Fight for Life: A Post-9/11 Sermon
October 17, 2004
When the people saw that Moses was so long in coming down from the mountain, they gathered round Aaron and said, "Come, make us gods who will go before us. As for this fellow Moses who brought us up out of Egypt, we don't know what has happened to him". . . .
Then the Lord said to Moses, "Go down, because your people, whom you brought up out of Egypt, have become corrupt. They have been quick to turn away from what I commanded them and have made themselves an idol cast in the shape of a calf. They have bowed down to it and sacrificed to it and have said, 'These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of Egypt.'
"I have seen these people," the Lord said to Moses, "and they are a stiff-necked people. Now leave me alone so that my anger may burn against them and that I may destroy them. Then I will make you into a great nation."
But Moses sought the favor of the Lord his God. "O Lord," he said, "why should your anger burn against your people, whom you brought out of Egypt with great power and a mighty hand? Why should the Egyptians say, 'It was with evil intent that he brought them out, to kill them in the mountains and to wipe them off the face of the earth'? Turn from your fierce anger; relent and do not bring disaster on your people. Remember your servants Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, to whom you swore by your own self: 'I will make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and I will give your descendants all this land I promised them, and it will be their inheritance forever.""
Then the Lord relented and did not bring on his people the disaster he had threatened.
(Exodus 32:1, 7-14)
Read also: Luke 15:1-10
We are in a fight for life. The planes crashing into the World Trade Center towers have indelibly impressed this idea onto our minds. But we have always been in a fight for life. Since we opted for the tree of knowledge of good and evil instead of the tree of life in the Garden of Eden, we have been in a fight for life. We just haven't been as acutely aware of it recently.
This fight for life was the very battle that our Lord Jesus Christ fought throughout his life, even to the passion of the cross, and on into resurrection, ascension, glorification, and the Second Coming. The Lord fought this battle for us so that he could fight this battle with us. It is a battle for a way of living for God, for one's neighbor and for oneself, instead of for oneself only.
Besides the early Christian communities and early martyrs who followed the Lord Jesus Christ's example, we have the example of Mahatma Gandhi and the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., in recent times, as persons who led the fight for life. Theirs was a focus of inclusivity, not exclusivity, a focus on God, the neighbor and oneself, not merely on oneself or only on one's own group.
From these examples we learn that there is a healing way to fight for the perpetuation and protection of life--such as when we fight against disease and work for health and wholeness; or when we fight to regain the use of arms, legs, or whatever functioning we can regain after a stroke or an accident; or when we fight against pollution of air, water, and soil, and in so doing fight for clean air, water, and soil to protect our food supply and our health. There is also a destructive way to fight for the perpetuation and protection of life--a way that in the end does not preserve life, but only preserves selfish interests.
Our Lord Jesus Christ has told us in his Word that he is the way, the truth, and the life (John 14:6). So let's look at the truth expressed in the Word and see what kind of guidance we can draw to help us function in the direction of life, the perpetuation and protection of life--guidance toward a healing way to fight against actions and activities that threaten and actually destroy life and limb, looking not only at others' actions but at our own.
The Biblically based teachings of our church, which we call the Heavenly Doctrines, given to us through Emanuel Swedenborg, tell us that all good comes to us from God, and all evil comes from hell; that if we attribute good to ourselves we are stealing from the Lord; that any good we have is God's goodness in us, and if we attribute evil to ourselves, we condemn ourselves by identifying ourselves with evil; that Divine Providence sees to it that we are always in a position to choose, and whatever we choose, that is what we ally ourselves with. It becomes ours in the sense that we have chosen it; it does not originate with us.
So, we are not good people or evil people; we are only persons who have chosen good or chosen evil. We may have chosen one or the other in the moment, or we may have committed ourselves to good or to evil. It becomes our own to the extent that we have chosen it, but it does not originate with us. Let's sit with that thought a minute. Do we get it? Because neither good nor evil originates with us, and because the Lord has provided that we always have a choice, a new beginning is always possible. In some cases it may not be probable, but it is always possible.
This is a truth that often gets lost in the heat of overwhelming events like the recent ones--a lost coin if you will. (In Swedenborg's teachings, the silver coin of the Bible story represents or corresponds to spiritual truth about the Lord or ourselves. Everything in a Bible story represents something spiritual.) So how do we get this truth back into our lives? And what does this have to do with fighting against actions and activities that threaten and actually destroy life and limb? It helps us to detach the evil from the person or persons, and the persons from the evil.
"Oh yeah?" you may say, "And what does that get us?" It helps us to see that evil can attach itself to anyone, to any one of us, even ourselves, unless we say "no" to it. And unless we say "no" to it, we can become its ally. "But," we say, "I could never do anything that horrendous." We even have trouble imagining who could. But there is stockpile of good, which we find in heaven, and a stockpile of evil, which we find in hell. We contribute to one or the other depending on our choices. It is in this way that we contribute to an evil atmosphere or a good atmosphere, depending on our choices.
I'm going to ask you to do something that may be a little difficult or uncomfortable. Let's pause a moment and notice what we are feeling now about the recent events, or what we felt shortly after learning of them. Notice whether you reacted with something like, "Let's get those bums," or "I could strangle them with my bare hands," or "Let's beat them to a pulp." "Let's punish them, make them hurt like we are hurting." "Prison is too good for them. Death is too good for them. I want to see them suffer."
Our anger is understandable. Our pain is great. But when we remember that in the night that he, our Lord Jesus Christ, was betrayed, he took bread and broke it and said, "This is my body which is broken for you," and he took wine and blessed it and said, "This my blood of the new covenant, shed for the forgiveness of sins" (See 1 Corinthians 11:23-25; Matthew 26:26-28), it can help us realize that it is attitudes like those stated above, magnified many times over, that produced the crashes. The perpetrators and their helpers became carriers of the magnified energy.
How do we avoid participating in or contributing to the energy for evil around us? We ask the Lord if there is anything in us that is like the particular evil we are concerned about, and ask for help in overcoming it. By allowing the Lord to light up our minds with the truth of doctrine from the Word, so that the truth about ourselves can be revealed, we can resolve to back away--to reject the evil with the Lord's help. This is a healing way to fight.
Let's look at the lost sheep. In Swedenborg's teachings sheep represent innocence: innocent and good affections and affections for good. Trust is related to innocence, especially in the sense of harmlessness.
In the midst of overwhelming events, certain feelings, certain affections, can get lost. One of these is the feeling of trust: trust in other people or oneself, and especially trust in God. It can seem as if harmlessness does not exist: harmlessness in other people, harmlessness in oneself, and even the feeling that God intends no harm toward us.
Trust is one of the feelings that can get lost. Trust can stray away from us like that lost sheep. But how do we get it back? How, in the midst of the wilderness of all those feelings, can we find this trust and bring it back into operation in our life?
We can ask the Lord Jesus Christ for help. After all, the Lord is the Shepherd who knows how to find that sheep--that lost trust inside of us. It may turn out that like the Israelites in the desert, we have begun to rely on someone or something other than the Lord. And if we have lost our trust in God, it may be because we were trusting in an idea of God that is false, or only partly true.
What was it that we were relying on to keep us alive, to keep us feeling like we were part of life? Were we placing our confidence in our social position, our economic position, our bank account, our position of power or authority, our family background? Or was it a sense of physical strength, or of intelligence, or of our good intentions or the good intentions of others? What was it? What is it even now that we hope and expect to get us out of trouble when trouble comes? What are we trusting?
And what if we are so angry with the Lord that we don't want to have to rely on the Lord ever again?
This is a real place of choice--a tough one. It is like our relationship with any other person. We can say, "I'm finished with you," or we can tell that person how we feel. The first breaks the relationship. The second continues the relationship. So we have a choice. We can confess our feelings to the Lord and ask for help, and allow the Lord to work a work within us--namely, find that lost sheep--or we can give up, and reject any possibility for help.
Since all good comes from God, the Lord, if we choose something or someone else we become allies of that something or someone else. And since all life is from God, and God, the Lord Jesus Christ, is life, if we reject help, we risk participating in and contributing to the energy that is destructive of the expression of life--the energy we call evil. We avoid this by choosing to trust the Lord; by committing ourselves to trusting the Lord.
This is not the same as trusting an ideology, or trusting a special prophet or special teacher or leader, or a special set of doctrines. It is trusting in the most loving, most wise Divine Human Person, whom we have met within our hearts, or whom we have asked to rule within our hearts, or whom we have committed ourselves to; whom we have come to know as God within us, even the Lord Jesus Christ.
O Lord our God, Jesus Christ, we recognize all to clearly now that we are in a fight for life. Yes, this world is in a fight for life, and we ourselves are in a fight for life. Lord Jesus, we do not have the strength nor the understanding to prevail in this life battle. Yet you do; and you have promised that if we put our lives in your hands, you will prevail for us. Give us the vision and courage, then, to turn our lives not partially, but wholly over to you. Amen.
Rev. Gladys Wheaton