Archive for August, 2012
Spiritual Environment and Natural Environment
August 19, 2012
Genesis 1:27-31 Matthew 14:13-21 Psalm 104
Today I am going to talk about ecology. However, I have come here as a seminarian of the New Church. I am not a scientist. What I am talking is about how New Church people should understand and engage in ecology activity. I think New Church people should protect our environment not only from natural perspective but also from spiritual perspective.
Divine Love and Wisdom is a book about how God created this world. In this book Swedenborg states that God created the three kingdoms – the animal kingdom, the vegetable kingdom and the mineral kingdom for our sake. New Church people should note that those three kingdoms exist for us to offer “USE” to God. These three kingdoms are in hierarchical relationships in terms of “USE.” The mineral kingdom is for the vegetable kingdom. The vegetable kingdom, for the animal kingdom. And the animal kingdom, for human beings. Eventually human beings for God. It means if we ruin the natural environment, which are the three kingdoms, we ruin the system of the cyclical upswing processes of “USE” established by God.
Swedenborg explains that we receive LOVE and WISDOM from God. These two entities are the sources of our lives. And from LOVE and WISDOM which we receive, we generate “USE,” which is offered to God in return. This love and wisdom is spiritual bread and wine. After we symbolically eat bread and drink wine, we do work. However we also need physical bread and wine–all the food that nature gives us. But if we cannot eat bread and drink wine because of famine caused by damage of natural environment, we cannot work, as we have no energy to do work.
Environmental problems such as oil spill in the Caribbean Sea, cutting so many trees in Amazon, hunting rare species in Africa are instances of critical damages in the three kingdoms. As the damaged three kingdoms cannot offer “USE” to humans, it deprives humans of opportunity to receive “USE” from the three kingdoms and to offer “USE” to God. It causes cutting off a link between God and humans.
It means that ruining the natural environment is not only ruining the natural environment but also ruining the spiritual environment.
It is important for New Church people to know the fact that damaging the natural environment causes damaging the spiritual environment.
Swedenborg states that nature is a creation of God and if we observe it carefully, we can find amazing design of God in it. Many scientific videos about animals, vegetables and minerals made by CBC, BBC and PBS show us its magnificent structure and beauty of things in nature. An atom, a cell, and anatomy of an animal are amazingly structured. Nature is not just nature but the Garden modeled by God. Non-religious people only observe nature as nature. However, New Church people should perceive sacred quality of nature.
If we ruin the natural environment, it means we damage the Garden of God. It is awfully profane deeds. Damaging the natural world is a religiously unethical conduct.
David Suzuki, a famous Canadian scientist, wrote a book whose title is The Sacred Balance. He used a word “sacred” to describe an observable miraculous balance in nature. He engages in ecology activity to protect natural environment from egoistic human activities caused by “principles of economics.”
A daughter of David Suzuki, Severn Suzuki, gave a memorable speech in 1992, at the Earth Summit in Rio, Brazil. She said that if we don’t know how to fix the holes in our ozone layer; we don’t know how to bring salmon back up a dead stream; we don’t know how to bring back an animal now extinct; and we can’t bring back forests that once grew where there is now desert–if we don’t know how to fix it, we have to stop breaking it!
Later in life, Ms. Suzuki studied ethnobotony at the University of Victoria
These two prophets have given us warnings to let us stop damaging the natural environment.
In the book of Jonah, people in Nineveh repented and changed their ways of lives after having listened to the message proclaimed by a prophet Jonah.
Do we have ears to listen to two Suzuki-s to change our lives? Or do we follow footsteps of people in Sodom and Gomorra? Mark 6:11 says, “And whoever will not receive you nor hear you, when you depart from there, shake off the dust under your feet as a testimony against them. Assuredly, I say to you, it will be more tolerable for Sodom and Gomorrah in the day of judgment than for that city!”
We have already had chances to listen to warnings from prophets. It is for us to decide if we will become inhabitants of Nineveh or of Sodom and Gomorrah.
Swedenborg states that New Church people should love both the natural world and the spiritual world.
If we forget God, religion and church and seek worldly pleasures only, we become slaves of sensual pleasures. Many people on earth pursue buying gourmet foods, the latest fashion and luxurious houses without considering God at all.
On the other hand, if a church denies any kind of enjoyable human activities and forces parishioners to live a stoic life to follow God, it is not a good life.
We should love both the National Geographic and Bible. We can enjoy skiing, skating, trekking and camping. Simultaneously we should love going to church, reading Bible and studying the doctrines of the New Church.
If we continue ruining the natural environment, we lose our playground where we work and enjoy leisure, then we let our lives on earth be miserable ones. We should keep our land to let us live, work and play in it joyfully.
As we maintain our church, our houses and our own rooms clean and in order, we have to maintain the condition of the natural environment neatly, as it is our yard.
As the world is becoming smaller rapidly because of increase of the number of population in the 21st century, we have to pay more attention to our natural environment than before.
Religion and nature are two sides of one coin, through which we buy our lives.
In Alaska people who live there protect salmon. For them salmon is not only material food but also icon or representation of their lives. Salmon sustains not only each individual but also all people in a village or a tribe. If they extinguish salmon, a whole village or a whole tribe will disappear. So they protect salmon and held a festival to pray to God. Salmon is for their descendants too. Extinguishing salmon is killing their own descendants.
Salmon is in the river. The river can supply water to us because of trees and mountains. The mineral kingdom, the vegetable kingdom and the animal kingdom are intertwined. We should not extinguish salmon. We should not contaminate water. We should not cut too many trees. If we ruin one of three, it causes a total corruption of all three. Dead bodies of salmon enrich soils. From it trees can grow. If water is contaminated, salmon do not come back to the river. If many trees on the mountain are cut, the mountain cannot sustain water, which causes flood.
Swedenborg states that if one of three elements of human activity, will, understanding and action, a human activity cannot occur. Both in the natural environment and in the spiritual environment, all three elements are relational so that there should not be a lack in any of them.
Ecology and sustainability are two keywords which we often hear nowadays. Adjectives such as “many,” “more,” and “big” were used to signify good quality in the 20th Century. However, now in the 21st century adjectives such as “few,””less,” and “small” are more favored. Unfortunately we have no space to grow more on this planet. We are already in a live or die situation in terms of environmental problem.
Please imagine how you can reduce your consumption of energy and resources to less than half the amount in our daily lives. It takes energy. A transition from having two cars from one car sounds difficult. We have to use our wisdom to let productivity and sustainability coexist in our lives. Abandoning having two four-liter cars and having two two-liter cars is not difficult.
Materialism is a trap set by a serpent in Genesis. We should not be deceived by materialism, a serpent, like Adam and Eve.
On the website of the City of Edmonton in the section of Environmental, there are lots of useful tips about how we can engage in ecology activity in an individual level.
Let us be inhabitants of both a garden of this planet where we can enjoy natural pleasure and a Garden of Eden where we can enjoy spiritual pleasure. To do so we have to value science, nature, environment and theology, religion, church.
Let us worship, honor and praise the name of Jesus Christ who created heaven and earth for our sake.
We have two kinds of bread, natural bread and spiritual bread, or Divine Love. We have two kinds of wine, natural wine and spiritual wine, or Divine Wisdom. Both natural nourishment and spiritual nourishment are important for us. Let us care for the wellbeing of our natural environment even as we care for the wellbeing of our spiritual life. Amen.
O, Lord. Let us know how we should use your gifts and serve YOU to live according to YOUR WILL. Please teach us YOUR WISDOM to let us live good life. Let us be YOUR faithful servants through offering USE to YOU through using YOUR gifts. Please let us enjoy our lives in YOUR natural GARDEN temporarily and in YOUR spiritual GARDEN permanently. Educate us to be good gardeners who keep YOUR GARDEN faithfully. The garden which you created for us has been being contaminated by our egoistic activities for a long time. We have been exploiting natural resources rapidly which you have given us, as we did not use them wisely and economically. Many creatures which you created have disappeared from this planet. Many plants have lost their originality as we modified them. Many minerals have been used up by us greedily. As in Genesis chapter 1 verse 28, we will “be fruitful and multiply; fill the earth and subdue it” yet not foolishly but wisely. We listen to you, obey you and follow you always and as much as we can. Amen.
The True Bread from Heaven
Rev. Dr. David J. Fekete
August 5, 2012
Exodus 16:2-18 John 6:22-35 Psalm 78
Our readings this morning concern spiritual food and drink. In the reading from Exodus, the Israelites were fed bread that came down from heaven called “manna.” This was no mere bread. Psalm 78 calls it, “the grain of heaven” and “the bread of angels.” It is miraculous, something never seen by anyone before, so the Israelites call it, “manna.” Manna means, “What?” or “What is it?” We don’t need to seek too far into the spiritual meaning of manna to see that it is God who is feeding us with the bread of angels, or heavenly love. This meaning is reinforced in our New testament reading from John. There, Jesus states that He Himself is the true bread from heaven. He makes this claim almost with a logical sequence. It goes like this: 1) it was not Moses who gave the Israelites manna, but God, 2) God gives the true bread from heaven, 3) the bread of God is He who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world, 4) Jesus is the bread of life. So in both Exodus and John, we are dealing with spiritual food that God gives to us.
We can begin to look at this by considering earthly food. In Exodus, the children of Israel are hungry because they are in the desert. They are free from slavery in Egypt, but they are hungry with the spare food they are able to eat in the desert wilderness. They think they will starve to death, and wished they would have died by God’s hand in Egyptian slavery, where food was plentiful. They complain to Moses, who brings their complaint to God. God hears, and responds, sending manna in the morning and quails at night.
All these story elements have a spiritual significance. It is not too hard to see how this story is actually about spiritual growth and development. First, there is release from slavery, which is deliverance from sin. Then there is the famine of being deprived of our former worldly delights and pleasures. We hunger for the only life we knew and want to return to sin’s slavery and the food of our former worldly delights. But in the wilderness famine, when we are deprived of the pleasures of this world, heavenly enjoyment comes into our hearts to fill us with a new kind of delight. This is the manna, the bread of angels, with which God feeds us when we have abandoned the cravings that come from ego and worldly interests. Before our path of spiritual growth, we don’t even know that another life is possible. To us, ego gratification, status symbols, and money seem like the good things of life. We are not aware that there is another life possible. We are not aware that showing love to all those around us and doing good actions are more rewarding than anything that self-interest or worldly satisfaction can give us. To us, spirituality is manna, it is unknown, we say, “What is it?” Swedenborg contrasts these two modes of living,
That hence the bread which was given to the sons of Israel in the wilderness was called manna, is because that bread signifies the good of caring which is unknown to a person before regeneration, and it is not even known that such a good exists. For a person before regeneration believes that beyond the enjoyments of the love of self and the world, which he or she calls goods, there cannot be any good given which is not from that source or of such a quality. If any one should then say that there is an interior good which cannot come to the apprehension, consequently not to the knowledge, so long as the enjoyments of the love of self and the world have dominion, and that this good is what good spirits and angels are in, amazement follows, as at what is altogether unknown and as at what cannot be given; when yet this good immensely transcends the enjoyments of the love of self and the world (AC 8462).
We find a similar contrast between earthly food and spiritual food in our New Testament reading. The crowd has followed Jesus across a lake. Jesus says something to them that I find rather funny. We wonder sometimes what we need to do to bring people into the church. Jesus was no stranger to these questions. He knows that the crowd has followed Him across the lake because they just got fed, and I don’t mean spiritually fed. Jesus says,
I tell you the truth, you are looking for me, not because you saw miraculous signs but because you ate the loaves and had your fill. Do not work for food that spoils, but for food that endures to eternal life which the Son of Man will give you (John 6:26-27).
Jesus then says the words that we recite at every communion service. Jesus says, “He that comes to me will never hunger, and he who believes in me will never thirst” (John 6:35). Here, Jesus is contrasting the miraculous feeding of 5,000 people with 5 loaves of bread with feeding the world with spiritual food that gives eternal life. Jesus makes the claim that He is the bread of life that gives spiritual life.
This passage makes me think of a couple other passages from the Gospel of John. In this morning’s reading, Jesus responds to a direct request from the crowd. Jesus says that the bread of God is he who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world. In response, the crowd asks, “Give us this bread.” This story is quite similar to the story about the Samaritan woman at the well. Jesus tells her that whoever drinks the water He gives will never thirst, and that the water will become a spring welling up to eternal life (John 4:13-14). Like the crowd in this morning’s reading, the woman says, “Sir, give me this water.”
So in both stories we have Jesus talking about eternal food and drink. And we have two different people asking for this eternal food and drink. And in both stories, we have Jesus saying that He is the source of eternal life, which will be given to all who come to Him.
So the question arises, “How does Jesus give us this eternal food and drink?” In Catholic theology, the bread and wine of the Holy Supper is miraculously changed into Jesus’ body and blood. So when a person partakes of the Holy Supper, one is actually imbibing the body and blood of Jesus. We see things differently. We do value the physical act of eating bread and drinking wine or grape juice. But we see these acts as rich in symbolism. We see the bread as symbolic of receiving God’s Divine Love. And we see the wine as receiving God’s Divine Wisdom. We understand God to me infinite Love and Wisdom, so partaking of the bread and wine is symbolic of receiving God into our hearts and minds.
And this symbolism brings to mind a third New Testament passage. When Jesus says that He is spiritual food and drink, He means that He gives spiritual life. We become spiritual beings when we let Jesus into our hearts. Then we are in Him and He is in us. This Jesus says in John 15:
I am the vine and my Father is the gardener. . . . No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing (John 15:1,4, 5).
When Jesus is in us, and we are in Jesus, then we are living out the symbolism of the Holy Supper. We are filled with God’s divine Love and Wisdom, as we live a wise and loving life. Then we will hunger and thirst no longer for the good things of eternal life for we will be receiving day by day what is good for us–just as the Israelites gathered manna just enough for the day. We will feel heavenly joy and delight in Godly and loving deeds. We will have abandoned selfish goals and pleasures and opened our hearts to receive God and the eternal enjoyments that He gives.