The Real Millennium


By the Rev. Lee Woofenden
Bridgewater, Massachusetts, December 31, 2000

Readings


Psalm 46 God is our refuge and strength

God is our refuge and strength,
     a very present help in trouble.
Therefore we will not fear,
     though the earth should change,
     though the mountains shake in the heart of the sea;
     though its waters roar and foam,
     though the mountains tremble with its tumult.

There is a river whose streams
     make glad the city of God,
     the holy habitation of the Most High.
God is in the midst of the city;
     it shall not be moved;
     God will help it when the morning dawns.
The nations are in an uproar, the kingdoms totter;
     he utters his voice, the earth melts.
The Lord of hosts is with us;
     the God of Jacob is our refuge.

Come, behold the works of the Lord;
     see what desolations he has brought on the earth.
     He makes wars cease to the end of the earth;
     he breaks the bow and shatters the spear;
     he burns the shields with fire.
"Be still, and know that I am God!
     I am exalted among the nations,
     I am exalted in the earth."
The Lord of hosts is with us;
     the God of Jacob is our refuge.


John 16:12-15, 25-27 I have much more to say to you

"I have much more to say to you, more than you can now bear. But when the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come. He will bring glory to me by taking from what is mine and making it known to you. All that belongs to the Father is mine. That is why I said the Spirit will take from what is mine and make it known to you. . . .

"Though I have been speaking figuratively, a time is coming when I will no longer use this kind of language but will tell you plainly about my Father. In that day you will ask in my name. I am not saying that I will ask the Father on your behalf. No, the Father himself loves you because you have loved me and have believed that I came from God."


True Christian Religion #774 The Lord's Coming

The Lord is continually present with every person, both the evil and the good, for no one could live without his presence. But his coming happens only for those who receive him--which are those who believe in him and keep his commandments.

It is the Lord's continual presence that gives us the faculty of reason and the ability to become spiritual. This is brought about by the light that comes from the Lord as the sun of the spiritual world, which we can receive in our understanding. That light is the truth that gives us the power of reasoning.

However, the Lord's coming takes place in us when we combine warmth with that light--that is, when we combine love with truth. For the warmth radiated by that same sun is love for God and love towards the neighbor. The Lord's presence by itself, and the enlightenment it brings to the understanding, is like the presence of sunlight in the world; unless it is combined with warmth, everything on earth is barren. But the Lord's coming is like the coming of warmth, which happens in springtime. Since warmth is then combined with light, the earth is softened up, and the seeds sprout and bear fruit.

This is the parallel between the spiritual environment of our spirit and the material environment of our body.


Sermon

"I have much more to say to you, more than you can now bear. But when the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all truth. . . . Though I have been speaking figuratively, a time is coming when I will no longer use this kind of language but will tell you plainly about my Father." (John 16:12, 25)

We are now living in the time that Jesus was speaking of. You and I are privileged and blessed to be receivers of that plain language about the divine Father--of the Holy Spirit guiding us into all truth. I do not say this to set us apart as a special people, because God loves all people equally. Instead, I say it to emphasize the great treasure that we have in our church. I am speaking, of course, of the spiritual writings of Emanuel Swedenborg.

A year ago, during my sabbatical, this church enjoyed a series of sermons given by lay people and visiting ministers on "Why I Am a Swedenborgian." In that series, we shared with one another what this church, and the writings of Swedenborg which inspired it, have done for us. In her sermon on this topic, which has just been printed in the January 2001 issue of Our Daily Bread, the Rev. Dr. Wilma Wake tells of her excitement on finding the Swedenborgian Church and delving into Swedenborg's writings as a newcomer. She writes:

I felt I had arrived in heaven when I realized that there was a group of people whose spirituality was formed in the context of Swedenborg's writings. I had found a spirituality that made sense for me, and found it affirmed in the writings of Swedenborg. When I learned that others had found comfort in those writings, I was so excited! I was amazed that some people actually grew up in this church and with these writings!

I remember taking a tutorial at the Swedenborg School of Religion with the Rev. Dr. Bob Kirven on Swedenborg's book Divine Love and Wisdom, and coming in to our session exclaiming, "Do those people who were raised on these writings really understand what they say? Do they realize how radical they are? How profound? How they answer so many of today's complex questions? Do they realize how lucky they are to have had these writings always a part of their lives, and not to have had to search to find them?"

I am one of those "lucky" ones who was raised with Swedenborg's writings. Some of you in this congregation are, too. Others have had the "luck" of finding them later in life. I put "luck" in quotation marks both times because I do not believe it was luck. Rather, I believe it was God's providence working to bring us the great enlightenment to be found in the writings of Swedenborg at the time in our lives when we most needed it.

This is the very same providence that brought the world that enlightenment at the very time it was needed. You see, the people of this world have been through several great spiritual eras. Swedenborg describes four of them. The first, represented at its height by the Garden of Eden in the Bible, is called the very earliest religious era, or "the most ancient church," to use traditional Swedenborgian language. This was the Golden Age of mythology--a time when people led with their hearts, and had open communication with angels and spirits in the spiritual world. It came to its final end with the great flood in Genesis chapters six through eight.

Next came the ancient religious era, or church, represented by Noah and his descendants. This was the Silver Age of mythology, when people led with their heads, their intellects, and developed the early civilizations--complete with highly cultured and symbol-rich written languages--which still amaze us today. It is usually reckoned to end with the call of Abram in Genesis chapter twelve, but there are some indications that its true end may have been with the giving of the Ten Commandments on Mount Sinai, along with the other laws that formed the core and organizing principle of the ancient Jewish Church.

The Jewish, or Israelitish Church was the spiritual mother through which the written Word of God was given to humankind. It remained the standard-bearer of monotheism and the primary source of a relatively enlightened spiritual path in the then-known world right up to the time when Jesus Christ came into the world. As such, it represented the third great spiritual era of humankind.

From its roots in ancient Judaism, Christianity took over as the spiritual front-runner and primary source of enlightenment to a dark and troubled world, thus forming the fourth great spiritual era.

However, every living, growing thing on this earth has a beginning, a middle, and an end. Everything is born, lives out its life, and then dies. Each of these spiritual eras went through that cycle of birth, life, and death. They began with great enlightenment and devotion to the ways of God, and ended when that early enlightenment and devotion lapsed into falsity, error, and ignorance born of self-centeredness, pride, and greed. Swedenborg writes:

A church reaches its end when there is no divine truth left in it, but only falsified or rejected truth. . . . Truth comes to an end, and goodness along with it, primarily due to the two worldly loves that are diametrically opposed to the two spiritual loves. These are called selfish love and materialistic love. When selfish love is dominant, it is opposite to the love of God; and when materialistic love is dominant, it is opposite to love towards the neighbor. Selfish love is wishing well to no one but ourselves, except for selfish reasons, and materialistic love is similar. Once these loves have taken hold, they spread like gangrene throughout the body, and destroy every part of it step by step. (True Christian Religion #753, 754)

This is what had happened to the ancient Jewish Church by the time of the Lord's First Coming two thousand years ago. And this is also what happened to the Christian Church over the centuries.

When Christianity first began, it drew much of its character from Jesus' teachings about loving friends and enemies alike, turning the other cheek, being reborn in the spirit, and worshipping the Lord alone. But as it grew in numbers and influence, its leaders began to be turned aside by the lure of worldly wealth and personal power. Because of these corrupting influences--materialism and selfishness--they soon began to corrupt the simple, loving, and life-centered teachings of Christ into convoluted, fractured, and spiritually dead dogmas that had more to do with establishing the exclusive power of the church and its leaders than with leading people toward living in an honest, loving, and spiritual way.

It was not many centuries before the church that had been founded on teachings of loving our enemies, blessing those who curse us, and doing good for those who hate us had broken into warring factions that felt they were doing God's will by slaughtering anyone who did not hold to their particular beliefs. The history of the Christian Church, especially from the time of the Council of Nicea in 325 AD, is a dismal affair, full of power struggles, dark dealings and a continual corruption of the teachings of Christ until there was very little left that could truly be called Christian. The Protestant Reformation did little to reverse this trend, and led to even more wars of so-called "Christians" against "Christians."

And so the first Christian church ran its course. It was born, lived out its life, and died when all of Christ's teachings had been falsified through the greed and selfishness of the people who called themselves Christians. Only the shell of the institutional church was left; the spirit had long since left the body of Christianity.

That was when the real millennium took place.

In human years, I'll admit my bias. I've read the arguments that the millennium happens at the beginning of 2001 because there was no year zero. I still think it happened last year, when 1999 gave way to 2000. However, I haven't engaged in those debates about the "real" millennium because it is only numbers on a calendar devised by human beings.

God does not go by our calendar. And God saw that the time was ripe over two hundred years ago for a new spiritual era to begin. The first Christian Church had run its course from its birth in love and innocence to its death in greed, doctrinal error, and murderous hatred of all who disagreed with their own particular sect's doctrinal error.

It was time for a new Christian Church. And the Lord provided for that new Christian Church quietly, in an unexpected way, just as his first coming to earth had turned many of the ancient prophecies of the Messiah on their head. This was not to be a great and flashy coming to conquer worldly, political enemies and establish an earthly kingdom. As Jesus said to Pilate two thousand years ago, "My kingdom is not of this world" (John 18:36). And now, two thousand years later, his kingdom is still a spiritual kingdom and not a worldly one. And his Second Coming is a spiritual one, not a physical one.

These are the bold claims made by Emanuel Swedenborg, who said that the Lord had chosen and especially prepared him to carry to the world the teachings for the people who would be a part of the new spiritual era represented by the Holy City, New Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven (Revelation 21:2). And unlike the previous four spiritual eras which all came to their end, this one, the prophecies say, will never end. It will continue to grow in power and glory forever because the shadows of the old had been dispelled, and now people can walk clear-sighted in the brilliant new light given to the world.

This is the same light that you and I walk in today--as much as we learn of the teachings given us by God through the mind of his chosen servant Emanuel Swedenborg. This light opens up to us the deeper meaning of God's Word, re-establishing the Bible as the supremely sacred text that tells from beginning to end both our own spiritual story and the still deeper story of the Lord's inner, divine life here on earth. This light dispels the centuries-old confusion surrounding the Biblical teachings about the trinity, showing in a powerfully rational yet fully Bible-based way how the risen and glorified Jesus Christ encompasses all aspects of God--Father, Son, and Holy Spirit--in one Divinely Human person. This light assures us that God's love and mercy extends to people of all religions and all beliefs, opening the way to heaven for all people of faith who sincerely practice their beliefs in their daily lives. This brilliant new light that dawned on our earth two and a half centuries ago is the real millennium on God's calendar.

The question remaining is how far that new millennium will penetrate into the minds, hearts, and lives of each one of us. We have been blessed with a great light, and each one of us here in this church, as well as those sharing with us in spirit through the mail and through the Internet, is thankful in our own way for the new light that shines into our darkness. Yet as Swedenborg tells us in our reading from True Christian Religion, the mere presence of light in our minds does not mean that the Lord has come into our lives. Yes, the Lord is always present with each one of us, giving us the ability to understand and appreciate the divine truth offered to us. But like the light of winter, our understanding of spiritual truth can be cold, producing no life and growth in us.

It is when we open up not only our minds, but our hearts to the Lord's presence that the brilliant light of truth is combined with the enlivening warmth of love. Then the Lord can come into our lives, transforming us from the inside out. And for each of us personally, this is the real millennium! When we have passed through our time of darkness, error, materialism, and self-absorption; when we have come to the point where we are willing to let that old phase of our lives die, and welcome God into our hearts and minds as the center and source of our own new spiritual era, then we have begun to build within and around ourselves the new kingdom of God that will never end.

The sign and seal that we have not only let our minds be enlightened, but have also let our hearts be warmed by the Second Coming of the Lord is when we express God's truth lovingly by devoting our lives day in and day out, week by week, year after year, to serving our fellow human beings with kindness, love, and ever-growing joy. Amen.

 

 


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Music: For All Eternity
1999 Bruce DeBoer