by the Rev. Lee Woofenden
Bridgewater, Massachusetts, March 23, 2003
34:17-25 One shepherd over them
for you, my flock, this is what the Lord God says: I shall judge between
one sheep and another, and between rams and goats. Is it not enough for
you to feed in the good pasture? Must you also tread down the rest of your
pasture with your feet? When you drink clear water, must you muddy the
rest with your feet? And must my sheep eat what you have trodden with your
feet, and drink what you have muddied with your feet?
this is what the Lord God says to them: I myself will judge between the
fat sheep and the lean sheep. Because you pushed with flank and shoulder,
and butted at all the weak animals with your horns until you scattered
them far and wide, I will save my flock, and they shall no longer be
ravaged; and I will judge between one sheep and another. I will place over
them one shepherd, my servant David, and he will tend them; he will tend
them and be their shepherd. I the Lord will be their God, and my servant
David will be prince among them. I the Lord have spoken.
will make a covenant of peace with them, and will rid the land of wild
beasts, so that they may live in the desert and sleep in the forests in
10:7-16 One flock and one shepherd
Jesus said again, "I tell you the truth, I am the gate for the sheep.
All who ever came before me were thieves and robbers, but the sheep did
not listen to them. I am the gate; whoever enters through me will kept
safe, and will come in and go out, and find pasture. The thief comes only
to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and
have it to the full.
am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.
The hired hand, who is not the shepherd and does not own the sheep, sees
the wolf coming, and abandons the sheep and runs away. Then the wolf
attacks the flock and scatters it. The hired hand runs away because a
hired hand cares nothing for the sheep.
am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me--just as the
Father knows me and I know the Father--and I lay down my life for the
sheep. I have other sheep that are not of this sheep fold. I must bring
them also. They too will listen to my voice, and there shall be one flock
and one shepherd."
Providence #326.9 A heaven of many religions
are the general principles of all religions, through which everyone can be
saved. Belief in God and refusal to do evil because it is against God are
the two elements that make a religion a religion. If either is lacking, we
cannot call it a religion, since believing in God and doing evil are
mutually contradictory, as are doing what is good and not believing in
God. Neither is possible apart from the other.
Lord has provided that there should be some religion almost everywhere and
that everyone who believes in God and does not do evil because it is
against God should have a place in heaven. Heaven, seen in its entirety,
looks like a single individual, whose life or soul is the Lord. In that
heavenly person there are all the components that there are in a physical
person, differing the way heavenly things differ from earthly ones.
have other sheep that do not belong to this fold. I must bring them also,
and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock and one
shepherd. (John 10:16)
we are all painfully aware, the United States is once again at war. If you
don't know my views on the war, you are welcome to read my sermon
"The Tower of Ego." Since I've already done it in that sermon, I
am not going preach about the war today. Instead, I am going to talk about
how the Lord sees and governs this world, with all its human differences.
We will especially look at some of the general laws by which God governs
the world--and which perhaps, in time, can bring our world together.
live in a world of conflict. The history of the human race is in many ways
a history of wars. This is not just because of corrupt and greedy leaders.
The people tend to support war. As we start this war, depending on what
question is asked, anywhere from one third to two thirds of the American
people support it. So it would be inaccurate to say that the wars we fight
are only because of our leaders. Our leaders are in their leadership
positions because of the views and attitudes we all hold. And they take
the actions they do with an eye to the people they are leading. Even when
there is internal debate in the country, the leaders tend to do what a
majority of the people will support--or at least not actively oppose.
we have the same conflict within our own hearts and minds. We may partly
support and partly not support the war. We may see some good and some bad
in it. So we may wait to see the results before we make up our mind
whether we think it was a good or bad thing. And in our uncertainty, we
tend to let our leaders go ahead and do what they think we will support.
So it is not only a matter of our leaders. It is a matter of our own views
about our relationships with the other people and nations of this earth.
morning I will offer some thoughts on how the Lord governs the world. This
may help us make our own decisions about some of the big issues such as
war. It may also help us to make decisions in our interpersonal
relationships. One of the beautiful teachings of our Church is that the
big picture is just like the little picture. Conflicts among individuals
are the same as the conflicts among nations, only on a different scale. So
the same principles that can help nations to get along will also help us
get along with the people around us. And going the other way, the same
principles that help us get along with the people around us also apply to
the relationship between our nation and other nations.
I will offer four principles on God's relationship with the nations and
peoples of the world. These are not the only principles I could offer, but
they are some of the basics.
most basic principle of our religion is that there is one God who rules
over all the universe. People of different religions have many different
names for God. Yet we believe that all of these religions are approaching
the same God. It is our belief that God set up the various religions of
the world in order to reach out to people of different characters and
cultures. Different nations and races need different approaches to God.
That's why there is not one gate, but twelve gates to the holy city,
representing all different ways of approaching the one Lord. And the fact
that God is one makes it possible for all of humanity to be one.
then, is the first principle: There is one God over all the universe.
second principle is that God's love is universal, and is the same
everywhere. It is the same in humans, animals, plants, and even inanimate
objects. And God does not love one person more that another, nor one
nation more than another. God loves us all equally.
God loves us completely and unconditionally. We cannot cause God not to
love us. In fact, there is nothing we can do that can change God's love
for us. No matter what we do, God's love for us continues the same. He
loves us just as much as he did before. If we are not in a mutual loving
relationship with God, it is not because God has turned away from us, but
rather because we have turned away from God. This is a universal principle
of our religion. God is always there for us.
is the second principle I am offering you this morning: Not only is there
one God, but God's love is universal and unconditional.
third principle is that all religions provide a pathway to God and
salvation. God is not a small God, but a vast God reigning over all the
world and all the universe. So God is the God of the Hindus, the
Buddhists, the Jews, the Christians, the Muslims, the native Americans,
and people of every other religion. And God has provided that each
religion has the basics needed for salvation, and for getting into heaven.
This is what our reading from Swedenborg is about: There are fundamentals
that God makes sure are in every religion throughout the earth, so that
all people will have a path to God if they choose to follow it.
is useless to argue about whether one religion is better than the others.
We like to think ours is the best! But we also believe that each religion
is appropriate to its own people. Perhaps Christianity is the best
religion for us. But it may not be the best religion for people in the
Middle East or China or India. Each region, each group of people, has its
own religion. And there have been different religions at different stages
of human history. Today, throughout the world, there are various choices,
so that people can find a religion appropriate to the way they personally
are able to approach God.
is no need for conflict among nations on religious grounds. We cannot say,
"My religion is better than yours, therefore my country ought to take
yours over." That's not how God rules this universe. God gives each
nation a religion appropriate to its character.
Divine Providence #330, Swedenborg writes "The idea that only people
who are born in the Christian religion are saved is a foolish
heresy." I love his brashness! The fundamental idea in many Christian
churches is that you must be a Christian and believe in Jesus in order to
be saved . . . and Swedenborg calls this a "foolish
heresy." He continues:
who are born outside Christianity are people just as much as those
living within it. They have the same heavenly origin, and are equally
living and immortal souls. They also have a religious faith from which
they recognize that there is a God, and that they should live good
lives. And all who believe in God and live good lives become spiritual
in their own way, and are saved.
people object that non-Christians have not been baptized. But baptism
saves people only when they are spiritually washed, meaning spiritually
reborn, since baptism is a symbol and a reminder of that. Some people
also object that non-Christians do not know the Lord, and without the
Lord no one can be saved. But salvation does not come to us because we
know the Lord; it comes to us because we follow the Lord's commandments.
everyone who believes in God knows the Lord, since the Lord is the God
of heaven and earth.
love this statement. And I especially love the parting line. Many
Christians say, "You have to believe in Jesus." Swedenborg says,
"Everyone who believes in God knows the Lord, since the Lord [Jesus]
is the God of heaven and earth." From our perspective, if people
approach God in their own way, using their own names for God, they are
is the third principle I am offering you today: All religions provide a
pathway to God and salvation. And if we look for the good things God has
placed in other religions, it will help us as we seek to get along with
the people who belong to those religions.
fourth principle is that the basic teachings in all religions are the two
Great Commandments. This is what Swedenborg says in our reading from
Divine Providence: loving and believing the Lord and not doing evil are
the basics in all religion. "Not doing evil" is a reverse way of
saying that we should love and do good things for our neighbor.
two Great Commandments are: Love the Lord your God with all your heart,
soul, mind, and strength, and: Love your neighbor as yourself (Matthew
22:37-39; Mark 12:29-31; Luke 10:27). Let's take a look at each of these
the Lord our God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength means, first
of all, that we must believe in God. Obviously, we have to believe in God
in order to love him. And all religions provide a God that its people can
believe in. So we must believe in God as we understand God from our own
also means that we must put God first in our lives--above ourselves, above
our possessions, above our pleasures, and even above our family, friends,
and neighbors. This can sometimes be very difficult when we have to choose
between following our religious principles or doing something a family or
close friend wants us to do, but that isn't right. Sometime we have to
choose between God and the neighbor. And this commandment says that God
should always come first in our priorities.
our neighbor as we love ourselves means that we must consider our neighbor
to be just as important and just as worthy of thoughtfulness and respect
as we ourselves are. God is above all, and the neighbor is equal to
ourselves in our consideration. This is true of our international
neighbors, our neighbors of other religions, and so on. It is true of all
relationships, big or small: we are to give others the same consideration
and respect that we would like them to give us. Hardest of all, this is
true even of those with whom we are in severe conflict. We are to look for
the good in all people--including our enemies.
it is the good in others that we are to love. We are not asked to love the
evil things other people do, nor to condone wrongdoing. Rather, we are
asked to look for the good in people, and to work to draw out and increase
that good, while separating the evil both from others and from ourselves.
This is true whether we consider someone to be a friend or an enemy. When
we recognize that God is in all people, and that God is with them just as
much as with us, we can start building the bridges that we were blowing up
our neighbor as ourselves applies to everyone--though we may have to love
different neighbors in different ways. And loving our neighbor isn't just
a warm fuzzy feeling. It means actually doing useful, good, and kind
things for our neighbor.
the Ten Commandments, there is one table about putting God first, and
another table about not doing evil things to our neighbor. The flip side
of the second table is that when we stop lying, stealing, committing
adultery, and committing other offenses against our neighbor, then we
begin to do good for our neighbor. So the fundamental commandments of the
church are to put God first and to love the neighbor, which means doing
good things for the neighbor.
seems simple; it seems straightforward--and yet we have such difficulty in
so many areas of our life in following these simple, straightforward
commandments. If we were to follow these as a world, there would be no
more wars. Perhaps there would be some conflict, but we would be able to
resolve it without coming to blows. The fact that our world has been
engaged in wars and conflicts since time immemorial shows that we have
nowhere near arrived at the kingdom of God. We still have so far to go.
we could follow these principles first within ourselves, and then among
the nations, it would give focus and unity to our scattered, divided
hearts and minds. If we could look at all things from these principles, we
would no longer wander and waver between one point of view and another. We
would see clearly what is the right thing to do. And it would bring us
together as family and friends. We may not be best friends with everyone,
but we wouldn't have to be in ceaseless conflict with one another. We
would be able get along better with our neighbors, our co-workers, and
even with the people that we consider our enemies--at least having some
mutual respect even if we can't see eye to eye.
tells us that it is our differing thoughts and beliefs that divide us. Yet
though we may have different opinions, if we have love and kindness in our
hearts, we can bridge those differences and work together. And as these
principles rise up to the higher levels from people to communities to
nations, and as both leaders and the people begin to follow them, it will
bring the nations of the world together. The world can become one if we
focus on our common humanity, and not on the ideologies and material
possessions--or lack thereof--that divide us.
reading from Isaiah is very pointed. The fact is that there are haves and
have-nots in our society and in our world. Some are butting others aside
and grabbing what they want to the detriment of others. This is what it so
that we cannot get along as a nation and as a world. But when we realize
that life is not about material possessions, that it is not about our own
pleasure and power, but rather, that it is about the good we can do for
others, then we begin to resolve the conflicts in our world.
then, are the principles I am offering you this morning. There is one God.
This God is a God of universal love. God has provided many different
religions on this earth to reach out to many different people. And all
people can be one, and at peace, if we will love God above all, and love
our neighbor as ourselves--if we will do our best to have the same respect
and kindness for others that we want them to have for us. If we will
follow these principles, it will bring our world together.
have other sheep that do not belong to this fold. I must bring them also
and they will listen to my voice so there will be one flock and one
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