Archive for January, 2011
The Internal and External Church
Rev. Dr. David J. Fekete
January 30, 2011
Ezekiel 43:1-7 Revelation 21:9-26 Psalm 27
As we have our Annual General Meeting today, I thought I’d reflect on the meaning of just what a church is. So I selected Bible readings that had visions relating to the church. In Ezekiel, there was the vision of the rebuilt temple, which the glory of the Lord filled. Then in Revelation, we have a vision of the holy city New Jerusalem. There is actually no temple in it because the Lord Himself is present in it as its temple. In both the Ezekiel passage and the passage from Revelation, the Lord Himself is present in the temple and in the Holy City.
These passages caused me to reflect on the Edmonton Church of the Holy City. We are named after that vision in Revelation that we just heard. Would we say that the presence of the Lord is here, with us in this church? This is a question that I can’t answer for the church. This is because for us in this material world, the spiritual world is invisible. This is a question not for me to answer, but for each member and friend of this church to answer for themselves. Those who find the Lord here, find the Lord in their own heart. It is my belief that people of this church do find the Lord here, and I hope that that is why they come back Sunday after Sunday.
The church itself can be viewed in two ways. There is an internal and an external to the church. The internal of the church is what happens to each of us personally. And the external of the church is what we do when we come together in this building. When we have the church with us internally, it shines forth in the externals of our worship. But externals can be separated from internals, if we do not have the internal church in our hearts. Let us look a little deeper at just what is meant by the internal and external of a church.
We will start by considering the internal of the church. We are each one of us a church in miniature. Or at least we can be. We are a church individually when we have the things a church stands for in us. What would that be? The church stands for the worship of God. We have the internal of the church with us when we have the worship of God in our hearts. Worshipping God means more than listening to sermons, singing hymns that praise God, or hearing Bible readings about God. The true worship of God is letting God into our hearts, and minds, and lives. We are a church in miniature when we have God’s love in our hearts and God’s wisdom in our minds. Then when we act from love, through our best understanding of what love is; when our lives and actions flow forth from love and wisdom, then we are a church in miniature. Then when we go into a church building and participate in the worship service, we are bringing God into the church. Then when we hear sermons, hear readings from God’s Word, and when we sing hymns of praise and thankfulness to God, then we are bringing the internal of worship into the church building. Then the presence of the Lord is with us in the church building.
There is a second aspect to the internal of the church. This second aspect reflects the two great commands of Jesus. Jesus said that the heart of the law is all summed up in two great commands–love the Lord above all and love the neighbor as yourself. We have just looked at the first of these commands–love for the Lord. The second aspect of internal worship concerns the relations of the congregation to each other. The second aspect of internal worship is feelings of love for our fellows in this church. It means thinking well of each other and caring for each other. I have heard it expressed on numerous occasions how this church feels like a family. This is what is meant by the second aspect of internal worship. It is feelings of love for each other in this church community.
We are now in a position to look at what the externals of a church are. Let’s begin by looking at the most external of the church. That would be the physical church building that we enter on Sundays. The church building is a unique building very different from any other building we enter. It is different from a movie theatre. It is different from a store or a shopping mall. It is different from a restaurant. A church building is constructed as a place for worshipping God. The architecture and symbols in a church are all designed to call our attention to God. In a church building we have a raised altar, to signify a holy place within an already holy place. Then on the alter we have another higher altar on which are the Bible and the candlesticks. This symbolism is meant to show God’s immediate presence in the opened Word on the altar and the illumination from God’s Spirit in the lighted candles. God’s presence, then, can be thought to flow forth from the altar into the congregation. But there is another current that brings God’s presence into the church building. That is when each member of the congregation sees the altar and the opened Word, then their hearts open to these symbols and God’s presence flows from the congregation upward to the altar. (All of the language I have been using is metaphorical. I have been using language that involves space and direction. But as I am talking about material symbols, I hope it won’t be taken too literally, as if God’s Spirit actually flows down and up.)
The next level of external worship is the ritual of the church service. There is the responsive reading from a Psalm. This is a way of bringing the voice of the congregation and the voice of the minister together as we jointly invoke God’s presence in the church. We hear readings from the Lord’s Word. Many members of this church community have commented to me that they find my sermons to be the high point of the worship experience. I am gratified to hear this. But I suggest that the reading of the Lord’s Word is actually the high point of the worship experience. The Bible is God’s Word and a devout hearing of it can actually bring God’s presence into the hearer’s consciousness. Then we have the singing of hymns. These can be outpouring in song of gratefulness to God and of love for one another. Music touches the heart in a way that speech doesn’t. I have from time to time pondered the songs we sing from the Book of Worship. To a modern ear, these songs can sound to some degree outdated. I have thought about bringing a guitar into the worship service, and new, modern Christian songs. But that would mean learning all new songs, and may prove too much of a burden for the congregation. In any event, I am still toying with the idea.
These things constitute the externals of worship. In themselves, they mean nothing. By that I mean that if worship consists only of coming into a church building, reciting a Psalm, hearing a Bible reading and a sermon, and singing, without bringing the internal of worship to the experience, then the externals are without life. They would be like an empty shell with nothing inside it. On the other hand, though, if a person has the internals of worship in their soul, then the externals are charged with a power that even amplifies the internals. The opened Word, the candles, the Bible readings, the sermon all call forth the movements of a holy heart and give these externals a life. It is like the soul and the body. The internals are the soul of worship and the externals are like a body. And everything is most powerful when externals are filled with internal meaning. What would love be without a handshake, a hug, or a kiss? Externals can be extremely powerful if they contain internals.
Let us now consider this church itself. Between the members and supporters of the church we have about 45 people. And each person in this church body is an individual. This can be a blessing or a curse. Individuality and diversity mean that we have 45 different talents that each individual can bring to the life of the church. Swedenborg tells us that heaven is perfected by the variety and diversity of the communities and individuals in it. We have a significant pool of resources, when we consider 45 people all contributing their talents to the common good. Then the variety in this church is a blessing. On the other hand, 45 individuals can also mean 45 different opinions about how things should be going in the church. This can lead to division and conflict. Then the variety of our congregation becomes a curse. Today we are having our Annual General Meeting. I would like to see everyone fired up with a zeal for how they think the church should be going. I would like to see everyone willing to take part in the leading of our congregation. But I would also like to see respect for difference and variety. We can differ with each other and still remain a unified congregation. I would like to see respect for the common good of this church prevail. That means hearing and understanding each other. Maybe our way can yield to someone else’s way. Maybe someone else has an idea we haven’t thought of. Lets’ see our individuality and diversity as a strength, not a liability. Let us remember the two internals of the church–love for the Lord and love for each other. Then this external church organization will have its externals fill with the spiritual internals it stands for.
When externals are filled with internals, then God is present in the church. Then the glory of the Lord is in this temple. Then God and the Lamb are in the Holy City. Then we will find God dwelling with us in the Church of the Holy City.
Salvation to the Ends of the Earth
Rev. Dr. David J. Fekete
January 23, 2011
Isaiah 49:1-7 John 1:29-42 Psalm 40
Our Bible readings this morning concern the salvation of the human race by the Lord Jesus Christ. In Isaiah we heard a prophesy about the coming of Jesus and His salvation. There we read,
It is too small a thing for you to be my servant
to restore the tribes of Jacob
and bring back those of Israel I have kept
I will also make you a light to the Gentiles,
that you may bring my salvation to the ends of the earth (49:6).
This phrase is said by God Himself, who, in Isaiah is called, “the Redeemer and Holy One of Israel.” And in John, we find that our Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel is none other than Jesus Christ Himself. When John sees Jesus, he cries out, “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” Only our Redeemer can do this, so Jesus is one and the same with the Old Testament Jehovah, the Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel. We have the testimony of Luke to this effect. The angel Gabriel says to Mary that her child will be, “the Holy One”–the same wording that Isaiah uses to talk about Jehovah. From the Isaiah passage, and from John’s exclamation, we see that with the coming of Jesus Christ, salvation extends to everyone. In Isaiah our Redeemer brings salvation to the ends of the earth. And John says that Jesus takes away the sin of the whole world.
It is through the Divine Human Jesus Christ that salvation comes to the human race. What this means is that Jehovah, the God we read about in the Old Testament, took on a human body for the sake of salvation. Swedenborg testifies to this when he writes, “The Lord from eternity, or Jehovah, took on the human to save men” (L 31). Jesus tells us that He is the one who brings us salvation. He calls Himself the true shepherd, who gives us all eternal life,
Anyone who does not enter the sheep pen by the gate, but climbs in by some other way, is a thief and a robber. 2 The one who enters by the gate is the shepherd of the sheep. . . . 7 Therefore Jesus said again, “Very truly I tell you, I am the gate for the sheep. . . . 9 I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved. They will come in and go out, and find pasture. . . . I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full (John 10:1-2, 7, 9, 10).
It is the recognition of this saving power of Jesus that causes Simon to be renamed Peter, which in Greek means “rock.” In John, we heard about Jesus renaming Simon “Peter” but John leaves out why. Matthew fills in the details. When Jesus asks the disciples who He is, Peter says, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Matthew 16:16). Jesus responds immediately,
“Blessed are you, Simon, son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by man, but by my Father in heaven. And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church” (Matthew 16:17-18).
It was not on Peter himself that Jesus would build the church on, but rather the church is built on the recognition that Jesus is the Messiah. And it was Peter’s recognition of this truth that caused Jesus to call him the rock.
Jehovah God took on the human in Mary to bring salvation to the whole human race. This is because God loves us with an unlimited love. And like all lovers, God wishes to give us all the happiness we can bear. And heavenly happiness is the same thing as salvation. Swedenborg describes the nature of God’s saving love for the whole human race,
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).
Although we often hear about God being a punishing judging God, nothing could be farther from the truth. God is mercy itself, and wishes to draw all upwards to Himself and into heaven. John testifies to this truth, as Swedenborg tells us,
That the Lord imputes good to every person and evil to none, hence that He does not judge any one to hell, but so far as a person follows raises all to heaven are evident from His words: Jesus said, “When I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw all persons unto Myself” (John 12:32); “God sent His Son into the world not to judge the world, but that the world through Him might be saved” (John 3:17); Jesus said, “I judge no man” (John 8:15) (TCR 652).
Likewise In another place we find Swedenborg saying,
Divine mercy is pure mercy toward the whole human race to save it, and it is likewise with every person, and never recedes from any one; so that whoever can be saved, is saved (HH522).
But what about that last line? I mean the one that goes, “whoever can be saved, is saved.” Who are those who can be saved? Well, Swedenborg makes this very clear in his book, True Christian Religion, “Since all men have been redeemed, all may be regenerated each according to his state” (TCR 579).
So all humans can be redeemed and saved. But we have a role to play in salvation. It isn’t just given instantly. We are saved by faith–true faith. The faith that saves is not just belief. Saving faith is the faith that comes from a life lived in love. A life that is lived in love is called charity. When we are doing good in all aspects of our life, then we are living the life called charity. So Swedenborg tells us,
The light of heaven from the Lord’s Divine Human cannot reach to any but those who live in the good of faith, that is, in charity; or what is the same, those who have conscience. The very plane into which that light can operate, or the receptacle of that light, is the good of faith, or charity, and thus conscience (AC 2776).
Some would like to take the easy way out. Some think that the way we live doesn’t matter, as long as we believe in Jesus. But salvation is just as much a matter of living well as it is a matter of believing rightly. We need to live a good life, and also we need to believe what is true. Then both our heart and our mind are involved in the spiritual life. By heart and mind, I mean the whole person.
But all the power we have to do good, and all the power we have to understand truth is given to us by the Divine Humanity of Jesus Christ. For it is God Himself, acting through the Divine Humanity of Jesus Christ, that brings salvation to the whole human race.
For the universal truth of all is that the Lord united His Human to the Divine itself, and that thus man has peace and salvation. And it is a universal truth that man must be conjoined to the Lord, which is effected by rebirth, that he may have peace and salvation (AC 10730).
This is why Jesus says that He is the gate through which we must enter, in order to be saved. We cannot understand God in God’s infinity, or God’s essence. We need God’s revelation through Jesus Christ in order to come to God. Swedenborg makes this very clear. “The Infinite Being, that is Jehovah, could in no way be manifested to man except through the Human Essence, thus through the Lord” (AC 1990).
The absolute and complete union of Jehovah God and Jesus Christ took place in stages throughout Jesus’ life on earth. In the Arcana Coelestia #2520 we read, “The Lord’s life was a continual progression of the Human to the Divine, even to absolute union” (AC 2520). This process took place until all the human was made divine and all the divine was made human. As Swedenborg puts it, “The Lord made all the human with Himself divine” (AC 2194). Since the union of divine and human took place gradually, we have language recorded in the Gospels that makes it look as if God and Jesus were two separate beings. But there is only one God. The union is complete and total. God became man and man became God in the one person of Jesus Christ. The union of God and the Christ is not a metaphor as if two separate people work together as if they formed a union. It is a union in one person. Swedenborg shows us that no other model of the union between God and the Christ is possible than a union into one person.
There is not meant a union such as that of two who are distinct from each other, and are conjoined merely by love, as a father with a son, when the father loves the son and the son the father, or as when a brother loves a brother, or a friend a friend, but it is a real union into one, that they be not two but one . . . and because they are one, therefore also the whole Human of the Lord is the Divine Being or Jehovah (AC 3737).
This is a highly controversial point, but it is at the heart of the New Christianity. This is what is meant by Simon Peter’s confession that Jesus is the Messiah. This is what Jesus means when he says, “anyone who does not enter the sheep pen by the gate, but climbs in by some other way, is a thief and a robber” (John 10:1). In short, Jesus is the way the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Him (John 14:6). And this is the rock on which Jesus builds His church.
Gold, Incense, Myrrh, and Herod
Rev. Dr. David J. Fekete
January 16, 2011
Isaiah 60: 1-6 Matthew 2:1-13 Psalm 72
Our Bible readings this morning suggest two ways to respond to Jesus: spiritually and earthly. And our Bible passages suggest two ways to feel about Jesus. We can feel adoration and gratitude for the gifts of God. Or we can feel threatened by God–yes, threatened. The prophet Isaiah is all about the glory of God, and the Magi from Persia brought gifts to baby Jesus as tribute to His spiritual glory. These passages suggest adoration and gratitude. Our Psalm reading is one of the royal Psalms. That is, it is about a mighty king. And the birth of a new king, from an earthly perspective, is what King Herod felt threatened by. I suggest that we may respond to Jesus in both these ways, when we consider the inner sense of these passages. Jesus can be worshipped in spiritual glory, or Jesus can be seen as a threat to us, surprising as this may seem.
King Herod saw Jesus as a political threat. Herod was king of the region of Israel in which Jesus was born. He certainly had ample reasons for seeing Jesus as a political threat. First, the Magi ask Herod where the king of the Jews had been born. Herod was supposed to be king of the Jews, so these words would not have been well received by Herod. He then asks the chief priests and rabbis where the king would be born. They tell him that out of Bethlehem, “will come a ruler.” More threatening words. So the birth of Jesus was seen by Herod as the birth of a potential king who would threaten his rule over Israel. For this reason, he asked the Magi to tell him where Jesus was after they had found Him. As Matthew tells us, it was Herod’s intention to kill Jesus.
But in Isaiah’s prophesy, we do not find words about an earthly king, but rather we find words about the glory of Yahweh, the God if Israel. This prophesy talks about the time of Christ’s incarnation. Isaiah says, “See, darkness covers the earth and thick darkness is over the peoples.” But the glory of God will shine in this thick darkness,
Arise, shine, for your light has come,
and the glory of Yahweh rises upon you . . .
Yahweh rises upon you
and his glory appears over you (60:1, 2).
The Gospel of John echoes these words, “The true light that gives light to every man was coming into the world. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it” (1:5, 9). In Isaiah, the glory of Yahweh brings spiritual elation: “Then you will look and be radiant, your heart will throb and swell with joy (60:5). John echoes this, too, “To all those who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God” (1:12). These passages tell us about receiving the Christ spiritually, and how that will illuminate our lives and make our hearts throb with joy.
The gifts of the wise men symbolize people who are filled with devotion to God. The gold, frankincense, and myrrh symbolize all the things in a regenerate person.
By gold, frankincense, and myrrh are signified all things of the good of love and of faith in the Lord, by gold those of the good of love, by frankincense those of the good of faith, and by myrrh those of both in the externals (AC 9293).
These three qualities are the three levels of our personality. The highest level is called celestial, or heavenly. The second level down is called spiritual. And the lowest level is called natural, or external. The heavenly level is concerned with love for God. The spiritual level is concerned with a love for truth and a love for our neighbor. And the natural level is concerned with our actions that flow from love and truth. When our actions flow from love for God, according to the truth we learn from the Bible and other teachings, then our natural level, or external, shines with the spiritual life God gives us from on high. Then, the celestial and spiritual levels shine through our external behavior with divine life. The three gifts of the Magi signify a condition when all three levels are opened up and we give thanks to God for the joy and peace He gives us. This is what is symbolized by the gifts of the wise men. We have all three levels in our soul. But it takes spiritual cultivation to realize them all. There is a process by which we come into this condition, and it doesn’t happen instantaneously.
We may think that this is the way we all want to live. We may see Jesus as a glorious gift to our lives. Jesus may feel great to us. We may think that, of course, we want to have that life symbolized by the gifts of the wise men. For most of us, this is true–some of the time, perhaps a lot of the time. But then there are times when we may feel differently. Believe it or not, there may be times when Herod’s ghost arises in our souls, and we don’t feel good about Jesus.
The problem for us comes at that lowest level of our personalities–the natural or external level. Our lowest level is where our actions reside. Our lowest level is where we confront the world. Our lowest level is that level where we meet the world, other people, and where our survival instincts are. When spirituality meets with a love for worldly interests we may find conflict. This is when Herod appears, and Jesus is seen as a threat.
The reality of God can be a threat to our ego, or our self-hood. Recognizing that there is a God means that we are not God and our way isn’t the only way. We can be attached sometimes to our own way of doing things and don’t want to see things done differently. Sometimes, maybe often. The reality of God means that we aren’t the most important thing in the universe. It means, indeed, that we aren’t even the most important thing in our own lives. Our external level, the level adapted to life on earth, struggles hard to keep us oriented to ourselves. Yet the reality of God means that we need to become humble, open to other people’s needs, and to recognize that everything we have is a gift from God, not our own power. I once heard it put this way. “There is only one thing you need to know about spirituality–there is a God and you’re not it.” Easier said than done. When we want the world to go our way; when we want material things in the world that we don’t have, when we want more money than we have, when we aren’t content with our lot in life–we are playing God. We are supposing that our way is better than God’s way. Then we want God out of the way so we can do things according to our whims. Then King Herod is ruling in our souls.
But we are all here today in church. And for us, there is a God. We are here because we recognize that we are not the final masters of our destiny. We are here to give thanks and to worship. But we are also here to learn. The spiritual and celestial levels of our soul are the first ones that are formed. The two of them are also collectively called our internal level. Our internal level is the first level formed when we are in the process of spiritual growth. Our internal level is where our knowledge about God and God’s laws reside. This internal level is above our lowest level. It is the internal level that gives direction to our behavioural level. It gives direction to our external level, in other words. Our internal level tells us how to live. That is the struggle that I would guess we all are going through in our lives. We need to learn what God’s will for us is. We don’t have this information imbedded in us from birth. Then, as we learn more and more about what God’s will for us is, we need to implement that into our lives and do it! This isn’t always easy, depending on the habits we have learned early in life and due to our natural tendency to think of self first. This struggle to live according to spiritual laws is called temptation. It is a struggle to bring into action and life what we have learned about God’s will and love for our neighbor. It is that struggle to realise that there is a God and I’m not it.
But as we wrestle with these currents in our soul, we will ultimately gain ground. Our internal will more and more shine forth in our external. The love and truth that we know within will become love and truth without. Our external will shine with internal light. In the land of thick darkness, a light has dawned. Opening our celestial and spiritual degrees mean letting God into our heart, mind, and ultimately our behavior. We only know true joy when we have God with us. Joy is love in act. And God is the source of all love. Even in the very deeds of our lives in this world, we will know heavenly joy. The light shines in the darkness. Does the darkness comprehend it? More and more, it does. Cracks in our ego and self-interest break open and God’s light shines through. Our external begins to look like our internal. Gold, frankincense, and myrrh are brought to God as a thank-offering. Our hearts throb with joy. And in our joy, with overwhelming gratitude, we give thanks to God.
The Name of Jesus Christ
Rev. Dr. David J. Fekete
January 2, 2011
Numbers 6:22-27 Luke 2:15-21 Psalm 8
Our Bible readings this morning concern the name of God. In our reading from Numbers, after the blessing, God says of Aaron and his sons, “So they will put my name on the Israelites, and I will bless them (6:27). I use this blessing at the end of every service, as do many of our ministers. Indeed, it is a blessing used by many different denominations. When we say it, we say, “The Lord bless you.” But in the Hebrew, the proper name of God is in the text. That name is Yahweh. This name for God was given to Moses at the burning bush and it is under the name of Yahweh that the whole Israelite culture was organized. The name Yahweh, however, was considered too holy to speak. So in place of Yahweh, Jews then and Jews today, say Adonai, which means “Lord.” So when this blessing is spoken, usually we honor that convention and say, “The Lord bless you.” But the important thing about the numbers passage is the actual name of God, Yahweh. The purpose of the Numbers blessing is putting God’s name upon the people of Israel.
In our New testament passage, we heard about the circumcision of Jesus. Then he is formally given the name Jesus. When we hear the name Jesus Christ, we can easily think of common names that have a first and last name such as John Smith. In that way of thinking, Jesus is the first name and Christ would be the last name. But there is a deep meaning behind the names when we say, “Jesus Christ.” In fact, there are levels of meaning for the names Jesus Christ. Those names are not just a first and last name.
On the natural level, Jesus is the Greek name for the Hebrew Joshua. Recall that it was Joshua who led the Israelites in their conquest of Canaan. Joshua brought the Israelites into the Promised Land. The meaning of the Hebrew name Joshua is “Savior.” So we can say that as its Greek equivalent, the name Jesus means Savior. And it is Jesus who leads us into the Promised Land of heaven.
The name Christ is the Greek equivalent of the Hebrew “Messiah.” Messiah means “anointed,” and it refers to the anointing of kings. The Messiah was eagerly looked forward to by the Jews as the divine king who would drive out the Romans, rule on the throne in Jerusalem, and usher in a period of peace throughout the whole world. Jesus claimed to be the Messiah in His trial, but all through His ministry He tried to redefine what the Messiah meant. The kingdom and the peace that the Messiah would bring is all within us.
So the two names Jesus Christ mean Savior and King. Jesus is our savior and he rules in our hearts. But on the spiritual level, the two names mean more. They encompass all we need for salvation. For Swedenborg, Jesus refers to the Lord’s Divine Love, or Divine Good. Christ refers to The Lord’s Divine Wisdom, or Divine Truth. The Lord is Divine Love and Divine Wisdom itself and so the two names Jesus Christ refer to all that God is.
Jesus Christ means salvation for us because when we embody love and wisdom, we have God inside us. All of heaven is made up of God’s divine love and wisdom. The heat there is God’s divine love and the light there is God’s divine wisdom. These two qualities proceed from God as the sun in the spiritual world. God as He is in Himself is infinite and He cannot be in any created thing because we are all finite. This means, essentially, that God is too big to be in us as He is in Himself. But he shines out from His own life into heaven, and from heaven into our souls as the heat and light of the spiritual world. And the sun of the spiritual world shines forth from the Lord Jesus Christ.
as He cannot be received by any one as He is in Himself, He appears as He is in Himself as the sun above the angelic heavens, the proceeding from which in the form of light is Himself as to wisdom, and in the form of heat is Himself as to love. The sun is not Himself; but the Divine love and Divine wisdom going forth from Himself proximately, round about Himself, appear before angels as the sun. He Himself in the sun is a Human, He is our Lord Jesus Christ both as the Divine from which are all things, and as to the Divine Human (AR 961).
All of heaven is made up of this divine love and divine wisdom from God. So we can live in heaven to the extent that we have God’s love and wisdom in our hearts. If we do not have divine love and wisdom in us, we cannot endure the heavenly atmosphere. This is why our religion is called mystical. Mysticism means an actual conjunction with God. Mysticism of this sort can be found in the Eastern Orthodox religion, too. In that faith, they call it divinization. We need to be conjoined with God in order to live in heaven–that is, we need to have God’s love and wisdom in our hearts in order to live in heaven. So conjunction with God is salvation. On one occasion, Swedenborg heard angels talking about this, and they were talking about, “the one God, of conjunction with Him, and of salvation thence” (AR 961). Conjunction with the one God is salvation.
The person Jesus Christ has caused much confusion and controversy in Christianity. While Christians know that there is only one God, they also try to reconcile the oneness of God with the words of Scripture that seem to suggest a three persons. This issue is called the Trinity. And the classical formulation of the trinity says that there are three persons with one essence. This cannot be understood. Swedenborg himself began his life with that idea. He had to give up the ideas about the trinity that he grew up with as a Lutheran. Swedenborg’s theology is so consistent throughout that we don’t realize that he had to learn these heavenly truths and actually change the way he had been thinking before his enlightenment. The angels who were talking about God that Swedenborg heard told him that his thinking did not agree with the idea of God in heaven.
The angels perceived in my thought the common ideas of the Christian Church concerning a trinity of Persons in unity and their unity in trinity . . . and they then said, “What are you thinking of? Are you not thinking those things from natural light with which our spiritual light does not agree? Therefore unless you remove the ideas of that thought, we close heaven to you, and go away” (AR 961).
He responds to the angels that his ideas about the trinity were about God’s attributes:
But then I said to them, “Enter, I pray, more deeply into my thought and perhaps you will see agreement.” And they did so, and saw that by three persons I understood three proceeding Divine attributes, which are creation, salvation, and reformation; and that these attributes are of the one God . . . (AR 961).
The angels accept this idea of the trinity, and then they separate off the old ideas of the trinity that Swedenborg grew up with as they enlighten his mind.
After this the heavenly light before seen above the aperture returned, and gradually descended, and filled the interiors of my mind, and enlightened the natural ideas of the unity and trinity of God; and then the ideas received about them in the beginning, which were merely natural, I saw separated, as chaff is separated from the wheat by winnowing, and carried away as by a wind into the north of heaven and dispersed (AR 961).
This must have occurred early in Swedenborg’s enlightenment because from the first pages of the Arcana Coelestia through his last book True Christian Religion, Swedenborg is consistent that there is only one person in the Godhead. His doctrine of God brings together the Old Testament reading this morning and the New testament reading. Our teaching is that Yahweh God of the Old Testament came down to earth in the body of Jesus that He took from Mary. So the Creator God who always was and from whom all things are, came into the material world and took on a material body. The Old Testament Yahweh is Jesus’ soul, and Jesus is the body of the Old Testament Creator God. God’s soul acts through His body, Jesus Christ, and acts to give us all life and salvation. With Yahweh as the soul, through His body Jesus Christ, God acts to bring joy and salvation to the human race. The activity of God through his body Jesus Christ is the Holy Spirit. So Swedenborg says of Jesus Christ:
The Lord Jesus Christ: in Him is the Divine being itself from which all things are, to which the soul of a person corresponds, the Divine Human, to which the body in a person corresponds, and the proceeding Divine, to which activity in a person corresponds (AR 961).
This perfect conjunction of God the Father and Jesus Christ as the soul is in the body is spoken of in the Bible. John’s Gospel tells us, “For as the Father has life in himself, so he has granted the Son also to have life in himself” (John 5:26). Only in a perfect union of Father and Son can life in itself be one. There cannot be more than one life in itself. Two or more itself’s cannot exist logically. Jesus is Life Itself because of His complete union with Life Itself who created all things. Swedenborg argues this point philosophically. It may be difficult to understand, but it does make sense and shows how Swedenborg’s whole life made him fit to explain the teachings of the New Church. For Swedenborg,
the Divine being, which is also the Divine manifestation, because it is one, the same, the itself, and hence indivisible, cannot be given in more than one; and that if it were said to be given, manifest contradictions would follow (AR 961).
So let’s forget about all the manifest contradictions that would follow from several beings who are being itself. Let’s instead turn to our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ whom we can readily picture and understand. Let us turn to Jesus Christ for our salvation. And let us act to incorporate the divine love and wisdom of God through Jesus Christ into our hearts and lives. Then we will be united with God and find joy and peace in heaven where love and wisdom are heat and light itself.