Sermon for Sunday, June 10, 2012


Welcome To The

New Church of Montgomery

 Sunday,   June 10, 2012

Worship Leader: Pete Toot  



Good morning!  Welcome to the worship service of the New Church of Montgomery.  Today our Pastor, Reverend Sherrie Connelly, is travelling, attending a memorial service of a friend.   Good to see everyone…

I started this service yesterday, sort of following the idea of the theme this morning.  Giving myself time to do it, trusting that the ideas needed would be shown to me just in time.  And though I should have been amazed, it all came together as if I had planned it.  Today’s theme is just what the title of the message says, “Living in the Present Moment”.  It was inspired by a sermon Rev. Dave Brown gave at Wayfarers Chapel titled “The Immediate Next Moment from Now”, but it has evolved and been contributed to by a collection of not-coincidental resources that have converged upon the main idea.

 MESSAGE – “Living in the Present Moment”

Margaret Storm Jameson, the English author, once expressed the view that we all spend too much time living in the past, feeling regret for lost joys or shame for things badly done. Even when our minds turn to the future, she said, we spend an inordinate amount of time longing for it or dreading it. “The only way to live,” she said, “is to accept each minute as an unrepeatable miracle . . . Work at your work. Play at your play. Shed your tears. Enjoy your laughter. Now is the time of your life.”

 Well said Margaret!  I could stop right here and you would have the main message, but then I wouldn’t get to talk to you about the importance of living for today and let scripture and the writings explain the ideas in more depth.

As I mentioned in the beginning, this message was inspired by a sermon by Rev. Dave Brown, the Senior Pastor at Wayfarers Chapel, which he gave May 6th of this year.  I may borrow a few things of substance from there, and I’ll paraphrase one story he told which is of little substance, but to illustrate a perspective:  Walking down the street John ran into an old friend Gary.  “Gary! I sure didn’t expect to see you.  I heard you are dead!”  John smiled and said, “Well that is obviously not true.”  “No, you’re dead.”  “I don’t think so.” said Gary, “You can see that I am here, alive and well.”  “I’m sorry, Gary, but I heard you’re dead from a much more reliable source than you.”  OK, the point is that what you hear from me today, or from what Swedenborg says, or for that matter what scripture says, it is delivered to you with the reliability of the source.  You can believe in authoritative statements if you choose, or not.  In this church people are expected to think for themselves and decide whether an idea has merit based on their own experience.  Nevertheless, the idea of living in the present moment is thought to be a good thing by many people.

Those who made it to Movie Night on Friday saw Yes Man with Jim Carrey.  The theme of that movie, where Carl was transformed from a loser who always had an excuse to not do anything, into a … well, hard to tell what he what transformed into.  The message of the movie was to “Say yes to life”, which poor Carl almost got right.  Whenever an opportunity was presented to him, Carl learned to say “Yes” instead of “No”.  It almost worked.  A very interesting show.  But the message to say “Yes to Life” means to follow your heart – do not hesitate – do not pass go – just (as the Nike ad said) do it.

Clearly if offered the chance to go to Lincoln, Nebraska, you could say “Yes”; and that would turn out completely differently than if offered the chance to stay home and not go to Lincoln, Nebraska, to which you could also say “Yes”.  The point I got from the movie was that you can be much happier if you avoid pre-deciding to opt out, and recognizing and responding genuinely to opportunities when they do come along.  Wait too long and the opportunity can be lost.

In the readings this morning we saw two slightly different approaches to living in the present moment.  In the Old Testament, in Psalms, we get a view from the perspective of the natural creation, where we are taught that everything is provided for the animals and the plants in creation, everything is fed by sun as corresponding to the God as Creator, and by the earth as God the Sustainer.  In our civilized world we understand that all the energy we use to run our homes, cars, and industry comes directly or indirectly from the sun.  The oil we burn comes from the remains of plants that lived millions of years ago and thrived in the sunlight of a much younger earth.  The electricity we get from hydroelectric power comes from the circulation of water through evaporation, rainfall, and the return of water to the sea.  The energy that powers our cells comes from the food we eat which is mostly plant life and animal life that feds on plants.  If we didn’t have the sun pouring energy onto the earth, we would not be here, we would not even think of planning for the future.  In the natural view, the laws of physics, chemistry, and biology are embedded in creation and these constantly govern processes which allow the life of the world to continue, to survive from day to day, and seemingly without any need for direction on our part or the Lord’s part.

In the New Testament reading we get a slightly different twist.  Here we also are told that all is provided:  The birds do not sow or reap, for instance, yet they are fed.  But there is another dimension added, and that is the dimension of spirituality.  “…seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.”  The implication is that you too can be provided for if you are in harmony with the universe seen as “his kingdom”.  Oddly, this sounds like the covenant that the character Carl signed up for in Yes Man.  He thought that if he did not say “Yes” to opportunities, bad things would happen.  And when he said “No”, bad things did happen.  Well they happened when he said “Yes”, too, but they did not seem like bad consequences deserved, just bad things that would lead to good things.  In Matthew, there is a subtle threat that if you aren’t right with God, you might not get fed.  My sense of the threat is that it is simply a statement that if we are not open to being led by the Lord, we can’t get to where we would be led.  In real life good things and bad things happen to everyone, but those who understand that bad things are challenges and opportunities, however tough, don’t get as disheartened and angry.  Part of being fed then, seems to be coming to peaceful terms with life in our world.

Swedenborg added to the concept when he talked about how angels as they advance have little interest in the past and little concern about the future.  He says also that their present contains the past and the future.  They remember the past, but they also know something about the future, maybe as memories, maybe as general awareness of how things unfold.  It is hard for me to grasp.  Listening to the things Swedenborg says about the affairs of heaven, the angels do things, and so they do have a sense of before and after whatever they do, even if it is not time as we experience it.  They seem to be aware of process moving in a direction of perfection.

But why is it a good idea here on earth to live without thoughts of the past and without worries about the future?  I thing the main thing is we should temper the idea of living in the moment with the idea that the present moment does indeed have a context.  Everything has a season.  The prophecies definitely looked to the future.  The inheritors of Abraham certainly were connected with their history.  So while scripture speaks of focusing on the present, it also speaks of having expectations that things do change, grow, move, happen, succeed, fail, are born and die.  Is this a mixed message?  Is it different messages for different stages of our growth, or our ability to understand, or for different people?

Blaise Pascal wrote the following:

“We do not rest satisfied with the present. We anticipate {the] future as too slow in coming, as if in order to hasten its course; or we recall the past, to stop its too rapid flight. So imprudent are we that we dream of those times which are no more, and thoughtlessly overlook that which alone exists. For the present is generally painful to us. We conceal it from our sight, because it troubles us; and if it be delightful to us, we regret to see it pass away. We try to sustain it by the future, and think of rearranging matters which are not in our power, for a time which we have no certainty of reaching.

“Let each one examine his thoughts, and he will find them all occupied with the past and the future. We scarcely ever think of the present; and if we think of it, it is only to take light from it to arrange the future. The present is never our end. So we never live, but we hope to live; and, as we are always preparing to be happy, it is inevitable we should never be so.”

Is Blaise not with the program?  His view seems to be that the problem being addressed in Matthew and in the Psalms is not only valid, but inevitable, and maybe even hopeless.

So how do we wrap this up?  I will go out on a limb and say that this message is two layered – natural and spiritual.  Living in the present moment does not mean do not consider the past and learn from it, it means do not regret it or stew about it.  Forgive yourself and others and keep moving along.  I think in a previous lesson we heard that all good things we do are really done by the Lord leading us, and whatever bad we’ve done is due to being led by the hells.  So we are not to wallow in pride or in shame, but accept where we’ve been, what has happened to us, and who we are today.  Living in the present moment as opposed to living in the past does not mean forget the past.  The learning from the past is invaluable in the present to know who we are, and to recognize .

Living in the present moment as opposed to living in the future can be summed up by a couple lines in Matthew:  “Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life? … do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.”

Do not ignore the future.  We do not know what will happen, so there is no pint in getting bogged down in either dreams or worries.  But we do know what might happen – life does go on – there is a very high probability the sun will rise tomorrow.  And we know what might not happen if we don’t make some arrangements.  That doesn’t mean plans will work out – nothing ever goes exactly as planned.  But moment by moment the course is shifting, and moment by moment we can guide it in the direction we want it to go.  No guarantees – no credit – no blame.  Pleasure and pain, yes, excitement and boredom, yes, laughter and crying, yes – the present moment is the only place these are.

Living in the present moment is indeed saying yes to life – yes to the one life that we all share.  As we walk the fine edge of time slipping into the future, we still need to be thoughtful, and pay attention to our heart.  May we be wiser today because we had yesterday, may we be loving today to make the future better. Amen.

READING #1 – Old Testament

Psalm 148:1-12

      Praise the Lord. Praise the Lord from the heavens;
praise him in the heights above.
Praise him, all his angels; praise him, all his heavenly hosts.
Praise him, sun and moon; praise him, all you shining stars.
Praise him, you highest heavens and you waters above the skies.

Let them praise the name of the Lord, for at his command they were created, and he established them forever and ever—he issued a decree that will never pass away.

Praise the Lord from the earth, you great sea creatures and all ocean depths, lightning and hail, snow and clouds, stormy winds that do his bidding, you mountains and all hills, fruit trees and all cedars, wild animals and all cattle, small creatures and flying birds,  kings of the earth and all nations, you princes and all rulers on earth, young men and women, old men and children.

READING #2 – Emanuel Swedenborg

True Christian Religion – #308

It must be grasped that there proceeds constantly from the Lord a Divine sphere of heavenly love towards all who embrace the teaching of His church, and who, just as children in the world obey their father and mother, obey Him, are attached to Him, and seek food, that is, instruction from Him. This heavenly sphere is the origin of the natural sphere of love towards infants and children. This is extremely universal, affecting not only human beings but also birds and beasts, even down to snakes; and not only animate creatures, but even inanimate objects. But the Lord, in order to work on these as He does on spiritual things, created the sun to be a sort of father in the natural world, and the earth to be a sort of mother. For the sun is so to speak the common father, and the earth the common mother, from whose marriage spring all the products of germination which adorn the earth’s surface. The action of that heavenly sphere on the natural world produces those wonderful developments of plants from seed to fruit and to new seeds. That too is why there are many kinds of plants which by day turn their faces, so to speak, towards the sun, and turn them away when the sun sets. That too is why there are flowers which open as the sun rises and close as it sets. That too is why song birds sing sweetly in the early morning, and likewise when they have been fed by mother earth. So it is that all these things honor their father and their mother. All of these occurrences are evidence that the Lord, by means of the sun and the earth in the natural world, provides all necessities for living creatures and for inanimate matter. That is why we read in the Psalms of David:
Praise Jehovah from the heavens. Praise Him, sun and moon; praise Him from the earth, whales and deeps. Praise Him, fruit tree and all cedars; wild beast and every animal, reptile and birds with wings; the kings of the earth and all peoples, young men and maidens.

READING #3 – New Testament
Matthew 6:25-34

     Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes?  Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they?  Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?

… So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.

READING #4 – Emanuel Swedenborg

Arcana Coelestia #2493

I have spoken with the angels concerning the memory of things past, and the consequent anxiety regarding things to come; and I have been instructed that the more interior and perfect the angels are, the less do they care for past things, and the less do they think of things to come; and also that from this comes their happiness. They say that the Lord gives them every moment what to think, and this with blessedness and happiness; and that they are thus free from cares and anxieties. Also, that this was meant in the internal sense by the manna being received daily from heaven; and by the daily bread in the Lord’s Prayer; and likewise by the instruction not to be solicitous about what they should eat and drink, and wherewithal they should be clothed. But although the angels do not care for past things, and are not solicitous about things to come, they nevertheless have the most perfect recollection of past things, and the most perfect mental view of things to come; because in all their present there are both the past and the future. Thus they have a more perfect memory than can ever be thought of or expressed.

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