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Sermons

Three Stages of Light

June 15, 2003

Bible Reading

I tell you the truth, those who have faith in me will do what I have been doing, and, in fact, will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father. And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Son may bring glory to the Father. You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it.

If you love me, you will obey what I command. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Counselor to be with you forever: the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you.

(John 14:12-17)

Reading from Swedenborg

When we are lifted up to deeper levels, we pass from the dull light of the sensory level to a very gentle light. We are also removed from the inflow of what is disgraceful and foul, and are brought closer to what is just and fair, since we are brought closer to the angels who are with us, and thus closer to the light of heaven.

This rising up from the sensory level was well-known to the ancients and to non-Christians. The sages among them have said that when the mind is removed from the sensory level, it comes into inner light, and also into a state filled with peace, and a kind of heavenly bliss. From this they also drew conclusions about the immortality of the mind.

We can be raised to even deeper levels; and the further we go, the clearer the light we come into. Eventually we are lifted up into the light of heaven--a light that is pure wisdom and intelligence from the Lord. Nothing else distinguishes the three heavens from one another but the deeper levels they are raised into, and their resulting level of light. Since the third heaven is at the inmost levels, it is in the greatest light, and thus in a wisdom far beyond the wisdom of the lower heavens. (Arcana Coelestia #6313)

Sermon

In my evenings of channel surfing I have come across a program called It's a Miracle. On the program many people reveal the extraordinary ways their lives have been saved or dramatically changed by the appearance of a power in their life. Their situation had looked so desperate that they feel only a spiritual power could have caused the events that occurred. Some have experienced death and a trip into heaven, or possibly have seen angels that spoke to them or sustained them through a very threatening time.

These experiences were accompanied by a light that was extremely bright, but did not hurt their eyes. It usually had a calming, warm, loving feeling associated with it. In these dramatic times the word "epiphany" became not a word, but a reality. The people believe they experienced God's appearance in their lives.

We might agree with some doctors that these experiences are the result of a loss of oxygen or a chemical change in the brain, causing a vision or the imagining of things. Others simply say that the events can't be explained. Whatever happened, the results were always good. If we believe that the appearance of God or spiritual power would result in a positive change in the lives of people, then we might agree that the results were at least consistent with this belief in the ultimate goodness that is God.

In Christian terms, God's love is made visible through the incarnation of light and love in the person of Jesus of Nazareth. Here on earth was a person emanating so great a power of love and caring that the power of his practical living resulting from this love changed the world from that time onward.

I am going to propose a way of understanding the appearance of God throughout creation by describing three stages in the appearance of light in this world.

The first stage was from the beginning of creation. The first act of creation was to bring to the chaos of nothing the light of life. The Bible does not state that the light was the physical light from the sun. But the description of the events outlined in the course of creation or evolution implies that the physical phenomena alluded to is the sun. Those who wrote the book of Genesis did so after many centuries of verbal tradition in human understanding. Clear to all was that without light, life as we know it could not exist. Whatever we think about these events and the description of the incarnation of light, we can say that without the continuous production of life-giving energy from the sun, life could not have developed on earth, nor could it be maintained. Chaos and darkness are the only description human understanding could give of conditions prior to the energy of light.

The question of ultimate origins--whether the source of the sun is a power we call God, or some cataclysm with no ethical being--is answered only by the fruits of the event. Despite what humans may have done to the planet and each other, I imagine that most of you, most of the time, think the result was good. We are brought to the position of recognizing that the result of the appearance of light was good. The light that brings life and sustains all that is known to us, including ourselves, was positive.

The second stage is a bit more subtle: it is the guidance that has been given to us over the centuries. It is referred to in the Gospel of John as the Word. "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God." The Word is the message of guidance that comes to us from God. The Word is the collection of messages of conscience and understanding that has developed the simple human into a being that can and does care. We have learned to care about each other through many years of trial and error. All of civilization has been learning and continues to learn more and more about what the Word is teaching us. It has been given through the verbal and written traditions and doctrines of many religions over the centuries. Societies were built up around the ongoing revelation of the Word, as we humans have tried to interpret this message of divine love.

For us Christians this Word, the epiphany of this guiding light, is found first in the Books of Moses: the Torah, the first five books of our Bible. They contain the rules and regulations of a society of people seeking to find the power of God as it was revealed to them in the day-to-day events of their lives. The effort to interpret these rules and regulations was brought into clarity by the prophets of the people. The prophets listened to the voice of God and heard it more clearly than those who did not take the time in their individual lives to find the truth of this message. This appearance of God's power of life-giving guidance moved us beyond the essential existence that brought us into being.

The third stage is described in John: "In him was life, and that life was the light of all people. . . . The Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory" (John 1:4, 14). The stages of human development move from the light that gave us existence to the light gave us guidance even in our darkness. And then, because we still didn't get the idea, that light came to us as a person who could show us by his life how we should live our lives. Jesus gave us a clear model of how to care, love, weep, act against wrong, ethically make a stand, show sorrow and anger, and be a unique, special individual. He taught us from the moment of his humble birth that all of us are children of the Holy One, and that we not only can but will do things greater than his miracles.

Prayer

Dear Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, you did many wonderful works when you were among us. Yet you have promised that we will do even greater works because you have gone to the Father. Lift our minds above our focus on outward miracles done in the light of the physical sun, to the deeper miracles of spiritual transformation done in the higher light of your divine wisdom. Amen.

Rev. Marlene Laughlin