A sermon by Gordon Meyer, July 12, 2015
Texts: Mark 12:28-34; Secrets of Heaven 343-344.
How many people do you know really well? If you're married, you probably feel as I do that the person you are married to is someone you know really well. And my kids, of course. I see most of them frequently, spent years living with them in the same house, been through their ups and downs with them. I know them well. I can predict in a general way how these particular people will behave in most circumstances. I know I can count on them in many, many ways that give my own life a sense of stability.
Then there are my friends in this church. I feel that I know many of you better than I know my brothers and the rest of my extended family. I grew up with my brothers, but we have lived far apart in adulthood and don't even call each other very often. Yet, when we get together there is a sense of belonging to each other and to each other's families that I don't have with other people.
But the truth is I feel like I know some of you better than I know them. We've spent more time together recently and with some of you our conversations have been more meaningful, revealing more of our true self to each other than I have with others, even in my own family.
Beyond that, there are people I've associated with at work or socially, but I can't say I know any of them very well.
So I know a few people pretty well, but only a few. When you come right down to it, however, there's only one person I really know inside and out. That's myself. I'm the only person I'm with all the time. No matter where I go, there I am. The same is true of each of us. Wherever you go, you are there with yourself, but there isn't anyone else who is always with you, except, of course, the Lord.
Ever feel like you'd like to get away from yourself for a while? Get tired of the silly patter chattering away in your head. I remember the first time I felt this way consciously. I was standing in the sunroom of my aunt's huge house, and the thoughts running through my head were a bunch of trivial things, and I just felt sick and tired of it. That was about fifty-five years ago, and nothing's changed much. I'm still chattering away. I've gotten to know me a lot better in those fifty-five years, but, as Paul Simon noted, I'm still crazy after all these years.
My guess is that most of you, perhaps all of you, feel similarly, at least once in a while. Maybe, like me, you feel kind of alone and isolated, not in a serious, mental illness sort of way, but just realizing that we are all self-contained and can't really share ourselves, or share in others' lives, very deeply. We are all in this together, but only sort of.
Swedenborg points out that we are all unique. There isn't a single individual who has ever lived who is identical to another individual. He adds that there never will be. As all of the human beings the Lord creates are gathered into the spiritual world and to eternity, none will ever be identical. You are one of a kind. There will never be another you.
One of the implications of this is that your faith, however you understand it, is also unique. No one else has the same understanding of God or the relationship with God that you have. No one else in the history of creation has ever related to God exactly the same way you do. For that very reason, you are precious in his sight. You have a unique place in God's plan for the universe. Last week I talked about how we all have our place in the spiritual world and how the Lord knew before we were conceived where we would eventually choose to make our home to eternity.
Like the pieces of a jigsaw puzzle, the big picture comes together bit by bit as the pieces are placed where they belong. Each piece contributes to a larger segment. In heaven those segments are communities of like-minded angels. Note that I didn't say they are of the same mind. They are of such similar minds that they can live together in complete harmony, but each has her or his unique contribution to make. The addition of each new angel makes the community more complete, more whole, and thus more perfect.
Last week we brought a new member into our midst. This week we are celebrating the sacrament of Holy Communion.
Each of these events is a sacred event that brings the inner church we share closer to its perfection. When we gather in this church building we do so as a community. We share similar beliefs. To the extent that we practice those beliefs and they are based on a true understanding of our relationship with the Lord God the Savior, Jesus Christ, we are also part of heaven and its larger community.
Is it strange then, that we don't always agree about what our faith means and what we should believe? Is it strange that there is not one church in the world, but hundreds, if not thousands, of different churches? In the United States there are three separate branches of the Swedenborgian faith. Each of these have significant differences in their expressed beliefs about what the Bible teaches in light of Swedenborg's writings, differences significant enough to cause a parting of the ways between us. Who is right? Who is wrong? Well, obviously, we are right and the other two are wrong. I wonder if the five members of our church who were born and raised in the General Church would necessarily agree with me on that.
Well, they can be assured that I don't hold to that idea myself.
The reality is that what is true is different for different people. There is an absolute truth that is simply what is, but the way each of us understands truth varies with the individual. The result is that what is a sin for me, may not be a sin for you. Whether or not something is a sin depends on whether or not it is something that separates us from God.
Take acquiring wealth, for example. If a person's main interest in life is getting rich, then acquiring money is probably a sin for that person. But if the interest in money comes from a desire to use it for good, useful purposes, purposes that serve others, then it clearly is not a sin. It comes down to intention. Is the person's intent to serve God and the neighbor, or simply to satisfy selfish desires?
What is important to recognize is that these differences in beliefs result from differences in people, and the Lord creates us each to be different from anyone else. That is part of the plan. That makes things work and makes perfecting heaven possible. The fact is that if God created us all identically, we would have no sense of being a human being. There would be no individuality. So these differences are absolutely necessary.
The Lord tells us not to judge others or we will be judged. That's because we can't know enough to decide if a person is good or evil. Only God can do that. But, of course, we have different understanding because we know some things others don't know.
So we do make judgments. At least, we evaluate other's beliefs and decide if they are true or not. But when we do this we aren't judging the person, only the beliefs, and we understand that differences in beliefs are the result of differences in the persons who hold them and the way they experience life. Swedenborg says we need to be discerning because we do have to make judgments and decide on courses of action. We want our actions to be consistent with our beliefs. So discernment is important.
So here we are, a bunch of individuals, completely separate from each other in some ways, and yet joined together by some commonly held beliefs. Yet, these commonly held beliefs are a little differently understood in each and every one of us.
That creates an environment that is potentially good soil. We can grow in an environment like that. If we approach one another consciously seeking to understand each other, really delving into our differences in a detailed sort of way, we can help each other to be more discerning without being judgmental. What that does is foster love for one another and it is love that joins together.
Differences also have the potential to create or destroy relationships. If we approach each other trying to convince the other that we are right and they are wrong, we drive ourselves apart and destroy the potential for union. But if we approach one another trying to know each other more intimately, to grow in our understanding of each other's beliefs, then we foster union, we bring to life communion. In doing so we do not create love, because all love comes from the Lord, but we let that love from him flow through us to the other person and it is the Lord's love flowing through us that joins us and creates the heavenly community that a church is supposed to be.
We don't need to live alone, isolated in our individuality. The Lord creates each of us to be unique, but he does this so that we can experience our self as a self. It is only as a unique self that we can love another and join ourselves to that other. It is this joining of one to another that perfects heaven and it is the creation of heaven that is the purpose behind the Lord's creating us in the first place.
Our first task is to know our self and to live as a unique creature of God. Our second task is to join ourselves to the Lord and express the love we receive from him to each other. When we do this, we take our place in eternity to live forever in the happiness of heaven.
Let us pray. Lord, we ask you to bring us together into one community woven tightly by your love expressed through each of us to one another. Amen.