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Sermons

New Every Year, New Every Morning

January 11, 2004

Bible Reading

Gone is my glory,
     And all that I had hoped for from the Lord.
The thought of my affliction and my homelessness
     Is wormwood and gall!
My soul continually thinks of it,
     And is bowed down within me.
But this I call to mind,
     And therefore I have hope:

Because of the Lord's great love we are not consumed,
     For his compassions never fail.
They are new every morning;
     Great is his faithfulness.
I say to myself, "The Lord is my portion;
     Therefore I will wait for him."
The Lord is good to those who hope in him,
     To those who seek him;
It is good to wait quietly for the salvation of the Lord.

(Lamentations 3:18-26)


Then came the day of Unleavened Bread on which the Passover lamb had to be sacrificed. Jesus sent Peter and John, saying, "Go and make preparations for us to eat the Passover."

"Where do you want us to prepare for it?" they asked.

He replied, "As you enter the city, a man carrying a jar of water will meet you. Follow him to the house that he enters, and say to the owner of the house, 'The Teacher asks: Where is the guest room, where I may eat the Passover with my disciples?' He will show you a large upper room, all furnished. Make preparations there." They left and found things just as Jesus had told them. So they prepared the Passover.

When the hour came, Jesus and his apostles reclined at the table. And he said to them, "I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer. For I tell you, I will not eat it again until it finds fulfillment in the kingdom of God."

After taking the cup, he gave thanks and said, "Take this and divide it among you. For I tell you, I will not drink again of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes."

And he took bread, gave thanks, and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, "This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me."

In the same way, after the supper he took the cup, saying, "This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you."

(Luke 22:7-20)

Reading from Swedenborg

In the next life we go through cycles that are like the times of day in this world: morning, noon, evening, and night, and then morning again. Everyone in the spiritual world goes through changes in their state of mind. This makes it possible for them to be continually perfected.

Without changes of state--meaning variations continually flowing one after another--we cannot be perfected. Like the times of day and the seasons of the year, the stages that follow one after another in order are never exactly the same when they come around again; rather, they are varied.

The first stage corresponds to earth's morning, and is often symbolized by morning in the Bible. The last stage corresponds to evening, and it is often called "evening" in the Bible. It is morning when we are in a stage of love, and noon when we are in a stage of light or truth. But it is evening when we are in a stage of obscurity about truth and when we have cooled off toward goodness, since in this stage we are governed by the pleasures of our material loves. (Arcana Coelestia #8426.2)

Sermon

Because of the Lord's great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is his faithfulness. (Lamentations 3:22, 23)

We are already a week and a half into the new year, but since church was canceled last week due to a predicted ice storm that never materialized, this is the first chance I have had to say: Happy New Year!

It is a tradition in this church to celebrate the Sacrament of Communion on the first Sunday of the year. We do celebrate Communion on Palm Sunday, which is appropriate since that is the time it was originally instituted: just before the Lord's crucifixion and resurrection. But our reading from the Gospel of Luke gives us a hint that the beginning of a new year is also an appropriate time to celebrate communion. When Jesus shared the cup with his disciples, he said "this cup is the new covenant in my blood." Although we call that first communion meal the Last Supper, it was also the start of the new covenant--a covenant that began a new church: the Christian Church. And so, here in our Gospel story, we have the old giving way to the new, just as the old year is now giving way to the new.

This reminds us that in spiritual things, as in nature, there are cycles of old and new, cycles of summer and winter, cycles of day and night. As Swedenborg tells us, God created the world that way because we humans need cycles in order to grow spiritually. We need our spiritual times of warming up and cooling off, of seeing clearly and of groping around in the dark. And even though it sometimes seems as if we are going around in circles, if we are growing spiritually, each new year and each new day brings us a little farther along our path toward heavenly community.

I've been going through an experience in the last few days and weeks that illustrates for me the renewal of old giving way to new. A few months ago, I came to the conclusion that my eight-year-old computer simply couldn't keep up anymore. I had souped it up about as much as possible, but it was coming to the end of the upgrade road. There was no getting around it: this old computer was slowing down my work. So I ordered a new one, which arrived about a month and half ago. At first I had a few problems getting the new computer set up the way I wanted it, but for the most part it went fairly smoothly.

However, getting the old computer set up for the rest of the family to use was a different story. There was eight years worth accumulated treasures and trash on the computer's hard drives, and I decided it would be best to make a clean start. So after copying all the files on the old computer to the new one, I erased everything on the old computer and started over from scratch.

And then the problems began. I won't bore you with the details--there's nothing worse than being a captive audience obliged to listen to a lot of computer talk! Let's just say that the moment I started setting things up again on the old computer, Murphy's Law went into overdrive. I don't know how many times I opened up the computer case to fix something, or how many times I reinstalled the same program I had already installed before. Like the cycles of day and night, summer and winter, it seemed as if I kept doing things over and over again. There were several times when I could have very happily picked up the whole computer and thrown it bodily into the trash can!

But you know, each time I installed something yet again, I got a little bit better at it. As I went along I learned new things, and re-learned things I had once known but had forgotten. As a result, the computer's setup was getting better and better each time. I still have a lot of work to do on that computer; it is a work in progress. But I'm getting there.

Each one of us is a work in progress, too. Sometimes, when we have headed down the wrong path, or have simply gone as far as a particular path in life is going to take us, we need to wipe the slate clean and start over again. And when we face our times of ending the old and starting over again with the new, it's nice to know that there is someone with us as we make these new beginnings--someone far wiser in the ways of human beings than I am in the ways of computers. There is someone we can turn to who will help us avoid so many of the mistakes we might otherwise make. We read in Lamentations:

Because of the Lord's great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is his faithfulness.

When I had a problem that I simply couldn't figure out while I was reinstalling the computer, I called technical support. When we have problems making our new spiritual beginnings, we have an even better technical support line: we have a direct line to the Lord through the Bible and prayer. With technical support, the line might be busy, or we may have to wait and wait on hold, or we may have a problem after hours, when tech support isn't open. But as our text tells us, the Lord's compassions never fail. The Lord will carry us right through the night if we need it; and then, even though we may be exhausted, the Lord's compassions will be new each morning. And so we continue in Lamentations:

I say to myself, "The Lord is my portion; therefore I will wait for him." The Lord is good to those who hope in him, to those who seek him.

We all have our times of emotional winter, our periods of spiritual midnight. When we are in the middle of those times we may sometimes feel ready to give up and give in. But one of the nice things about the cycles of life is that after we have gone through them time and time again, we begin to have faith that the morning will come, that our winter of struggle and hardship will give way to the spring of new hope and new life.

At the same time, our emotional winters are tempered by the memory of past springs; and our experience of the Lord's presence with us in times past gives us new hope in the present. We can call on the Lord with a certain confidence that he will help us through this passage as well. We know that the Lord is good to those who seek him. And so we can echo the words of Lamentations:

It is good to wait quietly for the salvation of Lord.

In all of our winters and summers, all of our nights in days, all of our endings and new beginnings, we have the consolation, the hope, and the joy of knowing that we are gaining something truly new. In each of our cycles, both the small and large, we learn a little; we grow a little; we gain a little more understanding of one another; we become more able to love one another. And through it all, as our days and our seasons come and go, we are setting aside those old and worn out parts of ourselves, and with the Lord's help, we are becoming new people.

This is what the new year and the new covenant of communion are all about: renewing our spirits and our lives in the image of the Lord's love, wisdom, and kindness. Amen.

Rev. Lee Woofenden