Sermon for April 6, 2014
We are in the midst of the Lenten season. It is a time for examination and contemplation of our lives and the state we are in. The new year in the Jewish calendar begins at this time of year. The spring equinox marks the new beginning of growth. The frost thaws and new life springs up. The frozen ice and snow that have locked the land in their wintry grip melt away, releasing the potential energy held in their frozen waters to nourish the new plants and transform the earth. It is a time that corresponds with new birth within.
We resolve to change in some small way during this time, giving up something of our external loves as a token of our recognition that our true life is spiritual. It is in our human selves that the physical and the spiritual meet.
Rev. Edward Craig Mitchell, was a former pastor of this church. While he was here he wrote a book entitled Scripture Symbolism. In it he explained the relationship between the natural world and the spiritual world.
"There are two worlds, the natural and the spiritual, which are distinct and different in kind. They are.....different conditions of life.
Substances are of two kinds, natural and spiritual. The spiritual world is all that part of the universe which is composed of spiritual substances. And the natural world is all that part of the universe which is composed of natural substances. Everything which is spiritual in substance, is necessarily in the spiritual world; and everything which is formed of natural substances is necessarily in the natural world, the material world.......
In man these two worlds meet, for all that is spiritual in him is in the spiritual world, and all that is natural or material is in the material world."
What Rev. Mitchell is saying here is that it is no further from the natural world to the spiritual world than it is from our bodies to our minds.
Our physical bodies are material, but we have a spiritual body within it. Sometimes, if a person is in deep meditation, it is possible to see one's own spiritual body. Our minds are spiritual, but they reside within our bodies. However, our minds have different levels. The outermost level of mind is really in the natural world, because it consists of knowledge and memories that we have acquired in this world. This is what Swedenborg and others refer to as the natural or external mind.
Maurice Nicoll, a well-known Jungian psychiatrist who was a student of Swedenborgian thought called this our feeling of self.
How do you feel yourself? Another way to understand this might be to ask, "How are you oriented to life?" Do you feel yourself as a person in the external world? Or are you oriented within? Do you feel yourself from your spiritual self? I might be wrong in saying this, but I will venture to say that all of us in this room feel ourselves from the external most of the time. We are oriented to external life. We grew up from infancy becoming more and more oriented to the physical world, and spend almost all of our time feeling our self from that perspective.
What that means is that we have some work to do. Lent is a good time to start. These weeks leading up to the celebration of the Lord's glorification on the cross and his resurrection from the tomb symbolize for us the journey we must make if we wish to learn to feel ourselves from the spiritual reality in which we are intended to live.
This period of forty days of Lent represent the forty years the Israelites wandered in the wilderness of the Sinai Peninsula. God did not lead them directly from Egypt to the Promised Land. Egypt, if you remember, corresponds with the natural self, the self in which we normally feel ourselves. While we are in this self we are enslaved. The things of the physical world enslave us. Moses corresponds with divine law. The five books he wrote called the Pentateuch, delivered the law of God to the Israelites. Chief among these laws are the Ten Commandments. If we choose to live by these laws, by God's design, we are able to find our way out of the desert. We can begin to feel ourselves as spiritual beings rather than physical beings.
The Passover is the Jewish celebration that occurs from the fourteenth to the twenty-first day of their first month. This coincides with the last week before Easter, when our Lord had entered Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover. If you recall, the first Passover happened when God had warned Pharaoh that if he did not let God's people go the firstborn of every household in Egypt would die. To signal the angel of death to pass over a house where the Israelites lived, the Israelites were told to prepare a meal of lamb roast with fire and to sprinkle the blood of the lamb on the doorposts and lintels of their houses. A lamb corresponds with innocence which Swedenborg tells us is to "know, acknowledge, and believe, not with the mouth but with the heart, that nothing but evil is from one's self, and that all good is from the Lord."
This innocence is what we must attain if we are to be able to feel our self from the spiritual. Innocence means harmlessness. What makes us harmful? We hurt others when we defend our self. When we put our self first, when we feel our self above all else in order to be sure we are getting what we want to satisfy the yearnings of our natural self, we destroy our innocence. The Israelites were told to roast the lamb with fire. This means that innocence must be practiced with love, since fire corresponds with love.
That is what Swedenborg is referring to when he says it must be done with the heart, not the mouth. Lip service to innocence is nothing but words. Our words must be works. Put your money where your mouth is, the saying goes. We must live from innocence, not just preach it.
The Israelites were to eat unleavened bread because leavening in those days was a bit of leftover sour dough. Leftover sour dough corresponds with old, false ideas, those ideas that we hold when we feel our selves from the external in us. These ideas lack any understanding of God and his design. If we are to become spiritual we must think in a new way. That's what it means to repent.
The word used in the Bible that means to repent is metanoia. Literally it means to think in a new way. To become spiritual we must change our minds. We must think in a new way. To do this we must feel our self differently than we are in the habit of feeling. Krishnamurti told people to "look inside." Turn around in yourself and look inward to see what is there. The instant you turn around in yourself and look inside you will feel yourself differently.
The Israelites spent forty years after the first Passover wandering in the wilderness. It was a case of hurry up and wait. They were to leave Egypt immediately. They were to eat the Passover meal with their loins girded. This was to symbolize the need to be ready to go immediately. They were not to tarry any longer in Egypt. They were told to ask the Egyptians for gold and silver jewelry, which the Egyptians were glad to give them if they would only go away and take their plagues with them.
This gold and silver jewelry corresponds with that which we learn in our natural self that is useful or valuable to our spiritual self. We are to take those ideas that are useful, innocent and harmless to others, but beneficial to our spiritual self, into our new feeling of self. Then we are to set out immediately.
It does not help us to put off turning around in our self because we are busy with the things of our natural life. The fact is we don't need to. We can function perfectly well in the physical world while thinking in a new way. It takes more mindfulness. But wherever we are, whatever we are engaged in, we can be turned to the Lord. We can be tuned to the Lord. We can be listening to what the Lord has to tell us about how to be innocent in what we are doing, how we can do what we need to do without harming others. Or, if that isn't possible, we can avoid doing things that are harmful to others. This is what the bitter herbs in the Passover meal represent.
The bitter herbs they were to eat correspond with the temptations we face as we strive to become spiritual beings. Here's where the hurry up and wait comes in. No one is born again in a moment. Some religions preach this. Some believe we can announce our desire to believe in the Lord and be born again and that somehow that takes place immediately, with no further effort on the part of the convert. The Bible warns us that this is not possible. The Israelites spent forty years in the wilderness before they were led into the Promised Land.
The Lord cannot change us miraculously. We must work at it. We must gradually set aside our natural desires and take up spiritual desires. We must begin to love the Lord more than our self. If the Lord miraculously changed us into spiritual beings in an instant there would be nothing left of us. We are natural through and through. It takes a long time for the Lord to bring to our awareness all the things we love that are not good for us and encourage us to want to give them up. As we do this he is able to replace them with things from himself that are good for us. But this takes a long time. It cannot happen instantly.
During the week between his entry into Jerusalem and his crucifixion the Lord instituted the Last Supper when he celebrated the Passover with his disciples. They went into an upper room and ate bread and drank wine. The upper room corresponds with our higher self. It is the spiritual within us. The bread corresponds with the Lord's love for us and the wine corresponds with the wisdom he can impart to us to bring us into communion with him. Just as the Passover represented the deliverance of the Israelites from their bondage in Egypt, the Lord's Supper corresponds for us with our deliverance from the bondage of the hells.
So this is what the Lenten season stands for. This is a time to renew our determination to live according to God's design for us. Let us seek to develop a stronger sense of the spiritual inside us and turn ourselves to God. Let us keep in mind the symbol of the Paschal Lamb, the innocence that leads to selfless, loving behavior in keeping with God's design for our lives. As we approach the celebration of the Lord's resurrection let us remember the sacrifice he made to make our salvation possible and strive to live lives worthy of his sacrifice and his love for us. Let us pray.
O Lord, turn us to you and give us the strength and understanding to live harmless and loving lives, ever mindful of your love for us and the need for us to return that love by the way we treat our neighbors. Amen.