Sermon for Easter 4/20/14
Spring is a fickle season. One day it reminds me of a white Christmas and the next I think of June bustin' out all over. Spring is snow melting and birds singing. It's also flooding season. And potholes. Who'd ever think that little holes in the ground could be headline news? They are, though. The Minneapolis Star-Tribune had a full-page article devoted to pothole haiku. I guess they intended these for use in worship services because they titled the article Hole-y Haiku. My favorite was this one.
There's one new pothole
that I heard about last week
that has a Starbucks.
I was listening to Minnesota Public Radio the day I wrote this sermon and one of the stories being covered was pothole repair. Like everything else we do in government, it turns out that for every dollar we refuse to tax and spend for road repair, we tax and spend seven dollars on temporary maintenance that doesn't last. When will we ever learn? Most people know that when your car's repairs start to cost too much it's time to buy a newer one. Why don't we understand that about maintaining our roads and the rest of our infrastructure?
The official being interviewed on the radio news story regarding pot hole repair said that every year in Minnesota we spend over a billion dollars maintaining our roads, but that every year we are a billion dollars short for doing all the needed maintenance. Yet we can build a billion dollar football stadium. This shows me how skewed our values have become.
But I got to thinking about that and realized that I'm guilty as charged. I'll think hard about making a donation to a food shelf, but I don't give a thought to spending the same amount of money on a dinner at a restaurant. Our feelings govern our thoughts. We act according to what we love. If we stopped to think about everything we do, we'd do things differently a lot of the time. What's that got to do with Easter? The connection may not seem obvious, but it has everything to do with Easter. Easter is the realization of potential.
Before Jesus was born into the natural world, the Son of God did not actually exist. Did you know that? I didn't know that until I read Swedenborg's explanation of why this is true. Until Jesus was born, lived his life, was crucified, and resurrected himself, the Trinity of Father, Son and Holy Spirit was only a potential in God.
God chose to be born into a human nature in the natural world in order to be able to be present with us. In his essential nature, what we call God the Father, God cannot be present with us because we cannot perceive him. By becoming a human person in Jesus Christ, he came into our presence and therefore into our perception. This is why Emanuel Swedenborg insists that we must worship God in the person of Jesus Christ our Savior. It is only in Jesus Christ that we can see and know God. Just like your soul is in your body, Jesus Christ is in the Father and the Father is in him.
Up until the time of Jesus' appearance on the earth people could not see God. There are, of course, incidents such as the one in our Old Testament reading where Jacob understood himself to have wrestled with God and seen God face to face and lived. Swedenborg explains that until the Lord appeared on earth and took on a human nature, his appearances to people were actually in the bodies of angels. He caused the angels to believe they were God. The people to whom these angels appeared understood they were interacting with God. (TCR 109.2)
The result of Jesus' process of fulfilling all the scriptures, even to being crucified on the cross, is called his glorification. This was the process of making his human divine. In his glorification we can see the regeneration that happens to those of us who choose to be made spiritual beings. It is also called being born again. Jesus said we must be born again of water and the spirit.
In other words, we can be changed, resurrected. Just as God changed his physical self into a divine self in Jesus Christ, we can be changed by God into a spiritual self. The big difference is that in Jesus his soul was already divine, being directly from God the Father, or God's essence, while in us there is no life or divinity that belongs to us. We must be changed by God and can only become spiritual, not divine.
Another interesting and little known fact that Swedenborg points out regarding Jesus' human and therefore physical nature, is that without his taking on a truly human nature it would not have been possible for the Lord to be crucified. Only a physical body can die. The spiritual body does not die, even in us. God's divine body certainly cannot die, and in his final act of dying physically on the cross, Jesus had made himself divine even to the extent of his physical body. It is in this that we can understand how it became possible for God to be present among us.
We live in a created universe that has levels. These levels exist inside of us, in our minds. We can rise, transcend, from one level to another. We can transcend this natural level and enter into the spiritual level.
Earlier I said that Easter is the realization of potential. In Jesus Christ, God realized his potential to be in the natural world in a way that we humans can see and understand. His doing so also sets an example for us of how we can be alive in the spiritual world with God. In this way Easter represents the possibility of the realization of our own potential.
Most of us say that when we die we want to go to heaven. That is our stated intention. But there is a difference between intention and realization. The difference is effort. Effort is the means. It is the way we can do it. Jesus said "I am the Way." The way is the means in the trinity, both the Divine Trinity of Father, Son and Holy Spirit, and in the trinity that creates everything. That trinity mirrors the Divine Trinity. The means is the middle of each. In everything that exists there is purpose, means and result. The purpose is the goal, the means is the way it can be achieved and the result is the outcome. Just as Jesus is the means by which we can know God, the spiritual level in our minds, our thought and learning, is the means by which we can come to understand and recognize God. Learning involves effort. Changing our orientation or feeling of the life within us involves that effort.
We all understand that no effort of ours can earn paradise for us. By our own efforts we cannot become good enough to be in heaven. This is simply because our efforts from our self are limited to our natural state and incapable of rising to a spiritual level. Besides, it is one thing to recognize that we need to change and quite another to work at it. We can talk all day about becoming spiritual beings and in the process actually slip further away from being spiritual.
This is because our habits of thought rob us of the energy we need to develop different habits of thought, a different, more spiritual, feeling of self.
To help us understand just what this means, let's take a look at the role of Judas Iscariot in the story of Jesus' crucifixion.
Judas was a thief. According to John 12:6 he kept the moneybox for Jesus and the disciples and he was inclined to take what was in it for himself. Judas loved money, which represents the things of this world. When the opportunity came he sold his chance for eternal life, represented in Jesus Christ, for thirty pieces of silver. Remember, silver represents truth, but in this case it represents false truth. Judas betrayed Jesus, but he also betrayed himself.
We each have a Judas within us. Our Judas robs us constantly. It steals the energy of real truth by which we could change our level of being. It does this because it loves the falsity of evil ideas, that is, ideas that keep us from God. When we respond to our evil desires and our Judas betrays the Lord we deliver Jesus for crucifixion once again.
When this Judas within us starts stealing our mental energy to serve his evil loves we identify with him. We become Judas. We lose track of our true self and identify with his evil passions. Then we believe his lies as if they were our own.
What happened to Judas? He caused the Lord to be crucified and he got his reward. 30 pieces of silver. When he realized what he had done he tried to return the blood money, but he couldn't. It was too late. The devils who paid him wouldn't take it back. He threw the silver down and went and hanged himself.
Nobody killed Judas. He killed himself. Nobody else can kill us spiritually. If we choose to die spiritually, we do it alone. The Lord will not condemn us. We make the choice. We must choose while we are in this world, because it is here that we have the freedom to choose. It is here that the equilibrium exists between good and evil, permitting us to choose.
Our choice isn't so much in big, obvious things. It lies more in the little things that keep us awake at night, and asleep during our waking hours, stewing about how unfair everything is to us.
Of course, there is the one big debt we all have. We owe the Lord everything. Without God and his sacrifice on the cross we could not exist and there would be no possibility of eternal life in paradise.
Can we realize the potential of Easter in ourselves? Can we learn to stop frittering away our mental energy on internal accounting and holding others responsible for our unhappiness? Can we begin to live to repay the gift of life God has given us? Can we make the effort it takes to live according to his will that we should live so as to love one another even as he has loved us? Let us pray: Lord give us the strength and determination to recognize the evil in our own minds and seek to change the way we think so that you can resurrect us to new life with you. Amen.