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Sermons

Creation: Rebirth of the Spirit

April 14, 2002

Bible Reading

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters. And God said, "Let there be light," and there was light. God saw that the light was good, and he separated the light from the darkness. God called the light "day," and the darkness he called "night." And there was evening, and there was morning, the first day.

And God said, "Let there be an expanse between the waters to separate water from water." So God made the expanse and separated the water under the expanse from the water above it. And it was so. God called the expanse "sky." And there was evening, and there was morning, the second day.

And God said, "Let the water under the sky be gathered to one place, and let dry ground appear." And it was so. God called the dry ground "land," and the gathered waters he called "seas." And God saw that it was good. Then God said, "Let the land produce vegetation: seed-bearing plants and trees on the land that bear fruit with seed in it, according to their various kinds." And it was so. The land produced vegetation: plants bearing seed according to their kinds and trees bearing fruit with seed in it according to their kinds. And God saw that it was good. And there was evening, and there was morning, the third day.

And God said, "Let there be lights in the expanse of the sky to separate the day from the night, and let them serve as signs to mark seasons and days and years, and let them be lights in the expanse of the sky to give light on the earth." And it was so. God made two great lights--the greater light to govern the day and the lesser light to govern the night. He also made the stars. God set them in the expanse of the sky to give light on the earth, to govern the day and the night, and to separate light from darkness. And God saw that it was good. And there was evening, and there was morning, the fourth day.

And God said, "Let the water teem with living creatures, and let birds fly above the earth across the dome of the sky." So God created the great sea creatures and every living, moving thing with which the water teems, according to their kinds, and every winged bird according to its kind. And God saw that it was good. God blessed them and said, "Be fruitful and increase in number and fill the water in the seas, and let the birds increase on the earth." And there was evening, and there was morning, the fifth day.

And God said, "Let the land produce living creatures according to their kinds: livestock and creeping things and wild animals, each according to its kind." And it was so. God made the wild animals according to their kinds, the livestock according to their kinds, and all the creatures that move along the ground according to their kinds. And God saw that it was good.

Then God said, "Let us make man in our image, in our likeness, and let them rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over the livestock, over all the earth, and over all the creatures that move along the ground." So God created man in his own image; in the image of God he created him, male and female he created them. God blessed them and said to them, "Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and over every living creature that moves on the ground." Then God said, "I give you every seed-bearing plant on the face of the whole earth and every tree that has fruit with seed in it. They will be yours for food. And to all the beasts of the earth and all the birds of the air and all the creatures that move on the ground--everything that has the breath of life in it--I give every green plant for food." And it was so. God saw all that he had made, and it was very good. And there was evening, and there was morning, the sixth day.

Thus the heavens and the earth were completed in all their vast array. On the seventh day God finished the work he had been doing; so on the seventh day he rested from all his work. And God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it he rested from all the work of creating that he had done. (Genesis 1; 2:1-3)

Sermon

And God said, "Let there be light." And there was light. (Genesis 1:3)

This morning I would like to offer you some thoughts from Swedenborg, along with some of my own thoughts, about what the Creation story means for us in our spiritual life.

It is a wonderful story to start the Bible with. In a book there is often a preface, and the preface will tell you what the book is going to tell you. They told us in school that when you write a paper, first you tell them what you're going to tell them, then you tell them, then you tell them what you told them. The Creation story is God telling us what he's going to tell us in the whole Bible. It is a summary of the entire Bible--which is really, Swedenborg tells us, about our own spiritual growth. It's about our process from the time we first start to awaken spiritually to the time when we become angels in heaven. The Creation story is a wonderful summary, in just a little over one chapter, of the whole Bible story. So if you don't have time to read the whole Bible, at least read the Creation story!

I'm hoping to give you a little enlightenment this morning about what this story means in terms of our own growth toward becoming angels. I'll go through each day, and tell you a little bit about what Swedenborg said was the spiritual meaning of the verses. There is more detail in the first chapter of Arcana Coelestia.

First of all, let's look at the creation story as a whole. Swedenborg tells us that the first three days talk especially about the growth of our mind: about our thinking, our understanding, and our faith; and that the fourth through the sixth days speak especially about the growth of our heart: about our love for God and for one another. So this is a wonderful summary, and it is very well organized to show us how we grow spiritually.

We start first by understanding. That's why God said, "Let there be light." Before there is light, there is darkness and void. Swedenborg tells us that our first state, which is the state that comes before our spiritual growth, is a state that starts from our earliest childhood and continues until the time just before we begin to consciously decide to grow spiritually--just before we consciously invite the Lord into our life, and decide that we want not just to be material beings, but spiritual beings.

That first state can last well into adulthood. There are people who don't decide to have spirituality in their lives until they reach thirty, forty, fifty, sixty years old. So this period of darkness can last a long time. We may be very intelligent, but we are dark spiritually in that we don't see that God is working in our spirit; we don't see that there is a higher purpose to life.

When God says "Let there be light," that is our first realization that there is something higher than this material realm that we have been dealing with. There is light: there is deeper understanding. Light is a universal symbol of truth. When we say, "I see," we mean, "I understand." And the very beginning of our spiritual growth is when the light dawns in our mind that there is a higher purpose to life; that there is something more than this material existence; that there is something more that we need to look to, to go for, in our lives. "Let there be light." This is the beginning of our spiritual growth.

"And there was evening, and there was morning, the first day." It is very significant that every day starts from evening and goes to morning. This is how our spiritual growth happens. We start from not understanding, from a state of darkness and obscurity, and progress toward daytime: toward understanding and knowing what our life is for, and what God wants for our life. We progress from evening to morning at each stage of our spiritual growth. So "there was evening, and there was morning, the first day."

On the second day, everything begins to get cleared up. We were rather confused about this "spiritual" thing before. But now the Bible tells us that God created an "expanse" or dome, in the heavens, to divide the waters from the waters. There are waters above the dome, which are the clouds, and waters below the dome, which are all the waters on the earth.

Here we begin to realize that there is a spiritual truth that is higher than all the material knowledge that we have. Maybe I'm good at building things; maybe I'm good at figures; maybe I'm good at preparing meals; maybe I'm good at raising children. There are all different things we can be good at on this material plane. The second day of creation is when we realize that there are higher things. There is a higher truth, and it has everything to do with how we care for one another, how we understand each other, how we respect each other, how we love God, how we show God's love to each other. These are the higher truths that we need to distinguish from just being able to get along in this world.

We do need to be able to get along in this world; that's very important. But as we begin to follow a spiritual path, we realize that there are also higher truths that we need to follow--truths that relate to God and heaven, and to our relationships with each other. This is the second day: distinguishing the waters above the expanse--spiritual truth--from the waters below the expanse-- all the material, worldly truth and knowledge that we need to get along in this world. "And there was evening, and there was morning, the second day."

After we realize that there is higher, spiritual truth, this is when our mind begins to grow and blossom spiritually. On the third day, God separates the waters (the ones below the expanse) from the land, and lets the dry land appear. This is when the plants can first begin to grow. They are the growing spiritual awareness in our mind. First comes the tender herb, the grass. At first we have a very sketchy idea of what this spiritual life is all about. But soon there are shrubs, and then there are trees.

Trees are fixed principles for us to live by. Trees are the idea that we should always guide our life by principles such as these: We should love our neighbor just as we love ourselves; and whatever we would like our neighbor (other people) do to us, we should do it to them. These are fixed principles of spiritual living that grow up like strong trees, which we can then be sheltered and guided by as we live our life. So by this time we are beginning to develop a real understanding of what it means to live in a spiritual way, and not just in a material way. "And there was evening, and there was morning, the third day."

All of this, as I said, involves the development of our mind. We are realizing that there is a higher life. We are distinguishing between spiritual truth and material truth. We are beginning to develop principles of spiritual living--and we are applying them. On the third day, there are fruits that come from the trees; and the fruits are the good deeds that we do for others.

Swedenborg says that up to this point, it's still a struggle (and it continues to be a struggle) because up to this point, we still think that we're doing these things by ourselves: that we're the ones who understand, that we're the ones who love, that we're the ones producing those fruits. And so, Swedenborg says, those fruits are not really alive yet. The reason they're not alive yet is that all goodness and truth really comes from the Lord--and as long as we think it comes from ourselves, it is relatively dead because we don't have a living relationship with the Lord so that we can feel that everything good in us, all our love, all our truth, is God's; that everything we know and everything we have is God's.

This is what begins to happen on the fourth day. It's a little strange, isn't it, that God says "let there be light" on the first day, but it's not until the fourth day that we get the creation of the sun and the moon and the stars.

As a physical image, I like to picture it this way: up to the fourth day, those waters above the expanse were pretty thick! In other words, there was a thick cloud cover, and though the light always was coming from God, we didn't realize it; we didn't see the sun. But when we get to the fourth day, the clouds are clearing, and we can see that everything good we have is actually coming from God--and we begin to feel this in our heart.

This is the fourth day, when God creates the sun, which is our love for the Lord and our recognition that God loves us in a living way. And the moon, which shines at night. In our dark periods, our times of difficulty, we have our faith, our knowledge that God is there. Even if we can't feel God right now, we know God is there for us. That is the moon, shining in the dark periods of our lives.

And he also created the stars: those fixed spiritual principles that we use to guide our lives through the difficult times. For example, if we are involved in some business dealing, previously we may have been happy to cut corners a bit, and figure that nobody would notice the difference. But at this particular point in our life, we've decided we want to follow God. And yet God feels distant right now; we're not really feeling God close to us. It's a nighttime period. At that point, we may say, "Well, it wouldn't be so bad if I went back to my old ways and did my business the way I always used to do it."

But then we think about something that we read in the Bible that said we shouldn't cheat our neighbor, that we should love our neighbor as ourselves. And we realize, "Even though I'd like to do this, my principles tell me that I shouldn't." So the stars guide us through the night just as the stars guide sailors through the night when otherwise they might go in the wrong direction. Those principles that we have learned and have put in our "heavens"--in our higher mind--guide us through the times when otherwise we might weaken and do what we know we shouldn't do.

So God gives us the sun: in our better times we feel the love of God in us, and that gives us life. And God also gives us the moon and stars to guide us through our darker times. "And there was evening, and there was morning, the fourth day."

Now we're beginning a living relationship with the Lord: really feeling God in our life. This is the point at which living animals start to come. On the fifth day, we have the animals that populate the sky and the water: the birds flying in the air, and the fish swimming in the sea. These are the first living, feeling thoughts of doing goodness that are coming, not just from believing that we ought to, but from feeling in our heart that this is what we want to do for other people. We care about people, and therefore we want to do good for them from love.

These are the living creatures. The living creatures represent our feelings, our loves--and these develop later on. After we've gotten our mind more or less straightened out, then we develop our heart. Then we begin to act from love. And this is the first time that we can be said to be truly alive spiritually: when we begin to act from love. The birds are our love for spiritual knowledge, and the fish are our love for material knowledge.

One of the nice things about this is that in our church, we don't believe that our spiritual life is separate from our outward, everyday life. We believe that our spiritual life comes down into our material life; and all of the knowledge that we had before about how to get along in the world now comes alive from spiritual motivations. Everything we learned before about how to run our business, how to take care of our home, how to raise our kids--all of these things now come alive spiritually. We do our work, not just because it's what we have to do, but because we want to love and serve one another. And all of the knowledge that we gained before helps us to do that, and makes us effective as people of God's kingdom working in this world. So our spiritual and material knowledge work together to make us good and useful people here on earth. "And there was evening, and there was morning, the fifth day."

At last, on the sixth day, we have the warm-blooded animals: all the land animals, and finally human beings. This are when we really begin to do things from faith and love together. Not just because we believe we ought to, but because we love to. We begin to take joy in serving other people. We begin to like it when we can do something for another person. We don't do it because of a sense of obligation: "God says I have to do it, so I'd better do it." That was before. Now it is: "I really enjoy doing what's good and right. This gives me happiness inside, and I have pleasure and happiness from serving others."

These are the land animals, and finally the human beings. This is when we become truly human. When we are acting from faith, but especially from love in our hearts. When we're acting because we care about other people and we love God. When we get joy from serving one another. At this point, we finally reach the seventh day. There is evening, and there is morning; and then there is the seventh day.

What is it like when we are doing things and serving others because we love them? There's no conflict in us anymore. We don't have to say, "I'd really like to do that, but I'm going to do this anyway because that's what God says." Everything now flows from within. We do what we do because we love one another, we love our work, we love God, and we're completely at peace inside of ourselves. When it says "rest" in the Bible, it doesn't mean we aren't doing anything; it means we have no conflict within us about the things we are doing. It means that we do everything because we love to do it and we know how to do it. We can be very busy outwardly, doing all sorts of things, and yet be at perfect peace inside of ourselves because this is the life that we love.

This is what the Lord holds out to us as true human life. When all of our conflict on this earth is done; when we have gone through our struggles; when we have, with the Lord's help, reformed ourselves and grown into people who do good because we love to, then we have the peace and rest of the seventh day.

This, of course, is the state that the angels live in. They do good for one another. They live useful, busy, happy lives because they all love one another, and they don't have to struggle and fight about it anymore. They can simply do what they love to do.

This is the promise God gives each one of us if we are willing to go through the struggles of the other days. And it is a promise that we can feel little bits of here on earth, at the times when our life is flowing along. We all get foretastes of heaven at the times when things are working out for us, and we are enjoying what we're doing. This is the state the angels are in all the time.

And this is the promise God gives us: if we go through all of the seven days of creation, we will be people who love one another, who enjoy living in a good way, who understand what we need to know in order to serve other people and serve God in the way that we love best, and that fits our talents the most. This is the promise God gives us. It is the promise of the seven days of creation. Amen.

Prayer

O Creator of all the universe and of our own souls, we thank you for your endlessly fertile love and wisdom, continually forming new and intricately amazing creations, and renewing the face of the earth. We thank you for your creation of new thoughts and feelings within us each day, renewing our spirits and guiding us always forward. Be with us, we pray, wherever we are in our own seven days of creation. When we are without form and void, and darkness reigns within us, pronounce once again the divine words, “Let there be light.” Then let the light of your presence coax out of the earth of our experience ever fuller manifestations of your presence in us: tender grass, seed-bearing plants, fruit-bearing trees, fish, birds, warm-blooded mammals, and finally the true humanity of living in the image of your love and wisdom. Amen.

Rev. Lee Woofenden