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Sermons

A Dwelling Place for Our God

March 09, 2003

Bible Reading

The Lord said to Moses, . . . "Have them make a sanctuary for me, and I will dwell among them. Make this tabernacle and all its furnishings exactly like the pattern I will show you.

"Have them make a chest of acacia wood--two and a half cubits long, a cubit and a half wide, and a cubit and a half high. Overlay it with pure gold, both inside and out, and make a gold molding around it. Cast four gold rings for it and fasten them to its four feet, with two rings on one side and two rings on the other. Then make poles of acacia wood and overlay them with gold. Insert the poles into the rings on the sides of the chest to carry it. The poles are to remain in the rings of this ark; they are not to be removed. Then put in the ark the covenant, which I will give you.

"Make an atonement cover of pure gold--two and a half cubits long and a cubit and a half wide. And make two cherubim out of hammered gold at the ends of the cover. Make one cherub on one end and the second cherub on the other; make the cherubim of one piece with the cover, at the two ends. The cherubim are to have their wings spread upwards, overshadowing the cover with them. The cherubim are to face each other, looking towards the cover. Place the cover on top of the ark and put in the ark the covenant, which I will give you. There, above the cover between the two cherubim that are over the ark of the covenant, I will meet with you and give you all my commands for the Israelites." (Exodus 25:1, 8-22)

Reading from Swedenborg

A representative church exists when the holy, inner realities of love and faith that come from the Lord and look to the Lord present themselves in visual forms in the world, such as the tabernacle and everything that was part of it. (Arcana Coelestia #9457.4)

Sermon

When Moses led the children of Israel out of Egypt, they left quickly. As commanded by the Lord, they borrowed or took from the Egyptians whatever they could as they went on their journey: gold, silver, and clothing--whatever the Egyptians were willing to give them. This was done within a short period of time. They did not have time to consider their options. They had a choice to make: to stay and remain slaves, or to get on the road just as fast as they could.

We may not appreciate just what a monumental feat this was. When we read of the Exodus in the Scriptures, we tend take it all for granted. But can you imagine the confusion, the doubts, the fears and anxieties that these people were experiencing? It wasn't just a couple of hundred people. The Scriptures say that there were six hundred thousand men, plus women and children. When we think about it, it seems almost an impossibility.

Of course, as we have already heard, the Hebrews experienced some real difficulties in the beginning--difficulties that probably added to the confusion, doubts, and fears they already had. Yet the Lord was with them, and he helped them overcome these beginning trials. In all, in the first three months they suffered the lack of water twice, the lack of food, and then to top it off they had to fight a major battle with the Amalekites.

After these three difficult months, the children of Israel reached the wilderness of Sinai, and there they made camp at the base of the mountain. They would remain encamped there for the better part of a year before continuing their journey to Canaan. This stay at Sinai played an important part in the lives of the Israelites. When they left Egypt, they were a horde of people seeking escape. When they left Sinai, they would be an organized, orderly, and powerful nation. It was what happened at Sinai that caused this marvelous transformation.

These experiences of the Hebrews correspond to our own spiritual development and journey. Their story is a vivid portrayal of the process of regeneration.

The path of regeneration is not always an easy one, although there are certainly highlights along the way that give us encouragement to continue on. Like the Hebrews in their slavery, when the time comes in our lives that we must make a conscious effort to develop spiritually--and it does take a conscious effort--there is often little time to think about it. In fact, at this point the thinking about it has already taken place. It is like when we are working on a solution to a difficult problem; when we think we have the solution, then it is time to act--and often to act quickly.

We, too, have a choice: we can remain in the state of life we are in, or we can get on with the process just as fast as we can. Yet like the Hebrews, just because we are moving quickly, we do not move forward empty-handed. The Hebrews took from the Egyptians gold, silver, and clothing. Egypt corresponds to our natural life and its worldly concerns. These can easily enslave us; but there is also much good attached to them. The gold, silver, and clothing symbolize the best this life has to offer--which can be useful in spiritual pursuits. Gold symbolizes love or goodness, silver wisdom or truth, and clothing the ideas and principles that we clothe our minds with. There is so much of natural life that, if used properly, can help us a great deal on our spiritual journey.

The early part of the journey is never easy. The lack of water and of food symbolize our feeling that we have lost of our sense of direction, and that we have also lost a sense of love that would move us to continue on. Then too, we have our inner battles to fight. The Amalekites correspond to false principles and ideas that we have acquired--and they, too, hinder our spiritual progress.

With the Lord on our side, these early difficulties can be overcome. And then we arrive at Sinai, the mount of God. Here the Israelites were given a proper perspective on who they were and what they were about--and so, too, with us. They were to spend many years in the wilderness, but in that sojourn they would have a sense of order that would serve as a basis to prepare them for entering the land of Canaan--and so, too, with us.

At Sinai, God gave them the Ten Commandments, demonstrating that these were not only sensible laws of order to govern their outward actions, but divine laws that serve as a foundation for true happiness. The heart of those commandments are, as Jesus himself would teach, to love God above all else and to love the neighbor as ourselves. As Jesus said, on these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets (Matthew 22:40). There can be no real spiritual advancement without these commands at the heart and center of life. In discovering this, our inner person is transformed, even as the children of Israel were transformed.

An integral part of this lesson was not only in receiving the law, but also in the command that they take an offering from the people, and with that offering build for the Lord a tabernacle, a sanctuary, so that the Lord could dwell with them. The sanctuary was built according to very specific directions. And among the furnishings was a very special container that was to be built to hold the tablets on which the covenant of God--the Ten Commandments--were written.

There was an order to the building of the sanctuary. There were three prescribed divisions, separated by walls. First there was the Holy of Holies. This was the very inmost of the tabernacle, where the Ark of the Covenant was to be placed. It was from this Ark, with its atonement cover and cherubim, that the Lord promised to speak and give direction to Moses.

The second division was the inner court, which was also called the Holy Place. And the third division was the outer court. This is where the people came to offer their sacrifices and to hear what the Lord spoke to Moses.

It is marvelous that thousands of years after the Israelites camped at Mt. Sinai, our own sanctuaries still embody the principles of that tent sanctuary--with a few differences.

The Holy of Holies was the most sacred place. It was not open to the public. But since the Lord came into the world, and now has made his Second Coming, the Word, still occupying the central and most inner place, is no longer closed to the Lord's people. In the New Church, the Word carries a special significance. The open Word in its central place on our altar carries the same meaning as the Holy of Holies with the Ark of the Covenant--only now the Lord speaks openly to all who come near.

The second division, the Holy Place, corresponds to our chancel. From there the sacrament of Holy Communion is administered; there also stand the candles, symbolizing the enlightenment we receive from the Lord. And the main body of our sanctuary corresponds to the outer court, where all people are invited to worship and to hear the Word of the Lord, and in this way receive encouragement and strength to cope with the daily cares of life.

More important than this external building, however, is the tabernacle the Lord commands each of us to build with our lives. The physical tabernacle corresponds to the three planes of our lives. The Holy of Holies is our heart, our loves, and is where the divine law is to be kept and protected. It is the dwelling place of the Lord in each of us. The inner court, the Holy Place, is our minds. This is where we have the opportunity of union with the Lord. It is a mind enlightened by the Lord's truth; and this is where we offer up the sacrifices of our life, and place them under the Lord's care and guidance. The outer court is the daily activities of our life. This is where we apply what is in our hearts and minds, in communion and association with other people. Just as all three divisions of the tabernacle were important, all three planes of life are important for our total well-being.

It would make little sense to maintain a building for worship if the laws of order, given to us by the Lord himself, were not kept and maintained at the very center of our lives. It would make little sense to maintain a building if the inner court of our minds and the outer court of our actions were not working for, toward, and in response to the divine law of love to the Lord above all, and love to the neighbor.

One last point. When the children of Israel left the area of Sinai, the Ark of the Covenant was always protected--front, back, and sides. The people were not a horde wandering aimlessly. They went by tribes, named for the sons of Jacob, and they were orderly and powerful in their march.

If we can see them as representing all of our own thoughts, feelings, and actions when we proceed with a definite purpose in our minds, we will begin to see how powerful the laws of God can be for the good of our lives, and how the Lord's covenant with us can help us move forward toward our goal of spiritual life.

Our lives are the tabernacle that the Lord wants us to build so that he may dwell with us.

Prayer

Jehovah God, you freed the children of Israel from their Egyptian slavery, defended and cared for them in the wilderness, and gave them the Ten Commandments and all the Law and Prophets to guide them on their way. Today we pray that you will free us from our slavery to materialistic desires and values. We pray that you will defend us and care for us as we make the difficult passage toward spiritual life. And we pray that you will give us your Law, and write it on our hearts. Make us, O Lord, sacred tabernacles of love to you, and of loving service to our neighbors. Amen.

Rev. David Rienstra