by the Rev. Dr. F. Gardiner Perry,
Last week I read from the story of David, in which we heard that the spirit of the Lord had departed from Saul, and that David was anointed king. Today we will hear, from our church doctrine's point of view, why Saul lost God's guidance, and why David received it.
The first big job the Lord gave Saul was to fight the Amalekites. They were a pesky enemy that had plagued Israel from the first moment they crossed the Jordan. For that reason the Lord commanded Saul to fight and spare no one, leaving no living livestock and taking no booty. Saul failed because he thought better of it, sparing the King himself, the best livestock, weapons, and treasures form Amalekite coffers.
The command to kill and destroy would seem hideous and ultimately senseless violence, were it not that there is in this story an inner thread that is timeless. That story portrays what our teachings call "interior evil": an evil that confirms itself against love of the Lord and of the neighbor, and works in the secret places of the human heart to destroy these things in others. It is expert at feigning good intentions, for the purpose of avoiding detection. Yet when such evil sees victory near, it will rush in to make sure the good and the true do fall.
This evil is, in more concrete terms, our finding delight in the troubles, mistakes, and downward slide of others. One is to avoid any temptation to fall prey to its wiles; one must strive to detect any such tendency in oneself, and eradicate it. Totally.
But we cannot. It is a truth of the human condition that men and women are made of the clay of material things, with instincts for survival, and security needs that go deeper than our conscious minds can see. It is impossible to completely remove ourselves from evils of this sort during our stay in this natural world, at least while we are under the kingship of Saul.
It is to David, who represents our spiritual mind in its process of developing, that the task falls to rule in the deeper domains of the heart. and to defeat interior evil. Total reliance upon the Lord and His wisdom brings complete and utter defeat to possessive self-love and possessive love of the world, and the delight in the misfortune of others.
We begin with this fuller development of the story of Saul, the Amalekites and David, to introduce the truth we find in our text from 1 Corinthians: "For God's weakness is stronger than human strength."
We are so created that we inherit something from below, where Amalek rules (Saul), and something from above, where King David is. Below are instincts for self-preservation that cause us to be competitive, reactive, and above all distrustful. This we are to put off gradually, in a life-long process of rebirth into that which is from above.
Our above-ness is our inner person that is close to the Lord. The inner person is in heaven's light and in earth's. To bring the inner person, whose love is for heavenly things, into the world of human conduct, is to be obedient to the Lord.
To accomplish this, we are commanded to put off the life we inherit from below. We are to distance ourselves from those tendencies to interior evil that are harbored unknown to us within the reaches of our heart. There are things we are to tell ourselves, and to compel ourselves, not to do . We we do so we will find David on the throne of our inner kingdom, a picture of obedience, strength, and courage.
It is a cruel birth that clothes a spirit with stuff that regards wisdom as folly, and folly as wisdom. But such is our birth into the natural world. Which returns us again to the topic, that God's foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God's weakness is stronger than human strength.
Any one of us can "prove" this point by looking almost anywhere in the Bible, with an eye to its inner meaning. This morning we'll look at the Beatitudes from the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5. There are eight of them: the first four describe our getting started on the upward path, the second four with what we do when we get there. We'll concentrate here on the first group.
"Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven." "Spirit" is nothing less than the very life of the person. Your life is your spirit. IT is said in the prophet Zechariah that "The Lord stretches forth the heavens, and lays the foundations of the earth, and formeth the spirit of man in the midst of him."
To be poor in spirit is to be not so full of oneself as to not hear the wisdom of this. Our society tells us that we are to be rich in money, or knowledge, or both; full of self-confidence and certainty; and steady in our aim toward our goals. We can be all of these things if they are from a desire to be obedient to the Lord. We can be all of these if they fill a spirit that holds a clean and listening heart.
"Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted." The world would tell us not to mourn our losses, but to get on with life. This is true, but we tend to mourn not quite deeply enough to more fully comprehend our losses. We cover it over with a brave front in a world that is full of losses.
I believe that when we let a heavy heart break, we find a truer sense of self that the Lord is trying to create. We must mourn our lost relationships with ourselves and the Lord, and then will discover our health and wholeness because He is always there seeking us. "For they will be comforted."
"Blessed are the meek." The common meaning for this word is "without backbone; submissive." The intended meaning is the truer one, which is to be patient and wise. To be meek is not to react with one's self-interest at heart first, but to be patient to discern where the Lord is leading in this or that situation. "For they will inherit the earth."
"Blessed are those who hunger and thirst after righteousness." This is not a popular thing these days; it's hard even to know what righteousness is. Our society professes to abhor violence but tolerates and even glorifies some of the conditions that lead to it. Some fundamentalists define righteousness along their own "party line." and create obstacles to our inner knowing of what is the true and the good course of action.
Further, to hunger and thirst is to risk not being fed, not receiving water. We must risk losing all in order to know what the Lord has to teach us in any and every important decision we make. Not many seem to have this kind of quiet courage. Yet, "They will be filled."
If we are faithful in these matters, we then become merciful, pure in heart, peacemakers, and glad - the second four in the series.
There is perhaps no more ridiculous idea in the eyes of the world than God allowing Himself to be born as an infant, grow up to begin an unsuccessful career as a prophet, and be unceremoniously crucified as an enemy of his nation. This is not how any one of us trying to win over humankind would think to operate.
Our teachings tell us that Infinite God put on finite human clothing to suffer as we do to accomplish His purpose; so that we would better know Him, and say "yes" to His invitation to life with Him. We'll give the apostle Paul the last word: "God decided, through the foolishness of our proclamation, to save those who believe...we proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For God's foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God's weakness is stronger than human strength."
For the message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written: "I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart."
Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, God decided, through the foolishness of our proclamation, to save those who believe For Jews demand signs and Greeks desire wisdom, but we proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentles, but to those whoa re called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For God's foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God's weakness is stronger than human strength.
Consider your own call, brothers and sisters; not many of you were wise by human standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, things that are not, to reduce to nothing things that are, so that no one might boast in the presence of God. He is the source of your life in Christ Jesus, who became for us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification and redemption, in order that, as it is written, "Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord."
I Corinthians 1:18-31
Reading From Swedenborg:
That the light of heaven has within it intelligence and wisdom, and that it is the intelligence of truth and the wisdom of good from the Lord that appear as light before the eyes of the angels, it has been given me to know by a living experience. I was taken up into a light that sparkled like the light radiating from diamonds, and while I was kept in it, I seemed to myself to be withdrawn from bodily ideas and to be brought into spiritual ideas, thus into those things which belong to the intelligence of truth and of good. The ideas of thought which originated form the light of the world then appeared to be remote from me, and as it were not belonging to me, although they were present obscurely; and by this it was given me to know that in so far as any one comes into the light of heaven, so far he comes into intelligence. It is for this reason that the more intelligent the angels are, the greater and the brighter is the light in which they are.
The differences of light in the heavens are as many as are the angelic societies which constitute heaven, nay, they are as many as are the angels in each society. The reason is that heaven is ordered in accordance with all the differences of good and truth, thus in accordance with all states of intelligence and wisdom, and consequently in accordance with the various receptions of the light which is from the Lord.
Arcana Coelestia (Heavenly Secrets) #4413-4414