FIGHTING SPIRITUAL BATTLES

FIGHTING SPIRITUAL BATTLES
A Sermon by Rev. Thomas L. Kline
Preached in Bryn Athyn July 7, 1994

“Then Jesus, being filled with the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit into the wilderness, being tempted for forty days by the devil” (Luke 4:1,2).

Why do bad things happen? Why do bad things happen in our lives? One person recently made the comment that when he looked at the lives of all his friends, it seemed as if every person was dealing with some big problem or issue in his or her life, now or in the recent past. The problem could have been disease, a death in the family, marital difficulties, or emotional distress. But it seemed to him as if everyone had some big issue to deal with.

Another person made a rather cynical comment. That person worried, not about the people who had big problems in their lives, but about those who hadn’t yet faced a major crisis. The concern was that those who still believed that life was peaceful and free of problems would soon have that innocence taken away.

Not all of us face a crisis. And for some of us, the issues that we deal with in life are open and public; for others, the issues we deal with are more private and personal.

But back to the question: Why do bad things happen? One recent best seller was titled, Why Do Bad Things Happen to Good People? And another best seller began with the sentence, “Life is difficult.”

Sometimes when a bad thing happens, we can explain it by reasoning that bad things are a necessary part of our spiritual journey. When bad things happen, it is part of that “refiner’s fire” that makes us into a stronger person. When a bad thing happens, there is a lesson to be learned, a victory to be won. And this is why the life that leads to heaven not only involves joy and comfort, but also involves pain and the anxiety of spiritual temptation. Spiritual temptation is part of our spiritual growth.

But sometimes things happen in people’s lives that are so bad that this explanation doesn’t seem to work. One person said over the tragic death of a loved one, “If there is some lesson that I am supposed to learn by something as tragic as this, I’d rather not learn it.” There are events of true tragic proportion: the untimely death of a loved one, terrible and painful disease, emotional disturbance and depression, the dissolving of a marriage, abuse, hunger and famine. If we come to believe that somehow the Lord allows or even causes these to happen so that we can learn some important lesson about life, we end up with a pretty terrible idea about God. One person made the comment about such an idea: “God is a bad teacher if He uses tragedy as His lesson plan.”

And so there is one other very important truth given to us in the doctrines of the New Church that helps us to understand tragedy: Bad things, terrible tragedies, are permitted by the Lord, not just so we can learn something new about life; they often happen simply because we are in the midst of a great war between heaven and hell. We happen to live on the battleground of a great war, and that war is taking place right now. It is a spiritual war between heaven and hell. It is the very war the Lord came on earth to fight. And sometimes we, or our friends and loved ones, are innocent victims of that terrible battle.

Imagine a physical war where a bombshell goes off near us, and we suffer pain and anguish, not because of anything we did, but because there is a battle going on and a bombshell went off. The same happens on a spiritual level. The hells do inflict pain and disorder upon us, and we suffer.

Think of a little child who has a painful disease. The disease itself, the pain and suffering, come from hell. That suffering is a physical manifestation of the hatred, anger, and vengeance of hell. And that little child has a painful and disabling disease not because the child was sinful, not because his parents sinned, not because there is some lesson to be learned (although there might be a lesson that is learned), but that child has a terrible disease because the hells are indeed powerful and they wish nothing more than to cause pain and disease and suffering. All bad things physical, mental and spiritual are a result of this great battle between heaven and hell.

We said that we are often innocent victims residing on this great spiritual battleground. This thought can make us feel kind of helpless. And this is why, rather than saying that we are “innocent victims” living on a great spiritual battleground, it is more accurate to say that we are actually “soldiers” who are called by the Lord to be part of the battle. We are soldiers who live on a large battleground, and we are called to fight in the name of the Lord. And this is one of the most important concepts we need to know about our lives, because it gives us a vision of hope and purpose.

We are in the middle of a great war. (Just look around you and within you.) We are soldiers who are part of this great battle between heaven and hell. Even that little child is a soldier, called into the army of the Lord.

When a bad thing happens terrible disease, a terrible death are we just to remain passive? Are we helpless? How can we fight if the terrible thing has already happened? If a little child dies, how can we be victorious over the hells that caused that death?

And here is another key : We fight the spiritual battle as an individual, but the consequences of our victory, no matter how slight, are global. When we, as individuals, fight a spiritual battle against the hells, we help countless millions throughout this world and the spiritual world who are affected by those same hells. When we are spiritually victorious over a particular hell, we lessen the power of that hell, not just for ourselves but for everyone. When tragedy happens take for example, the untimely death of a loved one we can still fight against those very hells that caused the death. And we do this by continuing on our personal spiritual journey of shunning evils as sins against God, by living the Word of God, by not giving up hope. In this battle we fight for all. And when we fight, we fight for all in the Lord’s kingdom now and in future generations.

Why can’t our life be free from pain, suffering, and the anguish of temptation? Why can’t life just be easy and enjoyable?

It is interesting to ask these questions about the Lord’s life. Why couldn’t the Lord’s life, when He was on the earth, just be peaceful? Why did He have to suffer continual temptations, as the Writings say, temptations from the beginning of His life to the very end? Why did He have to begin His ministry by being tempted by the devil for forty days in the wilderness? Why did He have to suffer the awful pain and anguish of the passion on the cross? Why couldn’t His life have been one of simple peace and joy?

When we ask these questions about the Lord’s life, the answer is obvious: He didn’t come here to have a life of peace and joy; He came here with a mission to be accomplished. He came here to fight against the hells. He came to fight for generations of men, women and children, generations yet unborn. He came to fight for all of us. There was a purpose to His life, a purpose greater than Himself.

And the same is true for us. We are here for our own regeneration, and we are here for a cause (a battle, if you will) greater than ourselves. And sometimes this battle will involve pain, hardship and temptation.

What one of us would not willingly go forth in the face of danger if it meant that we could spiritually benefit the global sphere of the whole earth? (It is interesting that some passages in the Writings suggest that just one person is all that is needed to effect the conjunction between this earth and all the heavens.)

Now this doesn’t mean that our lives are going to be plagued with tragedy every moment. No, there is a lot of joy, happiness, and peace in life. Jesus says that our yoke is easy and our burden is light. But we do need to keep in mind why we are here. We need to have more of a “war-time” mentality than a “peace-time” mentality on the spiritual level. And if we see why we are here, we can know why there is often a lot of pain and suffering in our lives and with those around us. A spiritual battleground is not a very peaceful place. If anything, the Lord gives us an oasis from the battle from time to time, time off from the battle, but the battle is our main purpose in life. In this context, it is useful to think of some of the teachings in the Writings about spiritual temptation.

First of all, we are told that a spiritual temptation is said to be an attack by the hells on some good love that we have. If you have some new, good love in your life, expect it to be attacked by the hells. And if you say to yourself, “Why, every time I have some new love in my heart, it is challenged,” you are not seeing the purpose of why you are here. There is a battle going; expect spiritual temptations.

Another teaching of the Writings: Are our temptations going to get easier or more difficult as we get older? The answer: they are probably going to get more severe. And if your reasoning is, “You mean I am going to have to fight greater battles as I get older? How can this be fair? Why fight now?” If that is your response, then you have missed the point of why you are here. There is a battle going on. You are called to be a spiritual soldier. As you grow stronger, more experienced, the Lord will give you greater challenges, greater battles to fight, because strong experienced soldiers are needed in some of the battles. The Lord is preparing you for great things.

Still another teaching: Spiritual temptations cause utmost despair and anguish. There is no such thing as an easy spiritual temptation. Sometimes you feel that you are going to “lose it” during a spiritual temptation. And again, if the response of your mind is, “Why do I have to have really bad temptations? Why can’t they be easy?” then you have missed the point of why you are here.

When Jesus began His ministry, He was baptized of John in the Jordan River. And then He went into the wilderness and was tempted by the devil for forty days. He hungered. He hungered so much that He was tempted by the devil to make bread out of the stones. And His hunger was deep within Him. He hungered for the salvation of the whole human race.

The devil took Him up to the pinnacle of the temple, and asked Him to throw Himself down. He was tempted to doubt His own power to save the human race.

And finally, the devil took Him up to a great and high mountain and showed Him all the kingdoms of the world. All this would be given to Him if He would just bow down and worship the devil.

And after all these temptations, it says that the devil left Him “for a time.” The temptations were to continue. They were to continue even to the passion of the cross. And by His victory over temptation, our redemption was effected.

Let us use His victory as strength in our lives so that we may face the challenges that lie before us with courage and strength. Amen.

Lessons: Psalm 91; Luke 4:1-15; AC 6829, 1690

Arcana Coelestia 6829

When a person is in temptation, he is beset round about by falsities and evils which impede the influx of light from the Divine, that is, the influx of truth and good, and then the person is as it were in darkness. Darkness in the other life is nothing else than this besetment by falsities, for these take away the light from the man who is in temptation, and thus the perception of consolation by truths. But when the person emerges from temptation, then the light appears with its spiritual heat, that is, truth with its good, and from this he has gladness after anxiety. This is the morning which in the other life follows the night.

Arcana Coelestia 1690:3

All temptation is an assault upon the love in which the person is, and the temptation is in the same degree as is the love. If the love is not assaulted, there is no temptation. To destroy anyone’s love is to destroy his very life; for the love is the life. The Lord’s life was love toward the whole human race, and was indeed so great, and of such a quality, as to be nothing but pure love. Against this, His life, continual temptations were admitted, as before said, from His earliest childhood to His last hour in the world. The love which was the Lord’s veriest life is signified by His “hungering,” and by the devil’s saying, “If Thou art the Son of God, command this stone that it be made bread,” and by Jesus answering that “man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word of God” (Luke 4:5-8; Matt. 4:2-4).

LOVE

havau22:

Snowflakes are one of nature’s most fragile things, but just look what they can do when they stick together.

Originally posted on AMRITHDHAARA:

 love

 

Love is the binding force behind all Creation

The Sun spreads its light and heat on one and all

Devoid of bias of caste, creed, race, religion and continent

The Moon showers her cool beams on man and animal alike

The stars twinkle and serve as an ornament to the sky

 

The Earth stretches out her arms

To embrace the Sky, Man, flora and fauna , in her fold

She bears with love and patience whatever she receives

Be it rain, be it heat, be it corpses, or, be it earthquakes

 

The rivers flow to merge with the Sea and the Sea towards the Ocean

The plants bear blossoms and the birds aid in  pollination

The flowers secrete nectar that the bees and the butterflies feast on

The bees give man honey and the silkworm, silk

 

The sheep give fur, the horse gives him a…

View original 174 more words

i have cast fire on the world

!cid_F83AEC9E81FD41B58C1E3173639C4571@DomenicHPCreative Digital Camera

jesus said; i have cast fire on the world, and see, i guard it until the world is afire… the truth has to appear only once in one single mind, for it to be impossible for anything ever to prevent it from spreading universally and setting everthing ablaze. a lie can travel halfway around the world, while truth put’s on his boots… there is no greater drama in human record than the sight of a few christians, scorned and oppressed by a succession of emperors, bearing all trails with a fierce tenacity multiplying quietly, building order while there enemies generated chaos, fighting the sword with the world, brutality with hope, and at last defeating the strongest state that history has known, caesar and christ had met in the arena, and christ had won.

FINDING INNER STRENGTH

FINDING INNER STRENGTH
A Sermon by Rev. Thomas L. Kline
Preached in Bryn Athyn March 21, 1993

“Then David was greatly distressed, for the people spoke of stoning him … But David strengthened himself in the Lord his God” (I Samuel 30:6).

Our subject this morning is “Inner Strength,” finding inner strength and peace in the Lord, and then tapping that inner strength so that we can overcome the battles and challenges we face in our lives. Our text is taken from the first book of Samuel, and it is the story of David, King David of the Old Testament, fighting against the Amalekites. This was one of the lowest points in David’s life. It was a time of great despair, almost unthinkable despair. David was fighting against the Amalekites, and during the battle, David and his men had built a small city where he and his soldiers would live. There they also brought their wives and children to live with them.

And one day disaster struck. One day, after returning from the battle, David and his men found their city ravaged by the Amalekites. The city had been burnt with fire, and all the women and children had been taken captive. It says that David and his men lifted up their voices and wept. And then, to make matters worse, the men of David’s army began to turn against David. They turned against their leader in their grief. They spoke of stoning David because of the loss of their families.

So here was David; he had despair over the loss of his family and now his own life was in jeopardy. And what did David do at that moment? And here we have that key sentence for this morning: “David went and strengthened himself in the Lord his God.” David strengthened himself in the Lord.

David could have gone out immediately; he could have gathered his army to retrieve his women and children; he could have gone out in anger and fought against the Amalekites. But David took another path, an inner path. David stopped everything that he was doing, and took that moment to be with the Lord.

It was a time of distress, and the real strength to overcome that distress came from within. That inner strength then allowed David to go forth and fight the battles that lay before him. He went forth, and it says at the end of the story, “He recovered all.” He brought back the women and children and he utterly defeated the Amalekites.

What would be the most precious gift you could ever receive? If you could have any one thing, any one wish to be granted; if you could change anything about your life, what would you wish for? It is interesting that when people really think about this, often the answer given is, “I would wish for inner peace. Just give me the inner peace and strength to deal with those things I face out there in my life.” Because the fact is, there are always going to be issues that we face out there in the external place of our lives. There are always going to be strife, distress, challenges, and hurdles. We can’t change all those life situations out there, but what we can change is what is within us to gather the strength here in our hearts to rise above those life situations, and to be able meet those challenges out there with love, wisdom, compassion, and spiritual strength.

For the parent to deal calmly, compassionately, and wisely with his children or teenagers, what parent doesn’t wish for that wisdom? For the boss to be wise, understanding, fair in dealing with his employers; for us to be truly caring in human relationships; for us to be able to have strength in times of tragedy, inner strength and inner peace are the source of it all.

King Solomon, when he was asked by the Lord for any one gift, chose wisdom. He could have had riches, wealth, fame and power, but he chose wisdom. And because he chose wisdom, it says that every other gift was given to him as well.

Inner peace and strength in the Lord, our message this morning: the potential for this inner strength and peace is there is each of our lives. There is a chamber of your mind, an inner chamber, where you can go and strengthen yourself in the Lord your God. And there you can gather strength to meet those challenges that stand out there in life.

I want to list some teachings given in the Writings of the New Church, teachings about what is called our “interior man” your interior man, and we all have one, that inner region of your minds where the Lord dwells.

Teaching number one: “The internal man is the gate or entrance of the Lord into man” (AC 1940). We have a choice. We have a choice to open that interior degree of our minds to God and let His life inflow, or we can keep that interior degree of our mind closed, to keep it downward to the world. It reminds us of the words of Jesus, “Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if any hear my voice, and open the door, I will come into him and will sup with him, and he with me” (Rev. 3:20).

Here is a second passage from the Writings that has to do with inner strength during battle and temptation. We read, “When a man perceives anything fighting and conquering [for him], he may know that it is from the influx of the Lord through the internal man” (AC 978). You find things working in your life; you find yourself making progress, and where is that strength coming from? It is from the Lord, flowing down from within.

The third teaching has to do with our relationship to our neighbor. Think of a time when you are dealing with a difficult person. Every time you talk to that person you find negative emotions rising. No matter what you do, you find that person can “pull your strings” or “push your buttons.” You find yourself coming down to his level; you become defensive; you find anger. But picture a time (and this happens to all of us) when you are talking to that difficult person and you find that you can rise above your negative feelings. Even when they are wrong or “off the wall,” you find that you can be there for them with compassion and understanding. What one of us wouldn’t wish for that degree of understanding? Listen to this passage from the Writings: “When a person thinks well concerning the neighbor, wants to perform kind offices for the neighbor, and when he feels that he pities the neighbor who is in calamity and still more the neighbor who is in error, then he may know that he has the internal things in him through which the Lord operates” (AC 1102.3).

And here we are not just talking about skills, not just some fancy listening technique, but it is a time we are truly there for that person. It genuinely comes from the heart. That’s inner strength that comes from the Lord.

A fourth teaching: We might think that going within to gather inner strength is a kind of fleeing from our problems, but listen to this passage. It says that inner strength filters down into the external events of our lives. “When the interiors have been formed in heaven, then the things which are there inflow into the exteriors which are from the world and form them to correspondence, that is, that they may act as one with them” (HH 351).

The exterior things of life begin to act as one; they begin to change our life down here. One passage from the Writings uses the word “harmony” in describing the relation between the internal and external man.

One last teaching: the interior man is who you are for eternity. “Therefore, such as a man is as to his interiors, such he remains to eternity” (HH 501).

I want to end with a statement about prayer, the power of prayer. Prayer is vital to this subject of inner strength. In our story we saw that David strengthened himself in the Lord. But the question remains: how did he do this? How did David strengthen Himself in the Lord? Here was David in terrible distress, and it says that David went to the priest and commanded that the ephod be brought to him. In the tabernacle, the high priest would put the ephod over his heart and enquire of the Lord how he should lead the people. And we are told that the Lord would answer the high priest by the flashing of the stones in the ephod. The ephod pictures prayer. The ephod pictures our talking to God.

We can picture David holding the ephod in his hand, and it says that he “inquired of the Lord what he should do.” And the Lord gave him an answer at that moment. While David held onto the ephod, the Lord told him to pursue the Amalekites, and the Lord gave him the assurance that he would overtake the enemy and “without fail recover all who had been lost.”

How do we strengthen ourselves in the Lord our God? Through prayer, or what the Writings call speech with God. We go into that closet of our mind, we shut the door, we pray to our Father in secret, and our Father who will reward is openly.

And this is important: we strengthen ourselves through prayer, both before and during times of need. Before times of need that’s our daily prayer and meditation. Daily, even when things are going well in our lives, we go to that inner chamber of our minds and talk with God so we can build up inner strength before we need it daily prayer so that we can be accustomed to opening that inner door and feeling the inner strength that is there, and then when tragedy strikes, or when challenges face us, to pray that moment as well, as did David, so that we can tap that strength to meet the challenges that stand before us.

Let us read the story again from scripture: “But David strengthened himself in the Lord his God. And David said to Abiathar the priest, `Please bring the ephod here to me.’ So David inquired of the Lord saying, `Shall I pursue this troop? Shall I over take them?’ And the Lord answered him, `Pursue, for you shall surely overtake them and without fail recover all.”

The potential for this inner strength and peace is there in each of our lives. There is a region of your mind where we can go and find peace and strength in the Lord our God. It is a strength that we can tap so that we can overcome the battles and challenges we face in our life. And with His help, you will find peace in your God. Amen.

Lessons: I Samuel 30:1-19; Matt. 6:1-24; AC 2535; HH 351:2

Arcana Coelestia 2535

“He shall pray for thee. “That this signifies that it will thus be revealed is evident from the signification of “praying.” Prayer, regarded in itself, is speech with God, and some internal view at the time of the matters of the prayer, to which there answers something like an influx into the perception or thought of the mind, so that there is a certain opening of the man’s interiors toward God, but this with a difference according to the person’s state, and according to the essence of the subject of the prayer. If the person prays from love and faith, and for only heavenly and spiritual things, there then comes forth in the prayer something like a revelation (which is manifested in the affection of him that prays) as to hope, consolation, or a certain inward joy. It is from this that to “pray” signifies in the internal sense to be revealed. Still more is this the case here where praying is predicated of a prophet, by whom is meant the Lord, whose prayer was nothing else than internal speech with the Divine, and at the same time revelation. That there was revelation is evident in Luke: “It came to pass when Jesus was baptized and prayed, that the heaven was opened” (Luke 3:21). In the same: “It came to pass that He took Peter, James, and John, and went up into the mountain to pray, and as He prayed, the fashion of His countenance was altered and His raiment became white and glistening (Luke 9:28, 29). In John: “When He prayed, saying, `Father glorify Thy name,’ then came there a voice from heaven: `I have both glorified, and will glorify again’ (John 12:27, 28), where it is plain that the Lord’s “praying” was speech with the Divine, and revelation at the same time.

Heaven and Hell 351:2

True intelligence and wisdom is seeing and perceiving what is true and good, and thereby what is false and evil, and clearly distinguishing between them, and this from an interior intuition and perception. With every person there are interior faculties and exterior faculties, interior faculties belonging to the internal or spiritual man, and exterior faculties belonging to the exterior or natural man. Accordingly as man’s interiors are formed and made one with his exteriors, the person sees and perceives. His interiors can be formed only in heaven; his exteriors are formed in the world. When his interiors have been formed in heaven, the things they contain flow into his exteriors which are from the world and so form them that they correspond with, that is, act as one with, his interiors; and when this is done, the person sees and perceives from what is interior. The interiors can be formed only in one way, namely, by man’s looking to the Divine and to heaven, since, as has been said, the interiors are formed in heaven; and man looks to the Divine when he believes in the Divine, and believes that all truth and good and consequently all intelligence and wisdom are from the Divine; and man believes in the Divine when he is willing to be led by the Divine. In this way and none other are the interiors of man opened.

THE PRODIGAL SON

THE PRODIGAL SON
A Sermon by Rev. Thomas L. Kline
Preached in Bryn Athyn November 8, 1992

“This my son was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found” (Luke 15:24).

Jesus said that a man had two sons. The younger son went to his father and demanded his inheritance. It says he went to a far-off country, and there he wasted all that he had with riotous living. A famine arose in the land, and the young man had nothing to eat. And so he hired himself out to go into the fields to feed the swine. He was so hungry that he would have eaten the food of the pigs. But suddenly, he came to himself. He said to himself, “I will go to my father and ask him for forgiveness, and I will become as a hired servant to him.” We can picture the young man coming back after a long journey. Will his father forgive him? Will his father be angry with him?

His father is waiting for him! His father sees him at a distance, runs to him, and embraces him. The father has compassion on his son. And at the end of this story, we hear those words of the father to the older brother: “It is right that we should make merry and be glad, for your brother was dead and is alive again, and was lost and is found.”

There is something in each of us that is touched by the power of this parable. This is because it is a story of hope. We might have a friend or relative that seems to turn from the Lord. We might have a friend that for a time seems lost, spiritually wounded, a person in a time of spiritual crisis. And the everlasting message of this parable is that there is a way back. The Lord gives us a path to restore our souls no matter how hopeless the situation.

The father figure in this parable is so important. It is a picture of the Lord Himself, the Lord Jesus Christ as our heavenly Father. And what we see is a picture of the Divine love. When the young man returns, we don’t see the father demanding payment or retribution for the son’s sins. We don’t see anything that suggests the traditional dogmas of Divine atonement or punishment for sin. No, those old-fashioned, traditional ideas of God are not based on Scripture. In this parable we see only forgiveness after the long journey of repentance and reformation. The father celebrates his son’s return. The Lord rejoices when we come back to our spiritual home.

There is a message in this parable for a church congregation. The reason why Jesus even told this parable was that the church leaders of that time came to Him complaining that He was spending too much time with sinners. The scribes and Pharisees were murmuring because Jesus was associating with sinners, drunkards, and tax collectors. And the Lord’s answer was simple: “They that be whole need not a physician, but they that are sick.” This is why He had come to bring sinners to repentance, and to restore their lives.

And so we ask the question of ourselves: What is the purpose of our church? What is the purpose of this congregation? Certainly the church is for the worship of the Lord. Certainly it is for the proclaiming of the Lord’s Word. It is for the life of charity and service. But the church also exists for something else.

In the book of Revelation, the New Church is said to be the “healing of the nations.” The leaves of the tree of life are for the healing of the nations. It is a vision of the church as a hospital, the church as a place for spiritual healing, the church as a place where the sick and wounded come. There is a battle going on in the world today. It is a great battle between heaven and hell. And, as in any battle, there will be casualties: our sons and daughters, our friends and neighbors, our family. And the church is the place for those who are hurting, those who at times have failed, those who are dying spiritually, to come and receive support in the road that leads back to a restoration. It is a vision of the Lord Jesus Christ as the Divine physician.

But there is a more interior meaning to this story. It is a level of meaning opened by the Heavenly Doctrines of the New Jerusalem. This story of the prodigal son is the personal story of our rebirth and regeneration. It is the story of the Lord’s healing our troubled heart. And in this story, we find, step by step, the journey that we take as the Lord leads us on the path to heaven.

Let’s just look at the steps of regeneration outlined in this story.

Number one is permission, what the Writings of the New Church call the “doctrine of permission.” In this story the father allows his son to leave and go to a distant land. It almost seems that the father willingly gives his son all of his inheritance knowing that this will lead to grief and pain for the son. And how can this be? Why would a loving father do this?

The Writings of the New Church say that this permission to leave is a picture of the magnitude of the Lord’s love and wisdom in our lives. The Lord loves us so much that He will even allow us to turn from Him at times if this is what we truly choose. He will allow us to turn from Him and even experience the consequences, the pain and suffering of that turning away. And this is said to be of His permission, not of His will.

He grieves when we turn and suffer the consequences of evil. The pain of evil is not the Lord’s punishment; no, the Lord weeps for us. And still, in His love He allows this because in His infinite wisdom He foresees that sometimes it is only through the process of the journey that we can finally choose what is good, fight for what is good, and make what is good our own. So number one: the Lord permits us to leave.

And step number two: If we do choose to turn from Him, He is not passive. If we do choose to turn from Him, He protects and guides us every step of the way. He is with us on the perilous journey.

We have a beautiful teaching in the Writings of the New Church that during times of temptation and despair it seems as if the Lord has left us, whereas in fact He is closer than ever. The Lord is closest to us in times of temptation.

In this parable it seems that once the son left home and went to the distant land, his father was out of the picture. It seems that his father just stayed home and worried. It is important to realize that this is written from the viewpoint of the son: When we turn from God it seems as if He is distant from us; that’s how it feels to us.

But from the Lord’s perspective, He never leaves us. If we could re-write this parable from the Lord’s viewpoint, the father would be with that son in that distant land, actively protecting, guiding and leading.

How does the Lord protect us when we are in the distant land? First is the famine. The Lord allows us to hunger in the distant land. He allows us to hunger for righteousness. The Lord will never let us be completely satisfied with evil. No, something inside of us will hunger for a life that is higher. And it is this hunger that finally causes us to turn back to the Lord. Jesus said, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness.”

Another thing He does when we are in the distant land: He withholds us from further evils. In the parable, it says the son was almost to the point where he was about to eat the food of the pigs, but he didn’t eat it. A person who has been in a state of disorder will often say, “Yes, I was in terrible disorder, but somehow there was something preventing me from going all the way down to hell. Something was holding me back.” The Lord’s hand is there protecting us from the hells even when we are in active evil.

A third thing He does when we are in the distant land: The Lord causes us to remember our home; He lets us remember our spiritual home. In the story the son remembered his father’s house. We hear the words, “I will arise and go to my father.” It’s a memory of heaven. The Writings of the New church speak about heavenly memories that stay with us always. Memories of heaven that remain with us sometimes we call these “heavenly remains.” No matter where we are in life, we all have a memory of heaven (sometimes from our earliest childhood) stored up in the interior parts of our minds. And that memory of heaven tempers and bends our life back to our spiritual home, when we are in the height of temptation and despair.

But then we come to the climax of the story, the turning point, and it is the turning point in our lives. The story says that the young man was in the field, far from his home, hungry. The young man, when he was at his lowest moment of despair, came to his senses. One translation says, “He came to himself.” It is the beginning of true repentance. For the first time we find him thinking the words, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you.”

The young man suddenly sees his life in a new way. It is as if his eyes are opened. It is interesting that the Writings of the New Church use the word “inversion” when they talk about this change. When it seems as if things can’t get any worse, suddenly we come to this turning point; we come to this moment of change, and our lives are totally inverted. Everything is changed from top to bottom. The love of self that used to be at the top is now at the bottom, and in its place is a love of the Lord and the neighbor. We hear the words, “I will go and serve my father; I will hire myself to him; I will be as servant to him,” and we begin to lay down our lives. Jesus said, “He that shall lose his life for my sake shall find it.”

And we find that there is a road back home. That’s the young man journeying back home, retracing every step that He had taken. The Writings of the New Church call this “reformation.” And notice the power of that word: the Lord literally “re-forms” us. He makes us anew.

And then there is a time of rejoicing. Here are some of the internal meanings revealed in the Writings of the New Church: The ring the father put on his son’s finger pictures “internal conjunction.” The robe pictures “truths of our faith and trust in God.” The sandals picture our life changed even to the most “down-to-earth” parts. And the fatted calf pictures our life of charity.

So this entire 15th chapter of the gospel of Luke deals with the subject of lost things and the Lord’s rejoicing over what is lost being found again. Let us take these wonderful teachings and apply them to our lives. Let us reach out with hope and forgiveness to those who are hurting, supporting them on the Divine path of restoration. Let us express this love of the Lord Himself as He comes to restore our own lives toward heaven, realizing that in His sight we are all in need of the Divine healing. This is a picture of the Lord Jesus Christ as the Divine physician, and tells His everlasting message of hope: “It is right that we should make merry and be glad, for your brother was dead and is alive again, and was lost and is found.” Amen.

Lessons: Psalm 84, Luke 15, TCR 394-5

True Christian Religion 394, 395

THERE ARE THREE UNIVERSAL LOVES THE LOVE OF HEAVEN, THE LOVE OF THE WORLD, AND THE LOVE OF SELF.

These three loves must first be considered for the reason that these three are the universal and fundamental of all loves, and that charity has something in common with each of them. For the love of heaven means both love to the Lord and love toward the neighbor; and as each of these looks to use as its end, the love of heaven may be called the love of uses. The love of the world is not merely a love of wealth and possessions, but is also a love of all that the world affords, and of all that delights the bodily senses, as beauty delights the eye, harmony the ear, fragrance the nostrils, delicacies the tongue, softness the skin; also becoming dress, convenient houses, and society, thus all the enjoyments arising from these and many other objects. The love of self is not merely the love of honor, glory, fame, and eminence, but also the love of meriting and seeking office, and so of ruling over others. Charity has something in common with each of these three loves because viewed in itself charity is the love of uses; for charity wishes to do good to the neighbor, and good and use are the same, and from these loves everyone looks to uses as his end, the love of heaven looking to spiritual uses, the love of the world to natural uses, which may be called civil, and the love of self to corporeal uses, which may also be called domestic uses, that have regard to oneself and one’s own.

… That these three loves are rightly subordinated when the love of heaven forms the head, the love of the world the breast and abdomen, and the love of self the feet and their soles. As repeatedly stated above, the human mind is divided into three regions. From the highest region man looks to God, from the second or middle region to the world, and from the third or lowest to himself. The mind being such, it can be raised and can raise itself upward, because to God and to heaven; it can be extended and can extend itself to the sides in all directions, because into the world and its nature; and it can be let downward and let itself downward, because to earth and to hell. In these respects the bodily vision emulates the mind’s vision; it also can look upward, round about, and downward.

[2] The human mind is like a house of three stories which communicate by stairs, in the highest of which angels from heaven dwell, in the middle men in the world, and in the lowest one, genii. The man in whom these three loves are rightly subordinated can ascend and descend in this house at his pleasure; and when he ascends to the highest story, he is in company with angels as an angel; and when he descends from that to the middle story he is in company with men as an angel man; and when from this he descends still further, he is in company with genii as a man of the world, instructing, reproving, and subduing them.

[3] In the man in whom these three loves are rightly subordinated, they are also coordinated thus: The highest love, which is the love of heaven, is inwardly in the second, which is the love of the world, and through this in the third or lowest, which is the love of self; and the love that is within directs at its will that which is without. So when the love of heaven is inwardly in the love of the world and through this in the love of self, man from the God of heaven performs uses in each. In their operation these three loves are like will, understanding, and action; the will flows into the understanding, and there provides itself with the means whereby it produces action.

THE WISDOM OF OLD AGE

THE WISDOM OF OLD AGE
A Sermon by Rev. Thomas L. Kline
Preached in Bryn Athyn August 9, 1992

“Thus says the lord of hosts: Old men and old women shall again sit in the streets of Jerusalem, each one with his staff in his hand, because of great age. The streets of the city shall be full of boys and girls playing in its streets” (Zechariah 8:4,5).

What a beautiful picture this is: old men and old women filling the streets of Jerusalem. Because of their great age it says they are carrying staffs in their hands. And then the picture goes on: alongside of these old men and women are boys and girls playing in the streets elderly people and young children together in the streets of Jerusalem. And the Lord looks at this picture and says it is marvelous in His sight. It is marvelous in His sight because it is a picture of a community that is whole and well, a community that is alive. And why? Because all ages are present and valued.

This morning we want to talk about the blessings of old age, the fact that the period of human life known as old age is a crowning step for our lives, the fact that old age is a state of life to be valued for its wisdom and enlightenment, the fact that old age is an essential part of a healthy community, church or society.

It is interesting that the Writings of the New Church divide our lives into four stages: our childhood, our youth, adult age, and finally, the last step is said to be old age. Our childhood is said to be a time of instruction (that’s when we learn); adulthood is said to be a time of intelligence; but old age is said to be a time of wisdom. Old age is a time of wisdom, a wisdom that comes from innocence. It is a willingness to be led by the Lord.

But why is wisdom associated with the final years of our lives? First of all, we are told that true wisdom is not just a matter of learning, but a matter of life. True wisdom is not up here (in our head), but wisdom is down here (in our heart). True wisdom comes from the life-long journey of walking hand in hand with the Lord. It is the life-long journey of discovering who the Lord is the journey of finding that we can trust Him to be with us every step of the way. That’s the wisdom of old age.

True wisdom is the life-long journey of seeing the truths of the Lord’s Word down here in the uses and activities of our lives. In that process of bringing truth into our lives, over a lifetime we make that truth our own.

Finally, the wisdom of old age is the magnificent realization that we can’t do it alone, the realization that without the Lord we are nothing. In old age we look back over our life and see that the Lord has been there all the while.

What do the Writings of the New Church teach us about old age? Just listen to this passage from the Writings: “Old age is the last age, when earthly and corporeal things begin to be put off and the interiors of a man begin to be enlightened” (AC 3492). So in the last stage of our life the Lord allows the things of our body to wane gradually and grow dim. We find that our physical bodies are not what they used to be. The Lord does this on purpose, so that during the last stages of our lives our minds can be elevated toward more interior things. The Lord, in His wisdom, provides a gradual giving up of the things of this world as a preparation for the eternity of heaven.

It is interesting to ask elderly people what things they value most. How often they respond with memories of friends, family, and human relationships. In old age a transition is taking place. It is a time of uplifting our lives toward heaven.

Another beautiful teaching in the Heavenly Doctrines: We are told that the body grows old but the spirit itself does not age. The body grows old, but if anything the spirit grows younger. This is why we all find ourselves in the unusual situation where as years are put on, we still feel the same. The body may feel older, but the person inside that body is still the same. We still feel just as young as we ever did. And in this sense we are all young. It is the timelessness of the human spirit.

The Writings teach us: “To grow old in heaven is to grow young” (HH 414). In relation to eternity we are all in our spiritual infancy.

A final teaching from the Writings of the New Church (an unusual teaching): The Writings say that old age begins at the year sixty. This is an unusual teaching because we don’t often think of ourselves as being old as we approach sixty. At sixty we are often still involved in our day-to-day uses. The events of our natural life don’t suddenly change at sixty. But still the Writings suggest that this is the beginning of old age because it is a time when subtle changes are taking place in our spiritual attitudes toward life. At age sixty, even though we are still involved in our life-long occupations, we see those uses in a new light. Gradually we are willing to accept the limitations of the human spirit. We begin to have the humility that we may not accomplish everything we set out to accomplish in life. We begin to see the reality that this life is not forever. We begin to face the reality of the next life. The things of this world are not as important as they once seemed. Our values change and are uplifted. We not only believe but we actually feel and see that there are higher realities worth reaching for. It is the beginning of an uplifting in the growth of our spirit.

Old age need not be a time of decreasing usefulness. If anything, as age advances, the uses of life can become higher and more heavenly in their form. Retirement sometimes can be feared and seen as a time of uselessness. But retirement can also be a new opportunity to pursue the real loves of the heart. So often, because of life’s circumstances we are forced into careers and occupations that we do not truly love. Yet in the autumn of our lives, the opportunity is there to find our ruling loves, to pursue those dreams we always held to, to find those uses that more match our eternal character.

Old age is also a time of reflection reflection on life in the light of the Lord’s Word. Those approaching old age may not think of themselves as theologians or scholars, but they need to realize that even a simple understanding and reflection on the Lord’s Word in the light of that period of life known as old age can bring about a wisdom not known in any other period of life. A person reading the Word in the wisdom of old age brings about a conjunction with the heavens that is essential both to the individual and to society as a whole. The power of the heavens to one reading the Word in the light of a lifetime of experiences is the very heart of the church on earth.

Every age has blessings and it also has its challenges and hardships. And this can be especially true with old age. It can be a time of physical decline, a time of extreme loneliness. It can be a time of seeing lifelong friends pass on and apparently leave. It can be a time of loneliness when a spouse has already gone to the other world. It can be a time of depression, physical pain, a time of wondering, “What is my use in this world? Am I merely a burden on society?”

We may not fully understand the working of the Lord’s providence and permission. At times we may have to trust that uses are being performed in old age that are greater than we can see and understand. We may have to trust that at times the uses accomplished by prolonging life in this world are greater than the individual.

The Lord may extend life in this world to provide a plane of innocence here on earth innocence that is more far-reaching than the individual can consciously know. Or the Lord may be secretly implanting heavenly remains and memories as a final blessing on a long life of use. We need sensitivity, love and care for those in the hardships of old age the courage to trust in the Lord’s will. The Psalmist said, “Cast me not off in the time of old age; forsake me not when my strength fails” (Psalm 71:9).

I would like to end with a picture of Moses. This picture is from the 34th chapter of the book of Deuteronomy. It is that beautiful picture of Moses, in the last hours of his life on earth, standing on the top of Mount Nebo, looking over the promised land of Canaan. For forty years Moses had led the people through the wilderness. He had led them out of their captivity in Egypt, and now he had led them up to the very border of the promised land. And now we see that glorious moment when Moses, now an old man 120 years old, is ready to die. The Lord allows him to see the promised land before He dies.

That picture of Moses’ viewing the expanse of the promised land, the land where the Children of Israel would now live, is a picture of true wisdom, the wisdom that comes in old age, that wisdom that comes when we have walked long enough through the journey of lives to really know and see that the Lord is with us. The wisdom of old age: it is a wisdom that comes when we begin to put off the captivity of earthly and corporeal things and are truly willing to see and accept the reality of heaven and the next life. That picture of Moses viewing the promised land before him and at the same time remembering the long journey that was behind him (both sides of the mountain) is a picture of true spiritual enlightenment.

In the book of Zechariah we have a picture of old men and women sitting in the streets of Jerusalem with the streets of the city full of boys and girls playing. It is a picture of the spiritual ages of our lives from childhood to old age. And the Lord looks at this picture, and His response is that it is marvelous in His eyes. Amen.

Lessons: Zechariah 8:1-11; Luke 2:22-38; AC 10225:1,5,6

Arcana Coelestia 10225:1,5,6

“From a son of twenty years and upward.” That this signifies the state of the intelligence of truth and good is evident from the signification of “twenty,” when said of a man’s age, as being a state of the intelligence of truth and good. That “twenty” denotes a state of the intelligence of truth and good is because when a man attains the age of twenty years, he begins to think from himself; for from earliest infancy to extreme old age a man passes through a number of states in respect to his interiors that belong to intelligence and wisdom. The first state is from birth to his fifth year; this is a state of ignorance and of innocence in ignorance, and is called infancy. The second state is from the fifth year to the twentieth; this is a state of instruction and of memory-knowledge, and is called childhood and youth. The third state is from the twentieth year to the sixtieth, which is a state of intelligence, and is called adolescence, young manhood, and manhood. The fourth or last state is from the sixtieth year upward, which is a state of wisdom, and of innocence in wisdom …

[5] But the third is called a state of intelligence, because the man then thinks from himself, and discriminates and forms conclusions; and that which he then concludes is his own and not another’s. At this time faith begins, for faith is not the faith of the man himself until he has confirmed what he believes by the ideas of his own thought. Previous to this, faith was not his but another’s in him, for his belief was in the person, not in the thing. From this it can be seen that the state of intelligence commences with man when he no longer thinks from a teacher but from himself, which is not the case until the interiors are opened toward heaven. Be it known that the exteriors with man are in the world and the interiors in heaven; and that in proportion as light flows in from heaven into what is from the world, the man is intelligent and wise; and this according to the degree and quality of the opening of his interiors, which are so far opened as the man lives for heaven and not for the world.

[6] But the last state is a state of wisdom and of innocence in wisdom, which is when the person is no longer concerned about understanding truths and goods, but about willing and living them; for this is to be wise. And a person is able to will truths and goods, and to live them, just insofar as he is in innocence, that is, insofar as he believes that he has nothing of wisdom from himself but that whatever he has of wisdom is from the Lord; also insofar as he loves to have it so; hence it is that this state is also a state of innocence in wisdom.