Reaching Upward, Reaching Outward
By the Rev. Lee Woofenden
Bridgewater, Massachusetts, October
Isaiah 2:1-5 The Mountain of the
is what Isaiah son of Amoz saw concerning Judah and
the last days the mountain of the Lord's temple will be
established as the highest of the mountains; it will be
raised above the hills, and all the nations will stream
to it. Many peoples will come and say, "Come, let
us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of
the God of Jacob. He will teach us his ways, so that we
may walk in his paths." The law will go out from
Zion, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem. He will
judge between the nations, and will settle disputes for
many peoples. They will beat their swords into
plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation
will not take up sword against nation, nor will they
train for war any more.
O house of Jacob, let us walk in the light of the Lord.
7:24-27 The Wise and Foolish Builders
who hears these words of mine and puts them into
practice is like a wise man who built his house on the
rock. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the
winds blew and beat against that house; but it did not
fall, because it had its foundation on the rock.
everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put
them into practice is like a foolish man who built his
house on sand. The rain came down, the streams rose, and
the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell
with a great crash.
Coelestia #4599 Towers reaching toward God
the Bible, goodness and truth are described as things
that are high because in heaven they are nearer to the
Most High--that is, to the Lord. Also,
"towers" refer to truth, and
"mountains" to goodness.
peoples will come and say, "Come, let us go up to
the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of
Jacob. He will teach us his ways, so that we may walk in
his paths." The law will go out from Zion, and the
word of the Lord from Jerusalem. (Isaiah 2:3)
of mountains, yesterday was definitely a peak
experience! Two years after we first began talking with
Sprint, and several months after the work began, it all
came together. For me, it wasn't until the lower cone
section was set down on the new belfry, and the steeple
began to rise up above the staging, that it really hit
me just how amazing it is that our steeple is being
rebuilt, and just how good our church will look once
again. This morning I drove up Bedford Street just to
get that steeple view that no one has had for over four
me, the steeple-raising was an uplifting experience in a
very literal way. When I saw the news photographers
going up in the lift, I got a gleam in my eye, and soon
I was riding aloft as well. There are advantages to
being pastor of the church! Just before we went up,
someone said, "Now you're going to get God's view
of the steeple." And it was a different
perspective on our church. We are used to looking at it
from the ground up. But when I was up there looking
down, and I saw all of you watching and waving, it was a
wonderful feeling--this small but dedicated group
accomplishing wonders in cooperation with the Town of
Bridgewater and the companies that have made our
beautiful new steeple a reality.
I reflect on the experience now, that remark, "Now
you're going to get God's view of the steeple"
sticks with me. What is God's view of our
steeple? And what is God's view of our church? For us,
there is a lot of excitement in seeing our church
restored to its former beauty. There is excitement in
seeing so many townspeople out to watch this great
event. There is hope for our future as we see our church
in the newspapers and on TV and radio. And the
possibility of income from the steeple to help support
our church and its programs gives us further optimism
about our church's prospects for outreach and growth.
what is God's view of all of this? Of course, what is in
God's heart of hearts we cannot know, since it is far
beyond our ability to grasp. But we do know from the
Bible that "the Lord does not look at the things
people look at. People look at the outward appearance,
but the Lord looks at the heart" (1 Samuel 16:7).
humans live in a physical world, and we need physical
sights and sounds to find our direction and keep us
moving along. As Emanuel Swedenborg suggests in our
brief reading this morning, seeing a church steeple
towering upwards toward the Lord can give us a sense of
our spirits reaching upwards toward God. And since our
church, and our sister church across the common, with
its steeple, are centrally located in the town, it is
easy to make the conceptual leap to seeing our churches
and their steeples as representing the entire
community's willingness to look upward to God for
guidance and inspiration. This significance of our
steeple is more than mere symbolism; it is
correspondence. The very structure of our steeple,
pointing upward toward the sky, suggests that upward
vision of our spirits.
we reflect on this, we begin to approach something of
God's view of our church and our steeple. God does not
look at the outward appearance. As exciting as it is to
us, in God's scrapbook there will not be a picture of
our steeple going up! But there will be a picture
in God's scrapbook of the hearts of each one of us--and
the heart of our community--as this event unfolds.
Whatever the material or financial or aesthetic effects
of our steeple, what God is paying attention to is the
effect it will have on the spiritual life of this
congregation and this community.
the people of this congregation--the people who are in
this sanctuary right now, and all the others who are
active in our church--we will be the ones who determine
what the spiritual consequences of this exciting
physical event will be.
the construction is going on, we are more visible than
we have ever been. Thousands of cars drive by our church
every day, and they cannot help but notice that we are
an active church, still rebuilding, restoring our church
to its full glory. Our name is in the media, and for the
time being, almost everyone in our community knows who
the way home after the Halloween party yesterday
evening, I stopped at the grocery store to drop off the three
rolls of film I took of the steeple-raising, and to pick
up a few groceries. The checkout clerk greeted me,
"How are you doing this evening?" I said,
"I have to be doing well: my church just got a new
steeple!" He said, "The one in Bridgewater?
I've been watching them build that steeple whenever I go
by." When someone at the grocery checkout in the
next town over knows about our church, that's community
task is to turn that great publicity and recognition
into spiritual growth, not only for our church,
but for our community as well. Our task is to take some
of the same energy and innovation that went into
rebuilding our church and our steeple, and put it into
rebuilding this church as a congregation. And even more
important, our task is to rebuild this congregation as a
body of people dedicated to serving the spiritual needs
of Bridgewater and the surrounding communities.
God's view, our church has something far more exciting
and amazing than the fact that such a small group of
people could become the focal point for such a wide
variety of people and companies all coming together to
accomplish a rebuilding that we could never have done on
our own. Our community has given us a great gift in
helping us to rebuild; we have a great gift to give in
me, this gift was summed up when one of Sprint's people
complemented me on the quote that is on our Wayside
Pulpit for this occasion. It reads, "Unless the
Lord builds the house, the workers labor in vain"
(Psalm 127:1). It is the job of the architects,
engineers, welders, construction workers, crane
operators, and so on, to focus on the physical task of
designing and building a new steeple. It is our job to
give that rebuilding spiritual significance. And
by extension, it is our job to give spiritual
significance to all the ordinary and extraordinary
events and activities of people's lives.
Swedenborgians, we have an especially rich gift to give
in this area. Built right into our church's teachings is
the idea that literally everything in nature,
everything in the human world, everything in the
Bible--in fact, everything in the entire universe--has a
deeper, spiritual meaning. And I believe very strongly
that people are now searching for a spiritual
significance in their ordinary lives in a way they never
have before. Popular interest in angels, near death
experiences, and personal growth has never been higher.
presents us with an opportunity, but also with a
challenge. I have looked at many religions, and as much
as I love some of their ideas and practices, I have
never found another one that I believe addresses so
fully and so deeply the great spiritual questions
of our age. In the teachings of our church about the
Lord, the Bible, and living a spiritual life, we have
the richest of treasures--the most precious of gifts.
When we realize how many people are searching for this
sort of inspiration, the opportunity for our church is
yet, as a church we have had difficulty--especially in
this century--in getting that message out in a way that
reaches the people of our community. We are not the only
church that has seen a long decline lasting many
decades. But given the soul-satisfying nature of our
teachings, I believe that we should be growing,
not declining. And, being an optimist, I believe that
our church and our denomination will grow.
this will not happen automatically. We all know of
churches in our denomination that have dwindled until
they could no longer continue as a church. And our
hearts go out to those who have lost their church homes.
Other Swedenborgian churches, though, are growing. Even
some of the ones that had to sell their buildings have
revitalized themselves by looking for new and creative
ways to serve the spiritual needs of their communities.
this, I believe, is the key for us as well. As a church,
we have always been good at reaching upward toward God.
We are good at praying, at studying the Bible for the
deep and satisfying meanings within it, and at guiding
our own lives by what we learn. In this way, our
church's steeple reaching upward is an accurate emblem
of who we are. But for many years, we have not been so
good at reaching outward and serving the needs of others
in our community. Because of that, as our members have
moved away or passed on to the next world, there have
not been enough newcomers to take their places.
our new steeple is more than the old steeple was.
Our new steeple is a tower holding antennas. It is a
tower whose job is not only to reach upward toward God,
but also to reach outward and connect with
we ready as a church to follow the new symbolism . . .
the new correspondence, of our steeple? We have
always been good at reaching upward toward God. Are we
ready to reach outward into our community,
looking for spiritual needs that we are uniquely able to
satisfy? Is each one of us personally ready to begin a
new chapter in the life of our church? A new chapter of
actively offering to our community the priceless
treasures that each of us has found here? If so, then we
as a congregation will get a glimpse of God's
view of our new steeple, as we reach upward toward God
and outward into our community. Amen.
© Night Angel