If you missed it, here is a link to our 8/30/20, zoom church service with Guest Minister, Rev. Renee Machiniak from MI. We had a great virtual turnout and enjoyed a lot of food for thought even if we couldn’t join each other for lunch afterwards. Have a beautiful Wednesday.
August 30, 2020 Sermon
“Crossing the Rivers: Following God in These Challenging Times”
by Rev. Renee Machiniak (Resource: The Dole Notes, Vol. 2)
Exodus 14: 15-22; Joshua 1:1-9
Reading from Swedenborg: A.C. 8403
“No one is regenerated without temptation; many temptations succeed, one after another. The reason is that regeneration is effected for an end; in order that the life of the old person may die, and the new life is heavenly insinuated. There must certainly be a conflict; for the old person resists and determines not to be extinguished; and the life of the new person can only enter where the life of the old is extinct…there is an ardent conflict on both sides because it is for life.”
We are all on a spiritual journey; the road of life and the choices we make take us
through many twists and turns, experiences and challenges. Day by day, in obvious and
subtle ways, our choices lead us either toward God or away from God. Emanuel
Swedenborg suggests that we become heavenly beings – or hellish in nature – not all at
once, but through an accumulation of choices over the course of a lifetime. Ultimately,
what matters at the end of our earthly lives, is what direction we face, i.e. toward a loving perspective greater than self – or – toward inward and closed-off self absorption.
And in the course of this life journey, there are two basic dividing lines to be
crossed: at some point we must cross the “Red Sea” and, much later on, the “Jordan
River.” What does this mean for us, especially in these challenging times? Crossing the
Red Sea means accepting God’s invitation to follow the Divine way; we “follow Moses,”
a higher spiritual law as we understand it. We obey spiritual law, not because we really
want to, but because we are told it is right and we believe that we will find happiness if
we do. Usually, we decide to live by our higher spiritual principles when we are tired of
the effects of our selfish living and we are weary of the consequences i.e. others move
away from us, we move away from them, we lack inner peace or we may simply feel
unsettled, living without a sense of purpose or meaning. We are ready for a change.
So we cross the “Red Sea,” we follow God and begin the transformation. We
invite God into our lives. This may mean incorporating prayer into each and every day,
listening more for God’s guidance in our closest relationships, praying for our “enemies,” perhaps political or more personal, reading the Word for understanding, leading a more useful life, choosing to vote or getting involved with a worthy cause, holding the light for someone who is struggling with depression and loneliness in this time of pandemic isolation. We “cross the Red Sea” when we do these things, even when we do not feel like doing them and cannot see our way through the “wall of water” that seems overwhelming and daunting. But, gradually, we see that the higher spiritual life is worth following. We are moved at the changes happening inside of us and we continue on.
What then lies in between the Red Sea and the crossing of the second line, the
Jordan River, is the long wilderness journey, the forty years of struggle and trial, which
ultimately bring profound inner transformation and “a new generation” of faith. I believe that we, as a nation, are experiencing a cycle of the wilderness journey right now and a new generation is crying out for change, for racial equality, social justice and much more. Many struggle to understand this cry, this new vision. The forty years in the desert correspond to the years in our lives when we wander, wonder and test God; we break the rules and rebel against God, rebel against each other and our own values. We do so because, at this period in our lives, we tend to see the laws of God as a hard taskmaster and we even take credit for the times when we actually flourish from following them. Clearly, at this stage for us, God is outside of us in our experience and we rely on sheer determination to obey – so that we can get what we long for…the promise of happiness and peace, the Holy Land that often feels just beyond our reach. We must go through the desert. We must. And generations that came before struggle to understand.
Forty years of wilderness wandering eventually pass and the new generation
emerges, one that is necessarily different than the one before it. In the biblical story,
everyone, except Joshua and Caleb, passes away and we come to the crossing of the
second major body of water under Joshua’s leadership. This marks the period for the
Israelites, and for our own lives too, when we follow God’s laws not because we are told
to or think that we should, but because we have changed; we now LOVE the Lord and we WANT to follow. This love is our strength. In our hearts, we feel much closer to God.
Through courageous effort to change what is out of order and through faithful living, a
new Spirit of truth now guides us and fights for us. Joshua represents “truth fighting;” he was given the Divine charge: “Be strong and of good courage.” The Lord’s guiding
principles give us strength and they are ours to use in more genuine spiritual living. At
this point in the biblical story, the Israelites have learned to trust their leader, Joshua, and to no longer fear and doubt where God is leading them. Of course, deeper trials lie ahead within the Holy Land and there will be even harsher enemies to face, but these enemies, our lower inner motives, will come face to face with our higher truth that we have now acquired and these truths are gaining strength in us.
Crossing the Jordan River into the Holy Land is a time when we willingly and
gladly follow God. We have learned that, with God, all things are possible and worth the
effort we put into them. As we strive to follow the great Commandments of life and keep steady on our spiritual path, we experience glimpses, or tastes, of heavenly joy that reassure us that heaven is present in this world, as well as beyond this world. Heaven is real, within our grasp and attainable. Today, these moments inspire and sustain us as we actively seek change for the good in a world in great need of hope, connection and faith.
Once we cross the Jordan River, we learn that a life of heaven is an active and
advancing life; with God we cross the great transitions of life with increasing trust and
courage. A life of heaven is constructive and requires the highest form of humility to
follow God and to act for the good at any moment. And, at the same time, we must pray
for the strength to say “no” to temptation; to actually resist the lures of our lower nature. Crossing the Jordan River means we are ready to face our weaknesses in the light of the Lord’s infinite mercy and loving kindness and we then choose a more loving approach to life, we forgive ourselves and others knowing that with God we can overcome and rise up.
So, where are we today? Together, with the Lord, we can ask ourselves the tough
questions. We can ask the Lord if we are still rebelling and complaining in the wilderness. Or perhaps we are determined to obey God’s universal laws out of habit and sheer willpower and we are gaining strength in this effort. Or, could it be, that we are bravely beginning to cross the Jordan, bathing in the genuine love of God and entering into heaven on earth. Let us remember, for ourselves, the Lord’s words to Joshua as He opened the way to cross the great river: “Be strong and of good courage,” and remember to “meditate on the Word day and night.” Within the Word of God lies the truth for your life. Each and every day, you will be guided to the exact message you need to understand.
Interestingly, the name “Jordan” means “the descender.” In a little more than two
hundred miles, the Jordan River descends from the mountains of Lebanon to the Dead
Sea, the lowest spot on the face of the earth. The Dole Notes remind us that, in
Swedenborg’s theology, this pictures the truth from the Lord flowing down to us in the
very lowest possible spiritual states. No matter how lost or despairing we may find
ourselves, the Lord will meet us there and lift us up.
The Jordan is also the boundary of the Holy Land on the east, and the east is the
direction of the sunrise, representing the rising of the Lord in our lives. So the truths
pictured by the Jordan River are those truths which introduce us into the land of heavenly living. These primary truths of the Word might be – knowing the Lord as our Heavenly Father/Heavenly Mother, that all goodness and truth are from God, and that the Lord can help us only as we are willing to follow the Divine way.
Those of us gathered here in worship this morning, we all want to enter the Holy
Land. We want to be happy, useful, prosperous and at peace. So what is it that gets in the way? What is it that sometimes makes truth appear as a barrier, just when we are ready to enter the spiritual land of promise, the time of harvest? It is the enemies in the land, the enemies in us; the deeply hidden dark tendencies we harbor and feed within. Because our “Holy Land” has destructive forces within it, our lower appetites make the introductory truths of heaven seem false and undesirable. We can fool ourselves into thinking that what is true is false and what is false is true. This “smacks” of our political scene today, doesn’t it? No matter what perspective or side we choose, we can get confused. Our lower nature can interpret and distort reality into perceptions that cloud higher truth. And even after all of our life experience with the Lord’s goodness shown to us, we struggle to believe that the Lord will bring good through it all, that there is still hope and a bright future ahead of us. Rest assured, the Lord will not abandon us. The Lord is faithful to us.
So long as we keep God central in our lives, the Lord can keep the way open before us and deliver us, even when we cannot see any way at all. Perhaps this is how you feel sometimes? Lost and alone, downhearted, or perhaps living with little or no hope? Heaven is sending signals, sending help, as we pay close attention and act with courage. Swedenborg reassures us that God’s Providence is ultimately friendly. But it can be challenging to believe this reassurance – in the face of so many who suffer today from racial injustice, violence, existential loneliness, as well as environmental and health threats. Life today can be so overwhelming. We all feel the stress of these times.
The difficulties and despairing moments can strengthen and gird us. Remember
that the stones in this story represent foundational truths, higher truths that hold us
together. Joshua set up twelve stones in the midst of the Jordan and twelve stones from
Jordan to Gilgal, their first encampment in the Holy Land. These were to serve as
reminders, forever, of what they had been enabled to do that day. Think of this for your
life and reflect upon the Lord’s charge to Joshua:
“Be strong and of good courage. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord
your God will be with you wherever you go.”
This is a charge to you, to everyone, who wishes to achieve a heavenly character through the journey of life and so live in heaven, both here and in the life beyond the veil. Just imagine a life guided by love and not fear, a life so connected with God that we include the Lord in everything we do. We still have our moments of struggle, we still wrestle with ourselves and others, but we turn to heaven’s strength to persevere and grow. In Swedenborg’s Arcana Coelestia, we are given heavenly wisdom about personal, spiritual growth that illuminates the truth that we all must, indeed, change:
“The life of the old person resists and determines not to be extinguished; and the
life of the new person can only enter where the life of the old is extinct. It is plain that
there is a conflict on both sides; and an ardent conflict, because it is for life.” (A.C. 8403)
It is a part of being human that we experience these internal and external conflicts; it is a part of the journey of life. Let us seek the higher path, the road less traveled…
“Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
and sorry I could not travel both.
And be one traveler, long I stood
and looked down one as far as I could
to where it bent in the undergrowth;
Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,
And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.
I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I –
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.”