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Love is Life

Sermons

Living from Love

March 18, 2012

Bible Reading

The spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me; he has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed, to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and release to the prisoners; to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all who mourn; to provide for those who mourn in Zion— to give them a garland instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, the mantle of praise instead of a faint spirit. They will be called oaks of righteousness, the planting of the Lord, to display his glory.

They shall build up the ancient ruins, they shall raise up the former devastations; they shall repair the ruined cities, the devastations of many generations. but you shall be called priests of the Lord, you shall be named ministers of our God; you shall enjoy the wealth of the nations, and in their riches you shall glory. Because their shame was double, and dishonor was proclaimed as their lot, therefore they shall possess a double portion; everlasting joy shall be theirs. For I the Lord love justice, I hate robbery and wrongdoing; I will faithfully give them their recompense, and I will make an everlasting covenant with them. Their descendants shall be known among the nations, and their offspring among the peoples; all who see them shall acknowledge that they are a people whom the Lord has blessed.

I will greatly rejoice in the Lord, my whole being shall exult in my God; for he has clothed me with the garments of salvation, he has covered me with the robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom decks himself with a garland, and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels. For as the earth brings forth its shoots, and as a garden causes what is sown in it to spring up, so the Lord God will cause righteousness and praise to spring up before all the nations.

(Isaiah 61:1-4, 6-11)


When the Lord restored the fortunes of Zion, we were
like those who dream.
Then our mouth was filled with laughter, and our
tongue with shouts of joy; then it was said among
the nations, “The Lord has done great things for
them.”
The Lord has done great things for us, and we
rejoiced.
Restore our fortunes, O Lord, like the watercourses in
the Negeb.
May those who sow in tears reap with shouts of joy.
Those who go out weeping, bearing the seed for
sowing, shall come home with shouts of joy,
carrying their sheaves.

(Psalm 126)

Sermon

Today we consider the third of Swedenborg’s “three R’s.” The three “R’s” are repentance, reformation, and regeneration. This Sunday we look at regeneration. Swedenborg’s terms can be a little confusing because he uses the same word for two ideas. Regeneration in a general sense means the whole process of rebirth, which takes a lifetime and even continues into the next life. But regeneration in a specific sense means the third of the three “R’s.” In its specific sense, as the third of the three “R’s,” regeneration means a final state that we achieve in our spiritual growth. It is when our struggles are over. It is when we act from love freely. It is a time when temptation ends and we are at peace. We live eternally in heaven’s joys, no longer burdened with vexations from the world and our lower selves. When we reach the stage called regeneration, then God is fully born in our hearts. The coming of the Lord is complete.

Our Psalm reading captures the happiness we know when we are fully regenerated. It is a time when, as the Psalm says, “Our mouths [a]re filled with laughter, our tongues with songs of joy.” We fully acknowledge that God has worked salvation in us, and we say, “The LORD has done great things for us, and we are filled with joy.”

The stage of regeneration is also captured in our reading from Isaiah. The prophet speaks for us all when he says,

I delight greatly in the Lord,
my soul rejoices in my God.
For He has clothed me with garments of salvation
and arrayed me in a robe of righteousness,
as a bridegroom adorns his head like a priest,
and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels (Isaiah 61:10).

When we have reached the stage of regeneration, we have been saved. So we are clothed in garments of salvation. We are filled with love for God, so we rejoice greatly in the Lord. Filled with holiness and heavenly love, Isaiah captures our regenerated condition, “You will be called priests of the Lord, you will be named ministers of our God.” “Priests” and “ministers” mean those who are filled with heavenly love and those whose minds are filled with heavenly wisdom.

The processes of repentance, reformation, and regeneration go like this: First, we see sin in ourselves. We fully recognize our shadow and accept that it is in us. This is the process of repentance. Second, we learn the path that God would have us walk. We gather truths from many different sources. We learn teachings that instruct us about who God is and what the heavenly life is. Then we work on our thoughts, our emotions, and our behaviors and bring them in line with the way we have been taught. This is the stage called reformation. Finally, a great shift takes place in our personality. Instead of acting from what we know, we act from what we love. In this stage, our heart takes the first place, not our thinking. We have trained ourselves to feel heavenly loves, and these are all we desire. Now thought becomes subordinate to love. From what we love, we know what is true. Our hearts can feel truth when we hear it. We no longer have to figure things out with our minds. We have so learned what heavenly love is like that we instinctively do it and follow our hearts. We no longer need our minds to tell us what to do. As Swedenborg says, “The first is a state of thought from the understanding, and the second a state of love from the will” (True Christianity 571). This is the stage called regeneration.

I found this process well-illustrated in a passage from Confucius. In his Analects, he writes,

The Master said, At fifteen I set my heart upon learning. At thirty, I had planted my feet firmly upon the ground. At forty, I no longer suffered from perplexities. At fifty, I knew what were the biddings of Heaven. At sixty, I heard them with docile ear. At seventy, I could follow the dictates of my own heart; for what I desired no longer overstepped the boundaries of right. (Confucius, Analects, Book II, no. 4)

The Master begins his faith journey with a desire to learn. Learning the Way and how to walk in it is the beginning. This is at the age of fifteen. Then, learning all the while, it isn’t until he reaches the age of fifty that the Master can say, “I knew what were the biddings of heaven.” He has spent his life learning what the ways of heavenly life are. His faith journey implies struggle in applying what he knows about heavenly life to his own life. It isn’t until the Master gets to sixty that he hears the biddings with a “docile ear.” I take this to mean that he hears heavenly truth without resistance from his lower self and the ego and selfishness that can sometimes dominate our lower self. Then, at the age of seventy, the Master enters the stage that Swedenborg would call regeneration. Confucius can follow his heart freely. He can do this because he has learned the biddings of heaven first. Then he has implemented them in his life and formed his life around what he has learned. Then, after training himself to love what he has learned about heaven, he can follow his heart. He says, “At seventy, I could follow the dictates of my own heart, for what I desired no longer overstepped the boundaries of right.”

So the stage of regeneration is a stage of love. We act from love, not from teachings about love. The stage called regeneration is also a stage of freedom, for we act freely from our hearts with no constraint or compulsion. We are no longer restraining our dark side, because we have overcome it. We are no longer compelling our feet to walk in God’s commands because we do them willingly. Our minds no longer tell us what to do. Rather, our hearts tell us what to think. We love doing what is good. And from our good feelings, we see what is true. Swedenborg writes of this process as follows:

“When this latter state begins and is progressing, a change takes place in the mind; the mind undergoes a reversal, the love of the will then flowing into the understanding, acting upon it and leading it to think in accord and agreement with its love; and in consequence so far as the good of love comes to act the first part and the truths of faith the second, man is spiritual and is a new creature; and he then acts from charity and speaks from faith; he feels the good of charity and perceives the truth of faith; and he is then in the Lord, and in peace, and thus regenerate” (True Christianity 571).

Love, after all, is the primary thing of religion. We do indeed seek out teachings and religious truths. But for Swedenborg, the point of spiritual truth is only to lead us into love and into a good life. He even says that truths fall away from us and dissolve like fall leaves if we haven’t incorporated them into our lives. For Swedenborg, truth serves one function only: to lead us into love.

Ralph Waldo Emerson took issue with this aspect of Swedenborg’s theology. Emerson admired Swedenborg’s mind and intellect. He was impressed with Swedenborg’s philosophical and scientific accomplishments. And he was also impressed with how rational Swedenborg’s theology is. He felt that Swedenborg cheated his own mind by subordinating intellect to feeling—mind to heart. And as a philosopher in his own right, Emerson wanted mind to be preferred over heart.

I see so much humility in Swedenborg when he makes this statement about love. Here was a man credited as one of the greatest geniuses in the history of the Western world—and yet this ponderous genius claims that intellect can only go so far. He lays aside his intelligence in favor of a loving heart. He lays aside all his knowledge to valorize a good life as the goal of knowing.

I think that our society, sadly, agrees for the most part with Emerson. I think that we value intelligence too much. We flatter a mother when we say that her child is smart or intelligent. We look up to smart people. But how often do we praise others for being loving? Do we give kindness and gentleness the same praise we do intelligence? Would a mother be as flattered should someone say of her child, “He or she is so loving and kind!”?

But love is where it’s at. Jesus tells us this plainly and simply: “My command is this: Love each other” (John 15:12).

I am reminded of a story that one of the ancient Church Fathers told. It was about the Apostle John. John was very advanced in years. He was so old that he had to be carried wherever he went. On one occasion he was asked to speak at a dinner attended by early Christians. All he said was, “Little children, love one another.”

Someone spoke up. “Is that all you have to say? I have heard you before, and that is all you ever say.”

John replied, “That is all I remember, resting my head on Christ’s breast; and if you do that, it is enough.”

Love is where it’s at. Little children, love one another.

Prayers

Forgive us, O Lord, when we listen but do not hear; when we look but do not see; and when we feel but do not act; and by your mercy and grace draw us into the righteous deeds of your Kingdom of justice and peace; through Christ our Lord. Amen.
- Maria Hare (1798-1870)

   Safeguard your faithful people in the sanctuary of
your love, O God.
Shelter them this night in the shelter of the saints.
God to enfold them
God to surround them
God in their watching
God in their hoping
God in their sleeping
God in their ever-living souls.
- Prayers from Iona

Peace between neighbors,
Peace between kindred,
Peace between lovers,
In the love of the King of Life.
Peace between person and person,
Peace between wife and husband,
Peace between woman and children,
The peace of Christ above all peace.
Bless, O Christ, my face,
Let my face bless everything;
Bless, O Christ, mine eye,
Let mine eye bless all it sees.
- Carmina Gaedelica (20th century)

O God, who by your son Jesus Christ has set up on earth a Kingdom of holiness, to measure its strength above all others: make faith to prevail over fear, and righteousness over force, and truth over the lie, and love and concord over all things; through the same Jesus Christ our Lord.
- War Prayers, King’s College, Cambridge

Lord, help us to see that every act of kindness,
Every word of forgiveness, every gesture of love,
Seen or unseen, however small,
Changes the world, and us, forever.
- Frank Topping

Rev. Dr. David J. Fekete