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Love is Life

Sermons

Love One Another

February 06, 2005

Bible Reading

I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinegrower. He removes every branch in me that bears no fruit. Every branch that bears fruit he prunes to make it bear more fruit. You have already been cleansed by the word that I have spoken to you. Abide in me as I abide in you. Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me.

I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing. Whoever does not abide in me is thrown away like a branch, and withers; such branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned. If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask for whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit, and become my disciples. As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father's commandments and abide in his love. I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete.

This is my commandment: that you love one another as I have loved you. No one has greater love than this: to lay down one's life for one's friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you. I do not call you servants any longer, because the servant does not know what the master is doing; but I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my Father. You did not choose me, but I chose you, and appointed you to go and bear fruit--fruit that will last. Then the Father will give you whatever you ask in my name. I am giving you these commands so that you may love one another.

(John 15:1-17)

Reading from Swedenborg

Laws of Permission are also Laws of Divine Providence

There are no "laws of permission" that are simply that, or that are separate from the laws of divine providence. They are the same thing; so saying that God allows something to happen does not mean that he wants it to happen, but that he cannot prevent it because of his goal, which is our salvation. Whatever happens for the sake of this goal--our salvation--is in accord with the laws of divine providence, since divine providence is always moving away from and contrary to our own intentions. It is constantly focused on its goal; so at every moment of its work, at every single step of its course, when it notices that we are straying from that goal it leads and turns and adapts us in accord with its laws, leading us away from evil and toward good. This cannot be accomplished without allowing bad things to happen. Further, nothing can be allowed to happen without some cause, and causes are to be found only in some law of divine providence--a law that tells us why something is allowed to happen. (Divine Providence #234)

I have often talked to spirits about fortune, which seems like blind chance to people on earth since they do not know its origin. . . . Whenever something happened to me that seemed random, the angels told me that it happened because evil spirits were present. When I suffered some mishap, they said that the aura of that type of spirits was prevailing. Evil spirits have learned how, by the use of tricks they know, to create an aura producing misfortunes that look exactly like the results of mere chance. The angels went on to say that all things, down to the very tiniest, are directed by the Lord's providence--right down to our footsteps. And when things that are contrary to providence prevail, misfortunes happen. They said that there is no such thing as mere chance, and that what seems to be random, or fortune, is providence at work in the last and lowest levels of order, in which all things are subject to relative inconstancy. (Arcana Coelestia #6493)

Sermon

Seattle: Young children stand out in the rain offering hot chocolate to raise money for tsunami victims. One said, "I couldn't just sit by and watch the numbers of dead increase. I knew there must be something I could do."

Denver: Three brothers bring in sandwich bags with money to the local Red Cross, which prompts another donor to give $50,000 anonymously.

Boston: Middle school children go door to door with Red Cross cans to ask for donations. They said they felt a connection with kids their age in the area, and wanted to do something.

These children are learning early that we all can make a difference when disaster strikes. It is not the amount given; it is the action, the compassion, the response that says, "We care."

We are all aching from the pain and destruction that our fellow human beings are feeling half a world away due to the tsunami. We may not want to hear any more about it because it makes us feel helpless. It is so immense and overwhelming. What can we do here in Pretty Prairie, Kansas? It is too big for us. Let the nations of the world come to their aid. We have enough to deal with.

But we cannot ignore it, nor should we. This is our world--the whole world. We speak about being one: "We are all one." But what does that really mean? What does it mean in relation to the grieving and injured in Sri Lanka, and those of us sitting here in this church this morning?

We know that God doesn't cause things like earthquakes and tsunamis, and that God can bring good from all tragedy. But for us individually, the good can come only if we respond. One thing we all can do in response to this disaster is to learn from it. Let it touch our lives; don't wall it off. Let the enormity of it sink in.

From a worldly perspective, our compassion and attention does make a loving contribution to the greater whole, just as our unresponsiveness and indifference negatively affects the whole. We know that everything is connected. Our reaction to this disaster matters on the grand scale and on our own individual level.

While this tragedy happened half a world away, the people affected are like us in many ways. Their pain is just like ours. The weeping father we see carrying his son cares deeply about the death of his child. While we can't understand their language and there are big differences in our cultures, we are all made in the image of the same God. We can understand their fear in not knowing where the next meal or even the next drink of water will come from. We can relate to their anxiety in losing their homes, their clothes, their memories. And I believe they can feel our compassion in the midst of their struggles. Even though we may know God differently, it is the same God, and our prayers do matter for our human companions on this earthly journey.

Our natural tendency in any catastrophic event is to question: How does this affect me? Even when a loved one is sick, we are quick to caution: Don't cough on me; I don't want to get sick. We are really quite selfish people. The personal stories we hear in the United States are first about Americans who were killed or injured or affected by the tsunami, and then more generalities about the others. Look how long it took our nation to respond compared to the 9-11 attacks. I hope we are learning that Jesus' instruction to "love one another" does not mean just Americans.

So how should we respond to this tragedy? Can religion explain natural disasters? Why does God allow such things as earthquakes and tidal waves to happen? Is God not omnipotent? Can God not control the winds and the waves? Jesus did just that when he calmed the storm. . . .

In Swedenborg's book Divine Providence it is stressed that the Lord cannot act contrary to the laws of nature, for to do so would be to act contrary to his own divine love and his own divine wisdom, and therefore contrary to himself. God's providence is in the laws of nature. We live in an orderly and dependable universe--although sometimes it does not seem dependable. Our cosmos has laws that can be detected by scientific observation. Even now the scientists are working to set up detection devices in the Indian Ocean to give warning of these type of events, as they have in other oceans and seas.

Earthquakes, volcanoes and things we would now call "natural disasters" created the geography of our earth. A great sea once covered Kansas. These events are not contrary to God's laws, but inherent in them. To undo the natural process would be anti-God. Pressures build up in the middle of the earth, and something has to give. Tectonic plates slide, tsunamis result, people die. The natural order is the means by which providence operates.

Our choice is how we respond to these disasters--whether they happen in our back yard, in New York, or in Indonesia.

There are three basic responses to a disaster: we can be overwhelmed by it; we can ignore it; or we can allow ourselves to feel with the victims and indirectly experience it, even from a distance. This last may cause us more pain in the short run, but it is the only way to learn from it and grow. And it is the only way to cooperate with God in allowing good to come from it in our lives. This is different from the selfishness expressed when we are concerned with how a disaster might personally affect our families or us. When we allow ourselves to feel for those involved, when we give personally of our resources, and when we find something tangible that we can do, compassion is sent out. And compassion heals. It heals us, it heals those affected, and it heals the world.

This is a reorientation of our mind and heart away from self and toward others. This is what the Dalai Lama calls "universal responsibility." He says, "Every one of us has a responsibility to act as if all our thoughts, words, and deeds matter. For really, they do" (Ethics for the New Millennium).

We would like to see a grand world relief effort on a global scale. We would like to see nations put down their swords and remake them into plowshares to help their fellow human beings. We would like to see homes rebuilt for the homeless that are even better than the makeshift huts that some of them had before. And we can pray for these things, and give of our abundance to help make them happen.

But the real and pressing issue for each of us here today is how we choose to be affected by this disaster. We can ignore it. We can be overwhelmed by it. Or we can take it in, feel with the people, realize our commonalities with those affected, pray, send compassion, and learn from it.

If a disaster happened to us here in Pretty Prairie, after our immediate needs were met, would it not give us some comfort to know that some good came of this terrible disaster? That the world felt a new connection and oneness and responsibility for one another as a result of it?

Compassion is always ours to give because God gives it to us. May Jesus' words reverberate throughout the world, "love one another as I have loved you."

Prayer

O Lord our God, we pray for the millions of our brothers and sisters affected by the tsunami. May they feel our prayers, and know that people around the world care. We pray for the relief workers and those organizing the aid. Give them wisdom and urgency. Help all nations to work together for the benefit of those in need. And lead us to know what we should do. Amen.

Rev. Jane Siebert