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Sermons

The Birds, the Bees, and God

June 13, 2004

Bible Reading

The heavens declare the glory of God;
     the skies proclaim the work of his hands.
Day after day they pour forth speech;
     night after night they display knowledge.
They have no speech, there are no words;
     no sound is heard from them;
Yet their line goes out into all the earth,
     their words to the ends of the world.

In the heavens he has pitched a tent for the sun,
     which is like a bridegroom coming forth from his pavilion,
     like a champion rejoicing to run his course.
It rises at one end of the heavens
     and makes its circuit to the other;
     nothing is hidden from its heat.

The law of the Lord is perfect,
     reviving the soul.
The statutes of the Lord are trustworthy,
     making wise the simple.
The precepts of the Lord are right,
     giving joy to the heart.
The commands of the Lord are radiant,
     giving light to the eyes.
The fear of the Lord is pure,
     enduring forever.
The ordinances of the Lord are sure
     and altogether righteous.
They are more precious than gold,
     than much pure gold.
They are sweeter than honey,
     than honey from the comb.
By them is your servant warned;
     in keeping them there is great reward.

Who can discern his errors?
     Forgive my hidden faults.
Keep your servant also from willful sins;
     may they not rule over me.
Then will I be blameless,
     innocent of great transgression.

May the words of my mouth
     and the meditation of my heart
     be pleasing in your sight,
     O Lord, my Rock and my Redeemer.

(Psalm 19)

Reading from Swedenborg

A force is instilled into everything that has been created. However, that force does not do anything on its own; it depends on the one who instilled it. . . . Look at a silkworm or a bee or some little creature and examine it, first physically, then rationally, and finally spiritually. If you can think deeply, you will be stunned at everything. If you listen to the inner voice of wisdom, you will exclaim in amazement, "Can anyone fail to see Divinity here? These are the marks of divine wisdom!"

Beyond this even, if you look at the functions of everything that has been created, you will see how they follow in sequence all the way to humanity, and from us to our source, the Creator. You will see how the connectedness of everything depends on the Creator's union with us. And if you are willing to admit it, the preservation of everything depends on this as well. (Divine Providence #3.3)

Sermon

There is a lesson from God in everything we chose to do, to listen to, to look at, to touch, to read. We call this "influx": the communication from the spiritual world into our natural world. Divine influx can be thought of as God flowing out to us; as his help with every aspect of our lives. The ability to receive this influx depends on our relationship with God. If we want to know God better, if we want to strive to learn about God, if we want to enjoy worshipping God, we must open our lives to receive this divine influx. On the other hand, if we deny God's existence, if we consider only our own wants and needs, if we selfishly turn away from worshipping God, we block this divine influx, and even open ourselves to evil influences and hellish influx. Influx is constantly present around and within us. But because our free will is preserved, it is always our choice whether we are open to receive divine influx or hellish influx.

I would like to share a lesson today on influx that comes from the novel The Secret Life of Bees, by Sue Monk Kidd. I chose to read this book after a friend recommended it. I did not go right out and buy it, but the seed was planted that this would be a good book to read some day. Recently I was on the way to California for a relaxing retreat with students from the Swedenborgian House of Studies. I had a layover in Phoenix, and passed a bookstore in the airport with a big display of cut out bees, and stacks of this book. I picked it up, and a clerk said, "That is a great book." It was like "1, 2, 3 BUY the book!" Was this God speaking to me? I like to think so. Was this divine influx . . . synchronicity? It was definitely the potential for divine influx from the words of this novel. The time was right, the book was in front of me, and airplanes are great places to read.

The process that I found so intriguing in the novel was how the author took the habits and life of bees, and drew upon the natural theology and connection between the life of the bees and our own lives, and the lessons we have to learn. It was a beautiful illustration that all things are connected, together with examples of how the natural world is a reflection of the spiritual world. And if we are aware of this, we can learn many lessons from nature in all aspects of our lives.

Take the bee yard etiquette as explained by one of the characters: "The world is really one big bee yard, and the same rules work fine in both places: Don't be afraid, as no life-loving bee wants to sting you. Still, don't be an idiot; wear long sleeves and long pants. Don't swat. Don't even think about swatting. If you feel angry, whistle. Anger agitates, while whistling melts a bee's temper. Act like you know what you're doing, even if you don't. Above all, send the bees love. Every little thing wants to be loved."

Influx from God flows into all life. The difference between the influx that gives life to animals, insects, and nature and the influx that humans receive is related to whether it is general or particular influx. Animals are in the order of their nature. They follow their instincts. They receive general influx and have no need for further instruction.

Let's go back to the bees. Every bee has its role to play. The nest-builders draw up the comb in a perfect hexagonal pattern. Field bees have good navigation skills and tireless hearts, going out to gather nectar and pollen. There are even mortician bees whose pitiful job it is to rake the dead bees out of the hive and keep everything clean. Nurse bees take care of the baby bees. The only male bees are the drones that sit around waiting to mate with the queen. And then there is the queen, only one per hive, and her attendants. The attendants bathe her, feed her, keep her warm or cool. The queen is mother of thousands of bees. This is the epitome of order. Bees are born with all the knowledge they need in their life. They know their function and purpose, and fulfill it.

But we are born in ignorance--innocent, yes, but ignorant. We find ourselves often in a quagmire of chaos, rather than order. We require instruction, and thus our influx is into the particulars of our lives.

We are born rather self-absorbed, crying out to have our needs met. We are created to love the Lord and our neighbor; this is the heavenly order. But this is not our natural order, which, unfortunately, is love of the self and the world. We are born in freedom, and have to choose to receive divine influx into our lives.

It almost seems as if it would be easier for all of us to just be born with our natural order like the bees, knowing what our purpose in life is, and doing what we were created for. But then we would have no freedom. And it is this freedom that allows us to draw near to the Lord; that enables us to know God and become the image of God for which we were created. Because of our freedom, there is no limit to the love and goodness we can receive and feel . . . that is, when we make the right choices--choices that open our souls to receive this divine influx.

Scripture tells us that as God notices when a sparrow falls to the ground, even the hairs of our heads are numbered. This relates back to the influx that we receive into the particulars. In every part of our life, God's influx is available. Nothing is insignificant. We can ask for guidance in all things. When we feel anger rising, we can ask God to help control it. Those times when we are envious that someone seems to have it better or easier, we must ask God to help us get beyond our envy.

The danger we must always keep in mind is the effect of choosing not to receive divine influx--because evil influences and influx are also constantly around us. We feel this when we are tempted to lie to get ourselves out of a bind; when we want to be acknowledged for every good deed we do; when we fight the desire to be seen as smarter than someone else, or prettier, or better in some way. We are in balance between the good and bad, but both are trying to affect our choices, in little things as well as big. And our choices in the little things set the stage for our choices in the big things.

Again from the novel, a young girl asked the beekeeper why her house was painted bright pink.

She laughed. "That was my sister's doing. She was with me the day I went to the paint store to pick out the color. I had a nice tan color in mind, but she latched on to this sample called Caribbean Pink. She said it made her feel like dancing a Spanish flamenco. I had not seen her so happy since our mother died. I thought, 'Well, this is the tackiest color I've ever seen, and we'll have half the town talking about us, but if it can lift her heart like that, I guess she ought to live inside it.'""

She laughed again. "You know, some things don't matter that much, like the color of a house. How big is that in the overall scheme of life? But lifting a person's heart--now, that matters. The problem with people is not that they don't know what matters. The problem with people is that they know what matters, but they don't choose it. You know how hard that is? I love my sister, but it was still so hard to choose Caribbean Pink. The hardest thing on earth is choosing what matters."

Prayer

O God of the birds, the bees, and each one of us, thank you for showing us your wonders and your will in the incredible order of nature. You have created each plant and animal for a particular purpose, and it does the work you designed it for. We pray that you will show us your plan for each of us, and give us the insight and the will to do the work for which you have created us. Amen.

Rev. Jane Siebert