Rev. Kit Billings
July 9, 2006
John 14:1-7, 20-24
In like manner where the word “way” is read in God’s holy Word—[we understand from its deeper, inner meaning] as when the Lord said, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life”—that the angels of heaven perceive truth. [This is in reference to its various forms pertaining to the truths of righteousness and of doctrine]…. In David’s psalms we read, “Make thy ways known to me, O Jehovah, lead my way in truth.” And in Isaiah, “He [the Lord has] made him to know the way of understanding.”
Heavenly Secrets n. 2333.4
As you know, I just came back last Sunday from the annual convention of our denomination. Overall I felt it was a fabulous one. In fact, it was the best one ever in my opinion. In many ways our church is doing very well, while in others, especially the financial degree, things have gotten a bit tight. That is why the leadership of our church is requesting that every member (or friend for that matter!) contribute at least $100 to the treasury of our mother church organization at some point this year. Doing so will eliminate our debt in next year’s budget. I sent in more than that in the annual fund drive for this year because of the many ways that Convention has given to both myself and to both congregations I’ve served during my eleven years of pastoral ministry. There are many hard working, dedicated, faith-driven and talented people on both the local and national level of our church. And without a doubt, there is a lot of energy, spirit, creativity, and a growing innocence and closeness throughout our church. But there are of course influences of the hells, which is no surprise since we all are waist high in evil inclinations as well as head-high in God’s love, goodness and holiness. In short, I felt the presence of God many times at convention, and I pray that some of you will be able to attend next summer’s annual gathering in Michigan when it comes.
The theme of the convention was Walking a Sacred Path: Living Our Oneness. This theme struck me on a deep level, and I thought it a good idea to share a bit with you this morning on this overarching theme we all focused on as delegates this summer.
A sacred path: every one of us is walking a spiritual path in life, of one sort or another. We each are walking daily on a road generally toward heaven or hell. God’s plan is that we choose to walk a path that is formed from His holiness and goodness, one that is being illuminated by the Light that God sheds out of heaven. What makes our brand of Christianity unique is that we understand through careful study of the Bible in the light of our New Church teachings (which function as our lens through which we interpret God’s Word) that salvation is a process, a lifelong journey of growing with and into God in the conscious degree of our living. Or we can freely choose to turn away from that path, and away from the Lord and His love and truth, in favor of the pleasures and delights of ungodliness.
At our Convention gathering, we had a large canvas labyrinth placed on the floor of the gymnasium where we had our sessions where people were invited to walk the labyrinth as a tangible reminder of the great and amazing sacred journey or path that we are on in life, as God guides and leads us every moment in time. This was a powerful thing to do. I hope you can walk a labyrinth some time soon. In New Church doctrine we learn that one of the greatest ways that the Lord helps us to grasp that we are on a very significant journey in life is to hear that the bulk of the Bible story is a reflection for us of what our journeys will encompass. Thus, we each can see our journeys reflected in the Story of Creation, in the myth of Adam and Eve, in the myth of Noah and the Ark, in the story of Abraham and the growth of the Children of Israel, in the birth, growth and death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, also in the circuitous route that Jesus chose to tread all over the Holy Land, and in the vision and descent of the Holy City New Jerusalem described in Revelation. The Bible as a whole, and in its unique narrative parts, is the story of our personal spiritual journeys—it is our story.
All of us are launched upon our path of life when we are born, and as we grow and reach our years of reasoning and serious choice-making, we begin to choose either the narrow way, the way of Jesus (which is a way of compassion and mercy blending with the Light of truth and justice), or a way of selfishness, shallowness, hard-heartedness and falsity. It’s a choice between enlightenment and growing-awareness and the enticing illusion of growing numb, self-centered, and stiff-necked and stubborn which the hells specialize in. Another way of describing this path and the truth that we are essentially dealing with one direction or the other is through the mighty language of poetry. Let us hear some from a man that was born into and raised religiously at our San Francisco New Church in California, someone you’ve likely heard about: Robert Frost. This is his poem titled, The Road Not Taken…
TWO roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;
Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,
And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.
I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.
The road less traveled. Yes, as you may recall, one of M. Scott Peck’s fine books was given that title. “Two roads diverged in a wood, and I – I took the one less traveled by, and that has made all the difference.” We can see here the profound relevance of our own personal choices we are making each day of our lives that impact our final destiny in the spiritual world, since it is our choices each day to either open up to the Lord and His saving power, influence, His Way that leads to life (instead of spiritual deadness), or not—choosing instead a path of materialism and self-centeredness.
Our church is different from most others in that we emphasize the importance of our spiritual path in life, and that on a practical level, our eternal destiny is determined by the choices we are making, since indeed it is a daily choice to open up to loving the Lord and having faith in Him and to walk the saving road of living His commandments.
In the Lord’s New Christian Church, He teaches us through our doctrine not to gloss over the passages in His Holy Word that remind us we must overcome our own evil inclinations toward what is gross, hurtful, bane and destructive. We learn to do this by means of opening up to God who is the only force of love and truth capable of gaining victory over the hellish impulses our natural degree of self is born with. This is a struggle, a battle, and a journey that lasts our entire lifetime in this world—these are times of pain, suffering and challenge which help the Lord to mould us into an angelic creature, one who deeply prefers heaven over hell. These are vital battles that the Lord can help us deeply to gain victory within, or we can turn away from Him in favor of a pathway that has ourselves at the center of it. As Jesus speaks to us in His Word in the Book of Revelation, “Behold, I am coming soon! My reward is with me, and I will give to everyone according to what he has done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End. Blessed are those who wash their robes, that they may have the right to the Tree of Life and may go through the gates into the city. Outside are the dogs, those who practice magic arts, the sexually immoral, the murderers, the idolaters and everyone who loves and practices falsehood.” In their inner meaning, these latter verses point more deeply to the spiritual reality that those of us who prefer wicked behavior are doing so because of evil intentions and affections, and the hellish delights that come with them.
We need to be aware of how often the Lord in the Scriptures makes it clear that our spiritual character is formed through the combination of what we love (or intend), what we believe and put our faith in, and by what we choose to do or put into action. We all are tested and challenged throughout life with ever-deepening temptation battles, which happens as the Lord’s love, truth and life grow within our conscious minds. As we grow, deepen, strengthen and learn in Him, we become more and more able to deal with the deeper evils and falsities living within the natural degree of our minds. Thus, it is no accident that we find no less than eight instances in the Book of Revelation where Christ reveals that only for those who overcome in temptation and growth struggles shall gain the right to the Tree of Life, the right to live in peace with God all the time, whose Divine presence never actually leaves us any moment of life.
For example, we read in Rev. 2:7, “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To him who overcomes, I will give the right to eat from the Tree of Life, which is in the paradise of God.” And again in Rev. 2:17, “To him who overcomes, I will give some of the hidden manna. I will also give him a white stone with a new name written on it, known only to him who receives it.” And in Rev. 2:26, “To him who overcomes and does my will to the end, I will give authority over the nations—“. And there are five more verses just like these.
As the Lord put it so well this morning in our Gospel reading, those of us who obey His commandments, who love Him, and who allow the Lord and His divine love to gradually create a spiritual home within us are walking a sacred path toward heaven—toward a heavenly depth of quality and character.
Therefore, it bodes well for us when we choose to commit ourselves to learning and understanding God’s Word in conversation with our enlightening church doctrine. I often meet people who believe that they can walk a “good path” of life just by doing good deeds and living according to the civil laws of our society. But that is not the “narrow way” that Jesus taught. Such ethical, but un-theologically centered, paths will lead us into hell since only those who choose to engage life with a heavenly-spiritual openness and faithfulness actually find and are transformed by God’s Light. As the prophet Micah was given to learn so well: “He has showed you, O man, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.” Thus, a holy attitude reflected in sound ethical behavior.
These and so many other verses in God’s Word, as well as many places in our New Church theology, teach us that religion is most deeply an issue of the heart. For to be truly good, and to do what is actually good, is not to do good things because my neighbor, a politician, or a family member tells me it is so, but because the Lord has told me so. In His Word the Lord also teaches us that we must avoid evils as sins against Him. When a person’s life lacks this kind of spiritual humility, depth and perception, he or she cannot do good, whatever his or her outward actions may be. As we read in Doctrine of Life paragraph nine: “If someone does good deeds from God they are good, if from self they are not good.”
May your path continue on the road less traveled, which God has been fully committed to you in since the moment you were conceived in your mother’s womb. Let us pray…
Father, thank You for Your church, which has cradled and nurtured and taught us for years what a truly good path of life is. Thank You for all of our wonderful teachers and volunteers who enable You to reach us with Your saving truth. Thank You for that deep-down desire and passion to want to love You, to know You, and to follow You in life. Indeed, such heavenly affections are one of many evidences that You are with us, and are actually living deep inside of us. Help us now and always not to turn away from You and Your Word of life, in favor of hellish delights. Help us instead to reject those dark promptings, in favor of Your path of peace, goodness, mercy and justice. Amen.