How to approach death?

There is a cliché which says that there are only two things of which we can be certain in this life, that we are born and that we will die. Yet death is an aspect of life with which it is perhaps difficult to feel at ease. There may be many reasons for that, and I should like to consider some of them here, and at the same time to see if we might have a way of looking at the subject positively.

Fear and Loss
For many people, death is linked with fear, although that fear may have many parts. For example, we may be afraid of illness which leads to death, perhaps loss of strength, mobility, even speech and the ability to communicate in some instances. Death may be connected with loss in various ways in our minds, perhaps because we know that there are many things which we value in this life which we cannot take with us. That may include physical objects, but it may just as easily be relationships with people, hobbies about which we are passionate, treasured pets, abilities which we feel we have and many things which generally make  life worth living. Sometimes it may not be our own death which we fear, but that of those around us, to whom we are close. That may bring up not just a sense of loss in the present, but we may find past memories returning too. It may even be that what we remember are things which we might have said but didn’t, help that we thought about offering but somehow failed to do.

The Final Countdown
All of this can bring us to what I believe to be one of the key features when we contemplate death: because it has such a sense of finality, death forces us to think about opportunities, including lost opportunities. If we believe that there is nothing beyond death, that sense will be sharpened, and it would be surprising not to think then of what might have been. If there is no feeling of what might be beyond death then the tendency will be to focus on what might have been. That may tend to drag us down if we feel that there were opportunities we have made not just to our own lives but the lives of others also.

There is something about death which involves a weighing up of things, and that is perhaps something else which causes fear in us. The threat of death, our own or that of someone close to us, may force us to look at some aspects of ourselves or our relationship with another person which are not necessarily comfortable. That can include our sense of finding it difficult to know how we will cope without someone close to us. Entering into these thoughts offers an opportunity in itself. Many people have no chance to prepare for their own death or someone else’s and it happens suddenly and without warning. Even today, when medical science has achieved great levels of sophistication and progress, this does still occur. Some people advocate living the whole of life aware of our own mortality for this reason. It sharpens our sense of what it is to be alive and we experience life more fully with this awareness.

A Bigger Picture
I have talked little so far about what difference a belief in life continuing after death may make. That may depend greatly on exactly what is believed, but it surely makes a difference not just to how we approach death but to how we live life as a whole. If we believe that something of us lives on after death, it may help to release us somewhat from the burden of finality which we sometimes carry when facing death. If someone close to us dies we may think about our need to release them and to help them in whatever way we can to make the transition between this life and the next. That may not take away the feeling of loss, nor indeed the physical suffering and pain which may be present, but it gives us a larger picture. It is so easy to see death as everything collapsing or shrinking down to a single point like the small dot gradually disappearing after a television set has been switched off. That is what our physical perception sees, especially if we are confronted with this process over a long period.

A spiritual view of death is very different. I have already talked about opportunities, and death is a gateway which leads to many new opportunities. It may be a very narrow gateway, so much so that while we are on this side we cannot see through and even seem to be looking at the proverbial brick wall.

Swedenborg, Death and Angels
Emanuel Swedenborg, an eighteenth-century scientist, wrote at length in the later part of his life about spiritual experiences and insights which he was given. One of these was to have an experience of what dying might be like. One of the things which he says is that when we die we are accompanied by angels. This is said to be true of the whole of our life, but the angels present around the time of death have the special function of easing this transition. For some people, as they near death they seem not only to drift in and out of another world, but they even seem to experience that world as populated by beings with whom they feel comfortable. For others there may not seem to be this unearthly beneficent presence, but it may instead be that they are not consciously aware of it. This may also act as a comfort to us if we experience the approaching death of someone; to focus on what the angels are doing to aid both the person dying and those of us who will be left behind.

Death is a powerful, mysterious and at times bewildering event to witness. It may not always seem to offer us an opportunity for spiritual insight or growth, but it is my belief that in one way or another it will always do.

Copyright 2012 David Lomax

 

SETTLE IN YOUR HEARTS

SETTLE IN YOUR HEARTS

A Sermon by Rev. Donald L. Rose

Preached in Bryn Athyn June 25, 1995

“Settle it in your hearts not to meditate beforehand on what you will answer; for I will give you a mouth and wisdom which all your adversaries will not be able to contradict or resist” (Luke 21:14,15).

The Lord said these things to followers who were later persecuted and brought before councils. Their accusers thought by confronting them they could weaken the cause of Christianity. But it turned out differently. Those confrontations became opportunities for the strengthening and growth of Christianity.

The boldness and eloquence of the disciples, although they were just fishermen, was nothing short of astonishing. Of one outspoken disciple it is said, “And they were not able to resist the wisdom and the Spirit by which he spoke” (Acts 6: 10). In the 4th chapter of Acts we read of two disciples who were confronted: “Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were uneducated and untrained men, they marvelled” (Acts 4:13). (King James Version says “unlearned and ignorant men.”) They had a boldness and assurance, and their answers were powerful.

They were somehow triumphant even when they were beaten and imprisoned, and in some cases put to death (see Luke 21:16). We will mention one example of that in a moment.

The text applies of course to us and, we might say, in a much less dramatic fashion. We will not likely be brought before courts and kings nor openly challenged and assailed by enemies.

But we do stand to be attacked by the enemies of our spiritual life. And the more we learn about the assaults of evil spirits on followers of the Lord, the more do we see that it too is dramatic and momentous. Falsities from hell itself assail the person who is being tempted, and the Writings say that to every falsity the hells inject, there is an answer from the Divine.

What we experience in temptation is anxiety, discouragement even to despair. We do not know that evil spirits from hell are fighting against us, nor do we know that the Lord is fighting for us, and the answers from the Divine to the false accusations and undermining thoughts do not come clearly to our consciousness. Here is what the Writings say: “As regards temptations … the hells fight against man, and the Lord for man; to every falsity the hells inject, there is an answer from the Divine …. The answer from the Divine flows into the internal or spiritual man … and in such a manner that it scarcely comes to the perception otherwise than as hope and consequent consolation, in which there are nevertheless innumerable things of which the man is ignorant” (AC 8159:3). (In that answer which we feel only as hope and comfort there are countless blessings that the person has no knowledge of” – new translation.)

Here is the context of the words of the text: “… they will lay their hands on you and persecute you, delivering you up to the synagogues and prisons, and you will be brought before kings and rulers for My name’s sake. But it will turn out for you an occasion for testimony. Therefore settle it in your hearts not to meditate beforehand on what you will answer; for I will give you a mouth and wisdom which all your adversaries will not be able to contradict or resist. … [N]ot a hair of your head shall be lost. In your patience possess your souls” (Luke 21:12-19).

The very first Christian to die for his beliefs found that the confrontation was indeed an occasion for testimony. He was falsely accused and brought before a council to answer. His eloquent speech takes up the whole of the 7th chapter of the book of Acts. It is said, “When they heard these things they were cut to the heart, and they gnashed at him with their teeth. … [T]hey cried out with a loud voice, stopped their ears, and ran at him with one accord and they cast them out of the city and stoned him” (Acts 7:54,57).

That speech which so affected them had begun thus: “… brethren … listen: the God of glory appeared to our father Abraham” and he told the story through Jacob, Joseph, Moses and Solomon, and when he was finished he gazed up into heaven and saw the glory of God. And as they rained stones on him he said, ‘Lord Jesus, receive my spirit’ and ‘Lord, do not charge them with this sin.’ And when he had said this he fell asleep” (Acts 7:2,59,60). It is said that those who looked at him “saw his face as the face of an angel” (Acts 6:15).

A radiant peace surrounded him. The Lord had promised that nothing would harm them. They were at peace even in death.

“Settle it in your hearts not to meditate beforehand on what you will answer.” Think deliberately about the future, and think of how not to think of the future. In one of the Lord’s parables a man is called foolish because he did not think ahead intelligently. “Foolish one, tonight your soul will be required of you, and then whose will those things be which you have provided?”

Oh, he had thought and meditated within himself about the future. But what was the level of his thinking? To quote the Gospel: “And he thought within himself, saying, What shall I do? … I will do this: I will pull down my barns and build greater … And I will say to my soul, Soul, you have many goods laid up for many years …” (Luke 12:17-21).

He could look down the road years ahead. He could figure out what he was going to do, and what he was going to say, and God called him a fool. How does our future look to us? How much strength and endurance do you have for what lies in store for you? Can you handle what is yet to come? Do you have the wit? Will you have the wit to respond to what may come to pass?

We live in the illusion that our strength, our intelligence, our very life is from ourselves. How big is our reservoir of energy or endurance or prudence? Since it seems that life is our own, we think in terms of calling on our reserves. Once the disciples set off in a boat on a journey with the Lord. And it had slipped their mind that they should have stored some provision. To quote from the Gospel of Mark, “Now the disciples had forgotten to take bread, and they did not have more than one loaf with them in the boat” (8:14). That was what was on their mind, and the Lord said to them, “Why do you reason because you have no bread? Do you not yet perceive nor understand? … do you not remember? When I broke the five loaves for the five thousand, how many baskets full of fragments did you take up? How is it that you do not understand?”

He got them to answer the question, and He could ask them on a much later occasion, “When I sent you without money bag, sack and sandals, did you lack anything? So they answered, Nothing” (Luke 22:35). Think of the uncertain times of youth that you have passed through. You made it through your teens. Has the Lord kept you safe thus far? Has He provided?

It is too bad that some people have concluded that it is virtuous not to make provision for the future. It’s understandable. The Lord has given us the message that He will provide. Seek the kingdom of God, and these things will be added to you. But the Writings say this does not mean we should not provide ourselves with food, clothing, “and even resources for the time to come; for it is not contrary to order for anyone to be provident for himself and his own.” The new translation speaks of “resources for the future; for it is not contrary to order to make provision for oneself and one’s dependents” (J. Elliott’s translation).

But there is the matter of putting trust in the Divine. Notice the verb tribuo, something you do. It is translated to “attribute” or to “ascribe.” See how it is used in this teaching about charity in a person engaged in business. “He thinks of the morrow, and yet does not think of it. He thinks of what should be done on the morrow, and how it should be done; and yet does not think of the morrow, because he ascribes the future to the Divine Providence and not to his own prudence.” And then it adds, “Even his prudence he ascribes to the Divine Providence” (Charity 167).

Does that fortunate person who ascribes the future to the Divine just do this at one point in life? Or is it not something to be done deliberately through the progressing stages of life?

Settle it in your hearts. Deliberately ascribe the future to the Lord’s Providence, and do so, if you can, until you can feel a sense of relief as if someone had removed a false burden from you.

Do not think of this merely as “either/or,” as if to say, either you trust in Divine Providence or you do not. It can be a quantitative thing. Some attribute a little bit to the Divine Providence and a lot to themselves (see AC 2694:2). The Writings use the phrase “the more”: the more they ascribe, the stronger or wiser they are (see AC 4932). In our lives we gradually come to ascribe more to the Lord and less to ourselves (see TCR 610 and 105).

The disciples were to learn that peace, the wonderful prize of peace, is to be found in the Lord Himself. He said, “These things I have spoken to you that in Me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation, but be of good cheer. I have overcome the world” (Luke 16e). En to cosmo thlipsin exete alla tharsete – In the world you will have affliction, trouble, but take heart. Have courage. I have defeated. I have conquered. I have overcome the world.

Our picture of the future can become less a matter of speculation and worry and more and more a picture of the Lord as one in whom to confide and one who grants peace. Peace has in it confidence in the Lord that He will provide, and that He leads to a good end. “When someone is in this faith, he is in peace, for he then fears nothing and no solicitude about future things disquiets him” (AC 8455).

We sometimes say that the future looks dark. And the unknown is a kind of darkness. But when we ascribe the future to the Lord, we may say at any time in history or at any stage of our life, that the future has light in it, being in the hands of Him who is the light of the world.

Settle it in your hearts anew today. Ascribe the future to the Lord. And He will give you what to think and do, and He will give you peace. Amen.

Lessons: Matt. 10:16-31, DP 179, AC 2493


Divine Providence 179

As a foreknowledge of future events destroys the human itself, which is to act from freedom according to reason, therefore it is not granted to anyone to know the future; but everyone is permitted to form conclusions concerning future events from the reason; hence reason with all that pertains to it enters into man’s life. It is on this account that a man does not know his lot after death, or know of any event before he is involved in it. For if he knew this, he would no longer think from his interior self how he should act or how he should live in order to meet the event, but he would only think from his exterior self that he was meeting it. Now this state closes the interiors of his mind in which the two faculties of his life, liberty and rationality, especially reside. A longing to know the future is innate with most people, but this longing derives its origin from the love of evil. It is therefore taken away from those who believe in the Divine Providence, and there is given them a trust that the Lord is disposing their lot. Consequently they do not desire to know it beforehand lest they should in any way set themselves against the Divine Providence. This the Lord teaches by many passages in Luke (12:14-48).

That this is a law of the Divine Providence may be confirmed by many things from the spiritual world. Most persons when they enter that world after death desire to know their lot. They are told that if they have lived well their lot is in heaven, and if they have lived wickedly it is in hell. But as all, even the wicked, fear hell, they ask what they should do and what they should believe to enter heaven. They are told that they may do and believe as they will, but that they should know that in hell, good is not done and truth is not believed, but only in heaven. To each one the answer is: “Seek out what is good and what is true; then think the truth and do the good, if you are able.” So in the spiritual world as in the natural world all are left to act from freedom according to reason; but as they have acted in this world so do they act in the spiritual world. His own life awaits everyone and consequently his own lot, for the lot pertains to the life.

Arcana Coelestia 2493

1 have spoken with the angels concerning the memory of things past, and the consequent anxiety regarding things to come; and I have been instructed that the more interior and perfect the angels are, the less do they care for past things, and the less do they think of things to come; and also that from this comes their happiness. They say that the Lord gives them every moment what to think, and this with blessedness and happiness; and that they are thus free from cares and anxieties. Also, that this was meant in the internal sense by the manna being received daily from heaven; and by the daily bread in the Lord’s Prayer; and likewise by the instruction not to be solicitous about what they should eat and drink, and wherewithal they should be clothed. But although the angels do not care for past things, and are not solicitous about things to come, they nevertheless have the most perfect recollection of past things, and the most perfect mental view of things to come; because in all their present there are both the past and the future. Thus they have a more perfect memory than can ever be thought of or expressed.

HOW WE LOOK TO ANGELS

HOW WE LOOK TO ANGELS

A Sermon by Rev. Donald L. Rose Preached in Bryn Athyn August 14, 1994

In the book of Revelation it is written, “Blessed is he who watches and keeps his garments, lest he walk naked and they see his shame” (Rev. 16:15). In a red-letter Bible this verse stands out because it is the only one in the chapter that is in red.

In our lesson we read the words, “Do not provoke him” (Exodus 23:20). This is said about the angel sent before the Children of Israel. They guarded their behavior because of the presence of an angel, and they knew that if they obeyed, the angel would keep them and bring them safely to their destination. The angel, then, knew the way in which they walked, and in some manner saw them.

There is a teaching in Heaven and Hell about how we look to angels. It is number 131. It says that when we are in good we are regarded by angels as beautiful, and when evil we appear ugly. The chapter is the chapter on light in heaven. We are told that when that light shines on you, you appear as you really are.

Do you know what you look like? You may have a mirror in the bathroom and one in the hall and one in the living room. We are accustomed to seeing our face in a mirror. But do we feel we know what we look like? We might look with real curiosity at a photograph in which we appear. It is sometimes surprising to see a film or a videotape in which we participate. “Do I look like that?” We might ask someone else to tell us. “Do I move and act like that?”

It is particularly interesting to see something we are familiar with from an entirely different angle. If there is an aerial photograph of our neighborhood, we might search in it for our house or office, and perhaps look with fascination at the route we regularly walk. That reference to the path we walk is of interest, because when we are viewed in the light of heaven, it is as if we are taking certain paths or ways (see HH 534). Sometimes, although we are not moving physically, we walk in the valley of the shadow, and sometimes although there may be confusion and turmoil around us, we walk beside the still waters.

Take some familiar thing and look at it through a microscope. It is surprising. The Writings invite us to look at an object such as a leaf or a flower or a bee and to examine it with some wisdom. Look at it first naturally, afterwards rationally, and at length spiritually. Use a microscope and you will see “wonderful things, while the interiors that you do not see are still more wonderful” (DP 3).

There is a statement in the Arcana Coelestia which reads as follows: “If a person should see the quality of a single thing as it appears before the angels, he would be amazed, and would confess that he would never have believed it, and that in comparison he had known scarcely anything” (AC 4930). The passage says that the quality contains many, many things “which cannot be seen in the light of the world, but only in the light of heaven, thus before angels.” Look at the world or contemplate the universe and everything in it. What is it? Is it not a theater representing the Lord’s kingdom? (see AC 3000, 3483)

But the Writings emphasize something else much more than material objects. They emphasize the mental world of affections and ideas. We think the affections we experience and the ideas in our minds are simple. But they are wonderfully complex. Once in the spiritual world some doubted the wonders within a single idea, and the idea was then opened up for them so far that they seemed to see “a universe leading to the Lord” (AC 4946).

Each idea an individual has is in a way a picture of that individual. We read, “The quality of a spirit can be known in the other life from one single idea of his thought. Indeed angels have from the Lord the power of knowing at once when they but look upon anyone, what his character is … It is therefore evident that every single idea and every single affection of a person … is an image of him and a likeness of him” (AC 803).

What a different feeling we get about our own thoughts and about reading the Word when we have some awareness of how wondrous are the contents of our minds. We are told that angels are in particular delight when children read the Word. Indeed the Word, not on a book shelf but in a human mind, is a resting place for angelic wisdom.

In the sight of the angels, how are we dressed? If someone is going to look at us, we want to be becomingly dressed, and when our minds are engaged with truths from the Word we are so dressed. This brings us to the verse in Revelation 16. It is said that someone is blessed who is awake and keeps his garments lest he walk naked and they see his shame. Who sees his shame? It is the angels. We will mention this verse again. Let it be noted that the garments mean truths, and that to live without truths is to walk naked. As it is said in Apocalypse Revealed: “A person may indeed live like a Christian without truths, but this before men, but not before angels” (AR 706).

Is there such a thing as a beautiful deed? Yes, there is, and the real beauty is in the intention and love behind the deed. There is a saying in the Doctrine of Charity that everything a person does is an image of that person. “Before the angels he himself appears in his image … which I have seen a thousand times” (Charity 6).

As we make our choices from day to day, how much difference it can make to realize how unpleasant in the sight of heaven are some of the things in which we might be inclined to indulge. What a difference when we realize how beautiful to behold is life in which we do not harm others but wish them well.

Paint a picture, if you can, of some of the feelings that can motivate us, such as revenge or pride. What do they look like?

Listen to this from the Arcana Coelestia: “In order to obtain a clear idea of the nature of the life of the love of self and of the world (or what is the same, of a life of pride, avarice, envy, hatred, revenge, unmercifulness, adultery), let any person of talent make for himself an impersonation of it … and he will then see, in proportion to the energy of his description or picture, how horrible these evils are, and that they are devilish forms, in which there is nothing human. Forms such as these all those become after death who perceive the delight of their life in such evils … On the other hand, let the same person delineate for himself an impersonation of love and charity, or let him express it before his eyes under some form, and then in proportion to his power of description or portrayal he will see that the form is angelic, full of bliss and beauty, and pervaded within with what is heavenly and Divine” (AC 2363).

People who make it part of their lives to shun evils as sins against God “appear in heaven before the angels as beautiful human beings, and partners and companions of the angels” (DP 121).

The angels see things so differently. They see in the clearest light. Take all the doubts that can trouble you. Take all the arguments against the beautiful truth about the Lord’s loving Providence. Write a whole book about them and put that book in the hand of any angel, ” … and I know,” says the seer, “that the angel will write underneath these few words, They are all appearances and fallacies” (DP 213). Our lesson this morning from the Sermon on the Mount was about worries. What shall we eat or what shall we drink? We do find ourselves sometimes filled with worries, and perhaps we feel that we could fill a book with them. But if an angel looked upon that book, would he not see that those worries are based on the appearances of self-life and the fallacies that cloud our trust in the Lord’s Providence?

Happy is he that is awake and keeps his garments. The Writings seem to say that this is a wake-up call to people who are associated with the New Church. “Happy is he that is awake and keeps his garments lest he walk naked and they see his shame.” Here is what the Writings say on this: “These things are said for those who will be of the Lord’s New Church, that they may learn truths and remain in them, for without truths their connate evils, which are infernal loves, cannot be removed. A man may indeed live like a Christian without truths, but this only before people, not before angels” (AR 706).

Do you know something about the New Church? Then this is a message to you. Learn truths. Remain in them. Yes, remain in them. Do not lose those beautiful garments. What a shame that would be. Stay awake. Think of things the way they really are. Think of your life in this world and in the world to come as it really is. You can call this a warning, but remember that it is a happy warning. Happy is he that is awake and keeps his garments. Amen.


Lessons: Exodus 23, Matt. 6, and HH 457, AC 5102 (portions)

Heaven and Hell 457

When the spirit of man first enters the world of spirits, which takes place shortly after his resuscitation, as described above, his face and his tone of voice resemble those he had in the world, because he is then in the state of his exteriors, and his interiors are not as yet uncovered. This is man’s first state after death. But subsequently his face is changed, and becomes entirely different, resembling his ruling affection or ruling love, in conformity with which the interiors of his mind had been while he was in the world and his spirit while it was in the body. For the face of a man’s spirit differs greatly from the face of his body. The face of his body is from his parents, but the face of his spirit is from his affection, and is an image of it. When the life of the spirit in the body is ended, and its exteriors are laid aside and its interiors disclosed, it comes into this affection. This is man’s second state. I have seen some that have recently arrived from the world, and have recognized them from their face and speech, but seeing them afterwards I did not recognize them. Those that had been in good affections appeared with beautiful faces, but those that had been in evil affections, with misshapen faces; for man’s spirit, viewed in itself, is nothing but his affection; and the face is its outward form. Another reason why faces are changed is that in the other life no one is permitted to counterfeit affections that are not his own, and thus assume looks that are contrary to his love. All in the other life are brought into such a state as to speak as they think, and to manifest in their looks and gestures the inclinations of their will. And because of this, the faces of all become forms and images of their affections; and in consequence all that have known each other in the world know each other in the world of spirits, but not in heaven nor in hell (as has been said above, n. 427).

Arcana Coelestia 5102

The interiors of man from which come the thoughts which are also interiors are the affections, because as these are of his love, they are of his life. It is known that with those who are in innocence the affections are presented visibly in the face; and as the affections are so presented, so also are the thoughts in general, for these are the forms of the affections. Hence, regarded in itself the face is nothing else than a representative image of the interiors. To the angels all faces appear thus and not otherwise; for the angels do not see the faces of men in their material form, but in their spiritual form, that is, in the form which the affections and the derivative thoughts present. These are what make the very face of man, as may be known from the fact that when the face is deprived of them, it is a mere dead thing, and that the face has life from them, and is pleasing according to them.

POWER

POWER

A Sermon by Rev. Mark D. PendletonPreached in Rochester, Michigan, October 24, 1993

” … Jesus said to them, `Do you believe that I am able to do this?’ They said to Him, `Yes, Lord.’ Then He touched their eyes, saying, `According to your faith let it be to you” (Matt. 9:28,29).

One month ago I sat and talked with a college friend on a hill which overlooked an athletic field. We were watching a lacrosse game together. As we talked, his two-and-a-half-year-old daughter toddled up the hill to meet us. She was crying. What was wrong? I didn’t know. But what struck me was what she did as she came up the hill. She went to her father, took him by both hands, and began pulling on him. She wanted his attention and his help. As I watched daughter and father, I sensed that something profound was being pictured in their interaction, though at the time I didn’t know what it was.

After this service, and each day for the rest of your lives there is going to be a test, and the test will have three questions. Right or wrong is not an issue with this test. No one will see your answers. No one will give you a score. What is at issue is your personal sense of contentment and happiness, and the level of effectiveness you enjoy with people around you. The answers you give will be indicators of how much peace you feel inside, and of the level of effectiveness you enjoy in relationships.

And so, the first question of the test is this: Who is God? And we might ask that question in a different way: Who is the source of power in your life? The second question is: How powerful is your God? And the third question: What will you do?

Once when Jesus was leaving His own city, two blind men followed Him. They cried out, “Son of David, have mercy on us!” So Jesus turned aside into their home. The two blind men approached Him, and Jesus asked them a question: “Do you believe that I am able to do this?” “Yes, Lord” was their reply. “Then He touched their eyes saying, `According to your faith let it be to you.'”

But this isn’t the only story of its kind in the New Testament. There are six others like it. A centurion’s boy was healed of paralysis (Matt. 8:5-13). A woman with a flow of blood for twelve years was made well (Matt. 9:20-22). A Canaanite woman’s demon-possessed daughter was healed (Matt. 15:21-28). Jairus’ only daughter, who was almost dead, arose and walked; her spirit was restored (Mark 5:22-42). Blind Bartimaeus received his sight (Mark 10:46-52). And a woman who was a sinner was forgiven and saved (Luke 7:36-50).

These are different stories, different people, different problems. What are the common denominators in all of the stories? All of the people in those stories wanted to feel the Lord’s healing power, and so all of them came to Jesus. All of them believed that He had the power to heal them.

The centurion came and pleaded with Jesus, and when Jesus said that He would come and heal his boy, the centurion answered, “Lord, I am not worthy that you should come under my roof, but only speak a word and my boy will be healed.”

The woman with the flow of blood came and touched the hem of His garment. “If only I may touch His clothes,” she thought to herself, “I shall be made well.” Jesus turned to see who had touched Him. The woman was afraid. She trembled. In an instant she had been made well and she knew it. So she came and fell down before Him. She told the whole truth in front of everyone. She told the reason why she had touched Him and how she had been healed immediately.

The Canaanite woman came and cried out to Jesus, “Have mercy, O Lord, Son of David; my daughter is severely demon-possessed!” Jesus didn’t answer. And so she came and worshipped Him: “Lord help me.”

Jairus, man of prominence, ruler of the synagogue, came and fell at His feet. He begged Jesus earnestly, “My little daughter lies at the point of death. Come and lay your hands on her that she may be healed and she will live.”

Blind Bartimaeus sat by the road begging. When he heard that Jesus was passing by, he cried out, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” When people around Bartimaeus told him to keep quiet, Bartimaeus cried out all the more. Jesus stopped. He commanded that Bartimaeus be called to Him. Bartimaeus threw aside his garment, rose and came to meet Jesus. Jesus asked him a question: “What do you want Me to do for you?” “My great one,” he replied, “that I may receive my sight.”

And finally, a woman who was a sinner brought an alabaster flask of fragrant oil. She stood at Jesus’ feet behind Him and wept. She washed His face with her tears and wiped them with the hair of her head. She kissed His feet and anointed them with oil.

These are different stories, different people, different problems. And in each case the Lord was able to perform the miracle that was longed for. Why? Because in each case the person came to Him with a conviction that He had the power to heal. And so after each miracle, Jesus had something to say to the person who had been healed. To the centurion He said, “Go your way, and as you have believed, so let it be done for you.” To the woman with the issue of blood He said, “Daughter, your faith has made you well. Go in peace and be healed of your affliction.” He answered the Canaanite woman, “O woman, great is your faith. Let it be to you as you desire.” When the report came from Jairus’ house that his daughter was dead, why trouble the teacher any further? Jesus said to Jairus, “Do not be afraid; only believe and she will be made well.” To Bartimaeus He said, “Go your way. Your faith has made you well.” And finally, to the woman who was a sinner He said, “Your faith has saved you. Go in peace.”

Seven stories, and each points to a simple truth: Jesus Christ is God, the one and only one who is able to heal. He is the one and only one who heals “every sickness and every disease” (Matt. 9:35).

And so, in the gospel of John, we are encouraged to believe in the Lord: “Jesus said to them, `I am the bread of life. He who comes to Me shall never hunger, and he who believes in Me shall never thirst'” (John 6:35). “This is the will of Him who sent Me, that everyone who sees the Son and believes in Him may have everlasting life; and I will raise him up at the last day” (John 6:40). “Whoever lives and believes in Me shall never die” (John 11:26). “And truly Jesus did many other signs in the presence of His disciples which are not written in this book, but these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing, you may have life in His name” (John 20:30,31).

In the Lord Jesus Christ we have our life. With Him as our help, we can have personal power in all that we do.

As I was preparing for this sermon, I was reminded of a passage in the book Heaven and Hell in which Swedenborg describes the power the angels have in the spiritual world (HH 229). Any obstruction which presents itself to them, welling up out of hell, the angels are able to disperse in a moment. And so, as a witness to happenings in the spiritual world, Swedenborg saw mountains which were occupied by evil spirits cast down and overthrown. Rocks which the evil spirits were hiding amongst were split in two. As Swedenborg watched, he saw evil spirits scattered and cast into hell. The angels who were able to do this exercised their power by an effort of will and by a look. It didn’t matter how cunning, or how deceptive, or how convincing the evil spirits were. The angels were able to see through their efforts and disperse them in a moment.

We can have that same kind of power in our lives. We can feel the presence of evil spirits as they come to us, out of hell, in the form of harmful desire. We can see through any argument that they pose to our minds.

But when the doctrine for the New Church speaks about the power that angels have in the spiritual world, they also talk about angels’ loss of power. Reading from Heaven and Hell: “But it must be understood that angels have no power whatever from themselves, but that all their power is from the Lord; and that they have power only so far as they acknowledge this. Whoever of them believes that he has power from himself instantly becomes so weak as not to be able to resist even a single evil spirit” (HH 230).

Like angels, as soon as we think we have power from ourselves over the influence of evil spirits, we lose that power: “You search the scriptures,” Jesus said, “for in them you think you have eternal life; and these are they who testify of me. But you are not willing to come to Me that you may have life” (John 5:39,40). “And He said to them, `You are from beneath; I am from above. You are of this world; I am not of this world. Therefore I said to you that … if you do not believe that I am, you will die in your sins'” (John 8:23,24).

Seven stories from the New Testament, and each points to a simple truth: Jesus Christ is God, the one and only source of power for angels in the spiritual world and for people in this world. But implicit in that truth is a second, simple truth: He is able. He is able to heal every sickness and every disease. No human problem is too great for Him to overcome. “With God all things are possible” (Matthew 19:26).

When was the last time you went to the Lord for help? When was the last time you sought Him in prayer and asked Him to help you with something? When you sought Him, what did you ask? And when you asked, did you believe? Did you really believe that He is able to grant that request? “Jesus answered and said to them, “Have faith in God. For assuredly I say to you, whoever says to this mountain, `Be removed and be cast into the sea,’ and does not doubt in his heart, but believes that those things He says will come to pass, he will have whatever he says. Therefore I say to you, whatever things you ask when you pray, believe that you receive, and you will have” (Mark 11:22-24). “All things whatever you ask in prayer, believing, you will receive” (Mark 11:24).

The last time you sought the Lord for help, did you believe that what you asked for would come to pass? Do you really believe, for example, that the Lord is able to overcome your greatest fault?

The Lord Jesus Christ is God. He is able to heal any sickness and any disease. No human problem is too great for Him to overcome if only we will believe that He can do it.

But let us not forget the third question in the test: What will you do? You see, if we accept the Lord as our God, and if we believe that He has power to heal every sickness and every disease, then we are left with a final logical question: How will we follow through?

Suppose, for example, a teenager is having trouble in school. She trusts her parents for their wisdom and for their advice, and so she comes to them to talk about it. “All my teachers are against me,” she says. Her parents listen, they talk with her about her problem, and maybe they suggest one or two options for how she might behave differently, to help nurture her relationships with her teachers. Suppose that teenager doesn’t try any of the suggestions that have been given to her by her parents. She goes right on behaving as she has in the past. Can it really be said that she trusts the wisdom of her parents if she doesn’t follow through?

If the Lord is God, and if we believe that He has power to heal and save, the natural and logical consequence is that we would follow through on whatever advice He gives us to help with the healing (see AC 10083:6).

In this regard I am reminded of the number of times that I have talked with people about trouble in human relationships. Often in those conversations I have recalled the teaching in the New Testament which says, “If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault between you and him alone. If he hears you, you have gained your brother” (Matthew 18:15).

How many of us know that truth from the New Testament? How many of us are aware of that piece of advice for helping relationships heal? And yet how many of us, when we think of a teaching like that, will say, “That’s too hard to do. That’s too hard to follow through on.” And a response like that is understandable; there can be a lot of fear surrounding such an approach to our brother: “What will he do?” “Will she even listen to me?” “He will yell at me.” “Maybe I’ll just let it lie. After all, it doesn’t seem important enough to bring up.”

There you are, hurting in a personal relationship. You want to believe in the Lord Jesus Christ. You want to believe He has power to heal and save. The Lord has called to your mind a bit of advice out of His Word one that you sense may help and yet you aren’t following through on that advice.

If Jesus Christ is our God, and if we believe that He is able to heal and save, and if He suggests a course of action and we don’t follow His lead, can it really be said that we believe in Him? Can we really expect that we will be helped in our struggles? Jesus said, “If you do not believe that I am, you will die in your sins” (John 8:24).

Belief in the Lord Jesus Christ belief that He has power to lift us up and save us; belief that He is able to accomplish whatever we long for is the first and most essential element of spiritual life (see AC 10083:5,6). It’s the beacon in the night to which every ship will eventually turn. It’s the pearl of great price. Without it no one can see and no one can love, and no one can be truly happy or at peace (see AC 10083:6). The Lord Jesus Christ is power, and He alone is peace.

One month ago I sat and talked with a college friend on a hill which overlooked an athletic field. We were watching a lacrosse game together. As we talked, his two-and-a-half-year-old daughter toddled up the hill to meet us. She was crying. What was wrong? I didn’t know. But what struck me was what she did as she came up the hill. She didn’t even notice that I was there. The only one she saw was her father. Here was one of her parents who could help her. She wasn’t going to be distracted by anyone or anything else. She went straight to her father, took him by both hands, and began pulling on him. She wanted his attention and his help. “Come to me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.”

Jesus said to her, “Daughter, your faith has made you well. Go in peace and be healed of your affliction.” Amen.


Lessons: Matt. 9:27-31, AC 10083

Arcana Coelestia 10083 (a portion)

It was often said by the Lord when the sick were healed that they should “have faith,” and that it would be done to them “according to their faith” (as Matt. 8:10-13 et alia). The reason was that the first of all is to acknowledge that the Lord is the Savior of the world, for without this acknowledgment no one can receive anything of truth and good from heaven, thus no faith; and because this is the first and most essential of all, therefore in order that the Lord might be acknowledged when He came into the world, in healing the sick He questioned them concerning their faith, and those who had faith were healed. The faith was that He was the Son of God who was to come into the world, and that He had power to heal and to save. Moreover all the healings of diseases by the Lord when He was in the world signified healings of the spiritual life, thus the things that belong to salvation (n. 8364, 9031, 9086).

Because the acknowledgment of the Lord is the first of all things of spiritual life, and the most essential thing of the church, and because without it no one can receive from heaven anything of the truth of faith and the good of love, therefore the Lord often says that he who “believes in Him hath eternal life,” that he who “does not believe has not life” (as John 1:1,4,12,13 et alia), but He also teaches at the same time that those have faith in Him who “live according to His precepts,” so that the consequent life may enter into the faith. All this has been said to illustrate and confirm the fact that the acknowledgment of the Lord, and that from Him is all salvation, is the first of life from the Divine with man.

LIFTING OUR THOUGHT TO ETERNITY

LIFTING OUR THOUGHT TO ETERNITY

A Sermon by Rev. Grant H. Odhner

Preached in Oak Arbor, Michigan March 17, 1991

“I will lift up my eyes to the mountains … ” (Psalm 121:1).

Mountains have always inspired people with awe. Who has walked among mountains and not been aware, at some time, of his own insignificance?

Mountains give us a means of appreciating relative sizes and forces, distances and times. We feel small next to them. The creative efforts of human beings seem puny by contrast. We can dramatically alter many landscapes can level hills, redirect rivers, fill swamps, cover miles of green with pavement and skyscraper but mountains are remarkably resistant to human manipulation. They defy taming. There is also something timeless about them. They stand unchanged for ages. They silently proclaim a time before we were, and a time after we will be gone.

For those who believe in God, mountains have always provided not only a humbling perspective on humanity, but also an awesome perspective on the infinity and eternity of our Creator. Do mountains seem immense and unchanging to us? Yet, sang the Psalmist:

[Yehowah] looks at the earth and it trembles; He touches the hills and they smoke (Psalm 104:32, emphasis added).

The mountains melt like wax at the presence of the Lord (Psalm 97:5).

Mountains indeed seem ancient to us. Yet the prophets declared:

He looked … and the everlasting mountains were scattered, the perpetual hills bowed. His ways are everlasting! (Hab. 3:6, emphasis added).

Before the mountains were brought forth or ever You had formed the earth and the world, even from everlasting to everlasting, You are God (Psalm 90:2).

The mountains shall depart, and the hills be removed, but my kindness shall not depart from you (Isaiah 54:10).

Mountains and hills have been symbols through the ages of what is Divine, unchanging, eternal. In the Word they bring to our attention these qualities about the Lord, either by contrast, as in the passages we just read, or directly, as in our text:

I will lift up my eyes to the mountains from whence comes my help. My help is from the Lord, Who made the heavens and the earth (Psalm 121:1,2).

Here the mountains are the Lord. This Psalm is about the Lord’s perpetual watchfulness, guidance, protection. He is pictured as a watchman, who neither “slumbers nor sleeps” (vv. 3-5). He guards us constantly, by day and by night (v. 6). The Psalm ends:

The Lord shall preserve your going out and coming in, from this time forth, and even for evermore (v. 8).

“For evermore.” To eternity!

Our subject today is lifting our thought to the Lord, who is eternal life lifting “our eyes to the mountains.”

The Word tells us many things that we cannot know from mere sense experience, among them that our life is eternal. Our senses teach us that all things around us pass away. All living forms gradually grow old, their metabolism slows, they decompose. Even land formations and seas change and cease. Planets and suns grow cold or explode. Perhaps we can see that energy is conserved and conclude from experience that energy might be eternal. But this says nothing of individual human minds.

In our day-to-day lives we generally don’t sense life as eternal. We face the tasks at hand; we set goals that affect the foreseeable future next week, next month, in rare cases next year. For most of us life is busy and preoccupying. The needs of the body are relentless: food, clothing, shelter, sufficient comfort. The needs of the mind are ever with us too. More than ever before perhaps, we are aware of all sorts of things that we see as important for our proper maintenance and betterment. We have all sorts of goals and ambitions for our own mental well- being and for our children’s. This makes life very busy, and leaves little time for reflection on what is eternal.

When we ask the question, “What is eternal about our lives?,” we can think of “eternal” in two ways: we can think of it as a matter of what is timeless, or we can think of it as a matter of what is enduring through time, of what lasts.

Properly speaking, eternity is not a matter of time. It is not just an infinite amount of time. Eternity is as much this moment as it is a millenium (see TCR 31). The Lord, who is the eternal, has no beginning and no end; everything is present to Him, as the Psalmist suggested: “a thousand years in [His] sight are like yesterday when it is past” ( Psalm 90:4).

Time belongs to nature. We have time because physical matter defines distances, and movement across distances marks times. As the earth spins, it marks out regular periods of dark and light. As it moves around the sun, it marks our seasons and years.

Of course, the Lord does act in time. How else could He touch us and lead us? He is in all time, but apart from time, and in all space, apart from space (see TCR 31). He is not bounded by them or defined by them.

Certainly, for us eternity involves time. We have our beginning in time, we live in time, and we come to appreciate the Lord’s constancy and wisdom through time. It is impossible for us to envision the unbounded nature of the Divine without thinking of endless time (see TCR 31; AC 1382, 4204).

Still, we can all become aware that there is something beyond fixed time. It is a common observation that when we are engrossed in something, our sense of time vanishes. A minute can seem like an hour. We discover that what we thought had been an hour was actually two or three. The same is true when we are with someone we love for example, lost in conversation. Time becomes irrelevant! At that moment we have no other belief than that we will know and love that person two thousand years from now!

Our mind with its loves, affections, and thoughts is actually not in time; it too is “in time, apart from time.” We become so accustomed to disciplining our enjoyments and our thinking to a timetable that this can be hard to see, but it’s so. The mind knows no time! It grows and changes through time, but it always remains unbound by it. Our bodies grow old and wrinkles appear, our functions slow and become less vibrant, but our minds’ capacities for growth remain. Our capacity to love and empathize and understand what is important in life actually increases, provided we allow the Lord to regenerate us.

We have a common perception, especially about those whom we know well and love (e.g. spouses, children, friends), that they do not die with the body. The Lord implants in all people the perception that life is eternal. It’s not that He wishes to subtly persuade us to believe in the afterlife against our will. Rather, the perception simply results from the fact, which cannot be hidden, that unique human beings cannot die.

We are able, then, to sense that our life is eternal not with our physical senses but with our spiritual senses. The only requisite is that we have some idea, however scanty, about eternal life (which doubtless exists in every culture). And, of course, we must also reflect.

If we attend to our mental life, and withdraw our minds from the demands of the moment from bodily needs, from worldly cares, from concern about appointments and deadlines, from considerations of our age, the time of day, the time of year, our physical location then we can notice the timeless quality of our loves and thoughts, and of our deeper relationships with others. We can especially notice this when we reflect on what delights us, engages us, motivates us, sustains us. More particularly, we become aware of what is eternal, by lifting our thoughts to the things of heaven, lifting our “eyes unto the mountains.”

“Mountains” in the Word stand for heaven, as well as for the Lord. To be in heaven is to be in the Lord and in the eternal. In the spiritual world, when a newcomer looks toward some heaven and approaches, he sees mountains. The communities there actually appear to be in the mountains (see TCR 336; AE 405:5; e.g. CL 75:2,76,77).

Heaven is called “eternal life” in the Word. It is the place where one will live forever and not die. In a sense, life in heaven is no more eternal than life here. Angels’ lives are finite and limited, like ours. They are still bound by certain constraints of their world; they still change and grow and learn in finite steps that follow one after another. Day follows upon day with them as with us. There is a reality that appears just like our time (see HH 163; TCR 29).

An important difference is that in heaven life is not forced to take place within a fixed material universe, with its physical laws. There life unfolds according to the loves, strivings, and activities of the spirit. The laws in operation there are the laws of the mind. There time does not determine the course of the body’s changes; the state of mind does. The body stays as young and vibrant as the mental outlook. All things there are governed by considerations of states of mind.

For example, in heaven when an angel feels really inspired to serve the neighbor, it’s morning time, and he has a full day ahead of him. Time bows to his state of mind. He never has the frustration of feeling inspired at midnight when he can’t act on the inspiration. When an angel wishes to do something for another (the Lord willing), he never has the frustration of being fifty miles away; distance bows to his state of mind. When an angel begins to feel mentally tired and needs refreshment, it’s afternoon. (He can leave his active duties and find recreation.) When he begins to feel dull and in need of new inspiration, it’s evening. He is then in his home; he is removed from people (both spacially and mentally), where he can reflect on himself and rededicate himself to the Lord.

The spiritual world is this way in all respects: space and time follow mental states. All those in a given community experience a similar progression. The Lord gathers their states into a common flow and sequence that suits all.

So heaven is called “eternal life,” because there we will enjoy greater freedom from rigid, earthly time. Our bodies will never grow old and die. We will live a truly spiritual life, in which we can love and serve others more deeply and fully, in which we can enjoy a fuller sense of being in the Lord’s life and blessings. This is what He longs for.

It is vital that we think about eternal life! Our lives are filled with so many things. We can become so unmindful of what is important and lasting! We can forget to seek out that state of mind in which time is not a factor, in which the only thing that matters is our attitude and our goals, and what’s in our heart. These things alone are timeless; they alone have a lasting impact on our future. Reflecting that our life is eternal enables us to live for something larger than the moment. It enables us to live as spiritual and not worldly beings.

Consider the picture offered in our text of looking toward the mountains. Mountains offer us perspective. We cannot appreciate distances apart from contrast. If we look at the sky and set our gaze, even at a hundred miles, we are struck with little awe, for (unless there are clouds or an airplane) there is nothing that gives us a sense of that great distance. That distance might as well be a mile as a hundred miles. But when we look up at a mountain, or out from a mountain, the case is different. Then the distance before us becomes meaningful. We can trace this distance with our eye tree by tree, over farm, river, town. We can feel this distance. Sometimes we can sense the space before us palpably as a tingling in our stomach!

Similarly, eternal things, the things of heaven, give us a spiritual perspective that we can’t otherwise have. Without reflecting on what is eternal, we have no means of seeing the relative importance and value of what we are loving, thinking, or doing right now. We have no way of seeing genuine progress, or detecting how far afield we are straying. In fact, without reflecting on eternal life we have no true freedom! because the sense that our life is eternal is what gives real significance to our choices (see DP 73:6f; TCR 498).

A moment’s reflection on eternal life can lift us from the tangled forests of our natural lives, and place us on a mountain from which we can survey what is below. We can find quiet above the pressures of the moment, above the desires of our old will. We can feel new breezes of life. We can experience the Lord His enduring presence, His everlasting love, His awesome power, His timeless peace.

I will lift up my eyes to the mountains

From whence comes my help.

My help is from the Lord,

Who made the heaven and the earth.

Amen.

Lessons: Psalm 121; Luke 12:16-40; DP 59

Divine Providence 59

It has not been known before this that the Divine Providence in all its proceedings with a human being regards his eternal state. It can regard nothing else, because the Divine is Infinite and Eternal, and the Infinite and Eternal, that is, the Divine, is not in time, and hence all future things are present to Him. And because this is the nature of the Divine, it follows that the eternal is in all things that it does, in general and in particular. Those, however, who think from time and space have difficulty in perceiving this, not only because they love temporal things, but also because they think from what is present in the world and not from what is present in heaven, for this to them is as far away as the end of the earth. When, however, those who are in the Divine think from what is present, they think also from what is eternal, because they think from the Lord. They say to themselves, “What is that which is not eternal? Is not the temporal comparatively as nothing, and does it not also become nothing when it comes to an end? It is not so with what is eternal; that alone is, because its being (esse) has no end.” To think thus while thinking from what is present is to think at the same time from what is eternal; and when a person so thinks, and at the same time so lives, then the Divine Proceeding with him, that is, the Divine Providence, regards in all its progress the state of his eternal life in heaven, and leads him to that state. It will be seen in what follows that the Divine regards what is eternal in all people, the wicked as well as the good.

SPIRITS AND MEN

SPIRITS AND MEN
A Sermon by Rev. Brian W. Keith
Preached in Glenview, Illinois November 1, 1987

“The Lord has provided that there should be angels and spirits with each individual, and that a person should be led by the Lord through them” (HH 247).

In today’s world many people are loath to admit the existence of spirits. While around Hallowe’en, ghosts and goblins come out aplenty, and the supernatural is often used in fiction, most people do not take it seriously. Indeed, by relegating the possibility of spiritual associates to horror shows and childish events, we push the reality of the other world further away from US.

For the spiritual world is the great unknown for most. It is not seen. It is not heard from. It cannot be scientifically explored. All of our natural tools for seeing and understanding worldly phenomena reveal nothing at all about the existence of life after death and how people there might affect us.

What’s more, a spiritual reality has frequently been discredited. Spirits used to be blamed for virtually everything that could not be scientifically explained. From head colds to earthquakes, spirits were thought to cause it all. So now that we have learned more about the laws of this world and found that there are natural causes, the existence and influence of spirits has been brought into question.

And for money or fame, the supernatural has always been an instrument for the unscrupulous. There has been no end of frauds willing to dupe those who long to contact those who have passed away. Magic tricks which give the appearance of psychic ability are often employed, casting doubt upon everything not of this world.

The pity of these abuses is that they obscure the truth that life is eternal, that we will all live forever in the other world. For those who can look beyond the charlatans, for those who admit to the possibility of there being more to life than our bodies, there is ample evidence of the spirit world.

In the Old Testament there were strict laws against attempts to communicate with “the dead.” “There shall not be found among you … one who conjures spells, or a medium, or a spiritist, or one who calls up the dead. For all who do these things are an abomination to the Lord . . . ” (Deut. 18:10-12). Laws are not enacted unless there has been a problem. It was well known then that it was possible to call someone from the grave – and the consequences were not good.

In the New Testament the Lord often healed people who were possessed, whose bodies were in the power of evil spirits. The evil spirit whose name was Legion, because he was many, was spoken to by the Lord, and cast into a herd of swine (see Luke 8:26-39). Myth? Or miracle?

More recently, observers have noted the “near-death experience. ” Amazingly similar stories are told by a wide array of people who were very close to death but then revived. They speak of being greeted by friends or relatives; of a brilliant light, and comforting warmth; of a certainty afterward that when their bodies die they will live – in happiness forever.

And if we will but think of ourselves, we can see how sensible it is to believe that life goes on. For we are not our bodies. Our minds -what we think about, what we care about – define who we are. This is why love grows even when bodies deteriorate, why getting older is meant to be getting better.

If we look within ourselves, we can see more evidence of a spiritual realm. Where do those ideas come from that just pop into our heads? Where do the changes in feelings come from? In our dreams, are we just hallucinating or is there something more there? A spiritual presence?

For those with open minds, for those willing to consider, the Lord has given a new vision of truth of the spiritual reality which awaits us all. By means of a revelation through Emanuel Swedenborg the Lord has described the nature of the life to come and its influence upon us now. For even as the Lord has blessed us with the opportunity to be of service to our neighbors on this earth, so in the next life He continues that source of joy. He allows the angels to participate in the wonderful process of leading people to experience the joys of heaven. Or, as the Heavenly Doctrines of the New Church state: “The Lord has provided that there should be angels and spirits with each individual, and that a person should be led by the Lord through them.”

When we die we do not evaporate or depart to a far distant realm. Our existence after we put away our bodies is more real than before. For then our inner loves come out, and our highest hopes are realized. And since our life then is but a continuation of our life here, the spiritual world is very closely connected with this world. No, people in the next life are no more aware of our presence than we are of theirs. But they are still with us, influencing us.

We can be aware of the presence of the hells. They are legion with us. We may joke about “the devil made me do it,” but there is some truth in the claim. For when we allow our selfish nature to take the lead, the hells are very close to us. Their presence promotes selfishness; they sway us to feel that horrible and insane actions are fine as long as they feel good. Those who have felt suicidal urges have sensed their power. Rages, the inability to keep our mouths shut even when we know that no good can come from getting in the last word, all point to the influence the hells can have. And we also can see them in depressions – in feelings of worthlessness and listlessness.

Many have experienced their influence at night. How common is it for a person to have trouble getting to sleep because he or she is worried about something? The person frets, tossing and turning, because of the severity of the problem and the impossibility of solving it. Then, after sleep finally comes, and the person awakes, the problem looks different. In fact, it does not look nearly as big or knotty in the light of day. Why such anxiety the night before? In part, because the evil spirits had stoked our fears, troubling us beyond all measure.

Evil spirits also distort our thinking whenever possible, confusing, obscuring, or misdirecting our thoughts. How often have we taken a position, defending it, only to realize later that what we said made little or no sense? How could we have been so stupid? How could we have been so blind? Easily, for hell twists our thinking whenever we permit it.

Fortunately, the Lord always counterbalances with heavenly influx any influence the hells might have. There are always angels with us, angels who care more for us than for themselves. When they are near they inspire us with healthy and uplifting feelings. From them we can feel optimistic about the future. From them we are stirred to go the extra mile for others. From them we have the ability to rise above selfishness to express love to our spouse, family, and friends.

Angels also provide us with insights and perception. Whenever we can say, “that is true, ” it is because they have shed heavenly light upon our minds. Enlightenment, our sight of ideals or principles which should govern our lives, is actually a Divine spark provided us by the angels. They inspire us to recognize what is true, even when we may feel that we are less than brilliant.

And angels are especially active when we are in spiritual pain. When we are tempted, or struggling, they strive to diminish the hellish influence we are feeling. They also call forth the truths we believe and the goods we have made our own that we overcome. They uphold us lest we “dash our feet against stones.”

These spiritual influences are so important that without them we would have no source for our thinking and imagination. We would have no ability to feel and live. For the Lord uses these people in the other world as His agents to lead and guide us. And without them we would be cut off from an essential source of spiritual nourishment.

But this does not mean that we are controlled by people or events in the other world. They are influences upon us, even as our culture and our friends are. Influences do not dominate over us. We have the freedom to respond to them – to follow suggestions or reject them. We can go along with the crowd or take a different path. As we can with natural friends, so we can with our spiritual friends. We determine which spirits are present with us. We determine whom we are listening to.

And to preserve our freedom, the Lord has protected us against any direct contact with people from the other world. Yes, there may be times when we sense their presence – dreams, near-death experiences, or when one feels the nearness of a departed spouse, for the veil between the two worlds is very thin and can be bridged easily. But these are not sought-after experiences, like seances or the use of Ouija boards.

We are not to seek contact with spirits. The ancient laws of the Old Testament still apply. The Lord has given us all that we need – the Word – that we might lead heavenly lives. We do not need anything more. As He said to the Pharisees when they asked that someone from the other world instruct them: “If they do not hear Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded though one rise from the dead” (Luke 16:31).

Even if we were certain of contacting an angelic spirit, there is nothing he or she could add to our lives. In fact, if we did begin to listen to one, like a spiritual “Dear Abby,” it would diminish our looking to the Lord in His Word for guidance. It would create a dependency upon spirits rather than on our own efforts to understand the truth and do what is right.

And there are tremendous dangers associated with spirit communication. It is only the evil spirits who long to return to this world where they can do harm without fear of certain punishment. So we are more likely to come into contact with them rather than angels. And evil spirits are so devious that we cannot tell who or what they are.

So what is the value in recognizing the place that spirits play in our lives if we are not to contact them or be conscious of their presence? Three reasons come to the fore.

The first is that they provide us with a sense of continuity. By recognizing that life goes on, and that the life that goes on is productive and happy, we gain a perspective on what we should do here. Our contributions, our usefulness, are never over but only beginning. This is especially important for marriages. To know that death does not destroy but temporarily separates strengthens love and a commitment to marriage. To think of being reunited is to rob death of its finality, and to see hope.

The second value in recognizing the role spirits play is the tremendous support which the Lord provides us. We are never alone. We are never in a hopeless situation. The Lord and His angels are always near, lending a silent hand, quietly guiding and helping, as much as we will allow them. No matter how depressed or sad we may be, the Lord provides uncounted angelic support to see us through.

And the final value is in recognizing how much freedom we have. Because we are influenced by both heaven and hell, we have absolute spiritual freedom to place ourselves in one camp or the other. What is more, we do not have to take responsibility for what is not ours. As the Lord said, “not what goes into the mouth defiles a man, but what comes out of the mouth, this defiles a man” (Matthew 15: 11). What evil spirits inspire is what comes in. The fact that we have urges to be selfish or break the commandments does not mean we are evil. All people experience such influences, so we do not have to judge ourselves based upon what comes in. Our freedom is in determining what comes out.

By the same token, by recognizing that good stems from angelic influence, we can avoid taking undue credit for the good that is done. Conceit can be diminished when we acknowledge that it is the Lord’s doing and not our own.

Of the Lord’s Providence we are surrounded by spiritual influences. We are placed in the center that we may turn this way or that. With angelic inspiration we can learn what the Word teaches. With heavenly guidance we can take small steps on the Lord’s way. And eventually, we can join with them and share with others the spiritual bounty we have received. Amen.

Lessons: Deuteronomy 18:9-14, Matthew 15:1-20, AC 5992

Arcana Coelestia 5992

5992. The angels, through whom the Lord leads and also protects a man. are near his head. It is their office to inspire charity and faith, and to observe in what direction the man’s delights turn, and in so far as they can, without interfering with the man’s freedom, moderate them and bend them to good. They are forbidden to act with violence and thus break the man’s cupidities and principles; but are enjoined to act gently. It is also their office to rule the evil spirits who are from hell, which is done in innumerable ways, of which the following only may be mentioned. When the evil spirits pour in evils and falsities, the angels insinuate truths and goods, which, if not received, are nevertheless the means of tempering. Infernal spirits continually attack, and the angels protect; such is the order.

[2] The angels especially regulate the affections, for these make the man’s life, and also his freedom. The angels also observe whether any hells are open that were not open before, and from which there is influx with the man, which takes place when the man brings himself into any new evil. These hells the angels close so far as the man allows, and remove any spirits who attempt to emerge therefrom. They also disperse strange and new influxes that produce evil effects.

[3] Especially do the angels call forth the goods and truths that are with a man, and set them in opposition to the evils and falsities which the evil spirits excite. Thus the man is in the midst, and does not perceive either the evil or the good; and being in the midst, he is in freedom to turn himself either to the one or to the other. By such means do angels from the Lord lead and protect a man, and this every moment, and every moment of a moment; for if the angels were to intermit their care for a single moment, the man would be precipitated into evil from which he could never afterward be brought out. These things the angels do from the love they have from the Lord, for they perceive nothing more delightful and happy than to remove evils from a man, and lead him to heaven. That this is a joy to them, see Luke 15:7. Scarcely any man believes that the Lord takes such care of a man, and this continually from the first thread of his life to the last of it, and afterward to eternity.

ANGELS

ANGELS

A Sermon by Rev. Ragnar BoyesenPreached in Freeport, Pennsylvania, in October 1985

The Heavenly Doctrines explain to us the nature of angels, their existence, occupations and how they came to be what they are. Only when the Heavenly Doctrines stood forth to describe spiritual reality was man able to know a coherent doctrine regarding their life.

In the Old Testament, for instance, we are told hardly anything concerning angels. It is true that the Lord promised to send His angel to Israel, and that the Jews learned to regard them as messengers from God. They were called “elohim” — the holy ones — or as it is put in Greek: angelos. The Hebrew expression “elohim” was used to refer to different messengers from God; therefore it is plural. Sometimes these were the prophets, the priests, or grand phenomena in nature, as, for instance, the pillar of light or the pillar of cloud seen by the Israelites in the desert as they were led out of Egypt. All of the signs, the wind, plagues done in the name of the Lord, were called elohim.

The most specific expression is “the angel of Jehovah”; such were identified as “sons of God,” with which the Jews ascribed qualities in themselves which made them believe that they were the chosen people of God. Angels therefore became messengers to them specially approved of by God. The most specific use of the name elohim revolves around the Lord Jesus Christ, the one who was to be the promised one, the King, the Messiah who would carry God’s message of universal salvation of the Jews. After the captivity in Babylon, the Jews developed a complicated angeology. Angels came to be ranged in seven ascending categories. In later contact with Hellenistic thought, it came to be thought that angels were not personal beings but rather emanations from God. Wherever there was a need for an angel it was created in an instant by God. Those of the Jews, however, who came to regard the Palestinian concept as the more correct one believed angels to be individual and personal, but eternal spirits created as such. Since they had been created before the earth existed, angels came to be otherworldly and different. As messengers of God, in time angels came to have less standing than the living Jews, who were the chosen people of God.

This concept of angels as a separate creation of God was imported into Christianity: they were especially created by God, and were to be called His holy family. Like the ancient Greek ideas of the fallibility of gods, the holy angels came to be seen capable of failure, expressed in the belief that one group of angels revolted against God, to go off and form hell. The struggle of good and evil came to be symbolized by the angels of light versus the angels of darkness.

Because the importation of Greek and Babylonian/Judaic thought into Christian thinking caused men to slowly lose sight of the need to prepare themselves to become angels, the Heavenly Doctrines were given to make clear to all who want to understand that angelhood is part of the Lord’s Divine plan for each of us.

But some will say, Why do we need to talk about angels, and all the vague notions of eternal life, when there is such a need for all churches to fight poverty, need, criminality and sickness? Why do we not concentrate on the world, here and now, on America today? Would it not be more New Church to ease the burdens people bear?

Indeed it would if we would remember the original meaning of the term angel: “a messenger from God.” If there is anything which we humans need in all situations of life it is to be reminded that we live in the world for a purpose beyond the world, and that the life we live in the world will be markedly qualified by the type of belief we have of a life to come.

If you think about it, you know so well how the world is filled with organizations to help the needy on the local, national and international levels. All these fight on the natural plane with the natural problems of people, and should rightly do so to enhance society. Yet who in the world is willing to fight for the alleviation of the spiritual problems of the world today? If it is true that God needs messengers to bring the good news from the spiritual world down to the natural world, is it not much more important in our day that there be true reporting on spiritual reality? Without tools the Lord cannot, work. We, as human beings still in the world, are His tools. We are the angelos He wants to send to our neighbors to reassure them that there are qualities which must come from God to each human being in order that we one day may come close to God. We are, therefore, in steady need of reminders of the Lord’s purpose in creation. He made man in His own image and likeness that man one day may be an angel. Every time we fasten our thoughts on eternity we are to remind ourselves and others that heaven is the ultimate home of every sincere man and woman.

We are reminded of the young man who wanted to be an angel and asked the Lord, “What shall I do to inherit eternal life?” The Lord answered, “If you want to enter into life, keep the commandments” (Matt. 19:17).

Life, we are told in the Writings, is the Lord Himself (see AC 2628:5). The Lord as life is heaven, while the angels constitute heaven (see HH 7). Heaven is kept in order by the law that proceeds from the Lord, who is the inmost of heaven. The ten commandments, as we know them from the Old Testament, are the most concrete summary of these laws, and have sprung out of the heavenly law. “In heaven [the ten commandments] do not sound as they do on earth, for in the heavens they are in a spiritual form, but on the earth in a natural form” (AC 8862).

When these laws are earnestly taken into the life of a human on this earth, they will cause a mental crisis, where the powers of good and truth attempt to order the mind from within. The uproar caused by truth is actually proof that truth is working, and that selfish thoughts and expressions of will rebel against them. Our false plans and evil inclinations can only be seen in the true light of the spiritual world, brought to us through angels who want to help us. To be an angel, then, means to learn how to live according to the ten commandments, both in their external and internal application. By using these laws as the yardstick of our willingness to follow the Lord’s will, we can find greater love and wisdom as we clearly receive the help of angels who love to think of us as angels in the making. “To believe and think, as is the truth, that every good and truth is from the Lord and every evil and falsity from hell appears like an impossibility; and yet it is the truly human principle, and therefore truly angelic” (DP 321:4). In the world we believe for the most part that it would destroy our freedom to ascribe everything to the Lord, but the angels know better. “With every man, and with every angel,” the Arcana tells us, “even the most celestial [angel], that which is his own is nothing but falsity and evil. For it is known that the heavens are not clean before the Lord, and that all good and all truth are of the Lord alone. But so far as a man or an angel is capable of being perfected, so far of the Lord’s Divine mercy he is perfected, and receives, as it were, an understanding of truth and a will of good. But his having these is only an appearance” (AC 633).

It is common among humans in the world to believe that they have their own life, because they feel individually separated and master of their lives to some degree. But neither angels nor men actually have life in themselves, even if they feel life in themselves. If this life were their own possession, they would be gods. Our reading today made it clear that what is angelic in the heavens is the Divine love and the Divine wisdom. This Divine love and wisdom is called angelic when it is in angels (see DLW 114).

When this is said, we must also remind ourselves that it is impossible for man or angel to receive the Lord unless there is a feeling of self-life. To feel that life is one’s own is a true and necessary appearance. However, to confirm that we are indeed captains of our lives is harmful. We have but one source of life — the Lord. Yet we have only one feeling of life — as if life were in ourselves. If angels and men could not have this feeling of life in themselves as integral to what they think and do, they could not function. If this feeling of life in ourselves were not there, we would not be able to receive the inflowing life from the Lord. “Who can wish to love the Lord and his neighbor, and who can wish to be wise, without a sense and perception that what he loves, learns, and imbibes is, as it were, his own? Who otherwise can retain it in himself? If this were not so, the inflowing love and wisdom would have no abiding place, for it would flow through and not affect; thus an angel would not be an angel, nor would man be a man” (DLW 115).

What is important to note here is that the sensation that life is in man belongs to both men and angels, but that only angels, and men who are training to become angels, really can acknowledge that life is not their own but a gift to care for and cherish. In the same degree that people believe that love and wisdom really is a function of their own lives, as if it were their own possession, they arrest the love and wisdom, because in the same degree they are not angelic. Everyone who claims life to belong to himself as his own property denies that he lives from the Lord, and believes that he lives from himself. If we are to live from the Lord, we will gladly acknowledge His life as our life, and rejoice in this dependence as a son on his father.

Everyone who wants to be an angel is given the opportunity and the ability to answer the Lord’s Divine love. This ability does not belong to any angel or man, but is the Lord’s with him.

What, then, makes man separate and worthy of Divine attention? Divine Love and Wisdom answers: “In everything created by God there is reaction. In life alone there is action; reaction is caused by the action of life. Because reaction takes place when any created thing is acted upon, it appears as if it belonged to what is created. Thus in man it appears as if the reaction were his, because he has no other feeling than that life is his, when yet man is only a recipient of life. From this cause it is that man, by reason of his hereditary evil, reacts against God. But so far as man believes that all his life is from God, and that all good of life is from the action of God, and all evil of life from the reaction of man, so far his reaction comes to be from [God’s] action, and man acts with God as if from himself” (DLW 68 — emphasis added).

Man can never reach God from his own power. No angel of the heavens has been created in heaven for a life in heaven, but has first been a man with his own ability to react to the Lord. It is the will of the Lord that all human beings receive life both on the three degrees of natural life and the three degrees of spiritual life. Even as some believe that angels have more of the Divine in them than men on the earth, the reality is that the Lord is equally present with all men, wise or simple, but that how we receive the Lord makes all the difference. The difference is not in the Lord. He would have liked to make all men angels. The difference is in man — in his ability and willingness to follow Divine laws, and to make these laws his own with Divine aid. The greater this mutuality grows because of man’s striving to live according to Divine will, the greater the joy, beauty and expression of that Divine life, which when received by man or angel is called angelic.

 

“If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love, just as I have kept My Father’s commandments and abide in His love. These things have I spoken to you that My joy may remain in you, and that your joy may be full” (John 15:10, 11).

Amen.

 


Lessons: Matt. 19:16-30, DLW 114, 115

Divine Love and Wisdom

114. The Lord not only is in heaven, but also is heaven itself; for love and wisdom are what make the angel, and these two are the Lord’s in the angels; from which it follows that the Lord is heaven. For angels are not angels from what is their own; what is their own is altogether like what is man’s own, which is evil. An angel’s own is such because all angels were once men, and this own clings to the angels from their birth. It is only put aside, and so far as it is put aside the angels receive love and wisdom, that is, the Lord, in themselves. Anyone, if he will only elevate his understanding a little, can see that the Lord can dwell in angels only in what is His, that is, in what is His very own., which is love and wisdom, and not at all in the selfhood of angels, which is evil. From this it is that so far as evil is put away, so far the Lord is in them, and so far they are angels. The very angelic of heaven is love Divine and wisdom Divine. This Divine is called the angelic when it is in angels. From this, again, it is evident that angels are angels from the Lord, and not from themselves; consequently, the same is true of heaven.

115. But how the Lord is in an angel and an angel in the Lord cannot be comprehended unless the nature of their conjunction is known. Conjunction is of the Lord with the angel and of the angel with the Lord; conjunction, therefore, is reciprocal. On the part of the angel it is as follows. The angel, in like manner as man, has no other perception than that he is in love and wisdom from himself, consequently that love and wisdom are, as it were, his or her own. Unless he so perceived, there would be no conjunction, thus the Lord would not be in him, nor he in the Lord. Nor can it be possible for the Lord to be in any angel or man unless the one in whom the Lord is, with love and wisdom, has a perception and sense as if they were his. By this means the Lord is not only received but also, when received, is retained, and likewise loved in return. And by this, also, the angel is made wise and continues wise. Who can wish to love the Lord and his neighbor, and who can wish to be wise, without a sense and perception that what he loves, learns, and imbibes is, as it were, his own? Who otherwise can retain it in himself? If this were not so, the inflowing love and wisdom would have no abiding place, for it would flow through and not affect; thus an angel would not be an angel, nor would man be a man; he would be merely like something inanimate. From all this it can be seen that there must be an ability to reciprocate that there may be conjunction.