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Planting Fruit Trees
Rev. Dr. David J. Fekete
September 30, 2013
Jeremiah 17:7-13 Matthew 13:24-32 Psalm 144
There are 11 references to apples in the whole Bible but no references to planting apple trees. So in honor of Johnny Appleseed Day, I have selected Bible readings about planting. We honor Johnny Appleseed because he planted trees, not because of what it was he planted.
Johnny Appleseed didn’t only plant trees. He also planted heavenly seeds of wisdom. In his travels throughout the American west (which we now call the mid-west) he distributed chapters of Swedenborg’s works to the houses on the frontier that he came across. He would drop off a new chapter and pick up the old chapter he had left on his trip before. He did this for the houses he passed by as he went across the west planting apple trees. So Johnny Appleseed planted seeds of wisdom through the works of Swedenborg that he distributed in the American frontier.
Swedenborg talks about our spiritual growth, or our regeneration, as a kind of planting. Good things and truths are planted in us. What does it mean to have good things planted in us? These are the instructions we learn when we are young, such as at retreats like this. These are instructions in manners, in the house rules where you live, in the laws in the country where you live, and, yes, teachings about heaven and God. But these truths are only imbedded in our memory at first. Only when we love these rules and teachings and gladly do them, then they come alive. So the next step is that we want to do the things we are taught–we want to be good and we want to do good. When we come to this point, then we can say that the goods and truths have been planted in us. When we do good deeds naturally and when we love doing good things, then more and more good can flow in from God. For all good comes from God.
So the process goes like this. Good ideas are planted in us by instructions when we are young and as we grow. When we only know these ideas and they are only facts in our memory, they are in our outer person. We have an inner and an outer aspect to who we are. Our memory and our behavior are outer aspects to who we are. But there is an inner aspect to who we are. What we think and what we are feeling are inner qualities that form our inner person.
When we start to love the things we have learned, they become a part of our emotional life. Then they become internalized–part of our inner person. Our heart and our desire is to do good. It is through our inner person that we communicate with God and with heaven. Heaven is in contact with our feelings and our thoughts. When we have good feelings and true thoughts, then God and heaven are influencing our inner person.
All are perfected by the planting of faith and charity in the external or natural person; for unless these are there implanted, good and truth cannot flow in from the internal or spiritual person, that is, from the Lord through that person, for there is no reception; and if there is no reception, the influx stops and perishes, yea, the internal person is even closed. From this it is plain that the natural person must be brought into a state of accommodation in order that it may be a receptacle (AC 8452).
But I don’t think that coming to love and do what is good is natural for us. Religion sometimes works against our basic instincts for self-interest and the lust for wealth. Everything we need for survival in the world is in our outer person. Everything we need to fit us for God’s kingdom is in our internal person. Here, we run into conflict. There is a struggle between what we know is good and right, and what we want to do to serve selfish desires. This struggle is called temptation. Temptation makes our outer person willing to listen to the teachings we learned when we were young, or teachings we hear in church. This is like tilling the soil. It is like breaking up the hard ground so that seeds can be planted in it. Spiritually, this means that our outer person becomes willing to do good. The outer person listens to the inner person.
faith cannot in any wise be implanted in those who are of the spiritual church except by temptations, and thus neither can charity–for in temptations a person is in combat against falsity and evil, which flow into the external person from the hells, while good and truth flow in through the internal from the Lord–thus by combat of the internal person with the external person, which is called temptation. And so far then as the external person is reduced to obedience under the internal, so far faith and charity are planted; for the external or natural person is the receptacle of truth and good from the internal person (AC 8351).
This week end, the Edmonton Church hosted a teen retreat. In between recreation and quality “face time,” we explored some seeds of truth in educational sessions. We asked, “What are some extreme and strange things we have heard religion tell us to do or not to do?” I don’t feel that rehashing some of these distasteful teachings serves a useful purpose in a worship service. We then asked, “What kinds of things does religion ask us to do or not to do that makes sense?” These ideas, though, do bear repeating. The teens came up with the following list:
Holidays for family time
Believe and respect God
This church teaches that heaven consists in doing something a person loves that benefits others. So we asked, “What kinds of things do you like to do that benefits others?” The teens came up with the following list:
One of the most important functions that a church does is to instill values. This means that churches help sort out what really matters in life. So we asked just that, “What is important in life?” The teens came up with the following list:
The company you keep
Respect, given and received
Being the best you can be
What impresses me most about this list of important things is how few of the things they came up with depended on money. They identified truly spiritual qualities. We all know that money matters to survive in life. But the things that matter for ever, money can’t buy.
These are some of the seeds that were planted during our retreat this week end. It was a joint gardening project between teens and staff. We all came away with a richer garden for our time together.