Choosing Our Five River Stones
Photo credit: Scott Webb
Readings: I Samuel 17, Secrets of Heaven #1197 (see below)
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This is probably one of the most familiar stories in the Old Testament. It certainly has made its way into our collective imagination and our language, as even for people unfamiliar with the bible generally, the names David and Goliath unequivocally recall the potent narrative of the underdog, the triumph of the little guy over insurmountable odds.
So, first, a little background on the story. As noted by the name of the book I Samuel, the story takes place in the days of the prophet Samuel. The children of Israel desired a king to rule over them, and so Samuel installed Saul as monarch. But ultimately God rejected Saul as king, due to a number of transgressions, and so Samuel anoints a new king in secret: David, the youngest and smallest of the sons of Jesse.
But meanwhile, Saul remains king, and readies for war with the Philistines. The Israelites are not confident in their ability to win, and they are mightily intimidated by the Philistine champion, Goliath, who at six cubits and a span, was about 9 feet 9 inches tall. And David, the secretly anointed but utterly forgettable brother comes to visit his older siblings on the war front. They are not pleased. Yet somehow David has a kind of unbelievable confidence that carries him to the notice of Saul. Saul agrees to let David fight Goliath, and even though David eschews traditional armor and weapons, he wins, using his very simple sling and five smooth stones he had gathered at the river.
It is a crazy, detailed, and exhilarating story. And as we look through a Swedenborgian lens, we of course see that the story is a metaphor for our internal life. Swedenborg tells us that the Philistines represent faith separated from charity and Goliath as the conceit of self-intelligence.(1) We can see how these two go together, in that, in a more general way, as we try to separate what we know and believe from how we live in relationship to others, we are tempted to retreat further and further into a silo of self-righteous and high self-opinion.
It is a threat to our spiritual life, a danger, when we try to separate what we know from how we live our life, as if somehow our true self is made up of the thoughts we think, instead of the way that we actually show up to our life and our relationships and our world. This threat is pictured by the Philistine army. But a particular danger is that the more we place value and prestige on our thinking, on our intelligence, or on our beliefs, (rather than our living) then a giant of self-centeredness starts to grow, until only *we* can be right (because our ego demands that we must be), and we have lost the humility and the reflective ability that is so central to spiritual evolution and a spiritual, loving life.
And there are many varieties of mental and emotional Goliaths that keep us immobilized, that keep us centered in fear and ego. So many giants that feel so big and strong, and loom so large over our internal landscape.
Who would have thought, though, that is answer would be David? David, who is picked on by his brothers, David who says “Now what have I done?”, the small and inconsequential shepherd boy? Because sometimes, our truest loves, our cherished ideals, our lofty goals, our bleeding hearts, our desire to make a difference, they seem so small and ridiculous compared to “they way the world works.” But those things, those depths of our hearts, those true north principles, when out on the field on their own, they pulled the sheep from the lion’s mouth without a moment’s hesitation. David’s faith was powerful, but it was just a different kind of power. He had no use for the armor or the sword.
And I’ll quote now a passage about how David armed himself, from the Dole Notes, an in depth treatment of many familiar bible stories along with their internal sense:
David's weapons were his shepherd's staff, his sling, and five smooth stones from the brook. The staff was his reliance on the Lord; the smooth stones from the brook, particular truths of the Word readied by experience (five meaning a few but sufficient); and the sling, the understanding-also gained by experience-which enabled him to direct the truth against a particular evil and to communicate to it the force of his zeal. We all may have David's weapons. The Lord promises support to all who obey His commandments. We all have the Word, the clear stream of truth, and we all have the power to find in it truths which we may prove by experience. We make a sling for ourselves by meditating on the truths of the Word and their application to life and conduct. We should be constantly choosing "smooth stones from the brook" and putting them in our "shepherd's bag" ready for use when an enemy attacks any of our innocent affections. (2)
David’s triumph over Goliath pictures how when we find our internal giants are taking up too much space, intimidating us, immobilizing us, even leading us, that there are small smooth indestructible and completely available truths that can re-center us. Some examples of these might be: the golden rule - do unto others as you would have them do unto you, love your neighbor, we are all made in the image and likeness of God, blessed are the those who mourn, The Lord is my shepherd, and many many others. The smoothness of the stones is important, meaning that the truths need to be anchored in goodness. A rough truth harshly applied might conquer a giant for a time, scare it away for a moment, but at what cost to our spirit? For example, if some Goliath fear or flaw is preventing us from doing something useful, we could certainly marshal the doctrine of use against ourselves in a judgmental way, and that might shame us into action. But that won’t deal with the deep-seated assumptions that brought the giant into being in the first place. It won’t help us understand how to love better, either ourselves or others. Swedenborg speaks in many places in his works about truth alone being sharp and angular, and good having the quality of being soft, smooth or flexible. David’s sling could only be effective, his aim could only be true, when the stones were smooth. Likewise, we need the clarity of truth against our giants, but without self-compassion we won’t take the time to do the difficult reflection we might need to do.
And now that we have seen the inner landscape of this story, we can also see how it might apply in a broader sense, how we might complete the circle and integrate this inner landscape into our relationship to the outer world, one might say the “real” world.
Just as we have Goliath tendencies, habits, fears, in our own minds, there are Goliaths to contend with in society and culture: assumptions, prejudices, systemic injustices, ingrained inequalities, war, corruption, racism and so much more.
And I think what we can glean from this story is, that these giants are not vanquished by *also* assuming might, or by being uniquely clever or skilled and outwitting them. These giants are vanquished by being willing to go to the river and find those smooth stones, those key, elemental, inviolable truths that we can easily carry with us and that give us the courage to stand forth day by day.
David tried putting on Saul’s armor but he could barely walk in it. We can’t mimic cultural Goliaths that are perpetuating harm, can’t put on their trappings of earthly power, or emulate their systems, for then we will just turn around and perpetuate harm in different ways. Nor can we use the weapons that Saul provided; they are too heavy upon the soul, to difficult to carry.
And, neither was it skill in wielding the sling that was key. Certainly, David did need to know how to use it, but also only a perfectly smooth stone can be wielded by the sling in an effective way. That is the choice that matters. Truth alone, a sharp stone, might seem like the perfect weapon but it is not. The smoothness of a truth that is anchored in goodness, this is what can ultimately vanquish evil; it is the only thing that can. So we must ask ourselves: What are the principles that are guiding us as we confront our giants? Are they anchored in lovingkindness, made smooth by the water of life, by the way that God’s love flows toward us, in and around us? May God guide the search to answer these questions. Amen.
(1) Emanuel Swedenborg, The Doctrine of Faith #52
(2) Anita Dole, The Dole Notes Volume 3, p142
I Samuel 17
1 Now the Philistines gathered their forces for war and assembled at Sokoh in Judah…2 Saul and the Israelites assembled and camped in the Valley of Elah and drew up their battle line to meet the Philistines. 3 The Philistines occupied one hill and the Israelites another, with the valley between them. 4 A champion named Goliath, who was from Gath, came out of the Philistine camp. His height was six cubits and a span. 5 He had a bronze helmet on his head and wore a coat of scale armor of bronze weighing five thousand shekels; 6 on his legs he wore bronze greaves, and a bronze javelin was slung on his back. 7 His spear shaft was like a weaver’s rod, and its iron point weighed six hundred shekels. His shield bearer went ahead of him. 8 Goliath stood and shouted to the ranks of Israel, “Why do you come out and line up for battle? Am I not a Philistine, and are you not the servants of Saul? Choose a man and have him come down to me. 9 If he is able to fight and kill me, we will become your subjects; but if I overcome him and kill him, you will become our subjects and serve us.” 10 Then the Philistine said, “This day I defy the armies of Israel! Give me a man and let us fight each other.” 11 On hearing the Philistine’s words, Saul and all the Israelites were dismayed and terrified.
12 Now David was the son of an Ephrathite named Jesse, who was from Bethlehem in Judah. Jesse had eight sons, and in Saul’s time he was very old. 13 Jesse’s three oldest sons had followed Saul to the war… 14 David was the youngest. The three oldest followed Saul, 15 but David went back and forth from Saul to tend his father’s sheep at Bethlehem. 16 For forty days the Philistine came forward every morning and evening and took his stand. 17 Now Jesse said to his son David, “Take this ephah of roasted grain and these ten loaves of bread for your brothers and hurry to their camp. 18 Take along these ten cheeses to the commander of their unit. See how your brothers are and bring back some assurance from them. 19 They are with Saul and all the men of Israel in the Valley of Elah, fighting against the Philistines.” 20 Early in the morning David left the flock in the care of a shepherd, loaded up and set out, as Jesse had directed. He reached the camp as the army was going out to its battle positions, shouting the war cry. 21 Israel and the Philistines were drawing up their lines facing each other. 22 David left his things with the keeper of supplies, ran to the battle lines and asked his brothers how they were. 23 As he was talking with them, Goliath, the Philistine champion from Gath, stepped out from his lines and shouted his usual defiance, and David heard it. 24 Whenever the Israelites saw the man, they all fled from him in great fear. 25 Now the Israelites had been saying, “Do you see how this man keeps coming out? He comes out to defy Israel. The king will give great wealth to the man who kills him. He will also give him his daughter in marriage and will exempt his family from taxes in Israel.” 26 David asked the men standing near him, “What will be done for the man who kills this Philistine and removes this disgrace from Israel? Who is this uncircumcised Philistine that he should defy the armies of the living God?” 27 They repeated to him what they had been saying and told him, “This is what will be done for the man who kills him.” 28 When Eliab, David’s oldest brother, heard him speaking with the men, he burned with anger at him and asked, “Why have you come down here? And with whom did you leave those few sheep in the wilderness? I know how conceited you are and how wicked your heart is; you came down only to watch the battle.” 29 “Now what have I done?” said David. “Can’t I even speak?” 30 He then turned away to someone else and brought up the same matter, and the men answered him as before. 31 What David said was overheard and reported to Saul, and Saul sent for him. 32 David said to Saul, “Let no one lose heart on account of this Philistine; your servant will go and fight him.” 33 Saul replied, “You are not able to go out against this Philistine and fight him; you are only a young man, and he has been a warrior from his youth.” 34 But David said to Saul, “Your servant has been keeping his father’s sheep. When a lion or a bear came and carried off a sheep from the flock, 35 I went after it, struck it and rescued the sheep from its mouth. When it turned on me, I seized it by its hair, struck it and killed it. 36 Your servant has killed both the lion and the bear; this uncircumcised Philistine will be like one of them, because he has defied the armies of the living God. 37 The LORD who rescued me from the paw of the lion and the paw of the bear will rescue me from the hand of this Philistine.” Saul said to David, “Go, and the LORD be with you.”
38 Then Saul dressed David in his own tunic. He put a coat of armor on him and a bronze helmet on his head. 39 David fastened on his sword over the tunic and tried walking around, because he was not used to them. “I cannot go in these,” he said to Saul, “because I am not used to them.” So he took them off. 40 Then he took his staff in his hand, chose five smooth stones from the stream, put them in the pouch of his shepherd’s bag and, with his sling in his hand, approached the Philistine.
41 Meanwhile, the Philistine, with his shield bearer in front of him, kept coming closer to David. 42 He looked David over and saw that he was little more than a boy, glowing with health and handsome, and he despised him. 43 He said to David, “Am I a dog, that you come at me with sticks?” And the Philistine cursed David by his gods. 44 “Come here,” he said, “and I’ll give your flesh to the birds and the wild animals!” 45 David said to the Philistine, “You come against me with sword and spear and javelin, but I come against you in the name of the LORD Almighty, the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have defied. 46 This day the LORD will deliver you into my hands…47 All those gathered here will know that it is not by sword or spear that the LORD saves; for the battle is the LORD’s, and he will give all of you into our hands.” 48 As the Philistine moved closer to attack him, David ran quickly toward the battle line to meet him. 49 Reaching into his bag and taking out a stone, he slung it and struck the Philistine on the forehead. The stone sank into his forehead, and he fell facedown on the ground. 50 So David triumphed over the Philistine with a sling and a stone; without a sword in his hand he struck down the Philistine and killed him.
Secrets of Heaven #1197
The ancient church used the label of Philistine for all those who talked and talked about faith and about the idea that salvation is found in faith and yet completely failed to live a life of faith…
These people by nature could not help turning religious knowledge into a matter of memorization. The knowledge of spiritual and heavenly realities and even the mysteries of faith become nothing more than objects of memory when the people who are adept at them have no love for others.
Memorized details are dead objects to us unless we live according to them as a matter of conscience. When we do, then as soon as something becomes part of our memory it also becomes part of our life. That is when it first becomes something in us that remains useful to us and our salvation after physical life ends. Neither secular nor religious knowledge means anything to us in the other life — even if we have learned all the secrets that have ever been revealed — unless it permeates our life.
The Magic of a Seed
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Readings: Ezekiel 17:22-24, Mark 4:26-34, True Christianity 350:1-2 (see below)
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Today we heard two parables, both about seeds, both trying to tell us something about the kingdom of God. Many times, when we consider these parables, we might be thinking about the kingdom of God, out there. We watch the sower in our mind, but out there in the field, or the mustard seed growing into a tree, but out there in the meadow and we naturally (or automatically) think of the kingdom of heaven as out there too. We see the little plants growing, we see the tree growing, and we make the leap to seeing the kingdom growing, but out there.
This is a totally appropriate application of the metaphor. However, what about the famous bible quote from the gospel of Luke:
17:20 Now when He was asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God would come, He answered them and said, "The kingdom of God does not come with observation; 21 nor will they say, 'See here!' or 'See there!' For indeed, the kingdom of God is within you."
Likewise, Swedenborg writes: A person has heaven in their internal, so in their willing and thinking as a result of love and faith. (1)
Now we are invited to see these parables slightly differently. Yes, they are telling us about the kingdom of heaven but not necessarily out there, but inside our own selves. What are we being invited to see?
Let us first take a look at the parable of the sower:
He also said, “The kingdom of God is as if someone would scatter seed on the ground, 27and would sleep and rise night and day, and the seed would sprout and grow, he does not know how. 28The earth produces of itself, first the stalk, then the head, then the full grain in the head. 29But when the grain is ripe, at once he goes in with his sickle, because the harvest has come.”
What is at first noticeable is the sense of wonder that is evoked. Seeds are like magic. You can scatter them, leave them alone, and then with a process that is essentially out of our control, they burst forth in growth and create something new, something useful, fruitful.
Perhaps part of the invitation held in this metaphor is to regard the growth of the kingdom of God within us with wonder as well. What does that look like? What are the things that grow within us? We heard in our Swedenborg reading:
A seed in the Word means simply truth… The human mind resembles the soil in which spiritual and natural truths are planted like seeds, and they can multiply without limit.
So when we think about seeds as truths, I think they are less facts or axioms but rather true ideas that can grow. Let’s try to think about an example: Let’s say we want to learn something new, like a new instrument. From this one endeavor, we come into the understanding of lots of different truths like: I am capable of learning, I can derive enjoyment and fulfillment from creativity, it is good to stick to things even when they are difficult, hard work can lead to improvement.
We can see that a small seed like, I would like to learn to play an instrument, contains so much within it. The idea grows and expands, and unfurls new leaves and then maybe even creates some new seeds, some new ideas, some new realizations.
And the question that the metaphor poses is: are we doing that growth, or is it God? As our own inners self expands in order to integrate these new ideas, where does that capacity come from? Our Swedenborg reading says further: People acquire this capacity from the infinity of God, who is perpetually present giving His light and heat, and His generative power. When we look at the miracle of the growing seed, we can marvel at, and be grateful for, the ways that God is growing our own internal spiritual capacities.
Now, let us take a moment to consider the parable of the mustard seed
30He also said, “With what can we compare the kingdom of God, or what parable will we use for it? 31It is like a mustard seed, which, when sown upon the ground, is the smallest of all the seeds on earth; 32yet when it is sown it grows up and becomes the greatest of all shrubs, and puts forth large branches, so that the birds of the air can make nests in its shade.”
This parable evokes a similar kind of wonder as the first, but with a slightly different focus. It is lifting up the miracle of smallness, that something small and seemingly inconsequential can grow into something bigger, something beautiful, something that is integrated in to world around it.
When we consider the smallness of the seed, what are the assumptions held within that premise that will eventually lead us to wonder? First, in its smallness, it might be considered insignificant, incapable, disconnected from everything, kind of meaningless, disposable. But what we learn is that these assumptions do not hold when it comes to the spirit. Smallness is no measure of potential.
But it is not even so much that something small magically becomes big. It was more common in literature of the bible’s time for nations to compare themselves to the mighty cedar (2), a magnificent tree. But this parable sees the kingdom of heaven being pictured by a mustard shrub, really a just scruffy bush, a few feet taller than a person. But the question becomes, what can it do? It provides shelter to birds and animals. The most important thing is that it is enfolded into its own environment, that it contributes, that it connects. Size, might, beauty - none of that matters as much as holistic usefulness.
And so we see that we are invited to consider how the kingdom of heaven grows within us, that it may not grow in ways that the world considers powerful and beautiful, but that in God’s divine design, the growth will always be purposeful and integrative, something that has the goal of enfolding us into community with others.
Two ordinary miracles, both focusing on the miracle of growth but in slightly different ways: one focusing on the miracle of transformation, that a seed sheds its seedy existence in order to become a plant, and the other focusing on the miracle of purposefulness, that something small might actually become something integral and essential.
When we look out at the garden that we will be planting after church today, a garden planted with the intention that it might provide something of use to the “insects of the air” we can also see an image of our internal selves. We can see ourselves reflected in nature, and nature reflected in ourselves, and we can become more deeply embedded in this place, this world.
“…the seed sprouts and grows, though he does not know how.”
“‘I the LORD have spoken, and I will do it.’ ”
(1) Emanuel Swedenborg, The New Jerusalem and its Heavenly Doctrine #234
22 “ ‘This is what the Sovereign LORD says: I myself will take a shoot from the very top of a cedar and plant it; I will break off a tender sprig from its topmost shoots and plant it on a high and lofty mountain. 23 On the mountain heights of Israel I will plant it; it will produce branches and bear fruit and become a splendid cedar. Birds of every kind will nest in it; they will find shelter in the shade of its branches. 24 All the trees of the forest will know that I the LORD bring down the tall tree and make the low tree grow tall. I dry up the green tree and make the dry tree flourish. “ ‘I the LORD have spoken, and I will do it.’ ”
26 He also said, “This is what the kingdom of God is like. A man scatters seed on the ground. 27 Night and day, whether he sleeps or gets up, the seed sprouts and grows, though he does not know how. 28 All by itself the soil produces grain—first the stalk, then the head, then the full kernel in the head. 29 As soon as the grain is ripe, he puts the sickle to it, because the harvest has come.”
30 Again he said, “What shall we say the kingdom of God is like, or what parable shall we use to describe it? 31 It is like a mustard seed, which is the smallest of all seeds on earth. 32 Yet when planted, it grows and becomes the largest of all garden plants, with such big branches that the birds can perch in its shade.” 33 With many similar parables Jesus spoke the word to them, as much as they could understand. 34 He did not say anything to them without using a parable. But when he was alone with his own disciples, he explained everything.
True Christianity 350
350. (i) It is evident that the truths of faith are capable of being multiplied to infinity from the wisdom of the angels in heaven being for ever increasing. The angels also say that there is never any limit to wisdom, and the only source of wisdom is from Divine truths analytically arranged by means of the light which falls on them, coming from the Lord….
 The way the truths of faith multiply to infinity can be compared with human seed, each one of which can propagate families for century after century. The way the truths of faith reproduce can also be compared with the way seeds in fields or gardens reproduce; these can be propagated to make hundreds of millions and for ever. Seed in the Word means simply truth, a field means doctrine, a garden wisdom. The human mind resembles the soil in which spiritual and natural truths are planted like seeds, and they can multiply without limit. People acquire this capacity from the infinity of God, who is perpetually present giving His light and heat, and His generative power.
Photo credit: Nick Fewings
Readings: Psalm 89: 1-4, 14-18, John 16:4-15, True Christianity 95, Heaven and Hell 523 (see below)
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Today I would like to have a conversation about the concept of justice, and our responsibility towards creating a just world, as a way to hold space for the anniversary of George Floyd’s death, which was this past Tuesday.
Sometimes it is difficult to have these conversations in church, ones that connect to social justice and political topics because some folks say that politics don’t belong in church, or that we shouldn’t be talking about politics in church. And I do agree with that, in the sense that we shouldn’t be doing *partisan* politics in church, absolutely. But in a more philosophical sense, politics is simply the communal project of figuring out how we all are to live together as a society, and to work together for the common good. And how can that type of communal project not be in conversation with religion? That is exactly the kind of thing that religion is working on figuring out as well, just from a slightly different point of view, especially for a tradition like ours whose favorite quote is “All religion is of life, and the life of religion is to do good.”
So, I offer these reflections as a kind of resource and context in which we can all do our own thinking about the communal project of politics, shared systems, and institutions.
This past Tuesday was the one year anniversary of the murder of George Floyd. Last month, the police officer who killed him by kneeling on his neck for 9 minutes and 29 seconds, was found guilty of all three charges against him: second-degree unintentional murder, third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter. While this outcome was greeted as a relief to many people, including the Floyd family, and the black community and its allies, many of them also pointed out that the verdict represented accountability but not necessarily justice, or that it was a first step on a long journey. Justice would have been George Floyd not being killed in the first place.
And what these statements do is broaden out, widen out, the concept of justice, so that it might be considered on a communal level. Justice certainly is something that can be found on an individual level, often through the courts, or some kind of intentional mediation, but it is also important to recognize that justice on an individual level is deeply affected by the systems that govern justice on a communal level. The statements were calling attention to the fact that we can’t call this one verdict “justice” and then be done with it, because that wouldn’t remedy the underlying systemic problems that led to Floyd’s death in the first place.
When I consider these statements, I can’t help but think of a particular quote in the book of Jeremiah, Chapter 6:13-14. Jeremiah is a firebrand, constantly criticizing the nation of Israel for forgetting its covenant with the Lord and taking up the worship of idols. In chapter six he says:
13 “From the least to the greatest, all are greedy for gain; prophets and priests alike, all practice deceit. 14 They dress the wound of my people as though it were not serious. ‘Peace, peace,’ they say, when there is no peace.
Jeremiah is trying to get his people to understand that they should pay attention to the systemic injustice, the habitual marginalization that is occurring within their society. Yet he declares that what he is seeing instead is powerful people trying to cover over the wound of marginalized people and say that everything is fine. And likewise the statements that I referred to earlier about accountability vs justice are trying to say the same thing: that we can’t simply move on now that one person has been held accountable, we can’t dress the wound of systemic injustice as though it were not serious, saying phew it’s all good now just because we wish it were. Instead, these statements are trying to focus our attention towards, rather than justice in one specific case, instead what a just society would look like, how we can help to bring that into being
We heard in our Swedenborg reading that “justice” is not so much a transaction - getting a just outcome in response to a transgression - as it is about being in line with the divine design. *Supporting* justice means bringing back into the divine design things that have fallen away from the design. This way of looking at justice naturally resonates with the statements that we have been referencing. It is a holistic perspective; it inherently begs the question of why and how something has fallen out of the divine design, and additionally, what is required to bring it back into the design, for good and not just for a time.
Now, one basic aspect of the divine design is that human beings are made in the image and likeness of God, with a will and an intellect that is capable of receiving love and wisdom from the Lord. This fact elevates all people into intentional divine belovedness, giving them an inherent and inviolable worthiness that mandates respect and dignity. There is nothing anyone can do to erase that mandate. It is part the divine design. Now, behaviors of all kinds might require certain boundaries and outcomes of differing severity, but the divine design will always also require these be enacted with respect and dignity. There can be no human system of policing or law that does away with basic human rights, that we also can call just, or in alignment with the divine design.
And the question before us all, given that we are all a part of society and can affect its formation, is what do we do when various systems or institutions are clearly out of alignment with the divine design. What can we do to bring them back? This is the communal project that we are faced with one year later. And when systemic racism is embedded deeply in culture, organizations and institutions, it can take a lot of time and persistence to remake these things in a different way. And the point I would like to make today, is that it is really important not to give up. Long-term difficult projects are rarely the kind of project that our ego prefers - not even a tiny bit of instant gratification in sight. The work of racial justice is long journey. Which us back around to our gospel reading.
Jesus was talking to his disciples about what would happen once he went away, once the disciples would be left, as are we, trying to figure out how to live life in a way that ushers in the Lord’s kingdom, that makes space for it, that honors it. That is no small task, especially as time marches on, and the world we live in looks less and less like the world that Jesus lived in. Jesus knew that the disciples, and us, would have many challenges ahead of them, including what to do when they felt confused, abandoned and exhausted. But what Jesus tells them is that the Holy Spirit will be with them. The word he uses, in the Greek paraclete, sometimes translated as Advocate, means literally to come alongside. As we consider all these difficult questions, how to approach this communal project called civilized society, how to approach a commitment to helping the world to become more just and inclusive, to conform to the basic tenets of the divine design, we can know that the Holy Spirit will come alongside, will be with us if we are open to it. From our reading:
13 But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all the truth. 14 He will glorify me because it is from me that he will receive what he will make known to you.
What is key here, is that we cannot be looking to ourselves and our own gain and comfort if we wish to know the truth. Part of being guided into the truth is a willingness to let go of what glorifies us and commit to seeing what glorifies God. In our Pentecost reading last week, we heard about the Holy Spirit coming on a great wind, and what an appropriate metaphor, as time and time again, in our process of regeneration, we must let the spirit of truth sweep away our prejudices, our misconceptions, our stubbornness and our fear.
The truth embodied in God’s divine design will always challenge us because the selfishness of the human ego always leads us away from the divine design, whether that is embodied in our attempts to dominate others, our attempts to ransack the earth’s natural resources, our attempts to accumulate power and wealth and prestige. We have a promise though, that an inexhaustible source of spirit and truth and love will always come alongside us. There is long way to go before we can reach true justice for George Floyd. But the spirit of truth is guiding us along the way.
Psalm 89:1-4, 14-18
1 I will sing of the LORD’s great love forever; with my mouth I will make your faithfulness known through all generations. 2 I will declare that your love stands firm forever, that you have established your faithfulness in heaven itself. 3 You said, “I have made a covenant with my chosen one, I have sworn to David my servant, 4 ‘I will establish your line forever and make your throne firm through all generations.’ ”
14 Righteousness and justice are the foundation of your throne; love and faithfulness go before you. 15 Blessed are those who have learned to acclaim you, who walk in the light of your presence, LORD. 16 They rejoice in your name all day long; they celebrate your righteousness. 17 For you are their glory and strength, and by your favor you exalt our horn. 18 Indeed, our shield belongs to the LORD, our king to the Holy One of Israel.
4 I have told you this, so that when their time comes you will remember that I warned you about them. I did not tell you this from the beginning because I was with you, 5 but now I am going to him who
sent me. None of you asks me, ‘Where are you going?’ 6 Rather, you are filled with grief because I have said these things. 7 But very truly I tell you, it is for your good that I am going away. Unless I go away, the Advocate will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you. 8 When he comes, he will prove the world to be in the wrong about sin and righteousness and judgment: 9 about sin, because people do not believe in me; 10 about righteousness, because I am going to the Father, where you can see me no longer; 11 and about judgment, because the prince of this world now stands condemned. 12 “I have much more to say to you, more than you can now bear. 13 But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all the truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come. 14 He will glorify me because it is from me that he will receive what he will make known to you. 15 All that belongs to the Father is mine. That is why I said the Spirit will receive from me what he will make known to you.”
True Christianity 95
Justice is following the divine design in all that one does, and bringing back into the divine design things that have fallen away from that design. Justice is the divine design itself.
Heaven and Hell 523
The Lord never does anything contrary to his design because he himself is the design. The divine truth that emanates from him is what establishes the design, and divine truths are the laws of the design by which the Lord is leading us…
The divine design is heaven for us. We have distorted it by living contrary to its laws, which are divine truths. The Lord brings us back into the design out of pure mercy, through the laws of the design; and to the extent that we are brought back, we accept heaven into ourselves. Whoever accepts heaven enters heaven.