by the Rev. Lee Woofenden
Bridgewater, Massachusetts, January 4, 1998
65:17-25 New Heavens and a New Earth
I will create new heavens and a new earth. The former things
will not be remembered, nor will they come to mind. But be glad
and rejoice forever in what I will create, for I will create
Jerusalem to be a delight and its people a joy. I will rejoice
over Jerusalem and take delight in my people; the sound of
weeping and of crying will be heard in it no more.
again will there be in it an infant who lives but a few days, or
an old man who does not live out his years; he who dies at a
hundred will be thought a mere youth; he who fails to reach a
hundred will be considered accursed. They will build houses and
dwell in them; they will plant vineyards and eat their fruit. No
longer will they build houses and others live in them, or plant
and others eat. For like the days of a tree will the days of my
people be; my chosen ones will long enjoy the work of their
hands. They will not labor in vain nor bear children doomed to
misfortune; for they will be a people blessed by the Lord, they
and their descendants with them. Before they call I will answer;
while they are still speaking I will hear. The wolf and the lamb
will feed together, and the lion will eat straw like the ox; but
dust will be the serpent's food. They will neither harm nor
destroy on all my holy mountain," says the Lord.
21:1-5 I am Making All Things New
Then I saw
a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first
earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. I saw
the Holy City, New Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from
God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband.
And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, "Now the
tabernacle of God is with men, and he will dwell with them. They
will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be
their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will
be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old
order of things has passed away"
He who was
seated on the throne said, "Behold, I am making all things
of the Lord #65 New Teachings for a New Church
of Revelation mentions "a new heaven and a new earth,"
and afterwards says, "Behold, I am making all things
new." This means that in the church that the Lord is now
setting up anew, the teachings will be new. These teachings did
not exist in the previous church, because if they had, people
would not have accepted them, since the Last Judgment had not
yet been accomplished. Before that judgment, the power of hell
dominated the power of heaven. So if these teachings had been
given before--even if they had come from the Lord's own
mouth--they would not have lasted with people. Even today, these
teachings do not last with people unless they approach the Lord
alone and acknowledge him as the God of heaven and earth.
I am making all things new! (Revelation 21:5)
I contemplated this week's service, I had a question on my mind:
how to combine the themes of the New Year and Communion into a
single theme. One of them is about new beginnings, and the other
is about uniting together with the Lord and each other. There
are certainly some common threads here. When we come together in
union with the Lord and with each other, it is often the
beginning of a new phase. That would work for a combined theme.
then I came up with something that works even better . . . at
least for now. We won't combine the two themes! This
morning we will focus on the New Year, since we only get one
crack at that each year, whereas there are several opportunities
to talk about the meaning of communion. Besides, with the
sacrament of communion added to our service today, there is less
time for the sermon. And now I've already used up some of it.
or not we make New Year's resolutions, we do usually start the
new year with some new things. I seem to have arrived at that
time of life when about half of the gifts I receive are
clothing. A beautiful new snowflake tie, which I wore last week
when we had snow. A new T-shirt. A new pair of
slipper-sox from my mother. And I gave myself the present of
some new shoes. Patty has new calendars and some new brass and
wood candlesticks. And of course, the kids have several
cartloads of new toys from parents, grandparents, aunts, and
none of this can compare with the new gift that the Lord says,
in our readings, that he is giving us. How about a whole new
heaven and a whole new earth! Now there's a present even Bill
Gates can't hope for! When the Lord gives presents, he does not
engage in halfway measures. He does want to give us the
world, and he is in a position to do so. But not in the way that
Bill Gates might like. It is quite clear--to most people,
anyway--that this promise of a new heaven and a new earth is not
meant to be taken literally. When it comes to the physical
earth, God made it right in the first place, and it does not
need replacing. In our church, we do not look forward to a
literal vanishing of the current earth and sky, and its
replacement by a new model, as some Christians do.
there is another kind of heaven and earth that did and does need
replacing--that needs to be made completely new. That is what we
will focus on this morning.
have traditionally interpreted the Book of Revelation on what
Swedenborg calls the "internal historical" level of
meaning. To review (for those of you who aren't up on
Swedenborg's scheme for the different levels of meaning in the
Bible), according to Swedenborg there are three basic levels of
meaning in the Bible:
"celestial," or "heavenly" meaning speaks of
the Lord's process of glorification, or struggling against the
hells, overcoming them, and becoming completely united with God
the father (who was his inner soul).
"spiritual" meaning (in its more specific sense)
relates to our own human processes of spiritual growth and
"internal historical" meaning speaks of the spiritual
journey of all of humankind together--a sort of spiritual
history of the human race.
there is a good reason that Swedenborgians generally interpret
the Book of Revelation on the internal historical level: that is
the level Swedenborg focuses on in both of the major
interpretations of the Book of Revelation that he wrote: Apocalypse
Explained, a six volume work that he never published, but
which was published after his death, and Apocalypse Revealed,
a two volume work that he did publish.
such a huge amount of material interpreting Revelation on its
internal historical level, it certainly is easiest for us
to interpret it on that level. And the quote from Swedenborg
gives the gist of this meaning relating to our theme today.
These passages about a new heaven and a new earth, Swedenborg
says, refer to a new church--which I prefer to think of as a new
religious or spiritual era--that the Lord is setting up in our
times. In this new religious era, there will be new teachings
that people could not have accepted before because they were not
ready for them.
our church, we do indeed have precious new teachings that give
us comfort, strength, inspiration, and so many insights into the
issues that face us in our lives. We have been richly blessed by
a great gift from the Lord. The Lord intends that gift to bring
about, not a new physical earth and sky, but a new human
and spiritual earth and sky. In plain language, these new
teachings are meant to help in the building of a whole new
spiritual atmosphere, both on our earth and in the spiritual
world. They are intended by the Lord to be part of a new era of
human love and understanding that the Lord is building on our
believe that we as a denomination and as individual
Swedenborgians can be a part of that new spiritual era--that we
can help the Lord give this gift of a new heaven and a new earth
to humankind. But I would like to depart from the usual
Swedenborgian interpretation of these passages and bring it down
to a more personal level. For even if we as a church do have
aspirations of taking part in a spiritual revolution in human
beliefs and ways of living, we are not going to be any part of
it if we do not start on the personal level, with our own souls
and our own lives.
I especially like about the passage we read from The Doctrine
of the Lord is that it points us in the direction of how the
"all things new" passage relates to our own life. When
speaking of why these new teachings had not been given before
his own time, Swedenborg says:
these teachings had been given before--even if they had come
from the Lord's own mouth--they would not have lasted with
people. Even today, these teachings do not last with people
unless they approach the Lord alone and acknowledge him as the
God of heaven and earth.
gives us a bridge from the internal historical meaning--from
human spiritual history--to our own spiritual growth process.
The Lord could not give the world new teachings until we as a
human race were ready for them. The same is true for us as
individual people, Swedenborg says. We must also be ready to
accept new teachings from the Lord before they will stay with
us. If we are not ready for them, they will simply fade
away--either we will not understand them in the first place, or
we will lose interest in them and consider them irrelevant.
I would suggest that instead of focusing on whether the world is
ready for the teachings that our church has, we focus on whether
we are ready for these new teachings. This can only
happen, Swedenborg says, if we go to the Lord Jesus and
acknowledge him as the God of heaven and earth.
is not enough to participate in the general lifting of the human
spirit that takes place as a new spiritual era unfolds around
us. If we want to be a part of that unfolding, we must go
directly to the source: the Lord Jesus Christ. The Lord is the
center of everything Swedenborg wrote, and everything our church
stands for. No matter how great it is to know what happens after
death, and to have the many insights about human spiritual
psychology that we find in Swedenborg's writings, without the
Lord at the center of our theology, the whole thing crumbles to
dust because its source is missing.
Lord is ready to give us each a very special, new gift.
It is not a literal earth or heaven that the Lord wants to give
us--though the Lord does want to renew the entire earth
(meaning all of humankind) spiritually. The new heaven and new
earth that the Lord wants to give each one of us is a whole new
spiritual attitude and focus.
matter how far we have come spiritually, no matter how much our
faith in the Lord has developed, compared to the infinite depth
of God we are all right at the very beginning of our spiritual
development. And the Lord is offering to renew each one of us.
To renew each one of us completely. "Behold, I am
making all things new!"
there are any parts of ourselves that we are not satisfied with,
this passage is telling us that the Lord is has a special gift
for us: if we will go to the Lord, put our complete trust and
faith in him, and ask for help in becoming a more thoughtful,
loving, spiritual person, the Lord will give us the
special gift of a whole new outlook on life. This new outlook
will take our whole self along with it, from the depths of our
souls right down to our everyday tasks. The Lord is offering
each of us a whole new life. Amen.