Readings: I Kings 19:1-13, Secrets of Heaven #5036:2-3 (see below)
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Sometimes it can be hard to relate to the Bible. Without historical context, many of the stories seem strange to us. But chapter 19 in I Kings is one of those chapters in which the millennia that separate us and the time it was written just fall away. Who cannot resonate with the heart of Elijah’s experience? We may not personally be under threat of an evil queen, we may not have a wilderness to which we might flee or a broom bush under which we might pray. But we know what it is to feel like there is something that might destroy our life or happiness, some loss that will devastate us. We know what it is to feel like to need to run away. We know what it is to say: “I have had enough, Lord.” We know that feeling of weariness, emptiness, and aloneness.
These feelings are a part of being a human being, experiences that we particularly try not to shy away from during the season of Lent. Jesus felt all these things too, in the garden of Gethsemane, on the cross, in being rejected by his hometown, in all those times the disciples just could not understand what he was trying to do. These are truths of our human experience; they are real and we honor how difficult they are.
The Swedenborgian notion of temptation is a little more robust than our current cultural one, which generally seems to be about either seduction or an irresistible piece of chocolate cake. But really, true temptation is nothing other than a situation that exposes a challenge to our spiritual or moral conscience. We might just call it “spiritual struggle.” We come across these situations all the time, in lesser and greater forms, whereby we experience varying levels of agitation, confusion, sadness and anger. There are too many examples of spiritual struggle to list, and all of them deeply personal. We can all remember times we have been tempted to walk by, withhold love, give up hope, discount ourselves, make an assumption, lash out, close our eyes to what is important. We think of Elijah, standing up to to an evil regime, but empty, afraid, not sure what to do next or how to move forward, doubting that anything he did mattered. This is temptation and it isn’t fun.
Not that it is much of a comfort in the moment, but it is through these experiences of temptation that we are forged, that we are propelled forward in our spiritual journey. Through them we shed notions and ideas that do not serve love, we let go of desires or fears that hold us back from doing good in the world. Temptations of many kinds are necessary, so that we might become progressively more heavenly.
But they are difficult and challenging work, and in those times when we are consumed by our own feelings, when it feels like we are fighting for survival, it can be hard to notice how God and angels are present with us. It might feel like God is absent, even though we know that God is always with us and never withdraws. This is okay. Angels have nothing but compassion for us in this state. There is nothing we can do that would make them leave, for they have been through all of it just as we have, and they know how hard it is.
But even more, our angels, the ones who connect us to heavenly influence, are not simply passive during times of temptation. As we heard in Swedenborg reading, angels and spirits are connected to our thoughts and feelings. When our selfish feelings and our false thoughts are in conflict with our caring feelings and true thoughts, then the spirits and angels with us are in conflict as well. Our angels are fighting for us, and defend us from within.
But what is most amazing is that the angels are not only fighting for us as we are now, they are fighting for who they know we can become. As we heard in our reading: The angels present with us see spiritual concerns within our natural ones since our interiors at this time are open towards heaven. The angels know something about us more deeply than we ourselves yet know it. The angels see us truly, what we truly want but can’t yet see, they see the best of us and they draw that forth and protect it. What faith! Within our earthly concerns they see the infinite and eternal, they see the heart of the matter, even if we are yet to discern it. They see our yearning and our deepest hoping, they see the cracks where the light can get in, they see our openness and they fight for it, even as we fail and stumble and fall.
And so, when finding ourselves in our wilderness times, underneath our broom tree, ready to give up, what do the angels suggest to Elijah? To take a nap and find something to eat. And then to listen to the still small voice. They show up where we are, and help us to be open to what we need. A gentle help, small nudges, designed to fortify our own resilience, courage and groundedness.
As we learned last week, we are not generally supposed to be able to feel our connection to spirit in a way that encroaches on our freedom.(1) Sure, it might seem like it would be comforting to have a literal angel by our side all the time, giving us whatever we need, or an angel showing up in times of challenge to give just the right advice, but the nature of that kind of occurrence can also be somewhat coercive. We are not supposed to feel the connection in a way that gives us no choice in acknowledging it. The natural power and transcendence of spiritual reality cannot help but naturally influence us, and might well force us into belief, erasing our ability to doubt, and the ability to doubt is very important for our spiritual process. So God has ordained that heavenly spiritual influence should be gentle in nature. But when something is gentle, it is easy to ignore, easy to miss.
We see that the angels first minister to Elijah’s physical needs, and so too, in our times of challenge, we can ask, is there a pause or a renewal that we require? We are not machines. Many times our challenges look different on the other side of sleep, or meditation, or a walk, or time outside, or a proper meal. About this time last year, we did a sermon series on the Seven Types of Rest, seven types of renewal that are important to make time for.
Next, we can ask ourselves if something is getting in the way. Our angels can only work with what we give them. If we are making choices that are unhelpful and unkind, if we are entertaining and defending false notions, and if we do these things to serve our own selfhood and self-preservation, it is harder for angels to be present and useful to us. Our times of spiritual struggle are sometimes an indication that we have some untangling to do, some unhooking of unhelpful ideas from our self-identity for example, or perhaps noting what ideas might make us act in unkind ways, including towards ourselves.
We note that even when Elijah regained his strength to journey again, he then spent the night in a cave. Swedenborg writes that being in a cave is a representation of being enveloped in false ideas and that in particular, in times of temptation, it represents false ideas that are obscuring something good, some good thing we are trying to reach.(2)
In that cave, God’s voice delivers the all-important question: What are you doing here, Elijah? How is being in this cave serving you, Elijah? On the internal level, the question begs us to do as the angels are already doing for us, to focus on our allegiance to divine love, and to come out of the cave, to come out of whatever false idea is holding us back.
Including, how God ought to show up. For Elijah, God was not in the earthquake, or the great wind, or the fire. The voice that finally, fully, pulls Elijah out of the cave was a small whisper, Swedenborg writes that “Divine Good and Divine Truth on the highest levels are peaceful and altogether without any agitation(3)”
This is what our angels are guiding us towards in our times of struggle. A peaceful connection to our God, one that is open and listening and ready to step out of the cave. They bring us food and water, love and insight, nourishment for the journey. They believe in us. They say: “Get up and eat, otherwise the journey will be too much for you.” They don’t fix our problems for us, but they give us the sustenance to make it to the mountain of God. And most of the time we don’t even know they are doing it. For this we give thanks.
I Kings 19:1-13
1 Now Ahab told Jezebel everything Elijah had done and how he had killed all the prophets with the sword. 2 So Jezebel sent a messenger to Elijah to say, “May the gods deal with me, be it ever so severely, if by this time tomorrow I do not make your life like that of one of them.” 3 Elijah was afraid and ran for his life. When he came to Beersheba in Judah, he left his servant there, 4 while he himself went a day’s journey into the wilderness. He came to a broom bush, sat down under it and prayed that he might die. “I have had enough, LORD,” he said. “Take my life; I am no better than my ancestors.” 5 Then he lay down under the bush and fell asleep. All at once an angel touched him and said, “Get up and eat.” 6 He looked around, and there by his head was some bread baked over hot coals, and a jar of water. He ate and drank and then lay down again. 7 The angel of the LORD came back a second time and touched him and said, “Get up and eat, for the journey is too much for you.” 8 So he got up and ate and drank. Strengthened by that food, he traveled forty days and forty nights until he reached Horeb, the mountain of God.
9 There he went into a cave and spent the night. And the word of the LORD came to him: “What are you doing here, Elijah?” 10 He replied, “I have been very zealous for the LORD God Almighty. The Israelites have rejected your covenant, torn down your altars, and put your prophets to death with the sword. I am the only one left, and now they are trying to kill me too.” 11 The LORD said, “Go out and stand on the mountain in the presence of the LORD, for the LORD is about to pass by.” Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the LORD, but the LORD was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the LORD was not in the earthquake. 12 After the earthquake came a fire, but the LORD was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper. 13 When Elijah heard it, he pulled his cloak over his face and went out and stood at the mouth of the cave. Then a voice said to him, “What are you doing here, Elijah?”
Secrets of Heaven #5036:2,3
As for temptations themselves, they are going on while a person is in the actual process of being regenerated, for no one can be regenerated unless they also undergo temptations…In temptation the person is brought into a state in which the evil that possesses them, that is, possesses their own essential self, is dominant. Once they enter this state evil and hellish spirits surround them, and when they realize that inwardly a person is protected by angels those evil spirits reactivate the false ideas a person has previously contemplated and the evil deeds a person has committed. But the angels defend us from within. This conflict is what a person experiences as temptation, yet the experience is so vague that we are aware of it as scarcely anything more than a feeling of anxiety…a battle is taking place at such a time over us and our eternal salvation, with both sides using what is within us; for both draw on what resides with a person and engage in conflict over it.
 As stated, temptations arise primarily when a person is becoming spiritual, for at that time they are gaining a spiritual understanding of the truths of doctrine. The person themself is often unaware that this is happening; even so, the angels present with them see spiritual concerns within their natural ones since their interiors at this time are open towards heaven.
Readings: Psalm 103:1-2, 13-14, 20-22, 2 Kings 6:8-17, Secrets of Heaven #5992:1,3 (see below)
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Photo by Dakota Lim on Unsplash
Our text for today, one of the stories of the prophet Elisha, is powerful. When we are in moments of fear or anxiety, how comforting it would be to have our eyes be opened to an army of angels helping us! Fear and anxiety are compounded by feelings of aloneness, our own abilities and competencies and agency made smaller by a sense of being isolated. Conversely, our courage is often bolstered by togetherness and solidarity, by knowing that there are people in our corner. So this story resonates, especially after the last few years. We yearn to know that we stand in the company of those who have our best interests at heart.
This reality is reflected in our Swedenborg reading for today. We may not literally find ourselves facing an army but all battles in the Bible can metaphorically speak to the battles of our minds and spirits. In those moments, we might also know that we are not alone. As we heard in our reading, angels from the Lord lead and protect a person, doing so every instant and fraction of an instant, and they do this out of love for us, for nothing gives them greater joy. Inside every second of our lives, we will find fellowship, we will find encouragement, freely given. Two implications of this teaching strike me as interesting and poignant.
First, we often resonate with the idea of our loved ones being angels who are with us, that they might visit us, or that we might feel their presence with us. This is certainly possible, and lovely, and something that many people experience.
Or we might think of the powerful verse from the book of Hebrews:
Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us… (12:1-2).
These verses refer to those who have acted with courage and suffered on account their faith in the past, who now stand in solidarity with the early Christians to whom the letter was written. Again, an inspiring and beautiful scene not unlike the story about Elisha; we all look to people from history who have inspired us, whether they be well known or not, and it gives us courage to imagine that they stand with us now.
But Swedenborg doesn’t specifically speak of our guardian angels in either of those terms. Regardless of our family connections in this world, of who we loved in the world and who loved us, each human being is connected to and protected by angels from the moment of their birth, but not necessarily angels who knew us, and not necessarily angels who have done something amazing or exemplary in this world. They are simply people like us, who lived a good life, who have done days and years worth of dishes, who breathed approximately 500 million breaths, who messed up and apologized and tried to do better, who lost and learned and prayed and ate and slept. These people, now in the spiritual world, their hearts and minds voluntarily refined by the work of love, have turned around to focus on helping us.
And I don’t know about you, but it kind of blows my mind that there are people who are fighting for me who I do not know, or might never know. As we remember, angels are not some specially created race of beings so pure and good that *of course* they would support us and look after us. No. As we learn from Swedenborg, as we sense in our hearts, angels are ordinary human beings who are now in the spiritual realm, who have chosen to fight for you and me, who delight in every small victory, who believe in us more than we could ever believe in ourselves. We might expect this of a parent, a sibling, a friend…but from someone we have never known? What an unfathomable gift of grace, of confidence, and of love. How could we ever deserve it? We don’t. It’s not about deserving. Angels delight in seeing the image of God in us, revel in our essential worthiness, and what’s more, they *believe* in our worthiness, deeply and unreservedly, now and forever, without ever having known us in the world. Good Lord, how could we ever accept this is true? It is a gift beyond comprehension.
And yet, this is the kind of universe that God has built. A universe that runs on connectedness with each other. A universe that is constructed so that it draws its strength and endurance from an intimate and co-responding relationship between heaven and earth. It is just a matter of course, that in this kind of universe, each us would be lovingly held within such a web of care.
The second thing that I find so fascinating is *how* angels guard and protect us. We often think of protection in terms of a barrier, like a windshield on a car or a railing on a balcony.
But consider this passage from Swedenborg’s Secrets of Heaven:
A considerable amount of experience has proved the truth of this to me. For I have noticed that when evil spirits have thrust evils and falsities at me, the angels from the Lord present at the time have maintained in me the truths implanted in me previously and have thereby withheld me from those evils and falsities. From this it has also been evident that the truths of faith which, through an affection for truth, have become rooted in me serve as a level into which angels can operate…(1)
From this seems that angels do not bat away challenges like tennis balls or fend off raindrops like an umbrella. Their protection consists in the empowerment of ourselves. The protection of angels is to remind us what we believe in. The protection of angels is to strengthen us in what we know to be right and good and true, so that then we can choose to act on our own.
So, an example: we might have committed ourselves to a life guided by empathy and non-judgment. But that doesn’t mean that we don’t sometimes, or even often, instinctively judge people before knowing them, perhaps by their appearance or some other small or external thing. We might find ourselves already doing it before we even know it. And then we catch ourselves. That moment when we catch ourselves unfairly judging, that moment when we are reminded of what is important to us and how we wish to live our lives…this is our angels protecting us. Protecting us by reminding us who we are and what is important to us. What we decide to do with that information is our choice. How we interpret and employ that remembrance is up to us.
And, of course, it is not one and done. We are going to mess up again in the very same way. Like in meditation, when our awareness has wandered and we are ask ourselves to gently and without judgment return our awareness to our breath, so too our angels remind us to return to ourselves. We are going to have to do it again and again and again. But this is how a heavenly nature is built, through intention, sacrifice, forgiveness and persistence. Our angels walk us through this cycle as many times as we need.
And on the outside, that might seem like weak sauce to a world that believes that protection is about big strong actions. But, I actually cannot think of anything more powerful or loving. Angels have no interest in protecting us in ways that disempower us, or dis-incentivize us, or infantilize us. Yes, they love us but they love our freedom and our developing journey just as much. This is a mature love, a risky kind of love, a respectful and pragmatic love. And it is a love in which we must participate: a co-responding and reciprocal melding of heart and spirit.
And so, as we spiral along on our journeys, so too our angels spiral with us, protecting us by calling forth our own irrepressible humanity, our own hopefulness. No matter how deeply buried it might be, they will find it, for they know beyond a doubt that it is there.
(1) Emanuel Swedenborg, Secrets of Heaven #5893:3
Psalm 103:1-2, 13-14, 20-22
1 Praise the LORD, my soul; all my inmost being, praise his holy name. 2 Praise the LORD, my soul, and forget not all his benefits.
13 As a father has compassion on his children, so the LORD has compassion on those who revere him; 14 for he knows how we are formed, he remembers that we are dust.
20 Praise the LORD, you his angels, you mighty ones who do his bidding, who obey his word. 21 Praise the LORD, all his heavenly hosts, you his servants who do his will. 22 Praise the LORD, all his works everywhere in his dominion. Praise the LORD, my soul.
2 Kings 6:8-17
8 Now the king of Aram was at war with Israel. After conferring with his officers, he said, “I will set up my camp in such and such a place.” 9 The man of God sent word to the king of Israel: “Beware of passing that place, because the Arameans are going down there.” 10 So the king of Israel checked on the place indicated by the man of God. Time and again Elisha warned the king, so that he was on his guard in such places. 11 This enraged the king of Aram. He summoned his officers and demanded of them, “Tell me! Which of us is on the side of the king of Israel?” 12 “None of us, my lord the king,” said one of his officers, “but Elisha, the prophet who is in Israel, tells the king of Israel the very words you speak in your bedroom.” 13 “Go, find out where he is,” the king ordered, “so I can send men and capture him.” The report came back: “He is in Dothan.” 14 Then he sent horses and chariots and a strong force there. They went by night and surrounded the city. 15 When the servant of the man of God got up and went out early the next morning, an army with horses and chariots had surrounded the city. “Oh no, my lord! What shall we do?” the servant asked. 16 “Don’t be afraid,” the prophet answered. “Those who are with us are more than those who are with them.” 17 And Elisha prayed, “Open his eyes, LORD, so that he may see.” Then the LORD opened the servant’s eyes, and he looked and saw the hills full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha.
Secrets of Heaven #5992:1, 3
[Regarding] The angels through whom the Lord leads and also protects a person…Their function is to impart charity and faith, to notice the direction in which the person's delights turn, and to modify and bend those delights towards what is good, so far as they can do so in the person's freedom. The angels are forbidden to act in any violent manner and thereby crush a person's evil desires and false assumptions; they must act gently…
 In particular the angels call forth the forms of good and truth residing with a person and set them opposite the evils and falsities activated by the evil spirits. As a result the person is in the middle and is not conscious of the evil or of the good; and being in the middle they are in freedom to turn towards one or towards the other. Angels from the Lord employ means like these to lead and protect a person, doing so every instant and fraction of an instant. For if the angels were to let up merely for a single moment the person would be plunged into evil from which after that they cannot possibly be brought out. The angels are motivated to do all this by a love they receive from the Lord, for nothing gives them greater delight and happiness than to remove evils from a person and lead them to heaven. This is their joy. Scarcely anyone believes the Lord has that kind of concern for a person, a constant concern lasting from the very beginning of a person's existence to the final moment of their life, and for evermore after that.
Readings: Genesis 8:1-5, 13-19, Matthew 11:25-20, Secrets of Heaven #905 (see below)
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There is a story about Swedenborg that is beloved by his followers. It goes like this: A young girl who grew up in Swedenborg’s neighborhood kept asking him to show her an angel. So one day, he agreed, and took her inside his summer-house and placed her in front of a curtain. He said, “Now you shall see an angel,” and drew the curtain aside, revealing a mirror in which the girl could see her own reflection.(1)
This charming anecdote gets at the heart of Swedenborg’s optimistic and humane theology. He says many times during his works, all human beings are born for heaven. Yes, we have to make the conscious choice to follow that path, but it is nonetheless God’s intention for all of us. Contrast this with the vision of Jonathan Edwards, an American preacher of the same period, who preached a famous sermon called “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God,” whereby he described each of us being as spiders held by a slender thread over the pit of hell by a wrathful God who abhors us, and that it is God’s hand alone that prevents our burning forever.
Certainly, Edwards must have imagined that the specter of such a fate would provoke a necessary anxiety in his listeners, so that they might surrender to God’s grace. Fear persuades. We know this not only from religion but from politics, advertising, and from our own lives. But fear can only take us so far. It can motivate external action, but it cannot create a heavenly internal, a heart built on the stuff of heaven: mutual love. Mutual love can only be embraced through the relinquishment of fear, of self-preservation, of resentment. We can only love when we make ourselves vulnerable, make ourselves empty of our presumptions, and trust in a God who desires our eternal happiness above all.
Swedenborg’s positive vision includes such a God, one that begins with the assumption of our belovedness, not our sinfulness. This can be such an important grounding or counter-point to hold on to, as we bravely encounter the necessary reflection involved in the season of Lent. Lent is about being committed to loving the truth, even when that truth indicates we need to change. It is about being devoted to learning how to love others, even if that means hearing what we don’t want to hear. It is about trusting that the faithful practice of self-relinquishment means that the vision of our true angelic selfhood in that mirror will become ever clearer.
As Swedenborg puts it, Lent is about “finding the power to resist love for ourselves and love of the world and preventing those loves from taking control.”(2) It is simple but its not small. It is straightforward but it is not easy. The work continues throughout our lives because the way to heaven is not a test, but a journey. And the central question of that journey is not so much “What do I need to do to become an angel?” The question is: “How free do I want to be?”
We heard in our text today about the moment that Noah and his family and all the animals were finally able to leave the ark. They had been set afloat and tossed around by the floodwaters for almost a year, and finally the waters had receded.
And we note from our Swedenborg reading that leaving the ark symbolizes the freedom that occurs when we open ourselves the the presence of God. I quote: The more present the Lord is, the freer we are. In other words, the more we love goodness and truth, the more freely we act.
The world, our egos, have plenty to say about who we are and who we should be. The influences of hell piggyback on these messages we receive, intent on subjugating and dominating us, decreasing our sense of hope and possibility. We hear: you are not enough, you are too much, you need to look this way, own this thing, choose this product. We hear: you shouldn’t help them, it’s not your responsibility, it’s a hoax, it’s fake news, you should be very scared. We hear: you must control this, we must control them, own them, destroy them, get your way, get all the power, never apologize. We hear: your anxiety will prevent it, your disowning them will teach them, be small, be quiet, close your eyes, scroll your phone. And so we remain surrounded by the flood water, gulping for breath, splashed and sprayed and shivering, in an ark only three hundred cubits long, fifty cubits wide and thirty cubits high, when instead we could be living in the whole wide world.
The more we buy into what hell is selling us, the smaller and more cramped our world will be. But, the more we love goodness and truth, the more freely we act. The more we love goodness and truth, the more we are brought into the influence of the Lord and the angels. We read further:
But once a person has been set free, that is, been regenerated, they are led by the Lord through angels so gently that no yoke or dominion exists at all, for they are being led by what is joyful and pleasing, they are being loved, and they are being shown respect.(3)
The influence of hell means only to make us nothing, and out of that nothing to have us strike out, and plunder, and scream, so to fill a void that can never be filled, to make ever more minuscule a selfhood that knows it was made for love, and to make ever larger a selfhood that is captive to avarice and superiority and fear. This is a desperate search for freedom that has instead settled on a lack of restraint.
The influence of heaven, however, is not undergirded by domination but by love and respect. The irony is that hell would have us be nothing as an insult, to break us down, but heaven would have us be nothing so that there is room for us to learn how beloved we are. The more present the Lord is the freer we are.
Now it might not always feel that way. As we grapple with the complexities of our lives, as the good choice, the right choice, becomes less and less obvious in an inter-connected and inter-dependent world, we might well feel less free, more confused, increasingly ambivalent. This is of course, normal and reasonable. Freedom is not the same thing as decisiveness or clarity. Freedom is not the same thing as ease or flow. Freedom is simply about having the ability to choose who we will serve in any given moment. Freedom is about letting God pull back the curtain from the mirror and seeing our reflection there, and then really believing that it is us, that it is our future, and our present. When we believe that this true, when we know that it is so, the stakes change. We are no longer trying to be good enough, but to live into what is already true about us, into what God has already ordained for us. And on this road, even our flaws and our mistakes become a pathway for learning, a way to embrace a blessed emptiness into which God pours a love that rebuilds us.
Genesis 8:1-5, 13-19
1 But God remembered Noah and all the wild animals and the livestock that were with him in the ark, and he sent a wind over the earth, and the waters receded. 2 Now the springs of the deep and the floodgates of the heavens had been closed, and the rain had stopped falling from the sky. 3 The water receded steadily from the earth. At the end of the hundred and fifty days the water had gone down, 4 and on the seventeenth day of the seventh month the ark came to rest on the mountains of Ararat. 5 The waters continued to recede until the tenth month, and on the first day of the tenth month the tops of the mountains became visible.
13 By the first day of the first month of Noah’s six hundred and first year, the water had dried up from the earth. Noah then removed the covering from the ark and saw that the surface of the ground was dry. 14 By the twenty-seventh day of the second month the earth was completely dry. 15 Then God said to Noah, 16 “Come out of the ark, you and your wife and your sons and their wives. 17 Bring out every kind of living creature that is with you—the birds, the animals, and all the creatures that move along the ground—so they can multiply on the earth and be fruitful and increase in number on it.” 18 So Noah came out, together with his sons and his wife and his sons’ wives. 19 All the animals and all the creatures that move along the ground and all the birds—everything that moves on land—came out of the ark, one kind after another.
25 At that time Jesus said, “I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children. 26 Yes, Father, for this is what you were pleased to do. 27 “All things have been committed to me by my Father. No one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal him. 28 “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”
Secrets of Heaven #905
'Going out of the ark' symbolizes freedom…The time that Noah spent in the ark, surrounded by flood water, symbolized being in captivity — that is, being tossed about by evil and falsity or, what amounts to the same thing, by the evil spirits who spark our spiritual struggles. From this it follows that leaving the ark symbolizes freedom.
The Lord's presence involves freedom; the one is a consequence of the other. The more present the Lord is, the freer we are. In other words, the more we love goodness and truth, the more freely we act. That is the nature of the Lord's influence, coming by way of angels.
Hell's influence, on the other hand, coming by way of evil spirits, brings with it the forceful effort to dominate. Those spirits connive at nothing else than to put us so completely under their yoke that we become nothing and they become everything. When they are everything, then we are one of them — and hardly even one of them, but like a nobody in their eyes.
Consequently when the Lord is freeing a person from their yoke and dominion, conflict arises. But once a person has been set free, that is, been regenerated, they are led by the Lord through angels so gently that no yoke or dominion exists at all, for they are being led by what is joyful and pleasing, they are being loved, and they are being shown respect. This is what the Lord teaches in Matthew,
My yoke is easy, and My burden is light. Matthew 11:30.
Readings: Isaiah 46:3-10, John 3:1-17, The Doctrine of Faith #13 (see below)
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Photo by Tim Mossholder: https://www.pexels.com/photo/body-of-water-969520/
I do think that Nicodemus is actually a perfect figure to be considering in the season of Lent. During Lent, we commit to doing things a little differently so that we might see things a little differently. We might give up doing something we have come to rely on in an unhealthy way. We might make some space for doing something that we normally think we don’t have time for. And we do all of this, so that we might uncover truths about ourselves and the world we live in that help us to embody love more effectively; love for our neighbor, love for ourselves, love for our world, love for our God.
But as we do so, the process itself is not always instagram-ready. This is kind of the point. We are deliberately shaking things up a little, and that will put us off balance. We are exploring, we are opening up, we are listening, we are feeling our way, and we are not going to know where we will end up before we start. If we did, the process would not be enlightenment, it would simply be confirmation of what we already know and think.
So then, we might resonate with Nicodemus and the way that he seems off balance in front of Jesus, not sure what to say, shifting from foot to foot. He a leader of his tradition, coming to see a controversial teacher, with all the tension that this suggests. He brought to Jesus his own worldview, his own assumptions and habits of evaluation. He brought his devotion. And he brought his curiosity, as there was clearly something about Jesus that was nagging at him, something he wanted to figure it out. He was searching. But he also came in the darkness. Darkness has a symbolic meaning in the gospel of John, that of obscurity and of separation from the presence of God. We recall the prologue only two chapters earlier: The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. (John 1:5)
This is how we often are during the season of Lent, and plenty of other times too, searching for the light in the darkness. We maybe don’t know why we are giving something up, or doing something new, except for the vague sense that it might benefit us, that there is something we might learn. We are in a necessary obscurity. We don’t know what will be revealed to us but we show up anyway. And we start from where we are and what we know, as did Nicodemus. He says to Jesus…you must be sent from God because what you have done is amazing…but in between the lines is the rest of what is unsaid…but you are challenging me with what you are saying, and I don’t want to let go of everything I thought I knew. I need the comfort of my rightness. He cannot even bring himself to ask Jesus a question. He just shows up embodying his dilemma, speaking out of his both his discomfort and his yearning, as we often do ourselves, during Lent or other times of spiritual struggle.
And so Jesus tries to give him some guidance, tries to broaden his view beyond the question of Jesus’ identity and towards the central task of being a person in this world: being re-made in the image of God. Jesus uses a metaphor to express this process: being born again. Now, because of the prevalence of Christianity in the world today, this notion of being born again is a very familiar one. We are used to spiritualizing this idea. But it probably wasn’t as familiar to Nicodemus. So of course, he is confused. He doesn’t grasp the metaphor. Maybe if we imagine Jesus saying instead that Nicodemus should replace his heart with a different one, or grow a new face, or even transform in a cocoon like a butterfly, we might appreciate a little more bit how strange being born a second time would have sounded, how easily Nicodemus might have been tripped up by the literal impossibility of what Jesus was proposing. Of course a grown man cannot return to his mother’s womb. No one can literally be born twice.
So, Jesus expands upon the metaphor a little bit more. He takes Nicodemus’ image of the womb, of a baby being born from water, from the mother’s amniotic fluids, and he says, yes, you must be born again but this time from water AND spirit. A spiritual birth. Just as we are built molecule by molecule, organ by organ, limb by limb, in the womb of our mother, so too we must be spiritually built little by little in the womb of our God, nourished and held in just the same way, birthed through contraction and challenge, but emerging whole and full of life into a new way of being, which Jesus calls the kingdom of God. This metaphor has spoken powerfully to the church over the ages.
And what the rest of the world calls metaphor, Swedenborg calls correspondence, for he understands this connective way of meaning-making and meaning-seeing to be the language that God speaks to us, indeed, the way that spirit and flesh are eternally conjoined. Our earthly birthing is spiritually connected to the way we keep on being born, our first and most basic and primal experience being the pattern for our continual journeying. We are both grounded in our natural experience and invited forward into an expanding spiritual experience.
We read in True Christianity 572:
To be born of water and the spirit means to be born of truths related to faith and of a life lived by those truths.
To be born of water-and-spirit, to be born again spiritually, means to create a *sense of self* out of what is true, and to create a *life* out of living with love according to what is true. In regeneration, the process of being born spiritually, we are attempting to birth an integral oneness of soul; a cohesion of mind and heart that reflects the love and wisdom of God. Love that acts in wisdom; love that cannot help but to act in wisdom, love that is real and useful. Our selfhood is formed in the waters of truth and reflection, and then birthed into realness by the life we live everyday. And this process is exactly what we are trying focus on in Lent; uncover essential truths about ourselves and to live authentically and usefully according to what we have learned. To figure out how to love more fully and effectively.
And while birth is liberating, it is also messy and unpredictable, and so it is reasonable that Lent might feel messy and unpredictable too. As we participate in God’s birthing of us, we come to understand that this process cannot be directed entirely by our rational minds, cannot be purely intellectual. We cannot be removed, play the game at a distance, leave some part of us enjoying ironic detachment. We have to care, we have to feel the stakes, because it is the caring that leads to the seeing of something new, and it is the caring that motivates us to live according to the truth we see. As we heard in our Swedenborg reading:
The “Inner Recognition of Truth” That Is Faith Is Found Only in People Who Are Devoted to Caring
We only search for the truth because we care to. We can only recognize truth when it matters to us. Love precedes the water of truth, every time, love precedes the birthing. The desire to do something good creates an impetus for the seeking, creates space for the recognizing, creates motivation for the acting. And sometimes caring feels uncomfortable, even unbearable, and absolutely exhausting. Caring feels likes ants in our pants, a prickle in our brain, an ache in our heart, a cry in our soul. Caring feels messy. But it is necessary. Our devotion to caring, our commitment to being invested in the world around us, this is what leads us to an inner recognition of truth. And that truth births us into new realities. Again and again.
So, it is okay to show up as Nicodemus. Not sure but curious. Wanting to have our old ways of thinking confirmed but knowing there might be something else beyond them. Staking things out under the cover of night because the newness feels too tender to subject to the daytime. Jesus shows up to this state of being with gentle challenge and an armload of metaphors, so that we might start to understand what God is calling us to. For God so loved the world, and us…so very much.
3 “Listen to me, you descendants of Jacob, all the remnant of the people of Israel, you whom I have upheld since your birth, and have carried since you were born. 4 Even to your old age and gray hairs I am he, I am he who will sustain you. I have made you and I will carry you; I will sustain you and I will rescue you. 5 “With whom will you compare me or count me equal? To whom will you liken me that we may be compared? 6 Some pour out gold from their bags and weigh out silver on the scales; they hire a goldsmith to make it into a god, and they bow down and worship it. 7 They lift it to their shoulders and carry it; they set it up in its place, and there it stands. From that spot it cannot move. Even though someone cries out to it, it cannot answer; it cannot save them from their troubles. 8 “Remember this, keep it in mind, take it to heart, you rebels. 9 Remember the former things, those of long ago; I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like me. 10 I make known the end from the beginning, from ancient times, what is still to come. I say, ‘My purpose will stand, and I will do all that I please.’
1 Now there was a Pharisee, a man named Nicodemus who was a member of the Jewish ruling council. 2 He came to Jesus at night and said, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God. For no one could perform the signs you are doing if God were not with him.” 3 Jesus replied, “Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again.” 4 “How can someone be born when they are old?” Nicodemus asked. “Surely they cannot enter a second time into their mother’s womb to be born!” 5 Jesus answered, “Very truly I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit. 6 Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit. 7 You should not be surprised at my saying, ‘You must be born again.’ 8 The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.” 9 “How can this be?” Nicodemus asked. 10 “You are Israel’s teacher,” said Jesus, “and do you not understand these things? 11 Very truly I tell you, we speak of what we know, and we testify to what we have seen, but still you do not accept our testimony. 12 I have spoken to you of earthly things and you do not believe; how then will you believe if I speak of heavenly things? 13 No one has ever gone into heaven except the one who came from heaven—the Son of Man. 14 Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, 15 that everyone who believes may have eternal life in him.” 16 For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.
Doctrine of Faith #13:
The “Inner Recognition of Truth” That Is Faith Is Found Only in People Who Are Devoted to Caring
…Caring originates in a desire to do something good. Since what is good loves what is true, this desire leads to a desire for truth and therefore to the recognition of what is true, which is faith. By these steps, in proper sequence, a desire to do something good takes form and turns into caring. This is how caring develops from its origin, which is a desire to do something good, through faith, which is a recognition of what is true, to its goal, which is caring. The goal is the doing of something.
Readings: Isaiah 41:8-10, Matthew 28:16-20, Secrets of Heaven #7298:2 (see below)
See also on Youtube
Welcome to the final week of our continuing series: Exploring Mission. Each week we have been exploring an aspect of our church’s mission statement. We are doing this so we can connect ourselves to the WHY of our community, to ground ourselves in the spiritual principles that can give our work together its meaning. Today we will consider the part of our mission statement that says that we are:
Let me share a small moment from our Sunday morning bible study last week. As one participant was outlining the lectionary reading that would be the focus of our study that day, he said something along the lines of: “It’s a tough one this week,” meaning that the text would have some challenging themes. I cannot tell you how much it warms my heart though, that in response, we all looked at each other with something akin to glee, and said, well, let’s get to it then! We have a very similar attitude in our monthly Swedenborg chat discussion group. This anecdote, and this final section of our mission statement outline two very important aspects of our tradition, both of which I deeply love.
The first is that we are allowed to question, we are allowed to struggle, we are allowed to doubt. All of that is considered to be a healthy and useful part of faith. And this is because we recognize that it is important to be able to rationally accept our religious beliefs. It can be a harmful and manipulative practice for a religious tradition to train people to disregard their rational mind and their intuition and tell them to “just believe” or that “God is a mystery.” Almost anything can be justified within that framework.
Instead, we believe in a deeply understandable, consistent, loving and wise God who made a deeply understandable, consistent, loving and wise creation. Certainly God *is* beyond human comprehension in certain ways, but not essentially, not fundamentally. God and God’s ways are not “other” to our understanding. A loving God would not want to be so “other” to us and the ways we understand ourselves and our world. Being made in God’s image and likeness was not a simple demonstration of power on God’s part but a gift of connection. In recognizing that likeness we can know that God wishes to be in actual relationship with us, a relationship that resonates.
So, in our tradition, we see our efforts to understand God and theology, to have them make sense to us, as an important way to connect with God, to be in partnership with God. Faith is not just words we say, creeds we offer with a shrug, faith is an inner recognition of truth. Getting to that inner recognition is a process, one that as we heard in our Swedenborg reading, involves a healthy level of doubt. Doubt helps to broaden and deepen our understanding, keeps our understanding humble and flexible, which then helps make our application of our understanding more wise.
Now, Swedenborg does draw a very hard line between sincere doubt and cynical skepticism. For some, doubt can become a badge of honor, and they love to tear ideas apart for the sheer love of how powerful that feels, how it bolsters their sense of superiority. Conversely, there is the doubt that comes from love, a true desire to have our beliefs make sense to our mind, heart and life, to live in integrity. Swedenborg calls this kind of sincere searching the affirmative principle, and the cycle of self-aggrandizing skepticism he calls the negative principle, the idea being that a sincere doubt will eventually find the answers it needs, but a selfish skepticism never will, because answers would defeat it’s purpose.(1) A sincere searching, even if it takes a very long time, will always be holy because it is grounded in love for the truth.
The second aspect that the mission statement references is that theology needs to be lived, be related to our daily life. There is absolutely no paucity of abstract theological teaching in our tradition. Theology nerds (me included) can feast their minds all day long upon the fascinating and consistently structured worldview that Swedenborg presents. But Swedenborg is also 100% clear that theological belief is to be lived, and it has very little importance unless it is lived. Ideas are just ideas, with very little significance or even existence, until they become real in action.
So a super important part of our faith life is to figure out what it looks like in each of our contexts to bring our spiritual beliefs into our day-to-day. Sometimes that is not so easy to figure out.
For example, If we believe in a God of Divine Love, who calls us to a life of mutual love and usefulness, what does that look like? In which moments does love call me to give, or does love call me to receive, or does love call me to speak up or be quiet? In which moments does love call me to be strong and fierce, or soft and yielding? To listen, to teach, to let go, to hold on?
If we believe that God’s providence is leading our spiritual journey in every moment, what does that look like? Does it change how I approach mowing the lawn, buying my groceries? Does it change how often I’m willing to say I’m sorry, how willing I am to take a risk? Does it change how I understand discomfort, or confusion or disappointment?
If we believe in a God of Divine Love, who loves us unconditionally, what does that mean for how I understand myself? The worthiness that I impart to myself and others? The self-talk that fills my head? The way that I speak to my employees, my children, to someone who seems different than I am? How willing I am to admit I am wrong and make restitution?
These questions go on and on, but they are the work of the spiritual life. It is what transforms us incrementally into angels, onto people who want to, and can, exist in a heavenly realm of mutual love. Swedenborg writes:
Present in an angelic character, moreover, is a knowledge of the way from walking in it, and a walking in the way through a knowledge of it.(2)
The work of the spiritual life, or as we call it, regeneration, is a self-reinforcing, virtuous cycle of searching, learning and applying. We search for theological truths that make sense to us, we bring them down from thought to action, we use the eyes of love to figure out how to apply our principles in wisdom. We notice, we pay attention. Did this work? Did this action result in greater connection, more love and support being manifested? If not, why not? What might be getting in the way? We return to our principles with affirmative doubt, and ask what did we miss? And we try again.
And you can see from this framework that how faithful we are has absolutely nothing to do with how sure we are. In fact, 100% certainty all the time actually gets in the way. So, I hope that we will continue to create a culture here in this church that makes space for questioning, for figuring things out. A space that sees how holy the searching is, and how formative. A space that honors how hard it sometimes feels to be wondering, as well as a space that revels in the joy of learning something new.
This is the work. Thank you for being in it with me, and with each other.
8 “But you, Israel, my servant, Jacob, whom I have chosen, you descendants of Abraham my friend,
9 I took you from the ends of the earth, from its farthest corners I called you. I said, ‘You are my servant’; I have chosen you and have not rejected you.
10 So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.
16 Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go.
17 When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted.
18 Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.
19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,
20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”
Secrets of Heaven #7298:2
In addition it should be recognized that it is in accordance with the laws of order that no one should become convinced of the truth instantaneously, that is, should instantaneously be made so sure of the truth that they are left in no doubt at all about it. The reason for this is that when truth is impressed on a person in that kind of way, they become so fully convinced of it that it cannot be broadened in any way or qualified in any way. Truth like this is represented in the next life as that which is hard, not allowing good into itself to make it pliable. This goes to explain why in the next life as soon as some truth is presented through plain experience to good spirits, some opposing idea giving rise to doubt is presented. In this way they are led to think and ponder over whether it is indeed a truth, gather reasons in support of it, and so introduce that truth into their minds by the use of reason. This enables their spiritual vision in respect of that truth to be broadened, seeing even into the ideas that are opposed to it. They therefore see and perceive with their understanding every characteristic of the truth, and from this are able to let in the influences coming from heaven as the situation demands; for truths take varying forms as dictated by circumstances.
Readings: Leviticus 19:9-18, John 13:1, 3-9, 12-15, True Christianity #67 (see below)
See also on Youtube
Photo by Tara Winstead: https://www.pexels.com/photo/a-puzzle-piece-with-heart-shaped-icon-on-the-pile-of-puzzle-pieces-8386114/
Welcome to our continuing series: Exploring Mission. Each week we will be exploring an aspect of our church’s mission statement. We are doing this so we can connect ourselves to the WHY of our community, to ground ourselves in the spiritual principles that can give our work together its meaning. Today we will consider the part of our mission statement that says that we are:
Religions the world over share one very clear command: to love our neighbor. From a Christian perspective, one cannot come away from reading the Bible without assimilating this tenet as one of its main ideas. But, as pictured so beautifully by our text from John, loving our neighbor is not only a feeling but also means being willing to serve them. And of course, this does not necessarily always mean from a posture of servitude—Jesus in the John text was making an additional point about power by washing his disciples’ feet—but it does clearly mean being willing to extend ourselves in ways that we might not naturally or normally do.
Service grounds and actualizes love. Swedenborg writes:
“. . . if love does not become deed, it ceases to be love, the deed being the effecting of its purpose and that in which it has its existence.”(1) and that "The essence of spiritual love is to do good to others for their sake and not for our own.”(2)
So, part of our work as a spiritual community is to actualize love through the actions we take, to love our neighbor not only in word but in deed. And it is not important for us to do this because it will bring us some reward, including even the rewarding idea that we are “good” or we are doing what God wants us to do. Service is important because weaves us into a network of mutuality; it connects us to each other but also connects us to our deepest emerging selves.
In a Swedenborgian context, we cannot speak of service without also speaking of another foundational tenet of the tradition: the doctrine of use. To those new to the tradition, it might sound strange to hear the word “use” in that way. Why not say usefulness instead? We could, and we sometimes do, but it doesn’t quite get to the heart of the idea. Because, it’s not the doctrine of busy-ness, it’s not the doctrine of making oneself indispensable, it is not the doctrine of finding your dream vocation, and it’s not even the doctrine of effectiveness.
It is a doctrine of responsiveness. Use is what happens when love and wisdom interact in any given moment and in any given action. It is both an action *and* a state of being, serving the dual goals of mutual love *and* inter-connectedness. In the words of Swedenborgian theologian and psychologist, Wilson Van Dusen:
“In being useful, one is attempting to do whatever is at hand very well as a way of reaching out and learning. It is a way of practicing devotion in any work or activity. (3) Use is a way of considering the design, function, and purpose of everything.”(4)
As we heard in our Swedenborg reading, God created the universe so that usefulness could exist, and thus embedded use into the divine design. He tells us further that everything in the universe, both great and small, was created from use, in use, and for use (5) and is in this way, an image of God.(6) Swedenborg uses this idea that he calls USE, to explain how everything (which of course includes every*one*) has been created in order to fit together, to benefit and reflect each other, and to help us see ourselves as integral parts of a vast whole.
So you can see how the idea of usefulness, or good deeds, or charity, doesn’t quite capture the interconnectedness that the doctrine of use is trying to express, nor the way in which we can tune into our use in each moment, and in each act.
All our action can be service, all our action can be useful, large or small, internal or external. When our mission statement says creating opportunities to serve our neighbor and our world, this might well include food and clothing drives because sometimes love is a full belly and a warm hat. But sometimes it also might mean changing the way we do things and changing the way we look at the world. As Cornel West says, justice is what love looks like in public.
So, service might also be examining oneself for limiting beliefs, service might be closing our mouths and just listening, service might be standing up for someone, service might be planting a seed, sharing a sandwich. Service might be letting someone else shine. Service might be repenting for our wrong-doings and repairing relationship.
Ultimately, use is about asking what love and wisdom together are calling for in a given moment and then being willing to listen to the answer, even if it scares us. Because the ultimate promise contained within the idea of use is that God designed the universe for connection, with a place for everyone. It is our spiritual work to determine what that means for us at any given time, but it will always be true, it will always be a fact of our existence. We don’t need to earn it and we can’t change it. Our job is simply to cultivate an attitude of sensitivity and willingness.
From Van Dusen again: the basic attitude of uses is a respectful search…Uses as a spiritual method is an attempt to search *through* the task at hand.(7) It is the opposite of simply getting tasks out of the way. Uses is a way of speaking to all there is. It is spiritual communication. You wish to speak to God? Do the task at hand with the greatest faithfulness and devotion…Seen at its highest, uses is a way to the experience of heaven (8) [and to]…overcomes the painful nuisance of big selfness.(9)
What does this mean for us a spiritual community? I hope that it means we will strive to be a responsive community; one that values service toward basic need, as well as service that transforms small moments between people, one that values reaching out with resources as well as reaching within to dismantle barriers. The doctrine of use is grounding and holistic but it is also fundamentally subversive toward our ego’s status quo, because its main requirement is to look outward, beyond the self, to see ourselves as one part of a connected whole, and the self doesn’t always want to do that. We can’t control what love and wisdom will have us see when we do. But what we do know is that all of life is created out of a divine design that fundamentally connects us. Every experience that we have entails a choice to move further into or out of that connectedness, a choice to lean into use or away from it. We won’t always make the right choice, and that is okay, there is always a chance to realign. But, our ongoing task remains; to listen the the promptings of the divine that always seeks to draw us further into use and into heavenly joy.
9 “ ‘When you reap the harvest of your land, do not reap to the very edges of your field or gather the gleanings of your harvest.
10 Do not go over your vineyard a second time or pick up the grapes that have fallen. Leave them for the poor and the foreigner. I am the LORD your God.
11 “ ‘Do not steal. “ ‘Do not lie. “ ‘Do not deceive one another.
12 “ ‘Do not swear falsely by my name and so profane the name of your God. I am the LORD.
13 “ ‘Do not defraud or rob your neighbor. “ ‘Do not hold back the wages of a hired worker overnight.
14 “ ‘Do not curse the deaf or put a stumbling block in front of the blind, but fear your God. I am the LORD.
15 “ ‘Do not pervert justice; do not show partiality to the poor or favoritism to the great, but judge your neighbor fairly.
16 “ ‘Do not go about spreading slander among your people. “ ‘Do not do anything that endangers your neighbor’s life. I am the LORD.
17 “ ‘Do not hate a fellow Israelite in your heart. Rebuke your neighbor frankly so you will not share in their guilt.
18 “ ‘Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against anyone among your people, but love your neighbor as yourself. I am the LORD.
John 13:1, 3-9, 12-15
1 It was just before the Passover Festival. Jesus knew that the hour had come for him to leave this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end.
3 Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God and was returning to God;
4 so he got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist.
5 After that, he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him.
6 He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, “Lord, are you going to wash my feet?”
7 Jesus replied, “You do not realize now what I am doing, but later you will understand.”
8 “No,” said Peter, “you shall never wash my feet.” Jesus answered, “Unless I wash you, you have no part with me.”
9 “Then, Lord,” Simon Peter replied, “not just my feet but my hands and my head as well!”
12 When he had finished washing their feet, he put on his clothes and returned to his place. “Do you understand what I have done for you?” he asked them.
13 “You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and rightly so, for that is what I am.
14 Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet.
15 I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you.
True Christianity 67
Before creation, God was love itself and wisdom itself. That love and that wisdom had a drive to be useful. Without usefulness, love and wisdom are only fleeting abstract entities, and they do indeed fly away if they do not move in the direction of usefulness.
God created the universe so that usefulness could exist. Therefore the universe could be called a theater of useful functions…All aspects of the divine design have been brought together and concentrated in us so that God can perform the highest forms of useful service through us.
Without usefulness as a third party, love and wisdom would be as unreal as the heat and light of the sun would be if they had no effect on people, animals, and plants. That heat and that light become real by flowing into things and having an effect on them.