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Sermons

Great Reminders of Springtime

April 03, 2005

Bible Reading

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the spirit of God was hovering over the waters. And God said, "Let there be light," and there was light. God saw that the light was good, and he separated the light from the darkness. God called the light "day," and the darkness he called "night." And there was evening, and there was morning--the first day. . . .

Then God said, "Let us make humans in our image, in our likeness, and let them rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over the livestock, over all the earth, and over all the creatures that move along the ground." So God created humans in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them. God blessed them and said to them, "Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and over every living creature that moves on the ground."

(Genesis 1:1-4, 24-28)

Reading from Swedenborg

When we have entered heaven, and its light and heat, we are like trees growing from seeds. Our initial budding is from enlightenment; our blossoming before the fruit is from a love for truth; the bearing of fruit that follows is from a love for good; and multiplying into trees is from a love for bearing fruit. Heaven's heat, which is love, and heaven's light, which is the understanding of truth from that love, bring forth in living beings things like those that the heat and light of the world bring forth in non-living things. This is from correspondence. In both cases, the reproduction takes place in the spring. We have springtime in us when we enter heaven, which happens when our inner spiritual self opens up. Before that it is wintertime in us. (Apocalypse Explained #942.2)

Sermon

The purpose for which we repent and do battle with evil and selfishness within ourselves, and in the world around us, is spiritual rebirth as symbolized in springtime. And it is good to be reminded that spiritual springtimes are coming. This is God's will, just as nature shows us that we can count on a natural springtime.

Our yearly return to Easter and the reality of Christ's resurrection from death is an even more important reminder to us of God's plan that we be steadily reborn in his image and likeness. Christ's resurrection and springtime give us the same message. This morning we will focus on the spiritual significance of spring.

Throughout the Bible, the message is loud and clear that our salvation rests in God, because the Divine is all goodness and all truth. Our theology states that the closer our hearts, minds, and lives get to the Lord, the happier we become, and the better life gets. This is a beautiful intertwining, you might say, of God's outpouring love and truth with the inner workings of our own mind. In other words, the more deeply conjoined we become with the Lord--with the love and wisdom shining into us from him--the more our interior life enters spiritual springtime.

The Lord said, "Remain in me, and I will remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me. I am the vine; you are the branches" (John 15:4-5). It is true that periods of spiritual trial, tribulation, and distress (called "temptation") are an inevitable part of our journey, just as the Lord went in and out of spiritual distress and struggle throughout his life on earth. Yet we should not let our minds get glued into focusing entirely on the painful and the difficult. Instead we need to remain focused overall (as a marksman aiming at a bull's-eye) on where the Lord is intentionally and purposefully leading and drawing us: into his love, warmth, and light, and therefore into the springtime of life.

This is why overall, life is a celebration for me. I know, and can experience, that God's overarching purpose for me and for others is to transform, regenerate, and save us.

Repentance is designed to lead us toward the Lord, which enables him to draw us closer and closer to his love. This is what renews and transforms us inside. Every time our internal perspective grows and changes for the better, every time we experience a new internal springtime blossoming within us, these are tangible signs that God's plan is working. God does this with joy and delight! Springtime, therefore, has some great lessons for us.

Our theology recognizes that many of God's great spiritual truths are portrayed marvelously and dramatically in the amphitheater of the natural universe. As I speak, something incredibly awesome, precious, wondrous, and important is happening outside: the first signs of spring are unfolding! Have you noticed a gentle increase in warmth outside? This is an early signal of spring coming. With it comes one of the simplest, yet most powerful, lessons life has to offer. For spring represents spiritual rebirth and regeneration; it corresponds to the greatest spiritual agenda God has for you and me: the re-creation of our inward being.

This is what the first chapter of Genesis symbolizes. God's plan for us is that we should grow. His divine will is working constantly toward this goal; and we can have serious, even exuberant faith that God is accomplishing his goal within us . . . assuming that we are willing to cooperate with him.

Do you want to have faith in him in this way? Faith that the most powerful and unconquerable Being in existence created you for this purpose and life journey? The inner meaning of the first chapter in Genesis welcomes us to reach out and open our minds to such a faith. In fact, God's entire Word reveals this truth for our minds to understand and grasp!

Is it an accident that God's Word starts with a powerful symbolic story involving the creation of new life out of a lifeless void? Is it just happenstance that the Holy Bible begins with a story of creation? One might wonder if these speak to the core journey that you and I were thrust upon at birth. I am referring to the overall change we need to make from spiritual lifelessness to spiritual "life-fullness." Is Genesis speaking of the change from being oriented in self-centeredness and shallow forms of thinking to life oriented around a deep love for God and for others, and toward higher forms of thinking and understanding?

Yes, Genesis is speaking to our deep need for internal change and transformation. It is no accident that the Bible begins this way. The Lord has given us a "manual for spiritual living" that starts right out summarizing for us the seven stages of spiritual transformation that we each need to traverse with his almighty help--a transformation process that will deeply and fully save us.

Our salvation rests in a great and marvelous transformation process, symbolized by the change we witness every year from the relatively "dead" time we call winter to the incredibly alive time we call spring. The secrets of heaven, and our salvation, are revealed in the life, death, and resurrection of Christ, our Lord. They are also shown in the dynamics of nature: the cycles of birth, growth, fruitfulness, seed production, and death . . . and new life once again when springtime returns.

I appreciate living in a temperate zone where we experience the four seasons. This time of year we are reminded of two things: 1) how wonderful it is to experience a substantive new joining with our Lord and Savior, when his divine love and truth come anew and grow within us; and 2) how the great spiritual growth agenda is foremost in God's mind, as the Lord leads us down a path toward the springtime of love and faith that is God's kingdom.

In the spring, there is a gradual increase in warmth, which is accompanied by an increase in light. Winter has plenty of light, but not much warmth. Temperatures can be frigid even on bright, sunny days. The real key to spring an increase in warmth. This teaches us how crucial it is to invite the Lord's love to make an ever-renewing home in our hearts, minds, and lives.

The real essence of our salvation is God's love becoming more and more a part of our living. With this comes an infinite variety of pleasures, delights, and new ways of thinking. We also need to remember that the heat of the sun never comes in darkness. It always pours forth in the medium of light. Wherever God's love is, so is his light of truth and understanding. God's Creation is a constant reminder that we will always need both his love and his truth. And his truth is found most abundantly in God's Word--in its literal and inner levels of meaning.

A great example of this wisdom happened to me back in the first year of my seminary life, when my sister Renee and I began our theological training together. In my life prior to that time, I had chosen to keep my sister at arm's length, and had cultivated more love and closeness with my two brothers. But as fate would have it, God called my sister and me into ministerial training. And there we were, brother and sister, working and studying intensively in the high-pressure life of seminary.

Never before had Renee and I been challenged to rely so much on one another for love and support. I know that Renee already loved me as her brother with a very deep love; but until this time in my life came, I had not been willing to love her with full openness and vulnerability.

The pressures and difficulties came, and I decided it was time to open my heart to my sister in a new way. I asked the Lord to help me in doing this. That season of Lent in 1992 I repented of the emotional hardness and "stiff-arming" I had been doing toward my only sister, and asked the Lord to melt my anger toward her. The Lord did his great work of melting the ice packs inside my heart . . . and a great spiritual springtime began, which has never quit. When I repented, the Lord transformed my heart.

Yes, spring is truly amazing: when there is an increase in warmth as well as light from the sun; when new shoots of flowers suddenly begin to break through the soil; and when new, baby creatures of all sorts start to hum, buzz, crawl, chirp, hop, and leap their way into life! What signs of spring have you been noticing of late?

Many signs have started to show themselves to my senses: I have felt more warmth coming down on us from above, which is triggering the beautiful jonquils to sprout around our church. I've smelled a new and wonderful smell in the air as Mother Nature begins to awaken--the smell of fresh, living earth warming and readying for new life. I've noticed the return of the beautiful mourning doves, and that ever so soft and tender cooing they do. And I've seen the return of my favorite bird of all: the great Cardinal himself, along with his spouse, Mrs. Cardinal, whom I love. Isn't it invigorating to suddenly see a sleek, beautiful little bird zoom its way into your field of vision, and then land like an inspired little soldier all upright and happy upon a branch that is still looking lifeless without its leaves? I love it! I hope you do, too.

There is no more invigorating time of the year than spring, in my opinion. Let me share with you this lovely poem by E. L. Marsh, titled "The Magic Piper":

There piped a piper in the wood,
     Strange music--soft and sweet--
And all the little wild things
     Came hurrying to his feet.

They sat around him on the grass,
     Enchanted, unafraid,
And listened, as with shining eyes
     Sweet melodies he made.

The wood grew green, and flowers sprang up,
     The birds began to sing;
For the music it was magic,
     And the piper's name was--Spring!

Let us think about the many blessings that come with spring: freshness in the air, wonderful breezes, singing, chirping, so many things growing, both heat and light increasing, baby animals of many kinds emerging, snow and ice melting, fresh streams of water flowing and filling earth with their peaceful sounds, trees and plants budding and starting to blossom, and of course Easter and Resurrection. Every one of these wonderful blessings associated with spring represent and reveal to us the positive and beautiful changes that happen to us when the Lord comes to us anew and afresh! Once repentance and reformation have been sown well into our daily living, then the Lord's spiritual regeneration and transformation happen again, and our journey moves forward through the seven stages of spiritual growth symbolized in chapter one of Genesis.

In short, the kind of good, healthy, invigorating faith in the Lord's power to change and transform us deep down inside, where it really counts, is the sort of faith that is pointed to by those key words in Revelation 21:5: "Behold, I am making all things new!" You and I are being called by the Lord to get on board with this reality and perspective on life. We are being called to allow our everyday thinking and expectations to be lit up by the great power and energy that feeds the Lord's regenerating forces all around and within us.

From a spiritual standpoint, it is very helpful for us to believe in what this renewing time of year represents, and to realize how it is connected so fully with the bursting forth of new and multiplying life that we find in the awesome parable in the opening chapter of Genesis. Those of us who choose to engage the path of repentance and reformation open ourselves spiritually to the Lord's power of internal transformation. We do this when we believe that our spiritual regeneration belongs to the Lord, and not to ourselves. God then changes our minds into living, growing, and fructifying internal landscapes symbolized by the rebirth of nature that we experience in the spring.

We are welcomed by our God to cultivate an energizing expectation of this renewing life force that is going on inside of us. It is from this beautiful and inspiring interior place that a New Church Christian can move out into the world with hope and anticipation, spreading the Good News that the Lord God Jesus Christ reigns, and is constantly bringing his power of renewing life into this world . . . into our very lives. Spiritual trials and tribulations will always be a part of this cycle of life. But we know that the Lord continues his movement toward us, and with him comes the springtime of heaven itself.

In Revelation we read:

Now the dwelling of God is with humans, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. . . . To those who are thirsty I will give to drink without cost from the spring of the water of life. Those who overcome will inherit all this, and I will be their God, and they will be my children. (Revelation 21:3-4, 6-7)

Praise the Lord for his gift of rebirth and new life! Praise him for his mighty deeds! Amen.

Prayer

Dear Lord, as the signs of spring begin to show themselves all around us, we thank you for your eternal love, which is the source of all life and of every springtime. And we thank you not only for the springtime around us, but for the springtime within us. We thank you so much, Lord, for preserving our lives through the dead of the wintertimes within us, and for always bringing us new life, new love, and new joy that pushes aside the old, and renews our souls, our minds, our hearts, and our bodies. Amen.

Rev. Kit Billings