All Things New!
by the Rev. Lee Woofenden

New Year
Bridgewater, Massachusetts, January 4, 1998


Isaiah 65:17-25 New Heavens and a New Earth

"Behold, 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.

"Never 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.

Revelation 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 new!"

Doctrine of the Lord #65 New Teachings for a New Church

The Book 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.


Behold, I am making all things new! (Revelation 21:5)

As 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.

But 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.

Whether 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 uncles.

Still, 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.

However, 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.

Swedenborgians 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:

The "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).

The "spiritual" meaning (in its more specific sense) relates to our own human processes of spiritual growth and regeneration.

The "internal historical" meaning speaks of the spiritual journey of all of humankind together--a sort of spiritual history of the human race.

Now, 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.

With 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.

In 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 earth.

I 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.

What 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:

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.

This 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.

So 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.

It 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.

The 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.

No 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!"

If 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.


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The painting is ©Jim Warren
Painting entitled "Nature's Little Helper"

Music: In the Garden
© 1999 Bruce DeBoer

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