By the Rev. Lee Woofenden
Bridgewater, Massachusetts, February 7, 1999
Psalm 98 Sing to
the Lord a new song
Sing to the Lord a
for he has done marvelous things;
His right hand and his holy arm
have worked salvation for him.
The Lord has made his salvation known,
and revealed his righteousness to the nations.
He has remembered his love
and his faithfulness to the house of Israel;
All the ends of the earth
have seen the salvation of our God.
Shout for joy to the
Lord, all the earth,
burst into jubilant song with music;
Make music to the Lord with the harp,
with the harp and the sound of singing,
With trumpets and the blast of the ram's horn--
shout for joy before the Lord, the King.
Let the sea resound,
and everything in it,
the world, and all who live in it.
Let the rivers clap their hands,
let the mountains sing together for joy;
Let them sing before the Lord,
for he comes to judge the earth.
He will judge the world in righteousness
and the peoples with equity.
I am making everything 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
dwelling of God is with people, and he will live 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, "Look! I am making everything new!"
Religion #784 A new religion, inward and outward
It fits into to
the divine pattern for a new heaven to be formed before a new religion is formed
on earth. Religion is both inward and outward. Inward religion goes together
with the religion in heaven, and therefore with heaven itself. Inner things must
be formed before the outward things that go with them, since outward things are
formed afterwards from the inward ones. . . .
inside of us is made from what is in the new heaven. As much as the new heaven
grows, the New Jerusalem, meaning a new religion, comes down from it. This
cannot happen in a moment. But it does happen as the false beliefs of the
previous religion are banished. . . . This is why the Lord said:
No one pours new
wine into old wineskins, or else the new wine will burst the skins, the wine
will run out, and the wineskins will be ruined. No, new wine must be poured into
new wineskins. (Matthew 9:17)
Look! I am
making everything new! (Revelation 21:5)
We call ourselves
"The New Jerusalem Church." The New Jerusalem. That gleaming city
coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for
her husband. The New Jerusalem. A city whose wall is made of jasper, and whose
streets and buildings are of pure gold, as pure as glass. The New Jerusalem.
Whose foundations are decorated with every kind of precious stone, and whose
twelve gates are each made of a single pearl. It is a city that has no need of
the sun or the moon to shine on it, for it is brilliantly lit by the glory of
God. This is the name that we have chosen for our church.
We often think of
this name and all that it represents as a privilege the Lord has given to us. We
think of the tremendously illuminating and freeing truths of the new Jerusalem,
and count ourselves blessed to have those truths available to us. We think of
the enlightening and freeing power of being able to see deep into the spiritual
meaning of the Bible, giving us an amazing, divinely inspired road map for our
lives. We think of the clear and comforting teachings of our church about heaven
in hell, and what awaits us when we die. And we think especially of the
wonderful teaching that God is a God of pure love--a God who loves all
people regardless of race or nationality, regardless of religion or creed. And
we are, indeed, very blessed have these teachings.
And yet, I wonder
if we realize what an awesome responsibility it is to bear the name of
the New Jerusalem. . . .
This morning I
would like to talk about shifting our paradigm; about changing the way we
perceive things. And one paradigm shift that is absolutely essential for us,
both as individuals and as the church, is that we see the wonderful gifts that
Lord has given to us in the teachings of the New Jerusalem, not as a privilege,
but as a responsibility. A privilege is something that makes us better
than other people; a privilege gives us special status, a special advantage,
special rights. But we are not better than other people--not in God's
eyes. From a divine and spiritual perspective, no one has special status. We all
have equal access to God; we all have equal access to heaven; we are all equally
loved and treasured by God.
teachings that we have been gifted with do not give us any special privilege or
status with God. But our teachings do give us a special responsibility. They
give us a responsibility to learn what our church teaches; to accept it and
appreciate it deep in our heart. And especially, they give us a responsibility
to put what we learn into practice every day of our lives.
There is a
popular idea that God's gifts have no strings attached. In one sense this is
true: God's love is unconditional. We do not have to do anything to earn it, and
God will give it to us no matter what we do. In fact, if God did not love us
every second, we would instantly cease to exist. We are made of God's
love. But in another sense, there are strings attached to God's gifts.
And the most basic of these strings is simply this: use it or lose it. If we do
not accept God's love willingly by showing the same love to others, the love
will be there for us, but it won't do us any good. If we do not use the
true ideas that we learn here in church and from our own reading and study and
experience--if we do not use them as guides and patterns for daily living--then
those wonderful truths will be relegated to our memory, where they will slowly
fade away, doing us no good whatsoever.
We call ourselves the New Jerusalem Church. What does that mean? In the
description of the New Jerusalem coming down from heaven, the one sitting on the
throne says "Look! I am making everything new!" What is new about the
New Jerusalem? And what does it mean for us?
At the time
management seminar that this church sent me to the few weeks ago, I picked up
several sets of audio tapes that the speaker recommended, and that I thought
would be helpful to me in my work for this church. One of them is called The
Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, by Dr. Stephen R. Covey. So far, I
have listened to two of the six tapes, and I have found them very
thought-provoking--and quite harmonious with the teachings our church. Dr. Covey
speaks of paradigm shifts, and I would like to use one of his illustrations of
what it means to shift paradigms, adapted to our purposes.
Let's say you're
from out of state. You want to attend a service, but you have never been to our
church before, so you ask me for directions. I'm glad to oblige! I photocopy a
map and send it to you, along with some directions. The only problem is, I got a
little mixed up and sent you a map of Bridgeton, Maine instead of Bridgewater,
Massachusetts. And unfortunately, the map's title got cut off when I copied it,
so you don't realize my mistake.
Sunday comes. You
head out of your hotel room, get in your rental car, and soon you are hopelessly
lost. You give me a call. Sunday school hasn't started yet, so I pick up the
phone and you tell me what's happening. "I got your directions," you
say, "but I can't find any of the roads you mention on the map."
easy to find," I reply. "It's right in the center of town! Try a
try harder," you reply, and you're off and running--driving twice as fast
and getting twice as lost. Soon your spirits begin to sink. You've been driving
around for forty-five minutes, you're more lost them ever, and you don't have
much time left to make it to church. So you give me another call. My Sunday
School class has just ended, so I pick up the phone. I immediately sense that
you're getting discouraged, so I say "It sounds like trying harder wasn't
the answer. What you really need is a positive
Well! That wise
suggestion strikes you like a bolt of lightning, and your mental attitude is
instantly transformed. You get back in that car and you start driving, and
everything is wonderful. You're still completely lost--in fact, you never do
make it to church. But that doesn't matter . . . you're at one
with the universe! You don't need church anymore!
The problem is,
you're still lost. Listening to my sage advice, you first tried changing your behavior:
you tried harder. Next you tried changing your attitude by looking at the
positive side of things. But what really needed changing was your road map.
Trying harder is good. Having a positive attitude is good. But if you are
following the wrong map, changing your behavior and your attitude won't do much
good. You need to change the map you are following. You need a paradigm shift.
The New Jerusalem
is not just a change of behavior. The New Jerusalem is not just a change of
attitudes. The New Jerusalem is a whole new paradigm. It is a whole new way of
looking at life. And if we want to be a part of the New Jerusalem in reality,
and not merely in name, we must shift our own paradigm so that it is in harmony
with the paradigm presented to us in the teachings of our church. And we must
make that shift not only in the way we think, but in the way we feel
deep in our hearts. We must change our values. We must change what we love. We
must change our goals and priorities. And from these, we must change the way we
live. This is the responsibility of being a part of the New Jerusalem.
It is also the joy
of being part of the New Jerusalem. When we change our paradigm, we are no
longer lost on confusing and discouraging roads of life. When we change our
paradigm--when we truly accept in our minds and hearts the road map that the
Lord has given to us in the Bible and in the teachings of our church--then we
can see the road ahead of us clearly, and we can follow it through all its
twists and turns. And as we follow that road, we can bring into reality in our
own lives the vision of the New Jerusalem that the Lord has given to us. We can
gain a life of loving one another; a life of understanding one another; a life
of serving one another and bringing happiness to one another.
There are many
different ways we could look at shifting our paradigm. There is the question of
whether we view ourselves as controlled primarily by outside forces, or
controlled primarily by the choices that we make and the goals that we set
within ourselves. This is an entire topic in itself, and I plan to explore it
with you on another Sunday.
Today, I would
like to leave you with four paradigms to choose from. They are the four basic
loves from which, as our teachings tell us, all other loves come. They are the
four basic loves that we can choose from in deciding what we want to focus our
life on. They are the four basic paradigms of human life. These four basic
paradigms are: loving ourselves first, loving material things
first, loving other people first, and loving God first. Every goal
or love or motivation and that we can possibly have revolves around one or more
of these four basic loves. The question is, which one of them do we want our
entire life to revolve around?
A life that
revolves around self is . . . a selfish life. When we are
stuck in this paradigm, we view everyone and everything in terms of how it
serves us. If someone agrees with us or serves our needs, we value that person.
If not, we consider that person to be of no account, or to be an enemy. If we do
something for another person, it is not because we care about that person, but
because we are thinking about what we will get in return. Everything revolves
around ourselves and our own status--around getting praise and power for
A life that
revolves around material things is . . . a materialistic
life. We just want the stuff! We want nice clothes, nice cars, nice
houses, and preferably lots of money. We view others in terms of how they can
make a buck for us. We latch onto people who look like they will be profitable
to us, and we ignore those who show little potential for getting us the money
and the toys that our hearts desire. Our hearts are set on the things of this
world, and we rise and fall with our material fortunes.
A life that
revolves around other people is a humanitarian life. We truly want to
serve. When we see others carrying burdens, we want to lighten their burden for
them, and we don't mind carrying some of it on our own back. We are not focused
on serving only our own needs, since we are not happy unless those around us are
happy. When our paradigm involves serving the good of others, we live a life of
helpfulness and service to others. Our life rises and falls, not with our own
position or our bank account, but with the happiness or unhappiness of those
Finally, a life
that revolves around God is a heavenly and spiritual life. When
our life revolves around God--when loving God is our paradigm--all the other
loves fall into place. We love ourselves and material things, not for their own
sake, but for their usefulness in serving God and serving other people. We take
care of ourselves and provide for our material needs so that we will be able to
show love to others. And we serve others not only because we feel that it is
what we ought do with our life, but because we have the love of God in our
hearts, and we see those around us as children of God. Our spirit does not rise
and fall with material events or human events, because we are rooted in
the unchanging love and wisdom of God. No matter what situation we are in, our
joy will be to show God's love to others by loving them and serving their
Shifting to a
higher paradigm is not something that happens all at once. The important thing
is that we begin to make the shift in our hearts and minds. As our
reading from Swedenborg points out, we must change what is inside of us first,
and once our inner paradigm has shifted, our outward behavior will follow. This
is both a comforting and an exciting teaching. For we are assured that if we
will change our focus--if we will center our lives on God's love and God's
teachings--it will transform our lives so that we can experience the joy of the
angels right here on earth, and give that joy to others as well. Amen.
Music: Forever and a Day
© 1999 by Bruce DeBoer