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Sermons

Live In the World, But Be Not Of the World

July 13, 2003

Bible Reading

"I have revealed your name to those whom you gave me out of the world. They were yours; you gave them to me and they have obeyed your word. Now they know that everything you have given me comes from you. For I gave them the words you gave me and they accepted them. They knew with certainty that I came from you, and they believed that you sent me. I pray for them. I am not praying for the world, but for those you have given me, for they are yours. All I have is yours, and all you have is mine. And glory has come to me through them.

"I will remain in the world no longer, but they are still in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, protect them by the power of your name--the name you gave me--so that they may be one as we are one. While I was with them, I protected them and kept them safe by that name you gave me. None has been lost except the one doomed to destruction so that Scripture would be fulfilled. I am coming to you now, but I say these things while I am still in the world, so that they may have the full measure of my joy within them. I have given them your word and the world has hated them, for they are not of the world any more than I am of the world. My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one. They are not of the world, even as I am not of it.

"Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth. As you sent me into the world, I have sent them into the world. For them I sanctify myself, that they too may be sanctified."

(John 17:6-19)

Reading from Swedenborg

The worldly and heavenly elements in us harmonize with each other when the heavenly ones rule the worldly, but not when the worldly ones rule the heavenly. (Arcana Coelestia #4099.2)

Sermon

How is the world treating you? Have you ever been asked that question? How did you feel when you were asked it? What was your answer? I have been asked that a number of times. It is meant as a greeting, and to open a conversation. However, I must admit that the question has made me feel uncomfortable.

Perhaps I am too serious a person, and should deal with this question in the same way I deal with the greeting "how are you?" My usual answer to that one is, "Okay," since I don't know whether the person asking the question is really interested in all my aging pains and aches, or whether it is just an opening remark.

As an opening remark to a conversation, I prefer the familiar "hello," "hi," and "good morning, evening, afternoon." Those greetings don't cause me any further thoughts, and they are good starters to get the conversation rolling.

"How is the world treating you," has often set me on a course of thinking about the vital importance that the world plays in our lives. I have asked myself whether it is the world that treats us, or whether it is we who treat the world around us. I believe it to be a matter of who is in charge; it is about control of the worldly situations that we might find ourselves in.

When I think about it further, I also believe it is a matter of being motivated by the world in general, or on the other hand being motivated by some abstract inner feeling--an inner feeling that recognizes a higher authority, which we call God.

It is important to get a handle on what is meant by "the world." As I understand it, "the world," as it is used in the Bible, is anything that is physical, material, or natural that we encounter in the universe. All these things of "the world" have the potential to be worshipped instead of the Lord God.

Some of these things that have a potential to become idols are money, possessions, status, power, and scientific intelligence, to name just a few. These idols have the potential to steer us towards the temporary success and pleasures of the world, and away from the eternal spiritual life. As a matter of fact, should we pursue the successes, satisfactions, and pleasures of the world as the sole goal in life, we will forfeit eternity.

The world as we know it was never intended to be the goal of human existence. God created the world as a place to initiate the human race into heaven. What counts in this world is how we use material things for the well-being of others. It is through deeds of caring about one another that we get to know about God, and heaven, and eternity.

I am not sure politicians understand this concept as it is given to us in God's Holy Word. I believe that what we see politicians doing today is a far cry from caring about people. It seems to me that the politicians are out to grasp power for themselves--to the point where a minor physical handicap of the leader of another party is used to question that person's ability to lead the country.

It has been said that politics and organized religion don't mix. If it comes to a specific political party's views, that is probably true. But this should not cause our personal religious views to take second place to our political views.

I strongly believe that when a party in power dictates that the economy of the country is more important than the well-being of its citizens, religious views based on kindness towards one another should be heard.

It also stands to reason that when these views are indeed spiritually meaningful, we should become involved with helping the underprivileged on a personal basis. I think that in these situations, we must separate our personal endeavors from the workings of the governing political party.

Ideally, the views of politicians and religious leaders should be compatible in concept. But alas, that is not the case when we live in a country that has untold Christian and other religious views that don't seem to see eye to eye.

In the ancient Israel of Jesus' time, politics and religion had their different views as well. Nevertheless, all their religious beliefs were vested in the Old Testament scriptures. And while the interpretations differed widely, dovetailing government politics and religion to form a government was an accepted principle.

The occupation of Israel by the Romans separated the rule of the nation from its religion. To the political Jewish parties, it caused great concern to be governed by non-Jewish rulers. So the Herodians, belonging to an obscure religious party, approached Jesus with the question, "Tell us, what do you think? Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not?" After Jesus asked them for a coin and showed them the image of Caesar, he said, "Render, therefore, to Caesar the things that are Caesar's and to God the things that are God's" (Matthew 22:15-22).

Compared to the Jews of that time, who were ruled by the Romans, we can consider ourselves fortunate that our present governing parties are elected in a democratic way, usually once every four years.

Even when we don't agree with the way the country is governed, I believe that Jesus told us to honor that governing body, even when it has worldly success and selfish power as its goals. However, let that not stop us from voicing and acting upon our concerns for our fellow citizens.

When people do voice their concerns about less health care, more unemployed people, and other effects of cutbacks, it is disheartening to see the politicians react with ridicule, and seem to think that balancing the budget is more important than the well-being of the poor. Indeed, opposition to the ruling government's actions seems to be taken by them as some sort of treason. This attitude seems to affect the official opposition party in power as well, since they have not spoken out loudly against some of the adverse human conditions caused by government decisions.

Today's political situation seems to bear out Jesus' words when he said, "If you were of the world, the world would love its own. Yet because you are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world, therefore the world hates you" (John 15:19).

At times we may wonder whether the Lord really chose us as his spokesman or spokeswoman. Whether he really made us aware of him in our own being. Whether he awakened in us his love for us. It all seems at times so abstract, without much of a physical proof. As a matter of fact, sometimes there seems to be no proof at all of him leading us in our daily lives.

Then too, it is not always easy for many of us to love God above all, and our neighbor as ourselves. If we stand up for this spiritual principle, it meets with strong opposition from many quarters that have their interest vested in worldly objectives, that do not recognize the authority of the Lord God, nor a care for other people. This may cause us to become doubtful about our own spiritual growth, and about heaven and eternal life.

These thoughts may stir up a real desire to come face to face with God's divinity, to confirm that we indeed believe and trust in a reality. Moses had such a wish when he communicated on a spiritual level with the Lord. He asked to see him. The Lord denied Moses' wish to see him face to face. However, the Lord told Moses to stand on a rock, and the Lord hid him in a crack of the rock. The Lord covered Moses' face with his hand, and then he went in front of the rock and passed by Moses so that he could see the back of the Lord. (See Exodus 33:12-23.)

This story has the quality of a myth or parable telling us something about our inner relationship with the Lord God. Let us think about Moses' face being covered by the Lord's hand. It is quite clear that no matter how hard we try, the Lord God can only be imagined as divine love and divine wisdom. We might think about it further and understand God to be unconditional love and unending wisdom. But these are just words that describe God as incomprehensible. In fact, our relationship with the Lord God is through intermediate steps.

Let us think about the Lord hiding Moses in the crack of a rock. Symbolically, the rock pictures our faith in kindness--that is, what we know to be true about our care and concern for our fellow people. When the Lord passed by, it was from the crack in the rock that Moses could see his back. The acts and deeds of kindness toward one another become evidence of the Lord's reality working within and among the human race.

The Lord made it clear through this parable that should we want physical evidence of him leading us, all we have to do is to recall our experiences of love for one another as expressed in what we have done for each other. This is the physical evidence of the reality of heaven, eternal life, and regeneration--of spiritual growth toward the Lord God and toward one another.

May we be more and more aware of the Lord leading his people by the evidence of neighborly love in action.

Prayer

O Lord God and Savior of all, we thank you that though human governments may be corrupt and faulty, your government of human affairs is focused on our eternal welfare. Though you are a God who hides yourself, we thank you for giving us evidence of your guiding presence in the acts of kindness and compassion that you inspire us to do for one another. When we are discouraged with the actions of our human governments, help us to see your providence governing us all, and leading us toward heaven. Amen.

Rev. Henry Korsten