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Paradigm Shift
By the Rev. Lee Woofenden
Bridgewater, Massachusetts, February 7, 1999

Readings

Psalm 98 Sing to the Lord a new song

Sing to the Lord a new song,
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.

Revelation 21:1-5 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!"

True Christian 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. . . .

The religion 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)

Sermon

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.

The wonderful 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.

Paradigm shift. 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."

"It's really easy to find," I reply. "It's right in the center of town! Try a little harder."

"Okay, I'll 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 mental attitude."

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 ourselves.

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 around us.

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 genuine needs.

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



 
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