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Sermons

Striking the Balance

August 26, 2012

Bible Reading

For God alone my soul waits in silence; from him
comes my salvation.
He alone is my rock and my salvation, my fortress; I
shall never be shaken.
How long will you assail a person, will you batter
your victim, all of you, as you would a leaning
wall, a tottering fence?
Their only plan is to bring down a person of
prominence. They take pleasure in falsehood; they
bless with their mouths, but inwardly they curse.
Selah
For God alone my soul waits in silence, for my hope is
from him.
He alone is my rock and my salvation, my fortress; I
shall not be shaken.
On God rests my deliverance and my honor; my
mighty rock, my refuge is in God.
Trust in him at all times, O people; pour out your
heart before him; God is a refuge for us. Selah
Those of low estate are but a breath, those of high
estate are a delusion; in the balances they go up;
they are together lighter than a breath.
Put no confidence in extortion, and set no vain hopes
on robbery; if riches increase, do not set your heart
on them.
Once God has spoken; twice have I heard this: that
power belongs to God,
and steadfast love belongs to you, O Lord. For you
repay to all according to their work.

(Psalm 62)

Reading from Swedenborg

No spiritual credit or blame is put on us simply from what we think. It comes only from what we will and intend. Our will is our love, but our thinking isn’t; it is our understanding of things. So our will and love is always searching what we think about, wanting it to back up and support what we love. This, of course, can be for good or for evil, but whatever it is for, we will feel it as good. Now, our first state is for us to be led by our own wills and for ourselves. The Lord gives us what is good and true from himself, and in our thinking our own will and the Lord’s will are weighed against each other like a pair of scales. If we choose our own will, we will make everything from the Lord fit with that. If we choose the Lord’s will, we will make everything from the Lord fit with that.

(True Christian Religion 658-659)

Sermon

God has spoken once, twice I have
heard this:
that power belongs to God.

A man who went on to write a groundbreaking book said that his understanding about life was completely changed when he once went walking along a beach and noticed the tide and the way it surged and shrank. Up it came, down it went, forwards and backwards all the time, and no doubt it always had, and very regularly, in a perfect kind of rhythm. Now this man was a scientist, but he had also studied the religions of the East, and from this beach experience he went on to write a book that described how what we call physics and its laws closely resembles and even matches all the spiritual ideas in Eastern religions. They are the same, he said, exactly the same.

So what does the tide do? Basically, it gives us a great picture of the balance present in everything—in our life, in nature, but most importantly in our personal experiences and decisions. We walk … left foot, then right foot, left then right. Amazing. So simple we miss it. Seasons—there’s another. Being awake and being asleep: too obvious even to mention. One that always stuns me is that air pressure and blood pressure are equal, so they cancel each other out, leaving me unaware of either of them and feeling as free as a bird. Balance—balance—balance, in everything.

OK, that’s all very interesting, but is it relevant? Is there anything we’re supposed to do as a result of knowing it? Well, probably not for a lot of it. Tell someone that walking along, going left right left right, is incredibly fascinating, and they will give you a funny look.

But there are things about balance that become extremely relevant. I’ll give you one to begin with that is a kind of halfway house. You probably know that inside our ears, each ear (note the balance there!), are semi-circular canals with liquid in them. They regulate our physical balance all the time and keep us standing up while we’re doing all kinds of things. If you get vertigo, there’s a problem in your middle ear with this fluid.

Now, I want you to notice that this balance is being kept up inside your ears. Not in your elbows, not in your backbone, but inside your ears. What do our ears do? Well, that’s easy: they hear. Our hearing is very closely connected to the world around us, and of sonic radar, like bats with moths. But I want to push this further and say that hearing God, hearing what the Lord says, hearing about good and truth, hearing about good and evil, right and wrong—all that spiritual hearing and the moral things in life that they talk about work in exactly the same way. Think about Jesus’ parable about the sower. What did he say at the end? “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.” There you have it.

So balance in everything becomes really relevant to us; it’s not just philosophy. Let’s go right inside ourselves into what life can feel like. I know that sometimes life is plain sailing, straightforward, maybe for ages—and then suddenly it’s not. Something happens to change all that and it is hard, frightening, and panic-inducing. Why? What do we make of that? How do we handle that? Sometimes it’s not just one thing but a number of things that happen together to upset everything, as if life actually bunches things up. What do we make of that?

What we probably do is think that the plain-sailing time was the normal set-up and the frightening change of events was abnormal. And we’d be partly right. Life, even the gift of life from God, is generally meant to be even-keeled. We don’t go around expecting crises and disasters or upsets, of course, or else we’d go crazy. But we’re missing something even so. We’re missing the balance in it all, the reality that life as a whole is going to involve this basic rhythm that the man on the beach was discovering. Physical life will always be like that, because we just don’t live in a cotton-wool kind of world. So to say, when something happens, “This shouldn’t have happened” is a bit out of balance. It’s much more helpful to start out from the idea that what happens, happens—the whole caboodle.

And, of course, it’s easy to start thinking that maybe God is making it happen. “Perhaps he is punishing me for something, but I have no idea what it is.” I would say to that, “Keep right out of that kind of thought.” God does not punish people. God does not send events. All God does is create the world as it is and then help us deal with it, but on another level that is not just physical. And God, in making the world as it is, permits balance to exist in everything. So a healthier outlook is to see everything as being part of everything together.

Another experience we have—and this one is much more within our ability to do something about it—is that sometimes we feel right, confident, and bright, but sometimes we feel frail, uncertain, and not right. That is pretty universal to us all, and both of those feelings just come and go, come and go. I’m not talking about feeling rundown or heading for the flu. I mean the state we’re in, pure and simple, perhaps inexplicably. Again, it’s a balance, and the best thing to do is simply to take it as exactly that—the rhythm of it all. This is now personal to us, not physical. And at this point I would bring God into it much more directly and say God is very involved on this level. Don’t get me wrong, though: God is not looking at his wristwatch or pulling levers saying, “Time you got a bit stressed, Julian,” or “That’s long enough; I’ll switch it off.” It’s actually far more purposeful, because God really wants things to get somewhere and get better. God is always into “better than it was,” and if I were starting up a new religion, I would undoubtedly base it on the worship of “betterment.”

I want to say two things on God’s involvement with us as our feelings of brightness and frailty switch back and forth. First of all, there is the whole business of there being heaven and hell. Never mind what they are or why they are; they are in some way connected to us, and they do influence us. Think of heaven and hell as energies for good and bad, rightness or wrongness, love for others or love only for yourself. More usefully, think of them as efforts to build us up or break us down. And there we are in the middle, in this balance or equilibrium. Both of them connect with us in our thoughts and feelings, which of course seem to be our own, but these thoughts and feelings are coming into us and going out of us all the time. The most important point is that we are not at their mercy. No! We also have our state and what we want to do about our state. That is ours. It is also the thing that God is really closely involved with.

This point brings us to the second thing, which was put very well in that reading from our teachings.

No spiritual credit or blame is put on us simply from what we think. It comes only from what we will and intend. Our will is our love, but our thinking isn’t; it is our understanding of things. So our will and love are always searching what we think about, wanting it to back up and support what we love. This, of course, can be for good or for evil, but whatever it is for, we will feel it as good. Now, our first state is for us to be led by our own will and for ourselves. The Lord gives us what is good and true from himself, and in our thinking our own will and the Lord’s will are weighed against each other like a pair of scales. If we choose our own will, we will make everything from the Lord fit with that. If we choose the Lord’s will, we will make everything from the Lord fit with that.

That’s it. What a balance! Part of me wants to have everything fit what I want, but the Lord doesn’t leave it like that, so he makes darn sure that part of me is aware that there’s a different and less selfish way to be. And we’re going to feel both, because we must in order to choose. I’d say we are going to keep on feeling both, as we keep on dealing with these fluctuations of feeling right or feeling wrong, feeling strong or feeling weak. They aren’t going to come to an end, either, because there will always be new and as yet undiscovered parts to make choices about.

In the Bible, in Psalm 62, it says, “God has spoken once, twice I have heard this: that power belongs to God.” Twice? I’ve heard that hundreds of times! But that’s not the point. Power belongs to God when everything feels good and I can say, “Thank you, God” and mean it. But I also find out that power belongs to God when nothing feels right. When I choose well, I am brought out of that which had its use for me, and I am back to myself, my true balance. Amen.

Rev. Julian Duckworth