By the Rev. Lee Woofenden
Bridgewater, Massachusetts, September 16, 2001

Isaiah 42:1-7 A bruised reed he will not break

"Here is my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen one in whom I delight; I will put my Spirit on him and he will bring justice to the nations. He will not shout or cry out, or raise his voice in the streets. A bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out. In faithfulness he will bring forth justice; he will not falter or be discouraged till he establishes justice on earth. In his law the islands will put their hope."

This is what God the Lord says--he who created the heavens and stretched them out, who spread out the earth and all that comes out of it, who gives breath to its people, and life to those who walk on it: "I, the Lord, have called you in righteousness; I will take hold of your hand. I will keep you and will make you to be a covenant for the people and a light for the Gentiles, to open eyes that are blind, to free captives from prison and to release from the dungeon those who sit in darkness."

Matthew 11:25-30 My yoke is easy and my burden is light

At that time Jesus said, "I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children. Yes, Father, for this was your good pleasure.

"All things have been committed to me by my Father. No one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.

"Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light."

Arcana Coelestia #8455 True Peace

Peace holds within itself trust in the Lord--the trust that God governs all things and provides all things, and that he leads us towards an end that is good. When we believe these things about the Lord we are at peace, since we fear nothing, and no anxiety about the future disturbs us. How far we gain this state depends on how much we grow in love to the Lord.

Everything bad, especially trust in ourselves, takes away the state of peace. We may think that bad people are at peace when they are calm and cheerful because everything is going right for them. But this is not peace. It is merely the calmness and pleasure belonging to evil desires, which is only an imitation of the state of peace. Since this pleasure is the opposite of the pleasure belonging to peace, it turns to unpleasantness in the next life, because that is what lies hidden within it. In the next life, outward things are peeled away, one layer after another, right to the deepest things at the center.

Peace is at the center of all delight--and even of unpleasant things, when we are governed by goodness. So as much as we depart from our external self, our state of peace is revealed, and we are filled with joy, blessedness, and happiness, which come from the Lord himself.

Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light. (Matthew 11:28-30)

We have all been in shock after Tuesday's attacks. All the death and destruction they brought. The realization that we are vulnerable. That there are people who hate us. And now the shock is giving way to anger, and a desire for revenge and retaliation. Now there is talk of war. I was saddened to see that at the end of Time magazine's special issue on the attack there was a piece titled "The Case for Rage and Retribution." And it made me realize that it was rage and retribution that led to the attacks on Tuesday.

This is a tragedy. But I am not here today to speak of politics. We are in church, where we come to seek the spirit, and to hear of spiritual things. This is where we come to learn of God. And as the children said during the children's talk, we come here to learn how to be nice to each other.

So today I want to speak, not of war, but of peace. And not even of external peace, but of the inner, spiritual peace that the outward peace comes from. Because when we have this peace within our souls--when we as individuals, and we as a nation, and we as a world have the peace that comes only from having God within our souls--then war, and tragedies like Tuesday's, will be unnecessary. When we have God's peace, war will become a thing of the past.

I would like to speak of peace today. Of a spiritual peace that we can have even in the midst of times of war.

Before the Tuesday's tragedy happened, we had already planned a theme and a children's program on Johnny Appleseed. And especially for the sake of the children, I decided to go ahead with that theme. We also, of course, had a wonderful service of prayer and remembrance here two evenings ago, on Friday, sponsored by the Bridgewater Council of Churches. At that service our church was filled almost to capacity with about 250 people of many faiths and backgrounds who were coming together to remember the victims, and to bring God into this terrible tragedy.

Today I would like to move forward and inward, away from the wars and rumors of war that we now are hearing, and look at Johnny Appleseed as a man who was a center of peace in the midst of very turbulent and violent times. As it turns out, Johnny Appleseed is actually a wonderful, emblematic figure for exactly the circumstances that we are in right now.

Johnny Appleseed was popularized in our culture by the old Disney animation that showed him as a happy-go-lucky fellow walking around with a pot on his head and seeming not to have a care in the world. For the children, it's not particularly harmful to present him in that way. It is good for children need to see the good side of things first. And in fact, Johnny Appleseed was a person who had joy and peace within his heart. He was a person who enjoyed the people and the world of nature around him.

But Johnny Appleseed's reality was quite different from the happy-go-lucky fellow without a care in the world presented in the Disney movie.

First of all, Johnny Appleseed was a businessman. He was a little unconventional in his business methods; but he was a businessman. He was an orchardist. He planted trees. He cleared the land, he fenced them in, he tended them, and he sold both the trees he grew and the land he acquired.

He was unconventional in that he sold his trees on a sliding scale. If he knew that the buyer was able to pay the going rate for apple trees, he would charge them that. If he knew they couldn't afford that much, he would charge them less. And if he knew that they had nothing but perhaps a meal to offer or something to barter, he would take that in return for his trees. Except for a brief period of settling down and thinking that he might become a settled orchardist and make a business out of it, he was an itinerant orchardist. He was a businessman who operated by unconventional means, and brought great blessings to the people he served. Johnny Appleseed was a businessman.

Johnny Appleseed was also a missionary, spreading not only the teachings of the Bible, but also the teachings and the works of Emanuel Swedenborg to many, many families on the frontier. As he liked to say when he came to the frontier families' houses, "I come bringing good news right fresh from heaven." He loved to carry around copies of Swedenborg's books, such as Heaven and Hell. He would sometimes separate the books into two or three sections and distribute them to families who were willing to read them--which was his only criterion as to whether he would give copies of his books and pamphlets to a family. Then later, when he came around again, he would swap sections so that the one who had the first half would get the second half, and so on.

Johnny Appleseed was a Swedenborgian missionary. And various Swedenborgian groups sprang up in the places he visited. Even today, there are Swedenborgian churches in the Midwest that can trace some of their early roots back to the "good news" spread by Johnny Appleseed.

Johnny Appleseed was also a great story teller, keeping children and adults entertained, and also informed about the events in the surrounding communities and states. These were the days before radio, television, telephones, and other means of mass communication, so communication for those frontier families happened on foot. It happened through people like Johnny Appleseed who traveled to different areas, and brought the news around to the frontier families.

But our focus today is on Johnny Appleseed as a man of peace amid the storm. Johnny was not happy-go-lucky. He lived in dangerous and violent times. Of course, there was the untamed wilderness that he traveled through; the wild animals that would just as soon eat him as look at him. But wild animals were not the greatest thing Johnny Appleseed had to fear. What he found most dangerous was the people. Just like today, people of different races and cultures were often in conflict. There were the Whites against the Indians, the British against French, and so on. If you look around the New World at that time, there was a great deal of conflict. Settlers' cabins were getting burned down. Indian towns were getting destroyed.

Johnny Appleseed moved in that violent world. It may have been more primitive than today, but in many ways things are not that different now. Today we still have people of different religions and different races in conflict with one another. And we have seen that come home in a very devastating way this past week.

Johnny Appleseed moved in a violent and uncertain world. He was no dreamer. He was realistic about war and conflict. When he knew that there were Indians or troops of the opposing army coming, he would warn the settlers. He once did a famous run of thirty miles in one night, warning the frontier families to flee for their lives because there was an army coming. Johnny Appleseed was not a dreamer. He knew the realities of his world.

Yet in the midst of all of this, Johnny Appleseed carried within him a peace that transcended all those outward circumstances. Though he moved in turbulent times, Johnny Appleseed was at peace both with the white people and with the Indians. Both accepted and trusted him. He made no distinction among the different races and religions. He even considered animals his friends, and would not harm them. It is said that he would put out his fire if he saw mosquitoes dying in its flames.

Even though he lived in the midst of nature which was often violent, and in the midst of people who were often violent, he himself moved as a center of peace in the midst of that storm of violence. He spoke the Indians' language, and they trusted him so much that they allowed him to sit in on their councils and hear their deliberations. This was useful when he acted as an "ambassador" between the Whites and the Indians. He knew the issues that the Indians were concerned about, or angry about, or worried about, and sometimes the things they were planning to do. He could bring that knowledge into the white settlements, and sometimes avert hostilities that otherwise would have taken place. Johnny Appleseed helped to bring peace where he could. Of course, he was not always successful. Human greed and the human desire for conquest are very strong, and one man cannot overcome that amidst clashing cultures.

As we look at this remarkable man--an eccentric certainly, and yet a person of strong conviction, and a person who was bent on doing good--we ask, where did this peace amid the storm come from? Where did he gain the peace that was in his soul even in the midst of these violent, difficult times? We know that it was not external peace, because Johnny's external circumstances were often not very peaceful. In fact, they were often very difficult. He was poorly clothed and underfed, he traveled through difficult terrain, and at times he had to face hostile Indians and even hostile white people who didn't appreciate his presence. Not everyone loved Johnny Appleseed.

His peace was not an external peace. It was an inward peace. It was a peace of the spirit. It was a peace that comes only from trusting in God. I'd like to read you a passage from Swedenborg's work Arcana Coelestia (Secrets from Heaven), #8455:

Peace holds within itself trust in the Lord--the trust that God governs all things and provides all things, and that he leads us towards an end that is good. When we believe these things about the Lord we are at peace, since we fear nothing, and no anxiety about the future disturbs us. How far we gain this state depends on how much we grow in love to the Lord.

Even though Johnny Appleseed moved in very difficult outward circumstances, he had a peace that came from his trust in the Lord; a peace that came from knowing within himself that God is guiding all things toward what is good. He trusted that God would take care of him through good circumstances and bad. And Johnny did live out his threescore and ten years, dying at the age of seventy-one.

From the peace that Johnny had within himself--the peace of knowing that God is present, of knowing that God governs this world--he drew his strength, and his desire to treat others in the same way that God treats people. He treated others with respect and understanding, whether they were Black or White or Indian, whether they were Christian or "heathen"--as non-Christians were called in those days. He tried to do good to every living being around him.

Johnny Appleseed, in his own rough way, walked the path of Jesus. Jesus was the one who would not break a bruised reed or snuff out a smoldering wick. Because Jesus also knew that all things are in God's hands. He knew that his task was to follow the way and the will of God--who was also his own inmost soul. And he knew that if we will follow the will of God, all things will be taken care of, no matter how hard they may seem. He knew that God has a plan for this earth, and that he is bending all things toward the good.

In these terribly difficult times, when we are weary and burdened, let us turn to the Lord. The Lord will give us the answers we seek. The Lord will guide us on the path we need to go. And even in these terribly difficult times, the Lord will give us peace amid the storm, if we will only follow God's way, and not our own.

Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light. (Matthew 11:28-30)

Music: Soulsong
2001 Bruce DeBoer
Used with permission

Graphics by Judy Ebbe

No Right Click and
Color Scroll Bar Scripts  Courtesy of:

Photographs Courtesy of
Corel Gallery
Royalty Free for Non-Profit Usage