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Love is Life

Sermons

Powerful Images

March 28, 2004

Bible Reading

All you have made will praise you, O Lord;
     Your saints will extol you.
They will tell of the glory of your kingdom,
     and speak of your might,
so that all people may know of your mighty acts,
     and the glorious splendor of your kingdom.
Your kingdom is an everlasting kingdom,
     and your dominion endures through all generations.

The Lord is faithful to all his promises,
     and loving towards all he has made.
The Lord upholds all those who fall,
     and lifts up all who are bowed down.
The eyes of all look to you,
     and you give them their food at the proper time.
You open your hand,
     and satisfy the desires of every living thing.

The Lord is righteous in all his ways,
     and loving towards all he has made.
The Lord is near to all who call on him,
     to all who call on him in truth.
He fulfils the desires of those who fear him;
     he hears their cry and saves them.
The Lord watches over all who love him,
     but all the wicked he will destroy.

My mouth will speak in praise of the Lord.
     Let every creature praise his holy name forever and ever.

(Psalm 145:10-21)

I learned both what is secret and what is manifest, for wisdom, the fashioner of all things, taught me. There is in her a spirit that is intelligent, holy, unique, manifold, subtle, mobile, clear, unpolluted, distinct, invulnerable, loving the good, keen, irresistible, beneficent, humane, steadfast, sure, free from anxiety, all-powerful, overseeing all, and penetrating through all spirits that are intelligent, pure, and altogether subtle.

For wisdom is more mobile than any motion; because of her pureness she pervades and penetrates all things. For she is a breath of the power of God, and a pure emanation of the glory of the Almighty; therefore nothing defiled gains entrance into her. For she is a reflection of eternal light, a spotless mirror of the working of God, and an image of his goodness.

Although she is but one, she can do all things, and while remaining in herself, she renews all things; in every generation she passes into holy souls and makes them friends of God, and prophets; for God loves nothing so much as one who lives with wisdom. She is more beautiful than the sun, and excels every constellation of the stars. Compared with the light she is found to be superior, for it is succeeded by the night, but against wisdom evil does not prevail. She reaches mightily from one end of the earth to the other, and she orders all things well.

(Wisdom of Solomon 7:21-8:1)

Reading from Swedenborg

Those in heaven who have greater intelligence and wisdom than others due to the true ideas in their faith are so humble that they attribute all of their power to the Lord, and none at all to themselves. They find no glory or joy at all in ruling, but only in serving. When they are in this state, they do govern, and also have greater glory and joy than others. However, they do not govern out of any desire to dominate, but only out of a desire that comes from love and kindness--which is a desire to serve others. The Lord flows with power into people who are humble, but not with people who are conceited, since humble people accept what flows in from him, while conceited people reject it. (Arcana Coelestia #9039.3)

Sermon

Good morning, everyone! Near the end of the tenth volume of Swedenborg's work Arcana Coelestia, there is a short, but for me an increasingly important statement telling us that heaven's most powerful angels are powerful because they make love their primary life activity. When I read it last week, it remained with me, and I wondered why. After all, many of the pages in my Swedenborgian books have underlined sentences--a result of numerous courses with Bob Kirven, George Dole, and Bill Woofenden, great Swedenborgian scholars who told me what specific sentences were important. But this one was not underlined.

Still, it remained with me. I referred to collateral literature to see if any other scholars had shared about this statement's meaning, but found none. I figured that it was not as significant as it appeared to be, but I could not forget it. Then something happened that helped make its meaning clear--and I am coming to understand its significance. Having had this experience, I doubt that I will ever think of power in the same way again.

I can see in retrospect that this week has been a very power-oriented week for me. By the word "power" I mean strength. Val had asked that we go down to Ohio and celebrate American Thanksgiving with her family. Since her mother's cancer had flared up again I readily agreed. But I knew that I had much to do in order to leave here for three days. I jumped in and drew upon inner power to finish the church newsletter in record time. I got a head start on this sermon. I held several appointments, pushing myself to get them behind me so that the trip could be possible.

Then I drew upon power to get there. We crossed the U.S. border, and with pride I navigated through Detroit and the heavy holiday traffic with ease. We approached two different points where hundreds of cars stood at a standstill--and having no idea where I was going, I drove on the berm to the nearest exits and successfully bypassed the traffic jams. I avoided speed traps, almost daring the State Patrol to stop me. When we made it to Val's house, I felt as though my power had conquered whatever the gods had tossed my way.

But when we walked in the front door, I realized that my power was just an illusion. We learned that earlier in the evening, Val's father had been taken to the hospital with severe chest pains. Our plans for a holiday were shattered. Tests revealed that he would need to have surgery right away. The doctor was quite clear that since he is 82 years old, and his heart bypass of eight years ago is failing, the prognosis is not good. And with those words, my--and our--powerlessness became all the more clear.

The decision was made that Val would remain in Ohio, and I would return to Kitchener with the kids. We stayed in Springfield until late Friday afternoon so that we could say goodbye to her father after he awoke from being put under for the various tests. As I stood in that hospital room listening as Toby and Jessie said what might be their final words to him, and after I shared my own words of encouragement with him, we left--with powerlessness permeating every bit of our beings.

But as we drove along I came to understand that powerlessness was not part of that experience at all. Nothing could be farther from the truth! I realized that something has been giving us the ability to endure through this difficult period. And now . . . now I know something that heaven's angels are already aware of. Our ability to face whatever the future holds is the greatest power of all, for we have made the love that we share our primary communication and activity. Yes, love has been spoken and acted upon.

Many Christians see power as a sense that we are nothing but weak mortals, and must succumb to the power of the omnipotent God. But our Swedenborgian teachings provide a different perspective. God's power is not something that looms overhead, threatening us if we stray. God's power is not something to be feared. No, the power that comes to us from God is an essential life force. It is the ultimate gift of love; and this is a strength to be used, communicated, and made active within our lives.

In many ways the words "love" and "power" seem to be so incompatible--strange bedfellows, to say the least. After all, love conjures up such gentle images: compassion, caring, affection. Power, on the other hand, fills our mind with images of force, energy, and strength. And when we place these images side by side, love seems to pale in comparison to power.

But our teachings tell us that nothing is farther from the truth. Power is rooted in our ability to love. This alone endures.

Biblical scholars are just now beginning to grasp the full meaning of the way that the Scriptures speak of God's power. For over two thousand years, the Western concept of power as force has dominated our thinking, even within the church. This has led to images of God as the mighty ruler, the all-powerful monarch, the Creator who can make and destroy. Yes, the belief has endured that God is a fatherly being to be feared.

But recently, scholars have uncovered an almost forgotten school of religious thought that prospered in Old Testament times. It is known as "Sophia." The Sophian tradition existed to provide other images of God that encompassed love as a powerful image. Several books of the Bible have their roots in Sophia: Ecclesiastes, the Song of Songs, Sirach, Baruch, the Wisdom of Solomon, and about half the Psalms. Understanding the Sophian tradition can expand our awareness of what power entails.

Sophia is a Greek word that means, "The Power of God's Wisdom." Sophia represents the feminine qualities of the Divine. It inculcates a sense of God's creating strength, God's nurturing presence, and God's enduring love that sustains all of creation. Through their religious writings, Sophians sought to keep these aspects of God alive within the religious community.

Our Psalm for this morning is one of the first appearances of a Sophian writing within Scripture. The Psalm begins with a masculine concept of power. God is seen as the power that moves mountains, that shakes the seas, that makes lightening flash. But midway through the Psalm the images of the Divine change. The later verses speak of God's mercy, of God's caring for us, of God being near to those in need. God is portrayed as one who listens to those who cry, who protects those in danger. In these two contrasting portrayals of power, a complete God is portrayed.

In our second reading, similar images of God are used. Through the words of the Wisdom of Solomon, Sophia teaches us that it is God's power that moves us to clarity and confidence. It is God's power that enables us to care and be kind, to be friends to creation and to each other. It is God's power that gives us the ability to be a light in the dark times of life.

If our image of God is to be complete and whole; if we are to fully grasp the scope of God's power, the images of Sophia cannot be ignored. And surely we have paid too high a price for our neglect of the variety of images of power that Scripture contains. By allowing our perspective of power to include the Sophian traditions, we can make the distinction between "force" and "power." We can come to understand what Swedenborg meant when he said that heaven's most powerful angels are powerful because they make love their primary life activity. This knowledge will help us face whatever life brings our way.

At a few minutes past 10:00AM on Monday, August 27th, 1883, the world witnessed an awesome display of power. On that day the loudest noise in history was heard when the volcano Krakatoa in the Dutch West Indies blew apart. The sound was heard almost 3,000 miles away.

As early as the previous May, signs of impending explosion were noticeable. In June and July the volcano was active for brief periods as flashes of fire were seen. On Sunday afternoon, the day before the big explosion, clouds of steam and ash shot seven miles into the sky. Soon day turned into night as the mass obscured the sun. For three days darkness prevailed. On Monday morning the biggest explosion occurred. An area the size of Manhattan Island fell into the sea. Winds were created with such force that they circled the earth seven times. Tidal waves started that reached the English Channel, more than 11,000 miles away. Thirty minutes after the big explosion, a huge wave struck an island thirty miles away, and 10,000 people were carried away, never to be found. Yes, the world witnessed an awesome display of power.

But in the century since Krakatoa blew apart, another awesome display of power has gone almost unnoticed. Slowly but surely, the island is being reborn. Out of the waters that engulfed that mountain, a new island is emerging. It is already 600 feet high, ten miles long, and three miles wide. Plants are taking root. Birds nest on the rocks. Life continues.

In every life there comes a time when our world falls apart because of some power that lies beyond our control. It may not happen with the physical devastation of a Krakatoa, but it is just as loud and traumatic. An illness. A loved one facing death. A divorce. The loss of a job. An accident. Yes, there are times when things happen, and the power that they possess shatters our lives.

But today I want us to remember that such catastrophic occurrences can be dealt with when we avail ourselves of something even more powerful. For available to each of us is a strong spiritual resource that can hold our inner core together. It can enable us to rebuild the rest of life. It is the power of God's love. If we open ourselves to that love, the spiritual core of life can endure in spite of whatever the world tosses our way. Life can be rebuilt. Heaven's angels know this--and may we know it too. Amen.

Prayer

Dear Lord, when we have felt the shattering power of some great blow, show us, we pray, the more subtle, gentle, inexorable power of your love, rebuilding our lives for new spirit and joy. Amen.

Rev. Ronald Brugler