March 21, 2004
My soul finds rest in God alone; my salvation comes from him. He alone is my rock and my salvation. He is my fortress; I shall never be shaken. How long will you assault a man? Would all of you throw him down--this leaning wall, this tottering fence? They fully intend to topple him from his lofty place; they take delight in lies. With their mouths they bless, but in their hearts they curse. Find rest, O my soul, in God alone; my hope comes from him. He alone is my rock and my salvation; he is my fortress, I shall not be shaken. God Most High is my salvation and my honor; he is my mighty rock, my refuge.
Trust in him at all times, O people; pour out your hearts to him, for God is our refuge. Lowborn men are but a breath, the highborn are but a lie; if weighed on a balance, they are nothing; together they are only a breath. Do not trust in extortion or take pride in stolen goods; though your riches increase, do not set your heart on them. One thing God has spoken, two things have I heard: that power belongs to you, O God, and that you, O Lord, are loving. Surely you will reward all people according to what they have done.
Then Jesus came to them and said, "All power is given to me in heaven and on earth." (Matthew 28:18)
Reading from Swedenborg
Without the Lord's life flowing into our intellectual concepts, or rather, into the desires of the will, and through these desires of the will into intellectual concepts, and through intellectual concepts into rational concepts, and through rational concepts into the factual knowledge in our memory, no life can possibly exist in us. (Arcana Coelestia #657)
Note: This sermon was originally preached on August 17, 2003, following the massive power failures in the northeastern United States and southeastern Canada.
This has been a rather ominous week hasn't it--what with huge power failures in New York, Michigan, Ohio, some other states, and parts of Canada, not to mention raging forest fires in Montana and elsewhere? Wasn't it amazing to hear news of New York City itself coming to a screeching electrical halt? The subways didn't work; traffic lights were dead; Times Square looked like a digital ghost town, its massive TV screen looking as if someone suddenly pulled its plug.
I was struck by reports of city water systems throughout the northeast not working, and many of the high-rise buildings in New York not getting any water to their upper floors. Airports all around the world were drastically affected, with many flights canceled. And many people who would normally take the subway home simply had to walk miles on foot. People stood in extremely long lines to get a slice of pizza. Meat shop owners chose to have sidewalk barbecues for anyone who wanted it--all signs that the northeast was suddenly, hauntingly without power.
The good news amongst New Yorkers is that due to the aftereffects of 9-11, residents of that famed city were incredibly kind, forgiving, patient, and helpful with each other when the big chips were down this week. Indeed, they seem to have discovered what I learned in living through six long, and now and then bone-chilling, winters in Minnesota, where lengthy exposure to below freezing temperatures will ultimately kill a person: that within all of us is an ever-present reservoir of kindness that can always be tapped. That is what New Yorkers have learned.
New Yorkers as a majority today are being very kind to one another, when chaos and selfishness would be easy. Their electrical grids may have been out of power, but sure as God's Kingdom lives on earth, the people's hearts weren't out of power!
Energy. A rather vital subject isn't it? This week's power failures remind us how incredibly important energy and power are in life. And they also remind us that all around us there is an enormous amount of electromagnetic power flowing, which is generated from many sources, and is largely unfelt and unrecognized by most of us most of the time. Electromagnetic energy largely runs the show down here on earth; it powers a great deal of what we enjoy and make use of.
This past week, did you take a moment to pause and think about the thousands and thousands of volts that surge underneath you, through the walls in your home, and over your head in power lines? And then did you think about how many different gadgets, appliances, engines, radios, CD players, TVs, computers, life-support systems, grocery stores, cinemas, mass transit systems, and most of all the lights we use are utterly dependent upon regular resources of constantly flowing energy and power?! It's downright scary, in a way, how immensely dependent we in modern society are upon electrical energy. Without it, as we saw this week, much of modern life dies, or comes to a bewildering halt.
I wonder, though, if things like this are allowed to happen in God's Divine Providence, in part for the purpose of spiritual instruction. What lessons can we learn from all this?
In a spiritual sense these great power failures can be very useful in helping us to clearly understand our position in life in relation to God. They can help us also to understand how profoundly vital God's inflowing life force is--which powers spiritual life everywhere. Our power failures can therefore become quite inspiring! For they remind us on a correspondential or symbolic level of life that you and I and all of the power of life that flows through us comes from another source--from God, actually--and that without the Lord in our lives we are dead.
I read not long ago that if God were to take his inflowing power of love away from us for the slightest moment we would simply cease to exist! How's that for a mental wing-dinger?!
Also, I read that the source of all energy to create and sustain everything in the natural universe flows from the Divine into the deepest substructures of all natural and spiritual things. Therefore, every one of the cells in your body, and every least cell in your spiritual body (the one you'll have in heaven for all eternity after you die) receives its existence right now as a creative act of the Divine! Thus, the entire daily power you and I use within us to power our will, our affections, our thoughts, and our ability to move and be active stems not from ourselves but from the Lord.
Our dependence upon God, you see, is almost unbelievable!
We read this morning in Psalm 62 that "power belongs to God." Our Incarnate Lord, Jesus Christ, spoke personally of this great truth, after he had fully glorified his humanity at the end of his earth-bound ministry, when he revealed: "All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth" (Matthew 28:18). The Lord's greatest joy is to give you power to live. He gives you his life, and gives it abundantly. Yet it is up to you to choose how far God's influx of love and wisdom can reach throughout your will and understanding.
Swedenborg was blessed to learn some marvelously deep things about how it is that you and I receive the power to live, both naturally and spiritually. After many years of deeply studying God's Holy Word, he wrote that God's life force inflows constantly and beautifully into the inmost, subconscious depths of your being, as well as into the innermost parts of everything in creation, to give it substance and life! And perhaps what is most important of all is to understand that Infinite and Pure Love Itself is the one powerhouse of heaven and the natural universe--and it is this Divine Love that pours itself into you to give you life . . . yet in a way that makes it feel like it comes from you.
In a sense, you see, you and I are like New York City. There's a great deal of activity going on inside of us, which depends upon the constant, ever-present inflow of a great deal of power--of spiritual electricity, you might say, which is surging and moving within us! And it is this spiritual power from God that makes all manner of light bulbs go on within us when we are open to seeing and understanding scientific and spiritual truths.
But there is also an enormous need for us to cooperate with God's power! Whatever quality or type of affections and thinking patterns we choose to have, that will decide how we take in the power of God's gift of life. It's up to us to make certain that the spiritual power grids within us are good, up-to-date with sound spiritual doctrine or hard-wiring, and ready to let God's power of love surge deeply through us.
Swedenborg discovered that God's inflowing love and power to light our mind descend into the upper regions of our spiritual mind, and then into our basic power of rationality and our will to care about God, heaven, the church, the world, our country, our neighbor, our family, and ourselves. But this power is given to us in an aura of tremendous freedom, to use it for what is good or for what is evil.
And this, we come to find, is where natural power failures lend us useful spiritual light for "insight." Recent news reports tell us that those major northeast power failures occurred due to human error, and perhaps due to antiquated electrical grid systems that needs replacement. It is quite possible for us humans to encounter lapses within us of the power to love, to reason wisely, and to do what is good in life. Sometimes our internal power grids seem to lack the power to love as we should, to live up to the awesomely powerful potential God gives us to live as his apostles.
In a seminary missions class, Herbert Jackson told how, as a new missionary, he was assigned a car that would not start without a push.
After pondering his problem, he devised a plan. He went to the school near his home, got permission to take some children out of class, and had them push his car to get it started. As he made his rounds, he would either park on a hill or leave the engine running. He used this ingenious procedure for two years.
Then ill health forced the Jackson family to leave, and a new missionary came to that station. When Jackson proudly began to explain his arrangement for getting the car started, the new man took a look under the hood. Before the explanation was complete, the new missionary interrupted, "Why, Dr. Jackson, I believe the only trouble is this loose cable." He gave the cable a twist, stepped into the car, pushed the switch, and to Jackson's astonishment, the engine roared to life!
For two years, needless trouble had become a routine. The power was there all the time. Only a loose connection kept Jackson from putting the power to work.
J. B. Phillips paraphrases Ephesians 1:19: "How tremendous is the power available to us who believe in God." You--your spirit and your body--are great and awesome power grids for the Lord's Infinite Generator of Love and Truth. When we make firm our connection with God, his life and power flow through us.
Our theology reminds us that the core issue is really one of spiritual charity--that is, our deep and simple openness to a deeper form and substance of kindness toward others. I continue also to find how my own ability to feel and experience real spiritual charity has a lot to do with genuine love and esteem for myself. As Christ so wonderfully put it: "Love others as yourself." Those in tune with their own internal preciousness tend to perceive such diamond-like qualities in others . . . and just love sharing it.
Given this week's power failures, perhaps you have started to see how enormous is our dependency upon God's spiritual electricity. I urge you to examine your own life and see how major losses of spiritual power happen in your life, and why. Our President is urging Congress to spend the money for upgrades that will ensure no future major power failures. Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ is urging us to maintain and develop a depth and degree of faith and deep connection with him, as well as kindness toward all people, that will power our minds with more power and light than all of Manhattan and the other four New York boroughs combined!
We are designed to be very powerful beings. Are you deeply and faithfully plugged into the Divine Powerhouse of heaven and earth? If so, then let your light shine for all to see! Amen.
Dear Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, the power failures and blackouts we experience show us all too starkly that when we rely upon humans for our source of power, we will find ourselves at times disappointed, and sometimes in the dark and cold! We recognize that we have come to trust too much in human power, not only materially, but emotionally as well. We have turned to human sources of help and comfort when we feel the need of comfort and support. And while these are good, and we know that you have given us other people for mutual community and support, there are times when human friends and family fail, and we are left in a blackout of emotional darkens and coldness. In those times, O Lord, help us to plug into a deeper and far more trustworthy source of spiritual power. And when we have connected with YOU, O God, help us to stay connected to the only eternally reliable source of all power. Amen.
Rev. Kit Billings