Archive for March, 2013
Rev. Dr. David J. Fekete
March 31, 2013
Luke 23:1-49 Psalm 22
Falsely accused, hanging on the cross and suffering excruciating pain, enduring mockery from Jews and from Romans alike, some of Jesus final words were, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” Jesus’ final thoughts were on the human race which his whole life was dedicated to save, heal, and bring back to God. Jesus came to rescue the lost sheep, to show us how to love, and to bring God’s love and power down to an earth that had forgotten Him. Swedenborg captures the nature of God’s love nicely,
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).
Jesus did not judge humanity. He did not reward us according to what we deserved. If we were rewarded according to what we deserved, none would be saved. No, Jesus says, “God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him” (John 3:17). Jesus did not judge the people who brought false charges against Him. He did not judge those who mocked Him as He was dying on the cross. He did not judge the whole human race who allowed these terrible events to fall upon the innocent head of God in the flesh.
The story of the crucifixion is the epitome of love. It is the kind of love we see in parents. Parents may scold their children, but they never take their love from their children. And soon they are reconciled and will do anything they can to make their children’s life better.
It is also the kind of love we see in close friendships. I think of an event that went on in my own lifetime during my college years. In my senior year in university, I had been elected class president by majority vote of the student body. However, as can be the case in such offices, political rivalry developed between me and a student named Melanie. Melanie seemed bent on taking my position away from me and putting herself there. And this, despite the fact that I had the mandate of the student body. Well, things came to a head. Melanie had created a divisive faction among the officers of the student government. The officers of the student body called a vote to decide on my continued presence as class president. There were many students present at this meeting, as it was our tradition to hold open meetings. They spoke up on my behalf, stating that it was their will that I remain their president, as they had elected me. The officers then expelled the students from the government meeting, which caused one officer to break down in tears over the drama of the event and caused the exiting students to jeer and complain that this meeting was a farce. On the student government were two friends of mine, Kent and Chuck. When the vote came, I lost. The student government wanted me to stay on, but not as president. But I left the government altogether, and Church walked out with me as did his wife and other members of the student government. But Kent stayed on. After the meeting was over, Kent came back to Chuck’s room where we were all sitting around talking Melanie down and consoling me. We found out easily enough that Kent had voted against me–my own friend. I was mad at the time, but Kent was a good friend of mine. I had to decide whether this betrayal meant more than the years we had been friends. Ultimately, I decided not to hold Kent’s political decision against him, and we had many more years of friendship following. Kent said that had I stayed on as president, the rivalry between Melanie and me would have persisted and the student government would never have accomplished anything. So he voted me out to keep the peace. I saw that he had his reasons, and that they said something about his character. But we were able to enjoy happy years as friends. And when I ultimately left Ohio for Boston, Kent put together a surprise party for me and invited friends of mine that I didn’t even know Kent knew about.
It would have been easy for me to write Kent off and say to myself that his betrayal was unforgivable. And, indeed, there are certain betrayals that I would not forgive. But consider all the betrayals and disappointments that fallen humanity can present us with. And measure them against that ultimate betrayal, in which God Himself was cruelly and innocently murdered. And think about God’s way of responding to humanity at its worst. Jesus responded with understanding and compassion in his dying words. “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.”
This is the message I would like to leave you with this evening: The message of divine forgiveness. The message of divine love. The message of divine understanding. In the throes of a terrible death, Jesus’ only thought was one of love and forgiveness for the human race. This is one of the purest examples of Godliness that I can think of. And in the way Jesus died, we can see His ultimate grasp of the divinity in His soul. So that His final words would be words of full union with His Heavenly Father, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.”
This is the gentle God we worship. This is the way God will always look at us. And in this glorious death, we still have a lesson of God-human relations. The criminal crucified on one side of Jesus prays to Him, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” May we also pray daily, “Jesus, remember me.” And God will always answer our prayers as Jesus did on the cross, “I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise.” For when we are with Jesus, in this world or the next, we are in paradise.
Leaving Our Comfort Zone
Rev. Dr. David J. Fekete
March 10, 2013
Numbers 21:4-9 John 3:14-21 Psalm 107
Today’s Bible passages are all about leaving your comfort zone and living a higher life. God is infinite goodness, infinite love, and infinite wisdom. We are always finite in our goodness, love and wisdom. And the ratio of any finite number to infinity is infinity. That means that there is no end to our growth potential. We can grow better in goodness, deeper in love, and more profound in our wisdom forever. Our spiritual life is one of moving constantly from evening to morning. That is, from a state less holy to one more holy. From less love and wisdom into greater love and wisdom. And this to eternity.
Anyone who has undergone some spiritual growth or change in their life knows that change is not easy. Moving from a state of less goodness into one of more goodness means leaving our comfort zone. It means letting go of behaviors and emotions that we were accustomed to, and taking on new, unfamiliar, and maybe uncomfortable ways of life. The temptation is always there to revert back to old, accustomed ways. The temptation is there to backslide from the new life we have been led into, and to return to our old ways.
This is what we find in both our Old Testament story and our New Testament passage. In our story from Numbers, the Israelites grumble against God. They are sick of eating the same food. They look back with longing on the food in Egypt, which was richer and of greater variety.
If only we had meat to eat! We remember the fish we ate in Egypt at no cost–also the cucumbers, melons, leeks, onions, and garlic. But now we have lost our appetite; we never see anything but this manna! (Numbers 11:4-6)
The Israelites seem to have forgotten that in Egypt they were slaves. And the food they now ate was manna that came down from heaven itself! All this rebellion and wistful recollection of Egypt was brought on by food. Just food!
The Bible tells us that God sent the Israelites venomous snakes to punish them. Here we are dealing with what Swedenborg calls an “appearance of truth.” Appearances are not wholly true. They are how a person interprets things. They are how a person imagines things to be. Actual truth, truth that is really true, is beyond any person’s mind. We cannot know absolute truth. We can only know what is true for us. But we believe that there is an Absolute Truth. And we believe further that we can approach this Absolute Truth closer and closer. That is, our appearances become truer and truer.
When the Bible says that God sent snakes to punish the Israelites, this is not Absolute Truth. This is how the Israelites interpreted the sudden appearance of venomous snakes. The idea that God punishes is an appearance of truth. And the Bible in its literal sense has many appearances in it. The literal reading of the Bible is called by Swedenborg “the sense of the letter.” The real truth is, God does not punish. God can only do what is good, and inflicting harm on anyone is contrary to God’s nature.
that in the Word it is frequently said that God is angry, takes vengeance, hates, damns, punishes, casts into hell, and tempts, all of which pertain to evil, and therefore are evils. But . . . the sense of the letter of the Word is composed of such things as are called appearances and correspondences . . . when such things are read these very appearances of truth, while they are passing from a person to heaven, are changed into genuine truths, which are, that the Lord is never angry, never takes vengeance, never hates, damns, punishes, casts into hell, or tempts, consequently does evil to a person (TCR 650).
Swedenborg even waxes zealous in a tirade against persons who preach a damning, punishing God,
as He wills only what is good he can do nothing but what is good. . . . From these few statements it can be seen how deluded those are who think, and still more those who believe, and still more those who teach, that God can damn any one, curse any one, send any one to hell, predestine any soul to eternal death, avenge wrongs, be angry, or punish. He cannot even turn Himself away from humanity, nor look upon anyone with a stern countenance (TCR 56).
The case is similar with a line in the Lord’s Prayer. In it, we are dealing with an appearance of truth. When we recite it, we say, “Lead us not into temptation.” This line would seem to be saying that God leads us into temptation. But God never brings on temptations. It is we who bring them on ourselves. Why? This is for the same reason that we find the Israelites longing to return to Egypt.
The sad truth is, we are accustomed to doing things the way we were brought up. We begin our adult life by learning how to succeed in the world. In itself, this is not wrong or bad. In fact, it is necessary. But what kind of mindset do we need to succeed in the world? I have heard it said that a person can’t become rich without stepping on someone’s toes. Does this mean stepping on someone’s head? Does this mean beating down all opposition? Does this mean thinking only about what benefits us? Maybe for some. But for all of us, we have to begin life thinking about worldly ambition. I suggest that we, in fact, love worldly activities and ambitions. We orient our lives to these aims. Perhaps we must orient our lives to these aims in order to succeed.
We learn from spirituality that we need to consider other people. We learn to act in harmony with others. We learn to care for others. We learn to love others as much as we love ourselves and our worldly ambitions.
This requires a change in our perspective. We change from a “me first” attitude to an “I-Thou” attitude. And all the things we started out loving from a me-first attitude need to be shrugged off like a snake’s old skin. But those loves were a part of our life. Those loves formed who we were. And they continue to reside in our memory. Thus there is always the temptation to fall back into those old loves; into those old ways of doing things.
New spiritual life is almost contrary to worldly life. It may feel very uncomfortable at first. Living gently instead of aggressively may be hard for a business man driven to succeed and profit. Living contentedly may be difficult in a society that plasters images of wealth and sensuality everywhere we look–television, billboards, radio, social media. It is as if the world is continually telling us that we don’t have enough. It is as if the world is telling us to forget the lilies of the field and birds of the air.
So the temptation is always there to slip back from new spiritual life into our old, ego-driven and world-oriented pleasures and ambitions. This is like the Israelites wanting to return to Egyptian slavery even after tasting the freedom of their wilderness life. This is what John means in the passage we heard this morning from chapter 3, “This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but men loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil” (3:19).
In our spiritual development, there is always the lower self threatening to drag us down and back into old ways of living. But once we have tasted the nectar from the gods, once we have lived on manna that came down from heaven, we will find that living our old lives feels uncomfortable. We will feel pain in the distractions of ego and the world. And when we are hurting too much, we will turn to God. We will turn from the world toward heaven. When the serpents bite us, we will see where we have fallen short, where we have fallen, and we will turn, we will return.
Then John’s statement will resound in our hearts, “But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what he has done has been done through God” (3:21). “Lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil.” God will deliver us from evil when we call upon Him to do so. When the people of Israel lifted up their eyes to God, they saw the bronze serpent Moses had made, and they were healed.
Such is our journey in this world. We are ever moving from evening into morning. We are ever moving from less light into more light. We are ever moving from the world to heaven.
Blake says this well in his poem The Little Black Boy:
And we are put on earth a little space,
That we may learn to bear the beams of love
May the Lord bless our going out and our coming in from this time forth, and even for ever more.
Lord, we give you thanks for lifting us up out of the mire of worldly concern. Everywhere we turn in this world, we see images of wealth, power, and sensuality. And yet you have shown us that all these glimmering images are but vanity, and empty. Help us to turn from these vane seductions. Help us to see where true life resides. Help us to find contentment in the disposition of your divine providence. Help us to seek for riches the last into eternity. May we find your pearl of great price, and trade all the vane offerings of this world for that one great gift. May we find you, and may we find peace in your heavenly world of everlasting joys.
Lord, we ask for your peace to descend upon this troubled world. Where there is conflict and war, let there be understanding and peace. Where there is famine and thirst, may good hearted aid come and satisfy the needs of those who want. Where there are natural disasters, may help come from good neighbors and from compassionate governments. Where there is hardship and unemployment, lend your patience and hope.
Lord, send your healing love to all those suffering in body and soul. We ask you to give the gift of health to all in need.