Readings: Ezekiel 34:1-16, The New Jerusalem and its Heavenly Doctrines #322 (see below)
See also on Youtube at https://youtu.be/Ofny_9LIarI
This really has been quite the week, hasn’t it? The events of Jan 6th were shocking to watch, though to anyone who has been paying attention, not really surprising. I spent the day glued to the television, my heart racing and breaking at the same time. And of course, even though my sermon for today was already half written by that time, I knew I would need to start over. It is times like these that we need to hear words of guidance from our faith and I will do my best to provide something useful.
But first, I want to recognize a necessary tension. There is an intentional and important separation of church and state in our country. This is in order that religion might not dictate politics, so that we might not become a theocracy. But, religion and faith can certainly inform how we understand and evaluate politics, and it is in this spirit that I offer these words today.
Because, actually, the Bible is chock full of politics. Not representative democracy as we know it today, but full of the grappling of human beings around how to govern themselves, what or who to give allegiance to, and how to act, or how not to act, when they are in power. And the Bible has a quite lot to say about what kind of behavior best supports the communal project of human beings living together in this world. This is what politics really is at its philosophical core: the question of how human beings might make the best of this world we are living in together, the question of how we might all work together for the common good.
In a democracy, our leaders are chosen by the people. For the sake of efficiency and efficacy, we choose proxies to act on our behalf, and the work that they do is called government. By virtue of the faith that is given by us to those we choose to represent our interests and our livelihoods, our leaders have power, not just to enact policy but also to model the type of behavior that ensures the respect, integrity and basic enfranchisement upon which our system of government depends.
And I think that this is where faith can powerfully speak in the political realm, not in a moralizing way, but by lifting up the most prevalent metaphor that the bible provides for leadership: the good shepherd.
In the book of Ezekiel, as we heard in our reading today, when God needed to call Israel’s leadership to account, and to communicate about what kind of better leadership was required, God used the image of a shepherd and their flock. Ezekiel writes:
“Woe to you shepherds of Israel who only take care of yourselves! Should not shepherds take care of the flock?” (Ez 34:2)
Yes, of course they must! The most important aspect of being a good shepherd is that they do not put their own needs above those of the sheep. The entire job is to prioritize the needs and the safety of the sheep. It seems so ridiculously simple that I almost cannot believe it needs to be said. I mean, I like a fresh and interesting theological take as much as the next person, but some things are just very simple. The moment the shepherd puts their own needs above those of the sheep, they have abdicated the one thing that makes them a shepherd at all.
So the words of the prophet here are telling us that the most important quality in a leader is being willing to sacrifice self-interest. There are lots of other things that the Ezekiel text tells us should be done by a good shepherd: strengthening the weak, healing the sick, binding up the injured, searching for the lost and rescuing them from all the places they have been scattered, as well as gathering, pasturing, and tending. But of course, the main thrust is that when a shepherd tends to their own self-interest first, they cannot actually do any of the other things in an effective way.
What we have seen the political realm is a President not willing to sacrifice self-interest. We have seen him lying about the election results in order to preserve his own ego and further his own benefit. We have seen members of congress choose to perpetuate those same lies in order to bolster their own political prospects. The culmination of this prioritization of self-interest, was an insurrection against the people’s house, and the endangerment of the people’s representatives. It was an affront to the social contract that makes democracy possible, and it was deeply deeply self-centered. It was exactly the kind of thing that the prophet Ezekiel decried.
Swedenborg wrote about leadership several decades before the American experiment would give the world its brand of (imperfect but hopeful) representative democracy. So when he talks about leadership, he refers to priests, magistrates and kings. But the principles remain the same then as now. We heard in our reading about how a king who considers the law above him, and not himself above the law, is a wise king. He writes as well:
The law which is justice ought to be passed by the wise and God-fearing lawyers of the kingdom, and therefore both the king and his subjects ought to live in accordance with it. A king who lives in accordance with a law that has been passed, and in this sets his subjects an example, is truly king.(1)
The true nature of kingship, of just and good leadership, in parallel to the true nature of good shepherding, is ultimately self-sacrifice, a surrender to the greater good. Real leadership is actually servant leadership.
And we see that Jesus would extend and employ the shepherd metaphor during his ministry, as well. He spoke of the joy in finding lost sheep (Luke 15), he spoke a shepherd separating sheep and goats as a way to describe how important it is to take care of the suffering among us (Matt 25), he spoke of the “good shepherd” as a way to express protection and intimacy and inclusion (John 10). The gospel of Mark speaks of Jesus having compassion on us, as shepherd would have for scattered sheep. (Mark 6)
Jesus would embody the good shepherd, just as God has always done. What did this look like? Interestingly, not necessarily about being “nice.” Servant leadership is not simply about always being polite or well-mannered. Jesus spoke the truth when it needed to be spoken, and he did so clearly. But all his ministry, he did for others and not for himself. He allowed his desire to love and serve others lead him, instead of a desire to be famous or idolized or powerful or even safe. In the end, his love for others led him to do something he would have done anything to avoid. He prayed: “Father if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will but yours be done.” (Luke 22:42)
The sacrifice of self-interest often feels very painful to the ego, and to our sense of self-identity. We all know it is hard. But it is an essential part of the agreement that comes with taking on political leadership, it is an essential part of the social contract in which we confer upon our representatives the power to act on our behalf. It can be tricky work representing any vast and disagreeing constituency, that much is sure. Faults in judgment will necessarily come from all positions on the political spectrum, for leaders will above all, always be human beings. The best of us will never be able to prevent that completely. But each of our leaders, and each of us, are indeed in control of our intent. We are in control of our guiding motivations. And we must not allow clear and corrupt motivations to stand.
Jesus said “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.” (John 10:11)
(1) Emmanuel Swedenborg, The New Jerusalem and its Heavenly Doctrine #323.
1 The word of the LORD came to me: 2 “Son of man, prophesy against the shepherds of Israel; prophesy and say to them: ‘This is what the Sovereign LORD says: Woe to you shepherds of Israel who only take care of yourselves! Should not shepherds take care of the flock? 3 You eat the curds, clothe yourselves with the wool and slaughter the choice animals, but you do not take care of the flock. 4 You have not strengthened the weak or healed the sick or bound up the injured. You have not brought back the strays or searched for the lost. You have ruled them harshly and brutally. 5 So they were scattered because there was no shepherd, and when they were scattered they became food for all the wild animals. 6 My sheep wandered over all the mountains and on every high hill. They were scattered over the whole earth, and no one searched or looked for them. 7 “ ‘Therefore, you shepherds, hear the word of the LORD: 8 As surely as I live, declares the Sovereign LORD, because my flock lacks a shepherd and so has been plundered and has become food for all the wild animals, and because my shepherds did not search for my flock but cared for themselves rather than for my flock, 9 therefore, you shepherds, hear the word of the LORD: 10 This is what the Sovereign LORD says: I am against the shepherds and will hold them accountable for my flock. I will remove them from tending the flock so that the shepherds can no longer feed themselves. I will rescue my flock from their mouths, and it will no longer be food for them. 11 “‘For this is what the Sovereign LORD says: I myself will search for my sheep and look after them. 12 As a shepherd looks after his scattered flock when he is with them, so will I look after my sheep. I will rescue them from all the places where they were scattered on a day of clouds and darkness. 13 I will bring them out from the nations and gather them from the countries, and I will bring them into their own land. I will pasture them on the mountains of Israel, in the ravines and in all the settlements in the land. 14 I will tend them in a good pasture, and the mountain heights of Israel will be their grazing land. There they will lie down in good grazing land, and there they will feed in a rich pasture on the mountains of Israel. 15 I myself will tend my sheep and have them lie down, declares the Sovereign LORD. 16 I will search for the lost and bring back the strays. I will bind up the injured and strengthen the weak, but the sleek and the strong I will destroy. I will shepherd the flock with justice.
The New Jerusalem and its Heavenly Doctrine #322
Royalty consists in governing in accordance with the kingdom's laws, and in judging justly in accordance with them. A king who looks upon the laws as above him is wise; one who looks upon himself as above the laws is not. A king who looks upon the laws as above him attributes royalty to the law, and the law is his master. For he knows that law is justice, and all justice which is truly justice is Divine. One, however, who regards himself as above the laws, attributes royalty to himself and either believes himself to be the law or the law which is justice to be from himself. Thus he claims for himself what is God's, when he ought to be subject to it.
Readings: Luke 2:22-40, True Christianity #530 (see below)
See also on Youtube at youtu.be/2GHEan1cVbE
Has anyone heard of “The Comfy?” This is a fun present that my daughter got for her birthday this year. It is basically a big cozy blanket that you can wear like an enormous sweater. It is soft on the outside, and fuzzy on the inside, with a hood and everything, so one feels cocooned and warm wherever they might be. And I know that this year especially, we may well have wrapped ourselves in the fuzzy sweet warmth of Christmas, because we have really needed it. But the lectionary doesn’t usually allow us to stay in the soft sweetness of Christmas for long. It bids us emerge, to wrap our heads around what Jesus’ birth really meant, to the people then and to us now.
For, yes indeed, it is very moving, that God would become so vulnerable for our sake. And we react instinctively to the beauty and vulnerability of babies; then add the notion of someone so powerful, like God, choosing to become so vulnerable for love of us, and Christmas is just made to get us in the feels.
But the story of the incarnation is not just about closeness, not just about solidarity, or God wrapping us up in hug. This is mainly what we, very appropriately, see when we take in the broad view, from a distance. We see God coming down, the stable and manger with the star above, the shepherds on a hill with the angel host in the sky. At Christmas we see the grand sweep of things. I do often preach God’s closeness and presence, because it is such a comfort. But that is not all that God was up to with the incarnation. Closeness and presence are part of a loving response, a very important part, but it is not always the only part.
So, now it time to zoom in a little closer on the incarnation. What exactly does the Christmas message of God’s presence and love tell us? As Simeon prophecies, it won’t all be warm peaceful fuzzies. The baby will grow up, and have a world-changing ministry, one that demonstrates what happens to us when we actually, truly, allow God’s presence into our lives. Simeon describes (as did Mary in her Magnificat) a great revealing, he describes opposition and confrontation, and he describes sacrifice.
And so we see that the incarnation is not only peace and joy. We see that God *does* mean to console us, but that God is not content with a “there there” bandaid kind of consolation that feels nice in the moment but that we can forget the rest of the year. With the incarnation, God intended for us to be given a blueprint for true healing and true transformation, something that gives us lasting consolation. Such true healing, true transformation, often requires something that doesn’t feel peaceful and happy at first: confrontation and change.
Fr. Richard Rohr describes the process..
“When the Scriptures are used maturely, and they become a precursor to meeting the Christ, they proceed in this order:
1. They confront us with a bigger picture than we are used to: God’s kingdom that has the potential to deconstruct our false world views.
2. They then have the power to convert us to an alternative worldview by proclamation, grace, and the sheer attraction of the good, the true and the beautiful (not by shame, guilt or fear).
3. They then console us and bring deep healing as they reconstruct us in a new place with a new mind and heart.”(1)
The Christmas story begins with signaling where the process is going (Peace, goodwill to all people) but then Jesus starts living his life, and that life leads us to the necessary deconstruction and reorganization that needs to occur before the reconstruction of our new selves can happen.
Swedenborg calls this process repentance, reformation and regeneration.
So first: Repentance, Swedenborg calls this the beginning of the church within us.(2) He rightly points out that it is not the same thing as as contrition or confession, which are just words; important words, but still just words. We teach our children to say “I’m sorry” when they have hurt someone, but only as a precursor to actually being sorry, having empathy, for the one who has been hurt. And so repentance might begin with words but it is a larger process than that. It is a process of examining ourselves in the light God’s Bigger Picture, as Rohr puts it, recognizing and admitting our sins, but then also actually starting to act in a new way that no longer hurts others.
Then, reformation: As we act in this new way, that no longer adversely affects others, our selfhood is reorganized by the Lord. Our willingness to act differently creates an opening and we are re-formed little by little. For change cannot always be instantaneous, we all have habits and perspectives that take time to be reshaped and relearned, and this will feel messy, but when we offer our intention and follow-though consistently and faithfully, then God does something beautiful with that offering.
And finally: regeneration, a re-birth. We are all served in some way by our sinful ways and perspectives; we receive ego-safety, praise, power, or any number of perceived benefits. And we will continue to feel the allure of that, even as we repent, even as work to act differently. Sometimes that might mean we feel like we are just going through the motions, but when we do this for the sake of others, it is a good thing. The end point of reformation, though, of the reorganization of our selfhood, is that eventually we will do what is right and good naturally, easily, spontaneously because it is all that want. The peace and joy and consolation flows, because we no longer captive to what serves our lower self.
This is the shape of our spiritual journeys, a shape modeled by Jesus for us, played out over and over again in large and small ways. There are parts of this procedure that feel scary, but this is what faith is, submission to a larger process that we believe in, even when it is not clear how exactly it will play out, but knowing that regeneration, consolation, is on the way if we are have the willingness and the courage to do the work of allowing repentance, and staying present to reformation. Regeneration, in essence, is constantly being born again, and this is how Christmas morning becomes unfettered from the day called December 25th, this is how Christmas becomes available to us any time, and all the time. This is what Jesus came for, not the gift of one day, but a gift for all days.
Even though we have zoomed in on the process, the peace, joy and consolation that we see in the wider view of the Christmas story is definitely still there. It is the undercurrent, it is the engine, it is the endgame, it holds all of the rest in place. But peace, joy and consolation have to come from somewhere to have real meaning in our lives, and they come from this process.
The book of the prophet Malachi is the final book in the Old Testament, and among its final verses are thus: “See I will send the prophet Elijah to you before that great and dreadful day of the Lord comes.” This is what we are left with right before we begin the story of Jesus’ birth. The work of God in us feels both great and terrible. But just because it feels terrible, doesn’t mean that God isn’t present to it, working in and through it. Simeon spoke of falling and rising, and a sword that will pierce Mary’s heart, but he also said “My eyes have seen your salvation” and that was enough for him to feel like he could leave this world in peace. Soon, that salvation would unfold, available to us all:
“And the child grew and became strong; he was filled with wisdom, and grace of God was on him.” Amen.
(1) Richard Rohr, Preparing for Christmas: Daily Meditations for Advent, 85.
(2) Emmanuel Swedenborg, True Christianity #510
22 When the time came for the purification rites required by the Law of Moses, Joseph and Mary took him to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord 23 (as it is written in the Law of the Lord, “Every firstborn male is to be consecrated to the Lord” ), 24 and to offer a sacrifice in keeping with what is said in the Law of the Lord: “a pair of doves or two young pigeons.” 25 Now there was a man in Jerusalem called Simeon, who was righteous and devout. He was waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was on him. 26 It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not die before he had seen the Lord’s Messiah. 27 Moved by the Spirit, he went into the temple courts. When the parents brought in the child Jesus to do for him what the custom of the Law required, 28 Simeon took him in his arms and praised God, saying: 29 “Sovereign Lord, as you have promised, you may now dismiss your servant in peace. 30 For my eyes have seen your salvation, 31 which you have prepared in the sight of all nations: 32 a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and the glory of your people Israel.” 33 The child’s father and mother marveled at what was said about him. 34 Then Simeon blessed them and said to Mary, his mother: “This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against, 35 so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your own soul too.” 36 There was also a prophet, Anna, the daughter of Penuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was very old; she had lived with her husband seven years after her marriage, 37 and then was a widow until she was eighty-four. She never left the temple but worshiped night and day, fasting and praying. 38 Coming up to them at that very moment, she gave thanks to God and spoke about the child to all who were looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem. 39 When Joseph and Mary had done everything required by the Law of the Lord, they returned to Galilee to their own town of Nazareth. 40 And the child grew and became strong; he was filled with wisdom, and the grace of God was on him.
True Christianity 530
The question then is, How are we to repent? The answer is, we are to do so actively. That is, we are to examine ourselves, recognize and admit to our sins, pray to the Lord, and begin a new life…
…Afterward, if we abstain from one sin or another that we have discovered in ourselves, this is enough to make our repentance real. When we reach this point, we are on the pathway to heaven, because we begin to turn from an earthly person into a spiritual person and to be born anew with the help of the Lord.
Readings: 2 Samuel 7:1-11, 16, Luke 1:26-38, Divine Providence 96:5 (see below)
See also on Youtube at: youtu.be/gS2skIJHw1Y
Today we visit with King David, just after he has defeated the Philistines, brought the Ark of the Covenant to Jerusalem and settled into his new reign as king. David finally receives a break from war, and turns his mind to how he can glorify the Lord. He decides that it is time to build a temple for God, for the ark still remains in the tabernacle as it always has, essentially in a tent.
David clearly has good intentions. He has been faithful, he has battled hard for the Lord, and surely now the time would be right to erect a monument to God, to place his people’s most cherished possession within a building that reflects its value in earthly terms.
But the Lord sends a message to David via the prophet Nathan, and asks: Are you the one to build me a house to live in? There is much contained within this one sentence of gentle chiding. God draws David away from any grandiose plans he might have had, and reminds him that God has never asked for a grand temple. God has been present through every step of the Israelite’s journeys and will continue with them. That has never been in question. God instead turns the question to David’s purpose and inclination.
Though David has a rest from battle now, throughout the rest of the book of 2 Samuel, he will be plagued with challenges, many of his own making. Part of what makes David such a relatable and beloved character is that he is both flawed and faithful; he is powerfully human. And perhaps this explains the Lord’s response. David will have plenty to contend with in the coming years. Very soon he will greatly displease the Lord by committing adultery with Bathsheba, and deliberately putting her husband in harms way. The Lord knew that David had some very different building he needed to do. David had faith already; what he needed to do was build his own ability to live according to that faith.
Swedenborg writes that a building houses in the word can metaphorically relate to the building of our own willingness and intentionality.(1) David had brought much glory to the Lord already in battle, had brought together the tribes of Israel and made them into a powerful nation. He knew what God had done for him and his people, he knew the truth of God’s power and steadfastness, and he believed in it deeply. But he had not integrated that belief with his actions in a personal way.
In the Word the good that exists with a person is compared to 'a house', and for that reason one who is governed by good is called 'the House of God’.(2)
David wanted to build a literal house for God, which was a fine idea, but he had forgotten about building a house for God out of his life. Even as he ruled, he would often govern by what was best for him, rather than being governed by what was best for others.
And this why it would be David’s son, King Solomon, who would build the temple. David had established himself as a king through war, whereas the name Solomon is derived from the Hebrew word for “peace.” An adversarial mindset cannot build a house in which God can be worshiped. David even delivered Solomon detailed plans for the temple. But goodness and peace and love must build the temple. For love followed-through-on is what builds the house, the structure, the habits, the perspectives, in which God is truly worshipped, not just our ideas about what is good. We build the temple, the temple of our lives, day by day, when we are able to focus on embodying love to those around us, leaving the world just a little better than we found it; this is how our selfhood becomes a house in which God is glorified.
It is tempting to default to a sense that David was not “good enough.” But that is not what it is about. It is not about earning our salvation, brick by brick. It is about recognizing that we are progressively transformed by the steps we take on each of our journeys. When God asked: “Are you the one who would build me a house to live in?” it is not meant to be framed as a rhetorical measurement, but rather as a reflection; did David understand what building God a house would mean? Fr. Richard Rohr writes:
We all tend to aim for the goal instead of the journey itself, but spiritually speaking, how we get there is where we arrive. The journey determines the final destination. If we manipulate our way, we end up with a manipulated, self-made god. If we allow ourselves to be drawn and chosen by love, we might just end up with the real God.(3)
And this why the temple was not important to God, why God never asked for it to be built. To God, the covenant was the thing that was important, and the covenant was just as active and relevant in a tent as in a temple. God was interested in how faithfulness to the covenant might lead each person might bring glory to God in their own hearts, minds and lives.
This will be brought into an even fuller representation by Mary, betrothed to a descendent of David himself, many hundreds of years later, when her body would actually build a space for God to dwell inside. By this time the temple David had proposed had long been built, and was the center of Jewish life in Jerusalem. Surely the Lord must have been content with that grandest of buildings? But no, this is the point, of course. It is God's intent to dwell with us, personally, in the fullest of possible ways. The Lord does automatically dwell with us, inherently, within our will and our intellect, and the freedom that exists there.(4) This is how we are all images and likeness of the Lord. But God is not content to dwell like a boarder in the guest room, but wishes to dwell as someone who shares the life of the household. The fullness of God’s dwelling with us, the efficacy of it, the realness of it, depends on our response. When God reaches out, what do we do?
This time, Mary’s answer to the question Are you the one to build me a house to live in? was a resounding yes! Her song that follows our reading for today, known as The Magnificat, makes clear that she understood what the coming of the Lord would mean, in her own life, and in the life of the whole world. She said: I am the Lord’s servant, may your word to me be fulfilled. None of us will be called to build an actual temple, or to gestate the incarnation of God, but we are called a mystical embodiment of God’s love nonetheless. We all place a plank in our own house of God every time we try to bring some goodness into the world. This is the kind of worship that God cherishes.
God’s question to David really is the most perfect of Advent questions: Are you the one to build me a house to live in? May we receive the question as David, hearing any gentle chiding that we might need to hear, any adjustments to our perspective that need to me made, any follow-through to which we need to commit, any hypocrisy we need to abandon, any stubbornness we need to let go of, any indifference we need to relinquish.
And may we hear also the question as Mary, as one who would say yes, yes to opening our minds wide for the coming of the Lord, yes to how that will stretch and grow our hearts, yes to building a dwelling place for God deep within us, a home where our very life is worship, a house where every moment is praise. Amen.
Photo credit: Felix Mittermeier
Readings: Psalm 139:1-14, John 1:1-11, 14-18, Heaven and Hell #589:2-3 (see below)
See also on Youtube at: https://youtu.be/P47Pkq8lXlU
Our text for today is a beloved advent reading. It reflects some very traditional and meaningful language, particularly prevalent in the gospel of John: darkness and light. Lots the ways that we talk about Advent and Christmas center on darkness and light - Jesus is called the light of the world, we hold candlelight services, we delight in our twinkly Christmas decorations set off majestically by the blackness of night. Not only moths, but we humans are drawn to bright lights, especially set off by dark surroundings. Perhaps this is an evolutionary longing, for at nighttime, we are surrounded by stars in a dark sky.
The gospel of John does not begin with the traditional nativity story. Instead, the author takes us back to the very beginning of the bible, linking the significance of Jesus’ birth to the story of creation, and extending the same language of light and dark in Genesis to the coming of the Lord. Lightness and darkness is powerful metaphorical language. And, while during advent we use it in a theological context, this is not the only context in which the words are used, of course. Lightness and darkness is part of our daily experience of the world, and we use those words to describe the world around us, in both useful and harmful ways. To quote the Rev. Dr. Will Gafney: “it is far too easy for us as Americans to hear those words through our history of race and racism. We are taught from a young age that everything light and white is good and everything dark and black is bad. Even when we are not thinking about it, it is in the back of our minds. Race is always in the room for us.”(1)
So I thought we might take some time today expand our awareness of the way culture places a judgment and a burden upon the words darkness and blackness, and how, if we use our theological imaginations, we might excavate something deeper and more meaningful from an exploration of the notion of darkness. In the phrasing of Rev. Howard Thurman, we might come to appreciate “The Luminous Darkness.”
So, I do want to say that employing darkness and light language in a theological way is not wrong. It is actually deeply resonant with the experience of all human beings, simply because of the way our eyes work, biologically. We have all had the experience of being in the literal dark, and not having certain information about our surroundings because we cannot see it - there is not enough light for our eyes to process the information. Then, when some light becomes present, new information appears to our comprehension. It is easy and natural to extend this as a metaphor for both our intellectual and emotional experience, and Swedenborg in particular, does this a lot. Intellectually, we describe coming to understand something as “seeing the light,” or conversely, being in dark as a state of obscurity or of not understanding. And emotionally, the presence of light is deeply comforting. Being in the dark (both physically and mentally) can feel scary. I remember myself as a child, at an age way older than I would have liked to admit it, sleeping with the light on at night because I was so unsettled by the dark. Or how even now, I dread the ending of daylight savings each year because of how it makes 5pm feel like midnight. Light can be such a comfort to us. Just think of how mesmerizing and meditative it is to stare into the dancing fire of a fireplace.
But, there can also be other experiences of darkness, just as there can be other experiences of light. I can additionally recall from childhood, growing up in the country, away from city lights, how spectacular the stars were. The extreme darkness of the night sky delivered forth an unparalleled view of the universe that we inhabit. Here, the light from Philly obscures my view, prevents me from seeing what is really out there in the night sky, prevents me from experiencing the awe and the beauty and the connection that is available in a darker context.
Or consider the fact that many seeds require darkness to germinate. It is fascinating, but the presence of light actually inhibits the production of a chemical that causes germination, that prompts the seed to start growing. Or, another similar example: the womb. We all, each of us, as much as we might fear the dark out here in the world, have had an essential experience of mothering darkness, of soft and safe darkness, the darkness in which we were formed.
So, in as much as some experiences of light and dark might suggest to us certain metaphorical meanings, they cannot necessarily express the whole of spiritual experience. Just as Father/Son religious language elucidates some aspects of God’s nature, it also obscures other aspects; this is just how metaphorical language works. Habit and ritual has led us in one direction in understanding darkness, particularly during Advent, but clearly, there is much more to be excavated from the notion. When Swedenborg talks of correspondences, his particular moniker for the metaphorical and spiritual meaning of words in the bible, he repeatedly says that each word or thing has both a positive and negative correspondence. While we might for the most part associate darkness with obscurity, the examples earlier show that, particularly when coupled with warmth, that darkness can also represent a state of productive readiness.
To quote the Rev. Dr. Kelle Brown:
I am utterly convinced that God is up to something in the pitch black nights of our lives, in the womb of our own souls and being. There is something gossamer and brilliant about the night in God, and in the promises that only come in the dark. We are being born! (2)
When we consider the text from John, we see that he was co-opting the word darkness to describe aspects of the world as he saw it: a world that was in obscurity, a world that didn’t understand, a world that needed help. We are told the darkness did not comprehend the light. Other translations say the darkness did not overcome or overtake the light. Parts of us, parts of all of us, will always be resistant to Jesus’ message of love, will cling to our misunderstandings, will prove that we cannot hear what we are not ready to hear. We all know that information, truth, illumination is not always enough to get through to a resistant heart.
But the light spoke to some. The light continues to speak even now. And so we must ask: what was happening in the darkness to make them ready, to make us ready, for the coming the light? Darkness is not synonymous with nothingness. It is not that God was absent from the world until Jesus’ birth. God has been present with the world from the beginning. And so we can return to the creation story that is suggested by John to see another way of understanding the darkness. In the words of Wil Gafney:
We are afraid of the dark but God is not. Darkness is a creative space to God. Out of darkness God created everything that is, including light.(3) Or in the words of Kelle Brown:
The vast and nurturing embrace of blackness birthed the light. I contend that the dark is where God begins God’s work with and in us. It is but the inside of the chalice where the sacrament of communion with God occurs.(4)
Darkness is not always something to endure or to fight against. Darkness allied with coldness of heart is debilitating and destructive indeed. Darkness allied with stubbornness and self-righteousness is thick and impenetrable. But darkness allied with warmth, darkness as the matrix which makes creation possible, darkness as a precursor and foundation to state of productive readiness, this is darkness that allows us to see what we cannot see in the light. It allows us to see differently, like my childhood starry nights away from the city.
But in the words of Rev. Dr. Wil Gafney once more, “somewhere along the way we were taught to fear the dark, to fear the night, to fear the holy blackness that is the swaddling blanket of creation.” (5) We don’t have to, though. This advent, as we wait in the darkness, and look for the coming of the light, may we know and understand that sometimes the darkness has a holy purpose. If we wish it, the darkness prepares us for whatever our next stage might be. For the word became flesh and dwelt among us. How did the word become flesh? By spending time in the warm productive darkness, the womb of Mary. The light of the world formed in mothering darkness.
Even the darkness will not be dark to you; for the night will shine like the day, for darkness is as light to you. (Psalm 139:12)
1 You have searched me, LORD, and you know me. 2 You know when I sit and when I rise; you perceive my thoughts from afar. 3 You discern my going out and my lying down; you are familiar with all my ways. 4 Before a word is on my tongue you, LORD, know it completely. 5 You hem me in behind and before, and you lay your hand upon me. 6 Such knowledge is too wonderful for me, too lofty for me to attain. 7 Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence? 8 If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there. 9 If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, 10 even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast. 11 If I say, “Surely the darkness will hide me and the light become night around me,” 12 even the darkness will not be dark to you; the night will shine like the day, for darkness is as light to you. 13 For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. 14 I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well.
John 1:1-11, 14-18
1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was with God in the beginning. 3 Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. 4 In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. 5 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. 6 There was a man sent from God whose name was John. 7 He came as a witness to testify concerning that light, so that through him all might believe. 8 He himself was not the light; he came only as a witness to the light. 9 The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world. 10 He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. 11 He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him…14 The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth. 15 (John testified concerning him. He cried out, saying, “This is the one I spoke about when I said, ‘He who comes after me has surpassed me because he was before me.’ ”) 16 Out of his fullness we have all received grace in place of grace already given. 17 For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. 18 No one has ever seen God, but the one and only Son, who is himself God and is in closest relationship with the Father, has made him known.
Heaven and Hell #589:2-3
 Every event, or every result, happens in an equilibrium, or happens by one force acting and another allowing itself to be acted upon, or by one force actively flowing in and the other accepting and yielding appropriately.
In the natural world, what acts and reacts is called force or energy, but in the spiritual world what acts and reacts is called life and volition. Life there is a living force and volition is a living energy, and the actual equilibrium is called a state of freedom. This spiritual balance or freedom occurs, then, between the good acting from the one side and the evil reacting from the other, or from the evil acting on the one side and the good reacting from the other.
…The reason the spiritual balance is between good and evil is that all human life has to do with good and evil, and our volition is their recipient vessel.
There is also a balance between what is true and what is false, but this is secondary to the balance between good and evil. The balance between the true and the false is like the balance between light and darkness, whose effect on members of the vegetable kingdom depends on the amount of warmth or cold there is in the light or darkness. You can tell that the light and shade themselves do not accomplish anything, only the warmth they bring, from looking at like amounts of light and darkness in winter and in spring.
Readings: Isaiah 64:1-5, 8, Mark 13:24-36, Apocalypse Revealed #158 (see below)
See also on Youtube at youtu.be/yqbpywRGtHg
Our lectionary readings for today are ones that have several different themes that could be fruitfully explored. For today though, the one that stood out to me was unsurprisingly, watchfulness, or vigilance. Hmmm, I wonder why that might be? Well, we have all been brought into a new level of vigilance these days with the pandemic. We make sure not to forget our mask when we go out, we make sure to watch our hands regularly or use hand sanitizer, especially when in public places. We remain vigilant about keeping our physical distance, about guidelines for gathering, about case counts and positivity rates, about news of a vaccine.
And, as evidenced by the number of memes circulating about the awfulness of 2020, most people are not enjoying this new level of watchfulness. For those lucky enough to have not yet experienced a covid-related illness, we are still communally experiencing this new level of vigilance as a kind of low-grade trauma, compounded by the sense that we don’t exactly know when it will end.
And now advent introduces the theme of watchfulness, as well. Yeesh. That feels like a lot. But resistance often times be a sign that there is something interesting to be excavated, so let us explore.
First, we need to place the text within its narrative context. Earlier in the chapter, the Jesus had predicted the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem, and the disciples ask him when it might happen, and how they will know that is going to happen. As he often does, Jesus gives answer that speaks to spiritual realities, rather than earthly ones. He describes a time of both distress and promise, using several different metaphors, and ends with a directive that his disciples must pay attention, be watchful. This is a directive in keeping with the way the disciples are portrayed in the gospel of Mark: constantly misunderstanding what Jesus is doing. In the very next chapter, they will fall asleep while Jesus prays in the garden of Gethsemane, and Simon is rebuked: “Couldn’t you keep watch for one hour?” Mark’s disciples need to hear this admonition, for they are in danger of being too complacent in the face of what is to come.
But, the bible does not always preach watchfulness. For example, in the gospel of Luke we are told:
22 … “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life…25 Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to your life?…27 “Consider how the wild flowers grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you, not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. 28 If that is how God clothes the grass of the field…how much more will he clothe you—you of little faith!
Or, from our reading today, from Isaiah…We are the clay, you are the potter…(v.8)
These verses speak of a God who already has everything in hand, the implication being that peace of mind comes from trusting this reality. Likewise, as we heard in our reading a few weeks ago, Swedenborg writes of Divine Providence saying “it constantly has in view what is eternal and is constantly leading to salvation,” though both joyful and miserable times(1). So which is it then? Are we to be watchful, awake, on guard, checking to see if we will miss something, looking out as if we might be suddenly surprised? Or should we be trusting and faithful and not worry?
Well, clearly it depends on what we are already doing, and what our natural tendencies might be. For those who tend towards just going with the flow, or who find themselves always being unreasonably optimistic, or who have fallen into numb, apathetic or uninspired states, as we all do at times, then it *is* important to be told to stay awake. Complacency can blind us to what God is trying to do, for us and for the world. And there are many times when prioritizing our own comfort causes us to be unawake to the suffering of others.
But what if we are already being vigilant and watchful? In this case, the stark urgency of the Mark parable might be less than helpful, might cause the vice grip on our hearts to tighten even further, might tempt us to take on more vigilance than is actually called for, might tempt us into the belief that we could actually thwart God’s purposes by not being watchful enough. We might come to believe that it all depends on us, that the power to make everything okay belongs with us. This is a difficult psychological burden to bear, as well as being untrue.
And so of course, I think we are being invited into a more nuanced take on watchfulness, and we can see this in one of the metaphors that Jesus used: the fig tree. He said:
“As soon as its twigs get tender and its leaves come out, you know that summer is near…you know that it [or he] is near, right at the door.” (v. 28-29)
What does Jesus tell us to look for? Tenderness, softness, new life. Sometimes, when we are not paying attention, God’s presence will seem like a surprise, and especially if we are being called to repentance, then that surprise will not seem pleasant. But what the fig metaphor tells us is that ultimately, it is only surprising *because* of our inattention, not because God is inherently unpredictable. God is always present where there is the potential for new life, and where it is actively being born. God is always present to new possibility, to vulnerability, to tenderness, to growth. This is the sign that God is near. And this can be good news to the naturally watchful as well, those for whom watchfulness has quietly become powered by anxiety, and burden, and taking on too much. This watchfulness can be reframed as an offering; it does not need to be a bulwark against unpredictability. It can become the seeking of the new bud, the new leaf, the new promise, and all that is contained within such newness. Viewed through the lens of new creation, curiosity and diligence need not always need to be partnered by anxiety, for new life finds grows not only in cultivated spaces but in places we could never expect.
We see this reflected in our reading for today, in which Swedenborg indicates that the representation of being watchful is the living of a life according to the truths of faith, that it is diligently taking what we know to be true, and acting in accordance, in large ways and in small. This kind of watchfulness is not so much about making sure that bad things don’t happen, like the servant on watch at the door. It is rather, instead of just going through the motions of life, actively paying attention to how we can shape our lives into something that glorifies God, that actualizes truth, and embodies love. We *can* miss opportunities to do this if we are not alert and careful. And those missed opportunities can have consequences. It is not like there is no risk to living our lives. But God will always circle back around. Divine Providence 323 tells us that God cannot do otherwise:
…Everyone is created to live forever in a blessed state. This means that everyone is created to go to heaven. Divine love cannot do otherwise than intend this and divine wisdom cannot do otherwise than provide for this.
However we come into the practice of prayerful and faithful watchfulness this Advent season, whether it is by being shaken awake from our complacency, or though the cleansing breath that settles our anxiety, may our eyes ever be open to what is budding and getting ready to unfurl and bloom, even in difficult times. For we are indeed clay in the hands of our master potter, but a strange and magical clay that can share in the artisan’s vision. God leans over the potters wheel and whispers to us the words of our formation. And if we are awake enough to hear, we can offer in response our submission, our joyful acquiescence, to the shape of what we are becoming. The watchful soul; an ally to the act of creation. Amen.
(1) Emmanuel Swedenborg, Secrets of Heaven #8560
Isaiah 64:1-5, 8
1 Oh, that you would rend the heavens and come down, that the mountains would tremble before you! 2 As when fire sets twigs ablaze and causes water to boil, come down to make your name known to your enemies and cause the nations to quake before you! 3 For when you did awesome things that we did not expect, you came down, and the mountains trembled before you. 4 Since ancient times no one has heard, no ear has perceived, no eye has seen any God besides you, who acts on behalf of those who wait for him. 5 You come to the help of those who gladly do right, who remember your ways. But when we continued to sin against them, you were angry. How then can we be saved?…8 Yet you, LORD, are our Father. We are the clay, you are the potter; we are all the work of your hand.
24 “But in those days, following that distress, “ ‘the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light; 25 the stars will fall from the sky, and the heavenly bodies will be shaken.’ 26 “At that time people will see the Son of Man coming in clouds with great power and glory. 27 And he will send his angels and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of the heavens.
28 “Now learn this lesson from the fig tree: As soon as its twigs get tender and its leaves come out, you know that summer is near. 29 Even so, when you see these things happening, you know that it is near, right at the door. 30 Truly I tell you, this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened. 31 Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away.
32 “But about that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. 33 Be on guard! Be alert! You do not know when that time will come. 34 It’s like a man going away: He leaves his house and puts his servants in charge, each with their assigned task, and tells the one at the door to keep watch. 35 “Therefore keep watch because you do not know when the owner of the house will come back—whether in the evening, or at midnight, or when the rooster crows, or at dawn. 36 If he comes suddenly, do not let him find you sleeping.
Apocalypse Revealed #158.
"'Be watchful.'" This symbolically means that they should have truths and live in accordance with them.
To be watchful has precisely this symbolic meaning in the Word, for a person who learns truths and lives according to them is like someone who awakens from sleep and becomes alert. By contrast, a person who lacks truths, but who is engaged simply in worship, is like someone who is asleep and dreaming.
Natural life, regarded in itself or apart from spiritual life, is really no more than a state of sleep, whereas natural life that contains spiritual life is a state of alertness. This alertness, moreover, is obtained only through truths - truths which appear in their own light and in their own clarity when a person lives in accordance with them.
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See also on Youtube here
This is the last week before advent, and so we come to the last of our stories about the Children of Israel (for now). We find ourselves in the book of Judges. Two weeks ago we heard about Joshua’s final speech before his death, in which he encouraged his people to renew their covenant to the Lord, having prevailed in establishing them in the promised land. This, unfortunately, represented a high note from which the book of Judges progressively declines.
The stories in this book all follow a recognizable cycle: the Children of Israel experience a triumph of some kind and a renewal of faith and practice, as in where we left off with Joshua. But over time they fall away into idolatry and evil. As a result, they find themselves challenged by some adversary, which is attributed to God as a punishment for their transgression. They cry out to the Lord for help, and the Lord lifts up a warrior-leader to lead them out of their suffering and oppression and into a time of new thriving for their community. This warrior-leader was also called a Judge, and would often lead them in both battles, and in adjudicating internal disagreements in peacetime. And then, whenever that Judge died and Israel was without leadership for a time, then the cycle would begin again. Each cycle would prove a little more difficult to recover from, and by the end of the book of Judges, Israel is in pretty bad shape.
But in our text today, the beginning of the story of Deborah, things are still pretty good for Israel. Deborah herself is of note because she was the only female Judge, and by all accounts was a wise and successful leader. We are told that Israel is struggling against Canaan, and against Sisera, the leader of the Canaanite army. Deborah deputizes a man named Barak to lead the Israelites in battle against Sisera, but he expresses uncertainty about his mission, and desires Deborah to accompany him, which she does. The Israelites are eventually victorious but not in an entirely conventional way. Sisera is ultimately killed, yes, but by a civilian women named Jael, which is also another story for another day.
Given that we are on the threshold of Thanksgiving, today I would like to focus on the representation of Deborah and how her example can invite us into the practice of gratitude. In verse 14:
“Then Deborah said to Barak, “Go! This is the day the Lord has given Sisera into your hands. Has not the Lord gone ahead of you?”
This is a typical and expected speech from a leader for the purpose of encouraging their troops. But she does it in a particular way, as many leaders of Israel had done: by reminding the people of their history and the stories of their ancestors. Just as the Lord went ahead of the Israelites in a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night, when they were escaping Pharaoh in Exodus 13:21, just as the Lord has shown up for their ancestors, so too would the Lord show up for them now, and deliver them a victory.
In a similar way, in its essence, thanksgiving for us is a practice of remembrance. In order to be thankful for something that has happened, we must recall that thing, lift it up in our memory, see its place in our life, and understand it’s significance to us. We make the decision to notice and remember, to give a particular occurrence some special meaning. And what happens to us as a result? The act of thanksgiving changes us: changes our perspective, changes how we interpret our current circumstances and our future possibilities.
In our Swedenborg reading, we heard how setting out ahead, or going out ahead by God, represents a setting in order, a rearrangement of our internal selves by Divine Truth. Deborah, as she asks us the question “Has not the Lord gone ahead of you?” brings into focus how the act of thankful remembrance sets our view of things in a different order. Gratitude places different things before our eyes than grievance. When we see the truth, the Divine Truth, of God’s presence in our lives, a reordering of our experience occurs, and we often can appreciate it in a new way.
And while we can be grateful about all kinds of things, Deborah specifically represents an “affection for inner spiritual truths which look to the Lord as our Savior.” (1) We can be grateful for luck, we can be grateful for happenstance, but Deborah represents a gratitude that is specifically centered around recognizing God’s providence for us. And I don’t know about all of you, but I really need this practice right now.
Because, while I super love spending time with one of the most powerful female figures in the Bible, I find myself as many of you probably do too, resonating with the uncertainty of Barak. He says: “If you go with me, I will go; but if you don’t go with me, I won’t go.” As we all head into very uncertain times together but apart, as we head into a holiday season that probably will not contain as many of the social rituals that we have come to rely upon, as we look toward a potentially difficult winter, and we all grapple with isolation and disruption, we certainly might wonder: What kind of battle are we being sent into? Like Barak, we might need some reassurance. This is totally okay. Barak looks toward the leadership he needs and desires that this leadership accompany him into the challenge to come. I can imagine this being like us looking around us to see what we can bring with us to fortify us, without which we will not go forward into the unknown. Things like: a mediation or prayer practice, alternative ways to connect with loved ones, making sure we get outside in nature, making ourselves nourishing and favorite foods, and multitude of other things we each differently need.
And Deborah’s answer is yes, I will go. These external practices that remind us of the presence of God, the strength of our bodies, the blessedness of our friendships, the beauty of the world, these things are very good for us. They make a huge difference. There is a wisdom to knowing our limits, foreseeing what we might need, asking for help, enacting a strategy for success. And right now, it is probably pretty important that we be metaphorically asking for Deborah to accompany us on our journeys.
But crucially and additionally, Deborah works to widen our view even further, being as she is the “affection for inner spiritual truths which look to the Lord as our Savior,” she helps us to recognize that our life will always be a partnership between ourselves and the Lord. We will do our part, and the Lord will do the Lord’s part. And in our day to day, in our distractedness and necessary earthliness, we will not always be able to see the Lord’s part, or appreciate it. So Deborah lifts up for us the question: How has the Lord gone ahead of us? If we allow it, this question can rearrange our internal life so that we can see with clarity, even if just for a moment, how the Lord always will be present for us and for our world.
What might we see when we ponder how the Lord has gone ahead of us in these times? Here are a few examples that I am thinking of:
Frontline medical workers, tirelessly treating all who come to them; learning and developing new ways to treat those who have Covid-19 and always working to do better and more. For this we thank them. Has not the Lord gone ahead of us?
Scientists, both those have been working directly on a vaccine, and those have built up the foundational science over the years. And administrators that support them in organizing and overseeing vaccine trials. For this we thank them. Has not the Lord gone ahead of us?
Public health officials, who have been working to keep track of data and demographics, so that we might have a sense of what is coming, while communicating safe and effective practices to the public. For this we thank them. Has not the Lord gone ahead of us?
There are so many we can be thankful for: Essential workers, administrators of our various supply chains, teachers, first responders, artists, activists, and many many others. Has not the Lord gone ahead of us?
Deborah’s episode in the book of Judges ends with a song, another mighty remembrance of suffering and ultimate victory. And the final word in her story says: “Then the land had peace forty years.” It’s a little hard to feel peaceful these days, my friends, I know. But we also know, and we remember, from the times gone by:
“Neither the pillar of cloud by day nor the pillar of fire by night left its place in front of the people." (Exodus 13:22) Amen.
(1) Anita Dole, Bible Study Notes Volume 2, 385
Judges 4:1-10, 14-15
1 Again the Israelites did evil in the eyes of the LORD, now that Ehud was dead. 2 So the LORD sold them into the hands of Jabin king of Canaan, who reigned in Hazor. Sisera, the commander of his army, was based in Harosheth Haggoyim. 3 Because he had nine hundred chariots fitted with iron and had cruelly oppressed the Israelites for twenty years, they cried to the LORD for help. 4 Now Deborah, a prophet, the wife of Lappidoth, was leading Israel at that time. 5 She held court under the Palm of Deborah between Ramah and Bethel in the hill country of Ephraim, and the Israelites went up to her to have their disputes decided. 6 She sent for Barak son of Abinoam from Kedesh in Naphtali and said to him, “The LORD, the God of Israel, commands you: ‘Go, take with you ten thousand men of Naphtali and Zebulun and lead them up to Mount Tabor. 7 I will lead Sisera, the commander of Jabin’s army, with his chariots and his troops to the Kishon River and give him into your hands.’ ” 8 Barak said to her, “If you go with me, I will go; but if you don’t go with me, I won’t go.” 9 “Certainly I will go with you,” said Deborah. “But because of the course you are taking, the honor will not be yours, for the LORD will deliver Sisera into the hands of a woman.” So Deborah went with Barak to Kedesh. 10 There Barak summoned Zebulun and Naphtali, and ten thousand men went up under his command. Deborah also went up with him.
14 Then Deborah said to Barak, “Go! This is the day the LORD has given Sisera into your hands. Has not the LORD gone ahead of you?” So Barak went down Mount Tabor, with ten thousand men following him. 15 At Barak’s advance, the LORD routed Sisera and all his chariots and army by the sword, and Sisera got down from his chariot and fled on foot.
Secrets of Heaven #8192.
And the angel of God set out. That this signifies a setting in order by Divine truth, is evident from the signification of “setting out,” as being a setting in order. That “to set out” denotes a setting in order is because the pillar of cloud-which was an angelic choir-that had previously advanced before the sons of Israel, now betook itself between the camp of the Egyptians and the camp of Israel, and thus brought darkness upon the Egyptians, and gave light to the sons of Israel; and because these things were thus set in order by the Lord, by means of the setting out of the angel of God, or the pillar, and by means of its interposition, therefore by “to set out” is here signified a setting in order.
Photo by Ian Panelo from Pexels
Readings: John 17:20-26, Matthew 5:23-24, 43-48, 10: 11-14, Divine Providence #18, True Christianity #409 (see below)
In the aftermath of a historic election, we being given an opportunity to recognize how deeply divided we are as a county. One does not have to go very far on social media to hear story after story of families and friends painfully cut off from each other due to disagreements about who to vote for.
And now that the winner of the election is clear, there have been many calls for unity, for political differences to be reconciled so that the country can move forward. On many levels this makes sense; we have so many pressing issues before us. It can hardly be beneficial to waste time and energy on that which divides us, and on tearing each other down.
And yet, I believe that the gospel prompts us to imagine how these calls for unity might be heard by the vulnerable members of our communities: (for example) people of color who have watched their brethren suffer under police brutality or systemic oppression; members of the LGBTQ community, who live on tenderhooks knowing that many of their basic rights hang in the balance each election; Dreamers, who are simply working hard to make a life for themselves in the only country they have ever known as home; or refugees and their children, over six hundred of whom have still not been reunited with their families.
Many people look at politics these days and see more than logistics, they see an expression of morality. Questions of tax rates and trade agreements, these could rightly be seen as political questions, but questions of human rights, the integrity of democratic ideals, who has a right to healthcare, dignity, personhood, agency - these, and many others questions, are also moral questions. And how do we approach unity on moral issues? This seems much more fraught, much more complicated. When human rights are in question, compromise can feel like being asked to ignore the evils of racism, homophobia, or xenophobia. Some disagreements are just so fundamental, that they cannot be settled with saying "to each their own.” What do we do with that reality?
So I thought we might try to consider some of these things in theological terms, and ask what does the Bible, Swedenborg, and others, have to say about unity, reconciliation, and loving our enemies?
First, let us consider the concept of unity. The desire for unity is understandable. These times have been so painful, who wouldn’t want a future that does away with all the tension that we have been experiencing. And one of Jesus’s most heartfelt personal prayers was for unity among his followers. Unity is a blessed state, one to be hoped for, dreamed of, and worked for.
But Swedenborg makes clear that true unity between opposites is not possible.(1) Truth and goodness cannot be united with evil and falsity, for they are like magnets shying away from each other. And while, in this world, we all are given the freedom to exist in grey in-between states, as we figure out our priorities and work through our baggage, true unity as it exists in heaven is the natural cooperation between things are in fundamental agreement. Now, unity is not the same thing as “sameness” and I quote again: “a form makes a unity more perfectly as its constituents are distinguishably different, and yet united.”(2) But this is talking about the kind of differentiation that exists in the human body for example, distinguishable parts in agreement about the cause of keeping the body alive. It is not considered a good thing when a part of the body starts to work against that cause, like an auto-immune disease, or stops playing by the rules, like cancer.
Perhaps in our current political situation then, unity is just not the right word for the moment. It’s use is understandable, for it is in the very name of our country, which has always been about bringing together in balance the needs and desires of semi-autonomous states. But the execution of that historical unity has thrown many people under the bus over time, and this needs to be recognized. Perhaps a phrase like “conscious partnership” is more appropriate now, representing a pragmatic choice to work together for the common good in places of agreement, but does not necessarily imply a forgetting or smoothing over of fundamental disagreements.
So let us now consider the question of reconciliation and its necessary companion: forgiveness. As author Austin Channing Brown has astutely noted: we are not going to hug our way to justice.(3) Calls for unity can sound like they want to skip over repentance in order get to the reconciliation. And this feels fundamentally wrong to those who have suffered under, for example, racist systems and attitudes as they have existed for a long time. How would we feel personally if someone who has hurt us, who has brought into question our worthiness and dignity, started acting like we should just forget what they had done? It can be easy to ask for unity when you have nothing to lose by giving it.
What do our traditions have to say about reconciliation and forgiveness? Well, Jesus is very clear that we should be generous with our forgiveness, way way more generous than we might otherwise feel comfortable with. He famously tells his disciples to forgive their brethren seventy times seven times, or as in our reading today, to not offer worship until they are reconciled with their neighbor. Context is important though. Both of these instances are about not allowing our own selfish feelings to be an obstacle when true reconciliation is on the table. But what is it that makes true reconciliation possible?
Repentance is an indispensable part of the process of reconciliation. Swedenborg is very clear that repentance must precede forgiveness, and that without repentance there can be no forgiveness.(4) This is not anywhere near as transactional as it might sound on its face. God forgives everyone their sins. It is already done, for everyone, out of the abundance of God’s love, in every moment. But that forgiveness has no reality or meaning in the life of the person being forgiven, unless they have an understanding of what they are being forgiven for. Forgiveness is activated for us, as a force that forges the repairing of relationship, when repentance allows it to do so.
And so for those who have been hurt, it may well reduce their own emotional burden to grant forgiveness. But without repentance on the part of the transgressor, coupled with the change in behavior that comes from true repentance, how can there be any functional moving forward together in relationship? How can there be real reconciliation or unity?
Which brings us now to the question of love. The author James Baldwin has famously said: "We can disagree and still love each other unless your disagreement is rooted in my oppression and denial of my humanity and right to exist.” Jesus has even more famously said: love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you. The juxtaposition of these statements begs the question: what kind of love are each of them talking about?
Martin Luther King Jr was adamant that the Christian discipline of loving enemies was absolutely indispensable to the civil rights movement, and to the future of humanity going forward. He deemed it “an absolute necessity for our survival.” He wrote:
“I am certain that Jesus understood the difficulty inherent in the act of loving one’s enemy. He never joined the ranks of those who talk glibly about the easiness of the moral life. He realized that every genuine expression of love grows out of a consistent and total surrender to God. So when Jesus said “love your enemy,” he was not unmindful of its stringent qualities. Yet he meant every word of it. Our responsibility as Christians is to discover the meaning of this command and seek passionately to live it out in our daily lives.”(5)
King made a crucial distinction however. In the Greek New Testament, when Jesus says to love your enemy, the word used is agape. There were three words for love in the new testament: eros, meaning either romantic love, or a yearning for the divine; philia, meaning the love found in friendship and collegiality; and finally, agape, meaning (in King’s words) “an understanding and creative, redemptive goodwill towards all [people].”(6) So importantly, Jesus wasn’t asking anyone to “like” their enemies…but calling his disciples to align with a greater principle of trust in the Divine. If all people are made in God’s image, then all people are beloved by God, period. And this doesn’t mean that God condones evil actions, but rather, that God holds a greater hope for, and a greater sight of, each person’s own trajectory than we possibly can. In practicing the discipline of Christian love, we are invited to step outside of the way hatred and domination naturally multiplies itself within the human heart.
Sikh activist and author Valarie Kaur, herself having been the target of racist attacks, also writes movingly about revolutionary love being that which births new realities:
“Love is more than a feeling. Love is a form of sweet labor: fierce, bloody, imperfect, and life-giving—a choice we make over and over again…This labor engages all our emotions. Joy is the gift of love. Grief is the price of love. Anger protects that which is loved. And when we think we have reached our limit, wonder is the act that returns us to love.
“Revolutionary love” is the choice to enter into wonder and labor for others, for our opponents, and for ourselves in order to transform the world around us. It is not a formal code or prescription but an orientation to life that is personal and political and rooted in joy. Loving only ourselves is escapism; loving only our opponents is self-loathing; loving only others is ineffective. All three practices together make love revolutionary, and revolutionary love can only be practiced in community.”(7)
Kaur crucially recognizes the three-strong foundation that is necessary for the discipline of revolutionary love: fierce and compassionate love for others, sacrificial love for opponents, and healthy, healing love for ourselves. And it is in this last one that we reference our final bible reading. Jesus sent his disciples out into the world, schooled them in openness but also advised them to know when to draw a boundary. Sending love out into the world, and working for its transformation, must rely on a dynamic balance between love for others and love for the self. The work of love can only be sustainable when we are each able to draw the necessary boundaries that protect the holy tenderness of our hearts and minds. Reaching out balanced by reaching in, like the breathing that gives life, a sacred balance of community and interiority.
So here we are, and after a consideration of these topics (which rightly should probably have been three sermons instead of one!) I’m as disappointed as anyone to find that there is no clear answer, or as Kaur says, no formal code or prescription. But that should not be surprising. The reason that the Bible sounds like it contradicts itself at times is because it is both idealistic and contextual, and such contradiction is exactly what we would expect to happen when principles meet real life. What I am taking away from this exploration, is that I believe the word to focus on rather than unity is community. Unity is beautiful but it can sound somewhat static; community however suggests something more dynamic, something that we continually create rather than finally achieve.
As we as a nation go forward in to these days and years together, my hope is that we continue to stay focused on the practice of revolutionary love. And because this practice is dynamic, it will look different for different people. But if there is anything to unite us, let it be this. Amen.
(1) Emmanuel Swedenborg, Divine Providence #18
(2) Ibid #4
(4) Emmanuel Swedenborg, Divine Providence #280
(5) Martin Luther King, Jr, Strength to Love (Fortress Press, 2010), 44.
(6) Ibid, 47.
(7) Valarie Kaur, See No Stranger: A Memoir and Manifesto of Revolutionary Love (One World, 2020), xv-xvi.
20 “My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, 21 that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. 22 I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one— 23 I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.
23 “Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother or sister has something against you, 24 leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to them; then come and offer your gift.
43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. 46 If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? 47 And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? 48 Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.
11 Whatever town or village you enter, search there for some worthy person and stay at their house until you leave. 12 As you enter the home, give it your greeting. 13 If the home is deserving, let your peace rest on it; if it is not, let your peace return to you. 14 If anyone will not welcome you or listen to your words, leave that home or town and shake the dust off your feet.
Divine Providence #18
The reason everyone must be engaged in what is good and what is true together after death or in what is evil and what is false is that good and evil cannot be united. Neither can good and any falsity that is prompted by evil, or evil and any truth that is prompted by anything good. Such things are opposites, and opposites battle with each other…
True Christianity #409
I have been told from heaven that the Lord forgives everyone our sins, and never punishes us for them, or even imputes them to us, because [God] is love itself and good itself. Nevertheless the sins are not wiped away by this, for it is only by repentance that they can be wiped away. For if [Jesus] told Peter to forgive up to seventy times seven times, is there anything that the Lord Himself would not do?
Readings: Joshua 24:1-3, 14-25, Secrets of Heaven #8560 (see below)
So, it has been an anxious week, hasn’t it, my friends? An anxious several months, really. And while the resolution we received yesterday gives us respite for now, for many reasons including the ongoing pandemic, we might be continuing in anxiousness for a good while. So let us return again to the story of the children of Israel, providing us with a metaphorical picture of our own varied challenges in the here and now.
When we last left the Children of Israel, two weeks ago, Moses had just died, and the people were about to enter into the promised land under the leadership of Joshua. *Now* the lectionary brings us to Joshua’s final chapter. The Israelites have spent many years finding their place in the land, and that has included many battles against various antagonists. As Joshua is about to leave them, he gives a farewell speech that is designed to reinvigorate their commitment to their covenant with God.
We will recognize this renewing of the covenant as an ongoing theme in the life of the Israelites, and of course, in ourselves. We, too, enter into covenants, we too make statements and stands and promises to ourselves and the people around us and to God. We might do so in particular and important ways on particular and important days: when we get married, the day our children are born, our first day at a new job or our first day at school, a naturalization ceremony, or on a day like we just experienced earlier in the week: election day.
But as important as each of those days are, days that establish a covenant, days when we actively make a stand or a decision that will dictate the shape of all of our future days, each of the days that come in between are important as well. Days when we are tired and sad and distracted, days when no one is going to throw us a party for just showing up, days that feel like we might not be making progress, days that we feel we can just let slide.
We are making choices on those days too. Smaller choices, perhaps, more mundane choices, perhaps, repeated choices, definitely. But less important choices, I don’t think so. The point of a covenant, the way in which it becomes something that forms and shapes what our future looks like, hinges on whether or not we uphold that covenant in our each and every day. We are not necessarily going to do that perfectly all the time, of course, but what we do in the aggregate matters, the overall direction of our intention matters, our willingness to put in the work matters.
But somewhere within the multitude of days, we will all need a pep talk sometimes, we will all need a reminder as to why we entered the covenant in the first place. And this is what Joshua was doing for the children of Israel. Our reading was only a portion of the speech, so we don’t hear everything he say in the reading, but one thing he does is take them through their history, reminding them of what God has done for them. About God’s call to Abraham, how God brought them out of slavery and brought them to victory in the promised land. Joshua also brings it into the personal realm, saying…as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord, demonstrating solidarity and humility as a leader. And as the people declare their loyalty to God, he tests them a little. Are you sure? Are you really sure? Because there will be some risk to serving God, some cost to our selfhood and our comfort. Once we decide we want to align with divine love, we find that it is not just about warm fuzzy happy feelings. Making a stand for love, justice, integrity and righteousness is not always easy. All our worst impulses will find their way to the surface one way or another, and the demands of love will cause there to be conflict between our own selfishness and fear, and what God is calling us to. But the alternative is serving those other gods. The alternative is giving in to selfishness and fear, and letting that be our covenant, letting that be the shape of our lives.
So, we keep returning to the covenant and renewing as needed, we say as Joshua did, as for me and my house—as for me and my actions, my choices—we will serve the Lord, and we do so as a remembrance of what is important to us. We do so as a remembrance of how far we have come. And we do so as an act of hope, an act of speaking into being the shape of our future days. As the text says, we do so in order to be witnesses both for and against ourselves…we draw our line in the sand to be visible on the days we are grateful and on the days we want to give up. “No, we will serve the Lord.” “Yes, we are witnesses.” We do our part. Then sometimes we forget to do our part. And so we do our part again. We commit to showing up.
What is key to remember though, is that God’s providence in our lives, God’s leading us forth, is not contingent of whether we renew the covenant or remember the covenant. God’s providence for us is already existent, already active, because God’s love demands that it be so. The renewal of the covenant, choosing this day who we will serve, is choosing to step into providence that is already happening, choosing to respond as gracefully and as actively as we can to the flow, choosing acknowledgment and gratitude and conscious partnership.
The problem is that sometimes we think in transactional terms, our earthly lives are largely lived in transactional terms: do this to get that. But God’s providence is different. It is already happening, and *not* just already happening in the good things, but already happening in all parts of our lives. When we renew the covenant we are remembering this important aspect as well. We are remembering that through God’s love and wisdom, *all* things can make a contribution towards a person’s life to eternity. We heard this from our reading:
God's providence is different from any other kind of leading or guidance in that it constantly has in view what is eternal and is constantly leading to salvation. It does so through various states, sometimes joyful and at other times miserable; and though these are beyond the person's comprehension they all nevertheless make a contribution towards [a person’s] life into eternity.
This is essentially what Joshua’s warning was about. The covenant is not about ensuring that only good things happen going forward, and we are not promised there won’t be miserable times. We are promised that God’s leading has an eternal view, and that all things move us toward our ultimate transformation, if we let them, if we keep our hearts and minds open to the possibility. Sometimes, the miserable things are even more instructive to us than the good things. (Which, let’s be honest, totally sucks!) But, when we know the point of the covenant is transformation (and not primarily comfort) then we have a greater chance of accepting this truth with equanimity. When things are going well, God is leading. When things are not going well, God is still leading.
You see, the covenant exists in perpetuity because of one thing only: God’s steadfastness. The one true God exists; and the choice is ours, whom will we serve? Whom will we serve on the day after election day, a month after the new year, five years after getting a new job, a decade after our wedding day, and so on. Will we continue to serve the cause of love, of inclusion, of truth, of honesty, of integrity, of courage?
In the words of Father Thomas Keating: we should begin a new world with one that actually exists.(1) This is what God does with us everyday, and the world through us. We renew and renew, we say okay this day, now this day, and now this day we will serve the Lord, making a new world each day with the one that existed before.
(1)  Thomas Keating, Fr. Thomas Keating’s Last Oracle (Contemplative Network: 2020), transcription (October 2018).
Joshua 24:1-3, 14-25
1 Then Joshua assembled all the tribes of Israel at Shechem. He summoned the elders, leaders, judges and officials of Israel, and they presented themselves before God. 2 Joshua said to all the people, “This is what the LORD, the God of Israel, says: ‘Long ago your ancestors, including Terah the father of Abraham and Nahor, lived beyond the Euphrates River and worshiped other gods. 3 But I took your father Abraham from the land beyond the Euphrates and led him throughout Canaan and gave him many descendants.
14 “Now fear the LORD and serve him with all faithfulness. Throw away the gods your ancestors worshiped beyond the Euphrates River and in Egypt, and serve the LORD. 15 But if serving the LORD seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your ancestors served beyond the Euphrates, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you are living. But as for me and my household, we will serve the LORD.” 16 Then the people answered, “Far be it from us to forsake the LORD to serve other gods! 17 It was the LORD our God himself who brought us and our parents up out of Egypt, from that land of slavery, and performed those great signs before our eyes. He protected us on our entire journey and among all the nations through which we traveled. 18 And the LORD drove out before us all the nations, including the Amorites, who lived in the land. We too will serve the LORD, because he is our God.” 19 Joshua said to the people, “You are not able to serve the LORD. He is a holy God; he is a jealous God. He will not forgive your rebellion and your sins. 20 If you forsake the LORD and serve foreign gods, he will turn and bring disaster on you and make an end of you, after he has been good to you.” 21 But the people said to Joshua, “No! We will serve the LORD.” 22 Then Joshua said, “You are witnesses against yourselves that you have chosen to serve the LORD.” “Yes, we are witnesses,” they replied. 23 “Now then,” said Joshua, “throw away the foreign gods that are among you and yield your hearts to the LORD, the God of Israel.” 24 And the people said to Joshua, “We will serve the LORD our God and obey him.” 25 On that day Joshua made a covenant for the people, and there at Shechem he reaffirmed for them decrees and laws.
Secrets of Heaven #8560
God's providence is different from any other kind of leading or guidance in that it constantly has in view what is eternal and is constantly leading to salvation. It does so through various states, sometimes joyful and at other times miserable; and though these are beyond the person's comprehension they all nevertheless make a contribution towards [a person’s] life into eternity.
Photo credit: Pok Rie
Readings: Deuteronomy 34:1-12, Secrets of Heaven (portions) #5757, #1413, #566 (see below)
See also on Youtube at https://youtu.be/osMDs3Sbdxw
Today we come to the end of Moses’ journey. The children of Israel are close to the promised land, and Moses climbs a mountain in order to get an unimpeded view. He can see the sweep of the entire land before him.
And in one sense, this is a sad story. Moses will not get to step foot in the promised land. This is because of an incident in Numbers 20, a time when God was displeased with Moses and enacted this particular consequence. And in another way, it is a perfect time for a transition in leadership. Joshua has already been designated by the Lord to be Moses’ successor, and Moses has commissioned him in the presence of the people. A new leader to take them forth into a new land. It is implied in the text that it was God’s own self who buried Moses; a tender and intimate gesture.(1) The people grieved for thirty days, and Moses remains the greatest prophet of the Jewish tradition.
We’ve been following the Israelites on their journey toward the promised land for six weeks now. This seems like a good time to talk a little bit about the promised land and what it represents in the Swedenborgian worldview. For Swedenborg, all things in the Bible represent an aspect of our own interior, spiritual landscape. These representations have levels of meaning; levels that through their connected significance, work to bind us to each other, to heaven and ultimately, to the Lord. So, therefore, most things in the bible will have a personal or individual meaning, a communal meaning, a heavenly or spiritual meaning and then finally, a meaning relating to God’s self.
And so it is with the notion of “land,” and specifically, the promised land. The Israelites spent a long time heading towards that “land” that was promised to them, a holy land, a land of milk and honey. When we think about what “land” means to us, there are several things that come to mind. Land is something we walk upon, Something that we enter into, that has boundaries, that gives shape and form to our journeys, a place where we might make a home, a place that might inform our character, a space we inhabit as we live our lives.
Moses climbed the mountain and the Lord “showed him the whole land.” and said “this is the land I promised on oath to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob….I will give it to your descendants. I have let you see it with your eyes…” The land is both promise and destination.
And it is in this metaphorical and poetic, yet concrete, sense that Swedenborg talks about what “promised land” means in these stories. In a personal way, the land represents the potential of our spiritual journey, the internal space to which we are heading, our angelic shape that is revealed through the process of regeneration. In a communal way, the land represents the earthly communities that we all seek, that shape and guide our journeys. In a concrete way, this means the church, or whatever spiritual community in which we gather. In a more mystical way, it means the Lord’s kingdom, the embodiment of justice and love in all human community in this world. Now, on a spiritual level, the land represents heaven; the ultimate formative community, the force that shapes us into angels, the destination of our soul, the place where we will find active and peaceful belonging. And finally, in an ultimate way, the land represents the Lord, elemental love and wisdom, from whom all these subsequent levels flow, and not just in a top down way, but as a loving vibrant pulse of life from the inside. (2)
This multi-level promise and opportunity of “the promised land” is the way that God shows up for us, the divine intentionality that God has for us and our lives. The Journey that the children of Israel have taken in these past weeks, represents aspects of our ongoing journey in relationship to God’s intentionality, a path away from that which enslaves our thinking and our feeling, and towards the promise of the land: a spiritually mature selfhood, beloved and just earthly community, supportive heavenly community, and a resilient connection to our God.
But, I found one little addition to all this talk about land that seems to take it even further. Swedenborg mentions that the “land” as it is when Moses is looking out over it in our text today, is different from calling it the “ground.” As we heard in our reading, the land is the church or the regenerate person who is still yet to exist, while the ground is when that reality comes into being. And that really resonates for me. When we see the land, when we think of the land, or even of *our* land, we think of it in a broad sweep, but the ground, the ground is something we touch and interact with. We put our hands in the ground, we work the ground, when we speak of someone being in touch with their own life and selfhood, we call them “grounded.” If we are going to live our lives in the land, if we want to inhabit the land, inhabit the generative opportunities that God is giving us, we have to have a relationship to the ground, to the everyday details and relationships and structures of our lives. To bring the reality of God’s intentionality into being, we are going to have to get to know the ground, till it and plant it, water it and nurture it. In Swedenborgian terms, the process of becoming an angel, or regenerating, is pictured in seeing land become ground, or seeing faith growing through love. (3)
And I find this a really useful way to picture the difference between vision and actuality. There are times when we need to be inspired by a grand vision, to know that there is somewhere purposeful and hopeful in the direction that we are heading. And then there are the times when we just need to get to work to make that vision happen. The children of Israel were not going to be able to inhabit the promised land by staying up on that mountain. They were going to have to come down to the ground and engage with the realities of inhabiting that land. And they would find plenty of challenges ahead for them.
And this is why Moses will often signify divine truth (4). It is the purpose of truth to show us what is possible, to show us the land, but knowing the truth alone won’t make the land our home, won’t make it so we know the ground, won’t make the ground fertile. Only embodied, active love guided by truth can do that.
Sometimes, maybe even each day, there will be part of us up on that mountain. We need those big picture moments. Moses was the vision, he saw the way out of slavery, he connected the people with God and translated God’s vision of the new land for them. He gave shape and reality to the covenant. But it wasn’t his job to oversee their transition from wanting to find the land to becoming grounded in their own home/space. And so another part of us will need to scrabble down that mountain, cross into the land and get busy tending the ground so that it can bear nourishment, so that it can be a home to us, so that it can be a place where our choices do some good, where our heavenly natures can start coming into being.
So, this really is a sad poignant story. A great man passed and the people mourned. Sometimes we would prefer to stay up on the mountain, stay in the anticipation of God’s kingdom. But, Moses’ death also marks the next important part of the journey: turning the land into the ground. We need to be able to see and appreciate God’s divine intention for us, and then we need to be able make it our own. To turn hope into love, truth into justice at the ground level where it makes a difference in people’s lives.
1 Then Moses climbed Mount Nebo from the plains of Moab to the top of Pisgah, across from Jericho. There the LORD showed him the whole land—from Gilead to Dan, 2 all of Naphtali, the territory of Ephraim and Manasseh, all the land of Judah as far as the Mediterranean Sea, 3 the Negev and the whole region from the Valley of Jericho, the City of Palms, as far as Zoar. 4 Then the LORD said to him, “This is the land I promised on oath to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob when I said, ‘I will give it to your descendants.’ I have let you see it with your eyes, but you will not cross over into it.” 5 And Moses the servant of the LORD died there in Moab, as the LORD had said. 6 He buried him in Moab, in the valley opposite Beth Peor, but to this day no one knows where his grave is. 7 Moses was a hundred and twenty years old when he died, yet his eyes were not weak nor his strength gone. 8 The Israelites grieved for Moses in the plains of Moab thirty days, until the time of weeping and mourning was over. 9 Now Joshua son of Nun was filled with the spirit of wisdom because Moses had laid his hands on him. So the Israelites listened to him and did what the LORD had commanded Moses. 10 Since then, no prophet has risen in Israel like Moses, whom the LORD knew face to face, 11 who did all those signs and wonders the LORD sent him to do in Egypt—to Pharaoh and to all his officials and to his whole land. 12 For no one has ever shown the mighty power or performed the awesome deeds that Moses did in the sight of all Israel.
Secrets of Heaven #5757, #1413, #566
5757 'The land of Canaan' has various meanings, and this is because it is the kind of thing that includes very many meanings. It means the Lord's kingdom and it means the Church, as a consequence of which it also means the member of the Church, for a person is a Church. Having these meanings that land also means the celestial element of the Church, which is the good of love, and the spiritual element of it too, which is the truth of faith; and so on….
1413…Because it represented the Lord's kingdom, it also represented and symbolized spiritual and heavenly qualities of the Lord's kingdom and, here, of the Lord himself.
566…in the Word a careful distinction is made between ground (humus) and land or earth (terra)…when 'land' or earth' occurs in the Word it frequently means where the Church or some aspect of the Church does not exist, as in Chapter 1 [of Genesis] where the word 'land' alone is used, because the Church or regenerate person did not as yet exist. Not until Chapter 2 is the word 'ground' used because the Church has by now come into being.