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The Cloud of Witnesses

Message from the Ordination Speaker

By Rev. Jane Siebert

Introduction to the reading from Ezekiel 47:1–12. The Hebrew prophet Ezekiel had several visions while in captivity in Babylon. He foresaw the destruction of Solomon’s temple, and the reading tonight is taken from his last vision during the twenty-fifth year of his exile. An angel took Ezekiel back to the Holy Land and he was given a tour of the New Temple, complete with a river running through it. This vision offered optimism for the people in captivity.

47 The angel brought me back to the entrance to the temple, and I saw water coming out from under the threshold of the temple toward the east (for the temple faced east). The water was coming down from under the south side of the temple, south of the altar. 2 The angel then brought me out through the north gate and led me around the outside to the outer gate facing east, and the water was trickling from the south side.

3 As the angel went eastward with a measuring line in his hand, he measured off a thousand cubits and then led me through water that was ankle-deep. He measured off another thousand cubits and led me through water that was knee-deep. He measured off another thousand and led me through water that was up to the waist. 5 He measured off another thousand, but now it was a river that I could not cross, because the water had risen and was deep enough to swim in—a river that no one could cross. 6 The angel asked me, “Son of man, do you see this?” Then the angel led me back to the bank of the river. 7 When I arrived there, I saw a great number of trees on each side of the river. 8 He said to me, “This water flows toward the eastern region and goes down into the Arabah, where it enters the Dead Sea. When it empties into the sea, the salty water there becomes fresh. 9 Swarms of living creatures will live wherever the river flows. There will be large numbers of fish, because this water flows there and makes the salt water fresh; so where the river flows everything will live. 10 Fishermen will stand along the shore; from En Gedi to En Eglaim there will be places for spreading nets. The fish will be of many kinds—like the fish of the Mediterranean Sea. 11 But the swamps and marshes will not become fresh; they will be left for salt. 12 Fruit trees of all kinds will grow on both banks of the river. Their leaves will not wither, nor will their fruit fail. Every month they will bear fruit, because the water from the sanctuary flows to them. Their fruit will serve for food and their leaves for healing.

And from the New Testament in Revelation 22: 1–5, we have another familiar river from Revelation, right through the middle of the Holy City New Jerusalem coming down out of heaven.

22 Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, as clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb 2 down the middle of the great street of the city. On each side of the river stood the tree of life, bearing twelve crops of fruit, yielding its fruit every month. And the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations. 3 No longer will there be any curse. The throne of God and of the Lamb will be in the city, and his servants will serve him. They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. 5 There will be no more night. They will not need the light of a lamp or the light of the sun, for the Lord God will give them light. And they will reign for ever and ever.

Offering this ordination message is a combination of joy at being chosen by Devin to share a few words on this most holy occasion and questions about what to say to him and all of you. What does it mean that he will now and forever be Rev. Dr. Devin Zuber? What does it mean to add this Rev. title? What does it mean to be an Ordained Minister? 

For me, this night lights up as the Practice of Optimism, our Convention theme. Devin’s decision to become an ordained Swedenborgian minister is the epitome of optimism.  

I remember when Devin first came to the Committee for Admission to the Ministry in 2016. I was a member as president of our denomination. He asked to be admitted on the path of ministry preparation and ordination. He was already a professor in the Center for Swedenborgian Studies at our seminary. We asked why he wanted to be a minister, too. I checked with the committee, and this is what we all remembered, Devin. You wanted to know what your ministry students were experiencing to be a better professor for them and to understand the full spectrum of ministry; you also mentioned that this was important for your own personal, spiritual growth to walk with people facing serious life issues, illness, and death. This was seven years ago. What a long journey, Devin. You always have so much going on in your world and life, and yet, you also made room to keep this dream alive, honoring your grandmothers that were so important in your formative years, and searching for the right path you and the Divine were walking. We’ve watched you deepen this call as you fulfilled the steps required and moved closer to the Divine in your personal life. 

At our annual Kansas Association meeting last May, members fondly reflected back on your visit to Camp Mennoscah, five years ago, at our annual fall retreat along the Ninnoscah River. They laughed as they remembered when you had the tractor driver stop the hayrack ride so you could hop off and run into a field of cotton to investigate something new to you – a cotton ball, which you picked to take home and show your daughters, Sophia and Catherine. 

Devin, you have so many gifts and amongst them is your love of life, and nature, and your ability to share your knowledge and yourself with everyone in a memorable way,

So here we are, finally, your day of ordination and I’m wondering what this day may mean in your journey, your academic journey, your spiritual journey, and your life journey? You are a scholar in a demanding academic world. Graduate Theological Union students and Swedenborgian students clamor to take your classes. You are a writer with a book and many articles featuring your byline. You are sought after to speak at national and international conferences and scholarly meetings. Many would be satisfied with all this, but not you. Now we will see what difference does this Rev. make? Only you and the future can answer this, but I have a couple ideas.

Let us turn to the Word and Swedenborg’s opening of the internal sense. As I thought deeply and prayed about this message, I was drawn to the last vision of the prophet Ezekiel, and the river of life… and Genesis with the river of life in the Garden of Eden, and, of course, Revelation 22 with the similar vision from John of this beautiful, crystal-clear river flowing down the middle of the descending holy city New Jerusalem. I thought of Devin and his love of water and surfing and his love of searching for truth. The image of water/truth brought them all together. 

What caught my interest in Ezekiel’s vision was the deepening of the water of the river as he was led by the angel, first wading in the water ankle deep, then knee deep, then waist deep, and then where one had to swim and even then, it was a river, that could not be crossed.

My father was a farmer along a river. As a child I would wade along the bank, then when older I could venture into knee deep currents. This was a meandering small Kansas river. My mom would warn me about not getting too deep until I learned to swim. When I was older, I waded in the river waist deep and then, when I finally learned to swim, I was ready to explore the deep river water. I experienced this new freedom, that came with added responsibility to be careful of the sometimes swift current and drop-offs in the river as it was always changing with new rain. This relates so clearly to truth as we are always encountering new truth, small “t”, and we must be careful and wise in our discernment.

This vision of Ezekiel as led by an Angel is such a beautiful lesson of how the Lord teaches us: from our first ventures into an innocent understanding of truth, a simple acceptance of what we are taught, then the questioning begins as we go deeper and deeper into the waters of truth. And something wakes in us as we learn to swim and study and think deeply about what we believe and the truth we swim in. Some are OK with ankle- or knee-deep truth. But in my experience, most Swedenborgians seek out the deeper waters.

I wonder about you, Devin? Your mother and I had some informative conversations about you as a child when I asked her help to put together my ideas what to say today. You’ve probably heard this, but you were a difficult baby, hard to satisfy and entertain. She spoke about finally getting you a baby walker so you could get around and explore your home, and this helped a lot. One day, you made your way into a closet that had a pull string to turn on the light. You were fascinated and spent some time just turning on and off the light. We could go further with this analogy and what it means, but those here that know you, understand. 

Your mother, Janna, also said you were always a deep questioner. I doubt you spent much time just wading. She added that you were somewhat impatient in school. She spoke of three special teachers that helped to answer your questions and encouraged their students to think: Carol Waelchli, Brian Henderson, and later, Jane Williams-Hogan. All helped to expand your love of history, art, and religion, teaching you to swim in the truth and realizing no one can ever completely cross this river of truth, the river of life. There is always more to learn and to be, and so you are taking on this new challenge of being an ordained minister to support your deep dive in a new way.

As we study and learn more and more, only the idea that we have it all figured out, or we are clinging to old, incomplete truth, will create the swamps and salt marshes in Ezekiel’s vision. Those are the bogs in our life where the freshwater of truth cannot enter and bring new life. These parts of us remain in a negative, pessimistic, useless state of saltiness. 

 This vision is enlightening for all of us. It is so full of correspondences. A little salt is good, an element which unites truth to goodness and the desire to live as the truth teaches, we say “being of use.” But too much salt can kill us. Salt is used as a preservative and can also represent a lack of willingness to change and cling to old truth, preserve old ways or old understanding. However, the Lord’s ultimate truth is not static. It flows like a river we can never completely cross; it is infinite. If it gets stationary, it loses its energy and power. We can get caught in an eddy, just going around and around with the truth we already have and not getting anywhere. Truth is always expanding our finite minds with infinite wisdom of the Lord to link with God’s infinite love. It is only when love and truth are combined that the water is fresh and useful. And this is how we put it to use in our lives to be of service and regenerate our spirit. We receive from the Divine only as much truth as we are willing to use. 

Devin, I remember talking with you about your grandmothers and the difference they made in your life. Your mother, Janna, and I talked about your relationship with Grandma Ruth and Grandma Janet or Nini and what they might say to you this evening if they could be here in the natural body. They are certainly here in spirit, as is your brother Justin, Jane Williams-Hogan, and many others in your cloud of witnesses, both in the spirit world and with you tonight. 

You have touched many people in your life, Devin. You are a connector of people and a keeper of friends. As your mother said, “You have an incredible ability to bring light and understanding to life,” just like pulling that closet light string over and over. 

And now with the Holy City descending as we read in Revelations 22, the river of the water of life is flowing in the middle of the city and it is watering the trees on either side to enable them to bring forth fruit (good works) and leaves for the healing of the nations. The river of truth (our understanding of truth) deepens as we progress in regeneration, and enables one to do more and more good, and part of your path that is enhanced with being an ordained minister. You are a bridge builder to help heal our nation.  

So, Devin, now we will watch, as adding minister to your roll of service to others, expands your call and adding the title reverend multiplies your reach. Just keep trusting the Divine will guide and provide and let love lead through your cloud of witnesses, all the angels around you. 

When I asked your mother what your grandmothers would say to you this evening if they could be here in body, she was quick to answer. She said both grandmas would be and are overjoyed and delighted with your ordination just as she and your father are. Your grandmothers would be sure that this ordination will offer you more opportunities to serve others, which they both exemplified in their lives; and Grandma Ruth would remind you to always ask “What would the angels do?” I think she would laugh with her good humor and agree that it’s meaningful that the title Reverend officially comes before Doctor. Reverend Doctor Devin Zuber.

Devin, my prayer for you:

As you live into your new title,

May you search for truth through a widened lens?

May you write about truth with a renewed vision?

May you teach about truth with deepened wisdom?

Always remember, the title doesn’t change the bearer, but the living of it does. 

From Secrets of Heaven §3207. “In us (and in angels) truth is never, ever pure, or in other words, free of illusion…. Yet the Lord still accepts its true if there is good in it. Only the Lord is pure truth.” Amen. 

Read the full issue of the Convention Special 2023 Messenger

Meet Jane Siebert

Rev. Jane Siebert served as president of the Swedenborgian Church of North America from 2015–2022. She currently resides in Kansas and takes great joy in her grandchildren.