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Church of the Holy City

Archive for November, 2010

Nov 29th, 2010

The Day of Judgement
Rev. Dr. David J. Fekete
November 28, 2010

Isaiah 2:1-5 Matthew 24:36-44 Psalm 122

Both of our Bible readings this morning deal with the coming of the Lord, or the last days. In Isaiah, the last days will be a time of peace throughout the planet, God will settle all disputes, and the law will be promulgated throughout the world. Our New Testament passage seems to me to be a little more frightening. It is written in New testament terminology, so instead of the coming of Yahweh, or Jehovah, we have a story about the second coming of Jesus. According to the letter of the story, the righteous people will be taken up to heaven, while the unrighteous will be left on earth. So we have the famous passage,
“Two men will be in the field; one will be taken and the other left. Two women will be grinding with a hand mill; one will be taken and the other left (Matthew 24:40-41).
Fundamentalist Christians talk about this a lot. They emphasize the second coming of the Lord and this passage about some being taken up to heaven and some left behind. They call this the “rapture”–those who are taken up are “raptured” up into heaven. There is even a fiction series about when the rapture happens. All manner of calamity takes place as airplane pilots are raptured up and their planes crash; bus drivers are raptured up with the same result, and so on.
Christians have been waiting for this to happen ever since the time of Christ. Jesus says of the second coming, “I tell you the truth, this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things will have happened” (Matthew 24:34). But that generation did pass away and all those things did not happen. In the year 1,000AD, since it was the millennium, everyone in Europe thought that the Second coming would happen. But it didn’t. Then in 2,000AD a lot of people were preparing for the second coming. But it didn’t come. Today there are many, many Christians who are warning us to be prepared for the coming of the Lord. I’ll wait.
But if Jesus’ words are true, there needs to be another way to understand them. Let’s assume that Jesus was telling the truth. That the sun would be darkened, the moon not give its light, the stars fall from the sky, the heavenly bodies shaken, and the Son of man will come in the clouds of the sky with great glory, flashing like lightning (Matt. 24:29-30). And let’s take Jesus at His word and assume that all these things happened before the people of His generation had passed away. Nobody saw all those calamities. But Jesus tells us that they had to have happened. Given these facts, we can make sense of Jesus’ statements if we consider these remarks to be about what goes on in the spiritual world, or inside the soul of each individual. When Jesus was asked by the Pharisees when the Kingdom of God would come, Jesus told them,
The Kingdom of God does not come visibly, nor will people say, “Here it is,” or “There it is,” because the kingdom of God is within you ( Luke 17:20-21).
How much plainer can Jesus speak. “The kingdom of God is within you.” This means that all those predictions about the coming of the Kingdom are inside us: the darkened sun and moon, the stars falling from the sky, the shaken heavenly bodies, the coming of the Son of Man in the clouds of the sky, flashing like lightning. All these things are inside us. We won’t see these things happen on the earth. In order to understand the second coming of the Lord, we need to look inside. The dreadful cosmic phenomena refer to falsities that will darken the light of the Gospel truth in the final days. The coming of the Son of Man in the clouds of glory is the revelation of truths from the Bible in the appearances with which some of them are clouded. The shaking of the heavens also refers to struggles that we of the church go through in trying to live a Christian life in a fallen world.
It’s hard to reconcile the Old Testament passage and the New Testament passage. The Old Testament passage speaks of a renewed earth, when the law will be taught to everyone and in that passage we hear the beautiful line that “they shall beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks.” The Old Testament speaks of a renewed earth while the New testament speaks of people being taken up out of the earth and into heaven. Both of these passages are about the end of days.
The two passages can be reconciled, however, when we look at them from what they mean for each of us. We are told to be ready for the coming of the Son of Man because we don’t know when He will come. Jesus tells us, “You must always be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect Him” (Matt. 24:44). The coming of the Son of Man calls our attention to judgement. The warning to be ready is a call for us to be vigilant about our spirituality. There is a final judgement upon our death, but, in fact, judgement is daily–in fact, minute by minute. Every day we confront choices about how we will respond to the issues we encounter. Every choice can be seen as the coming of the Son of Man. Every way we respond to each other or to our life’s situations is a statement about our spiritual condition.
Sometimes we need to fall back on a lesson we have learned in life or in church when we choose how to respond to life’s situations. As we make more and more positive choices, we become more and more firmly committed to a Christ-centered life. This is what Jesus means when He says, “You must always be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect Him.” Practicing spirituality every day in every aspect of our lives is being ready for the coming of the Son of Man. For if we live that way, we will be ready to face the Lord when He comes to us.
This is also what is meant by the prophesy in the book of Isaiah. When we are seeking spiritual teachings, and when we put love for God above all, then Mount Zion is raised up as “chief among mountains” (Isaiah 2:2). Mount Zion was where the temple stood in ancient Israel, and as such, it symbolizes God’s presence on earth and with each of us. When we enrich our spiritual knowledges by learning and seeking, then we are being like those who say in Isaiah, “Come, let us go up to the mountain of the LORD . . . He will teach us His ways, so that we may walk in His paths” (Isaiah 2:3). So in reality, as the prophet says, “The law will go out from Zion, the word of the LORD from Jerusalem” (2:3).
Both the Old Testament passage and the New Testament passage, however, do talk about the end of days. In both passages, there is a feel of attainment. This is a picture of life when a person has become regenerated. In Swedenborg, there is a final place that a person can come to in his or her spiritual pathway. And by place, we do not mean a geographical location. We mean rather a state of mind. In the final step of our spiritual development, we are called celestial people. Before this, we were called spiritual. The spiritual person has doubts, struggles, even at times will sink into despair. But when we become celestial all these struggles cease. If we are persistent in our spiritual work, we have the promise that there will come a time when there is rest, and the struggle stops. When we have so practiced the law of the LORD that it is written in our heart, when we do good from a love of good, then we will come to a place of peace. Swedenborg writes,
Another reason why the celestial man is the Sabbath, or rest, is that combat ceases when he becomes celestial; evil spirits depart, and good spirits and celestial angels draw near; and when these are present evil spirits cannot be, but flee far away (AC 87).
This is that end state that Isaiah talks about when he says,
He will judge between the nations
And will settle disputes for many peoples.
They will beat their swords into plowshares
And their spears into pruning hooks.
Nation will not take up sword against nation,
Nor will they train for war anymore (Isaiah 2:4).
The spiritual war that goes on in our souls is over. This promise of peace is held out to each one of us. Jesus tells us, “He who stands firm to the end will be saved” (Matthew 24:13). The celestial person is surrounded by heavenly angels and has God’s ways written upon his or her heart. Such an individual acts from love, not self-compulsion. And the celestial person feels a wonderful joy and peace:
None can know what the tranquility of peace of the external man is, when conflict or unrest from lusts and falsities ceases, but he who has known the state of peace. This state is so joyous that it surpasses every conception of joy. It is not only a cessation of conflict, but it is life coming down from interior peace, so affecting the external man as cannot be described. Then truths of faith and goods of love are born which derive life from the joyousness of peace (AC 92).
This joy and peace is what Isaiah was talking about in the last days, and this is what it means to be taken up by Jesus–not physically from this world but taken to Jesus in our hearts and souls.
and it is the state we will find ourselves in when we are taken by Jesus.
For many of us, this may seem a ways off. But I think we can hold on to the hope that it is attainable. There can be for us a place of peace and joy beyond the words of this world. On this we have the prophesy of Isaiah, the words of Jesus, and the testimony of Swedenborg.

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All the Law and the Prophets
Rev. Dr. David J. Fekete
November 21, 2010

Exodus 20:1-21 Luke 10:25-28 Psalm 119

Today I would like to consider the catechism. Formally speaking, a catechism is a compilation of knowledge about spirituality that a person needs to know to be confirmed into a church. In the Catholic Church one needs to attend confirmation class and be taught the catechism in order to be confirmed. The catechism for this is a set of questions that the priest asks and the initiate needs to answer them to be confirmed into the church. Some of our older children’s hymnals had a catechism in them. But Swedenborg himself only identified one set of propositions for the catechism of the New Church. In his book True Christian Religion, Swedenborg identifies the Ten Commandments as the catechism for the New Church. So for this Sunday, and those following Advent, I will be looking at the Ten Commandments.
Swedenborg tells us that the Ten Commandments are the sum total of all that religion teaches. He writes,
they were in brief summary an aggregate of all things of religion, by which conjunction of God with man and of man with God is given, therefore they were so holy that there is nothing holier (TCR 283).
He divides the Ten Commandments into two tablets–one tablet contains commands that relate to love of God, and the other contains commands that relate to love of the neighbor. We heard in our Luke reading that all the law comes down to love of God and love of the neighbor. Since the Ten Commandments contain a list telling us how to put into practice these two commands, they contain the whole essence of all the law and the prophets. By the law and the prophets are meant the whole Bible. So Swedenborg holds that the Ten Commandments contain all that is of doctrines and life.
Now because love to God and love toward the neighbor are the all of the Word, and the Decalogue in the first tablet contains a summary of all things of love to God, and in the second table all things of love toward the neighbor, it follows that the Decalogue contains all things which are of doctrine and of life (TCR 287).
This is a grand claim. And from a literal reading of the Ten Commandments it may not look like they contain “all things which are of doctrine and life.” But in Swedenborg’s Bible interpretation, there are three levels of meaning. There is the literal level–which is the text taken at face value. But there are also two internal levels of meaning. There is the spiritual level which relates to the church. And there is the celestial level which relates to God. When considered in its fullness–when all three levels are considered–one can see that the Ten Commandments contain all the law and the prophets. This Sunday we will consider the first commandment.
The First commandments is: “You shall have no other gods before me.” On the literal level, this command forbids idolatry. Today, I know of no one who worships a figure carved out of wood or stone, as they did in the time of Moses. But this commandment also forbids the worship of any human as a god. As a child of the Reformation, Swedenborg took issue with the veneration of saints. For him, the saints were humans–albeit very, very good humans–but humans nevertheless. They may be excellent models of life to follow, but to hold that they have some special spiritual power and can intercede for us between God and man would be a violation of the first commandment. I know of some who value humans in another way. A friend of mine said to me once that everything he needed in life could be found in the works of William Shakespeare. The man Shakespeare became a god for him, and Shakespeare’s work his sacred text. This is a form of idolatry. Finally, anything a person values above God is a form of idolatry. This is a very real issue in our world today. If a person values money and what money can bring above all things, then he is holding money up as a god. This can lead to all kinds of evil. When the unbridled lust for wealth is given free reign, humanity can be trampled over heedlessly. I think of the terrible havoc reaped by the ruptured oil pipe in the Gulf of Mexico recently. I can’t help but think of this as caused by the greed of British Petroleum who thought of their profits first, and the welfare of the Gulf and the people who live by it last. The CEO of BP even had the nerve to say in an interview that he cared for “the little people.” “The little people.” We can see what he thought of himself in order to make a statement like that.
In the internal meanings of this commandment, Swedenborg becomes doctrinal in a way that doesn’t appear in other of his writings. In fact, he seems to change his mind even in his consideration of other commandments. In the spiritual and celestial levels, Swedenborg claims that Jesus alone is to be worshipped as God incarnate. As he puts it, “the Lord our Savior is Jehovah Himself, who is at once Creator, Redeemer, and Regenerator” (TCR 294). All who acknowledge and worship any other God than the Lord the Savior Jesus Christ, who is Himself Jehovah God in human form, sin against this commandment” (TCR 295). Swedenborg then goes on to argue against the doctrine of the Trinity.
This narrow view of who God is doesn’t gibe with Swedenborg’s liberal attitude in other places in his writings. In discussing the same commandment, Swedenborg opens up his description of God to a more general characteristic:
Jehovah the Lord is infinite, immeasurable, and eternal; He is omnipotent, omniscient, and omnipresent; He is the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End; who was, is, and will be; He is love itself, and wisdom itself, or good itself and truth itself; consequently, life itself; thus the only One, from whom are all things (TCR 295).
Seeing God as “the only One, from whom are all things” is a pretty broad understanding of God. And in fact, when Swedenborg discusses the command to honor one’s father and mother, he applies this command to the whole community of saints spread all over the world. He writes, “In the celestial sense, by father is meant our Lord Jesus Christ; and by mother, the communion of saints, that is, His church, spread all over the world” (TCR 307). I take this to mean that Swedenborg affirms all who worship God according to the teachings of their church. This would include all the world religions. He goes on to speak about God as father in extremely inclusive language.
It is to be kept in mind that there continually proceeds from the Lord a Divine celestial sphere of love toward all who embrace the teachings of His church, and who obey Him as little children in the world obey their father and mother, apply themselves to Him, and wish to be nourished, that is, instructed by Him (TCR 308).
Clearly, Swedenborg isn’t referring here only to Christians in Europe and Christian missionaries in other parts of the world. And we also know that Swedenborg holds up the Africans in particular as being especially favored in heaven. In Heaven and Hell we find, “Among the Gentiles in heaven, the Africans are most beloved, for they receive the goods and truths of heaven more easily than others” (326). The celestial sphere proceeding from the Lord reaches even into nature, where the sun is called father and the earth mother:
This is most universal, and affects not only men, but also birds and animals, even to serpents; nor animate things only, but also inanimate. But that the Lord might operate into these, even as into spiritual things, He created the sun, to be in the natural world as a father, and the earth to be as a mother. For the sun is as a common father, and the earth as a common mother, from whose marriage arises all the germination that adorns the surface of our planet. From the influx of that celestial sphere into the natural world arise the wonderful progression of vegetation, from seed to fruit and to new seed. It is from this also, that many kinds of plants turn as it were their faces to the sun during the day, and turn them away when the sun sets; it is from this also that there are flowers which open at the rising of the sun, and close at his setting; and from this it is that song birds carol sweetly at early dawn, and likewise after they have been fed by their mother earth (TCR 308).
We see here an early articulation of the kind of reverence for mother earth as a holy creation that is popular today. This reverence was illustrated fantastically in the movie Avatar. And it seems to me from these passages, that Swedenborg is affirming God’s outpouring of holiness into the whole world and everyone in it.
What I take from the first commandment is reverence for God as God is seen all over the world. For me, God is indeed the risen and glorified Jesus Christ. But it isn’t Christians alone who “wish to be nourished, that is, instructed by Him” (TCR 308). We have many different religions in the world and many different names for God. But there is still only one God. And whether we find God in a Catholic church, or a United Church, or in a synagogue, we will find the same one God who is Father to us all.
This commandment urges us to hold God sacred and God alone. Though society may offer us seductive alternatives in the form of man-made inventions–including the economic structure of the world economy–we need to remember that a loving God is at the centre of everything. No other gods before the one true God. Not ourselves, not money, not prestige, not power;–no other gods. And for us, this God is all love married to all wisdom.

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The Kind of Fast God Has Chosen
Rev. Dr. David J. Fekete
November 14, 2010

Isaiah 58:3-11 Mark 12:28-34 Psalm 31

In the Psalm we recited today, God tells us, “How abundant are the good things that you have stored up for those who fear you.” And the Psalmist confirms this when he says, “Praise be to the Lord, for He has showed me the wonders of His love.” We are promised that, “The Lord preserves those who are true to Him.” And on our part, we are told, “Love the Lord, all His faithful people!”
These passages tell us that God has abundant good things stored up for those who love Him. As infinite love, there is no limit to the good things God can give us. But we need to do certain acts in order for these good things to come to us. We find suggestions of what we need to do in our Isaiah and in our Mark readings.
I selected the Isaiah reading because it shows us the twofold nature of how we are to approach God in a worthy manner. Isaiah tells the Israelites two things: show justice and compassion, and desist from evils.
The passage begins with God declaring to the Israelites how their days of fasting are unworthy. They are only performing outward rituals, and ignoring the true nature of fasting. The Prophet asks,
Is this the kind of fast I have chosen,
Only a day for a man to humble himself?
Is it only for bowing one’s head like a reed
And for lying on sackcloth and ashes?
Is this what you call a fast,
A day acceptable to the LORD? (58:5)
Not only are the Israelites indulging in empty ritual, they are actually doing evils on their fast days. The Prophet accuses them:
Yet on the days of your fasting, you do as you please
And exploit your workers.
Your fasting ends in quarreling and strife,
And in striking each other with wicked fists.
You cannot fast as you do today
And expect your voice to be heard on high (58:3,4).
Worship of God–then and now–cannot be just a matter of ritual. There is an internal to true worship, which touches on the kind of life we are living. Again from Isaiah, the Prophet tells the Israelites what they need to do in order for their fasting to be acceptable to God. He points to justice and compassion as deeds one needs to perform in order for worship to be acceptable:
Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen:
To loose the chains of injustice
And untie the cords of the yoke?
Is it not to share your food with the hungry
and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter–
When you see the naked, to clothe him,
And not to turn away from your own flesh and blood? (58:6-7)
Finally, the Prophet tells the Israelites to desist from evil actions:
If you do away with the yoke of oppression,
With the pointing of the finger and malicious talk,
And if you spend yourselves on behalf of the hungry
And satisfy the needs of the oppressed,
Then your light will rise in the darkness,
And your night will become like the noonday (58:9,10).
So the message of the Prophet is instruction about what kinds of deeds need to be done in order for their fasting to be acceptable to God, and also showing the Israelites the kinds of evils from which they must desist. But his message doesn’t end in these teachings. There are also wonderful promises about what the Israelites will receive if they perform right fasting to God. In beautiful poetry, he promises them,
Then your light will break forth like the dawn,
And your healing will quickly appear;
Then your righteousness will go before you,
And the glory of the LORD will be your rear guard.
Then you will call, and the LORD will answer;
You will cry for help, and he will say: Here am I. . . .
The LORD will guide you always;
He will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land
And will strengthen your frame.
You will be like a well-watered garden,
Like a spring whose waters never fail (58:8,11).
Jesus captures the essence of these teachings in his answer to the teacher of the law. The question was, “Of all the commandments, which is the most important?” Jesus’ answer is more general than was Isaiah’s, but in being more general it is more encompassing. We all know very well Jesus’ answer, “Love the Lord God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength. The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself’” (Mark 12:30,31). Jesus’ answer covers more of our life since he is talking about love. Isaiah talked about compassion for the needy, but Jesus’ saying covers love for everyone.
What I like about the Isaiah passage, however, is its twofold nature. It is not enough to just do good. We need also to refrain from evils. So Isaiah says, “do away with the yoke of oppression,/With the pointing of the finger and malicious talk” (58:9) as he also commands compassion for the oppressed and needy. This is in keeping with Swedenborg’s understanding of the process of regeneration. We have looked at how love flows into us from God, and how this influx opens up the higher reaches of our consciousness. But I haven’t said much about how we play a role in this process.
We open the higher reaches of our consciousness by the way we practice religion, or by our spirituality. Swedenborg teaches that there are three levels to our soul. There is the earthly level, the spiritual level, and the heavenly level. We move from one level to another like a quantum leap. These levels are like layers on a wedding cake–a lower layer, a middle layer, and the highest layer. Within each level we expand gradually higher and higher, more and more inward. But this kind of growth is still within the level we are on. Then, when we have gotten as high as we can within one level, we jump up to the next level. This is called by Swedenborg continuous and discrete levels. We progress incrementally as a continuous progression on one level. Then we jump up to the next level as a discrete quantum leap.
The three levels in our soul are none other than the three levels of heaven. In heaven there are the same three levels–earthly, spiritual, and heavenly. Some old-time Swedenborgians may know these levels by different names–natural, spiritual, and celestial. So in the earthly level, or in the earthly heaven, one can progress further and further in love and wisdom without jumping up to the spiritual level. And likewise, one can progress in the spiritual level further and further in love and wisdom without jumping up to the heavenly level. We have all these three levels in our soul, but they only exist potentially until we actually open them up.
This comes to our participation in the opening of the three levels of our soul. Our lowest level is concerned with knowledge and rationality. The spiritual level is concerned with a love of uses from a love for our neighbor. And the heavenly level is concerned with a love for uses from a love for God. Swedenborg gives us a description of these levels of our mind in his book Divine Love and Wisdom.
these three levels are called earthly, spiritual, and heavenly. When we are born, we come into the earthly level, which gradually develops within us in keeping with the things we learn and the intelligence we gain through this learning, all the way to the summit of intelligence called rationality. This by itself, though, does not open the second level, the one called spiritual. This level is opened by a love for being useful that comes from our intelligence; but the love for being useful is a spiritual one, a love for the neighbor.
In the same way, this level can develop by incremental steps all the way to its summit; and it does so by discovering what is true and good, or by spiritual truths. Even so, these do not open that third level that is called heavenly. This is opened by a heavenly love for being useful that is a love for the Lord; and love for the Lord is nothing but applying the precepts of the Word to our lives, these precepts being essentially to abstain from evil things because they are hellish and demonic and to do good things because they are heavenly and divine (DLW 237).
From this passage we see that the two higher levels of our mind are opened by the two great commandments of Jesus: love for the neighbor and love for God. The spiritual level is concerned with a love for discovering what is good and true out of a love for our neighbor. The heavenly level is concerned with applying the precepts of the Bible to our lives. I chose the Isaiah passage this morning with the heavenly level in mind. Isaiah tells the Israelites to abstain from certain evils and how to do certain goods. And Swedenborg tells us that the essence of love for God is “essentially to abstain from evil things because they are hellish and demonic and to do good things because they are heavenly and divine.”
So this passage tells us what our responsibility is in the process of regeneration. To learn knowledges and grow in intelligence and into rationality. This is on the earthly level. Then when we jump up to the spiritual level we learn what is good and true in order to love our neighbor. Finally we apply what we have learned into our lives by abstaining from evil and doing what is good out of a love for God. If we are diligent in our practice of spiritually, then we can look forward to Isaiah’s promises:
Then your light will rise in the darkness,
And your night will become like the noonday (58:9,10)
Then your light will break forth like the dawn,
And your healing will quickly appear;
Then your righteousness will go before you,
And the glory of the LORD will be your rear guard.
Then you will call, and the LORD will answer;
You will cry for help, and he will say: Here am I. . . .
The LORD will guide you always;
He will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land
And will strengthen your frame.
You will be like a well-watered garden,
Like a spring whose waters never fail (58:8,11).

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Spiritual and Earthly War
Rev. Dr. David J. Fekete
November 7, 2010
Remembrance Day

Deuteronomy 20:10-18 Matthew 10:34-42 Psalm 46

This week we will celebrate Remembrance Day. Remembrance Day brings to mind the subject of war. I have selected today’s Bible readings with war in mind. I have selected Bible passages that show the diversity of Biblical testimony about war. In our Deuteronomy passage, we find God telling the people of Israel about how to wage war. For the nations that surround the Promised Land, the Israelites are to first offer peace. If the nations accept their offer of peace, then they become enslaved. Neither choice is a good one. But for the land that Israel would take over and live in, holy war was commanded. In this, all the residents were to be put to the sword and all their idols were to be destroyed. It is passages like this that make the Old Testament a hard book for some to come to terms with.
But the command of holy war is not the only voice in the Old Testament. Nor does it reflect the only way God was seen. In Psalm 46, which we read responsively today, God is the bringer of peace. The Psalm reads:
He makes wars cease
to the ends of the earth.
He breaks the bow and shatters the spear;
he burns the shields with fire.
So in the Old testament, to see God as the orchestrator of war only, is a mistake. The Old testament also sees God as the bringer of peace.
These differing testimonies about war and peace reflect the times in which the Bible was written. In the culture of the first millennium BC, war was a way of life. If you didn’t attack neighboring city-states, they would attack you. There is a line in 2 Samuel 11 that makes this way of life clear. It is the beginning of a story about King David. The story begins with the following words: “In the spring, at the time when kings go off to war . . . ” Spring is here–time to wage war. This simple statement shows us that war was a way of life in Biblical times. So the writers of the Bible saw God as a warrior God.
But there was also the idea of God as the bringer of Shalom. Shalom means peace, but it also means more than just peace. When a country is in a state of Shalom there is rest from war, justice in the courts, order in the kingdom, and fertility in the land. Shalom reflects a state in which God fills the hearts of the people and the land with His blessings. This is what is reflected in the Psalm, where we find God making wars to cease even to the ends of the earth. His shalom covers the entire created world.
In our New Testament passage, I chose an unusual saying of Jesus. Here, Jesus says, “Do not suppose I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword” (Matthew 10:34). This is the same Jesus who tells us to turn the other cheek, to forgive 70 times 70 times, and to love our enemies. In the same group of sayings from this morning’s reading, Jesus says,
A man’s enemies will be the members of his own household. . . . Anyone who loves his father or mother more than me is not worthy of me . . . Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life will find it (Matthew 10:36, 37, 39).
Due to the general tone of Jesus’ message to us, we are compelled to take these words spiritually and symbolically. I think they are best understood in the light of the last line–”whoever loses his life will find it.” We see that these sayings are directed to spiritual rebirth and putting aside our old self to find a new life in God. This new life only comes with struggle and work, and the image of the sword symbolizes fighting for a new spirituality as we grow out of our inherited disposition.
So our Bible readings today talk about two aspects of war–earthly war and spiritual war. The theme of earthly war is in our Deuteronomy passage, and the theme of spiritual war is in our New testament passage.
The first thing to be said about war is that it is not God’s will that there be war. Swedenborg writes,
It is not because of divine providence that wars happen, because wars are inseparable from murder, plunder, violence, cruelty, and other appalling evils that are diametrically opposed to Christian caring (DP 251).
God does not will the murder and cruelty associated with war. But there are two aspects to the way God works with the human race. There is God’s will and then there is what God will allow. God allows evils to occur in order to preserve human freedom and to lead us into salvation. According to Swedenborg, “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 our salvation” (DP 234).
There is a reason why wars are permitted. In war, we see the evils that humans are capable of. In order for us to be reformed, we need to be aware of the evils that are in us. This is what Jesus was talking about when he says that we need to lose ourself in order to find ourself. We need to see and acknowledge the evils into which we were born and which we have accepted into our lives in order for us to decide to consciously let go of them.
There is also the fact that if it were not for this permission, the Lord could not lead us out of our evil, so we could not be reformed and saved. That is, unless evils were allowed to surface, we would not see them and therefore would not admit to them; so we could not be induced to resist them. That is why evils cannot be suppressed by some exercise of divine providence. If they were, they would spread and devour everything that is alive like the diseases called cancer and gangrene (DP 251).
In this context I think about World War II. This war was essential as the totalitarian regime of Hitler had to be stopped. We saw in that war how terrible racism could be in the horrors of the concentration camps. Anti-Semitism was a sickness that could be found all through Europe and North America. The concentration camps were perhaps the most terrible manifestation of Anti-Semitism, but in lesser forms, all of the Western world was guilty. It was not God’s will that innocent Jews were tortured. But what did come of this horror was the statement now posted on the concentration camps–”Never Again!” We see in this a very clear statement of Swedenborg’s claim that wars bring hidden evils out into the open so that we can put them away.
This week we honor the memory of those who gave their lives to safeguard liberty. We owe the peace we know in our country to those who paid the ultimate sacrifice and to those who fought to save us from oppression. It’s easy to take our civil liberties for granted. We don’t live in a country where we need to present identification papers to authorities on a whim. We can express ourselves freely in speech and in the press. We have the freedom to live in safety and in love with one another. We owe all this to those who fought and who died in wars. They deserve to be remembered and honored in this week and on November 11.
Warfare is also spiritual. We all have a war to wage within our souls. We have been looking at how we change over time, as God flows into our hearts and shapes our behaviors and emotions. This process does not come without struggle. We begin life oriented to ourselves and oriented to the world’s goods. This is what is meant by Jesus words, “Anyone who loves his father or mother more than me is not worthy of me.” Clearly, we are not being told to withhold love from our parents. The ten commandments tell us to honor our father and mother. Rather, what Jesus means is that we need to love heavenly things above our innate impulse to love ourselves above all. Father and mother symbolize what Swedenborg calls proprium. Our proprium is the self we are born with. It is composed of the things that favor only what we want. It is composed of ego driven cravings. For many, it is also maladaptive ways of living. We need to see where we need to change. And when we identify maladaptive modes of living, we need to ask God for help and let go of them. So God allows evil to happen. He cannot suppress evil in us by His own power. To do that would be to violate our free will, which God will never do. So God permits evil to surface. Only then can we see it and consciously and deliberately drive it from our lives.
The Lord cannot rescue any of us from hell unless we see that we are in it and want to be rescued. This cannot happen unless there are instances of permission that are caused by laws of divine providence (251).
Earthly war and spiritual war are interrelated. Earthly war serves the same function that spiritual war does. It allows evil to be seen and when evil is seen it can be driven from society and from individual souls. Let us be clear, God does not will for there to be war. But He allows war for the sake of our salvation. In war and in peace, God’s providence is working in every minute detail to bring us all to Himself. There is no aspect of human life in which God’s providence is not working. And God’s will is a heaven from the human race. When we are victorious in spiritual war, we come into the Shalom of God’s peace and joy. And this, finally, is God’s will.

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Nov 1st, 2010

How Good Forms Truth
Rev. Dr. David J. Fekete
October 31, 2010

Isaiah 55:1-7 Matthew 7:7-20 Psalm 34

Last Sunday we looked at the nature of truth. We saw that with us truths evolve and change as we grow. We also noted that since we are all different, truth with one person may be different from truth with another person. Today we will look at the interrelation between what is good and what is true. A truly evolved person is a union between truth and good. Truth alone is useless. And good alone has no direction. We need to be good and that good needs to be directed by truth. Truth tells good how to operate. This is the great marriage principal in Swedenborg. All through his theology we find the marriage principal by which good and truth are married together to make a whole individual. We will have more to say about this later.
The subject of good is at the heart of Swedenborg’s theology. Good is the goal of everything we learn. Every truth we learn points us toward some good. We learn truths in order to become good people. The highest angels, do not even think from truth. They think from the good that is in their hearts.
Swedenborg’s use of the word “good” is complex. He uses it in several different meanings. One meaning is the common one. Good can mean the opposite of evil. Here, there is good and evil. But there is another way Swedenborg uses the word “good.” In this other way of thinking, good is whatever we love. The thing that we love is called a good. In this use of the word, good can be an evil. For instance, greed and selfishness are evil loves. And there are goods that they love. Some of the goods that greed and selfishness love are status, power, control over others, and material possessions. In this sense, good means whatever we are driven by. So Swedenborg can talk about, “the good which moves [truths], and with which they comply, is of the love of self and the world” (AC 3318).
This definition of good leads us directly into today’s talk. For truth is nothing but a vessel that holds some good. So Swedenborg says,
Man is nothing but an organ, or vessel, which receives life from the Lord . . . This love, or the life therefrom, flows in and applies itself to the vessels which are in man’s rational and which are in his natural. . . . These vessels in the rational man, and in his natural, are those which are called truths (AC 3318).
At its best, truth holds heavenly goods–” The heavenly is love and charity; all truth is therefrom; and because all truth is therefrom, it is nothing but a kind of vessel” . . . (AC 1496).
Truth is a very broad word. It can means facts. But it can also mean our world-view–how we think the world is and how we should act in the world. Truth is our attitude. Truth is how we view others compared with ourselves. Truth is what we think is important. All these meanings of truth, though, relate to some form of love. All these meanings of truth hold something we call good.
We saw last Sunday that truth changes with us over time. So also does the good that truth holds. Our loves and our goods evolve over time. In our early life, it may well be the case that our truths hold selfish and worldly goods. Truth can be filled with a love that is not heavenly. How can this be? Let’s consider one very simple, very basic truth. “There is a God.” That seems simple enough. It is simple, until we consider what kind of love it is married to. This simple truth can be filled with worldly and selfish love. “There is a God” can mean, “My God is the true God.” From there it can mean, “Your God is a false God.” The progression can then be, “What I believe is the only true belief.” And from there, one can think, “I must destroy everyone who doesn’t believe what I believe.” The history of religions shows us that this is a very real consequence of self-love acting in the name of religion. It motivated the Christian crusades in the middle-ages. And worse still, it motivated the Spanish Inquisition. And today we see it motivating fanatical terrorists. So when we look at truth, we need to consider how it relates to love and what kind of love it relates to.
We learn truths all through life. Many of the truths we learn are from our childhood. And we may find that our early relationship with truth is motivated by self-love and worldliness. When Swedenborg wrote, a person could be highly thought of who knew a lot of theology. Religion was much more deeply imbedded in society. People could gain a reputation by spouting off all their knowledge about religion. Today, that isn’t the case. There are academic theology departments, and religious scholars can get a reputation in the university. But that is a very narrow audience. For the most part, our society is becoming less and less concerned with religion. But we are all here in this church. And for us, religious truth is important. So what Swedenborg says about the evolution of truths is relevant for us.
Swedenborg claims that early in life we are motivated by self and world oriented loves. This is proper and a necessary part of our evolution. We need to provide for ourselves and find work in society. But the difficulty comes when we look at how tenaciously we hold onto these early motivations. Ultimately, the loves for self and the world need to be replaced with loves for our neighbor and for God. Love for heaven and for God are higher loves and these loves flow into us from God. But Swedenborg asserts that we can hold onto our early loves quite powerfully. Then, our loves for ourselves and for the world can block the heavenly love that is flowing into us from God. As our loves for self and world clash with the inflowing love for God and heaven, we experience temptations. It is through temptations that the truths we learn early in life can become filled with heavenly love.
Good itself, which has life from the Lord, or which is life, is what flows in and disposes. . . . This can in no way be effected so long as a person is in that state into which he is born, and to which he has reduced himself; for the vessels are not obedient . . . for the good which moves them, and with which they comply, is of the love of self and the world . . . Wherefore, before they can be rendered compliant and fit to receive anything 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 hatred and revenge arising therefrom (AC 3318).
What Swedenborg is describing here, is how love flows into our hearts and minds and shapes our truths into forms that can hold it. It is this inflowing love that adapts our truths to be more accurate. This is why truth changes with us. Heavenly love is flowing into our consciousness and shaping our truths so that they can hold God’s love more and more fully. A person that is thinking, “I am all that matters to me,” has little room in his heart for a love for God. A person that thinks, “I am the greatest,” can’t think, “God is the greatest.” So the truths we hold in our consciousness need to be shaped into truths that can hold spiritual loves. We play a part in this process. We need to actively prepare a place for God in our consciousness. We make room for God when we see evil and abstain from it. When we abstain from evil and do good, our personality evolves. God shines a flashlight on our souls and we are able to see with greater clarity the limitations that interfere with the love God is giving us.
When we do abstain from our evils by the Lord’s agency, then, our love for evil and its warmth are put aside and a love for what is good, with its warmth, is brought in in its place, enabling a higher level to be opened. The Lord actually flows in from above and opens it and unites the love or spiritual warmth with wisdom or spiritual light. As a result of this union we begin to blossom spiritually like a tree in springtime (DLW 246).
So just as our truths change, we will find that our loves change also. We become different people. The truths with us evolve and become better suited to God’s love. And as God’s love flows into us more fully, we become more angelic.
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 he is afterward gifted with another personality, being made mild, humble, simple, and contrite in heart. From these considerations it may now be evident what use temptations promote, namely this, that good from the Lord may not only flow in, but may dispose the vessels to obedience, and thus conjoin itself with them (AC 3318).
As I said in the beginning of this talk, good is the ultimate goal of spirituality. The purpose of truth is to shape us into that personality described by Swedenborg: “mild, humble, simple, and contrite in heart.” I think of the fiery argumentativeness of youth, and the quiet smile of wisdom in old age. At least that’s the way it often goes. The choice is up to us. Will we act with God? Will we invite Him into our hearts and minds? Will we be ready to abandon truths that no longer work in our lives? Will we ask for guidance? Regeneration is a wonderful journey. It reminds us that we are only pilgrims and sojourners on this planet. It reminds us that our true home is in heaven, in a rapturous love affair with God.

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