An Inviting Church

By the Rev. Lee Woofenden
Bridgewater, Massachusett, November 15, 1998

Readings

1 Kings 6:31-35 The doors of the temple

For the entrance of the inner sanctuary Solomon made doors of olive wood with five-sided jambs. And on the two olive wood doors he carved cherubim, palm trees, and open flowers, and overlaid the cherubim and palm trees with hammered gold. In the same way he made four-sided jambs of olive wood for the entrance to the main hall. He also made two pine doors, each having two leaves that turned in sockets. He carved cherubim, palm trees, and open flowers on them and overlaid them with gold hammered evenly over the carvings.

Matthew 28:16-20 The Great Commission

Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. When they saw him, they worshipped him; but some doubted. Then Jesus came to them and said, "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, even to the end of the age."

Apocalypse Explained #548a.3 The doors of the temple

The doors of the temple symbolize the way we enter into heaven and the church. The cherubim carved on them symbolize heavenly goodness, or the goodness of the inmost heaven; the palms symbolize spiritual goodness, which is the goodness of the second heaven; and the flowers symbolize goodness that is spiritual and material, which is the goodness of the lowest heaven.... But in the highest meaning, the cherubim symbolize the Lord's divine providence, and also protection; palms symbolize the Lord's divine wisdom, and flowers his divine understanding.


Sermon

For the entrance of the inner sanctuary Solomon made doors of olive wood with five-sided jambs. And on the two olive wood doors he carved cherubim, palm trees, and open flowers, and overlaid the cherubim and palm trees with hammered gold. (1 Kings 6:31, 32)

"The doors of the temple," Swedenborg says, "symbolize the way we enter heaven and the church." This morning, as we look forward to our Thanksgiving Invite A Friend service next Sunday, I would like to look at that doorway through which we enter the church, and through which we are inviting others to enter our church as well.

But first, why should we reach out at all? Why not remain content with the small but tight-knit group we have right now? In the early days of the Swedenborgian movement, there were a number of missionaries spreading the "new evangel," as it was often called. They traveled far and wide lecturing, preaching, and distributing books and pamphlets. But in this century, when the New Church isn't quite so new, we have lost much of our missionary zeal.

Of course, there are mundane reasons for outreach, such as the need for people to support our church. But there are deeper and more spiritual reasons to rekindle some of that missionary zeal. We have something special to offer--something that can make a difference in people's lives. We are commanded to reach out, not merely to make the church grow and perpetuate the institution, but to bring God's healing love and truth to people who are sorely in need of the Lord's presence in their lives.

Did I say commanded to reach out? Yes! In the Gospel of Matthew, the Lord's final words to the disciples were, "Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, even to the end of the age." If none of the other reasons for reaching out to others with our message of renewed Christianity work for you, then this reason alone is enough: the Lord has commanded us to!

However, we do not have to grit our teeth and force ourselves to go out and proselytize as some churches require of their members. We can look at it from a deeper viewpoint, and find more thoughtful and caring motivations for outreach. An excellent place to start is how we ourselves got involved in this church, and why we have stayed.

Each of us is here for a reason. Some of us grew up in the church, and have long family associations with it. Others of us first came as teenagers or adults. If we have stayed, rather than drifting away, it is because this church provides for our human and spiritual needs in a way that is special to us. Before we invite others to our church, may I suggest that we each spend a little time reflecting on why we ourselves are here? The gifts that we receive from this church are the same ones we can offer to our unchurched friends and family members. When our invitation comes from our own experience and our own heart, it is so much warmer and more appealing than if we do it simply out of a sense of duty.

We each have our own personal reasons for entering into this church. But there are also some reasons that we all share. These are presented to us symbolically in the beautiful images that the Lord commanded Solomon to carve into the doors of the temple.

A door is an entryway--in this case, an entryway into the church. Doors that are dark and forbidding send a message that says "Do Not Enter." But doors that are bright and attractive are like a sign saying, "Welcome, stranger, to the fellowship of our church."

The doors of Solomon's temple were very beautiful. The doors to the inner sanctuary were made of olive wood, a fine-grained, golden brown wood. The large outer doors were made of pine or fir. Both sets of doors were carved with cherubim, palm trees, and open flowers, which were overlaid with gold.

What do these beautiful doors to the temple mean to us spiritually? Pine or fir wood corresponds to outward kindness and thoughtfulness. Isn't that what first welcomes us anywhere, whether it is into a church, into someone's home, or into a new friendship? When we are greeted warmly and courteously, and feel that our hosts are thoughtful and considerate, we are ushered through that first set of doors.

But it is when we enter through the second set of doors that we gain the greatest connection to the church. The second doors are made of olive wood, which corresponds to the goodness of love. Outward politeness gets us over the threshold, but when we feel genuine warmth and love from the people of a church--and especially when we feel God's love reaching out to us through them--then we have gone deeper, into the heart and soul of the church. This is when we begin to feel that we have found a true spiritual home.

There are other things that invite us into a church. The cherubim on the doors stand for the deepest heavenly goodness, and for the Lord's providence protecting us from harm--just as the cherubim in the book of Genesis protected the Garden of Eden from those who would violate its beauty and peacefulness. We all need to feel that at its core, the universe is a good place. And we need to feel that the Lord will protect us from spiritual harm, even if we must go through difficult outward circumstances at times. We as a church can offer people that sense of inner security in the infinite goodness of God.

Whereas cherubim represent a heartfelt sense of the Lord's goodness and protection, palm trees represent the wisdom that fills our minds when we have the Lord's goodness in our hearts. When God's love is inside us, we look at things differently; we are more aware that the important things in life are not how much money or social status we have, but how much we love each other, and how open our minds are to learning what it means to care about another person. We as a church can also offer people the deeper wisdom that comes with a spiritual perspective on life.

And the open flowers are an image of spiritual understanding and intelligence bursting forth in our minds, which, in course of time, are transformed into the fruits of useful service to each other. Let's face it; there's a lot to learn about spiritual living! Swedenborg wrote thirty volumes about it, and that is just a starting point for us. We are a church that values spiritual knowledge and understanding--and we have a garden filled with beautiful flowers of spiritual insight to offer those who come our way.

Finally, the carvings on the doors to the temple were covered in gold, the metal of love. If we do not invite people into our church and into our lives from love, it means nothing. But when we have the Lord's love in our hearts, and we reach out to people because we love them and want to make them happy, then the doors of our hearts will shine out to others with the warm glow of God's love.

When the doors of our hearts are open, the doors of our church are open as well, and we are truly an inviting church. Amen.

 

Music: Prism (Colors of Love)
Bruce DeBoer