To Be Born Anew
May 16, 2004
Now there was a Pharisee named Nicodemus, a leader of the Jews. He came to Jesus by night and said to him, "Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God; for no one can do these signs that you do apart from the presence of God."
Jesus answered him, "Very truly, I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born again."
Nicodemus said to him, "How can anyone be born after having grown old? Can one enter a second time into the mother's womb and be born?"
Jesus answered, "Very truly, I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit. What is born of the flesh is flesh, and what is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not be astonished that I said to you, 'You must be born again.' The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit."
Reading from Swedenborg
There are two stages we must go through when, from being natural, we are becoming spiritual. The first is called "reformation," and the second "regeneration." In the first we look from a natural to a spiritual state, and long for it. In the second, we become spiritual-natural. The first stage is formed through true ideas, which must be truths that come from faith; and through these we look toward kindness. The second state is formed through the good things of kindness, and by these we enter into the true ideas of faith. In other words, the first is a stage of thought from the understanding, and the second a state of love from the will. When we are moving into the second state, . . . we are spiritual, and we are new creatures. (True Christian Religion #571)
Every one of us is involved in a sacred spiritual journey. We learn; we develop, expand, and modify what we perceive as good and right, and what we would really want to be. To this belong many facets of inner experience: reading, listening, and much reconsidering, struggling, and praying.
On the way, we certainly become confused many times, and even touched by periods of despair. Who does not puzzle about the right way, and what decisions to choose from among many possibilities? Often we may feel very much alone. We know very little about where we are and what others may be going through. And sometimes we are strangers to ourselves--as strange as this may sound! But I am sure that we have also observed that there are some people who develop a beautiful, warm maturity along this path, and we are grateful to know and recognize them. Our church has seldom succeeded in developing a wider and real communication and sharing about such fragile states, feelings, and experiences that occur on a deeper level.
Sometimes I ask: is our church on the right way to becoming spiritually effective? Traditional formal services, sermons, and a great many church-connected activities were developed in the history of our culture with the purpose of building faith and belief--or persuasion. But as we know from our teachings, this alone is not salvation, and can never be! Hearing alone could even bring one closer to the broad way that leads only downward. It reminds me of a pair of earrings I once saw that said "In" on one ear and "Out" on the other!
Our church offers the tools, at least in outline, to advance toward real salvation--which is regeneration, or being born again. This involves a profound inner and personal transformation of motives, feelings, and convictions. A new you and me is promised, a new self or proprium of the deepest core that the Lord has already laid into our heart. We are to open our arms to receive the help of God, who is waiting and knocking at the door. We are called upon and empowered to cooperate with him, not through loads of duties, but through discovery on our own, and to open up and unlock a piece of heaven in us right here and now.
We do not have only promises for the other world. No, already here on earth we can enter heaven. It is not so far away. It can happen whenever we find blessed moments of love and usefulness, or opportunities of sharing with a friend or with a married partner. It can happen when we feel profoundly understood, or when we understand another in those areas that matter most. To join hands in that which moves and touches us most deeply, in our most profound longings or fears, is a very precious privilege.
We look for new areas of discovery. Science has solved more and more mysteries of the outer world, and has mastered them with modern technology. We can travel to all places on earth now; but do we really know ourselves, our own soul? Especially the higher and more intimate degrees within us are often the greatest and darkest unknown continent.
What is necessary is not great efforts of renunciation of the joys of the world, great accomplishments and good deeds or heroic meditation, as we often hear extolled. What is expected from us is weeding: a cleansing of our internal garden, an examination of our deeper impulses and motives, and making efforts to change, searching for the life that is indicated in the Sermon on the Mount--the real world of love that alone can bring fulfillment. This means rejecting and eliminating all that is opposed, hard, and cold; all that does not contain life from God.
When this happens, God comes close to us--to our hearts. He can give strength as far as we can acknowledge this. He can touch us and transform the inner and outer world for everyone, and lead us to the gates of pearl of the New Jerusalem. It is for this purpose that we have been born into this world: to be born again into the spiritual realm. The Great Commandments lead us to learn to love, to discover our real potentials for love and usefulness; and in this alone can come real fulfillment for our existence. Our capacity for happiness is proportional to our capacity to love, which can be expanded to infinite degrees in a creative way.
There are still residues of the heart of stone in every one of us. Let us ask the Lord's help to remove them, so that he may bless us and fill us with his presence and power. Regeneration is likened by those who have experienced it to an awakening from sleep. One recognizes that all life before has hardly been worthwhile, and appears like a dream, from which one is only now coming alive to real awareness.
Our country has great potential. Our entire culture is changing. And we can be in the forefront of great changes that affect the entire world. Every member of our church has the promise to work not only toward external changes, but to internal ones that are not swept away with time. If people change, then the world will change with increasing rapidity, and all social organizations will change with them. All changes begin with creative minorities.
Let us feel our hearts. Is there still hardness and worldliness? May we get in touch with the Divine Energy in us that makes us truly brothers and sisters, and lifts us up, making us new again and again; and that brings us toward heaven, both here and hereafter, to our eternal home.
O gracious Lord, as we experience another spring with nature's renewal of life--the birds, blossoms, and new growth--we turn our attention inward. Help us in our being born anew in your image and likeness, and in doing your will here on earth. Amen.