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Church of the Holy City

Archive for January, 2010

Jan 25th, 2010

A Kingdom of Priests
Rev. Dr. David J. Fekete
January 24, 2010

Exodus 19:1-8 Matthew 4:12-22 Psalm 84

Since today we will be holding our Annual General Meeting, I thought I would reflect on the nature of the church. I thought about what constitutes the church, what it means to be in a church, and the relationship between churches like this one and God.
I chose my Bible readings for this morning with this thought in mind. In both the Old Testament and the New Testament, the theme is the calling of people into a church. In the Old testament, God calls the Israelites into communion with Him through Moses. And in the New Testament, Jesus calls the fishermen Peter, Andrew, James, and John to follow Him. And without question, they drop their nets and follow Christ. Also the psalm I selected is based on the house of God. This means the temple in Jerusalem, which was on top of Mount Zion. Even in the psalm, the house of God is a metaphor for living according to God’s ways. The Psalmist writes, “Blessed are those who dwell in your house.” No one lived in the temple, so it is clear that by dwelling in God’s house is meant following the laws of God.
Our Old Testament passage gives us a good idea of exactly what it means to be truly a church member. God tells the Israelites, “If you obey me fully and keep my covenant, then . . . you will be for me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation” (Exodus 19:5). God asks the Israelites to obey Him and to keep His covenant. Their covenant with God was the law that had been given them by Moses. So being called by God’s name means to obey God and to follow God’s law. This passage is striking because holiness isn’t seen in the priests or the prophets, or even Moses alone. Each individual will be holy if he or she obeys God and keeps God’s covenant. So God says “You will be a kingdom of priests.” Everyone will embody the holiness of the priest. The same idea is symbolized by dwelling in the house of God, as we heard in this morning’s psalm. Swedenborg writes,
The House of God in the universal sense is the Lord’s Kingdom; in a less universal sense, the church; and in a particular sense the person himself in whom is the Kingdom and the Church of the Lord (AC 2048).
So the House of God is the Lord’s Kingdom everywhere—in heaven and everywhere on earth where people call on God in their lives. In a more narrow sense, it is the Christian Church. And in an even more narrow sense, the House of God is every person who obeys God and keeps His covenant.
The same may be said of our New Testament passage. We heard about four of Christ’s apostles being called to follow Christ. Being a disciple of Christ is obviously not just those twelve that followed Jesus wherever He went. We are all called to follow Christ. We are all disciples of Christ if we embody the principals for which He stands and if we follow His teachings.
The church in its widest sense is wherever the Lord is. Swedenborg defines the church universal as follows,
The Divine of the Lord is what makes the church with a person, for nothing is called the Church but what is proper to the Lord; it is the good which is of love and charity, and it is the truth which is of faith, which make what is called the Church (AC 2966).
Wherever God is, there the church is. And the Lord is present wherever there is love and truth. This means that the church is everywhere. It is not just Christians; it includes Buddhists, Hindus, Taoists, Muslims, and people all over the world who have goodness in their hearts and truth in their minds. Swedenborg makes this point very clear.
Churches are not churches from being so called and from professing the Lord’s name, but from being in the good and truth of faith; it is the good and truth of faith itself which makes the church, nay, is the church, for in the good and truth of faith there is the Lord, and where the Lord is there is the church (AC 3379).
I think that this is a remarkably progressive statement when you consider Swedenborg’s background and the times in which Swedenborg wrote. He was the son of a Lutheran bishop. And he lived in Europe in a time when for all intents and purposes Europe was a Christian continent. Yet despite this, Swedenborg’s broad consciousness was opened to see that wherever goodness and truth were, there God was and is.
The primary distinguishing feature of every church is a life of love, or what Swedenborg calls charity. All the churches in the world would be united if only they held love and living a good life in the primary place. There are always going to be differences of opinion in matters of doctrine. But if only people put love for God and the neighbour and the good life that comes from it in the first place, there would be only one great church the world over. This is the hope and the vision Swedenborg holds out to the world.
If charity were in the first place . . . the church would have a different face, . . . They would then not make many churches by distinguishing according to opinions concerning truths of faith; but they would say that there was one church, in which are all who are in the good of life, not only those who are within the region where the church is, but also they who are outside it (AC 6269).
All the warring factions and dissention about religion would come to an end, if the world could but see that love is what matters most in religion, and the good life that derives from love. This is a radical teaching, and many Christian churches are dead set against this idea. They draw on John 3:16, 18 and emphasize it to the point of heresy. Those verses read,
For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him may not perish but have eternal life. But whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son.
For many Christian sects, if a person doesn’t believe in Jesus, he or she will be damned. I interviewed with a Lutheran minister when I was seeking an internship for ministry. He had gone online and found a web page about Swedenborg. He printed it up and highlighted a line from our faith that said God is present to save all people, everywhere whose lives affirm the best they know. He pointed to that line and said, “I can’t accept that!” And up here in Edmonton, I had an unpleasant conversation with a friend who thought that all the billions of people practicing other religions were condemned because of John 3:16, 18. And, of course, she cited that passage in our conversation. I’m with Swedenborg. And the kind of God who would condemn those who do not worship Jesus is not the kind of God I believe in.
We have talked about the church in general as everywhere that God is. We next need to consider the church in particular. The church in particular is each person who has God in his or her heart. Each devout person is a church. And, in fact, the greater church couldn’t exist unless it were made up of the many people who have God in their hearts. We are called, each one of us, to be a church. This means that we are not a church according to where we go to worship, or according to which denomination we belong to. We are a church according to our relationship with God. Swedenborg writes, “The person who is in truths of faith from good, he is a church” (AC 5806). And Swedenborg goes on to make clear that the church as a group must be made up of individuals who all practice love and seek truth.
The spiritual person is a church in particular, and a number are a church in general; if a person in particular were not a church there would not be any church in general; it is the congregation in general which in common conversation is called the church, but each one in the congregation must be of this character in order for there to be any church (AC 4292).
The church as an organization, or religion as an institution has this idea as its purpose. The purpose of a church is to nurture love and truth in its members. It is also a place where people bring their love and express the truths they know. A church is truly alive when its members bring their faith to the worship service and the church community. And a church is truly alive when it fosters spiritual growth among its members. A church is not measured by the number of people who come to it. A church is not measured by the attendance of its members alone. A church is measured by the hearts and minds of its people. A church, be it few or many, is known by God’s presence in it. And God is present when each individual in the church, from the depths of his or her heart, responds to God’s call, and says, “Lord, I will follow you.” A church is a kingdom of priests when its members enter into a heartfelt covenant with God, and agree to obey God and keep the commandments of His Word.

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Evil and God’s Providence
Rev. Dr. David J. Fekete
January 17, 2010

Joshua 1:1-9 John 9

The past several weeks have caused me to ponder the issue of evil. Our church was broken into, and some important things were stolen. Among the things stolen was the church computer, which makes it pretty near impossible to work out of the office now. Then my email box was hacked into. The criminal locked me out of my own mailbox and I had to enter all 165 of my addresses one by one into a new mailbox I had to create. Then we all heard about the terrible earthquake in Haiti, and the devastation it has caused that country. These events can all evils. And we are made aware that contending with evil is a part of the human condition.
I need to make a distinction in this discussion, though. The church vandalism and my email box violation are the result of evil human actions. The earthquake in Haiti is a natural disaster that was not the result of human evil. These are two different kinds of evil, and in the space of this talk I can’t talk about both. I will confine my discussion this Sunday to the issue of human evil.
But we need to keep in mind one very important point. No matter how awful things look, God presides over human affairs and human events. Jesus tells us:
29Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from the will of your Father. 30And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. 31So don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows (Matthew 10:29-31).
Swedenborg adds his voice, to teach us that all the events in the world, and in human behaviour, are under God’s care,
. . . every least thing that happens in the world, whether to evil people or to good people, is under divine providence, and particularly that the divine providence is active in the smallest details of our own thoughts and actions and is therefore universal (DP240).
To our finite eyes, it certainly may not look like it sometimes. There’s a verse in a Gordon Lightfoot song about the wreck of an iron tanker that sunk in the seventies, killing its whole crew. The line is,
Does any man know
Where the love of God goes
When the waves turn the minutes to hours?
The Searchers all say
She’d have made white fish bay
If she’d put fifty more miles behind her
It is indeed hard to understand why certain events happen in the world, if God is truly watching over us; if every hair on our head is numbered.
We can take two positions when we think about divine providence. The two positions are simply to affirm providence or to deny it. We will find evidence to support either position depending on which position we take. For those who believe in providence, there is plenty of support. And for those who deny providence, support is not lacking. God’s providence is part of one’s belief system, and like God Himself, cannot be proven to those who refuse to believe. If we remain open to God, we will see countless signs of His power and governance. But if we close our minds to God, we will not see providence anywhere. We will close our mind to any evidence that could present itself. Swedenborg writes,
If we convince ourselves of human prudence to the point of denying divine providence, then when we do happen to see, hear, or read something when we are thinking about it, we do not really notice it. In fact, we cannot, because we are not open to anything from heaven, only to what comes from ourselves (DP 235).
The choice is ours.
When Swedenborg discusses the issue of evil, his perspective is almost exclusively from the person committing the evil—not the victim. So in my discussion, I will first discuss evil as a human choice, then I will make some suggestions about how to react to evil that happens to us.
One thing that needs to be said at the outset is that not everything that happens is God’s will. God governs everything, certainly. But this doesn’t mean that everything that happens is according to His will. He does not will child abuse, or murder, or war, or theft, or any other evil that humans do. These deeds are permitted by God, but not willed by God. But even the deeds that are permitted, but not willed by God, God still governs. Swedenborg writes,
There are no laws of permission that are simply that, or that they are separate from the laws of divine providence. They are the same thing; so saying that God allows something to happen does not mean that he wants it to happen but that he cannot prevent it because of his goal, which is salvation (DP 234).
As I said above, Swedenborg’s discussion of evil is almost exclusively from the point of view of the person committing the evil. God cannot, by divine power, keep evil humans from acting on their evil. He has given every human free will, and God Himself is bound to that law. To take away free will would be to take away our very humanity, and this God will not do. So we cannot be forced to be good by God. We cannot be forced to refrain from evil by God. This is only common sense. And it is to common sense that Swedenborg appeals in discussing this point,
Everyone recognizes that none of us can be compelled to think what we do not want to think or to intend what we do not want to intend. So we cannot be compelled to believe what we do not believe; or to love what we do not love, and certainly not anything that we do not want to love. Our spirit or mind has complete freedom to think, intend, believe, and love (DP 129).
Civil law can restrain behaviour. But no law can change the way a person feels and thinks. And when the law is not around, God cannot restrain an evilly motivated individual from acting on his or her desires.
So how are we to react to evil when it happens to us? There are healthy ways, and there are unhealthy ways. One unhealthy way is to blame the victim. This way of thinking makes the victim somehow responsible for the evil that happened to them. In rape cases, some will suggest that the woman was asking for it, or that she enticed the rapist. This was more the case in the past than it is today, I think. We are now taught everywhere that No means No! Blaming the victim can also occur in abusive relationships. The victim of family abuse can feel that she or he set the abuser off, or somehow caused the abuser to become violent. Sometimes blaming the victim can become very generalized. I heard some people say about 9/11 that God had removed His protection from the U.S. because of its sins. In more immediate cases, I have heard that evil can happen to an individual or institution because they are harbouring negative energy and they thus attracted the evil. None of these responses to evil are healthy, nor are they accurate. It was with these responses in mind that I chose this morning’s reading from the New Testament. In it, Jesus’ disciples ask him, “Who sinned, this man, or his parents, that he was born blind?” (John 9:1). Jesus replies that neither him nor his parents caused the blindness. The story then proceeds to talk about Jesus’ divine power when he heals the blind man.
Our response to evil is to meet evil with love. Jesus tells us, “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, 28bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you” (Luke 6:27-28). This is a hard lesson. We are so often tempted to stew on the evil that someone has done to us. We think about them, we grow in our resentment, and we grow in our hatred for the other person. This does nothing but burn up our own soul. It does nothing but cloud our heart with negativity and hatred. It makes us miserable. In AA we call that giving someone free rent in our heads. We are going to encounter evil. We are going to meet with people who are set against our wellbeing. Their evil is between them and God, and they aren’t our souls to care for. If we can’t think positive thoughts about those who do evil for us, we can dismiss them from our minds and think about more positive matters. People who commit evil are sick individuals. They need a doctor more than they need our resentments.
We also need to be careful about how we view others. We are not in a position to decide whether another person has done actual evil. It could well be that actions we perceive as evil were in reality actions that deflated our self-interest, or that challenged our egos. When we take offence, we need to take a good look at ourselves, and see what part we played in the resentment that could be starting. I think Robert Frost has written a very wise poem on this issue. In it, he writes about one reaction to evil that shows a wonderful composure and equanimity. It may be a hard example to follow, but I think it is a good model for us to strive for. His poem is called The Draft Horse, and I will conclude this talk with it:

With the lantern that wouldn’t burn
In too frail a buggy we drove
Behind too heavy a horse
Through a pitch-dark limitless grove.

And a man came out of the trees
And took our horse by the head
And reaching back to his ribs
Deliberately stabbed him dead.

The ponderous beast wend down
With a crack of a broken shaft.
And the night drew through the trees
In one long invidious draft.

The most unquestioning pair
That ever accepted fate
And the least disposed to ascribe
Any more than we had to hate,

We assumed that the man himself
Or someone he had to obey
Wanted us to get down
And walk the rest of the way.

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Jan 11th, 2010

This Is My Beloved Son
Rev. Dr. David J. Fekete
January 10, 2010

Isaiah 43:1-11 Luke 3:15-22

Our New Testament passage this morning is about the baptism of Jesus. For me, this underscores just how human Jesus was. Like us, Jesus went to John in order to be baptized at the start of His ministry. The Bible tells us that Jesus was 30 years old when He was baptized.
But Jesus’ humanity is not the whole story. After He was baptized, heaven opened up and a voice was heard saying, “This is my beloved Son with whom I am well pleased.” This divine voice tells us that Jesus was more than an ordinary human. Fully human, indeed, but more than human, too. For Christians, Jesus is God incarnate, Immanuel, or the Son of God.
But Jesus’ divine origins should not obscure his full humanity. In Jesus Christ, God fully reconciled Himself to the human condition. He lived the same kind of human life that each of us lives. Swedenborg emphasizes this point:
God assumed the Human according to His Divine order. . . . Now because God descended and because He is order itself, . . . in order that He might become actually Man, He could not but be conceived, carried in the womb, brought forth, brought up, and successively gain knowledges, and by them introduced into intelligence and wisdom. Therefore as to the Human He was an infant as an infant, a boy as a boy, and so on; with this difference only, that He accomplished that progress more quickly, more fully, and more perfectly than others (TCR 89).
So Jesus had to pass through the same stages of life that we pass through as we grow up spiritually. Thus Jesus was baptized as we are baptized, as part of his development.
But exactly who was Jesus? How are we to understand the Biblical language that calls Him “Son of God?” For most Christians, Jesus and God are two separate persons. (That they are of one essence is a mystery, and often ignored.) This makes it easier to deal with the Son of God language. But we all know that there is only one God. Deuteronomy 6:4 reads, “Hear, O Israel, Yahweh our God, Yahweh is one.” If God is one, then thinking of two persons when we think of God is highly problematic. And we are back to the Biblical question, “What does Son of God mean?”
Indeed, that is a gigantic question. What would being a son mean with God as a Father? Clearly, the ordinary process by which an egg is fertilized would not apply. Mary was a virgin. In human reproduction, the male seed is an emission from his body. To that extent, the seed is just a tiny, tiny aspect of male anatomy. And the child that is begotten is quite a separate being from the father, although hereditary traits are still passed down.
Well, then, how would God beget a child? I don’t think that we can know the answer to this immense question. But we do have a scriptural passage rich in suggestion. Here, I’m going to have to indulge in speculation. And my remarks will best be taken as suggestions for your own reflection and speculation. In Luke 1:35 the Angel Gabriel tells Mary, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you.” I think that it is important to note here, that the Gospel records Mary’s consent. She says, “I am the Lord’s servant. May it be to me as you have said” (Luke 1:38). The power of the Most High will overshadow Mary, says the angel Gabriel. This tells us that God’s power will impregnate Mary. This is not like the semi-divine births of the Greek and Roman gods. In Classical mythology, the gods took on mortal forms and impregnated women in the ordinary human fashion—that is when they didn’t assume the form of a bull or a swan as some of the gods did. For the Christian idea of God’s Son, we imagine God’s power directly infusing Mary’s egg with divine life. The union between God and Man would be very intimate, with God’s power forming the soul of Mary’s egg.
In Swedenborg’s theology, we are told that God is Jesus’ soul. So by Son of God, he understands God’s human body. The doctrine states that Jehovah God descended and took on a human body in Jesus. “By the Lord the Redeemer we understand Jehovah in the Human; for that Jehovah Himself descended and assumed the human that He might accomplish redemption . . .” (TCR 81). The Bible tells us quite clearly that Jehovah is our savior, and also that there is no other God than Him. We heard that in this morning’s Bible reading, “I am Jehovah, your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior (Isaiah 43:3). . . . Before me no God was formed, nor will there be one after me. I, even I, am Jehovah, and apart from me there is no savior (43:10-11).” How are we to take the words, “Apart from me there is no savior?” We think of Jesus as our savior. And, indeed, He is our savior. The only way to reconcile this apparent conflict is to understand Jesus as the human form of Jehovah God. As Swedenborg puts it, “By the Lord the Redeemer we understand Jehovah in the Human; for that Jehovah Himself descended and assumed the human that He might accomplish redemption . . .” (TCR 81). So for Swedenborg, the power of Jehovah God is the soul of Jesus. And Jesus is the body of Jehovah God. An ancient Christian creed says this. It is called the Athanasian Creed, and part of it goes as follows:
Our Lord Jesus Christ is God and Man; and although He be God and Man, still there are not two, but there is one Christ: He is one, because the Divine took the Human to itself; yea, He is altogether one, and He is one person; for as the and body is one man, so God and Man is one Christ.
By understanding Jesus as the body of Jehovah, and Jehovah as the soul of the Christ, we preserve both the full divinity of Jesus and the oneness of God.
But when we say that Jesus is the body of God, we are referring to the fully glorified and resurrected Jesus Christ. Jesus became fully united to God over time and according to the same process by which we are spiritually reborn. As Jesus grew spiritually, he approached the Father and the Father approached the Christ until the two became fully one.
The Lord [by the acts of redemption] united Himself to the Father, and the Father Himself to Him also according to Divine order. That the union was so effected by the acts of redemption is because the Lord wrought them from His Human; and as He so wrought, so the Divine, which is meant by the Father, came nearer, assisted, and cooperated, and at length They so conjoined Themselves that They were not two, but one; and this union is glorification (TCR 97).
There were times in Jesus life when His humanity was apparently distant from His divine origins. Then, He spoke to God as if to someone else. This is especially evident on the cross, when Jesus says, “My God, My God, Why have you forsaken me.” But there are other places in the Bible where the relationship between Jesus and God are intimately one. This can be seen in the transfiguration on the mountain top (Matthew 17), and in John, where Jesus says, “I am in the Father and the Father is in me” (John 14:10). One could hardly say more plainly that God is Jesus soul, than by saying the Father is in me.
But this union with God and Jesus was a process. It followed the same process according to which we are reborn spiritually. Earlier I read a quote from Swedenborg saying that Jesus approach the Father and the Father approached Jesus so that they became one. In the same manner, we approach God and God approaches us. However, we will never become one with God as Jesus did. But the process is the same human process that Jesus underwent on earth. Swedenborg writes,
. . . the Divine order is that man should prepare himself for the reception of God; and as he prepares himself, so God enters into him as into His habitation and house; and that preparation is made by means of knowledges concerning God and the spiritual things of the church, and thus by intelligence and wisdom; for it is a law of order that so far as man approaches and draws near to God, God approaches and draws near to man, and conjoins Himself with him in his interiors (TCR 89).
It is our role to prepare a place for God by learning spiritual truths that point us in the direction of Godliness. There are many ways by which we are taught God’s ways and the life He would have us lead. But we need to act as if by own power and our own free will to bring God into our hearts and lives. God is all the while subtly working the acts of redemption in us. God stands at the door and knocks. All we need do is open it. And we open the door by learning Godliness, by learning what is good, and by living in every aspect of our lives the precepts we learn.
What I have been talking about this morning is called Christology. It is among the most complex and difficult aspects of Christian theology. Perhaps it will be enough for us to remember Christ’s full humanity, and to follow His footsteps into union with God. Then we will be called children of God, as John 1 puts it. Then Jesus will be in us, even as the Father is in Him.

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Jan 4th, 2010

What Gift Shall I Bring?
Rev. Dr. David J. Fekete
January 3, 2010

Isaiah 60:1-6 Matthew 2:1-12

According to Church tradition, this Sunday is called Epiphany. It celebrates the visit of the Magi to Jesus and the gifts that they bring. We have just celebrated Christmas—a day of gift giving and receiving. This Sunday of Epiphany is also a celebration of gift giving and receiving. This morning, I’d like us to think a little bit about the gifts that we can bring to God, and also the gifts that God has given to us.
I think of several things when I think of bringing gifts to God. And recall, that God has a humanity as an aspect of His Divinity. And God’s Humanity has some of the same things that our humanity has. When we give gifts, we are happy to see the person’s joy when they open our gifts. I think that God is also happy when He receives gifts from us.
When we think of bringing gifts to God, it may sound strange. We may wonder, “What can God want from us?” And also we may wonder what kind of gift can we give to God? It’s not as if we are in the Christmas story, and we can actually come to the baby Jesus and give Him incense, frankincense, and myrrh. And yet I think that there are gifts we can give to God, and I think that when we bring gifts to God, God is moved with the joy of receiving a gift as we are.
When I first think of giving a gift to God, I think about responding to God’s call. In the book of Revelation, Jesus says, “Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him, and he with me” (3:20). Jesus is constantly calling us into relationship with Himself. Like a lover, He is calling us to respond to His love and to return it. God wants to give us all of Himself, and all the joys of heaven to us. Like everyone who truly loves, God cares about our response to Him. Like all lovers, God wants His love returned. Then we are lifted up into the circle of love and joy given and returned. All we need do is to respond to Jesus’ call and open the door. All we need to do is to let God into our hearts, and to live in such a way that we can be filled with God’s love and joy. In the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus says,
Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light (Matthew 11:28-30).
Jesus want us to come to Him, and to live with Him in heaven—whether we are on earth or in the next life. Like a mother to her children, Jesus asks us to love Him in return, and to share in the boundless love He has for us. All we need to do is respond to Jesus call, and to live with Him in eternity. Then we will receive Jesus’ promise, and we will find rest for our souls.
And by responding to Jesus’ call to commune with Himself, we receive a great gift from God. In the Matthew passage I just quoted, Jesus says that we will find rest for our souls when we come to Him. When we respond to God’s call, we receive peace, tranquility, and joy. God takes away the frustrations we feel when we are driven by ego and the craving for wealth, power, and status. For when we are driven by ego, wealth, power, and status, we will never be at peace. We will constantly be in contention with others who are craving the same ends. We will be in conflict with our brothers and sisters. But that’s not all. We will also be in conflict with ourselves. When we are driven by ego, wealth, power, and status, we will never have enough. We will continually be striving for more. And by always wanting more than we have, we will never find peace. When we come to Christ, we leave behind all those worldly lusts. We put God before self, and in doing so we find release from selfish cravings that leave us continually unsettled. So by giving Christ the gift of a loving response, we find that we are the ones who receive. We find a happiness that the world cannot give. We find a love that we can’t manufacture from our egos. We find heaven. So we become part of the circle of gift-giving. We give and in giving we receive.
Then, when I wonder about of what kind of gift we can bring to God, I think of the gift of service. I think of the many ways we can serve God in the world all around us. There are the formal ways of service that come to my mind first. I have just returned from a youth retreat in Michigan. I am the youth chaplain, and part of my responsibilities is to attend retreats and present religious sessions with them. I work hard to prepare lessons that I think they will benefit from. And I engage socially and pastorally with them during these retreats. And like all true giving, I receive back seven fold what I give. The real gift I receive is simply the opportunity to minister to the teens. I treasure the sacred space that opens up when the youth all come together in God’s name. I treasure the opportunity to interact with them and share their dreams for the future and their issues in the present. I feel called into my ministry, and I thank God for giving me the privilege to do what I love and feel called to do.
I feel the same way, indeed, more so, about this church. I do my very best to serve God and to serve the needs of the Church of the Holy City. I feel blessed for the opportunity to lead this congregation, as I am with the youth. The holy peace that descends upon the church during worship is a gift that I share with the church members. And when I am able to visit, pray, counsel, and console church members, I am honoured and thankful that God has brought me to you and you to me. When Carol and I brought the Christmas gifts that the church contributed to the Lurana Shelter, to see the gratitude from Sister Mary was another special way I felt blessed by this church and the generosity you all showed. The gift of service always comes back to the giver seven fold. And the gift of service is another way to bring a gift to God.
There are many ways to show service in our lives. It may be a phone call to a loved one, or to someone who is not able to get out much. It may be giving someone a ride who lacks transportation. It may be as simple as encouragement to someone who is struggling, or in some way engaged with a trying task. It may be a pat on the back or giving congratulations to someone who has succeeded with their dreams or with a certain goal they had. It may be a smile, a handshake, or a hug.
As God continually knocks at the door, waiting for us to open it, so God will give us the opportunity to be of service. If we remain open, God will show us where and how we can give to others in our daily lives. Divine Providence guides us continually throughout our lives. God guides us to opportunities for service. God shows us daily where we can give. In Matthew 25:40 Jesus says, “Whatever you did for the least of these brothers of mine you did for me.” In doing good to those around us, we are doing good for God. When we do good to those around us, we are bringing a gift to God. And God is in the heart of those around us, and is the heart of the social structure we live in. In doing good to others, we are actually doing good to God. In bringing us to service to our neighbours, God is bringing us to Himself.
When our minds are on the good we can bring to the world around us, we find release. We find release from care and worry, we find release from greed and the lust to control, we find peace. This is the circle of giving. In giving to God and the neighbour, we find that God gives us the joy and blessedness of heaven. In Luke 12:32, Jesus says, “Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your father’s good pleasure to give you the Kingdom.” It is God’s will that everyone should feel heavenly joy and happiness. That is why He stands at the door and knocks. That is why He calls us to come to Him. That is the gift God wants to give to us, when we respond to His call and serve our neighbours.

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