acts of repentance. Acts of repentance are all such things as cause someone not to will and consequently not to commit evils, which are sins against God. For until this takes place such persons stand outside of regeneration.
I’d like to begin my sermon with you this morning by quoting from one of history’s great literary giants, Charles Dickens. These are the opening lines in his fabulous novel, A Tale of Two Cities, which referred to the time of the French Revolution: “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness….”
Right now we are in the Season of Lent. This is the most important time of the church year concerning the spiritual practice of what is traditionally known in our church as “repentance and reformation”—when our New Church religion guides us to examine ourselves in order that we may rejoice in what is healthy, good and wise in our being and living, and to loath and reject what is unhealthy, selfish, and foolish. And the latter is done in faith that only the Lord’s power of Divine goodness can take hold of those hellish energies living in our natural mind and transform them…change them…heal them, according to the Lord’s will. Repentance and reformation are a key to eternal life with God, they are the vital means through which we allow God’s saving power to reach in and gradually, step-by-step regenerate our natural will—the part of us that drastically opposes God and what is good and orderly. For as John the Baptist said during his ministry in reference to the ministry of the Messiah, “And even now the ax is laid to the root of the trees. Therefore every tree which does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. I indeed baptize you with water unto repentance, but He who is coming after me is mightier than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fan is in His hand, and He will thoroughly clean out His threshing floor, and gather His wheat into the barn; but He will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire.” (Mtt. 3:10-12) Being baptized with the Holy Spirit means that our lives get soaked and cleansed by the Lord’s divine truth; being baptized in God’s Holy fire signifies being changed, impacted and transformed by the Lord’s saving Love.
Some would say that Lent is the time when Christian men find out if they are more of a man than a boy inside, and when women discover whether they are more womanly or girlish inside. Lent is a period of letting our not so necessary worldly concerns take a back seat so that we have more time to delve into God’s Word, as well as our church teachings, in order to let more Divine Light shine inside of us. For indeed, the Lord is the Light, and His Light is pure and simply THE TRUTH. Lent is an intentional spiritual walk accompanying the Lord, so to speak, on the final leg of His earthly journey on His way toward Jerusalem, as Jesus continued glorifying His finite humanity, transforming it into His wondrous Divine-Humanity. And just as the Lord’s disciples back then had to make a very courageous choice to accompany Jesus into the heart of Jerusalem, where the goodness and truth of God confronted and impacted the self-centered ways of the Pharisees, so also did the Lord confront His disciples’ selfishness. But as Christ did this, at the same time He kept on inspiring and deeply exciting the great spiritual depths of His followers! Indeed, the Light that shone forth out of the words, behavior, the great healings and support, from out of the cutting rebukes given to the religious leaders of the day, and yes the awesome forgiveness Christ shared—all of the Light shining forth from the Lord touched and excited the deeper, heavenly nature inside of those women and men who actually loved Him. So, on a natural level of their minds, Jesus’ final leg of His ministry “scared the pants off” those men and women who loved Him, since they knew that the Lord’s eventual crucifixion would likely mean their own; yet on a spiritual level the transformative Light pouring out of Christ into the heart of Israel back then meant their redemption and their salvation! Simple as that. They knew their eternal well-being rested in ultimately sticking it out with Jesus the Messiah, with Jesus…the Son of the Living God.
All of us must engage the bitter pill of repentance at times. It is an ongoing spiritual discipline that honors our need to “cleanse the inside of the cup” as Jesus put it, or to use His other image, to “sweep clean the house we live in.” Such openness to spiritual growth, such an attitude of regular cooperation with God, enables the Lord to reach in and make His home in us, in those many areas of our natural mind that incline toward opposing Him. The Lord said that all who would follow Him must “drink the cup and endure the baptism” He endured. Every one who enters heaven gradually while living on earth must endure many, many experiences of spiritual temptations to overcome in some degree his or her own evils, to make some preparation, and thereby be baptized with the living truth shining upon from the Lord. And (now here’s a crucial spiritual piece of wisdom for you to chew on this morning!), each person will receive life from the Lord in proportion to his or her victories in temptation. The deeper one goes in working with the Lord to remove one’s own evils, the deeper life from the Lord that shall descend into one’s consciousness and life. We hear this great spiritual Law touched upon by the Lord in more than several places in His Word, such as when He said, “For if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.” (Mtt. 6:14,15) And also, “Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and dine with him, and he with Me.” (Rev. 3:20)
Perhaps a brief story on the value and power of repentance will help us out here. At nineteen, Al Johnson had joined two other men in robbing a Kansas bank. The case was closed by police after two other convicts were killed in an auto crash and mistakenly identified by bank officials as the robbers. Al felt sure he would never be caught. He married a Christian girl and pretended to be a Christian before her and the pastor. She knew nothing of Al’s past crime. Then someone sent him a tract in the mail, titled, “God’s Plan of Salvation.” Reading it, Al noticed that one of the Bible verses said, “whosoever shall call on the name of the Lord shall be saved.” And, “Repent, and believe the good news.”
The realization struck Al that salvation was for him, and that he had work to do. He could be forgiven and his conscious could be made free. He knelt in prayer and accepted the Lord as his Savior, and went about the work of looking at his life and where it did and did not mesh with the Lord’s commandments. Al began changing his life. He stopped a lifelong habit of lying. And after much thought and prayer he confessed his past crime of robbing that Kansan bank. His confession made television newscast and newspaper headlines even in Canada!
Under a Kansas statute of limitations, he was set free, although he chose to repay his share of the stolen funds to the bank. Today, Al Johnson is the manager of a service station, the father of three admiring children, and an outstanding Christian layman.
The Lord’s own Being, His Divine Light from Love, reveals things as they truly are helping us to look much more clearly at ourselves. God’s qualities and emanations are ever so capable of also revealing spiritual wisdom, understanding, and insight to help light the way for a path in life that is healthy and constructive. This, really, is what Christ’s disciples found in their walking with the Lord, all through His ministry and also on their final journey toward and into Jerusalem where Christ seriously “turned the heat up” during that very first “Holy Week,” as we call it.
For example, in seeing the effect of God’s Divine Light shining before and into the lives of the disciples, we see that the Lord taught them great spiritual things. Thus, the Lord taught them how to boil down all the Law and the prophets into two amazing phrases, known as the Two Great Commandments of the Lord. His wisdom helped them to understand indeed each of us is being forced to choose whether we shall try and build our lives according to God’s Word, or make choices that go against it. And so we read, “Martha said to Him, ‘I know that he [Lazarus] will rise again in the resurrection at the last day.’ Jesus said to her, ‘I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me, though he may die, yet he shall live. And whosoever lives and believes in Me shall never die.’” (John 11:25,26; emphasis mine) The truth the Lord was teaching them is that gaining angelic life in Him comes from both believing and living the truth He taught. Indeed, God’s love, as it enters and grows within us, leads us into living in the way, the truth and the life the Lord revealed.
God’s Light also shone into the personal, spiritual lives of the disciples when Jesus would rebuke them or help them to see much more clearly into what was going on inside of their minds. I think now of when John and James, the two sons of Zebedee, were more concerned with their personal greatness rather than the humble greatness of being like Christ, who made Himself the servant of all, “…who came not to be served, but to serve, and give His life a ransom for many.” (Mtt. 20:28) Our theology teaches us that after our own natural death the Lord’s Divine Light will help us also in these two ways too, after we have been so gently and lovingly brought through the transition from this world’s consciousness into the next, and after we have been so warmly and wonderfully welcomed into the spiritual world by the softest and most wonderful angels from Heaven. Yes, after we’ve enjoyed the sweetest and most loving and gentle transition, then when the timing is best the Lord’s Light will first enable us to look fully and completely at our whole lifetime here on Earth, and nothing will be spared—all the good and all the bad will be revealed. For indeed, the good Lord did say, “For there is nothing hidden which will not be revealed, nor has anything been kept secret but that it should come to light.” (Mk. 4:22) This of course has the amazing effect of enabling us to see both the beautiful and the ugly things living within, which bring both positive and negative things into God’s Light after death. These experiences again help to find deep humility, and to discover to the life how profoundly merciful and loving God is—who does not condemn, but rather calls us forward into that Light! And then the Lord’s Light of truth works even further with us to learn so deeply and clearly the depth and breadth of what life involves in His kingdom, where those who’ve lived a life on earth open to repentance, reformation and regeneration ultimately long for and love. Indeed, how we live now, today, leads us toward the quality and kind of life we will be open to after crossing that “great divide”!
Lent reminds me that a large part of this life on earth is my spiritual schoolyard. This is my time of preparation, learning and growth (soaking in the Lord’s immensely forgiving and merciful Love…allowing His Love to heal me when wounding occurs) that brings me steadily into the Lord’s kingdom while on earth. Now is my time to choose what shall my real “treasure” be! As our Gospel lesson reveals: “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal; but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”
Having the Lord’s spiritual Light shine more purposefully inside of us during Lent through regular repentance and reformation creates two counterbalancing experiences, reflected in the opening lines of A Tale of Two Cities: “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness.” I fully suspect that Christ’s inner circle of twelve would support this poetic summation. And you know something, I’m sure thankful that we are all in this challenging, inspiring and saving boat together…and even more so, that the good Lord is the great Captain to lead us home!