Sunday, April 4, 1995

Location - Bridgewater
Bible Verses - 2 Samuel 6:1-15
Mark 6:1-11

And Jesus entered into Jerusalem, and into the temple.

Mark 11:11

We accept the story of the triumphal entry as essentially historical, and we also believe

that it is profoundly symbolic--that it is an image of something that can happen in our

own inner lives. In this latter regard, it occurred to me for the first time this year to

wonder what Jesus was doing outside Jerusalem and the temple. Isn't the Lord always

present to us inwardly, whether we accept that presence or not? In what way does that same

Lord come to us from the outside?

These questions open into a whole realm of thought about ourselves, our lives, our

relationships with each other, and the God who is the object of our worship. To start with

the last of these, we might well remind ourselves that, to put it bluntly, we are not

called by our doctrines to worship Jesus of Nazareth. The faith we have just acknowledged,

the familiar Adoramus of our First Order of Worship, is very carefully subtitled, "Our

Faith in the Glorified Lord," and our theology insists time and again that the Jesus who

entered Jerusalem on that first Palm Sunday was not yet glorified. The process was nearing

its climax and its completion, but this is still the finite human we see. In

correspondential terms, the purely divine presence is still in the Holy of Holies in the

temple, and the outer courts of that temple have not yet been purified.

We can take this as a very direct and quite simple image of our own situations. We are

sustained in life and even in being by the Lord's life flowing into us at our very center.

Our teachings speak of an "inmost," sometimes called the soul, which is beyond our reach

and which we therefore can never harm. In both Divine Love and Wisdom and Divine

Providence, Swedenborg takes pains to make it clear that love and wisdom emanate from the

Divine as one. By the time they have filtered down to the level of our everyday

consciousness, though, they have been separated, obscured, and in many respects distorted

by all that is amiss in our own inner natures. Our profound need for the intimacy of

marriage can be felt as lust, our need for freedom as rebelliousness, our need for

rationality as cynicism.

All these wrongs are, so to speak, in the outer court of our temple, in that area of our

consciousness where we are tangled up in concerns for our self-image, concerned with the

profit and loss of our egos. This is where the tables of the money changers are. This is

where we are looking for brownie points for good behavior and trying to charge the outside

world for our faults.

On thing the Palm Sunday story is telling us, in a way, is that this situation is not

going to be remedied from the inside out. There is not going to be a scene like the one at

the end of Raiders of the Lost Ark, where the ark of the covenant is opened and an

immense, purging, fiery wind roars forth. No, the cleansing of the outer court happens by

very ordinary means. Someone has to come in and physically overturn the tables. If we sit

back and wait for a miracle, we will wait forever.

Who is it, though, who comes in from the outside and does this? What is this still human,

"not yet glorified" form the Divine takes in our own lives? It could quite well be the

figure we read of in the Gospels. After all, all the information we have about God we have

gained "from the outside"--from parents, from teachers, from reading. It has come through

us through human means. Scripture itself, we are told, is "accommodated" to our

understanding and to our states of life. In another image, the literal level of Scripture

is compared to the "clouds of heaven" that veil the "glory" of the coming Christ. The

Jesus of Nazareth of the Gospels is the equivalent of those "clouds."

It speaking of all that we can learn only from the outside, we should not forget that the

love that is doing the learning is still and always coming from the inside. To follow that

thought, though, would take us far afield. It is important enough to focus on the fact

that, in doctrinal terms, our minds do not grasp pure divine truths. Anything that we can

comprehend has to have been adapted to our comprehension. The Divine as it is in itself is

infinite and unknowable, and the figure of Christ is, in a way, a concession to our very

limited abilities.

But back to the Palm Sunday story. At this point, we may note particularly that most of

the Lord's public ministry took place in Galilee--"Galilee of the Gentiles," in the

northern third of the Holy Land, separated from Judea and Jerusalem by Samaria.

Correspondentially, Galilee is an image of our outward lives, of our "behavior" as opposed

to our thinking and our feeling.

This is where our own faith takes one of its distinctive turns. At one point, Wilson Van

Dusen was saying that Swedenborg never wrote a "how to" book about regeneration. He does

not outline a particular discipline such as we find in Eastern religions or for that

matter in many Christian monastic orders. Later, though, Van Dusen viewed the matter

differently and wrote his pamphlet on "Uses" as a discipline for spiritual growth. It is

quite true that our theology has very little to say about our "prayer life" or about

"meditation." It says instead that if we look at our own daily lives as informed by the

Lord's providence, we will find ourselves meeting those issues we need to deal with. Our

inner natures will be changed not simply by insights gained in meditation or by courage

found in prayer--though these may make vital contributions--but by decisions made when the

chips are down. When we are trying to understand and do what the Lord would have us do,

when we are trying to follow the Lord's example in our dealings with those around us, then

the Lord is at work in our Galilee.

More precisely, Jesus of Nazareth is at work, for the example we are following is still

our own learned, limited version. But as the divine nature was within the human in the

incarnation, so the divine works through our human notions, our limited understandings,

our learned images.

It might help to digress a little at this point and say a little about the Gospel record

in general. One of the major themes in the history of the Christian church is the effort

to find in the Gospels definitive answers to questions about the nature of Jesus, somehow

both human and divine. On the literal level, though, the Gospels clearly record not so

much an answer or set of answers as a debate. Some think that Jesus is the Messiah, some

that he is a prophet, some that he is the (or a) son of God, some that he is deluded. He

himself seems to have a tendency that amounts to a policy of speaking in parables. We are

offered material to work with to make up our own minds. Our minds are not made up for us.

As Luther noted, though, there are some simple, obvious messages that are awfully hard to

evade if we come to the Gospels with an honest desire to amend our lives. There are images

of generosity of heart and hand, of forgiveness and peace of mind, of accountability and

integrity, for example, that strike as deeply into our minds and hearts as we will let

them. The picture of Jesus preaching and teaching and healing in "Galilee of the Gentiles"

is a marvelous image of our allowing these images to work on our behavior. Am I being

generous? Am I being forgiving? Am I being accountable? These are questions that we need

to face on a daily basis simply in terms of the way we are behaving.

Someone with a real appreciation of the down-to-earth--I have long since forgotten

who--once claimed that if you let him look through the last ten or so years of someone's

check stubs, he could tell you where that person's values were. We have this idiom about

"putting your money where your mouth is" which says very much the same thing. There is a

very real "faith" that we express in our choices, that we can identify if we look away

from what we think and what we profess, away from our ideals, so to speak, and look at

what we have actually chosen to do.

We should not be surprised of there is a gap between that faith and our ideals. That is

what ideals are for--to call us beyond where we are. That, again, is the figure of Jesus

moving around in Galilee, comforting one person, reproving another, healing another,

standing out with a kind of enigmatic clarity as one with a message of transformation.

The first step is to listen to the message of the Gospels on this behavioral level, to do

our best to live up to the ideals we find embodied in the figure of Jesus as we see it.

If we make this honest effort, the read leads from Galilee to Jerusalem. If we open our

lives to that presence, then sooner or later, in this world or the next, we may find

ourselves called to open our hearts.

The last of the letters to the seven church in the book of Revelation is to the

Laodiceans. It is the most negative of the seven. The church in Laodicea is portrayed as

lukewarm and self-satisfied, as claiming to be rich when in fact it is inwardly "wretched

and miserable and poor and blind and naked." But each church is offered a promise, and the

promise to this church is the most striking of all. Let us put it in the second person.

"Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If you hear my voice and open the door, I will

come in and will eat supper with you, and you with me."

When in the Gospels the figure of Jesus moves from Galilee to Judea, we can see the divine

message probing beneath the surface. The way has been prepared by faithful living. Now our

problems can be faced at their roots, now we can deal with causes and not only with

symptoms. No wonder there is rejoicing. It feels like an and to all inner division and

struggle, like the doorway to the highest heaven itself.

It can be such a doorway, but only if our gift of self is complete. The Lord literally

laid down his life in the most painful way imaginable, and there was a time when the

overwhelming joy of Palm Sunday was turned into bottomless depths of despair.

We do not all follow the path all the way, and we are not condemned for this. Our

teachings describe a "natural heaven" full of honest-to-goodness angels who simply love

leading constructive lives. They are not particularly interested in understanding why.

Then there is a "spiritual heaven" of people who are interested in understanding why, in

working through the complexities of our inner natures and of our relationships with each

other. and finally, there is a "celestial heaven" of people whose inner temple has been

cleansed, people who have been brought through the complexities to the profound simplicity

that Swedenborg calls "the innocence of wisdom."

We need not be "ambitious" for higher grades or envious of others or resentful of our own

lot. Whatever our gifts, whatever our calling, we have every reason for humility and

gratitude--humility when we realize how slight are our responsibilities in the whole sweep

of human history, and gratitude when we look at how much we have that is not of our

making. The one crucial thing is that we recognize that whatever our circumstances or our

state, Palm Sunday is for us. The Lord is trying to come to us through our circumstances,

offering to come a little further into our lives. This means, of course, that we are part

of the "circumstances" of those around us, and that the Lord is trying to bless them

through us. That, ultimately, is why we are here on this earth--to learn the giving and

receiving that constitute true community and true peace, the doing of the Lord's will on

earth, as it is in heaven.


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