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Being a Winner in God’s Eyes
Rev. Dr. David J. Fekete
September 13, 2015

Isaiah 50:4-9 Mark 8:27-38 Psalm 116

Was Jesus a winner or a loser? Of course from our perspective, with Christianity being the dominant religion in Europe for the past 2,000 years, we would say that Jesus was a winner. But let’s think about Jesus Himself, during His life. In one respect He was certainly a winner. He was popular. He had a large following. But in another respect He was a dismal failure. He wasn’t a success in terms of religious authority. The priests and the teachers of the law never let Him into their ranks. Jesus never attained a place of authority in the official ranks of religion. In this respect He was an outsider, who only appealed to the uneducated mob. Worse still, the religious authorities even opposed Jesus. They considered Him a blasphemer, an outlaw, a criminal. Rome agreed. Jesus stood trial for treason and was executed in a shameful way as a capital criminal. Seen this way, Jesus was a dismal failure.
So it is possible to be both–a winner and a loser. We live in two worlds. We live in the material world. And we live in the spiritual world. And we need to conform to the rules of both worlds. Jesus said, “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s and give to God what is God’s” (Mark 12:17). We need to be concerned about our success in both worlds. But we need especially to be concerned about our success in the spiritual world.
Whatever success we attain in this world will pass away when we die. The things of this world perish in time. So we call them by the Latin word for time, “temporal.” But spiritual success lives on forever. We call spiritual things, “eternal.” While we live in this world, we need to care for ourselves and for our families. But we need devote only as much attention to this world as our basic needs and some degree of comfort require. It is the eternal things that truly matter. Eternal things carry over into the next world and make us blessed forever. So Jesus says, “Do not labor for the food which perishes, but for the food which endures to eternal life” (John 6:27). This idea is developed in greater depth in the familiar passage from Luke,
And he said to his disciples, “Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you shall eat, nor about your body, what you shall put on. For life is more than food, and the body more than clothing. Consider the ravens: they neither sow nor reap, they have neither storehouse nor barn, and yet God feeds them. Of how much more value are you than the birds! And which of you by being anxious can add a cubit to his span of life? If then you are not able to do as small a thing as that, why are you anxious about the rest? . . . And do not seek what you are to eat and what you are to drink, nor be of anxious mind. For all the nations of the world seek these things; and your Father knows that you need them. Instead, seek his kingdom, and these things shall be yours as well” (12:22-25, 29-31).
This passage doesn’t mean that we needn’t care at all about the things of this world. I take it to mean not to worry excessively over the things of this world. They will all pass away in time. There’s a clever line from a blues song I like, “I ain’t never seen a hearse with luggage on top!”
We are tempted by society to think that the good things of this world are all that matter. More severely, we are tempted to think that we need to be a colossal success in this world. Some actually crave fame, power, and fortune. On a lesser scale, some want status symbols like a Mercedes or BMW car to drive, designer clothes, and a large home. I know of people who are mortgaged to the hilt and are working two jobs because they have spent so much money acquiring the things of this world.
Our society doesn’t have a very healthy view of success. In ancient Rome, a victorious general would parade through the streets displaying all his plunder. But behind him, holding a laurel wreath over his head, was a man chanting, “Success is fleeting.” Even at the height of his glory and power, the Roman general was being reminded that the things of this world are temporal and not eternal. In the middle ages, people spoke of the wheel of fortune. They compared fortune to a wheel. At times, the wheel would turn and you would be on top of things. But the same wheel would continue to turn and at another time you could find yourself at the bottom of the wheel with all your fortunes reversed. A song has come down to us from the middle ages about the wheel of fortune. Carl Orff wrote a piece of music about it called Carmina Burana. The lyrics to this dismal song about fortune go as follows,
O Fortune
Like the moon
You are changeable
Ever waxing
And Waning
Hateful life
First Oppresses
And then soothes
As fancy takes it
And power
It melts like ice
God is concerned about the things that last forever and that bring us into His kingdom of love. Swedenborg tells us that, “The divine providence regards eternal things and temporal things so far only as they accord with the eternal” (n. 214). When I first read this I took it to mean that God regards only eternal things. I didn’t see the second part that says God regards temporal things “so far only as they accord with the eternal.” That means that God does regard temporal things if they are in agreement with the things that last eternally.
Eternal things don’t always agree with temporal things. Temporal reasoning tells us to be the greatest, the best, the most popular, the most powerful. Eternal reasoning tells us to be the least, to be humble, to be a servant to all, to love others as much as ourselves. Temporal reasoning tells us to self-promote, to advertize, to get our name out, to let the world know how great we are. Eternal reasoning tells us not to take credit for the good things we do, to do good secretly, to put God first, to subordinate self to God and the neighbor.
But we are citizens of both worlds. When it comes to our job, we do need to let our superiors know the good things we are doing. They, also, need to know this as part of their job. We need to divide our consciousness. In the world’s eyes, we have obligations to our job, and we need to follow the reasoning of worldly success. But personally, we need to follow eternal reasoning and separate work from self.
I think this applies especially to our career aspirations. I was disappointed when I lectured at a humanities class that was comprised of business majors. I asked the class what matters in life. The response was that achieving wealth and power were what matter. How different this was from my own youth. I grew up in a culture that valued peace and love above all.
We do need to tend to our material well being. But do we need excessive wealth and power? Do we need to put them first as our goals? How does that view of success measure up against the words of Jesus, “Do not labor for the food which perishes, but for the food which endures to eternal life” (John 6:27). “Seek his kingdom, and these things shall be yours as well” (Luke 12:31). If we seek to be good, if we seek to serve, we will find ourselves valued in this world and we will be laboring for food which endures to eternal life. If we are successful in regard to eternal things, we have all we need. Then, the success we attain in this life is all icing on the cake.


Lord, we pray for eyes to see, eyes to see from your heavenly kingdom. Many are the temptations of this world. Many are the messages about the good life. But the good things of this world are but a fleeting fancy. But you, Lord, you have messages of good things that last forever. Your kingdom is an everlasting kingdom. We pray for the desire to find eternal rewards, not only the rewards of this world. We ask that you quicken our hearts and give us to love the things that last for ever. We know that you look after us. We know that you care for our souls. We know that you want us to be happy–both in this world and in the next. We pray this morning that you show us the way to blessedness–first in your kingdom, then in this life.

And Lord, we pray for the sick. May they experience the power of your healing love. Fill them with the grace of your healing power. We pray for the grace of your healing power for all who are ailing in body or soul.

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Providence’s Winding Pathway
Rev. Dr. David J. Fekete
September 6, 2015

Genesis 37:1-4, 12-28 Matthew 14:22-33 Psalm 105

The story of Joseph is a striking example of God’s Divine Providence. While Joseph goes through severe trials, the result of his journey is beneficial for all the players in his life–including himself. The way we journey as pilgrims in this life may be similar to Joseph. We may go through difficult times, we may appear lost at times, but for those who have a faith in God’s Providence, in retrospect, we can see that all the winding ways of our lives have resulted in spiritual growth for us.
In our Bible reading, things do not look good for Joseph. Hated by his own brothers, he is sold into slavery to the Midianites, who sell him to the Egyptians. In Egypt, other tragedies befall him. He is thrown into prison on false charges. But ultimately, Joseph rises to a position of power in Egypt. He rules as the Pharaoh’s right hand man. All of Egypt is under his command, except the Pharaoh’s own throne. Later, when the land of Israel experiences famine, Joseph gives food to his family, who travel to Egypt for aid. There is a tearful reunion of Joseph and his family. And in his position of power in Egypt, he is able to give his family the food they need. The very tragedy he experienced in his young years ended up with Joseph prospering immensely.
For many of us, life is a winding pathway through times of happiness and also times of sorrow and even despair. But all the while, God is leading us to heaven and heavenly joy and happiness. In every turn of our life’s direction God is leading us into greater love for Himself and for our neighbors, which is the same thing as saying that God is leading us to salvation. Swedenborg writes,
Providence continually regards what is eternal, and continually leads unto salvation, and this through various states, now glad, now sorrowful, which man cannot possibly comprehend, but still all are conducive to his eternal life (AC 8560).
When we look back on our lives, we see that the path we have followed has made us who we are. When we are in the depths of despair, and things look overclouded with sorrow, it is hard to maintain faith that God is still with us. There is that famous poem that we have on the wall downstairs called, “Footprints.” In that poem there are two sets of footprints on the beach. Then, for a time, there is only one set of footprints. The writer says to God, “Where where you when there were only one set of footprints,” thinking that those were his own footprints in a time of grief. God’s response is, “Those footprints were mine, when I was carrying you.” We can’t see Divine Providence working in our lives in the moment. But we can see Divine Providence when we look back on our lives. Swedenborg tells us,
It is granted to see the Divine Providence in the back and not in the face; also in a spiritual state and not in his natural state. To see the Divine Providence in the back and not in the face, is to see after the Providence and not before it; and to see it from a spiritual but not a natural state is to see it from heaven and not from the world. All who receive influx from heaven and acknowledge the Divine Providence, and especially those who by reformation have become spiritual, while they see events in some wonderful series, from interior acknowledgement they as it were see the Divine Providence, and they confess it (DP 187).
I know that when I look back on my own life, I can see that wonderful series of events that Swedenborg speaks of. And in my own life, I have experienced dark times, times when there were only one set of footprints on the beach. And as I look back, sometimes I wonder why God was carrying me, considering how angry I had become with Him. It is a measure of just how all loving God is. When I was in my twenties, I was preparing for ministry. I fully intended to become a Swedenborgian minister when I was thinking about my career at the age of twenty-three. So I enrolled in our church’s college, Urbana College. Urbana College isn’t a very well-known college in the US. But for Swedenborgian ministry, it is the best place to prepare for divinity school. From Urbana College, I went to our divinity school, the Swedenborg School of Religion. I was in our divinity school for five years when the church decided that it wouldn’t ordain me. That decision was reached in a three-hour-long meeting of the Council of Ministers while I awaited their decision outside the room. Since it was a closed meeting, to this day, I don’t know the whole story as to why they decided not to ordain me. I do know that I was an active alcoholic, and quite a loose cannon personally. When I heard the decision, I was enraged. From the time of my college years at Urbana College through my years in divinity school, I had put seven years of my life towards Swedenborgian ministry. I felt I had given my youth to the church, and it was all for nought. Furthermore, with only a degree from the unexceptional Urbana College and an unaccredited diploma from the Swedenborg School of Religion, I wasn’t in a very good position career-wise. While I was wallowing in gloom, one of the students said to me, “Oh, David, this may turn into something wonderful in time!” I didn’t want to hear this, and didn’t receive it very well. But it turns out he was right.
The course of my life proceeded into accredited graduate schools. First, my Master’s Degree at Harvard, and the my Ph. D. program at the university of Virginia. In these programs, my mind grew and expanded as I studied great works of literature and of the world’s religions. I became much more open minded. Before this, all I saw and knew was through the lens of Swedenborg. I judged by Swedenborgian doctrines. I was very narrow minded and parochial. Graduate study in religions of the world opened me up to people of other faiths, and taught me the interesting beliefs of other traditions and respect for people of other faiths. Then after all that intellectual work, I ended up in the mental health field in which my intellect was cut off as I worked with people’s moods. This looked like another setback, but it was another growing experience. My heart grew. I became more compassionate and my counselling skills improved. Then there was the gift of sobriety, without which I wouldn’t be able to receive any of these other gifts. There were also unexpected treats from God, like the gift of playing in a rock and jazz band. In the long run, I did become the Swedenborgian minister I wanted to be in my twenties, but I had so much more to bring to the ministry. I am now a much different minister than I would have been had I been ordained back then. Furthermore, by being kicked around by life, I grew more humble and my pride diminished. I’m actually glad for the way things turned out.
This narration exemplifies the passage from Swedenborg that I read at the beginning of this talk,
Providence continually regards what is eternal, and continually leads unto salvation, and this through various states, now glad, now sorrowful, which man cannot possibly comprehend, but still all are conducive to his eternal life (AC 8560).
Through all this, I became open to my neighbor. I saw that the immediate needs I thought I had to have, I could get along without. This is what is symbolized by the passage we heard from the New Testament. Jesus’ disciples are in a boat and a storm breaks out all around them. They are fighting against the wind. Waves and the turbulent sea symbolize temptations. They symbolize the despair a person goes through from time to time in life, and especially in one’s spiritual life. In the midst of this storm, Jesus comes to the disciples, walking on water and stills the storm. This signifies the state of peace that comes when temptations are quieted and new good has been insinuated into our minds and hearts. This would be like the compassion and open-mindedness that came to me through the trials in my life.
Temptations are not just allurements of the forbidden fruit. They are soul-stirring trials when we can’t see our way back to God and it seems we are on a course heading nowhere and lost. We can even despair of our salvation, and think ourselves bereft of the light of God’s love. These are the times when there are only one set of footprints on the sand. These periods break up our pride and teach us that we need God every hour and that all the blessings we have are gifts from God. Swedenborg speaks of,
a state of desolation caused by the privation of truth, the last stage of which state is despair. That despair is the last stage of that state, is because the thereby the enjoyment of the love of self and of the world is removed, and the enjoyment of the love of good and of truth instilled in its place; for in the case of those to be regenerated, despair has reference to spiritual life, and consequently to the privation of truth and good, since when they are deprived of truth and good, they despair of spiritual life; hence they have a sweet and blessed joy when they come out of their despair (AC 5279).
Would we humble ourselves and turn to God without such trials, I ask? There is a lyric from a song written by a friend of mine in Florida that goes, “Without those desperate times would we ever turn to you, and recognize our weakness?” I need to be clear, here, though. God does not send us these trials. It is we ourselves who bring them upon ourselves. It was my drinking and wild behavior that gave the Council of Ministers their doubts about me. God moderates these periods and guides them so that good will come of them and we will become more heavenly as a result.
So the path we take in this world is not necessarily an easy one. As Swedenborg tells us, “now glad, now sorrowful.” But Divine Providence does not let anything happen to us that does not conduce to our salvation and to greater conjunction with God and with heaven. Furthermore, all these trials bring us into greater love and this means into greater happiness. Through these temptations, Swedenborg tells us,
the Lord enters with affections of the love of the neighbor, and opens the window of his roof, and then the side windows, and makes him see that there is a heaven, a life after death, and eternal happiness; and by the spiritual light and at the same time by the spiritual love then flowing in, He makes him acknowledge that God governs all things by His Divine Providence (DP 201).
Those who trust in God can see this happening in their own lives. Whether we are now in a good state or whether we are now in a difficult state, we need to trust that God is with us, that God never gives up on us, and that God will bring us safely home to port. We need keep in mind the story of Joseph, and what looks bad now may turn into something wonderful down the road.


Lord, we know that you are always with us. We know that you are always guiding our lives. You are with us in difficult times. And you rejoice with us in happy times. You lead us through all the turns and twists of our lives. We know that the way to your kingdom is not always a straight, easy path. We know that we will experience times of trial and hardship. But we know that all these trials can be used for our spiritual enrichment. Everything that happens to us serves to bring us out of ego and worldliness and into love for you and for our neighbor. Though it may not look like it at times, we know that you are always guiding us, that you are always with us. Thank you for your continual care and guidance. For you never cease in your efforts to save us.

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Aug 31st, 2015

Such Righteous Decrees
Rev. Dr. David J. Fekete
August 30, 2015

Deuteronomy 4:1-2, 6-9 Mark 7: 1-8, 14-15, 21-23 Psalm 15

All our Bible readings this morning speak of doing good deeds, and of not doing what is bad. There is a payoff for this. Psalm 15 says that if we do these things, we will be close to God,
O LORD, who shall sojourn in thy tent?
Who shall dwell on thy holy hill
He who walks blamelessly, and does what is right (15:1-2).
What this Psalm says, is that when we do what is right, we will dwell on God’s holy hill and travel in God’s tent. This is a symbolic way of saying that we will be close to God when we do what is right. The tent referred to is the tabernacle that the Israelites carried with them in their wanderings. God was thought to dwell in the tabernacle. And the holy hill is Mount Zion, where the temple built by Solomon stood. The temple and the tabernacle were the most holy places to the Israelites. The temple and the tabernacle represented God’s presence in the midst of the people of Israel. The temple and tabernacle meant God Himself.
The tabernacle was in the centre of the camp when the Israelites were wandering in the desert. And the Temple was the focal point of the holy city Jerusalem. So God was physically near the Israelites in the tabernacle and temple. But God was also near to them in prayer. Deuteronomy says,
What other nation is so great as to have their gods near them the way the LORD our God is near us when we pray to him? (4:8)
The same is true for us, even today. Jesus is always near to us whether we pray or not! The only distance between us and God is when we throw up blocks between God and ourselves. But God never draws away. It is we who distance ourselves from God by doing bad things. It is a paradox. God is always intimately near to us, but we don’t feel God’s presence when we distance ourselves. It feels as if we were distant, but it is never the case that we are distant. I think of that reassuring Psalm,
Whither shall I go from thy Spirit?
Or whither shall I flee from thy presence?
If I ascend to heaven, thou art there!
If I make my bed in Sheol, thou art there!
If I take the wings of the morning
and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea,
even there thy hand shall lead me,
and thy right hand shall hold me.
If I say, “Let only darkness cover me,
and the light about me be night,”
even the darkness is not dark to thee,
the night is bright as the day;
for darkness is as light with thee (Psalm 139:7-12).
But for us to feel God’s love and presence, we need to clear our thoughts and hearts. This is what Jesus is talking about in Mark 7. The Pharisees ask why Jesus and His disciples do not follow kosher purity rituals when they eat. The Pharisees had a practice of ceremonial washing before they eat, and also they ate only certain foods. Also food was prepared in a special way to keep all diary food separate from meat.
Jesus calls these rituals “traditions of men”–not commands of God. Jesus probably has in mind the passage from Deuteronomy 4 that we heard this morning.
Do not add to what I am commanding you and do not subtract from it, but keep the commands of the LORD your God that I give you (4:2).
Jesus lifts our thinking above rituals and calls our attention to what is in our hearts. He tells us that it is not the food that comes into us that makes us clean or impure. Rather, it is what comes out of us, from our hearts.
Nothing outside a man can make him “unclean” by going into him. Rather, it is what comes out of a man that makes him “unclean” (Mark 7:15-16).
This teaching is timeless. We don’t have anyone telling us to follow kosher laws, since we are in a Christian environment. But Jesus’ teachings are just as true for us as they were in the first century A.D. Jesus gives us a list of what kinds of things make a person unclean.
Out of men’s hearts, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance, and folly. All these evils come from inside and make a man “unclean” (Mark 4:21-23).
These evils deeds are the things that distance us from God. For when we are involved in these things, we remove our consciousness from the source of everything that is good.
Paul has a similar list of evils that come out of a person’s heart, only it is a little longer. He calls these things, “acts of the flesh” (Galatians 5:13). But Paul also gives us a list of good things that can also flow out of our hearts. He calls them “fruit of the Spirit.”
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Galatians 5:19-23).
These are the things that bring us close to God. These are the things that show us to be Christians. In a broader sense, these things, these fruits of the Spirit, show us to be Godly people. This is true for Christians and for Jews, and for every person of faith whatever it may be. People notice these things. And people who are good hearted appreciate these attitudes and behaviors. They like being around believers who practice these principles, whether they themselves are believers of not. Moses tells the people of Israel to practice the laws that God has given them as a witness to the nations around them,
Observe them carefully, for this will show your wisdom and understanding to the nations, who will hear about all these decrees and say, ‘Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people. . . . What other nation is so great as to have such righteous decrees and laws as this body of laws I am setting before you today’ (Deuteronomy 4:6, 8).
Acting in the best way we know how; following the laws of right behavior that we have learned; loving God and our neighbor will make us children of God and bring us nearer my God to thee. As the Psalmist says,
O LORD, who shall sojourn in thy tent?
Who shall dwell on thy holy hill
He who walks blamelessly, and does what is right (15:1-2).
That will be us, making our way through life covered by God’s holy tent and living on Zion in our hearts. Though we may never attain it, we can still strive to walk blamelessly and do what is right.


Lord, you are near us when we pray. In fact, you are always near us, you are closer to us than our own parents, children and friends. It is we who put distance between us when we wander from your teachings. But even then, you are with us. The distance we seem to put between us is only an appearance. You are intimately close to every soul that lives in this world or in the next. As the Psalm says,

Whither shall I go from thy Spirit?
Or whither shall I flee from thy presence?
If I ascend to heaven, thou art there!
If I make my bed in Sheol, thou art there!
If I take the wings of the morning
and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea,
even there thy hand shall lead me,
and thy right hand shall hold me (139).

Thank you for your continued presence. Stay with us in this world until we join with you forever in the next.

And Lord, we pray for the sick. May they experience the power of your healing love. Fill them with the grace of your healing power. We pray for the grace of your healing power for all who are ailing in body or soul.

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Aug 17th, 2015

As for Me and My House
Rev. Dr. David J. Fekete
August 16, 2015

Joshua 24:1-2, 14-18, 25-28 John 6:56-69 Psalm 34

The passage from John this morning is touching to me. We see people leaving Jesus. Then we have those poignant words Jesus asks His very disciples, “You do not want to leave too, do you?” But speaking for all the twelve, Peter says powerful words in response,
Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We believe that you are the Holy One of God (John6:68).
I take two themes from this statement. First there is the issue of Jesus words. Jesus says, “The words I have spoken to you are spirit and they are life” (John6:63). Peter affirms this when he says, “You have the words of eternal life.” This means that Jesus’ words are powerful and give eternal life. These statements point to Jesus’ teachings as the power for eternal life. Then there is the second message from the words of Peter. This is a really difficult idea for some. Peter calls Jesus, “The Holy One of God.” The term “Holy One” is a very specific term from the Old Testament. In many, many passages, the Old Testament speaks of The Holy One. And in those passages, The Holy One is Yahweh Himself. I will cite 22 of those passages here:
Daniel 4:10, 13; Habakkuk 3:3; Isaiah 1:4; 5:19; 10:20; 12:6; 17:7; 29:19; 30: 11, 12; 41:16; 43:3, 11, 14, 15; (here the Holy One is also called “your Savior,” vs. 3, 11; and “your Redeemer,” vs. 14 ); 47:4 (where Holy One is called “your Redeemer”); 48:41; 49:7; 54:5 (“your Redeemer”) Psalm 78:41; Jeremiah 51:5; and in other places.
Luke also uses this term for Jesus when His birth is prophesied. In that Gospel, we find Gabriel telling Mary, “The Holy One to be born will be called the Son of God” (Luke 1:35). So Jesus, as “the Holy One” is none other than Jehovah God in human form.
This idea of Jesus as God in the flesh is difficult for many people. This is the reason why many Jews deserted Jesus. In our story for this morning, Jesus claims that He is the bread that came down from heaven. This means that Jesus is Divine. And Jesus said these things in a synagogue. This means that by saying these words, Jesus is no longer just another rabbi. It means that Jesus is God in the flesh. This is what caused many of the Jews to fall away. John tells us that,
At this the Jews began to grumble about him because he said, “I am the bread that came down from heaven.” They said, “Is this not Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How can he now say, ‘I came down from heaven?’” (John 6:41-42)
The words of Jesus, then, have two points for our consideration. First, that His teachings give eternal life. Second, that Jesus is God in the flesh.
It’s interesting how people react to these two points. Many of the people I talk to, believers or non-believers like the words that Jesus speaks. That is, they agree that Jesus’ teachings are beautiful and that a person would do well to follow them. I would agree that it is Jesus’ teachings that matter most. What makes a Christian is not so much what he or she thinks about Jesus, but rather the way a person lives. Robert Frost said it so well,
If you would learn the way a man feels about God, don’t ask him to put a name on himself. All that is said with names is soon not enough.
If you would have out the way a man feels about God, watch his life, hear his words (Edward Connery Lathem 1967. Interviews with Robert Frost. New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston. p. 149).
I concur completely with Frost. Don’t ask people to put a name on themselves. I know Sikhs who are as Christian as I could hope to be. And I have known Christian who don’t impress me with the way they go about their business. It is how a person lives that matters. It is how a person responds to Jesus’ words that matter. And if one finds Jesus’ words spoken by some other prophet or sage, it matters not. What does matter is how a person relates to those words and how a person lives them in their daily life.
Now we come to a very curious phenomenon. That is how we view Jesus the Person. Many westerners have a hard time with the idea of Jesus as a Divine Human. Likewise there are leading Bible scholars who doubt that Jesus actually rose from the grave. But what I find curious is that Buddhists and Muslims have no problem with Jesus’ resurrection. It is a prominent doctrine in Muslim writings that Jesus was both born of a virgin and that He rose from the grave. And I was just reading a book of interviews with His Holiness the Dalai Lama. The Dalai Lama said that a Buddhist would have no problem believing that Jesus rose from the grave. Furthermore, there are Buddhists who see Jesus as one of their celestial demi-gods called bodhisattvas. So even to a Buddhist, Jesus is a special kind of being.
So I think about the words of Joshua. Joshua is talking to the Israelites about which God to serve. I think of Joshua because Jesus is also talking about which God to serve. Joshua takes seriously the idea that there are other gods in the region of Palestine and Mesopotamia. Joshua lays it before the Israelites,
Now fear the LORD and serve him with all faithfulness. Throw away the gods your forefathers worshipped beyond the River and in Egypt, and serve the LORD. But if serving the LORD seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your forefathers served beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you are living (Joshua 24:14-15).
So Joshua lays out a choice before the Israelites–whom will they serve. Then Joshua says a line that I love, “But as for me and my house, we will serve the LORD” (24:15). Joshua is basically saying that it is up to every individual to serve whichever God fits them best. But Joshua makes a stand and declares that his God is Yahweh.
That is how I view my Christianity. As for me and my house, we will follow Jesus. This church is open to every person’s free decision which God to follow and how to conceive of God. But we also have our ideas about God. We see God as the Divine Human Jesus Christ. As for me and my house, that is how we see God. But we accept and welcome varieties and diversities in the way a person conceives of God. Due probably to my upbringing and my education, I find that this church’s doctrines about God make the most sense to me. I have shopped around and come back home to the church I was raised in. Thinking of God as the Divine Human Jesus Christ simplifies all the complexities surrounding the trinity. The history of Christianity can well be considered a history of trying to figure out the relationship between the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. I think John says it all. In John’s Gospel, Jesus says, “I live because of the Father, so the one who feeds on me will live because of me” (John 6:57). Jesus has life from the Father living in Him and we have life from Jesus dwelling in us.
So we live when we feed on Jesus’ wisdom. We live because of the words Jesus spoke. Taking them to heart gives us spiritual life. Believing that Jesus is God will not by itself save a person. As Jesus says, “The words I have spoken to you are spirit and they are life.” As for me and my house, we believe that Jesus is the Holy One of God, spoken of by the prophets. And we believe that His words, coming as they do from heaven, give eternal life.


Lord, we praise you this morning for your wonderful words of eternal life. You have taught us the ways that lead to heaven, and to company with you and the angels forever. Your words are Spirit and they are life. If we feed on the teachings you gave us, we will come into your kingdom, whether here on earth or in the life to come. Lord, we know that you are God. We know that you came to earth to save the whole human race. And we are forever grateful that you do save all who call upon your name.

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. Lord, we especially ask that you be with the people of Egypt and of Syria. Comfort those who have been harmed, and pacify the hard hearts of those who use violence to obtain their own will. M may all 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.

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Aug 10th, 2015

He Will Drive No One Away
Rev. Dr. David J. Fekete
August 9, 2015

Exodus 16:1-15 John 6:35-51 Psalm 34:1-10

Jesus gives us a comforting promise, “Whoever comes to me I will never drive away” (John 6:37). Jesus says further that those who come to Him have eternal life,
I am the bread of life. Your forefathers ate the manna in the desert, yet they died. But here is the bread that comes down from heaven, which a man may eat and not die. I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If a man eats of this bread, he will live forever” (John 6:48-51).
How comforting that is. Jesus will drive no one away who comes to Him, and those who come to Him have eternal life.
We use portions of John’s Gospel in our communion service. In particular we use this section from John, when Jesus calls Himself the bread of life. We cite John 6:35: “He who comes to me will never go hungry, and he who believes in me will never be thirsty.”
How can Jesus give eternal life? There are several verses in this John passage, and elsewhere in John, where it is clear that Jesus is God. Or at least, Jesus has powers that had been attributed to God.
To ease into this idea, let’s look at the passages that say Jesus has God’s power. Jesus says that He came to do the will of the Father, not His own will, “I have come down from heaven not to do my will but to do the will of him who sent me” (6:38). This suggests that Jesus is acting as God, since He is doing God’s will. Again,
“Truly, truly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of his own accord, but only what he sees the Father doing; for whatever he does, that the Son does likewise. For the Father loves the Son, and shows him all that he himself is doing” (5:19-20).
So Jesus is doing what He sees the Father doing. The two are one in action. Earlier in this chapter, Jesus says about Himself, “On him God the Father has placed his seal of approval” (6:27). Jesus says that He lives because of the Father and we live because of Jesus, “Just as the living Father sent me and I live because of the Father, so the one who feeds on me will live because of me” (6:57). Earlier in John’s Gospel, Jesus declares that God has given Him God’s power to judge. “The Father judges no one, but has entrusted all judgement to the Son” (5:22). As God gives life, so does Jesus,
For as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, so also the Son gives life to whom he will (5:21).
We are to revere Jesus just as we would God, “He who does not honor the Son does not honor the Father, who sent him” (5:23). Finally, Jesus has life in Himself, as does God. This appears to make Jesus equal to God, as there can be only one life in itself, “As the Father has life in himself, so he has granted the Son to have life in himself” (5:26). Jesus calls God his Father, “My Father’s will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in him may have eternal life” (6:40). So far, one could read these verses and conclude that Jesus and the Father are two very closely related beings.
But there are a couple of verses that make the startling claim that Jesus is God. For instance, Verse 5:46, “If you believed Moses, you would believe me, for he wrote about me” (5:46). Moses wrote only about God’s relationship with humanity. There is no mention of the Messiah in Moses–only God. So how can Jesus say that Moses wrote about Him? That can only be true if Jesus is God. Jesus makes this explicit in John 6:45, “It is written in the Prophets: ‘They will all be taught by God’” (6:45). This means that Jesus, who is doing the teaching, is God.
This is a sticking point for many people. Many see Jesus as a great teacher. Many see Jesus as a great prophet. But some find it hard to see Jesus as the Word made flesh, God in human form. The Jews of Jesus’ day refused to see Jesus as divine. They knew Mary and Joseph, and think that Joseph is Jesus’ father,
Is this not Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How can he now say, “I came down from heaven? (John 6:42).
This is what makes Christianity different from other religions. We believe that this kind, healing, patient, loving God, our Lord Jesus is our Savior. Even if there is still a heavenly Father besides Jesus, it is this loving Jesus who saves us. We have seen so many scriptures that say Jesus is the one who judges, who gives eternal life, who is the true shepherd. And this loving Jesus will turn no one away who comes to Him, “Whoever comes to me I will never drive away” (John 6:37).
The question of belief and good deeds comes up in relation to Jesus as Savior. In John 6 there is a lot of talk about believing in Jesus. “For my Father’s will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in him may have eternal life” (6:40). “He who believes has eternal life” (6:47).
Then they asked him, “What must we do to do the works God requires?”
Jesus answered, “The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent” (6:28-29).
That sounds like easy work. And it is not surprising that many Christians would like to end the discussion at that. But there are other verses that say our deeds matter, too.
A time is coming when all who are in their graves will hear his voice and come out–those who have done good will rise to live, and those who have done evil will rise to be condemned (John 5:28-29).
This passage clearly states that our deeds determine whether we are condemned or whether we will inherit eternal life. And John 3:19-21 agrees with this passage–belief and deeds both matter,
And this is the judgment, that the light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil. 20 For every one who does evil hates the light, and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed. 21 But he who does what is true comes to the light, that it may be clearly seen that his deeds have been wrought in God (3:19-21).
This is a clear statement that deeds matter as much as does belief. And this passage follows that one verse that Evangelical Christians emphasize so strongly, namely, John 3:15:
Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the desert, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life (John 3:15).
My Bible is published by an Evangelical company, and I was amused to read a footnote about this John 3:15 passage. The publishers appear to want to do away with John 3:19-21. The footnote is tricky, and if not read carefully can be misleading. The note reads, “Some interpreters end the quotation after verse 15.” Many Christians would like to read only verse 15 about salvation by belief only. The quote doesn’t say that reliable manuscripts end at verse 15. Nor does the footnote say that translators end the passage at verse 15. It says only that some interpreters end the quotation at verse 15. Indeed.
Evangelical Christians would like to end the quote with that verse about belief. But John says that deeds do matter. The passage above says that those whose deeds are wrought in God turn toward the light. And the passage from chapter 5 says that “those who have done good will rise to live, and those who have done evil will rise to be condemned.”
It would appear that believing in Jesus and living a good life is what John tells us to do to inherit eternal life. If we turn to the light, if we come to Jesus, we will live. Turning to Jesus means following Jesus. It means following Jesus’ teachings. It means following the life Jesus demonstrated.
Thinking of God as Jesus is a very welcoming image to me. Jesus is not a judging, wrathful being in the clouds. He is a humble, human, forgiving, healing God who walks in earthly dust. This is the God who will not drive away anyone, not anyone, who comes to Him.


Lord, you have promised that you are always with us–even to the end of the age. And you have promised that you will never turn away anyone who comes to you. We know that you never stop in your efforts to save and regenerate us. And you are continually putting before us opportunities to let our light shine as your disciples and your children. We thank you for your love. We praise you for your holiness. We worship you for your omnipotence. You have all power to save us and we ask you into our hearts this morning and always. For when you are in our hearts we are in heaven and in heavenly joy. We are grateful that there is no where that we can hide from you. For wherever we are, you can come to us and lift us up to you and your kingdom. Thanks be to you.

And Lord, we pray for the sick. May they experience the power of your healing love. Fill them with the grace of your healing power. We pray for the grace of your healing power for all who are ailing in body or soul.

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Jul 13th, 2015

Breaking Up Complacency
Rev. Dr. David J. Fekete
July 12, 2015

1 Kings 19:1-18 Matthew 8:23-27 Psalm 88

The path of spiritual attainment is not always a smooth, straight, path. It is not always peaceful. In fact, it can, perhaps must, be accompanied by distress and conflict. In our Old Testament reading this morning, the prophet Elijah stood in the presence of God. But before he stood in God’s presence, he was reduced to a state of utter despair. He came to a broom tree, sat down, and prayed that he might die. He said, “I have had enough, LORD, take my life.” And it was in this condition of utter despair that God appeared to Elijah in the form of a soft, still voice. And there are times when the currents of our life become furious storms and, like the Apostles, we cry out to God, “Lord, save us!”
There is a good reason why spirituality often exacts a high price from us. When things are going our way, we get complacent, self satisfied, and forget about spirituality and our continual need for God in our lives. There is a poem of Wallace Stevens that illustrates this idea well. I have been reading it for 25 years and it still moves me. In this poem there is a woman who reflects on mortality and the good things of this earth. Yet her reflections are qualified by her complacency with the good things of earth she knows. So the poem begins:
Complacencies of the peignoir, and late
Coffee and oranges in a sunny chair,
And the green freedom of a cockatoo
Upon a rug mingle to dissipate
The holy hush of ancient sacrifice.
She dreams a little, and she feels the dark
Encroachment of that old catastrophe . . .
There are a couple things I would like to emphasize about this opening stanza. First, the woman is complacent with her peignoir, coffee, oranges, and sunny chair. She has all the comforts of this life, and they have made her complacent with life. All these good things “mingle to dissipate/The holy hush of ancient sacrifice.” I take this line to mean that she has no place in her world for religion, called by the poet, “The holy hush of ancient sacrifice.” And with no religion in her life, death is something fearful, called “the dark/Encroachment of that old catastrophe.” Without spirituality, death is a catastrophe. It means the end of all those good things of this world with which the woman is so complacent. This woman would like the things of this world to equal the eternal blessings that only spirituality can give. And she resents religion:
Why should she give her bounty to the dead?
What is divinity if it can come
Only in silent shadows and in dreams?
Shall she not find comforts of the sun,
In pungent fruit and bright green wings, or else
In any other balm or beauty of the earth,
Things to be cherished like the thought of heaven?
She wants to cherish the things of the earth like the things of heaven, in fact, claims that the things religion teach do not equal the beauties of the earth:

She says, “I am content when wakened birds,
Before they fly, test the reality
Of misty fields, by their sweet questionings;
But when the birds are gone, and their warm fields
Return no more, where, then, is paradise?”
There is not any haunt of prophesy,
Nor any chimera of the grave,
Neither the golden underground, nor isle
Melodious, where spirits gat them home,
Nor visionary south, nor cloudy palm
Remote on heaven’s hill, that has endured
As April’s green endures; or will endure
Like her remembrance of awakened birds,
Or her desire for June and evening, tipped
By the consummation of the swallow’s wings.
However, content as she is with the beautiful things of this world, there is still something missing: “She says, ‘But in contentment I still feel/The need of some imperishable bliss.’”
The poem never gives her anything more than the transitory, passing things of the world. Her contentment with the things of the world has rendered her spiritually blind. So, too, do we all have the potential to lose ourselves in the world, and to forget about the spiritual things that really matter. The truths about God that we learn in early childhood can become covered over with selfish concern and worldly interests. When this happens, we need to be shaken out of our complacency. We need to pass through sorrow, and trials in order to wake up to spirituality. When we have been brought through distress, the truths which are stored deep within us come to light:
These are stored up, and not manifested until he comes into this state; which is a state rarely attained at this day without temptation, misfortune, and sorrow, that cause the things of the body and the world, and thus of man’s own, to become quiescent, and as it were dead (AC 8).
Swedenborg refers to these shocks to our system as temptations. In his system, temptations are more than just struggling against our craving for chocolate when we are trying to eat healthy. Temptations are more than just trying to resist bad impulses. They are mortal struggles in which our very lifestyle is threatened. In temptations, we let go of our worldly inclinations, and open ourselves up to God’s inflowing life and love. We are shaken out of our complacency and our consciousness is lifted up to spiritual issues. When this happens, the truths we have learned cease to serve our own glory and become serviceable to God and our neighbor. Before temptation, the truths we know, which are vessels that receive God’s life, are turned away from God, toward self.
When therefore these vessels, which are variable as to forms, are in a contrary position and direction in respect to the life . . . it may be evident that they must be reduced to a position in accordance with the life, or in obedience to it. This can in no way be effected so long as man is in that state into which he is born, and to which he has reduced himself; for the vessels are not obedient, being obstinately resistant, and opposing the heavenly order according to which the life acts; for the good which moves them, and with which they comply, is of love of self and the world, . . . Wherefore, before they can be rendered compliant and fit to receive anything of the life of the Lord’s love, they must be softened. This softening is effected by no other means than by temptations; for temptations remove what is of self-love and of contempt for others in comparison with self, consequently what is of self-glory, and also of hatred and revenge arising therefrom. When therefore the vessels are somewhat tempered and subdued by temptations, then they begin to become yielding to, and compliant with the life of the Lord’s love . . . (AC 3318).
When we have been shaken up enough, we begin to look at ourselves and our place in the world differently. Our personality changes. When we are seeking glory and power, we are savage, competitive, and harsh. When we have been broken down by temptations, our whole personality changes. “He is afterward gifted with another personality, being made mild, humble, simple, and contrite in heart” (AC 3318).
I remember when I first finished my Ph.D. program. My head was full of a multitude grand theological theories, historical details, and cultural creations. But where my own faith was in all this, I didn’t know, or care. I was also drinking alcoholically. At that time, I thought that what I needed was a full-time university teaching position. Then I could continue to drink and theorize about religion and have the respect of a university position behind me. But this didn’t happen. I ended up in a state in America that was the third lowest in education. There was no university in the city. There was no library to speak of. There were a whole lot of bikers and rednecks who cared little for the things I cared most for. I used to sit in a bar and stare into the crowd, unable to imagine where I was. I found out later from a waitress that she though I was high on drugs because of that blank stare.
But what happened transformed me for the better. Being forcibly removed from the university and all its theorizing made me take a look at myself. I turned within and asked myself what I could take from my education and make my own. I began to form, or reform, a personal belief system. And as you all know, losing a teaching job in Florida is what led me to quit drinking. In the rooms of AA, I learned a whole new way of approaching the world. All the ego and perfectionism, and insecurity that drove me to drink was undone. In my 12 years in Florida, I became a new man. A better man.
This transition period was not easy. Most of my ideas about the kind of life I should be living were challenged and changed. This change was pretty much forced on me. I wouldn’t have freely chosen it. But I feel that where I am now is better for me—and those around me—than where I was then. Those truths were reduced into a greater place of compliance with God’s inflowing love than they were when I had just graduated. My personality did change into a more accepting, more mild condition.
This is the kind of distress that spirituality can bring upon us. This is the kind of change that only hard knocks can bring about. This is the power that shakes up our complacency and self-glory and lifts us into spirituality. I think that this process is what the Swedenborgian poet Edwin Markham has in mind when he writes:
Defeat may serve as well as victory
To shake the soul and let the glory out.
When the great oak is straining in the wind,
The boughs drink in new beauty and the trunk
Sends down a deeper root on the windward side.
Only the soul that knows the mighty grief
Can know the mighty rapture,
Sorrows come To stretch out spaces in the heart for joy.
(“Victory in Defeat”)

Dear Lord, We know that our spiritual journey is not always smooth and straight. We know that there can be difficulties for us to overcome. We know that we may go through hard times and trials. But these struggles are all for our spiritual welfare. Even as we know that we may find hardships, we also know that we can become complacent with the good things you have given us. We can forget that all of our blessings come from you. We can forget to thank you for the good things we enjoy. We may even forget our utter dependence on you and your leading. It is in times of distress that we remember you and look for deliverance from you. May we not need to await misfortune in order to recognise your gifts and your care for us. May we always be mindful of your love, and may we always give you thanks.

And Lord, we pray for the sick. May they experience the power of your healing love. Fill them with the grace of your healing power. We pray for the grace of your healing power for all who are ailing in body or soul.

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Regeneration Means Coming Near to God
Rev. Dr. David J. Fekete
July 5, 2015

Isaiah 40:21-31 Mark 1:29-39 Psalm 147

Regeneration is coming near to God. For only when all the blockage is removed are we able to bear the heat and light of God’s love and wisdom. As is the case in all love relationships, God wants to be near to us, for God loves us. Swedenborg states,
The Lord, from the Divine love or mercy, wills to have all near to Himself; so that they do not stand at the doors, that is, in the first heaven; but He wills that they should be in the third; and, if it were possible, not only with Himself, but in Himself. Such is the Divine love, or the Lord‘s love (AC 1799).
God also wants to make us all as happy as we can bear. This, too, is because of God’s love for us. Swedenborg says that there are three essential of love: 1) to love others outside self, 2) to will to be one with them, and 3) to make them happy from one’s self (TCR 43). When a person loves, one wishes to make our beloved happy. How much so is this for the Source of all love. So God wants to make us all happy.
Jehovah, or the Lord’s internal, was the very Celestial of Love, that is, Love itself, to which no other attributes are fitting than those of pure Love, thus of pure Mercy toward the whole human race; which is such that it wishes to save all and make them happy for ever, and to bestow on them all that it has; thus out of pure mercy to draw all who are willing to follow, to heaven, that is, to itself, by the strong force of love (AC 1735).
This is why humanity was created–so that God could be one with us and make us happy. This is heaven–being in God and in eternal blessedness forever.
The third essential of the Love of God, to make them happy from itself, is recognized from eternal life, or blessedness, happiness and felicity without end, which He gives those who receive His Love. For as God is Love itself so also is He Blessedness itself, since all love breathes out from itself what is delightful, and the Divine Love breathes out blessedness itself, happiness and felicity to eternity. Thus God makes angels happy from Himself, and also men after death, by conjunction with them (TCR 43).
What we have to do is clean house and we will find ourselves close to God and as happy as we can bear–each according to his or her own character,
. . . because the Lord wants to save everyone, he makes sure that all of us can have our places in heaven if we live well (DP 254).
So it’s clear that God’s pulling for us. What we need to do is to respond to God and remove anything in us that comes between God’s love and us.
This opens up the question of evil, for what comes between us and God’s love is called evil. Evil isn’t a very popular topic these days. We are taught to have healthy self-esteem, feel good about ourselves, have a positive self-image. The thought that we might have evils in us is not one we will hear from modern psychology. However, we may hear that we have developed coping mechanisms that no longer are effective for the giving and receiving of love. We may hear that we have neuroses that we need therapy to overcome. If these psychological terms mean that our ability to give and receive love is blocked by dysfunctional coping mechanisms, or neuroses, then I guess we may be talking about the same thing as what theologians call evil. For evil is nothing else than a maladaptive behavior pattern or feeling that interferes with our ability to love. The only difference between psychological terms for this and theological ones is that theological terms refer to our ability to love God—as well as our neighbor.
So in discussing our relationship with God, we need to open up the issues of evil, maladaptive coping mechanisms, or neuroses. From his Lutheran upbringing, Swedenborg retains the idea that we begin life self-oriented, in evils, and in need of regeneration. In Divine Providence, Swedenborg writes,
From birth, each of us is like a little hell in constant conflict with heaven. The Lord cannot rescue any of us from our hell unless we see that we are in it and want to be rescued (DP 251).
It requires introspection to determine if Swedenborg is right in this. But if he is not right about this, the whole notion of regeneration does not make sense. What would we need to be reformed from, if we are born heavenly? Why would Jesus have said that we need to be reborn?
But we can all be regenerated. Everyone. Swedenborg is very clear about this.
All may be regenerated, each according to his state; . . those who are principled in natural good from their parents, and those who are in evil; those who from their infancy have entered into the vanities of the world, and those who sooner or later have withdrawn from them . . . and this variety, like that of people’s features and dispositions, is infinite; and yet everyone, according to his state may be regenerated and saved (TCR 580).
Some people seem to be born in natural good and some seem to be in evil. But everyone–good and evil–need to receive life from God and be regenerated.
Regeneration is actual character transformation. We become different people than we had been. It seems that we begin our adult life concerned with ourselves and our standing in the world. This is the way things need to be for us to find our niche in life. But a person wholly consumed with self and the world is obstinate, harsh, and ego-driven. This is the character that needs to be softened and broken up in order to receive love from God and care for our neighbors. Ego is broken up and softened by temptations. These are hard times–the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune that lead us to realize that we aren’t the center of the universe. Swedenborg describes this kind of character transformation. Before the regeneration process, the things we love–the goods of our life–relate to ego,
the goods . . . with which they comply, [are] the love of self and the world, . . . of self love and of contempt for others in comparison with self, consequently what is of self-glory, and also hatred and revenge arising therefrom. . . .
Beginning our adult life this way, we need to change. Temptations soften and break up our self-will and we become new people,
This is the reason why a person is regenerated, that is, made new, by temptations, or what is the same, by spiritual combats, and that a person is afterward gifted with another genius, being made mild, humble, simple, and contrite in heart (AC 3318).
The very things that we enjoy change. We start out our adult life enjoying the things that bring financial reward and that feed our egos. But after we are shaken up and knocked around in life, we see that others matter, too. Our whole affect becomes directed to more humane values. We cease loving worldly interests only, and look around us at our fellows. We feel like a person among others, rather than a superior or inferior individual.
All affections have their delights; but such as are the affections, such are the delights. The affections of evil and falsity also have their delights; and before a man begins to be regenerated, and to receive from the Lord the affections of truth and good, these delights appear to be the only ones; so much so that men believe that no other delights exist; and consequently that if they were deprived of these, they would utterly perish. But they who receive from the Lord the delights of the affections of truth and good, gradually see and feel the nature of the delights of their former life, which they had believed to be the only delights, that they are relatively vile, and indeed filthy. And the further a man advances into the delight of the affections of truth and good, the more does he begin to regard the delights of evil and falsity as vile; and at last to hold them in aversion (AC 3938).
Such radical change cannot take place in an instant. It means re-creating new pathways in the brain; which coincide with new feelings and thoughts. It means interrupting nerve pathways we have formed by habit, and generating new ones. Swedenborg describes this process in remarkably modern terms that agree with brain science today,
There are thousands of individual impulses that go to make up any particular evil, and . . . there are thousands of individual impulses that go to make up any particular good tendency. These thousands of impulses are so precisely structured and so intimately interconnected within us that no single one can be changed without changing all the rest at the same time (DP 279 [5]) . . .
The feelings of our volition are simply changes of the state of the purely organic substances of our minds, that the thoughts of our discernment are simply changes and shifts of their forms, and that memory is the ongoing effect of those changes and shifts ([6]).
Regeneration is re-programming those nerve pathways that coincide with our emotions and thoughts. Re-programming our nerve pathways takes a lifetime and even into the next life. There are some passages in Swedenborg that suggest, “The tree lies where it falls” (DP 277b). But in his final work, True Christianity, Swedenborg states that once we have begun the process of reformation, we can continue our regeneration in the next life,
There are two states which a man enters and passes through while from natural he is becoming spiritual. The first state is called Reformation, and the second Regeneration. In the first, man looks from his natural state toward a spiritual one, and desires it; in the second state he becomes spiritual-natural . . . One who has begun upon the first state in the world, can after death be led into the second; . . . (TCR 571).
Our life improves immeasurably when we undertake the process of regeneration. We are more accepting of life; we live in harmony with our brothers and sisters; we are at peace with God and with ourselves. In every way, we are happier, more joyous when we are coming near to God. Think of the ecstasy that love brings! And think what this means when we are speaking of All Love, the Source of All Love. This is what God wants for us: to love and be loved by God, and to express that love among our fellows. This is what happens in our lives when we come near to God.
The Lord, from the Divine love or mercy, wills to have all near to Himself; so that they do not stand at the doors, that is, in the first heaven; but He wills that they should be in the third; and, if it were possible, not only with Himself, but in Himself. Such is the Divine love, or the Lord‘s love (AC 1799).


Lord, you love us with a love that knows no bounds. We thank you for your infinite love for each and every one of us. Your will for us is that we be near you in heaven. You would like us to be in the highest heavens, as close to you as we can be. We would follow you into heaven’s joys and into the depths of an abiding love relationship with you. We pray this morning that you remove every obstacle that stands between us and you. We know that you work tirelessly to cleanse our hearts and to enlighten our thinking. May we be open to your efforts to purify our souls and bring us to you. For the delights and joys of heaven are what you wish for each one of us. Thanks be to you.

And Lord, we pray for the sick. May they experience the power of your healing love. Fill them with the grace of your healing power. We pray for the grace of your healing power for all who are ailing in body or soul.

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Jun 8th, 2015

The Birth of the Messiah
Rev. Dr. David J. Fekete
June 7, 2015

1 Samuel 8:4-22 Mark 3:20-35 Psalm 138

In our reading from 1 Samuel, we hear about Israel’s decision to anoint a king over them. This was a huge shift in their social and religious governance. Previously, they were governed by prophets and by individual moral intuition. There is an important verse at the end of Judges, “In those days there was no king in Israel, every man did what was right in his own eyes” (Judges 21:25). In the passage we heard this morning, Israel’s decision to anoint a king over them is seen as a rejection of God as their king. God tells Samuel, “They have rejected me from being king over them” (1Samuel 8:7). The entire social order in Israel is shifting now. It is a momentous shift.
In many ways, choosing a king is a rejection of God. The desire for a king is so that the Israelites can be like the nations around them. They don’t want to be organized the way they had been with Yahweh as the central uniting force of their culture. They want to be like the nations they see around them who have a king. They say, “We will have a king over us, that we may like all the nations, and that our king may govern us and go out before us and fight our battles” (8:19-20). They are rejecting the form of society that was given them by God through Moses. That early form of society was a tribal confederation. The twelve tribes of Israel were each independent and yet united by the one God Yahweh. In places in the Bible we hear of them being a kingdom of priests. Each Israelite was responsible for his or her own behavior. Each one had land given them by God that was to stay in the family. Each one had the law of God in their heart. They would band together when an enemy opposed them and disperse to their own lands after the enemy had been dispatched. Worship of Yahweh and following Yahweh’s laws were the bond that held society together.
This all changes when the Israelites take a king. When they take a king, they are also taking the mythology that comes with kingship in the Ancient Near East. Under Ancient Near Eastern models for kingship, the king himself was the first and closest connection to God. God spoke to the king, and God’s divine power came through the king to the people. In many cases, the kings were considered divine or semi-divine. Such a concept slipped into Israelite culture. Psalm 2:7 states, “I will proclaim the decree of Yahweh: He said to me, “You are my Son; today I have become your Father.” The welfare of the whole kingdom depended on the king and the proper rituals he needed to perform. Among them were proper sacrifices and enacting sacred ritual dramas in order to secure God’s blessings. One such sacred drama was the re-enactment of the fertility cycle. The king goes through a ritual death and rebirth. This symbolizes the death of crops in the winter and their re-birth in the spring. By performing this sacred drama, God’s power was re-energized. This assured a fertile crop for the coming year. Peace and prosperity within the kingdom depended on the king’s relationship with God and the sacrifices he performed. If the king fell from favour with God, the land would waste away and war and potentially defeat from some foe could follow. So the welfare of the kingdom now depended on the king, not on each individual and their own relations with God.
So in a way, wanting a king was putting a man between God and the people. Instead of God governing the people through the laws given by Moses, now the king was governing the people. There was a real threat to the integrity of Israelite society when they chose to anoint a king. For potentially, the king could do whatever he wanted to do. He was king. The people wanted the king to rule over them, not Yahweh.
With the king came a new office in Israel. That new office was the prophet. The prophet was there to make sure that the king followed the laws of Yahweh. You could say that the prophets kept the king in check. Previously, prophets served the people at large. They would decide matters of justice, like judges. They would perform sacrifices. But they would be open to all the people. Now they had one specific target–the king. It was their role to make sure that the king was following the laws of God.
As I have been saying, choosing a king was a dramatic change in Israel’s society. It also changed their religion. I have spoken a few times about anointing a king. Although the king ruled over the people, the king needed to be consecrated by the prophet. It was the prophet Samuel who chose Israel’s first king, Saul. And Samuel made Saul king by anointing his head with oil. Every king in Israel’s history was anointed with oil in order to be consecrated into the role of king. So kings were called “anointed ones.” The Hebrew word for “Anointed,” is “Messiah.” When we hear the word, “Messiah,” it means, “Anointed One.” The anointed one is the king. So the Messiah is the king. Had there been no king in Israel’s history, there would be no Messiah. A whole new religious system evolved around the idea of the Messiah. And when we Christians hear the word Messiah, we think of Jesus. I think we can say that we wouldn’t have had the role Jesus filled if there had been no king in Israel. There would be no Messiah mythology for Jesus to fulfill.
In Israelite theology, The Messiah is most closely associated with King David. This is because of a promise that God makes with King David. It is called the Davidic Covenant. God promises that King David’s heirs will always be on the throne in Jerusalem. We find this promise in 2 Samuel 8:16. In this verse, God says to David, “Your house and your kingdom shall be made sure forever before me; your throne shall be established forever.” So God promised that King David’s kingdom and his heirs would continue forever. David’s “house” meant his heirs, and his throne meant his kingdom.
But this is not what happened. In 587 BCE the Babylonian kingdom conquered Judah, and destroyed the royal city of Jerusalem. Since that time, there were no more kings on the throne in Jerusalem. So the promise to King David got placed in the future. Israelites looked forward to the time when a descendant of King David would come and rule on the throne in Jerusalem. This was the hope for the coming Messiah. And without that hope, we would have no Messiah in the form of Jesus.
All the Gospels trace Jesus’ ancestry through King David. They do this to establish that Jesus is the Messiah, who was of David’s lineage. When Jesus came, people were expecting a king. They were expecting a divine king. This divine king would drive out the Romans and rule on the throne in Jerusalem. Throughout His ministry, Jesus kept trying to explain that He was not a worldly king. He tried to explain that His kingdom was spiritual. But the people didn’t get it. When Jesus rode into Jerusalem, people cheered Him as a coming king. They said, “Blessed is the kingdom of our father David that is coming!” (Mark 11:10). When Peter confesses that Jesus is the Messiah, he doesn’t want to believe that Jesus will suffer at the hands of the Jewish leaders and be sentenced to death. Jesus rebukes Peter sharply, again trying to redefine the mythology of the Messiah (Mark 8:27-33).
With kingship established in Israel, we have a theology in place that leads to a Divine King. Although kingship was imported into Israel as a foreign idea, it reshaped their whole theology. It led to the hope of a future king. This paved the way for the coming of Jesus’ heavenly kingdom. With power concentrated in one person on the throne, the next step is that one Divine-Human can rule in our hearts. A king in Israel leads to a King of heaven. Jesus is the Messiah, but the Messiah of a spiritual kingdom.
We can see the whole scriptures as pointing to that one Savior of humanity. With the Messiah established in Israelite theology, we have a savior figure who will come to the earth. We know that Savior as Jesus Christ. In Luke we are told that Jesus showed the Apostles how all the scriptures were about Himself, “And beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them in all the scriptures the things concerning himself” (Luke 24:27). While 1 Samuel 8 makes the anointing of a king look like a rejection of God, in fact it leads to the coming of God on earth. For the anointing of Saul is the birth of the Messiah.


Lord, we give you thanks for coming to us in a form we could relate to. You came not as an overwhelming God on high; you came not as a powerful emperor; but you came as a humble man. All your life on earth, humanity tried to make you a king. Yet you continually turned away these human vanities. You gave yourself the titles of Friend, and you even called us brothers and sisters. And yet, even though you did not appear in the awe due your name, humanity felt the power of your presence. While you would not be king, humanity felt you as God. The light of your love and truth could not be hid. It shined through your Humanity, filling it with Divinity. We thank you, Lord Jesus; we praise you, Lord Jesus; we worship you, Lord Jesus. All glory and power and wisdom is yours!

And Lord, we pray for the sick. May they experience the power of your healing love. Fill them with the grace of your healing power. We pray for the grace of your healing power for all who are ailing in body or soul.

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That Which Is Born of the Spirit
Rev. Dr. David J. Fekete
May 31, 2015

Isaiah 6:1-8 John 3:1-17 Psalm 29

Our Old Testament reading and our New Testament reading both talk about some kind of change taking place in a person. In Isaiah, the Prophet confesses a sense of his own sinfulness. He is then purified by a coal taken from the altar. And in John, we have a lesson about being born again. A contrast is made between flesh and Spirit. Jesus says, “That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit” (John 3:6). Making a distinction between flesh and Spirit, Jesus says that we must be born anew, born of water and the Spirit. So both passages say that we need some sort of change in our lives.
In order to inherit eternal life, we need to undergo some sort of spiritual change. In the language of John, we need to be reborn of the Spirit. And in the language of Isaiah, we need to be purified by God. Both these passages say that God needs to work on us to make us into a new person. We need to be recreated by God.
Christianity has different interpretations about what this rebirth means. John’s reference to rebirth by water and the Spirit leads some to think that baptism gives rebirth. According to this interpretation, baptism washes away sin and with baptism a person is saved. I would add, here, that there is a whole lot of good music that celebrates spiritual cleansing by baptism. Often, this baptism takes place in a river and there is a lot of music celebrating going down to the river.
Another interpretation teaches that a person needs to accept Jesus in their heart. When a person confesses that they are a sinner, and that Jesus bore their sins on the cross, they are forgiven and saved. Accepting Jesus’ forgiveness in a person’s heart is being born again.
Catholicism has a complex teaching about salvation and rebirth. They teach that original sin is taken away by baptism. Original sin was when Adam and Eve ate from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. This original sin of disobedience resulted in their being expelled from the Garden of Eden. Their sin is said to be passed down from generation to generation with conception. According to Catholic doctrine, this original sin is washed away in baptism. But the Catholic Church also recognizes that the temptation to sin is an ongoing fact of human existence. So they teach that a person needs to attend mass and confess sin and receive absolution. By doing these things, a person receives grace that remakes a person into a spiritual being. Finally, though, even this isn’t enough. Catholics say that as a person is dying, they need to receive the Last Rites, to clean up any sin that a person still has left on their immortal soul.
Calvinism has an interesting doctrine on rebirth. They have a teaching called “sanctification.” What this means is that God shines a light on a person’s sins, and removes them over time.
This doctrine of sanctification is closest to our teaching about spiritual rebirth. Our teaching touches on all the above doctrines. We say that a person needs to accept Jesus into our hearts; we say that a person needs baptism; we say that a person needs to be aware of their sins and to do away with them. And we say that all this is done by God with our cooperation.
What we mean by spiritual rebirth is actual personality change. We need to be changed into a new and different person. This happens as we allow God’s Holy Spirit into our lives. Allowing God’s Spirit into us is a gradual process that takes place over a whole lifetime and even into the next life. The Greek Orthodox teaches a similar doctrine and calls it “theosis.”
We need to change only because we need to form a connection with God. Even if we are basically good people, being good isn’t enough. What we need is to have God’s Holy Spirit in us so that all our love and all our wise thinking are done by God’s Spirit in us. Paul says this quite well when he says,
work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for God is at work in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure (Philippians 2:12-13).
This quote says that our will, that is what we wish to do, and our actions are both God willing and acting in us.
But for this to happen, we need to ask God into our hearts. And we need to remove any blockage that would keep God from entering into us. That means getting rid of selfishness and self-driven desires. Selfishness has a thousand ways of manifesting. We think of ourselves as better than others, or we want to be better than others. We want people to honor us. We want to show off our possessions. We crave possessions that will make others admire us or envy us. These are only a few of the many ways that self comes between us and our neighbor—and ultimately God. For God alone deserves honor, God alone is the greatest, the whole world is God’s.
For Swedenborg, sin is anything that blocks love for our neighbor and love for God. Swedenborg grew up in a Lutheran Church. He grew up with the idea that our desires are corrupt and evil from birth. This teaching was in the air in the Lutheran Church of his day. We also find it in Catholic doctrine, notably in Augustine. So we find statements in Swedenborg like this one,
From birth, each of us is like a little hell in constant conflict with heaven. The Lord cannot rescue any of us from our hell unless we see that we are in it and want to be rescued (DP 251).
For Swedenborg, spiritual rebirth is seeing sin in ourselves and desiring to cease doing it. It is actual character transformation. It is seeing clearly aspects of us that we need to get rid of, and then taking action to get rid of those defects of character.
While we are taking action to do all this, at the same time we acknowledge that the insight into our sins and the power to remove them are all from God. This is how we let God into us. It is by cooperating with God’s efforts to transform us that we abide in God and God abides in us, according to Jesus’ words in John 14.
As we work to remove our spiritual shortcomings, we find new feelings flowing into us. As we get self out of the way, we find new love for others flowing into our hearts. We are becoming new people. We are being reborn. What we used to enjoy, is now not pleasurable. The aims and goals we used to strive for blindly, as if our lives depended upon them, no longer seem important. In somewhat archaic language, Swedenborg describes this process,
All affections have their delights; but such as are the affections, such are the delights. The affections of evil and falsity also have their delights; and before a man begins to be regenerated, and to receive from the Lord the affections of truth and good, these delights appear to be the only ones; so much so that men believe that no other delights exist; and consequently that if they were deprived of these, they would utterly perish. But they who receive from the Lord the delights of the affections of truth and good, gradually see and feel the nature of the delights of their former life, which they had believed to be the only delights, that they are relatively vile, and indeed filthy. And the further a man advances into the delight of the affections of truth and good, the more does he begin to regard the delights of evil and falsity as vile; and at last to hold them in aversion (AC 3938).
We are made new, we are reborn, to the extent that we remove sin and allow love from God into our hearts. Rebirth is actual character transformation. It is a psychic change. From loving ourselves first and craving to rise in power and prestige in the world, we seek to walk together with our brothers and sisters and to make the world a better place. This we do, because God is now in us. And God loves each person in the world equally. And God’s love knows no bounds. The delight that this life knows is far greater than any delight the world has to offer. Now we are living by the Spirit. And God’s Spirit gives us love and joy beyond words. Being born of water and the Spirit means joy, love, and peace that passes understanding.


Lord, you are the light that guides our way. You show us the direction we are to walk in. You illuminate our path so we know the pitfalls we are to avoid. You show us our souls, as we are ready to see. You shine your light on those areas in us that we need to overcome and put away. You give us the power to do all this. For without you, we can do nothing. Self-directed ambition, even spiritual ambition will only fall in upon itself and we will not benefit. But when we act by your grace and power, we can overcome any obstacle; we can remove any spiritual shortcoming; and we will grow more and more pure. And as we grow in our spiritual perfection, we come nearer and nearer to you, in love, in obedience, and in solidarity with our neighbor.

And Lord, we pray for the sick. May they experience the power of your healing love. Fill them with the grace of your healing power. We pray for the grace of your healing power for all who are ailing in body or soul.

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May 25th, 2015

Life in the Spirit
Rev. Dr. David J. Fekete
May 24, 2015

Numbers 11:24-30 Acts 2:1-21 Psalm 104

This Sunday is Pentecost. On this Sunday we celebrate the giving of the Holy Spirit to the Apostles. In a way, it can be considered the beginning of Christianity as a church.
I was talking about our church once to a friend of mine. She asked me, “Does it have the Spirit?” I was caught off guard for several reasons. One was, that we don’t usually talk much about the Spirit. My friend was a member of a Pentecostal Church, and those churches do emphasize the Spirit. Their worship services are very emotional and literally, Spirited. Our services, however, tend to be quiet, contemplative, and subdued. But this doesn’t mean that we don’t have the Spirit. It is simply a question of style.
We talk a good deal about truth. For us, truth and the understanding of truth is one way we talk about the Spirit. John pretty much equates the Holy Spirit with truth. In John 14, we read,
If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will pray the Father and he will give you another Comforter, to be with you for ever, even the Spirit of truth . . . you know him, for he dwells within you, and will be with you (14:15-16, 17).
So in this passage from John, the Comforter is called the Spirit of truth. Just a little later in the same passage, the Comforter is called the Holy Spirit.
These things I have spoken to you, while I am with you. But the Comforter, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you (John 14:25-26).
So this Comforter, who will be sent, is the Spirit of truth, the Holy Spirit, and it will teach us all things, and call to remembrance all the words Jesus had said. John’s interpretation of the Holy Spirit is truth oriented.
But the way Acts presents the Holy Spirit is different. It is a much more lively portrayal of the Spirit. The Apostles are gathered together in a room. There is a sound like the rush of a mighty wind. Tongues of fire appear above the heads of those gather there. This is a scene of awe and eeriness. But it becomes an impassioned scene of liveliness. Everyone starts speaking in foreign languages. A whole room of preachers all exclaiming in a foreign language. The witnesses gather around and wonder at this, for everyone one can understand what the Apostles are preaching in their own native tongue. The miracle is that those who are preaching are uneducated fishermen all from Galilee, who had never learned foreign languages. But Parthians, Medes, Elamites, Mesopotamians, Judeans, Cappadocians, those from Pontus and Asia, Phrygia, Pamphyilia, Egypt and Libya all hear the messages of the Apostles in their own language. There are scoffers nearby, who denounce this miracle by saying that the Apostles are drunk. But Peter defends them all by saying that they aren’t drunk because it is only morning.
This passage is the primary source for Pentecostal Churches when they claim that speaking in tongues is a sign of the Holy Spirit. But when congregants of these Pentecostal churches speak in tongues, it is not foreign languages they speak in, as did the Apostles. They simply babble sounds that mean nothing to anyone.
I see the main image here as one of enthusiasm for Jesus. So I return to the question my friend asked me. Do we have the Spirit? Do we have enthusiasm for Jesus? For of the many Christian churches there are out there, I think that we put Jesus most powerfully in the centre. For us. Jesus is the embodiment of All that God is. I say embodiment because for us, Jesus is God’s body. When Jesus ascended into heaven and sat at the right hand of God, we understand this to mean that Jesus’ human flesh, now glorified, is the very power that God works through to regenerate us. The Old Testament Yahweh, or Jehovah God as the King James Bible translates Him, God came down to earth, took on human flesh and became Jesus of Nazareth. Jesus is God in the flesh, God has a glorified body in the risen Jesus Christ. Talk about truth, this is certainly a truth to get behind and celebrate! We of all churches should have enthusiasm for Jesus.
Often, I think we hide our message under a bushel. We can be shy about our teachings. We can fear what other Christians would say when we make our statement of God’s unity of person. We can quench the Spirit in us that testifies to the reasonableness and intuitive soundness of our beliefs. There is one God and that God is embodied in Jesus Christ. There aren’t three gods. There aren’t a god and a half. There is only one God and that God is embodied in the One Person of Jesus Christ.
I’m not suggesting, though, that we push our beliefs on others. It can be an annoying experience when someone comes up to me and preaches their doctrines at me. I have mine; I respect yours; let’s find our way home in our own ways.
But there is another way to let our light shine that isn’t pushing our ideas on others. That is the example we live. When we had the service here after the teen retreat, one teen made a bold and challenging statement. He said that he thought it was hypocrisy when adults tell him, “Do as I say, not as I do.” I think that the way we live is the most clear and powerful statement of what we believe. Swedenborg writes, “All religion is of life; and a religious life is doing good” (Doctrine of Life 1). Being filled with the Spirit is doing good. That is another way to think of the question, “Do we have the Spirit?” Does our life reflect the way of Jesus? Are we living by the Spirit or by the flesh?
Paul gives us a clear list of what it means to live by the Spirit versus living by the flesh. We find this in Galatians 5:19-25.
19 Now the works of the flesh are plain: fornication, impurity, licentiousness, 20 idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, anger, selfishness, dissension, party spirit, 21 envy,[b] drunkenness, carousing, and the like. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God. 22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, self-control; against such there is no law. 24 And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.
We can preach our gospel by the deeds we demonstrate. Jesus is pretty strong about calling on His name but not doing the things He commands. This issue occasions the story about the wise man building his house on the rock.
46 “Why do you call me ‘Lord, Lord,’ and not do what I tell you? 47 Every one who comes to me and hears my words and does them, I will show you what he is like: 48 he is like a man building a house, who dug deep, and laid the foundation upon rock; and when a flood arose, the stream broke against that house, and could not shake it, because it had been well built.[c] 49 But he who hears and does not do them is like a man who built a house on the ground without a foundation; against which the stream broke, and immediately it fell, and the ruin of that house was great.” (Luke 6: 46-49).
Our faith will fall if it is not built on the firm foundation of a good life. All those golden teachings of this beautiful church will be swept away over time if they are not grounded in our lives. For it is our lives that anchor our beliefs. It is the natural degree that is called a container, or a vessel that holds the higher degrees in it. Nobody wants someone coming up to them and trying to convert them to their belief system. But someone may come up to us, having observed the way we live, and ask us what we believe. They will see that we are filled with the Spirit.


Lord, on the first Pentecost long ago, you gave your Holy Spirit to the Apostles. That occasion was attended by miracles and signs of wonder. Today, we ask that you send your Holy Spirit to this church and its people. Perhaps in a more quiet way, but just as strong, we ask for your Spirit to fill our hearts. May it enlighten our minds, and fill our hearts with love for you and for one another. May your Spirit inspire us to do all manner of good deed. May your Spirit inspire us to think true and healthy thoughts. And may your Spirit inspire us with useful, positive, and heavenly feelings.

Lord, we pray for those who are sick. Send your healing love to those ailing, and comfort their family and friends. Lord, we ask for the grace of your healing love for all in need.

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