[Sermons] SERMON: Let Your Light Shine

Eric Carswell EHCARSWELL@compuserve.com
Mon May 17 21:46:24 UTC 1999


Let Your Light Shine
By the Rev. Eric H. Carswell
May 16, 1999

        Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good
works and glorify your Father in heaven.  Matthew 5:16

The Lord calls us to live in a way that reflects the fundamental beliefs
and values He teaches us.  He asks us to do this because by so doing we
wisely care for our neighbors, we wisely care for ourselves, and so we
prepare for an eternal life in heaven.  From this perspective the core of a
life of religion is very simple.  It involves learning from the Lord and
trying to live according to what we've learned.  It involves the regular
effort to consciously turn from evil and hurtful motives, thoughts, and
actions and the regular effort to consciously choose good and useful
motives, thoughts, and actions.

The book of the Writings of the New Church called The Doctrine of Life
begins with the simple assertion that everyone who has religion knows and
acknowledges that a person who leads a good life is saved, and that a
person who leads an evil life is damned.  (Doctrine of Life 1).  After
explaining this a little further the next paragraph begins:

        That religion is of the life and that the life of religion is to do
that which is good is seen by everyone who reads the Word, and is
acknowledged by him while he is reading it. The Word contains the following
declarations: 
        Whoever shall break the least of these commandments, and shall
teach men so, shall be called the least in the kingdom of the heavens; but
whoever shall do and teach them, the same shall be called great in the
kingdom of the heavens. For I say to you unless your righteousness exceeds
that of the Scribes and Pharisees, you shall not enter into the kingdom of
the heavens (Matthew 5:19-20). 
        Every tree that bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and
cast into the fire. Therefore by their fruits you shall know them (Matthew
7:19-20). 
        Not every one that says to Me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the
kingdom of the heavens; but he that does the will of My Father who is in
the heavens (verse 21). 
        Many will say to Me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied
by You name, and in Your name done many mighty things? And then will I
profess unto them, I never knew you, depart from Me you who work iniquity
(verses 22, 23). 
        Everyone who hears these words of Mine, and does them, shall be
likened to a wise man who built his house upon the rock; and everyone that
hears these words of Mine, and does them not, shall be likened to a foolish
man who built his house upon the sand (verses 24, 26). 
        Jesus said, Behold, the sower went forth to sow; some seeds fell on
the hard way, others fell upon the rocky places, others fell among the
thorns, and others fell into good ground; he that was sown upon the good
ground, this is he that hears the Word, and attends to it, who therefore
bears fruit, and brings forth, some a hundredfold, some sixty, and some
thirty. When Jesus had said these things, He cried, saying, He that has
ears to hear, let him hear (Matthew 13:3-9, 23, 43). 
        For the Son of man shall come in the glory of His Father, and then
shall He give to every one according to his deeds (Matthew 16: 27). 

The passage goes on quoting similar phrases for another page and a half. 
It would seem that the idea  the Lord is trying to teach us by these
statements is beyond doubt.  But unfortunately this has not been the case.

There is a part of the human mind that can take any idea that could be
clear but obscures it with precise and limiting definitions.  Or it takes a
clear idea but notes a flaw in the way it can be applied.  It goes on to
reason that because it is possibly flawed in some situations, it can be
rejected totally.

In the medieval Christian world there grew up many habits and practices
involving expressions of faith that were supposed to improve one's own
afterlife or that of a loved one.  Gifts to the church or going on
pilgrimages, or the Crusades were commonly thought of as a way to make up
for evils that a person had done.  Sometimes the idea went so far as to
imply that if a person did the right actions that individual could be
guaranteed a home in heaven.   At times these actions were offensively
external and associated with other aspects of people's lives that were
disorderly and "unchristian."

The response of to the excesses of this externalism was the Protestant
Reformation.  It led to the establishment of an idea that is still taught
and believed today--the idea that faith alone saves a person.  To avoid the
problems of a corrupted medieval Christianity, the leaders asserted that no
action that a person does or does not do gains that person heaven or gets
in the way of his being saved.  As one current Christian pastor has said,
religion as thought of from the perspective of medieval Christianity was
spelled "DO."  A person had to do, do, do, so many things.  But he asserts
that Christianity is spelled "DONE."  Christianity from the perspective of
a faith alone doctrine states that salvation rests solely on what Christ
has done--all we need to do is believe in the effectiveness of His death on
the cross.  The Doctrine of Life makes the following observation about
faith alone:

        In the Christian Churches, however, there are many who teach that
faith alone saves, and not any good of life, or good work, and they add
that evil of life or evil work does not condemn those who have been
justified by faith alone, because such are in God and in grace. Wonderful
to say, however, although they teach such things, they nevertheless
acknowledge (in consequence of a perception from heaven common to all) that
those who lead a good life are saved, and that those who live an evil one
are damned. (Doctrine of Life  4)

While the Lord does want us to know that we cannot earn heaven by external
good deeds, He does not want us to see the daily actions of our lives as
inconsequential.  In the Writings of the New Church  the Lord has stated
that a person cannot from self do good that is really good.  Under this
heading the  following point is made:

        That hitherto scarcely anyone knows whether the good done by him is
from self or from God, is because the church has sundered faith from
charity, and good is of charity. A person gives to the poor; relieves the
needy; endows places of worship and hospitals; has regard for the church,
his country, and his fellow citizen; is diligent in his attendance at a
place of worship, where he listens and prays devoutly; reads the Word and
books of piety; and thinks about salvation; and yet is not aware whether he
is doing these things from himself, or from God. He may be doing the very
same things from God, or he may be doing them from self. If he does them
from God they are good, if from self they are not good. In fact there are
goods of this kind done from self which are eminently evil, such as
hypocritical goods, the purpose of which is deception and fraud.  (Doctrine
of Life 9)

But any wise person would realize that just because a person can act in a
hypocritically good way doesn't mean that efforts to act better than we are
initially inclined to are bad or unnecessary.  The Lord wants us to see
that there should be a seamless connection between what we care about, what
we think, and what we say and do.  This seamless connection brings the life
of heaven to a person.  The angels get to do what they want to all the time
because they want to follow the Lord and serve others.  Their daily actions
reflect their love and their understanding.

We, in this world, do not start our adult lives being able to have this
seamless connection between what we care about, what we think, and what we
say and do.  We know there are concerns and ideas that come to our minds
that we need to temper or just plain hide from others or incur unpleasant
consequences.  We can temper or hide what we really care about and think in
a merely external way,  that is, only for the sake of avoiding trouble or
maintaining our reputations and the other benefits that go with people
thinking we're better than we really are.  Or we can consciously choose to
act differently from the way a part of us wants to and thinks would be best
because we believe that acting in that way is contrary to what the Lord
wants us to do.  

The part of the human mind that can take any idea that could be clear but
obscures it with precise and limiting definitions, might seize on the idea
that all hypocrisy is bad.  It would then assert that acting differently
from whatever spontaneously comes to us is also hypocritical and bad.  This
is a foolish idea.  The Lord calls us to act differently from the way part
of our mind is inclined to.  The life of religion has to start with a
person seeking the Lord's help to consciously choose to act better than he
or she is inclined to do.  It involves self-compulsion.  It involves
praying to the Lord for the strength to conquer in the battles of
temptation with the doubts and misery these battle inevitably bring.

The Lord calls us to let our light shine.  He wants us to use the wisdom we
can gain from reading His Word, from prayer, and to follow Him to speak and
act differently from what we would naturally do.  We can know that any
progress we make and any good that we do would be impossible without His
help.  We can know it for ourselves and we can know it for others.  And in
so knowing we can be grateful to the Lord for His work of leading us
day-by-day toward the life of heaven.  May we daily follow the Lord's call:
"Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and
glorify your Father in heaven."  AMEN.

       Lessons: Matthew 5:13-16
                
        If a person wills and does good things before he shuns evils as
sins, these good things are not good. This is because, as already said, he
is not in the Lord before he does so. For example: if a person gives to the
poor, renders aid to the needy, contributes to places of worship and to
hospitals, renders good service to the church, his country, and his
fellow-citizens, teaches the Gospel and makes converts, does justice in his
judgments, acts with sincerity in business, and with uprightness in his
works; and yet makes no account of evils as being sins, such as fraud,
adultery, hatred, blasphemy, and other like evils, then he can do only such
goods as are evil within, because he does them from himself and not from
the Lord, and therefore self is in them and not the Lord, and the goods in
which is a person's self are all defiled with his evils, and have regard to
himself and the world. And yet these very deeds that have just been
enumerated are inwardly good if the person shuns evils as sins (such as
fraud, adultery, hatred, blasphemy, and other like evils), because in this
case he does them from the Lord, and they are said to be "wrought in God"
(John 3:19-21). 
        If a person thinks and speaks pious things while not shunning evils
as sins, the pious things are not pious. This is because he is not in the
Lord. If for example he frequents places of worship, listens devoutly to
the preaching, reads the Word and books of piety, goes to the sacrament of
the Supper, pours forth prayers daily, and even if he thinks much about God
and salvation, and yet regards as of no moment the evils which are sins
(such as fraud, adultery, hatred, blasphemy, and other like evils), he then
cannot do otherwise than think and speak such pious things as inwardly are
not pious, because the man himself is in them with his evils. At the time
indeed he is not aware of them, yet they are present within deeply hidden
out of his sight; for he is like a spring the water of which is foul from
its source. His performances of piety are either mere customs of habit, or
else are the outcome of self-merit or hypocrisy. They do indeed rise up
toward heaven, but turn back before they get there, and settle down, like
smoke in the atmosphere.   Doctrine of Life 24,25

All books mentioned, other than from the Bible, are written by Emanuel
Swedenborg and are often referred to in the New Church merely as "the
Writings."  We believe that they are equally the Word of God as the
revelation of the Old and New Testaments.




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