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The Healing of Nations
Rev. Dr. David J. Fekete
July 7, 2013
Genesis 15:7-21 Revelation 22:1-7
This past week was important for the honoring of nations. I was privileged to enjoy two national celebrations. First, as you all know, July 1 was Canada Day. With festivals and fireworks we celebrated the day when Canada was founded as a Dominion. I spent the evening with Canadian friends of mine, and being a Permanent Resident, I was caught up in the patriotism of the day. Then on the 4th of July I privately celebrated the Independence Day of the United States of America. My TV broadcast the fireworks from the Nation’s capitol.
Patriotism can call forth the best qualities of brotherhood and sisterhood, and love of one’s country. But it can also call forth the worst qualities in humans, when the lust for possessing land leads to armed conflict and the horrors of war. Our Bible readings for this morning suggest both attitudes. Our reading from Genesis suggests the trouble we see in the Middle East today. And then in Revelation we find a prophesy about a time when the Tree of Life heals the nations.
Swedenborg teaches that our country is the neighbor to be loved above an individual and even above self. The nation is composed of individuals, so loving one’s country is loving all the individuals in it. To love one’s country is a spiritual move. Swedenborg writes,
A person’s country is the neighbor, because it is like a parent; for there one was born; it has nourished and still nourishes him, it has protected and still protects him from injury (TCR 414).
There is actually a correspondence between loving one’s country and loving heaven. Here on earth we love our country, and that love is elevated into the spiritual love of heaven in the next life.
It is to be known that they who love their country, and do good to it from good will, after death love the Lord’s kingdom; for this is the country there; and they who love the Lord’s kingdom love the Lord, because the Lord is the All in all of His kingdom (TCR 414).
In Genesis 15, God reminds Abram that He told Abram to leave Ur in Mesopotamia, and to travel to Canaan. Then God promises Abram that He will give him the land of Canaan. God says that Abram and his descendants will be “sojourners in a country that is not their own” (Genesis 15:13). Not only will they sojourn in a country not their own, they will also enjoy
great and goodly cities, which you did not build, 11 and houses full of all good things, which you did not fill, and cisterns hewn out, which you did not hew, and vineyards and olive trees, which you did not plant (Deuteronomy 6:10-11).
In a line suggesting the armed conflict by which the Israelites will take the Holy Land, God says that the land is home to, “the Kenites, Kenizzites, Kadmonites, Hittites, Perizzites, Rephaites, Amorites, Canaanites, Girgashites, and Jebusites.” So the land that God gives to Abram is already inhabited by other peoples. The Israelites will have to defeat these tribes in order to make the land their own
The wars of conquest by which Israel comes into the land of Canaan are in the book of Judges and in the book of Joshua. These are troubling books of the Bible in that it appears that God tells the Israelites to commit terrible acts of slaughter when they conquer Canaanite cities. It is from these books of the Bible that the concept of Jihad comes. It is described in Joshua,
Then they utterly destroyed all in the city, both men and women, young and old, oxen, sheep, and asses, with the edge of the sword. . . . And they burned the city with fire, and all within it; only the silver and gold, and the vessels of bronze and of iron, they put into the treasury of the house of the LORD (6:21, 24).
The implication of war is also in Genesis 17. There, the relationship between Ishmael and Isaac is discussed. God promises that Abram’s son Isaac will beget countless people–numbering as many as the grains of sand on the earth. God also promises Abram that his son Ishmael will father a great multitude. Of Ishmael, God says that he will be father of twelve rulers and that he will father a great nation. Tradition holds that the rivalry between Isaac and Ishmael foreshadows the tension between Jews and Arabs.
While wars can erupt from the lust for possession of land, so also can patriotism and zeal for human rights move the hearts of nations. The famous words of Thomas Jefferson remain a testimony to the causes that the free world embraces. Let’s take a few moments to recall them, from the Declaration of Independence:
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.–That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, –That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.
Drawing on the philosophy of John Locke, this document states that our right to be free is God-given. We are endowed by our Creator with “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” These freedoms are founded in Nature, Natural Law, and given to humans by God.
Unfortunately, these noble words led to warfare, also, as the United States broke free from England’s rule. Almost one hundred years later, Canada was formed as a Dominion in its own right. In this case, humanity had learned enough to allow this new nation to exist without bloodshed.
The natural freedoms that Jefferson so compellingly articulated seems in large part to be accepted by the United Nations. The free world looks at the whole globe and longs for there to be these freedoms everywhere. This leads me to think about the last chapter in the Book of Revelation. These words bring to my mind the Tree of Life that grows next to the river of life. This tree bears fruit all year round. And Revelation has that beautiful line in it, that the leaves of the Tree of Life are for the healing of nations.
We see the suffering of oppressed peoples all over the world, and we long for the healing of nations. We see warring factions in Afghanistan and in the Middle East and we long for the healing of nations. We attempt to institute sanctions where we see human rights abuses. And at times we go to war to protect peace–what an irony–as we do in Afghanistan. We long for the healing of nations that the Tree of Life brings.
There is finally one form of patriotism that remains to be discussed. I mean patriotism to the Church. By the Church, I mean the community of all believers. Loving the Church is a higher form of love for the neighbor than even one’s country.
The church is the neighbor to be loved in a higher degree, thus even above one’s country, for the further reason that a person is led by his country into civil life, but by the church into spiritual life (TCR 415).
The church, for Swedenborg, does mean the community of all believers–not just a person’s religion or the building in which a person worships.
The Lord’s kingdom is the neighbor to be loved in the highest degree, because by the Lord’s kingdom is meant the church throughout the world, called the communion of saints, and by it is also meant heaven. Therefore he who loves the Lord’s kingdom, loves all in the world who acknowledge the Lord and have faith in Him and charity toward the neighbor . . . (TCR 416).
It is this love for all who profess a love for God in whatever faith tradition they belong that leads me to participate in the Edmonton Interfaith Centre, the National Council of Churches in Christ, the General Convention of North America, and to minister to this specific Church of the Holy City. Everyone I know on the Board of the Edmonton Interfaith Centre espouses peace for the world, and for the religions of the world. And all decry, with me, the violence perpetrated in the world in the name of religion.
Our neighbors individually, our country collectively, Christians all over the world, and the faithful of all sects and creeds are our neighbors. As we reflect on the great freedom that living in Canada and in other countries of the free world gives to us, let us also remember that these freedoms are God-given. Let us remember and reflect on the heavenly freedom that comes from God, and reflect on God’s kingdom, our greatest neighbor and our final spiritual homeland.
Lord, we give you thanks this day for our country. For our country has nurtured us, protected us, and guarded the freedoms we know. We live in safety from foreign oppressors, and we can take for granted our safety and the blessings of liberty we enjoy. On this day, let us reflect on the gift we have to be born in a prosperous and free country. Let us remember that we are free to pursue happiness as we know it, and to live the life we choose to live. We know that our country is our neighbor in a high sense, and we are taught to love it even more than ourselves.
And we give you thanks for your church on earth. For even as our country nurtures and raised us, so the church continues to nurture us. The church gives us the truths to combat evil and to lead us into goodness.
And Lord, we give you thanks for your heavenly kingdom, that flows into our hearts with its blessing of love. Our true home and homeland is your eternal kingdom. We love our country on earth as our soul loves your heavenly kingdom in eternity. Thanks be to your care and love you grant us through our country, our church, and through your heavenly kingdom.
And Lord, we pray that you bring peace to this troubled world. May those who harbor ill will for their neighbors learn to understand and see the fellow humanity that they share. May those who strive against each other see that they are like in their wishes and in what they want for their land and nation. And may warring factions find their way to peace.
Lord, we ask for you to heal those who are sick. As you worked miracles of healing when you were on earth, how much more can you work healing miracles now that you have risen and have all authority in heaven and on earth. Grant all who are in need your healing love and power.