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Welcome!

The New Covenant
by the Rev. Lee Woofenden
Brdigewater, Massachusetts, October 5, 1997
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Readings:

Jeremiah 31:31-34 A prophecy of the new covenant
Luke 22:7-20 The new covenant
Apocalypse Explained #433d.25 The meaning of the new covenant

This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you. (Luke 22:20)

This morning, I would like to continue on last week's theme: our covenant with the Lord. Last week we celebrated a contract--and a covenant--between you as congregation and me as Pastor. This week, in our Society meeting after church, we are taking up another contract: the one we have negotiated with Sprint Spectrum to rebuild our steeple in return for their use of it as an antenna site. Perhaps next week we could come up with a contract to sign with Adam Seward for his Field Education placement, and make it three in a row!

As I mentioned last week, a contract means a relationship. Everything we do, both as individuals and as a church, bears on our relationships with each other, with God, and with the different parts within ourselves. Some relationships we formalize with written contracts. Others have no such contract; they are written only on our minds and hearts.

Our reading from Jeremiah speaks of a contract--or to use the Biblical word, a covenant--that is written on our minds and hearts. This, of course, is our covenant with the Lord. But this covenant is not one of the ones that is only written in our minds and hearts. In fact, it has one of the longest written contracts ever--over a thousand pages in most editions. That contract is the Bible.

In our church, as in every Christian church, the Bible is the centerpiece of our faith, second only to the Lord himself. Yes, our church has the writings of Emanuel Swedenborg as well--and we draw our theology largely from Swedenborg. But in our dedication to the new revelation that the Lord gave to us through Swedenborg and his religious writings, we should not lose sight of the primary subject of those writings.

Of the thirty volumes in the Standard Edition of Swedenborg's theological works, twelve are the Arcana Coelestia, which explains the spiritual meaning of Genesis and Exodus. Six volumes are Apocalypse Explained, which uses the book of Revelation as a basis for spelling out the spiritual meaning of many passages throughout the Bible in encyclopedic detail. And two are Apocalypse Revealed, which covers the spiritual meaning of Revelation in a more focused way. If we add these three works together, we get twenty volumes--two-thirds of Swedenborg's theological writings, not counting the Spiritual Diary, which is more like a set of personal reflections and source notes than a book written for publication. And what are these twenty volumes focused on? The Bible.

Now let's come at the covenant from a different angle. Our reading from Jeremiah promises that the Lord will make a new covenant with the houses of Israel and Judah, which, on the spiritual level, means a covenant with our minds and our hearts. Our reading from Luke identifies that new covenant: the bread and the cup that Jesus shared with his disciples. When Jesus ate that last Passover meal with his disciples, it ceased to be the Passover, and the religion of the disciples ceased to be Judaism. As Swedenborg says, this new covenant meant a new religion that the Lord was establishing among people. It meant Christianity. So today, on Worldwide Communion Sunday, when we celebrate communion along with millions of Christians throughout the world, we are celebrating that new covenant between the Lord and his people.

However, in our church we do not stop there. We are Christian. But we also call ourselves by the name of the New Jerusalem--the Holy City that John prophesied would descend from God out of heaven. As far as I know, we are unique among Christians in believing that yet another new covenant has been made between the Lord and his people; we believe the Second Coming has already happened . . . and is happening right now.

We believe that the Lord has made a new covenant with his people on earth by opening to us the deeper meaning of the Bible. At the same time, the Lord has cleansed Christian theology of the human corruption it had accumulated over the many centuries since Christ lived on earth. By using Emanuel Swedenborg as a messenger, the Lord has given us new enlightenment that we need in order to restore Christianity . . . to begin a new Christianity that can continue where the old Christianity left off.

Does this mean that we in the Swedenborgian Church are the new religion that Swedenborg spoke of as the meaning of the new covenant? I certainly hope not. Personally, I do not believe that the Lord's new Christianity on this earth is limited to our small numbers--or to the slightly larger but still miniscule numbers we get if we combine all the Swedenborgian churches and denominations on earth.

I believe the new covenant that the Lord is setting up on earth is much bigger than any human organization that we could set up. I believe it is nothing less than an entirely new religious era that is worldwide in scope.

Since the time of Swedenborg, there have been tremendous changes in our world. If we compare life in the seventeenth century to life in the twentieth century, the differences are staggering. Much of what we take for granted every day simply did not exist three hundred years ago--and would be far more mind-boggling to people of that era than the gadgets of our most futuristic science fiction would be to us.

But the most important change is on a deeper level. Whereas three hundred years ago most nations were focused on how to win the war, millions of people today are focused on how to end war itself. Three hundred years ago, people struggled with poverty, as people still do today. But now we work seriously on ending poverty.

We have a long way to go on these and other fronts. The deeper point is that the spiritual law of understanding and concern for our fellow human beings is making huge inroads on the collective consciousness of our world. Our very discomfort with the trappings of a materialistic society betray our striving for a more spiritually based one. For us as Christians, the Bible continues to be our physical, written contract with the Lord. But the Lord is also busily at work writing a new contract--a new covenant--with the people of our earth. It is a covenant that is being written on our minds and on our hearts.

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Point of Focus

Music: Fragments of My Soul
1999 Bruce DeBoer

 
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