Sermon for Sept. 7, 2014

To begin, I'd like to ask everyone to look into your heart of hearts and ask yourself a question.  The question is this.  Am I a good person?  Try to be as objective as you can and ask yourself as sincerely as possible. 


We are told in the Word that no one is good except God, so if you answered that you are a good person, you may need to look a little deeper.


Perhaps you mean that in a relative way you are good.  Relatively speaking, you are better than many human beings.   Is that what you mean?  Or perhaps you consider everyone to be good because God doesn't create junk.  This was the theme of sermons and discussions I heard a lot when I was in seminary at the height of the women's liberation movement.  I remember being told angrily by one of the women, "Dammit, I am good!"  She meant it, too.


What God creates is good.  This is true.  Read the first verses of the Book of Genesis.  But the fact that God only creates good things doesn't necessarily mean that we are good.  We must consider that while the human being may be a good creation, the wear and tear of history has turned what was originally a good thing into something less than good.  The accumulation of human experience passed on from generation to generation has resulted in the less-than-good condition of humanity today.


According to Emanuel Swedenborg, we are born evil.  It is the nature of the human being to love him or her self and to behave accordingly as much as the law and public opinion will permit. 


So if we get to thinking, "Hey, I'm basically a good person," it might be well to take a closer look.   We may be missing something. 


Swedenborg tells us that there are three steps we must take in determining our true state.  We must first examine ourselves.  Then, having finally opened our eyes to what we are really like, we must pray and we must confess. 


This isn't easy.  Our egos resist.  They don't want to see the truth about themselves.


Gurdjieff says that we are all machines. He calls us machines because we act mechanically, out of habit or by stimulus and response, not by choice and free will.


Our real person is our soul.  In our soul there is the potential to share in the Lord's goodness, to become actually good by forming a partnership with the Lord.


The actions of that machine we experience as our self are basically selfish. Selfishness turns us away from God.  The reason selfishness turns us away from God is that we can only make our love for God real by expressing that love toward others.  Without acting out our love it remains only an idea in our minds.  It doesn't exist as something real. 


We can't really do anything for God.  God is never sick, so we can't take dinner in to him when he's bedridden.  God is not blind, so we can't help him across the street.  The fact is, there isn't anything God needs from us, except our obedience and our love, and the only reason he needs these from us is that he wants to save us and the only way we can be saved is to love and obey him.


The biggest problem we have is that these egos fight for their lives. Their biggest effort is against being observed.  They want to remain anonymous.  They want to continue to pose as our real self.  If we discover them, and see how they hurt us constantly, we will want to destroy them, or at least contain and control them. 


Actually, we need these machines to be able to live in the physical world, but they must be under the control of our soul, the true living self within us.  In other words, we need to live from the inside out.  We mostly live from the outside, while inside we are asleep.


The Lord has told us that there is only one way to enter into his kingdom, by the door.  The door is the Lord himself.  Swedenborg writes that in the Gospel according to John the Lord is telling us that we must enter by our belief in him, not by climbing up by some other way.  Swedenborg says that by the "other way" the Lord means worshipping God in God's essence, not in his manifested self in Jesus Christ.  Trying to worship God in God's essence is beyond the ability of our finite minds to comprehend.


Trying to worship God in God's essence is perhaps what Stephen King was driving at in the excerpts I read a few weeks ago from the Dark Tower, where he talks about finding at the nexus of all creation a tower with a room at its top.  If we dared to approach that room, he asks, would we find God there, or emptiness? 


Swedenborg's answer is that if we dare to be so bold, so egotistical, as to think we can approach the Divine itself, we will not be able to see anything there.  It will be empty.  It will be only nothingness.  But remember, that earlier in the Dark Tower King wrote that nothingness is an impossibility.  There cannot be nothing.  God must exist, but God is beyond our comprehension, and so, we cannot see him, understand him.  Swedenborg points out that such worship leads to denying God and either worshipping nature or simply believing there is no God.  The idea of God dissipates into nothingness.


If our puny little egos think they can climb up the stairs of our Dark Tower and approach God, we are lost.  We will arrive ultimately in an empty room called hell.


To save us from this, God the Father, God's essential self, made himself known in a way we can comprehend.  He came into this world as a human being, in the body of Jesus Christ.  As The Lord he confronted and defeated all evil from within himself, from his own soul, which is God the Father.  As he told Philip, "The Father and I are one."  Having defeated all evil, he rose from death and ascended into heaven, where he reigns as our King.  We are to worship and adore this visible, tangible manifestation of God the Father, which we call God the Son, though he is one and the same, both Father and Son. 


 Why can we not worship God the Father directly?  Why is worshipping God the Father climbing up by another way?


The answer is that we cannot form a partnership with a God who appears to us as invisible.  We cannot know the reality of the Divine itself anymore than we can know the mysteries of the universe.


I need to comment on this in terms of those whose beliefs are not from the Christian tradition.  Some will question how those outside of Christianity can be saved if their religion does not worship the Lord.  As Swedenborg explains, God provides for all who believe in him as they understand him from their own religion and live a good life in relation to their neighbors.   Those of us who are blessed to know of the Lord, and especially, it seems to me, those who have been shown his further revelation in Swedenborg's works, have a greater responsibility to the truth than those who have not, and more is expected of us. 


The real goal of self-examination, then, is discovering what we really believe about God.  We must dis-cover that belief.  We must uncover it. 


When we have eventually come to an understanding of how much, or perhaps how little, we actually do believe in the Lord, a realization of how much we depend on our machine instead, we are ready to begin to change. 


To change, to be re-formed, we must pray and confess.  Our prayer must be for the Lord's mercy.  Our ego balks at asking for mercy.   It wants things, not mercy.  We pray the Lord will be gracious unto us and grant us what we ask for.  Asking for mercy is admitting we are lost without the Lord.  Our ego doesn't want to admit that it has any shortcomings.  Ultimately, many egos believe that they are God, or at least that they are more important to themselves than God is.    


So praying for mercy is a big step in the right direction.  For many people the first time they pray for mercy they can actually feel a physical reaction, a resistance in their gut.  If you truly want to be saved by the Lord, you have to be willing, no actually desiring, to receive his mercy and acknowledge that you need it.  There is no other way that leads to partnership with him.  His mercy alone is the door by which we can enter.  We cannot climb up by any other way.  We cannot climb the stairs to the upper room in the Dark Tower.


The Lord grants his mercy to anyone who seeks it.  Having been granted the Lord's mercy we must then begin to confess to him everything we find of evil in our self.


Examination.  Prayer.  Confession.  These lead to genuine love to the Lord and its expression in the world.  Without this, we are lost.  With it, we do not have to climb up by another way, imagining we know some ethereal God.  We enter by the door and live in partnership with the Lord, Our Savior and Redeemer.  Let us pray.


Lord help us to see that we must form a partnership with you out of love for you and obedience to your will that we should be saved.  Amen.