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Archive for August, 2013

Aug 25th, 2013

As for Me and My House
Rev. Dr. David J. Fekete
August 25, 2013

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

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

PRAYER

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

And Lord, we pray that you bring peace to this troubled world. May those who harbor ill will for their neighbors learn to understand and see the fellow humanity that they share. May those who strive against each other see that they are like in their wishes and in what they want for their land and nation. Lord, we especially ask that you be with the people of Egypt and of Syria. Comfort those who have been harmed, and pacify the hard hearts of those who use violence to obtain their own will. M may all warring factions find their way to peace.

Lord, we ask for you to heal those who are sick. As you worked miracles of healing when you were on earth, how much more can you work healing miracles now that you have risen and have all authority in heaven and on earth. Grant all who are in need your healing love and power.

10-Week On-Line Course in Paul taught by Rev. Dr. David J. Fekete
September 30-December 8: Tuition only $55!

The Apostle Paul isn’t all that bad! In fact, he’s fantastic! Some of the things he says you wouldn’t believe. I think Swedenborgians are prejudiced against Paul. I was. But with an open mind, we will find Paul’s letters inspiring, beautiful, and in places quite in accord with Swedenborg. This 10-week course is a topical survey of Paul’s letters in the light of Swedenborg’s theology, as Protestant Christianity sees him, and as we find him in the letters themselves. For more information, or to enroll, please email Rev. Dr. Fekete at: revdrfekete@gmail.com. Deadline for enrollment is September 25. The course is limited to 15 students.

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Aug 12th, 2013

The True Bread of Life
Rev. Dr. David J. Fekete
August 11, 2013

Exodus 16:1-15 John 6:35-50 Psalm 34

Several thoughts come to mind from our New Testament reading from this morning. First, there is the reference to Holy Communion. The sacrament is invoked by Jesus’ words, “He who comes to me shall not hunger, and he who believes in me shall never thirst” (John 6:35). We use these words in this church for our communion service. These words call to mind the line from the beatitudes, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be filled” (Matthew 5:6). They also call to mind the words Jesus speaks to the woman at the well. He tells her,
Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water that I give him will never thirst. Indeed the water I give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life (John 4:13-14).
Second, I think of God’s universal love for the whole human race. I hear this in Jesus’ words, “Whoever comes to me I will never drive away” (John 6:37). What a comforting thought that is. Third, there is the reference to manna. Jesus said, “Your forefathers ate manna in the desert, yet they died. But here is the bread that comes down from heaven, which a man may eat and not die” (John6:49-50). The manna is too large a topic to consider at this time. But along these same lines, Jesus earlier had said, “Do not work for food that spoils, but for food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you” (John 6:27). This is like Jesus saying that manna does not give eternal life but the bread that comes down from heaven a man may eat and not die.
Let’s begin with the first of these three considerations, which is the Sacrament of Holy Communion. Holy Communion is a symbol. It symbolizes the whole process of salvation, for we see salvation as a process. For this church, salvation is a real change in character. It is a change from self-interest to other-interest. It is a change from ego-dominated goals to God-centered goals. This process is contained in the elements of communion: in the bread and wine.
The bread is a symbol of God’s Divine Love. And the wine is a symbol of God’s Divine Wisdom. Eating the bread and drinking the wine symbolizes our accepting of God’s love into our hearts and God’s wisdom into our minds. When we have God’s love in our hearts, and when we practice loving acts wisely, then we have eternal life.
The bread and the wine themselves do not give us eternal life. Indeed, if we do not cultivate a loving and wise disposition, the bread and wine have no meaning. Without a heart and mind seeking God, then the bread and wine are just that food that spoils. It is mere bread and wine. But when we actively seek God’s love and wisdom, then the bread and wine function like a true symbol and we feel God’s presence in the sacrament.
This consideration moves us into our second idea. Jesus promises that those who hunger and thirst for righteousness will be filled. If we seek God, and what God stands for, we will find God. As we heard in our John passage, “Whoever comes to me I will never drive away.” All who seek God, will find God. And all who come to God, God will accept. Emanuel Swedenborg has a beautiful passage about God’s all-inclusive love:
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).
We affirm this inclusive understanding of God every Sunday when we recite the Adoramus. In it, we find the words, “God is present to save all people, everywhere, whose lives affirm the best they know.”
Some use this very passage to assert that God saves only Christians. What a small and narrow God that would be! I think that such a reading emphasizes the letter of the words against the spirit of the words. If Jesus is God, and I believe that He is, He says that He will never drive away any who come to Him. This means that all who come to God will be accepted, whatever name they use for God. As a Christian, I see God as Jesus Christ. But this does not mean that God cannot be called Shiva, or Krishna, or Allah, or Yahweh, or any other name a person uses to invoke the one God.
We have God’s promise that whoever calls on God will not be turned away. This brings us to the miracle of the manna. Manna was bread that fell from heaven like dew. It fed the Israelites when they were in the desert. With all these references to Jesus as the bread from heaven, and the idea that manna came from heaven, it seems clear that we are not dealing with ordinary bread here. No, this is symbolic bread. It is the food that comes from heaven. And what comes from heaven is all the various forms of affection and love that we can express in this world and that will live forever in the next. These forms of love feed our soul and give us spiritual life.
This brings our discussion back to the issue of salvation. I said earlier that salvation for us is a real turning from selfish and ego-driven goals to neighbor and God-centered goals. This turning from earth to heaven takes a lifetime and even continues into the next life. It is not an easy journey. At times it feels like we are wandering in the wilderness. When we give up ways of living that we have become accustomed to–such as a craving for recognition and self-interest–when we give up old ways, we do not know what lies ahead. We may surrender our ego, but what are we left with? In one book I read, the writer compared it to the hole in a doughnut. The writer lamented, “If all is God, won’t I be like the hole in a doughnut?” This isn’t the place to go into the ramifications of God’s Omnipresence–indeed, even a whole sermon couldn’t even touch such a theme. The point is, when we let go of our worldly cravings and our self-interested desires, we don’t know what we are left with. It takes a while for heavenly loves and God-centered thoughts to make sense. So we think of the manna the Israelites lived on. In Hebrew, “manna” means, “What is it?” What is this wondrous food from heaven? So our new life, when we give up our old life is a mystery for a while.
When we begin to replace selfish loves with Godly loves, at first we don’t know how to act or what our emotional life will consist in. When we replace worldly thoughts with heavenly ideas of how to live, at first we don’t know what makes sense. But as we wander through this wilderness of character transformation, we come into the Holy Land. We settle in an emotional land that becomes our spiritual home. We come to recognize spiritual feelings and we think thoughts that are true. As we let God’s love into our hearts, and God’s wisdom into our minds, we feel at home in heavenly life. We may even come to understand the answer to the problem of the doughnut hole.
We have Jesus’ promise that those who hunger and thirst after righteousness will be filled. We have Jesus’ promise that if we drink the living water He gives, that we will never thirst again. And we have Jesus’ promise that he who comes to Him will never hunger. This promise goes out to all devout believers of every faith.

PRAYER

Lord, you are the true bread that comes down from heaven, which gives eternal life. You have promised us that those who hunger and thirst after righteousness will be filled. Lord, we humbly ask that you lead us in the paths of righteousness. Guide our steps ever toward you and our heavenly home. You have said that you will not turn away anyone who seeks you. Lord, we seek you with all our hearts. Accept our heartfelt will to follow you. Lord, accept our meditation and effort to come to you. And, Lord, lead us forever into your kingdom for righteousness sake.

And Lord, we pray that you bring peace to this troubled world. May those who harbor ill will for their neighbors learn to understand and see the fellow humanity that they share. May those who strive against each other see that they are like in their wishes and in what they want for their land and nation. And may warring factions find their way to peace.

Lord, we ask for you to heal those who are sick. As you worked miracles of healing when you were on earth, how much more can you work healing miracles now that you have risen and have all authority in heaven and on earth. Grant all who are in need your healing love and power.

10-Week On-Line Course in Paul taught by Rev. Dr. David J. Fekete
September 30-December 8: Tuition only $55!

The Apostle Paul isn’t all that bad! In fact, he’s fantastic! Some of the things he says you wouldn’t believe. I think Swedenborgians are prejudiced against Paul. I was. But with an open mind, we will find Paul’s letters inspiring, beautiful, and in places quite in accord with Swedenborg. This 10-week course is a topical survey of Paul’s letters in the light of Swedenborg’s theology, as Protestant Christianity sees him, and as we find him in the letters themselves. For more information, or to enroll, please email Rev. Dr. Fekete at: revdrfekete@gmail.com. Deadline for enrollment is September 25. The course is limited to 15 students.

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