Spirit: The Final Frontier


By the Rev. Lee Woofenden
Bridgewater, Massachusetts, September 19, 1999

Readings

Genesis 1:1-5, 24-28, 31 The Beginning

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters. And God said, "Let there be light," and there was light. God saw that the light was good, and he separated the light from the darkness. God called the light "day," and the darkness he called "night." And there was evening, and there was morning--the first day. . . .

Then God said, "Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the wild animals of the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth.

So God created humankind in his image. In the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. God blessed them and said to them, "Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth. . . .

And God saw all that he had made, and it was very good. And there was evening, and there was morning--the sixth day.


John 3:3-8 Born of the Spirit

Now there was a Pharisee named Nicodemus, a leader of the Jews. He came to Jesus by night and said to him, "Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God; for no one can do these signs that you do apart from the presence of God."

Jesus answered him, "Truly, I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born again."

Nicodemus said to him, "How can anyone be born after having grown old? Can one enter a second time into the mother's womb and be born?"

Jesus answered, "Truly, I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit. What is born of the flesh is flesh, and what is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not be astonished that I said to you, 'You must be born again.' The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit."


Arcana Coelestia #1, 2 The spiritual meaning of the Bible

The Word of the Old Testament contains heavenly secrets, with every single detail focusing on the Lord, his heaven, religion, faith, and what belongs to faith. But no one realizes this from the letter. Judging it by the letter--or the literal meaning--no one views it as anything more than a story that is concerned mostly with the outward aspects of the Jewish religion.... Yet every single detail, even the smallest, down to the tiniest jot, means and embodies spiritual and heavenly things.

 

Sermon

Truly, I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit. What is born of the flesh is flesh, and what is born of the Spirit is spirit. (John 3:5, 6)

Now that I am starting my fourth year with you, I feel that we have built up a certain amount of trust and rapport. So it's about time I 'fessed up: I am a big fan of Science Fiction in general, and of Star Trek in particular. Whenever I watch an episode of "Star Trek: The Next Generation," I thrill to the grand voice of Patrick Stewart as Captain Jean-Luc Picard, intoning those inspiring words in the show's opener:

Space: the final frontier. These are the voyages of the starship Enterprise. Its continuing mission: to explore strange new worlds, to seek out new life and new civilizations, to boldly go where no one has gone before.

Yet as much as I enjoy venturing with Picard and his crew on an exciting voyage into the frontiers of space (as the human mind imagines it), there is always a little voice in the back of my head saying "Yes . . . but space isn't the final frontier." So I offer you this modified version of that famous call to exploration:

Spirit: the final frontier. These are the voyages of the starship Humankind. Its continuing mission: to explore strange new worlds of spirit, to seek out new ways of living and new levels of civilization, to boldly go where we have never gone before.

Let's call it "Spirit Trek." This truly is a voyage into the final frontier--not the frontier of outer space, but the frontier of inner space. It is a voyage into the frontier of spirit. This is the voyage on which Jesus sends us when he says:

Truly, I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born again. . . . Truly, I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit. What is born of the flesh is flesh, and what is born of the Spirit is spirit.

When Jesus originally spoke these words, Nicodemus was confused by them. For someone steeped in a form of religion that involved mostly the observance outward rituals and literal laws, the things of spirit truly were a strange new world. The spirit was unexplored territory. It involved a whole new way of living--a way of life inspired by deeper goals of faith in the Lord, and by love and kindness toward our fellow human beings, rather than a life driven by the desire for more money, more power, more status, more possessions.

If all the people on earth--or even a sizable percentage of the world's people--were to live in this new and spiritual way, the earth would see a whole new level of civilization: a civilization built on mutual respect and service rather than on competition and striving for domination. It would lead to a civilization, a world, being newly created in the pattern of the holy city, New Jerusalem descending out of heaven from God. And that is a place--no, it is a state of mind and being--where we, the human race, have never gone before. It is a whole new and very exciting way for us to live. It is a way of life that we long for in our heart of hearts, as we struggle along in a world that seems so far from the heavenly ideal--and as we realize that we ourselves fall far short of the glory for which God, our Creator, designed us.

As we look forward with longing for that great future age of peace, harmony, and mutual goodwill among all the peoples of the earth, let's look back for a moment to another time when the churches of the Western world had fallen far from their heavenly state, and were concerned mostly with the material concerns of wealth and power.

By the eighteenth century, the Christian Church had long since left behind spiritual power for worldly power. Some nations were under the sway of the Catholic Church; others were under the sway of various Protestant churches. People who defied the political power of the church usually did not live to tell of it. And when Catholics and Protestants met, it was usually with drawn swords and murderous intent. The harps and clouds of heaven were taken very literally--and so was the fire and brimstone of hell. God was a God to be feared, and the Bible was a book to be literally and strictly obeyed. Yet under a thin veneer of civilization, the most cruel, inhuman, and degraded abuses went on largely unchallenged. It was a dark chapter in a long and weary human history that abounds in dark chapters.

It is no wonder that just as the Lord Jesus' strange words of spirit and life confused and confounded his listeners, there was an equally confounded and confused reaction when another bold explorer of the world of spirit, Emanuel Swedenborg, published the first volume of his religious writings. In the opening lines of that work wrote:

The Word of the Old Testament contains heavenly secrets, with every single detail focusing on the Lord, his heaven, religion, faith, and what belongs to faith. But no one realizes this from the letter. Judging it by the letter--or the literal meaning--no one views it as anything more than a story that is concerned mostly with the outward aspects of the Jewish religion. . . . Yet every single detail, even the smallest, down to the tiniest jot, refers to and embodies spiritual and heavenly things.

These are the opening lines of Arcana Coelestia, or Heavenly Secrets. The first volume of this massive spiritual work, written entirely in Latin, was published in London in 1749. It was followed by seven more volumes of heavenly secrets, each continuing the remarkable, and to many people, the unbelievable story of Swedenborg's voyage into the strange new world of Spirit as found within the pages of the Holy Bible.

Like Nicodemus, most of Swedenborg's contemporaries regarded these spiritual voyages as strange and confusing flights of fancy. They asked, "How can these things be?" But Swedenborg had already replied to this question, quite calmly, in that first volume:

The Lord, in his divine compassion, has enabled me to understand the inner meaning of the Bible. This meaning contains deeply hidden secrets which no one has ever had the slightest conception of before now. It would be impossible to understand them without knowing what the other life is like, since this is what most of the Bible's inner meaning refers to and describes. Now, however, I can tell about what I have heard and seen while I have been with spirits and angels during the last few years. I realize that many people will say it is not possible for anyone to talk with spirits and angels while still living in the physical body. Some will say I am hallucinating and some will say I am writing these things just to get a following. Others will make other objections. But none of this discourages me, because I have seen, I have heard, and I have felt. (Arcana Coelestia #67-68)

With these words, Swedenborg invites us to explore strange new worlds of spirit, to seek out new ways of living and new levels of civilization, to boldly go where we have never gone before. These are the voyages of the starship Humankind into the worlds of the spirit--the true final frontier.

That voyage begins simply, gently, yet oh, so powerfully in the opening words of the book of Genesis--the beginning of God's Word to humankind:

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters. And God said, "Let there be light," and there was light.

To material, human eyes, these words seem to be merely an ancient, mythic account of the creation of the physical universe. Yet the light that God created with these words was not limited to the kind of light that our physical eyes can see. Not at all! The light that God creates is the kind of brilliant inner light that illuminates our understanding. It is a light that enables us to see those amazing new worlds of spirit that Swedenborg found in his inspired voyages into inner space.

This is the light of spiritual truth. The voyage of our own personal starship into the vast reaches of spirit begins when the Lord opens our inner eyes to that deeper light, which radiates out from the Creator so gloriously. When our eyes have been opened to this light, we can never again be satisfied with the fleeting, temporary possessions and pleasures of this earth. As much as we continue to appreciate the wonders of God's creations in the physical world, when our spiritual eyes are opened we see far greater wonders--wonders that had previously been hidden from our eyes.

The Lord is calling each one of us to a voyage into that world far beyond the stars. It is an exciting voyage of discovery, because every discovery is not only tremendously enlightening, but intensely personal. On this journey we will discover our own ability to understand both ourselves and the people around us in ways that can heal past hurts and make new and deeper connections of trust and friendship.

On this journey, we will discover that beyond all the ways we have been stifled, beyond the ways we have stifled ourselves, there is a power of love within us that is greater than anything we had ever conceived of before. This power of love can propel us to deep and lasting joy as we express our love to one another through acts of kindness and compassion.

On this journey, we will make the most exciting discovery of all: that beyond all our power to grasp it, there lies at the center of the universe an infinite, powerful, intimate, compassionate, and intensely personal love. This love is in the person of the Lord God, our Creator and Savior, Jesus Christ.

Spirit: the final frontier. These are the voyages of the starship Humankind. Amen.


 

 

 

Music: Prism: Color of Love
ęBruce DeBoer