By the Rev. Lee Woofenden

Bridgewater, Massachusetts, April 8, 2001
Palm Sunday

Psalm 45:1-6 God's kingdom will last forever

My heart is stirred by a noble theme
     as I recite my verses for the king;
     my tongue is the pen of a skillful writer.
You are the most excellent of men
     and your lips have been anointed with grace,
     since God has blessed you forever.
Gird your sword upon your side, O mighty one;
     clothe yourself with splendor and majesty.
In your majesty ride forth victoriously
     on behalf of truth, humility, and righteousness;
     let your right hand display awesome deeds.
Your throne, O God, will last forever and ever;
     a scepter of justice will be the scepter of your kingdom.


Mark 11:1-10 The Triumphal Entry

As they approached Jerusalem and came to Bethphage and Bethany at the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two of his disciples, saying to them, "Go to the village ahead of you, and just as you enter it, you will find a colt tied there, which no one has ever ridden. Untie it and bring it here. If anyone asks you, 'Why are you doing this?' tell him, 'The Lord needs it and will send it back here shortly.'"

They went and found a colt outside in the street, tied at a doorway. As they untied it, some people standing there asked, "What are you doing, untying that colt?" They answered as Jesus had told them to, and the people let them go. When they brought the colt to Jesus and threw their cloaks over it, he sat on it. Many people spread their cloaks on the road, while others spread branches they had cut in the fields. Those who went ahead and those who followed shouted, "Hosanna! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord! Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David! Hosanna in the highest!"


Arcana Coelestia #3796.4 The Lord's Kingdom

When our goal is the good of our neighbor, the common good, the good of the church, and the good of the Lord's kingdom, then our soul is in the Lord's kingdom, which means it is with the Lord. For the Lord's kingdom is nothing but a kingdom of goals and service for the good of humanity.


Those who went ahead and those who followed shouted, "Hosanna! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord! Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David! Hosanna in the highest!" (Mark 11:10)

A couple of nights ago I came home to find a message on my answering machine from a newspaper reporter. She was writing a story for the religion section of the paper she worked for, and wanted to know what we were doing for Passover. It was a little late to call her back, so I hope she got enough material for her article without finding out how the New Jerusalem Church observes Passover!

I suppose I could have played along a bit. I could have told her that in our upcoming service we would be doing our own version of a Passover seder--only in our tradition, a couple of millennia ago the ritual was revised, and we now call it the Holy Supper, or Communion. And that instead of its commemorating our release from literal slavery, our version of the Passover represents our release from spiritual slavery to the evil and destructive forces within us and around us.

By this time, I'm sure she would have realized her mistake. But if I could just squeeze one more thing in, I would explain that by the bread of communion we understand the love and goodness of the Lord, and by the wine we understand the divine truth that satisfies all our spiritual thirst. Our release from spiritual slavery comes through accepting into our lives the life-giving love and wisdom of the Lord, I would say. Then, to redeem myself, and make the time she spent with me a little more worthwhile for her article, I might refer her to the Orthodox Rabbi who came last month and gave us a wonderful talk about his faith.

She made a common mistake. People hear "Jerusalem," and immediately think of Judaism. And with my beard, I could make a passable Rabbi. Of course, anyone who really knows their Bible will know that the New Jerusalem, from which our church takes its name, appears in the New Testament, not the Old Testament. To be exact, it comes from the last two chapters of the Book of Revelation. For Christians, it represents the climax of the entire Bible story. The New Jerusalem comes when all the spiritual enemies of God and humanity have finally been defeated, so that God's love and truth can reign supreme in the world.

This is the inspiring vision that our church looks to. And what distinguishes us from most other churches is that we believe the New Jerusalem is already descending upon our earth. As we look at the huge changes that have taken place in the world over the last few hundred years, we cannot help but realize that we are living in a new era. With the new level of human freedom that now exists on our earth--both freedom of mind and freedom of body--there has come a huge explosion of new science, new philosophy, new psychology, new technology, and new understanding in all the many areas that the human mind can explore--including the nature of humanity itself.

This, we believe, is the result of a new spiritual era now dawning upon our earth. The events leading up to this new spiritual era took place primarily in the spiritual world, in the form of a re-ordering of heaven, hell, and the intermediate world of spirits so that truth and love could once again flow freely from God through the angels and into human beings on earth, both individually and collectively. In our church, we also believe that a new revelation appropriate to this new spiritual era has been given to us in the form of the religious writings of Emanuel Swedenborg.

Swedenborg's original and greatest goal in his spiritual writings was to open up the deeper meaning of the Bible so that we would no longer have to struggle with the often confusing and sometimes contradictory statements of the literal meaning of the Bible, but could see the entire Bible as a divine parable telling us of our inner rebirth and growth as new spiritual beings in the image and likeness of God.

We are freed from the burden of Fundamentalist Christians, who must come up with fancy and involved explanations as to how the world really could have been created in six days despite the monumental amount of evidence to the contrary, and how the sun, moon, and stars could fall to the earth in a final destruction of our world when we now know that the sun and stars are vastly larger than the earth and would vaporize it long before they got close enough to hit the ground--not to mention forming a black hole in the aftermath.

To us, the Bible stories that these and other unlikely scenarios are based on were never intended to be taken literally. Instead they are divine parables telling us how God creates us spiritually, and how we are spiritually destroyed when we turn away from God's love and wisdom, and instead engulf ourselves in self-centeredness and the pride of our own intellectual achievements. The cataclysms described in Revelation take place, not in the physical world, but in the world of human minds and hearts. They also take place on the grand scale of global human movements, which can lead to great spiritual destruction when they are based on human desires and philosophies and not on eternal, divine law.

I believe we have been through just such a period of spiritual destruction caused by our own selfishness and greed. If we look back at the Christian Church in the Middle Ages, which have also been called the Dark Ages, we see the powerfully healing and inspiring message of Jesus turned into an oppressive force which kept people firmly under the thumb of the Church--whose main goal for a number of centuries seemed to be the accumulation of material wealth and power. The terrible wars of Christians against Christians, and of Christians against people of other faiths--especially Muslims and Jews--should be enough to assure us that the Christian Church had long since abandoned the teachings of Jesus, who taught us to love our enemies and do good to those who hate us and persecute us.

Today, of course, our world is still far from being a perfect place. We still have wars and rumors of wars. We still have hatred, anger, and pride. We still have poverty, hunger, and oppression. We still have misunderstanding and mistrust of those who are "not like us." However, any objective observer would have to say that we have made great strides from where we were even a century ago, let alone three or four centuries ago.

So it is with a sense of optimism that we speak of "The Coming Kingdom." We can see the tremendous changes being brought about in human society--many, even if not all, for the better. We can look forward to a time of greater human enlightenment, greater mutual understanding, greater love and compassion for our fellow human beings both on a small scale and on a large scale.

There were probably few in the exultant crowd that ushered Jesus into Jerusalem who understood that this was the kind of kingdom he had come to set up. Most of them probably thought that this Jesus, whom they believed and hoped to be their long-awaited Messiah, would be the one to finally throw off Roman rule and re-establish Israel as a strong, independent nation that would not only rule itself, but all the surrounding nations as well. In essence, they wanted to change place with the Romans, and be the rulers instead of the ruled.

But Jesus made it abundantly clear that his kingdom is not of this world. Rather, his kingdom exists wherever truth rules and love abounds. His kingdom exists when human beings leave behind the lust for money and power, and devote themselves instead to the love and service of their fellow human beings. The coming kingdom of the Lord is not one where God's righteousness is enforced by governments that rule with a rod of iron, but where God's love and truth rules in human hearts.

Imagine, for a moment, what the world would be like if everyone in it were motivated by love for the Lord and love for their fellow human beings. Imagine what our community would be like if every one of us got our greatest joy from serving others and making them happy. Henry Drummond (1851-1897) a nineteenth century Scottish evangelical writer and lecturer who became a New Church (Swedenborgian) teacher, held such a vision. He wrote:

One Christian city, one city in any part of the earth whose citizens, from the greatest to the humblest, live in the spirit of Christ, where religion has overflowed the churches and passed into the streets, inundating every house and workshop, and permeating the whole social and commercial life--one such Christian city would seal the redemption of the world.

The Holy City, New Jerusalem, is just such a city. And as Jesus entered the old Jerusalem nearly two thousand years ago, this was the vision he held in his heart. He held the vision of a time when all the peoples of the earth would turn to God, surrendering their selfish wills to the divine will. He held the vision of a time when the lion would lie down with the lamb, because no one would bear any ill will toward anyone else, but all would live toward one another with the spiritual power of a lion, but the heavenly innocence of a lamb.

The kingdom of God cannot be built by human governments and institutions. It is a kingdom built from the inside out. That building starts within each one of us, as we accept the Lord into our minds and hearts. Every day that we commit ourselves to thinking, feeling, and acting according to the Lord's way of love and truth, of compassion and mutual understanding, we are building the kingdom of God both within us and around us.

Let's build the kingdom of God! Amen.

 



Music: Heart to Heart
1999 Bruce DeBoer

 

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