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Sermons

Rebirth

May 15, 2011

Bible Reading

Then God said, “Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the wild animals of the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth.” So God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them. God blessed them, and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth.”

God said, “See, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit; you shall have them for food. And to every beast of the earth, and to every bird of the air, and to everything that creeps on the earth, everything that has the breath of life, I have given every green plant for food.” And it was so.

God saw everything that he had made, and indeed, it was very good. And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day.

(Genesis 1:26-31)


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 from above.” 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 from above.’ 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.”

(John 3:1-8)


Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “See, the home of God is among mortals. He will dwell with them as their God; they will be his peoples, and God himself will be with them; he will wipe every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more, for the first things have passed away.” And the one who was seated on the throne said, “See, I am making all things new.” Also he said, “Write this, for these words are trustworthy and true.”

(Revelation 21:1-5)

Reading from Swedenborg

All reason shows that man must be regenerated, for he is born into evils of every kind derived from his parents; and these evils have their seat in his natural man, which of itself is diametrically opposed to the spiritual man. Nevertheless man is born for heaven; although he does not enter heaven unless he becomes spiritual, and he can become spiritual only by means of regeneration. From this it follows of necessity that the natural man with its lusts must be subdued, subjugated, and inverted, and that otherwise man cannot approach a single step toward heaven, but sinks deeper and deeper into hell. Who cannot see this, if he believes that he has been born into evils of every kind and acknowledges the existence and contrariety of good and evil, and believes in a life after death, a hell and a heaven, and that evil is what constitutes hell and good is what constitutes heaven?

Viewed in himself the natural man in no way differs in his nature from the nature of beasts. Like them he is wild; but it is as to his will that he is such; in understanding he differs from beasts, in that the understanding can be elevated above the lusts of the will, and not only see but also moderate them; and for this reason man is able to think from understanding, and speak from thought, which beasts cannot do. What man is by birth, and what he would be if not regenerated, can be seen from fierce animals of every kind; that he would be a tiger, a panther, a leopard, a wild hog, a scorpion, a tarantula, a viper, a crocodile, and so on; consequently if he were not transformed by regeneration into a sheep, what would he be but a devil among devils in hell? And in that state, if not restrained by civil laws, would not men from innate ferocity rush upon one another and slaughter each other, and plunder each other even of the last scrap of clothing? . . . External morality is required, for the sake of covering up their internals; and it does that.

(True Christian Religion 574)

Sermon

In everything of nature, particularly in the vegetable kingdom, we witness the principle of rebirth. As a former farmer, growing up on the prairies and seeding crops in the spring, we seeded the various grains, hoping each year for a bumper crop. That often did not happen, because of drought, hail, or grasshoppers. But each year we tried. We had to.

Well, in any case, we watched the process of the grain coming up, maturing, ripening, and then being harvested. That was the cycle. The seed that had been put into the ground had rotted away in order to produce new grain. Jesus told a parable about this process too. Now, in John 3, he gives us another parable about rebirth, this in respect to human beings. He said, “Except a man be born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” Nicodemus wonders how this can be, asking if it is necessary to crawl back into his mothers’ womb and be born again. Jesus says, “Very truly, I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being . . . born from above.” We understand this statement in light of New Church teaching about the three Rs, namely, repentance, reformation, and regeneration. Without these processes we cannot see the kingdom of God.

This matter of rebirth has always been a relevant topic for me.

Let us consider the matter of the translation with respect to the correspondences of this matter of “rebirth.” The New Revised Standard Version translates the words of Jesus as “No one can see the kingdom of God without being born . . . from above.” Now note this statement from Swedenborg’s True Christian Religion 576: “The new birth or creation is effected by the Lord alone through charity and faith as the two means of man co-operating.” It must be perfectly clear, then, that it is the Lord alone through whom salvation or rebirth comes, but it must be with a person’s unforced participation. There can be no salvation just from mercy or love on the part of our Lord Jesus. We must act in perfect freedom according to our understanding. Yes, and the matter and process of regenerating is an ongoing process, even to eternity. Each step along with way or each plateau we achieve is described by the days of creation in the Genesis account. Few people, Swedenborg says, even reach the third day of creation here in this life. But the start has to be made here, as is expressed by the statement about the evening and the morning, when there was light, was the first day. It is at that stage that regeneration begins, which shows how important it is to be enlightened from the Word—or, in other words, to have our understanding raised into the light of heaven rather than just be occupied by all the material baggage of each day.

At this point it is useful, I believe, to share with you this passage from the book True Christian Religion 586: “That a person can be regenerated gradually may be illustrated by each and all things that come into existence in the natural world. A tree cannot reach its full worth in a day, but there is first growth from the seed, then from the root and then from the shoot, which becomes the trunk, and from this go forth branches and leaves and finally blossoms and fruit.” Rebirth and regeneration don’t happen suddenly or overnight. We all have a lot of soul searching to do—yes, and a lot of pruning and weeding. It reminds me of planting two cherry trees when Lisa and I moved to the Okanagoan valley of British Columbia. They have been mature for some time now, with lots of cherries each year. But last year we had lots of worms. Why? Because I didn’t spray properly. But why should there be fruit flies and worms? That’s how insidious and subtle a lot of temptations are.

Well, we may say that we should keep our gardens and orchards clean of weeds and insects so that spraying would not be necessary. In the same way, if we are going to have our own personal lives be useful and fruitful we will need to do a lot of examination, a lot of spiritual pruning and weeding.

We are all destined and born for heaven, and as far as our loving creator is concerned (if we can put it that way), we are, ideally, a “heaven in least form.” And we know that the Lord’s heaven on earth is the Church. That doesn’t mean, obviously, a particular church denomination or organization. But we do have church organizations, including ours, which are subject to the same wiles and insidious temptations from the hells as a human being can be subjected to. So then a church as well as the individual must go through continual states of rebirth. A church, organizationally, cannot be a church without people. Therefore, it does seem clear that the state and quality of the church, so far as we can judge from externals, is of the same general quality as the individual. If this is the case, then, judging by numbers, our church organization, both internationally and locally, must be in rather poor shape. But I really do not think that such is the case or that it is that simple. It is quite possible that in the matter of rebirth some part of the church organization must die in order to produce or bring into fruition something new and better, something more effective as a means of helping people in their own personal rebirth and regeneration. What that will be is a continuing challenge for us and for those who come after us.

The book of Revelation tells us about the New Jerusalem, a new church which, we have been told, is to follow the first Christian church, or to be the Christian church renewed. I believe this without a doubt. I also believe that there has to be, at least for some time, a natural organization made up of people like us, whose job it will be to assume the role of disciples or apostles of the New Age. This is our challenge. Are we up to it? The Lord alone knows that. As we all, I hope, regenerate and are being “born from above,” we will gain new incentives and new energy and strength to do what our predecessors did before us. Who knows? Their inspiration and influence from the spiritual world may be with us today. Amen.

Prayer

Let nothing disturb or dismay us, O God,
for all things are passing and you alone are unchanging.
Teach us that all things are wrought in patience
and that those who possess you lack nothing
and that our sufficiency is in you alone.

- St. Teresa of Avila (1515-1582)


Living God, you have given us a living hope in the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. Grant that we, being risen with him, may seek the things which are above, and be made partakers of the life eternal; through the same Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

- Eric Milner-White, Daily Prayer, 1941

Rev. Erwin Reddekopp