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Corresponding with God

by the Rev. Lee Woofenden

 Bridgewater, Massachusetts

September 13, 1998

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Psalm 19:1-4 The heavens declare the glory of God

The heavens declare the glory of God;
The skies proclaim the work of his hands.
Day after day they pour forth speech;
Night after night they display knowledge.
There is no speech or language;
Their voice is not heard.
Yet their voice goes out into all the earth,
Their words to the ends of the world.

 

Matthew 5:13-20 Fulfilling the Law and the Prophets

You are the salt of the earth. But if salt has lost its taste, how can its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything, but is thrown out and trampled under foot.

You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hid. No one after lighting a lamp puts it under a bushel basket, but on a lampstand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.

Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is fulfilled. Anyone who breaks one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practises and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven.

 

Arcana Coelestia #9407.1, 9047.4 Correspondences

The Bible is divine truth emanating from the Lord. In its origin it is divine, but as it passes through the heavens, it is heavenly in the inmost heaven, spiritual in the second or middle heaven, spiritual-natural in the first or lowest heaven, and worldly and material in the world. This last is what it is like in the literal meaning, which is intended for people here.

From this we can see that the literal meaning, which is the lowest in order, contains a spiritual and a heavenly level of meaning, and inmostly the divine himself. These inner levels are contained in the lowest, or literal, sense and are seen by those who understand the Bible in a spiritual way....

Human learning in the earliest times, which were called the Golden and Silver Ages, consisted in speaking and writing in a style in which they paid no attention to the literal meaning except to enable hidden wisdom to shine through it. This becomes perfectly clear from the most ancient books, including those by Gentile authors, as well as from fragments in their languages. For their knowledge was primarily the knowledge of correspondences and representations, which are among the forms of knowledge that have been lost in the present day.

Sermon

The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands. Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they display knowledge. (Psalm 19:1, 2)

Good morning everyone, and welcome to our first service of the regular church year! I can hardly believe that I am starting my third year with you as pastor here in Bridgewater. Still, coming here is like coming home. This church is where I came of age as a Swedenborgian back when I was a teenager; I have many good memories connected with this church, and especially the people of this church.

As I was getting ready for this church year, I spent a lot of time with pastors and members of some of the other churches in town planning the Invite A Friend church growth project that we are participating in along with other churches in Bridgewater. One particular conversation with another pastor has stuck in my mind, because it reminded me once again of one of the ways our church is special. We were discussing one sentence in the Invite A Friend flyer that we are designing. That sentence reads, "We all need community, a sense of meaning, opportunities for growth." And she remarked that in her church, most of the people seem to come for the community. I replied that our church probably attracts people for the sense of meaning first.

Perhaps that is one of the reasons we remain small. We do have a warm and loving community in this church, and I think it is one of the strengths we can build on. But it is a small community compared to some of the other churches, and those who simply want a strong sense of belonging and community are more likely to pick another church where there are more people to be in community with.

And yet, our church--the Swedenborgian Church as a whole--has always had something special that continues to draw a steady trickle of people to us, sometimes from other churches and sometimes from being unchurched. What we cannot offer in terms of a large community of faith, we make up for in the depth of meaning in our teachings--teachings that address the deepest of human questions and concerns in a thorough and satisfying way that no other church can match. From time to time, people do drift away from our church to other larger and more active churches. But some of them come back--and one of the reasons they give is that they simply have not found the depth of insight in other churches that they have found here.

I am not saying we are better than other churches. Churches are different because they serve the needs of different kinds of people. I am saying that we have something special of our own to offer, and that is our reason for existing as a church.

People have always been drawn to the Swedenborgian Church because of the depth and clarity of our teachings. This morning I would like to focus on just one aspect of those teachings that is unique to our church. It is sparked by the new name of our church newsletter: The Correspondent. It is not unusual for a newspaper or periodical to use the word "correspondent" in its name. The dictionary lists several meanings of "correspondent" most of them having to do with writing letters or supplying news and articles to newspapers and magazines. So our newsletter's new name--The Correspondent--will make sense to anyone who sees it, whether they are Swedenborgian or not. It is a "letter" bringing its readers news and information about our church.

Yet we as Swedenborgians see a deeper meaning in the name The Correspondent. It is closely related to the final meaning of "correspondent" given in the dictionary: "A thing that corresponds; a correlative." For us, the name refers also to Swedenborg's teachings about "correspondences" in the Bible (which can be seen as a very long "letter" bringing news to us from God), in the world of nature, in the human body--basically, in everything that exists. Just as we see a deeper meaning in our newsletter's name, the name itself points to deeper meanings in everything we encounter here on earth.

What is this idea of "correspondences"? In our reading from Arcana Coelestia, Swedenborg explains this idea as it relates to the Bible. The Bible, he says, is divine truth from the Lord. And yet, it is divine truth that has gone through many levels on its way to the words that we have printed on the pages of our Bibles. Divine truth as it exists in the core of God's being is not in the form of words and sentences--still less of patterns of ink on a page. In the Lord's being, truth is a living thing; it is the shape and form and direction taken by the Lord's divine love, which is the substance and source of all being. This infinite level of truth is far beyond our finite ability to grasp.

But the Lord does not leave us in the dark. The Lord sends that truth downward through many levels of heaven, and finally puts it into words an stories and teachings that we human beings here on earth can understand and appreciate. They are stories about human events; stories about nature; stories about people and places; memorable stories such as the Parable of the Sower that stick in our mind. And yet, as with the Parable of the Sower, those stories have deeper meanings within. We could read that particular story in a very literal way--as the story of a person going out and planting some seeds, some of which grow well and some of which don't, depending on what kind of soil they happen to fall on. It is not a bad story even on that level--especially if you happen to be planting a garden!

But the powerful light of this story really starts to shine through when we look deeper. When we see ground as our own minds and the seed as the Lord's truth looking for a fertile place to grow. Will we be hard, rocky, thorny soil? Or will we be good soil bringing forth fruit of loving kindness toward our fellow human beings?

This same type of deeper meaning, Swedenborg says, exists throughout the entire Bible. And this, we believe, is what Jesus was referring to when he said:

Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is fulfilled. (Matt. 5:17, 18)

Many Christians do not quite know what to do with large parts of the Bible, especially in the Old Testament where there are detailed ritual laws, accounts of battles and wars, strange prophecies that sometimes don't make much sense at all. Yet through correspondences, we can see that, looked at more deeply, those ritual laws have a lot to say about all the little rituals we go through each day without thinking about them--how can we serve the Lord through every little thing we do day by day? Those battles and wars, at a deeper level, are all about the battles we fight within ourselves: our struggles against bad habits and addictions; our temptations to give up and give in to things we know are not right; our discouragements and depressions; all of these and more are spoken of in the wars of the Bible. Even the strange and incomprehensible prophecies yield up meaning if we look for the spirit within rather than getting stuck on the literal flow of the words.

These correspondences--these signposts bearing deeper, spiritual meaning--are not confined to the Bible. The Psalmist says, in the words of our text, "The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands. Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they display knowledge." Yes, the same divine and spiritual meanings that shine through the literal meaning of the Bible for those whose eyes are opened to them also shine through the world of nature. The very skies pour forth speech and display knowledge night and day to those who are looking for this deeper treasure.

I remember one summer when I was in my late teens, and was visiting my brother in upstate New York. It was one of those days that could hardly be more perfect: a beautiful blue sky with puffy white clouds here and there; a nice breeze swishing through the tall grass of the field where I was just lying on my back with nothing to do but enjoy the sun and the breeze as I watched the clouds go by. And as I watched those clouds go by, the words of this Psalm became very real to me, even though I wasn't thinking of them at the time. I seemed to feel that the sun shining on my body and on the earth all around me was not just photons, but was an actual expression of the Lord's love shining on each one of us, and on the whole world, warming us from the inside out. And since I knew something about correspondences, as I watched the clouds go by, I could sense how, when they obscured the sun, giving a bit of a break from those rays that could become too hot if they shone continuously, the clouds did become a living image of the way the Lord adapts pure and infinite divine truth to our finite level through stories in the Bible that we can understand, and through the plants and animals, the rocks and trees, in the world of nature around us.

As these thoughts went through my head, the bright border around those clouds spoke to me of the Lord's presence in all the events of our lives, shining around the edges of all our experience if we will only lift our eyes upward and look for it. Yes, whether we are reading the Bible or going about our daily lives, the Lord has given us the privilege and the joy of everywhere beholding the face of God. Amen

 


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