Bridgewater, Massachusetts, February 15, 2004
Genesis 15:1-6 God's
Promise to Abram
After this, the
word of the Lord came to Abram in a vision: "Do not be afraid, Abram.
I am your shield, your very great reward."
But Abram said,
"O Sovereign Lord, what can you give me since I remain childless, and
the one who will inherit my estate is Eliezer of Damascus?" And Abram
said, "You have given me no children; so a servant in my household
will be my heir."
Then the word
of the Lord came to him: "This man will not be your heir, but a son
coming from your own body will be your heir." He took him outside and
said, "Look up at the heavens and count the stars--if indeed you can
count them." Then he said to him, "So shall your offspring
the Lord, and he credited it to him as righteousness.
Luke 4:14-21 A
prophecy of a mission
to Galilee in the power of the Spirit, and news about him spread through
the whole countryside. He taught in their synagogues, and everyone praised
He went to
Nazareth, where he had been brought up, and on the Sabbath day he went
into the synagogue, as was his custom. And he stood up to read. The scroll
of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him. Unrolling it, he found the place
where it is written: "The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has
anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim
freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release
the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor." Then he
rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down.
The eyes of
everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him, and he began by saying to
them, "Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing."
Coelestia #1812 The Lord fought and won from love
While he lived
in the world, the Lord was continually engaged in temptation battles, and
was always victorious. "Believing in the Lord" here means that
the Lord was filled time after time with the deepest confidence and faith
that, because he was fighting for the salvation of the whole human race
out of pure love, he could not possibly fail to be victorious. . . .
In all his
temptation battles, the Lord never fought out of self-love, or for his own
sake, but for all people throughout the universe. He did not fight to
become the greatest in heaven, for that is contrary to divine love; nor
even so that he could become the least. He fought solely so that all
others might become something, and be saved.
Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good
news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and
recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the
year of the Lord's favor." (Luke 4:18-19, quoted from Isaiah 61:1-2)
In our Gospel
story last time we followed Jesus, after he was baptized, into the
desert--where he was tempted by the devil. The story of those temptations
was also told in the spiritual meaning of the first battle recorded in the
Bible, in Genesis 14. Temptation is a battle--and if the temptation is
severe, it is a battle in which we are not sure if we are winning or
losing. This is how we feel when we are experiencing the spiritual
struggles of temptation. And this is how the Lord felt as he came out of
his first temptations in his boyhood.
In both our Old
and New Testament readings today, we begin to see a promise of the fruits
of those temptations, and to gain some assurance that the battle will,
indeed, be won. Our reading from Genesis offers a promise of rich
spiritual fruitfulness, and our New Testament reading speaks of the
fulfillment in that promise in the Lord's work of loving and saving each
one of us, and all of humanity together.
successful battle against the four previously victorious kings, and his
rescue of his nephew Lot, the Lord came to Abram in a vision. Abram must
have known that it was the Lord who gave him the victory over those
powerful kings with his small band of three hundred eighteen fighting men.
And now the Lord assures Abram that he is indeed with him, both protecting
him from his enemies and blessing him with divine riches: "Do not be
afraid, Abram. I am your shield, your very great reward."
In Jesus' life,
this is a picture of his awareness, after his lonely desert struggles,
that God, his divine Father and his own inner soul, has been with him,
giving him the strength of spirit to fight and win those battles against
the evil, falsity, and despair that sought to drag him down. And it is a
picture of his assurance that his struggles would be rewarded--that his
efforts would bear human fruit as people heard and heeded his message.
We have a
similar experience after we have been through a bout of severe inner
struggle and temptation. Often when we are in the middle of these
struggles, we feel as if we are all alone, fighting the battle from our
own strength. When Abram gathered his men and fought against those four
kings, there is no mention of God going with him. He simply went and did
what he had to do. Often it is not during, but after the battle that we
get a sense of the Lord's presence with us, protecting us throughout our
struggle--even when we are not aware of that divine protection--and then
blessing us with spiritual rewards.
though, the one "reward" that he wanted most was missing: he had
no children, and thus no heir. As he said to the Lord after hearing those
comforting, sustaining words in the vision, he had no one but a foreign
servant to pass his wealth on to. This made the Lord's earlier promise to
make him into a great nation sound rather hollow. How could he become a
great nation if he didn't have a single child to carry on his lineage?
In the deeper
meaning, children represent new love and new insights that are born in us
as we grow spiritually. One way of looking at Abram's lament that he is
childless is that it represents a time when our life has gone stale.
"There is nothing new under the sun," we might say (Ecclesiastes
1:9). Everything we are doing, thinking, feeling seems old, repetitive,
and boring. We are just going around in circles. We are stuck in a
too-familiar, dreary routine, and our life is not going anywhere.
If we aspire to
spiritual growth, to becoming a new, more loving, more thoughtful person,
we may be feeling that our life will never change; that we will still be
the same old thoughtless, self-centered, and, we think, worthless person
that we have been all along. This is the devil's voice still ringing in
our ears from our time of struggle and temptation.
feeling that way back when I was still living on the west coast. I had
been doing the same kind of work for a number of years, and though it had
been fulfilling and rewarding at first, it was beginning to get old. I
didn't see my way forward, and began to imagine myself ten or twenty years
later still doing the same old thing. In other words, inwardly, I felt I
was "childless"--that there was no new inspiration, no new
insight, no new love, no sense of a future in my life.
For the Lord,
in his early life here on earth, this sense of childlessness did not have
to do with his own state of being. As Swedenborg tells us in our reading
from Arcana Coelestia, the Lord was not concerned with his own
greatness or smallness, his own happiness or sadness. Unlike us, he was
motivated by pure love for humanity as a whole, and for every single
person that ever had lived, was living, and would live in the future. He
had come to save his people--all people; and even in his childhood and
early youth, it was this burning love for human beings that moved him.
It was also
this warm and burning love for all people that gave him his greatest
sadness when he looked at the human society all around him, and saw how
far people were (and still are!) from the spiritual blessings, rewards,
and great joy of living in the way God created us to live. What he saw,
instead, was people focused entirely on material rewards and selfish
pleasures. He saw people scrabbling after mere food and clothing; people
devoting their lives to piling up material wealth that would be gone from
their grasp the moment they died. He saw people lording it over others,
laying heavy burdens on them, fighting and killing one another from an
insane lust for power and glory.
In other words,
he saw exactly what we still see in the world all around us: people living
for this word and its pleasures, heedless of the fact that all our
accomplishments here are temporary, and will soon pass when the winds of
change and death blow over them. He saw people building up treasures on
earth, where moth and rust destroy, and thieves break in and steal,
instead of building up treasures in heaven, where no thieves, and not even
the ravages of time, can touch them, let alone take them away.
He saw people
squandering their lives running after temporary pleasures, and forfeiting
the eternal joys that could be theirs--ours!--if we would only turn our
lives toward God. He saw the misery we were--and are!--building up for
ourselves in our blindness. He longed to give us the deeper treasures and
rewards that come only from putting God first in our lives, and devoting
our days to loving and serving one another. And what he saw not only made
him heartsick, but gave him a sinking feeling that his work here on earth
would be in vain; that no one would listen; that no one would hear the
message and turn to him so that he could heal them of their spiritual
blindness and sorrow.
Jesus felt the
terrible emptiness, the spiritual "childlessness" of thinking
that there would be no one to love--no one who would accept his
love. He felt that he would have no family, no spiritual children to love
and care for, to comfort and share feelings with, to share his guiding,
healing wisdom with. As Jesus felt that deep love for all of humanity
welling up within him, as he looked around himself and felt compassion,
love, and yearning for every person that he saw around him every day, he
wondered--and doubted--whether he would ever have the joy of sharing that
love with people who would willingly receive it, so that he could bless
their lives with deep inner peace and joy.
This was the
Lord's mission here on earth. This was what he came here to do. In his
hometown of Nazareth, he read this mission from the book of Isaiah to the
people in the synagogue:
The Spirit of
the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the
poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery
of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year
of the Lord's favor.
And in the
deeper meaning our story from Genesis, God gave him the assurance that he
would accomplish this mission of love and mercy:
He took him
outside and said, "Look up at the heavens and count the stars--if
indeed you can count them." Then he said to him, "So shall
your offspring be."
Amid his doubt,
Jesus heard the divine voice from within assuring him that not just a few,
but millions and billions of people--as many as the stars in the
sky--would indeed hear his voice, accept his love, be guided by his
wisdom. He received the assurance that his life and his struggles were not
in vain. That he would find willing human hearts, and that he would be
able to bless them with inner peace and eternal joy.
And he said, in
our Gospel reading, "Today this scripture is fulfilled in your
hearing." He knew within himself that day that the ancient
prophecy of his mission on earth was being fulfilled. Even as he began his
ministry, he was preaching to the poor in spirit, giving them the healing
knowledge of eternal truth. He was freeing broken human beings from the
prison of devoting their lives to money, physical pleasures, and personal
power and fame. He was giving spiritual sight to human eyes blinded by the
glare of this world. He was bringing forgiveness to those oppressed by
their sins and their guilt. He was preaching the good news of the Lord's
favor: of the coming of his kingdom; of his own presence among them.
And notice that
Jesus did not say, "This scripture will be fulfilled." He
said "Today this scripture is fulfilled." Jesus
had a mission to love and save every human being who was willing to turn
to him and be saved. And he was not waiting until some future time to do
that saving work. He was doing it right then! Every day! Continually! And
he is still fulfilling that Scripture every day in our hearing. He
is still coming to people every moment, coming to us every moment,
lifting us out of our spiritual and emotional poverty, blindness, and
oppression, and proclaiming his grace and favor upon us. He is still
blessing us--and others throughout the world, and even throughout all the
universe--with kindness, enlightenment, forgiveness, mercy, love, and joy.
Each of us was
put on this earth to accomplish a mission as well. Ours is not the
universal mission of love for all of humanity that Jesus felt within his
soul. Ours is far smaller, and limited to our own sphere of activity. For
me, when I was living on the west coast, as I made my living through
manual labor, arts and crafts, and various odd jobs, I realized that my
mission in life was still the same one that I had felt as a young boy. The
Lord had put me on this earth to minister to people's spiritual needs, and
it was high time I got going on that mission! So I changed course, and
redirected my life toward that goal and that mission. And that is why I am
standing before you today.
Each of you
also has a mission in life. Some of you may have a clear sense of what
your mission is. Others may still be searching. We are all on a journey,
and each of us takes a different path. Each of us has been blessed by the
Lord with a different personality, different talents, and different
experiences in life. Each of us was created for some special purpose, and
each of us must search that out for ourselves--and follow it as we find
though we all have different journeys and different destinations in
heaven, there is one common destination that we are all moving toward. And
if we are willing to move toward that destination, we can add to the
Lord's joy, and to the fulfillment of the Lord's mission. We can do this
by focusing our lives first on the one thing that really matters, no
matter what our particular mission in life may be. That one thing is
putting God's love first in our lives. Because our real destination is
none other than the Lord our God, who is at the center of the universe,
and is reaching out to each one of us, wanting us to become one of the
"stars" in the heavenly kingdom.
If we respond
to that divine voice from within, we will not only be carrying out our own
mission in life, but fulfilling the promise that came to Jesus as a young
boy. We will be reborn as the Lord's spiritual children, and will add one
more star to the heavens. Amen.
Original Artwork: Lost No
© Greg Olsen
Used with Permission
Music is Treasured Moments
© 2003 Bruce De Boer
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