I AM: THE LORD’S DIVINE PRESENCE WITH US
A Sermon by Rev. Frederick M. Chapin
Preached in Charlotte, North Carolina, March 24, 1996
“And God said to Moses, `I AM who I am.’ And He said, `Thus you shall say to the children of Israel, “I AM has sent me to you”‘” (Exodus 3:14).
One of the most basic of human needs is to feel worthwhile. Our lives would become unbearable if we felt there was nothing we could accomplish. We need to be assured that we can make a difference. The more we recognize how we can benefit others, the more we will value ourselves and the services we can provide.
Many who are in a state of depression feel as if their lives are of no value. It is not clearly evident to them how they can be a positive influence toward others. They see more of their negative faults than their opportunities and abilities that are good. For example, many of the elderly today feel an isolation and low self-worth. They are not able to do the things they once were able to do. Because they don’t see anything they can offer, nor do they feel appreciated, they just linger and become lonely, without hope. It can easily be seen that the more we recognize what our abilities are, and whom we can have a positive influence upon, the more appreciation and enjoyment we will have about ourselves and the services we are able to perform.
The Lord intends for every person to feel a sense of self- worth. We need the assurance that we can make a positive contribution to our neighbor, country, the church, and even the Lord’s kingdom in the heavens. We are to have the confidence that the Lord has created us with unique gifts that can support the efforts of others and add to the effectiveness of the Lord’s church upon the earth. In short, all of us can do wonderful things for others. Our reading about the call to Moses gives us the teachings on how the Lord makes an individual call to each one of us. The more we are faithful to our call, the more we are able to display the loves and the wisdom that exists in heaven. When we are able to display heavenly states in our lives, we will appreciate what the Lord has enabled us to do.
The story begins with Moses watching the sheep of his father-in-law, Jethro. One day Moses saw a bush burning with fire but not being consumed. He soon recognized that it was the Lord and had to take his shoes off his feet because he was standing upon holy ground. The Lord then revealed to Moses that he was to go to Egypt and lead the Israelites to the promised land. This seemed like an impossible task for Moses to accomplish. To assure Moses that he could do these things, the Lord spoke the words of our text that “I AM” has sent you. We do know that Moses did eventually lead the Israelites out of Egypt and he guided them to the promised land.
Like Moses, when we first hear what we are to do we may have doubts concerning our abilities to carry it out. We may feel unqualified to perform the task that the Lord has set out before us. How often do we convince ourselves that we are not able to perform a service when we are presented with an opportunity to do so? Quite often when we are confronted with an occasion to do something good there is a fear of taking a risk to do that good. We convince ourselves that we are hopelessly trapped in the results of our failures, with no hope of emerging out of them. Like Moses, we will remain stuck, watching sheep because of the murder he committed in Egypt, and Israel will forever remain in slavery in Egypt.
Nevertheless, we are given the same words as were given to Moses: I AM is with you. When the Lord referred to Himself as the I AM, He was alluding to His Divinity. He was telling Moses that His full infinite power would be with Moses as he set out upon his task. Likewise, the Lord gives us the same assurance. If we make the effort to take advantage of performing good services when the opportunities present themselves, the Lord will be with us in His full Divinity. The Lord’s infinite love and wisdom will be present with us as we perform our unique gifts.
The Writings for the New Church teach clearly that the Lord is in every detail of creation. This includes that the Lord is personally present with all of us. If all of a sudden you were the only person alive upon the earth, He would not be any closer to you than He is right now. The Lord is fully aware of our concerns and challenges. For the most part, we are not consciously aware of the Lord’s presence at every moment. This is so that we are in freedom which allows us to enjoy the life the Lord is providing for us. However, the Lord is intimately aware of our state, and how we can be of use to His kingdom. The Lord looks and regards each of us for what we can provide in making heaven more wonderful, more perfect, and more effective. While we are upon the earth, the Lord works in us so that we are able to manifest heaven and further establish heavenly principles. And the Lord unceasingly provides what we need to accomplish our task, which is so precious in His sight.
The Lord’s operation in our lives is the Holy Spirit. The teachings about the Holy Spirit reveal how the Lord works within us. It is because the Lord is unceasingly working within us that we can not only enter heaven, but make it better from our presence there. Everyone’s abilities and contribution are of equal value in the sight of the Lord.
Yet just having the Lord’s unceasing love and wisdom present with us does not automatically mean we will accomplish our God- given task. We also must cooperate with Him. The Writings teach that we cooperate with the Lord when our lives are in order. We have the proper loves and the proper priorities established in our lives when we simply comply with the teachings from the Word. As we obey the Word and remove the disorders in our lives that disagree with what the Word teaches, our lives are becoming more and more established in Divine order. This produces a living conjunction with the Lord. And the more our lives are in order, the stronger the bond with the Lord. It is then that we accomplish and enjoy the calling the Lord is leading us into. It is then that we escape from the consequences of our past evils and journey toward a state of freedom in the Lord’s kingdom.
There are three things to be aware of if we are to be motivated by a confidence that the Lord’s power is with us. First, we must recognize that it is the Divinity of the Lord that allows good services to be done. Just as Moses was powerless of himself to lead the Children of Israel out of Egypt, so too are we powerless to perform services that truly accomplish good and bring heaven to earth.
Secondly, we must be willing to face reality. If we are to have the discipline and the ability to perform services that help other people and bring heaven to the earth, we must be able to face reality. When we accept truth, we are dealing with realty. New Church doctrine teaches that the most fundamental reality is that all things are from the Lord. The more we are sincerely in that confession and cooperating with it, the more we are able to face and respond to what is real. The more we are able to face reality and not try to hide from it or cover it up, the more we are equipped to help others and provide services for them. Heaven is a state where we function in what is real. On the other hand, hell is a state where we fantasize what is real so that we can indulge in selfish desires or intentionally delude ourselves that a disorder is not really present. Facing reality prevents us from going through denial. Loving truth allows us to enjoy reality. The more we are content with what is real, the more we will find contentment with our lives on earth and what we will do in heaven.
And third, we must realize that it is the Lord that establishes the church. It was the Lord that led Israel out of Egypt. He accomplished it through Moses, but it was from the Lord’s power. Likewise, when we are able to display heavenly loves before others, the church is being established by the Lord through us. The good that we do is really the Lord’s work. We can make the church on earth more effective by our obeying the Lord’s commandments. However, it is the Lord that is making the church more prominent upon the earth. The Writings are clear that the Lord does not need the help of people or angels to bring good and peace upon the earth. However, he uses us so that we can find delight and fulfillment in this awesome work. The Lord can make our married partner happy and useful, but He works through us to make our partner content and spiritually effective. The Lord can guide our children to eternal life without our assistance, but He works through us to instruct each child in what is right and holy. The same is true of our friends, fellow workers, and others we come in contact with. The Lord has allowed us to have an integral part in bringing heavenly loves and truth to the world so that we can find heavenly contentment and peace in what the Lord is accomplishing on the earth.
When we receive the Lord, we can do marvelous things. When the Lord guides our lives, we can “cast the mountains into the sea.” A clear awareness is being developed of what is right and wrong, and we have the discipline and the strength to cast away that barrier to heaven. Also, we will have a sense of the Lord’s power present with us. We will be like Elisha’s servant who saw a host of fiery chariots surrounding him when a band of Syrian raiders was about to attack him. When we are confronted with the attacks from the hells, if we continue to look to the Lord our eyes will be open and we will see from within that we were always under the Lord’s protection and have the power to achieve great spiritual victories. Whenever we do something that is good and honorable from a desire and intent to obey the Lord, the Lord is conjoined to that good and can use it to bring heaven to the earth. For us to accomplish our calling, we must allow the Lord to establish in us a conscience of good. We must allow Him to establish in us a conviction that we want good and true principles to be accomplished within us and by us. Because the Lord is not limited to natural properties, He can be with us with His full and infinite Divinity in the minutest details of our lives. We can rejoice that when we are conjoined with the Lord, we are having an important and valuable role in the most important and wonderful work that we can be a part of. And we can rejoice in our opportunities where we can make the Lord’s church more visible upon the earth. We can do wonderful things in the name of the Lord. For the Lord tells each one of us: “Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends” (John 15:13). Amen.
Lessons: Exodus 3:1-14, John 8:48-59, AC 6880
Arcana Coelestia 6880
I AM WHO I AM. That this signifies the Being and Coming- forth of all things in the universe is evident from the fact that “I am” is Being, and because He alone is Being, it is said in the nominative case. That it is twice said “I AM,” that is, “I AM who I AM,” is because the one signifies Being and the other Coming- forth; thus the one signifies the Divine Itself, which is called the “Father,” and the other the Divine Human, which is called the “Son”; for the Divine Human comes forth from the Divine Itself. But when the Lord as to the Human also was made the Divine Being (Esse) or Jehovah, then the Divine truth, which proceeds from the Lord’s Divine Human, is the Divine Coming-forth from the Divine Being. From this it can be seen that the Divine Being cannot communicate Itself to anyone except through the Divine Coming- forth; that is, the Divine Itself cannot communicate Itself except through the Divine Human, and the Divine Human cannot communicate itself except through the Divine truth, which is the Holy of the Spirit: this is meant by its being said that all things were made by the Word (John 1:3). It appears to man as if the Divine truth were not such that anything can come forth by means of it; for it is believed that it is like a voice, which being uttered with the lips, is dissipated. But it is altogether otherwise: the Divine truth proceeding from the Lord is the veriest reality, and such a reality that all things have come forth from it, and all things subsist from it; for whatever proceeds from the Lord is the veriest reality in the universe; and such is the Divine truth, which is called the “Word,” through which all things were made.