Sermon: The Divine Marriage: Preparing the Way by the Rev. Lee Woofenden






by the Rev. Lee Woofenden
Bridgewater, Massachusetts, November 14, 2004
Sermons on Audio


Genesis 24:1-9
Abraham charges his servant to seek a wife for Isaac

Abraham was now old and well advanced in years, and the Lord had blessed him in every way. He said to the chief servant in his household, the one in charge of all that he had, "Put your hand under my thigh, and I will make you swear by the Lord, the God of heaven and the God of earth, that you will not get a wife for my son from the daughters of the Canaanites, among whom I am living, but will go to my country and my own relatives and get a wife for my son Isaac."

The servant asked him, "What if the woman is unwilling to come back with me to this land? Shall I then take your son back to the country you came from?"

Abraham said to him, "Make sure that you do not take my son back there. The Lord, the God of heaven, who brought me out of my father's household and my native land, and who spoke to me and promised me on oath, saying, 'To your offspring I will give this land'--he will send his angel before you, and you will get a wife for my son from there. But if the woman is unwilling to come back with you, then you will be released from this oath of mine. Only do not take my son back there." So the servant put his hand under the thigh of his master Abraham and swore an oath to him concerning this matter.

Matthew 7:7-12 Ask, seek, knock

Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and everyone who seeks finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened.

Which of you, if your child asks for bread, will give a stone? Or if the child asks for a fish, will give a snake? If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!

So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you; for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.

Arcana Coelestia #3017 Being blessed

When it says that "the Lord blessed Abraham in every way," in the inner sense it means that the Lord from the Divine itself rearranged everything in his human side into divine order. . . . When "being blessed" refers to human beings, it means being enriched with spiritual and heavenly goodness. We are enriched in this way when the things within us are rearranged by the Lord into a spiritual and heavenly pattern, and so into the image and likeness of divine order. Our spiritual rebirth is nothing else.

The Lord, the God of heaven . . . will send his angel before you, and you will get a wife for my son from there. (Genesis 24:7)

For the next few weeks we will focus on one of the most beautiful chapters in the Bible: Genesis 24, on the marriage of Isaac and Rebekah. Though the Bible is full of references to marriage, there are not many good love stories in the Bible. Genesis 24 tells the simple and beautiful story of how Abraham's son Isaac and Rebekah, his wife-to-be, were brought together under the Lord's divine providence, and were married.

And I do want to emphasize that this took place under the Lord's providence--which will become clear in the next few weeks as the story unfolds. In Swedenborg's book Marital Love, there is a story in which an angel talks about how married couples come to be:

Provision is made for couples to be born who are well matched in marriage for each other. Under the Lord's continual guidance they are brought up with a view to their marriage, though neither the boy nor the girl is aware of this. When in due course the young woman, as she is then, is of an age to be married, and the young man, as he is then, is ready for marriage, they meet somewhere as if by fate and see each other. Then by some instinct they at once recognize that they are well matched, and they think to themselves, as if by some inward prompting, the young man 'She is the one for me,' and the young woman, 'He is the one for me.' After allowing this to sink into their minds for a while, they resolve to speak to each other, and they become engaged. We say as if by fate and by instinct, but we mean by divine providence, because when this is not known, it looks like fate. (Marital Love #316)

Of course, this is an angel speaking, and angels see marriage as it unfolds in an ideal way. Here on earth, where things are much murkier and more confusing, we may not always manage to meet and marry our partner in such a simple and beautiful way.

Still, love at first sight, which is what the angel describes, is a reality for many married couples. It was the reality for Isaac and Rebekah, as we will see later in the story. And it is a reality that, according to our teachings, does not come about "by fate or instinct," as it may appear to us outwardly. Rather, it takes place under the guiding hand of the Lord, who prepares us for the moment we will meet and marry our soul's partner--whether that wonderful event happens while we are living here on this earth or after we have passed into the spiritual world. For those hoping and longing for a happy marriage, our church has a message of hope and joy: the Lord has someone in mind for you.

But let's be honest: our path toward happy marriage is often not an easy one, and it may not take place on the schedule we hope for. Some people go through unhappy marriages, divorces, and other painful experiences with relationships before finding someone with whom they can "live happily ever after." Some marry only late in life. Some do not find their partner here on earth, but must wait out this lifetime and find their partner in the next.

We do not know what the Lord's providence has in store for us. And that can be hard to bear for those who do not see their heart's wishes fulfilled for many years. Still, whatever our "fortunes of love" may be, we can prepare ourselves for the marriage that the Lord has in mind for us. Although the emphasis in our culture and in our own minds--and even in our story from Genesis--is on finding the right person, it is even more important that we be the right person: the kind of person who can be in a mutually loving and growing marriage.

We will look into this reality more fully over the next few weeks. For today, I would like to prepare the way by looking briefly at the source of all marriage: the Lord.

The teachings of our church tell us that marriage is not merely a human affair. It has its source and origin in the nature of God, from whom all things--including marriage--come. Though it was left to Swedenborg to spell out the nature of this divine marriage, its existence is implied in the first chapter of Genesis, at the very creation of humans:

And God said, "Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness." . . . So God created humankind in his image; in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. (Genesis 1:26-27)

If humans, both male and female, are created in the image of God, and they are created to become "one flesh" (Genesis 2:24; Matthew 19:5; Mark 10:8), this means that the origin of both male and female, as well as the origin of marriage itself, must be in God, in whose image and likeness we were created.

Returning to the theme of the inner life of the Lord Jesus, this must also mean that there was and is a marriage within the Lord himself. When we read the story of Isaac and Rebekah, we are not only reading a human love story. At it's deepest, heavenly level of meaning, we are reading the story of the marriage of love and wisdom, or of goodness and truth, in the Lord himself. This divine marriage is the source of all human marriage.

As we will see in the unfolding story of Isaac and Rebekah, spiritually speaking, finding a wife for Isaac involves making an inner marriage between what we love and what we believe, or in more concrete language, getting our head and our heart together.

As the Genesis story has shifted from Abraham to Isaac, we have followed the course of the Lord's shift, in early childhood, from simple, heartfelt promptings of the divine love toward his life work of saving the human race, toward a more mature rational and spiritual understanding of what he needed to do in order to accomplish that work. And as we will see, the story of Isaac and Rebekah is the story of how the Lord's developing rational mind found its true partner in a love for spiritual rationality and truth.

This is the meaning of getting a wife for Isaac from among Abraham's own relatives. Abraham's family represents a spiritual view of life, while the Canaanites among whom Abraham was living represented a materialistic view of life. And as we have been discovering in our series on the Lord's inner life, Jesus himself always moved toward a higher, spiritual view of the world around him, and of his life and mission in it.

What, practically, does this mean for us as we prepare our hearts and minds for the true marriage that the Lord has prepared for us? (And this applies even if we are already married!) Following in the Lord's footsteps, if we wish to find true love and a happy and growing marriage relationship, we must also lift our hearts and minds above a focus on the things of this world, toward a higher focus on the things of eternal life.

If we focus on building up our status and wealth in this world, we will never have a real marriage, even if we "find the right one." There will be no room in our heart for loving another person, because we will be too busy loving ourselves. But if we focus our lives on opening our hearts to love the Lord and our fellow human beings, and opening our minds to the Lord's guiding truth, we will build a true marriage of mind and heart within ourselves. Then we can be a person who can experience true love with our life's partner. Amen.

Sermons on Audio

Part 2 - The Divine Marriage: Seeking Oneness 

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Music: Heart to Heart
Bruce DeBoer
Used with Permission