New Church Day

A Sermon by Rev. James P. Cooper

Then He came to Bethsaida; and they brought a blind man to Him, and begged Him to touch him. (MAR 8:22)

Our text for this morning is taken from the Gospel of Mark where is described one of the Lord s many miracles of healing. In this case, a blind man was healed. The blind man in this story is a symbol for those of us who are hurting, who are in real pain because of the mistakes we may have made because of our spiritual blindness.

In the Word, blindness generally represents the inability to see the truths of the Word. It s also important to recognize that there are different kinds of blindness there are those who are blind to spiritual truth because of their circumstances, that is, those who are ignorant of the truth through no fault of their own; and there are those who are blind because their loves of self and the world twist and pervert the truth until it is unrecognizable. They make themselves blind because they close their eyes to the truth. As the common saying goes, “there is none so blind as he who will not see.”

In either case, spiritual blindness leaves us without the means to judge the course of our lives. We cannot see if we are preparing ourselves adequately for heaven. We cannot see if the anger we feel is zeal to protect what is good, or hatred towards those who threaten our possessions and position in society. When we are spiritually blind, for whatever reason, we are in the same predicament as those people who entered the spiritual world during the Dark Ages and who are called in the book of Revelation the “souls under the altar” (REV69). As we read in our lesson, these are those who “were in external worship without internal, and who therefore lived an external moral life, although they were merely natural and not spiritual.” (AE 391)

The purpose of the Lord s Second Coming, as we know from the Heavenly Doctrines of the New Church, was to shine the light of truth on these people, to give them the means to see truth for themselves, to decide freely, and for themselves, what kind of spiritual life they should lead. The so-called “Last Judgment” was a judgment by truth, truth which took away spiritual blindness and set those souls free. That light was provided to those in the spiritual world by means of the revelations given to Emanuel Swedenborg, and it was the completion of the last of those works, the True Christian Religion and the consequent establishment of the New Christian Church on June 19, 1770 that we are celebrating this weekend.

So we can see that spiritual truth from the Lord through the Word is the only means of curing spiritual blindness. We can see this further illustrated by what happened next So He took the blind man by the hand and led him out of the town. And when He had spit on his eyes and put His hands on him, He asked him if he saw anything. (MAR823)

Remember also that our text tells us that “they begged Him to touch Him.” It is important to note that although the Lord has the power to heal any spiritual disease, He will only do so if He is first approached, for nothing in man s life can be changed apart from his own freedom. If the Lord were to approach on His own initiative, there would be no freedom, so He presents Himself, informs us of His willingness to help, and then awaits our decision and His patience is Infinite.

To be led by the hand out of the town means that in choosing to approach the Lord for help, by recognizing our need for His help, we have already begun the steps to our recovery, for we have left Bethsaida, we have left the state of disorder or ignorance that caused the blindness and have taken the first positive steps towards choosing the truth and the light, and we begin to leave the states that have caused us our spiritual crisis.

The story tells us that the Lord then spit in the blind man s eyes. This is a powerful combination of images that leads us to see what the person going through these states might feel. On the one hand, water from the mouth of the Lord corresponds to truth, and our rational mind tells us that it should be a good thing to have truth directly from the mouth of the Lord applied to the eye, the organ that represents understanding but yet there is something repellent in the thought of anyone spitting in our eyes. It s humiliating, it s a terrible insult.

On the spiritual level, what could be more humiliating than suddenly awakening to the fact that the innocent little fantasies that we have cherished for so long and enjoyed so much actually constitute adultery because they are destructive of marriage? What could be more humbling than really understanding that the little “unofficial benefits” we have enjoyed at work are actually stealing. We could go on at some length in this vein, but the point should be clear that when we first recognize that we are in a state of disorder, we don t always see just how bad it really is. We tend to minimize the damage. But truth from the Lord is bright and powerful, and makes our errors glaring and to see ourselves as He sees us is humiliating.

The text continues, giving us the blind man s response. And he looked up and said, “I see men like trees, walking.” (MAR824) It is a fact that those people who have had their sight surgically restored and see for the first time (or for the first time in many years) have a great deal of difficulty in sorting out the images they see. In their blindness, they have built up pictures of how things ought to look from the information they have received from their other senses. Things like perspective and shading completely baffle them for a time so that they must continue to use their seeing-eye dogs for some time after their sight is restored. This is the phenomena that the blind man is referring to when he says that men look like trees to him.

Again, the point of this story is not to tell us about how blind people gradually recover their sight, but to tell us about how, even when we have been touched by the Lord and the eyes of our understanding opened, we don t immediately come into pure understanding like that of the angels. The new truth has to be understood, assimilated, adapted to our own experience and character, and studied in the light of the other truths that we already know. It takes time to change a whole lifetime, in fact.

But we can have the courage and strength to carry on because we know that the Lord does not just touch us and then abandon us. Instead, He stays near, guiding our recovery, gradually showing us the way things ought to be. We read from Mark Then He put His hands on his eyes again and made him look up. And he was restored and saw everyone clearly. (MAR825) Eventually, in time, we find spiritual peace, we come into new states of life where truths we never imagined are easily seen.

While we are in the state of blindness, of personal evils and selfishness, it hurts when we read the Word, because its light shows up our weaknesses. But it is not the purpose of the Word to cause pain, but to remove its cause. We examine ourselves in preparation for the Holy Supper, not so we can see how bad we are, but so that we can direct the Lord s healing power to where it is needed most.

In the Old Testament, the Lord established a basic covenant with the Jews He would protect them and be their God if, in return, they would simply obey certain external rules. When He came to earth in person, as described in the New Testament, that covenant was changed from an external obedience to an internal, moral response. He introduced the Holy Supper as the sign of an internal acknowledgment of our need to change our attitudes, not just our actions. And the Writings, the instrument of His second coming, serve to reestablish that covenant so that it is rational and spiritual in origin, but shows itself as moral and civil behavior.

We are free to respond to the Lord on any level we choose. If we wish or are able to do no more than to faithfully obey His commandments, because they are from Him, then we will find a wonderful, eternal home in the natural heaven. If, on the other hand, we delight in searching out the reasons behind His commandments, and seeking to obey them in spirit as well as their letter, then we will find our home in the spiritual heaven. But if our greatest delight is in serving the Lord and doing what is good, then our spiritual home will be with the celestial angels but the point is that choice is our depending on our response the Lord s invitation to enter into His covenant.

The sign of this covenant to the Ancient Church was the rainbow. In the Jewish Church, it was the pillar of cloud by day and the pillar of fire by night over the ark of the covenant that was the constant reminder of the Lord s presence with them. For the Christian and New Christian churches, the sign of His covenant is in the two sacraments that are universal entrances to the church, baptism, and the Holy Supper.

We should take time to reflect on these things as we recognize the 330th anniversary of the founding of the New Heaven, and the sending forth of the twelve disciples throughout heaven to preach the gospel that the Lord God Jesus Christ reigns, and His kingdom shall be for ever and ever. (TCR 791) Pray that the Lord will touch you with His divine truth and cure your spiritual blindness. Do your part to enter into His covenant with a humble heart, and He will enlighten your mind and lead you into states of eternal peace. AMEN.

1st Lesson PSA 146

Praise the LORD! Praise the LORD, O my soul! {2} While I live I will praise the LORD; I will sing praises to my God while I have my being. {3} Do not put your trust in princes, Nor in a son of man, in whom there is no help. {4} His spirit departs, he returns to his earth; In that very day his plans perish. {5} Happy is he who has the God of Jacob for his help, Whose hope is in the LORD his God, {6} Who made heaven and earth, The sea, and all that is in them; Who keeps truth forever, {7} Who executes justice for the oppressed, Who gives food to the hungry. The LORD gives freedom to the prisoners. {8} The LORD opens the eyes of the blind; The LORD raises those who are bowed down; The LORD loves the righteous. {9} The LORD watches over the strangers; He relieves the fatherless and widow; But the way of the wicked He turns upside down. {10} The LORD shall reign forever; Your God, O Zion, to all generations. Praise the LORD! Amen.

2nd Lesson MAR 822-26

Then He came to Bethsaida; and they brought a blind man to Him, and begged Him to touch him. {23} So He took the blind man by the hand and led him out of the town. And when He had spit on his eyes and put His hands on him, He asked him if he saw anything. {24} And he looked up and said, “I see men like trees, walking.” {25} Then He put His hands on his eyes again and made him look up. And he was restored and saw everyone clearly. {26} Then He sent him away to his house, saying, “Neither go into the town, nor tell anyone in the town.” Amen.

3rd Lesson AE 391 (portions)

I saw under the altar, signifies those who were preserved under heaven. This is evident from the signification of “to see,” as being to make manifest (see above, n. 351); also from the signification of “altar” as being, in the nearest sense, worship from the good of love to the Lord; in a more interior sense, heaven and the church, which are in that love; and in the inmost sense, the Lord s Divine Human in relation to the Divine good of the Divine love.

“Under the altar” signifies those who were preserved under heaven, because it is said that he “saw under the altar the souls of those slain because of the Word of God, and because of the testimony that they held,” and by these are meant those who were preserved under heaven until the Last Judgment; but as this is not yet known in the world, I will tell how it is.

…Before the Last Judgment took place there was a semblance of heaven which is meant by “the former heaven that passed away” (Rev. 211) and that this heaven consisted of those who were in external worship without internal, and who therefore lived an external moral life, although they were merely natural and not spiritual.

Those of whom this heaven consisted before the Last Judgment were seen in the spiritual world above the earth, also upon mountains, hills, and rocks, and therefore believed themselves to be in heaven; but those of whom this heaven consisted, because they were in an external moral life only and not at the same time in an internal spiritual life, were cast down; and when these had been cast down, all those who had been preserved by the Lord, and concealed here and there, for the most part in the lower earth, were elevated and transferred to these same places, that is, upon the mountains, hills, and rocks where the others had formerly been, and out of these a new heaven was formed.

These who had been preserved and then elevated were from those in the world who had lived a life of charity, and who were in the spiritual affection of truth. The elevation of these into the places of the others I have often witnessed. It is these who are meant by “the souls of those slain seen under the altar,” and because they were guarded by the Lord in the lower earth, and this earth is under heaven, so “I saw under the altar” signifies those who were preserved under heaven. Amen.

Copyright © 1982 – 2005 General Church of the New Jerusalem.
Page constructed by James P. Cooper
Page last modified September 27, 2009


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