This is a sermon I gave at the Olivet New Church in Toronto on April 11, 2010.
Readings: Isaiah 43:1-11; John 20:19-29; Apocalypse Revealed 469
MY LORD AND MY GOD
A Sermon by Rev. Coleman S. Glenn
“And Thomas answered and said to Him, ‘My Lord and my God.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Because you have seen Me, Thomas, you have believed; blessed are they who have not seen, and have believed.’” (John 20:28, 29)
“My Lord and my God.” These are some of the most profound, powerful words in the entirety of the Word. “My Lord and my God.” For the first time, a disciple acknowledged not only that Jesus was a great teacher; not only that He was the Son of God; but that He was God Himself, Jehovah of the Old Testament come down into this world. Those five words contain what is perhaps the single most important truth that has been revealed to the world: the Lord Jesus Christ is God. Everyone in heaven worships the Lord as God – and so, if we are on the heavenly path – every one of us will reach that moment of recognition where we see the Lord for Who He truly is. And because we grow closer to the Lord to eternity, and learn more and more to eternity, we can have this moment occur again and again in our lives, with each new moment being a deeper realization that the Lord is God.
But we do not remember Thomas primarily for making this confession of the Lord’s divinity. We know him today as “doubting Thomas.” We use the name to refer to people who are too sceptical for their own good, who refuse to believe anything unless they can touch it and see it. And this, too, is an important part of the story. Thomas was only able to make his confession when he saw and touched the Lord; but the Lord said, “Because you have seen me, Thomas, you have believed; blessed are they who have not seen and yet have believed.” Unlike Thomas, we do not physically see the Lord or touch Him – we are asked to believe in Him without actually having physical proof that He is there, that He has risen, that He is God.
But someone might object, “If I can’t see Him, how can I make myself believe in Him!?” There is a truth behind this question. In some sense, we do have to “see” the Lord to truly believe in Him. The book Doctrine of Faith says,
[The Lord’s words to Thomas] do not mean a faith separate from an internal acknowledgement of truth, but that they are blessed who do not see the Lord with their eyes, as Thomas did, and yet believe that He is; for this is seen in the light of truth from the Lord (Faith 10).
Those who have faith still see the Lord – but in the light of truth, rather than in the light of the world. Faith is defined as an internal acknowledgment of truth – and we cannot force ourselves to see the truth in something that we do not understand.
But if we can’t make ourselves believe something, does that mean that we just have to sit and wait for faith to happen? Some branches of Christianity teach exactly this – that we have no free will in spiritual matters, and that God simply grants faith to some and not to others. Following this logic leads inevitably to the idea of predestination – if there’s nothing a person can do to acquire faith on his own, if it’s just an act of God, then the fact that not everyone has faith shows that God has chosen not to save them. It’s a pernicious doctrine that totally denies the Lord’s clear teaching that He wants everyone to be saved.
But then what is the answer? If the Lord does not randomly inspire faith, and yet we cannot force ourselves to have it, what can we do? The question is posed and answered later in the Doctrine of Faith:
If anyone should think within himself, or say to someone else, “Who is able to have the internal acknowledgment of truth which is faith? not I;” let me tell him how he may have it: Shun evils as sins, and come to the Lord, and you will have as much of it as you desire. (Faith 12)
This one sentence answers this age-old question – how can I have faith? The answer is two-fold. First, shun evils as sins. And second, come to the Lord.
To do these things does require some kind of faith – faith in the sense of willingness or trust. But this is a kind of faith we can choose to have. We can choose to follow the Lord’s commandments. We can choose to assume that the Word is true, even if we don’t always see the truth in it. And it can take a long time of going through the motions before we’re able to see the truth, to come to that internal acknowledgment that is faith. But when we choose to live by the truth, we do come to know it. Many of us have probably shunned some kind of evil in our lives and seen the way that it helped us grow in our love for others. We stumble, of course, and sometimes we feel that we are not making progress – but we may find that even the fact that the progress is slow and stumbling confirms our faith, since that is exactly how the Writings tell us the progress will go. We find that the Word describes our inner states more perfectly than could be known by natural psychology.
“Shun evils as sins, and come to the Lord, and you will have as much [faith] as you desire.” Most of the sermons we hear focus on the first part of this – shunning evils as sins. We focus on our own lives – our struggles, our efforts to keep the commandments, temptations we will face, our hopes and dreams. This is the world we know best, and it is easier to understand than it is to understand what it means to come to the Lord. And it is vital and useful to focus on our lives. But we may sometimes lose sight of how important that second part is: to approach the Lord – that is, to approach the Lord Jesus Christ in His Divine Human. The book Apocalypse Revealed says that the two essentials of the New Church are first, “that the Lord alone is the God of heaven and earth, and that His Human is Divine”; and second, “that people ought to live according to the precepts of the Ten Commandments” (AR 485). And the passage we read this morning says that that first essential – “that the Lord is the God of heaven and earth, and that His Human is Divine” – is the essential itself of the New Church. We need to follow the Ten Commandments, but just as importantly – or even more importantly – we need to come to the Lord if we want to have faith.
But what does it mean to come to the Lord? How do we approach Him? And how do we come that internal acknowledgment that mirrors Thomas’s external one – that Jesus Christ is our Lord and our God? Thomas had spent three years following the Lord. He had come to know Him intimately. When the Lord said that He was going to Jerusalem, where they had recently wanted to stone Him, Thomas said to the other disciples, “Let us also go, that we may die with Him.” He literally followed wherever Jesus went. He got to know Him intimately. And in the same way, if we want to have that internal acknowledgement which is faith, we need to get to know Jesus, to love Jesus, and to follow in Jesus’s footsteps.
This emphasis on Jesus may strike some as unusual, because in the New Church we usually refer to Jesus as “the Lord,” and talking about “getting to know Jesus” for some people carries connotations of fundamentalist Christianity. But “the Lord” means Jesus – Jesus is “the Lord.” Thomas cried out, “My Lord and my God.” We sometimes use “Lord” as a synonym for “God” – and the Lord is God. The Writings themselves occasionally use the word “Lord” in this way. But usually when the Writings use the name, “Lord,” they’re specifically talking about Jesus. A passage early on in Arcana Coelestia, the first published book of the Writings, says, “In the following work, by the name Lord is meant the Saviour of the world, Jesus Christ, and Him only” (AC 14). In the New Church, we know that Jesus is God – but we may sometimes forget that every time we say “the Lord,” we’re referring specifically to Jesus.
Replacing the name “Lord” with “Jesus” can bring us startling realizations. For example, the defining love in the celestial heaven is love for Jesus. The two essentials of the New Church are to love Jesus and to follow the Ten Commandments. The God of Heaven is Jesus. This is what all these passages are saying, but they can strike us in a new way when we say “Jesus” instead of “Lord.”
One of the reasons it’s confusing is that in the Old Testament, the name of God was Jehovah – but in most English translations of the Bible, this was translated to “Lord,” written in small capital letters. The reason for this is that when the New Testament quotes the Old, it replaces Jehovah with “Kyrios,” the Greek word for Lord. One reason for this was – and the one known by most scholars – is that the Jews considered the name of God too holy to speak, and so said “Adonai” – the Hebrew word for Lord – when they read “Jehovah.” But the Writings reveal that there were two other reasons that the name “the Lord” was used instead of the name “Jehovah”. First of all, if Jesus had called Himself Jehovah, the name of God from the Old Testament, people would not have been able to believe it. By calling Himself “Lord,” people could take it either to mean simply “Master” or “Ruler” – or they could understand that He was calling Himself by the name of the One True God. And second, while He was living in the world, Jesus had not completely united His Humanity to His divinity – although He was always Divine in His soul. After the last temptation on the cross His Humanity was made completely Divine – and for this reason, after the resurrection the disciples always called Him “Lord,” acknowledging that He was God Himself come down into the world.
And so if we want to have that same recognition that Thomas had of our Lord and our God, we need to get to know Him as Jesus. But again, how do we get to know Him? Primarily, we get to know the Lord in the Word. In the stories of the New Testament especially we learn Who He is. This is important because to love God, we need to know Him as a person – and it is in the New Testament that we see Him most clearly as a person. The Writings are clear – we cannot really be joined in love to an invisible God. A visible, human God we can be joined to.
But worshiping a visible God does not just mean picturing an external human body when we pray. It means praying to a specific person – and the stories in the New Testament help us picture not necessarily what he might have looked like, but how He expresses Himself, the kind of feelings He inspires, the kind of Person He was and is. He becomes more tangible, and thus, more visible. Think of the parable we heard this morning in the children’s talk – the parable of the father welcoming back the prodigal son. What is your picture of the Lord as He is telling that parable? Think of the warmth you might hear in His voice, that would have come through with every word – the care he had both for the sinners and for the Pharisees. That loving, warm, kind man Who spoke those words is God.
But it is not just the New Testament that testifies to the Lord’s Divine Human. The entire Word, in its inmost sense, is about the Divine Human. It can be harder to see in the Old Testament, but even in the literal sense it shines through – in the Psalms that speak of Jehovah being slow to anger and great in mercy, in the stories of His protection of the people of Israel. But it is really in the internal sense that the stories of the Old Testament help us to know the Lord better. For this, Arcana Coelestia is a wonderful book to read. Especially in its treatments of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, it tells us about who the Lord is and was in His mind and soul. We can get to know Him in a deeper way by learning the internal sense of these stories. And all the Writings for the New Church describe the Lord’s interior essence – His love and His wisdom.
The passage from Doctrine of Faith said that to have the internal acknowledgment of faith, a person has to shun evils as sins and come to the Lord. We’ve been focusing on the second part of this – but the reality is that coming to the Lord cannot actually be separated from living according to His commandments. We learn about Him in the Word, but the way we really get to know Him and love Him is by living according to His teachings. This is why people from other faiths are able to come into heaven – because if they have lived according to teachings similar to the Ten Commandments, in their hearts they already love the Lord, even if they have not heard His name, and they readily accept Him when they learn about Him after death.
The more we follow the Ten Commandments, the more we learn to care more about the happiness of others than our own happiness. We learn what it is to love other people. And even though it feels like it is ourselves, we can gradually come to realize that that love for others is not our own. That is the Lord with us. The Writings tell us that faith and charity make one when we do good and shun evil as if of ourselves, but acknowledge that it is the Lord acting in us and through us.
The more we follow the Lord, the more we experience that love of others. And the more we experience that love for others, the more we are able to understand the Lord’s mission that He had in this world. In all His combats, He never fought for Himself, but for the entire human race. He went through death, and rose again, for the sole purpose that He could bring people to heaven. He told His disciples before He left them, “And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also. And where I go you know, and the way you know” (John 14:3-4). To this Thomas replied, “Lord, we do not know where You are going, and how can we know the way?” Jesus said to him, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me. If you had known Me, you would have known My Father also; and from now on you know Him and have seen Him.” (John 14:6-7).
How much did Thomas understand when the Lord appeared to them again? We cannot be sure. But there was a recognition in that moment when he saw and touched Him that He had conquered death – that all His promises of eternal life, that He would gather them up to Himself, that He had prepared a place for them – all of those hopes which had seemed to die on the cross must have come flooding back, and Thomas exclaimed, “My Lord, and My God!”
We cannot force this revelation to come into our own lives. We might not even understand why it is so vital that we worship the Lord Jesus Christ, rather than a more general idea of God. But we can trust the Word when it tells us that doing this and shunning evils as sins will lead us into that internal acknowledgment of truth which is faith. We can choose to follow the Ten Commandments. We can choose to learn about the Lord Jesus Christ in His Word, and approach Him in our minds as we pray to Him. Like Thomas, we will face doubts. But the Lord promises us that we too will see Him and feel Him – not with our eyes and hands, but in the light of His truth and in the warmth of His love. And in that moment of recognition we too will be able to say in our hearts, “My Lord and my God!”