On Earth as it Is in Heaven

By the Rev. Lee Woofenden
Bridgewater, Massachusetts, September 7, 2003

 

Readings

Genesis 28:10-13 A stairway from earth to heaven

Jacob left Beersheba and set out for Haran. When he reached a certain place, he stopped for the night because the sun had set. Taking one of the stones there, he put it under his head and lay down to sleep. He had a dream in which he saw a stairway resting on the earth, with its top reaching to heaven, and the angels of God were ascending and descending on it. There above it stood the Lord.

Matthew 6:7-13 The Lord's Prayer

When you are praying, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do; for they think that they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him. Pray then in this way:

"Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come. Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors. And do not bring us to the time of trial, but rescue us from evil. For the kingdom and the power and the glory are yours forever. Amen."

Arcana Coelestia #1285.3 On earth as it is in heaven

In the first Ancient Church, though there were many forms of inner and outer worship, . . . still they all had "one language" and "their words were one." In other words they all shared one doctrine in general and in detail. Doctrine is one when all have mutual love, or kindness. Mutual love or kindness causes things, though varied, to be one, since it makes one out of many different things.

If all the people, no matter how many there are--even ten thousand times ten thousand--are governed by kindness and mutual love, they have only one goal in view, namely, the common good, the Lord's kingdom, and the Lord Himself.

Differences in matters of doctrine and in forms of worship are like the differences among the physical senses and among the inner organs of the human body, which all contribute to the perfection of the whole. The Lord flows in and works by way of kindness, though in different ways according to the character of each individual. In so doing he arranges every single person into a proper order, on earth as in heaven. In this way the Lord's will is done, as he himself teaches, "on earth as it is in heaven."

Sermon

Your kingdom come. Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. (Matthew 6:10)

Here we are, back in the sanctuary at the beginning of another church year. With our summer pianist, playing our service for us today, it feels a little like a continuation of our summer services. And as another way of easing you into our regular church year, my remarks today will be a bit shorter than is usual for our services here in the sanctuary. In fact, what I mostly want to do this morning is introduce the theme that we will be following in our services and sermons this fall.

For the past few years, since we integrated our Sunday School with the adult worship service, I have been following the readings in our Sunday School lesson schedule from the Bible Study Notes by Anita S. Dole. This has had the beneficial effect of coordinating the adult sermon with the children's Sunday School class, so that parents and their children would usually be following common themes.

This year, as we re-start the four year cycle of the Dole Notes from the beginning, I have decided to "fly free" from the Sunday School lesson schedule, and instead follow various themes throughout the church year. Not every sermon will necessarily be on the theme. There will be holidays and special occasions when we will focus on something else. But for the regular services, we will follow our own series as the children progress through the Bible story from beginning to end throughout the year.

Once I decided to follow themes, the obvious next question was what theme to start with. To make a long story short, Heaven and Hell has always been Swedenborg's most popular book--and for good reason; so I decided that it would be hard to go wrong using heaven as our theme for this fall.

And yet, here we all are, living on earth, not in heaven. What good is talking about heaven going to do us if it doesn't make a difference for our lives here on earth?

As I was mulling these things over, the theme for our fall sermon series came to me: "On Earth as it Is in Heaven." We say these words each week in church. And you can think of the upcoming sermons as one great big commentary on that one line from the Lord's Prayer. What does it mean for God's will to be done on earth as it is in heaven? What is God's will, anyway? And how do we do it here on earth? Another way of asking this question is, "How do we make earth more like heaven?"

Of course, Swedenborg wasn't the first person to realize that heaven was a popular topic. Many centuries earlier, Jesus spoke about the kingdom of heaven over and over again. But instead of writing voluminously as Swedenborg did, he condensed his teachings about heaven into short, pithy parables. Each one of them provides a memorable image that we can unpack to learn something about what heaven is all about--and how we can make things more like heaven here on earth.

My plan is to spend the next few months with you unpacking some of the Lord's parables of the kingdom of heaven one at a time, using other Bible passages as well as Swedenborg's book Heaven and Hell to shed light on each one. And along the way, I hope we will all discover some hidden treasures that will help us to make life better both for ourselves and for the people around us. In doing this, we build a heaven within and around ourselves right here on earth.

Though the relationship between heaven and earth has not always been clear to humans on earth, that relationship has always been there. The very first words in the Bible are, "In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth" (Genesis 1:1) And though to get the visual picture, this should probably have been translated "the sky and the earth," humankind has since time immemorial taken the sky as a symbol and a reminder of heaven.

Ever since the beginning, the earth has also started out "formless and empty," and in need of light shining into it from God and heaven, to bring order and harmony into the chaos of material reality. The lights in the expanse of the sky are needed to separate day from night, to mark seasons and days and years, and to govern all things below.

Even when humankind had fallen away from the primeval closeness to God depicted in the second chapter of Genesis--in the Garden of Eden story, when God walked with Adam and Eve in the garden--there were still glimpses of that ancient relationship between heaven and earth. Jacob, son of Isaac and grandson of Abraham, got such a glimpse during a time of great personal struggle, and it gave him the strength to continue on his journey toward becoming a great nation. At the time of his famous dream of a stairway reaching from earth to heaven, Jacob was fleeing his home and family in fear for his life after tricking his father and cheating his brother Esau out of the blessing that was due to the elder brother.

Just when Jacob's life seemed to have reached its low point, God gave him, in his dreams, that wonderful vision of angels ascending from earth to heaven, and descending from heaven to earth, with the Lord himself standing above it. And Jacob knew then and there that his life here on earth had a higher meaning than anything he had conceived of before. God had put him on earth for a greater purpose--and his job was to follow God's will for his life by continually working toward that greater purpose. Heaven had been opened to him, and his life would never be the same again.

In the New Testament also, the Lord reminds us over and over again that we are not living for this earth only; that our life has meaning only when we are seeking the kingdom of heaven in our life here on earth. And he reminds us in the prayer we use every week that we are to seek out God's will as it is done in heaven, and carry it out on earth. That is why each one of us was placed here: to be an angel-being, first ascending to heaven in our spirits to discover the true and deeper realities of eternal life, and then descending back to earth to put those higher lessons into practice in our everyday lives. "Your kingdom come. Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven."

What will the earth look like when God's will is done here as it is in heaven? Swedenborg gives us a glimpse of it in the passage we read from Arcana Coelestia. Heaven on earth does not mean everyone thinks and acts the same way. Far from it! In fact, in heavenly society there is a great variety of beliefs, a great variety of worship styles, and a great variety of personalities. Heaven on earth does not mean a boring sameness!

What it does mean is that people of different beliefs, different churches, different worship styles, different personalities do not clash with one another, but instead work together in a harmonious whole. The differences do not divide; instead, they add to the perfection of the whole. This is the thought I will leave you with today. Over the coming weeks, we will discover many more pearls of wisdom about the kingdom of heaven. Amen.

 

 


Music: In the Garden
Bruce DeBoer

Used with Permission