From The Pastors

Regularly one of our pastors will share a sermon, reflections on religion, or what’s going on around the community and the world. Our current message is below:

Uncovering the Truth

From Rev. Jared Buss
May 16, 2016

We know that the Lord’s truth isn’t always easy to understand. Sometimes when we go to the Word looking for answers, it’s like we go on a long journey that takes us in a circle back to where we started. The simple reality is that we just don’t understand the statements that the Lord makes. They seem hard, or they seem heartless, or they just don’t make sense. They’re stumbling blocks, not stepping stones. And so we’re left wondering, how do we start to build a life around the Lord’s truth when the truth seems so stony?

In today’s story, Jacob goes on a journey to “the land of the sons of the east” (Gen. 29:1). In the internal sense, this is that journey that we go on looking for answers. On that journey Jacob finds something that transforms his life; he finds something that is not stony at all. He gets his answer. And—maybe not surprisingly—the answer has to do with love. Last week we talked about compassion, and one of the things that was said is that compassion is nothing without the truth. Today we’re going to look at the companion to this idea: the idea that the truth cannot be understood without love.

Today’s story describes a turning point in Jacob’s life. Up until this point he’s been a pretty selfish person. He’s oddly likeable, maybe because we relate to him, but the first two stories of him show him stealing first a birthright, then a blessing from his brother Esau. What he represents is our natural person—the basic version of us, our default selves. He’s not a particularly good person, but he’s figured out how to get by in life. So he represents us when our focus is on figuring out our external circumstances—how to be successful at work, how to be an established citizen—but we don’t have a whole lot of genuine concern for people outside of ourselves.

Except now Jacob has gone on a journey to the land of the sons of the east. Symbolically that land is where the truths that relate to love are taught (AC §3762). This is where we go when we realize we’re ready to find a deeper answer. This external stuff isn’t enough. Sure, we’re clever and we’re getting by just fine, but it isn’t enough. There has to be more. There has to be something meaningful. The story says that Jacob “lifted up his feet” to go to this land (Gen. 29:1)—the picture is of us trying to pull ourselves up to something more.

What Jacob finds on his journey is a well with three flocks gathered around it. A well or a spring of water is a symbol that shows up over and over in the Word, and it almost always represents the Lords Word, the source of living truth. The flocks gathered around the well represent the teachings of the church, and also the people who try to live by those teachings. So our search for answers takes us back to the church, back to religion, back to the Word. But sitting right on top of the well is this great big rock.

That rock is everything in the Lord’s Word that we struggle with. It’s everything that we stumble on, every statement that strikes us as unyielding and unloving, or irrelevant. It’s a symbol for the literal sense of the Word, but it’s the literal sense when we don’t see any deeper truth moving within it. The rock was blocking access to the water of the well. What’s described here is something that can be enormously frustrating for us. Here we are, looking for truth, and right in front of us is this thing that’s supposed to be the source of everything true. But we don’t see much truth. We don’t see the answers we’re supposed to get. We don’t feel the presence of the truth. We don’t feel healed, or inspired, or helped.

Jacob also has a conversation with the men waiting at the well about how it’s not yet time to gather all the animals together and take away the stone (Gen. 29:7-8). This has to do with us not feeling ready to understand. We can feel that we’re not really fit to go to the Word—we have too many confusions and too many difficulties. But the story says that while Jacob was still saying these things, Rachel came to the well with her flock (v. 9). And suddenly Jacob has nothing more to say about the time not being right. When he looks at this woman Jacob is moved to act, and he rolls the stone away from the well. Just like that.

Rachel is said to be “the affection for interior truth” (AC §3793ff.). Her arrival represents us seeing and recognizing a deeper truth in the Word and being moved by it—just like Jacob had his heart moved when he saw this beautiful young woman. Before she came he’d been discussing what to do and what was right. But then he saw her and he knew what he wanted. He said, “For this—for her—I will move that stone.” And so the well was opened up. This is how the living truth of the Lord’s Word is opened to us. The story says that Rachel is a shepherdess—someone who feeds and guides a flock—because this affection for interior truth is what teaches us to see the truth (AC §3795). Rachel shows us the way.

Now, it makes perfect sense that we won’t discover what the Word is really saying until we have an affection for it. We can’t really get into anything unless we care about it. So it might seem too easy to say, “In order to understand the Word you have to love the truth it teaches.” The hard part is how. How do I make myself love the teachings?

One of the reasons that it can be hard to see how Rachel is in us is that we can get hung up thinking that our shepherdess—the thing that guides us—is something we love for its intellectual brilliance. In our struggle to understand the Word we can end up waiting to have an idea so compelling that in its presence everything else falls into place. We can tell ourselves that if we keep walking in circles around these teachings, we’ll eventually find an angle on them that makes them all line up. Then, then, when our mind is convinced, we’ll try to love the truth. But Rachel’s not just an idea. Jacob didn’t just find her attractive, or interesting—he saw her and wanted to marry her. He saw her and knew he wanted her. And she didn’t convince him to feel that way, or transplant love into him. It was his own heart that was moved, but in her presence it was able to be moved in a new way. So he went to her and took her in his arms and kissed her, and lifted up his voice and wept (Gen. 29:11). And we might say, “wow that’s impulsive,” but Jacob was willing to work for seven years to get permission to marry Rachel, and we’re told that those years, “seemed only a few days to him because of the love he had for her” (v. 20).

Rachel didn’t connect with Jacob’s head, she connected with his heart. When we go on that journey looking for answers, it’s because we’re looking for something to show us how to love, even if we don’t know that’s what we’re looking for. The Jacob in us is natural good struggling to come to life, an immature goodness that wants to figure out how to be something more. He’s a part of us that’s trying to love. If we’re not trying to find something good, Rachel will have no impact on us.  But if we are, when we get a glimpse of her we feel a rush of warmth. When we glimpse the kind of truth that she represents, we say “this is what I’ve been looking for.” And the realization isn’t, “this is what truth looks like,” but “this is what love looks like.” Rachel is the affection for deeper truth—she’s truth that inspires us with love, because it shows us love. It shows us what love looks like. We glimpse Rachel when we hear the Lord say, “Yes, I have loved you with an everlasting love” (Jer. 31:3), and instead of just considering these words we feel our heart go out and join itself to that truth. Seeing Rachel represents seeing the Lord’s truth and realizing, “This truth is showing me love, and so my love can be at home here.”

Listen to this passage from the teachings of the New Church:

[When the Lord opens the Word for people they] learn that all doctrine is founded on these two commandments—that the Lord is to be loved above all things, and the neighbor as oneself. When these two commandments are regarded as the end, the Word is opened; for all the Law and the Prophets, that is, the whole Word, so depend on these commandments that all things are derived from them, and therefore all have reference to them. (AC §3773)

We can hear these two commandments—the two great commandments—and not really get them. We can miss the significance of the Lord’s statement, “On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets” (Matt. 22:40). But if we have a flash of insight where we get it, where we can really believe that that call to love is woven throughout the Word, then we’re seeing a deeper truth—and if our heart is moved by that truth, then that’s Rachel. That affection really can open the Word to us. It draws in our heart, our willingness to be involved, and so we find the strength to push the rock away. But we have to go to the Word with that willingness, a willingness or a desire to be shown how to love, or there’s nothing in us for the truth to move.

Jacob also wasn’t able to marry Rachel right away. He had to work seven years for her—and then, when he thought he finally had what he wanted, it turned out that he’d been tricked and given Leah, Rachel’s older sister, as wife, and he had to work another seven years for Rachel. The implications of this are pretty clear: just because we catch a glimpse of a deeper truth, and see this inspiring picture of love, doesn’t mean we’ll still be just as moved tomorrow. For a long time we’ll have to work to keep our hold on that truth. We’ll open to a passage in the Word and say, “what?” And we’ll have to go through a somewhat forced process of reminding ourselves, “There is a deeper truth here. Everything that the Lord said descends in some way from His love and His hope that we will share His love. The things that I’m reading must relate in some way—even if it’s a very distant way—to the two great commandments.”

As we look for Rachel this way—as we look for truth inspires us to love—we’ll find that what we get at first is Leah. We’re told that Leah’s eyes were weak (Gen. 29:17). She doesn’t see very well—so she represents external truth that still moves us, but less keenly (AC §3819). When Leah has been made part of our lives we are able to look at the Word and remember that all of it teaches us to love our neighbor and our God, but we have a vague and indiscriminate idea of the neighbor, and the God we worship is a generic God. This is where we start. Later, when we are able to hold onto the affection for internal truth, we’ll be able to see that the neighbor we’re really commanded to love is the good in everyone around us, the presence and the hope of heaven in the people that we serve. And the God we’re commanded to love is not a faceless God—He is the Lord Jesus Christ, and all of the Word is about showing us who He is (see AC §3820).

To go to the Word with our heads and not our hearts is a bit like beating our heads against a rock. The Word wasn’t given to us so that we could weigh it and measure it; it was given to us so that we could learn to live the love of our God. It won’t do much for us if we don’t want the things that it offers us. But if we go to it humbly looking to be shown how to love—how to really love—then we will find something there, in those teachings, that is beautiful. In our second lesson we heard:

Everyone’s love holds the light of his life within it, for love is like a flame which radiates light. The nature of a person’s love or flame therefore determines that of the light of truth with him. Those who are stirred by a love of good are able to see the things belonging to that love, and so to see the truths that are in the Word. (AC §3798.2)

The Word makes sense when we go to it with love. And we’re able to do that when we trust that in the Word the Lord speaks to us with love. Then we’re able to be like children running to their parents because they know that their parents will meet them with smiles. That eagerness, that affection, leads us deeper and deeper into an understanding of what the Lord is really saying to us, and at the same time it draws out, ever more completely, the love that the Lord kindles within us. Love and truth meet each other with open arms, and become real when they become one. “Mercy and truth have met together; righteousness and peace have kissed” (Ps. 85:10).



Readings: Genesis 29:1-20; Arcana Coelestia §3798.2