Dwelling with the Lord

Sermon: Dwelling with the Lord

I delivered this sermon on August 15, 2010, at the Olivet New Church in Toronto.


A Sermon by Rev. Coleman S. Glenn

15 August 2010

Olivet New Church, Toronto

Sometimes the Word is hard to read.  In the books of Moses, we find histories that might seem irrelevant to our modern times.  In the prophets, we see predictions of events that never seem to have come to pass.  In Revelation, we are confronted with cryptic imagery that defies comprehension.   In these cases, finding meaning in the Word takes work.  But there are other places in the Word that are different.  There are places in the Word where we see plain truth, plain and simple statements of who the Lord is and how He can draw us into heaven.  The psalm we read earlier – and that you can read in your handout – is one of these places.  In simple terms, the psalm lays out a path to the Lord’s tabernacle, to the mountain of Jehovah, to a life of heaven.  Let me read the psalm again, and notice how much simple, literal truth we find here.

1. O Jehovah, who will sojourn in Your tabernacle? Who will dwell on the mountain of Your holiness?

2. He who walks in wholeness, and does righteousness, and speaks truth in his heart.

3. Who does not slander with his tongue, and does not do evil to his companion, and does not bear reproach for his neighbor.

4. The rejected is despised in his eyes, and those who fear Jehovah he honors. He swears to afflict himself and does not change.

5. His silver he does not give at interest, and he takes no gift against the innocent. He who does these things will not be moved to eternity.

Who will live with the Lord?  Those who do good things to their neighbor and who do not do evil things to their neighbor.  It’s simple.  It’s powerful.  It’s true.

But there’s more to this psalm than first meets the eye.  This psalm, in fact, lays out a path for us.  It is a path that can take us to heaven; and not only heaven as a place that we will go after we die, but heaven as a state in our lives.  This psalm lays out the path to true peace in our lives.

The psalm begins by describing our intended destination: the tabernacle of Jehovah, and the mountain of His holiness.  The psalmist asks, “Who will sojourn in Your tabernacle?”  Picture the Children of Israel in the wilderness journeying from place to place, setting up their tents, and in the middle of them all is Jehovah’s tent, the tabernacle.  We are asking how to live in that tabernacle, to walk with the Lord.  The tabernacle represents the Lord’s goodness and love; and we are asking how to walk with the Lord, how to bring his love into the actions of our lives.  “Who will sojourn in Your tabernacle?”  But we are not only looking to sojourn in the tabernacle; the psalmist asks, “Who will dwell on the mountain of Your holiness?”  Now picture Mount Zion, the seat of Jerusalem, the site of Jehovah’s temple.  Picture this rock, this foundation of worship for all the land of Israel.  This rock, this foundation, is the Lord’s truth, His wisdom; and with this question, we’re asking to dwell in wisdom from the Lord; to have our minds and thoughts ordered by the Lord from love.  And so with our destination firmly in mind, we set out on our journey in answer to these questions.

In verse two, the psalmist begins to describe the person who can reach this destination.  If we think of the psalm as a story, this hypothetical person is our hero.  Also in this verse, the general roadmap is laid out for our responsibilities.  What do we have to do to dwell with the Lord?  We have to walk in wholeness.  This word is also translated as “perfection” or “integrity.”  What does this mean?  We have to walk in a harmony of good and truth.  We have to live by what we know; we have to learn how to express our love.  Goodness needs truth, and truth needs goodness.  We have to do righteousness – that is, act out love for other people – and we have to speak truth in our hearts – that is, to learn what is true and live by it so that we can better express that love.  So far, this is still a pretty general picture.  We know where we want to go, and we have a general idea of how to get there.  But how do we live in love?  How do we put truth into our lives?

Now we come to verse three.  We have a destination in mind, we have a roadmap; the rest of the psalm gives us the details of walking in the path.  So what do we do to set out on our journey to the Lord’s kingdom?  Three things: we must not “slander with our tongues,” we must not “do evil to our companions,” and we must not “bear a reproach for our neighbor.”  The first thing we have to avoid is slander.  Think about this literally.  The Writings for our church tell us that there are many literal truths in the Old and New Testaments.  This is one of them.  This is a powerful tool, and next time you are thinking about talking about someone behind his back, think of this passage.  But this extends to beyond just literally badmouthing someone.  What are the states of mind that lead to this?  If we’re talking badly about someone, chances are we have some idea of them as being bad, or evil, or stupid.  We construct an image of them in our head, and we want to spread it.  We think we know who they are at heart.  And we think that it is somehow okay to talk about this person, that this person isn’t in the image of God.  And this is a falsity.  We often think about falsity in abstract terms, as theological misconceptions.  And this is a part of falsity.  But the more pernicious falsities are the falsities that disguise themselves as truths.  Slandering with our tongues is the same thing as bearing false witness; because even if the facts of our slander are true, we present them in such a way that we hope to distort the image of our victim.  And so this description of the heaven-bound person as not slandering means that he rejects falsity anywhere it shows up in his life.

The next statement in this verse is, “He does not do evil to his companion.”  Again, this is a plain, literal truth.  The word “evil” can also mean “harm” in Hebrew; so, in another translation, this could be rendered, “He does not hurt his companion.”  Think about all the ways that you can hurt someone.  You can subtly try to hurt them with your words.  You can steal something from them.  You can murder them.  The range of hurting is enormous, but the point is this: any desire to hurt is a desire to do evil.  So this statement means that we have to avoid doing evil.  We now have two counter-examples to the good man of verse two: instead of loving what is good, and loving what is true because it helps him be good, the bad person loves falsity and loves to do evil, to hurt the people around him.  These two negative qualities are summed up in the final line of the third verse: “he does not bear a reproach against his neighbor.”  A reproach is similar to slander; but in this case, it is said that he does not “bear it”, that is, lift it up or carry it.  A person who is carrying or lifting up a reproach isn’t simply harboring false ideas; he is living them.  And he is now carrying it for his neighbor.  A “neighbor” in the Word means love and goodness, whereas a “companion” mean truth.  So now this person is not only attacking truth, he is attacking also goodness and love, both in himself and others.  These are the things we must reject if we are to dwell in the tabernacle and on the mountain.

It is good to reject these evil things against the neighbor; but there is more to the psalm.  So far it has been about loving our neighbor.  But the two Great Commandments teach us that we are to love our neighbor and to love God.  So this verse tells us the final component for living a heavenly life: we have to reject these things not just for the sake of rejecting them, but because they are sins against the Lord.  Verse four begins “The rejected is despised in his eyes.”  This is often translated as “a vile person” or “a reprobate”; but in Hebrew, the word simply means something or someone that has been rejected.  The implication is that he despises the things that God has rejected.  And so in our own lives, we need to reject evil not just because it is harmful to society, not just because it makes us unhappy, but because it is a sin against the Lord.  What does this mean?  It means that it hurts the Lord when we sin.  Why is this?  Because the Lord is Love itself.  He is the most loving person you can imagine, only infinitely more loving.  And He wants nothing more than to make people happy.  When you break one of His commandments, you do two things: first, you make it so He cannot act through you to make another person happy.  In fact, you’ve twisted His life, which he gives you, to make it hurt someone else, which is the last thing He wants.  And second, in doing so, you’ve made it harder for Him to bring you into eternal happiness, which is what He wants.  This is why it is so important that we reject evil as a sin against God; because unless we acknowledge that sinning is never okay, we will allow ourselves to be turned away from His love, and this is contrary to everything He desires.  This is why we must despise the things that He rejects.

But this message is not all negative.  Not only does our hero despise what Jehovah rejects; he also honors those who fear Jehovah.  Again, start from the literal sense.  What does it mean to honor someone who fears the Lord?  We know from the Writings for our church that fearing the Lord in the truest sense is fearing to harm Him, to sin against Him.  We are to honor those who act from love to the Lord, who serve their neighbor in humility.  But what is it that we are really honoring?  We are honoring that person’s love, that person’s kindness, that person gentleness.  And all of these things are from the Lord.  To honor one who fears the Lord in fact means to honor the Lord Himself, since He is the source of all things good and true.  In this verse, we see the marriage of love to the Lord and love to the neighbor: we love the goodness in our neighbor, and that is the Lord’s.

We might expect the psalm to end here.  Our hero has done good, has loved truth, has shunned evil and falsity, and has turned to the Lord.  But instead of a conclusion, we have the puzzling next line: “He swears to afflict himself, and does not change.”  What could this mean?  It is even more puzzling in the Hebrew: it literally means “he swears to afflict” or “he swears to do evil, and does not change.”  Many translators take it to mean that he swears to do something and does not change even if it hurts him.  Other translators, however, take it to mean he swears to afflict himself, and this is how the Writings translate it.  However it is translated, it is clear that there is some kind of affliction going on here.  The Writings say that to afflict oneself does not mean that we should “plunge ourselves into poverty and wretchedness” (AC 1947).  It means that we have to fight against the evils and falsities that rise up in us.  And this is what is described here: a battle.  When a person tries to shun evils because they are sins and to love Lord and to love other people, this attempt is attacked by hell.  We need to be aware of this and ready for it.  Anytime you see an evil that you’ve been committing and resolve to stop because it is a sin, your resolve will be tested.  Evil spirits have a way of latching onto us, and they don’t like it when we try to get rid of them.  We need to pray to the Lord and fight against them.  It will feel like we’re fighting with our own power.  That is right and good; but we should know that in reality all the power we have, and all the fighting, really comes from the Lord.  The Lord will help us to conquer in these temptations; he will give us strength so that we “do not change”, that is, do not give in to these temptations.

And so we reach the final verse.  We are almost there.  And yet there is one thing that remains.  Our hero must do one more thing: he must not give silver at interest, and he must not take a gift, or a bribe, against the innocent.  Today, there is no law against giving our money out at interest; and in fact, interest is a vital part of our economy.  What’s important here is the idea and motivation, not the act of collecting interest.  We give out money at interest because we hope to get something back for it.  In the natural world, there is nothing wrong with this; but we cannot do this in our spiritual lives.  Our hero has conquered in temptation.  He has done good and loved the Lord.  But it means nothing if he asks for a reward for it.  If we’re doing good and teaching other people truth so that they will honor us, then the Lord cannot be connected with us.  The good is not really good.  We cannot take credit for the good we do, because it is from the Lord.  If we take credit for our good, all the progress we have made collapses.  We put ourselves above others and look down on them.  We stop serving our neighbor and believe that our neighbor should serve us.  And we “take a gift against the innocent” – that is, we allow our desire for honor, for praise, for repayment to destroy the innocence in us.  True innocence is acknowledging that all good is from the Lord; that He works through us, and that the ability to love others is a reward in itself.  After we’ve made spiritual progress, we need to thank the Lord, not demand a reward from Him or from other people.

Now the Lord does not expect us to overcome our desire for reward in a moment.  He works with it, and uses it as an intermediate good.  But we still must have the goal and intention of acting apart from that desire.

And so our hero has done all these things.  He has looked for the good and the true.  He has rejected evil and falsity.  He has rejected these as sins against the Lord, and He has turned to the Lord with love.  He has conquered in temptations, and he has humbly acknowledged that he does not deserve payment for it, and so he continues in love towards others and the Lord.  In the final line, he has reached the tabernacle of the Lord and His holy mountain.  He lives in love and in wisdom, and if he continues in these things, “he will not be moved” – he will be kept in these things to eternity.  I will read the psalm one more time.  Picture the things described in the literal sense.  Remember how they are raised up to mean something more.  Keep it with you as you leave the church today, and bring it to mind when you are tempted to slander, when you feel a desire for reward, when you are in doubt about the hope for eternal life.

1. O Jehovah, who will sojourn in Your tabernacle? Who will dwell on the mountain of Your holiness?

2. He who walks in wholeness, and does righteousness, and speaks truth in his heart.

3. Who does not slander with his tongue, and does not do evil to his companion, and does not bear reproach for his neighbor.

4. The rejected is despised in his eyes, and those who fear Jehovah he honors. He swears to afflict himself and does not change.

5. His silver he does not give at interest, and he takes no gift against the innocent. He who does these things will not be moved to eternity.


Lessons: Psalm 15; Mark 10:17-22; SS 55

SS 55. The doctrine of genuine truth can also be drawn in full from the sense of the letter of the Word, because in this sense the Word is like a man clothed whose face and hands are bare. All things that concern man’s life, and consequently his salvation, are bare; but the rest are clothed. In many places also where they are clothed they shine through their clothing, like a face through a thin veil of silk. The truths of the Word also appear and shine through their clothing more and more clearly in proportion as they are multiplied by a love for them, and are ranged in order by this love.

Coleman’s Blog | The thoughts and reflections of a New Church (Swedenborgian) minister