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Love is Life

Sermons

The Presence of God

July 28, 2002

Bible Reading

As he went along, he saw a man blind from birth. His disciples asked him, "Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?"

"Neither this man nor his parents sinned," said Jesus, "but this happened so that the work of God might be displayed in his life. As long as it is day, we must do the work of him who sent me. Night is coming, when no one can work. While I am in the world, I am the light of the world."

Having said this, he spat on the ground, made some mud with the saliva, and put it on the man's eyes. "Go," he told him, "wash in the Pool of Siloam" (this word means "sent"). So the man went and washed, and came home seeing.

His neighbors and those who had formerly seen him begging asked, "Isn't this the same man who used to sit and beg?" Some claimed that he was.

Others said, "No, he only looks like him."

But he himself insisted, "I am the man."

"How then were your eyes opened?" they demanded.

He replied, "The man they call Jesus made some mud and put it on my eyes. He told me to go to Siloam and wash. So I went and washed, and then I could see."

"Where is this man?" they asked him.

"I don't know," he said. (John 9:1-9)


Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, as clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb down the middle of the great street of the city. On each side of the river stood the tree of life, bearing twelve crops of fruit, yielding its fruit every month. And the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations. No longer will there be any curse. The throne of God and of the Lamb will be in the city, and his servants will serve him. They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. There will be no more night. They will not need the light of a lamp or the light of the sun, for the Lord God will give them light. And they will reign forever and ever.

The angel said to me, "These words are trustworthy and true. The Lord, the God of the spirits of the prophets, sent his angel to show his servants the things that must soon take place."

"Behold, I am coming soon! Blessed is the one who keeps the words of the prophecy in this book." (Revelation 22:1-7)

Reading from Swedenborg

The Lord's presence goes according to our love for the neighbor and our faith. It is in love for the neighbor that the Lord is present; for he is present in all good, and not so much in so-called faith that is devoid of love. Faith without love and kindness is a severed and disconnected thing. Where there is union, there must be a uniting medium--and love and kindness is the only one.

Anyone may see this from the fact that the Lord has compassion on everyone, loves everyone, and wishes to make everyone eternally happy. So if we are devoid of the kind of love that leads us to have compassion on others, to love them, and to wish to make them happy, we cannot be united with the Lord because we are not at all like him, and are in no sense an image of him.

Looking to the Lord by means of something that goes by the name of faith, while hating the neighbor, amounts not only to standing a long way off, but also to having between ourselves and the Lord a hell-like chasm, into which we would fall if we wished to go any closer. Hatred of our neighbor is that intervening hell-like chasm.

The Lord is present with us the moment we start to love our neighbor. It is in love that the Lord is present; as much as we have love, the Lord is present. And as much as the Lord is present, he speaks with us. (Arcana Coelestia #904)

Sermon

The presence of God is experienced in differing ways. It is the Kairos among us--the fulfillment, the manifestation of God. This presence, guiding us through life, is developed in the New Testament around a theme of light and darkness. This can be traced fairly clearly along three main lines.

Just as the sun lights us on our way, so anything that shows us our way to God is "light." In the Old Testament it was the law, the wisdom, and the word of God; and now it is Christ. Christ is compared with the bright cloud that led the Israelites, as written in John 1:9: "The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world."

Light is symbolic of life, contentment, and joy, while darkness is symbolic of death, unhappiness, and misery. So enslavement is darkness, while the deliverance and salvation of the messianic age is light, as expressed in Isaiah 9:2 and Matthew 4:16: "The people that walked in darkness have seen a great light; on those who dwell in the land and shadow of death, a light has dawned."

This light shines even on the non-Christian nations, for we find in Acts 13:47: "I have made you a light for the nations, so that my salvation may reach the ends of the earth." This light shines through Christ, who is the Light. And it is the brightest in the kingdom of heaven, as we know from the testimony of it in our reading from Revelation.

Throughout the Scriptures, there exists the struggle for dominance between light and darkness, good and evil. It is prophesied that one day all will be well, that darkness will yield to light, as expressed in John 1:5: "The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it."

In these modern times, we must be sensitive to the possible misuse of these light and dark images resulting in unintentional or intentional racial overtones. Let it simply be noted here that equating white with goodness and black with evil is not an appropriate translation in this context, nor is the racial connection the intent of the biblical images.

I find it helpful to think about these two forces of good and evil, light and darkness as forces of healing and brokenness. God's light is that which draws us to healing and wholeness. And the darkness is that which draws our attention to the brokenness in our lives; these are the things that separate us from God.

God is the ultimate Source and Creator of all healing; the mender of all brokenness. God is the force behind the universal and harmonious balance of love and wisdom. God is light.

In so many ways, the world would have God existing far removed from our daily lives, unreachable, high above us in the clouds, too great a power to pay any attention to our tiny, insignificant needs. And certainly, as God is omnipresent, God is indeed high above us in the clouds--but not inaccessible to each of us. Time and time again in the Gospels Jesus tells us of the availability of God to the individual. Such is the case in the parable of the lost sheep:

So he told them this parable: Which of you, having a hundred sheep, if he has lost one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness, and go after the one that is lost, until he finds it? And when he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing. And when he comes home, he calls together his neighbors, saying to them, "Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost." (Luke 15:3-6)

Not only is God willing to seek and go after the one, but God rejoices and calls friends together to celebrate the reunion. We as individuals are important to our Creator! No matter who we are, where or how we live, we are important to God. This is expressed in the Gospels when it says:

And do not seek what you are to eat and what you are to drink, nor be of anxious mind. For all the nations of the world seek these things, and your Father knows that you need them. Instead, seek his kingdom, and these things shall be yours as well. (Luke 12:29-31)

God is indeed the source of healing and the mender of all brokenness. But what kind of brokenness would merit God's attention? What is it that God mends in our lives?

Anything that separates us from the Holy One is brokenness; is that which needs mending. When this separateness from God becomes mended, we are able to be more fully receptive of God's presence, and thus empowered by divine good and divine truth. What keeps us separate from God? In the Gospels we find the parable of the rich fool, where Jesus says, "Take heed, and beware of all covetousness, for a person's life does not consist in the abundance of possessions" (Luke 12:15).

It is fairly easy to observe our external covetousness, such as a desire for more material possessions or an obsession with physical appearances. It may be more challenging to observe our inner covetousness--our anxious grasping for that to which we have no right. For example, desiring an excess of power, indulging in self-serving tendencies that are often manifested at the expense of others, preoccupation with self-gratification. Swedenborg describes the root of all evil as the compulsion for power and self-love.

It is good and responsible to take care of ourselves; to take responsibility for the enhancement of our own life. Yet we become separate from that which is good when we are unable to strike a balance between taking care of ourselves and being responsive to the neighbor. When we are compulsively attempting to meet our own needs, the outcome, though it may be unintentional, is often hurtful toward others. But when we clearly state our needs in a spirit of negotiation, while practicing the art of healthy compromise, we contribute to the harmony of our community.

The success of this balancing act is accomplished in direct proportion to our oneness with God's will. Hence, separation from the will of God displays itself in disharmony in our everyday life--which does have an impact on others. The search for healing is an honorable one with positive results when it is done in the name of our Lord our God.

Yet the question remains, "How do we tap into this healing power from God?" There are so many ways that I am sure you are aware of and practice now, such as meditation, prayer, study of the Scriptures and other revelatory writings, self-help groups, living a positive lifestyle, and so on. Yet we can do all of this and still experience a lull, so to speak, on our spiritual journey--or a sense of separateness from our Higher Power; a time of darkness. We may come before the Lord requesting a specific form of healing, only to leave feeling empty--for it appears that our prayer went unheard and unheeded. But Scripture says:

Ask, and it will be given to you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened. (Matthew 7:7, 8)

Indeed, when we ask for healing, our prayers have been answered. This was demonstrated in the story of the resurrection of Lazarus. The sisters sent a message to Jesus that Lazarus was ill--presumably so that Jesus might come and cure him. When Jesus arrived, Mary went to him and threw herself at his feet saying, "Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died."

At the sight of her tears, and of those who followed her, Jesus said in great distress, with a sigh that came straight from the heart, "Where have you put him?"

They said, "Lord, come and see." And when he saw, Jesus wept. (John 11:32-35)

Now, some thought that Jesus cried because he loved Lazarus so deeply--and this may be true. But if we read further, we find that Jesus said, "Have I not told you that if you believe, you will see the glory of God?" Then he lifted up his eyes and said, "Father, I thank you for hearing my prayer. I knew indeed that you always hear me, but I speak for the sake of all these who stand around me, so that they may believe it was you who sent me" (John 11:40-42). How often Jesus' weariness is recorded, in response to the lack of faith on the part of his followers.

When we pray to the Lord, let it be an open gift. For example, we might bring before God the request to be cured of a certain physical condition. But we need to be open to the possibility that God wants us to be cured of something else--such as a false belief, a destructive attitude, or a damaging behavior pattern. The answer to our prayers may come in the form of being confronted with something about ourselves that needs to be changed.

How often the story has been told of a person's prayer being answered through a new idea, the finding of a book with revelatory content, or conversations with friends and family that present new possibilities for positive growth and change. The parable of the rich man demonstrates the surprising ways in which God can answer our prayers.

Swedenborg talks about the importance of knowing why we are praying. Our reasons, our intentions, he says, ultimately need to be for the sake of God's kingdom, and our participation in it. In other words, whatever our prayer, let it be for the purpose of living according to God's will--to walk, if not within, then toward the light.

So we continue our journey toward wholeness by coming before the Lord in prayer. First we hand the prayer time over to God. We stay open for unexpected responses that may not appear immediately. We ask for divine protection, and that all we do, say, think, and feel may be according to God's will.

In this way, when the mending of our brokenness occurs, we will not only experience healing, but a new vision and purpose in our lives. We will gain strength and meaning from our past, and look to the future with invigorating newness and hope. For then we will be able to receive the promise proclaimed in John's vision as it is recorded in Revelation 21:1-5:

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband; and I heard a great voice from the throne saying, "Behold, the dwelling of God is with humanity. God will dwell with them, and they will be God's people, and God will be with them; God will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning nor crying nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away." And the one who sat upon the throne said, "Behold, I make all things new."

Prayer

O Lord our God, as we approach you in prayer, we thank you for being with us. And though we know you are always there for us, we pray that you will make us more aware of your presence. Open our deeper minds to hear your voice speaking with us in the inner recesses of our being. Help us to feel the light of your wisdom shining into our souls, giving us light where there was formerly darkness. Give us also to feel the warmth of your love flowing into us with strength and power to heal our spiritual wounds, and mend our emotional brokenness. When we ask for the healing of our body, give us also the healing of our soul, so that we may be whole not only here on earth, but to eternity. Cure us of our false beliefs, our destructive attitudes, our damaging behavior patterns, and make all things new, both within us and around us. Amen.

Rev. Susan Turley