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Sermons

A New Beginning

January 05, 2014

Bible Readings

In the beginning, when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was without form, and void, and darkness was on the face of the deep. And the spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters. Then God said, “Let there be light”; and there was light. And God saw the light, that it was good; and God divided the light from the darkness. God called the light day, and the darkness he called night. So the evening and the morning were the first day.

(Genesis 1:1-5)


It came to pass in those days that Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee, and was baptized by John in the Jordan. And immediately, coming up from the water, he saw the heavens parting and the spirit descending upon him like a dove. Then a voice came from heaven, “You are my beloved son, in whom I am well pleased.”

(Mark 1:9-11)

Sermon

The creation of the world, the baptism of Jesus, our baptism. A new world, a new name, a new beginning. Baptism represents the application of truth to daily living. As such, it pictures our being born anew and becoming children of light.

Our Scripture lessons combine the story of the baptism of Jesus (in which he also instituted baptism as a sacrament of spiritual cleansing) with the story of God¹s creation and giving of light. Baptism also represents for the Christian a new beginning. As Swedenborgian Christians, we do not see the spiritual washing as cleansing from original sin, but as representing, for the child and the adult, an intention to walk in the light from the Lord as he gives it to us to see it. It is a sacrament for us because we believe we are actually joined spiritually with the forces of the angelic heavens.

Whether we talk about our new life in the Lord or any other new project, we shall find that this is true: in any new beginning, there will be darkness, emptiness, confusion.

This age-old truth comes to us vividly in the words of the author of Genesis: “In the beginning, when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was without form and void, and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the spirit of God was hovering over the face of waters.”

Each of us has experienced the confusion, the feeling of bewilderment, the unnerving state of not knowing where to take the next step when launching a new enterprise—whether the first day of school, the first day on a new job, a first date, writing a paper, or repairing a faulty piece of equipment. There is an initial period of orientation, of discovering a starting place. All of this is known to us through our past experience.

We find in the theological heritage of Emanuel Swedenborg and some of the early Swedenborgian theologians a significant spiritual perspective on the book of Genesis. In his opening paragraph of commentary on Genesis, Swedenborg writes: “From the mere letter of the Word of the Old Testament no one would ever discern the fact that this part of the word contains deep secrets of heaven, and that everything within it, both in general and in particular, bears reference to the Lord—to his heaven, to the church, to religious belief, and to all things connected therewith.” (Arcana Coelestia #1)

Too many Christians are bound by the literal meanings in Genesis. They use them to argue against even the most sophisticated and spiritual concepts of evolution, arguing strenuously that this planet is the only one containing life, that God created this planet 4,000 years ago in the precise manner outlined in Genesis.

But Swedenborg discovered through a process of revelation that deeper symbolic meanings are contained within the literal story. The story of creation is the story of our life, our rebirth. It is the story of every human life, in its development. Because our spiritual life unfolds in steps and stages in a creative process, the story of creation helps us understand why it is that in every beginning there is darkness, emptiness, and confusion.

The earth without form and void, with darkness upon the face of the deep, is a pictorial image of our spiritual state prior to being reborn. The phrase “being in the dark” is a universal symbol of lacking knowledge or information. We are all in the dark before the Lord enlightens us. We are all in the dark when we are beginning a new project and have to absorb information and gain knowledge about its details.

Fortunately, we are not left alone in our darkness. The spirit of God moves over the waters of our spirit and commands that there be light. We are invited to approach that light-giving spirit in Jesus, who declares: “I am the light of world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness but will have the light of life.” As further testimony of the Lord¹s desire for us to have light that we may see, we find the many instances of Jesus healing the blind. Each instance is symbolic, yet based in fact.

In order for such healings to take place in our spiritual development, it is only necessary at the beginning that we acknowledge the darkness in which we find ourselves, ask the Lord’s guidance, and follow the light we are given. Moreover, if we acknowledge our tendency to love ourselves more than others and to ask for the Lord’s help in changing the direction of this love, we will find that the Lord¹s love and wisdom can then flow in. In his book Divine Providence, Emanuel Swedenborg presents a picture of how this happens:

“On the removal of self-love: The Lord enters with the affections of neighborly love, opening the overhead window and then the side windows, thus enabling the person to see that there is a heaven, a life after death, and eternal happiness. By the spiritual light and at the same time the spiritual love which then flow in, the Lord causes the person to acknowledge that God governs all things by his divine providence” (#207).

It is the Lord’s constant desire that we turn to him to be delivered from the destructive love of ourselves above everyone else; then we may find the light that leads to our eternal happiness.

Certainly each of us has made much progress, through the Lord’s divine providence, in our personal journey from darkness to light. Yet, while in this world, we shall never find ourselves completely enlightened. Rather, we hope we are engaged in a process of gradual enlightenment. As long as we are being regenerated, we shall find ourselves periodically in states of darkness, void, formlessness, and confusion. Each affection of our will that is not in harmony with the divine goodness and truth needs to be redirected. Spiritual enlightenment is ever the first step in such redirection. We can be sure of the Lord¹s love leading and guiding us and perfecting us to eternity—and we can also be sure that there will be constantly recurring states of darkness and light.

I find great hope and encouragement in the story of creation. I find comfort in the sure knowledge that darkness is to be expected as part of life. I find the greatest hope of all in the Lord’s providence, which moves as a spiritual force over the face of the deep; that is, over our spiritual rebirthing.

Let us turn to the Lord, that he may open our eyes. May we find ourselves in the happy condition of the man who was blind from birth and given sight by the Lord. May we declare as he did: “This one thing I know, that though I was blind, now I see.” Amen.

Prayers

Lord Jesus Christ, my God, you have said, “Apart from me You can do nothing.” In faith I embrace Your words, Lord, and I entreat your goodness. Help me to carry out the work I am about to begin, and to bring it to completion. To you I give glory. Amen.

My Lord and Savior, you became man and labored with your hands until the time of your ministry. Bless me as I begin my work, and help me to bring it to completion. Enlighten my mind and strengthen my body, that I may accomplish my task according to your will. Guide me to bring about works of goodness to your service and glory. Amen.

- Transfiguration Greek Orthodox Church


This is the day of light:
Let there be light to-day;
O Dayspring, rise upon our night,
And chase its gloom away.

This is the day of rest:
Our failing strength renew;
On weary brain and troubled breast
Shed Thou Thy freshening dew.

This is the day of peace:
Thy peace our spirit’s fill;
Bid Thou the blasts of discord cease,
The waves of strife be still.

This is the day of prayer:
Let earth to heaven draw near;
Lift up our hearts to seek Thee there,
Come down to meet us here.

This is the first of days:
Send forth Thy quickening breath,
And wake dead souls to love and praise,
O Vanquisher of death!

- John Ellerton

Rev. Robert F. Tafel