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Archive for December, 2013

Dec 29th, 2013

Theft and Contentment
Rev. Dr. David J. Fekete
December 29, 2013

Genesis 31:17-42 Matthew 6:19-24 Psalm 49

The Bible readings I selected point to natural and spiritual interpretations of the seventh commandment, which is not to steal. Our reading from Genesis, about Jacob and his wives and Laban bring up just about every aspect of theft that needs to be considered. Our readings from Psalm 49 and from Matthew put the whole issue of wealth in perspective.
The most basic level of this commandment is taking what belongs to someone else. Stealing money, or someone else’s possessions is theft in its most basic level and is a crime we all recognize. There are other actions that are theft, too. Employers who do not pay their workers fair wages, workers who do not perform their jobs honestly, merchants who derive profits that are out of proportion to the goods they produce, and unjust ways of obtaining wealth such as fraud–all these things are theft.
In our story from Genesis, just about every form of theft is described. It is a story about Jacob and his father-in-law Laban. Laban cheats Jacob in several ways. First, Laban makes Jacob work for seven years in order to be handed his daughter Rachel as his bride. Laban, however, gives him his other daughter, Leah instead. So Jacob works another seven years and finally receives his beloved Rachel for his wife. Jacob also accuses Laban of changing his wages ten times in the course of his employment. We see that Laban is quite a dishonest empolyer. But Jacob is a bit of a thief, himself. Through a complicated breeding scheme, Jacob sees to it that his own flocks increase while Laban`s flocks remain the same. This is not accident, but is the result of Jacob`s active intervention with the mating of Laban`s flocks. Then we have the example of Rachel actually stealing Laban`s household idols when she flees with Jacob from Laban`s home. There is a lot of conniving going on between Laban, Jacob, and Rachel in this story. A lot of theft going on.
Psalm 49 and Matthew point to a spiritual way of viewing wealth. For the temptation to steal derives from an unhealthy view of wealth that isn’t spiritual. Psalm 49 tells us in stark terms that wealth has no spiritual value. The Psalmist tells us that wealth won’t keep any person from the grave. It says further that wealth can’t pay God a ransom for our souls. He says in clear terms that only, “God will ransom my soul from the power of Sheol,/for he will receive me.” And Jesus gives us the positive side of this same teaching. Jesus says that we should build up treasures that are lasting. He teaches that there are eternal riches which can’t be stolen and that do not decay with time and age. Jesus says, rather cryptically, that “Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matthew 6:21). If our hearts are set on heavenly treasures, then we will not crave worldly wealth. And if we do not crave worldly wealth, then we will not be tempted to steal.
When I was growing up, the hippies of my generation, of which I was one, had a different view of wealth. We criticized those who were trying to keep up with the Jones’, as we called it. We distained the quest for money and worldly success. There was a song by Pink Floyd that satirized the quest for wealth. It goes like this:
Money, get away
Get a good job with more pay and your O.K.
Money it’s a gas
Grab that cash with both hands and make a stash
New car, caviar, four star daydream,
Think I’ll buy me a football team.
There was also a song by Jethro Tull that I liked then and still like now, that points to simple pleasures versus the drive for wealth.
I’m sittin’ in the corner feeling glad
Got no money comin’ in but I can’t be sad
That was the best cup of coffee that I ever had
And I won’t worry about a thing because we’ve got it made
Here on the inside, outside so far away.
But when discussing the issue of wealth, I think that we hippies were a bit idealistic. We didn’t seem to have a responsible view of money. For we do need money to survive in this world. Without a healthy view of money, without earning a livable wage, we will be beholden on the charity of others, and we will be a burden to society. For just as the Psalmist tells us the hard fact that we can’t take money with us to the grave, there is also the hard fact that without money we can’t provide for ourselves. The acquisition of wealth is not a problem nor a sin if the wealth is come by honestly. The only issue is what wealth does to us. I think that Psalm 62:10 puts this whole matter into perspective. Here, we find the well-known phrase, “If riches increase, set not your heart on them.” The Psalmist doesn’t say riches are bad in and of themselves. Rather, the Psalmist says riches are a problem only if we set our hearts on them. And a person who sets their heart on wealth is likely to go to any length to obtain wealth–honest or otherwise.
It seems like our society is diseased with a craving for wealth. I saw this trend really take hold in the ’80′s and it has remained since. I think that the excesses of wealth in the ’80′s may have been a backlash against the anti-money attitudes of the ’60′s and early 70′s. I think of that 80′s movie Wall Street with Michael Douglas and Charlie Sheen. Michael Douglas plays a corporate raider whose lust for wealth drives him to insider trading and all manner of ruthless tactics such as destroying companies for the profit it brings him. This movie was made in the 80′s when the lust for wealth was perhaps at its peak in our world.
I think things have toned down a bit since then, but in many ways, the trend started in the 80′s continues. We still have luxury products pasted before our faces in the media. Competition for the title of most popular luxury automobile is the marketing gimmick behind one brand that wants to dethrone Cadillac, BMW, Lexus, and Mercedes.. I think of the astronomical salaries paid to entertainers and sports figures that defy all manner of logic. One television comedian I know of has a collection of 60 Porsches. He rents an airplane hangar to keep them in. I remember one athlete who was interviewed on television. His interviewer asked him if he deserved all that money and if he earned it. The athlete responded that it isn’t a matter of him earning that much money. He said that it is rather “what the market will bear.” What the market will bear–not whether he is worth that much. I guess it’s not my place to judge, but I can’t help feeling that these extreme salaries are a form of theft. And I don’t even want to start on those bank CEO’s who ruined the world economies and still retained obscene salaries and even bonuses.
Long ago, John Calvin made an interesting statement. He said that merchants and manufacturers were not allowed to earn a greater profit than their product is worth. In other words, charging a higher price than the product is worth is a sin. I like this idea in principle. However, Calvin did not tell us how to calculate what an honest profit would be. I think that in some cases, we may have an indication when companies are charging more than a just figure for their products. Drug companies come to mind. There is no justification for the huge disparity between what pharmaceuticals charge in the US compared to what they charge for the same drug in Canada. Our society says that the laws of supply and demand are what dictate price or wages. There is no correlation between price and worth or cost of production. It`s all what the market will bear.
But most of us are in much more modest relations to wealth. We still have a call as Christians. As Christians, we are called to act justly in our employment, and not to defraud our employer of work time for which we are paid. And we are called to be content with the allotment of wealth that we are earning. The real challenge is not to lust after huge wealth, but rather to reign in our desires for material goods. For wealth is always relative. I have heard extremely wealthy individuals say that they always want more. It is this wanting more that is the problem. Unless we master our desires for money and goods, we will never have enough.
In the highest spiritual sense, stealing means taking credit for God`s good deeds. We violate the seventh commandment when we think that the good things we do are from our own power. We thus steal credit from God. When we think we have earned heaven by our good deeds, we are taking personal credit for the power that belongs to God. When we make someone feel good, when we do someone a favor and we feel good from the deed, the temptation is there to get puffed up with pride for the good person we are. I am not saying that we can`t have confidence and self-esteem. But the good we do is God working in us, and to God alone goes the merit, the credit, and the glory. In fact it is harmful to our souls when we think we deserve heaven for our good deeds. Thinking this way will actually deprive us of the heavenly joy that flows into our spirits when we do give God credit for goodness. Even as we strive against evils in our character, and come to actually be better persons–even this is not our doing, but God working salvation in us. When our minds are on God, and when we credit God with all the acts of goodness around and through us, then we feel heaven`s joy in us. Paul said it well,
Continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose (Philippians 2:12-13).
Finally, as Christians we are called to love heavenly goods, not worldly goods. We are taught to seek God`s kingdom first. We are told that true wealth is a full heart–a heart of gratitude, a heart of brotherly love and sisterly love, a heart of love for God. When good deeds are what we truly seek out of life, then our hearts are set on heavenly treasures. These endure for ever. These are what refine human into angels. These are the keys that unlock the mansions of heaven and give us eternal peace of mind and joy of heart.

PRAYER

Lord, we acknowledge that all we have is from you. We acknowledge that all we do is by your power. Help us to remember and give thanks to you for all the good we know, for all the good we do. Lord, sometimes we struggle in this life. Sometimes we wage war against demonic forces that seek to choke out your heavenly influx. But even in these times, we know that it is not we who struggle, but you who struggle in us. May we always be open to your goodness, your peace, and your love.
Lord, many are our wants. But our means are limited. Lord, help us to restrain our desires for excess material goods. Help us to remain content with what we have and with what is within our means. For if we are content with what we have, we have all we need and want.

And lord, we ask that you watch over those who are struggling and enduring hardship, be it sickness, poverty, or national unrest. Send your peaceful spirit to turmoil. May aid come to those in need and may all the nations of the world come together in good will to help nations that are suffering from natural disasters or internal strife.

Send the power of your healing love to those who are sick. We know on faith that in every trying situation, good can come. May we find the good in trouble, and healing where there is sickness.

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Dec 25th, 2013

In Darkness, a Light
Rev. Dr. David J. Fekete
Christmas Eve–2013

Christmas is a time of darkness and of light. Christmas comes at the darkest time of the year. The night is longest around this time and the days are shortest. Perhaps because of this deep darkness, we light lights. We decorate trees with Christmas lights. We light candles. We put Christmas lights around our windows and around our houses. We put lights on our Christmas trees.
We do all this to cheer us during this dark season. But we also do this because of the symbolic meaning of light. For Christ was born into the darkness and Christ is the light of the world.
When we speak of the darkness into which Christ was born, we mean more than just the winter night. As Isaiah 9 says,
The People living in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned. . .
Isaiah speaks of people living in darkness–darkness so profound that it is called “the land of the shadow of death.” We are taught that the world was in a direful state when Christ was born. Swedenborg states that humanity was at its lowest point. Darkness had become so thick that goodness from heaven was choked off by souls of darkness in the spiritual world. So light needed to be born in this material world.
In Jesus, God was made Human. And light came to a dark world, a dark society. God took on a material body and brought the power, the love, and the heat of infinite goodness into this world. “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it,” writes the Apostle John. I like the way that the King James Version translates this line. It reads, “And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not.” For those beings of darkness do not, did not comprehend the light. They do not, did not comprehend truth. They do not, did not comprehend Jesus. The Greek word we are talking about is katalambano. It means both, “to overcome, or overpower,” and also, “to understand.” And the forces of darkness didn’t understand Jesus, and in the end, did not overcome Him. So I translate that phrase, “The darkness didn’t get it.” It didn’t get Jesus physically or mentally.
The forces of darkness didn’t overcome the power of The Light. Though they tried to silence Jesus, even in His death, His message became even more powerful. The light spread through all the Mediterranean first. Then through all the western world.
Consider what a miracle this was, this is. Jesus wrote down nothing. Jesus established no church structure, built no church buildings. All that remained after His death was memories of those who knew Him, and a confused rabble of Jewish peasants. They were left to their own devices when Jesus resurrected.
Yet the light shone from the heavens to announce Jesus’ birth and it shone after His resurrection. When Jesus rose, He now had power to reach the material world from His Divine Humanity through His own material body, now glorified. Swedenborg, citing Isaiah 30:26, states that the sun in the spiritual world shone seven times stronger after the glorification. And this power, this light inspired the Apostles and the entire world from within. This new light overcame the darkness that covered the ancient world.
But the darkness isn’t entirely dissipated in this world. There are inequities of class, gender and race that need the power of Christian love to dissipate. There is disease and famine in much of the world. There are unjust political regimes that need to be toppled. As Christians, we are called to establish social justice in the world. As the Old Testament tells us, and as Jesus demonstrated, the poor and marginalized are not to be forgotten. God hears their voices.
But if the political and social injustices only were in need of the power of Christian love, Jesus would have been just another worldly reformer. But the light of Christianity shines on the souls of people everywhere. It enlightens the mind and inspires the heart of believers everywhere. The voice of that infant born into a dark world calls to each of us to look up, to fix our sights on heaven, and to transform our lives into an image of that Divine Human who walked in the dust of Palestine.
If we set our hearts on that miraculous God-Man to whom the scriptures testify; if we train our feet to walk in the steps of our Savior; if we open our ears to the angelic choirs, we will come to know the Kingdom to which our Lord calls us. We will be friends of the God-Man. We will be residents of the heavenly mansions. And the light will shine in our hearts and minds. And they’ll know we are Christians by our light.

PRAYER

Dear Lord, this Christmas Eve we remember with solemn joy your birth here in this world. The world lay in deep darkness. And to a world consumed with darkness, you brought light. And your light continues to shine into this world, and into our souls. Help us to see your light shining in the world. And give us to see those areas of our lives that you have illuminated so that we may become children of the light. May we seek to embody your light and your warmth that always shines in the heavens and in our souls which live in the spiritual world. We ask your help in bringing that light and warmth into all the activities of our lives. May our lives be a witness to your name. For in this dark, winter’s night we celebrate the light that has come into the world. We call ourselves by the name of that light; we call ourselves Christians.

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The Delicate Issue of Adultery
Rev. Dr. David J. Fekete
December 22, 2013

Hosea 1:2-2:1 Matthew 5:27-32 Psalm 50

The sixth commandment is the prohibition against adultery. When you are a divinity student or a minister, you end up hearing every religious joke there is. And there is one about adultery. Moses comes down from Mount Sinai and announces, “I have with me the fifteen commandments.” The Israelites respond, “O fifteen is too many! We can’t follow that many commandments. Please go back up the mountain and negotiate a better covenant.” So Moses goes back up the mountain. When he comes back down he says, “Well, I’ve got good news and bad news. The good news is I got it down to ten commandments. The bad news is adultery is still there.”
On one level, the sixth commandment prohibits the commission of adultery. But Jesus makes this commandment more severe and difficult. He says that when anyone looks upon someone else with lustful gaze, that person is committing adultery in their heart. In other words, the prohibition against adultery includes lustful feelings, not only the act of adultery. I spoke with a rabbi about this statement of Jesus and the rabbi thought that it was severe. He said that as a rabbi, he would never say the same to the people in his synagogue. He thought that Jesus was a strict rabbi. In fact even the evangelical Christian Jimmy Carter confessed to violating this commandment as expressed by Jesus. But as Christians, we are bound by Jesus’ teachings, be they difficult or easy. Swedenborg includes in this commandment all lewd or obscene things, thoughts, or speech.
There are some peculiarities about this commandment. First, committing adultery is not against civil law, as is murder or theft. Depending on how one views society, it is indeed questionable if today it is even against moral law. Everywhere we look, sex and sexuality is pasted before our minds and eyes in advertizing, in music videos, in television and movie programming. Recently a female pop singer made waves by dancing suggestively on TV. This is nothing new in popular music. And in stories, love triangles fuel reams of paper that go back all the way to medieval romances. While sex has been used as a marketing device for a long time, recently I have seen ads descend to a dalliance with adultery that alarms me. A car advertisement depicts a young man stealing a kiss from another young man’s date at a dance party. The commercial concludes with the proud young man driving home with a black eye and a big grin on his face. The final image is the girl at the dance party with a longing, listless look on her face. In another commercial, a man drives away in a boat with his friend’s girlfriend. She dumped her boyfriend and took up with his friend because her boyfriend took too long getting his insurance technicalities worked out. These ads are not only using sex to sell, which I am almost numb to. No. These ads are using adulterous stories to sell, which makes me shudder.
Our society has become so distant from what religion teaches about love and its contraries that we have lost language relating to these ideas. We almost never use the words “lust,” or “lascivious,” or “lewd,” or “unchaste.” I think that for some of these words the younger generation may not even know a definition. And yet the whole purport of Swedenborg’s book Marital Love, also called Conjugial Love is to distinguish between lust and love, or between unchaste and chaste expressions of love.
Another peculiarity about the sixth commandment is the way our biology figures in the issue. As Protestants, we do not favor absolute abstinence and a vow of celibacy. So for us, chastity does not mean total abstinence from sex. For Swedenborg, chastity has to do with the total dedication to one single person. And still, the opposite sex is loved and admired, but not desired. In fact, for Swedenborg, when a person is in marital love, love for the opposite sex in general is increased. When a person is in love, all the world is lovelier.
There is a deeper level to the sixth commandment that is apparent from our Hosea reading. The prophet Hosea is told to marry an adulterous wife as a symbol of Israel’s relationship with God. This is one of many places in which Israel’s relationship with God is compared to a marriage. In this case, Israel’s relationship is called adulterous because Israel has turned away from Yahweh to worship the Canaanite gods around them. In this case we see the spiritual meaning of adultery. In the spiritual sense, adultery means turning from the holy things of religion or spirituality. For just as the Israelites turned to other gods, the temptation is there for us to turn away from spirituality. In its highest sense, the sixth commandment means denying the holiness of the Bible. For despite all its difficulties, the Bible is God’s Word and is Holiness Itself.
The Bible is a difficult book to deal with. There are passages in it that do not seem holy; in fact, there are passages in it that seem contrary to what we know of God. I think of those warrior passages and all the killing apparently commanded by God. In fact, the whole idea of the Promised Land is difficult. What God appears to say is that Abraham and his descendants will get a land that others now live in. In other words, the Promised Land is one of conquest.
But there are also beautiful passages in the Bible. God is called compassionate and forgiving and all loving. God is especially concerned with the marginalized in society—widows, orphans, and foreigners. There are good moral laws in the Bible. And there are lessons of wisdom.
If we approach the Bible with an affirmative attitude, we will see the beauties of God and God’s kingdom. But if we are dead-set on denying the divinity of the Bible, we can arm ourselves with all those passages that derive from a first millennium bronze-age warrior world.
People who seek to discredit the Bible seek also to discredit religion in general. This is what adultery means in its spiritual sense. Spiritual adulterers set themselves against religion. They not only deny God, they laugh at the things of religion. They set out to disprove God, they set out to show the irrelevance of religion and spirituality, and they either secretly or openly hate God.
Again, we see the unity of all the commandments when viewed spiritually. We can see how adulterating the things of religion go against the first two commandments. Having no other god before the Lord means that there is a God and that He is real. Putting self as the centre of life, as many atheists do, is putting something before God–a violation of the first commandment. Not taking the Lord’s name in vain means not to deny, laugh at, or discredit the Bible and the things that come from the Bible. Since all true religion comes from the Bible, denying religion and spirituality is also denying the Bible. Since God is the all and everything of the Bible, making light of the Bible is taking God in vain, God’s name and everything God stands for. God as our Father and the church as our mother are to be honored, as we learned in the fourth commandment. And the love that is at the heart of all true religion stands against hatred, which is prohibited by the fifth commandment.
Finally, the sixth commandment comes down to love—to real love. If we love our neighbor, we will not lust after our neighbor’s partner. We want what is good for our neighbor, and what is better than the love our neighbor enjoys from that one certain someone. And loving that one certain someone is what the sixth commandment is all about–a love from and in God Himself.

PRAYER

Lord, we give you thanks for your gift of love. Love fills our hearts with spiritual warmth and joins the human race together as one family. We give you thanks especially for the dear love that finds its rest in marriage. For no sweeter gift do you give humanity than the intense personal love between two people. We ask you to guard our thoughts to keep them free of distractions from unholy desires. May the transient pleasures of sensuality disperse as we grow in confidence and heartfelt friendship with our partners and with the whole human race. In this world, there are many distractions. But we give you thanks because you have overcome the world.

And lord, we ask that you watch over those who are struggling and enduring hardship, be it sickness, poverty, or national unrest. Send your peaceful spirit to turmoil. May aid come to those in need and may all the nations of the world come together in good will to help nations that are suffering from natural disasters or internal strife.

Send the power of your healing love to those who are sick. We know on faith that in every trying situation, good can come. May we find the good in trouble, and healing where there is sickness.

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Dec 16th, 2013

Murder, Peace, and Love
Rev. Dr. David J. Fekete
December 15, 2013

Genesis 4:2-10 Matthew 5:21-26 Psalm

The fifth commandment is, “You shall not murder.” The word choice is important here. Often this commandment is translated, “You shall not kill.” But the correct translation of the Hebrew is the word “murder.” Murder is different than killing. There may be times in defence of one’s country or to maintain the balance of power in the world when wars are necessary. In these cases, it would appear that killing may be justified. But murder means, by definition, killing out of hatred, or revenge, or because of a personal vendetta. None of these cases are justified. So the fifth commandment prohibits killing out of anger or hatred. So the mental state of hatred is implied by the very word choice of murder.
I chose a clear case of murder for our Old Testament reading. In our reading from Genesis, Cain is said to be “very angry” with Abel. And it is this anger that prompts Cain to murder his brother.
We are none of us likely to act out angry impulses to the point of murder. But Jesus calls our attention to internal meanings of the commandment not to murder. There are three degrees of murderous feelings that Jesus talks about. The first is being angry with one’s neighbor. The second is insulting one’s neighbor. And the third is calling one’s neighbor a fool.
I think that the kind of anger that flashes up in a moment of hurt or insult is natural. I don’t think Jesus is prohibiting that kind of anger. I think that what Jesus is talking about is dwelling on one’s anger and nurturing it. This is called in other places holding a grudge. I used to hold grudges. On my own time, I would think about a slight I may have received. I would think of all the way the other person was wrong, and list in my head the many ways the other person was out of line and wrong and a jerk. All the while, my heart would be burning with rage against this individual as my mind was filled with an unholy meditation on my neighbor’s wrongs. Occasionally, I would ponder ways to get even with this individual. I would also think of remarks I could have made or ways I could have responded in the moment to get them back. Now that’s a lot of mental energy. A lot of misspent mental energy. It reminds me of a Blake poem called A Poison Tree.

I was angry with my friend:
I told my wrath, my wrath did end.
I was angry with my foe:
I told it not, my wrath did grow.

And I watered it in fears,
Night and morning with my tears;
And I sunned it with smiles,
And with soft deceitful wiles.

And it grew both day and night,
Till it bore an apple bright.
And my foe beheld it shine.
And he knew that it was mine,

And into my garden stole
When the night had veiled the pole;
In the morning glad I see
My foe outstretched beneath the tree.

This poem speaks of the kind of resentment I have been describing. Wasn’t I building up that poison tree in my own mind and heart? And this poem shows that nurturing resentments against someone actually is a form of murder. And the worst thing about these resentments is what it does to us. We are the ones going around feeling all those unpleasant feelings of anger in our hearts. And all the while, the event is over; the person isn’t even present, and, in fact, is most likely going about their business feeling just fine, not knowing our resentment, not feeling miserable as we are.
Notice, too, how Blake tells us a way to defuse our feelings of resentment. When the poet is angry with his friend, “I told my wrath, my wrath did end.” When we are up front about our feelings with others, we can defuse the issue on the spot. This is the way Jesus suggests.
So if you are offering your gift at the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, 24 leave your gift there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift (Matthew 5:23-24).
If a person has something against us, or we against them, we are told to make peace. This, even before we go to God. Jesus tells us that before we bring an offering to the temple, to make peace with our neighbor.
This does not mean unhealthy ways of making ourselves feel better. This does not mean to lash out in anger. Here we encounter Jesus’ second degree of murder. “Whoever insults his brother shall be liable to the council.” There are two violations in this kind of retaliation. First, it is a form of revenge to insult someone else. It only escalates the cycle of anger. Second, and more important, insulting someone is a public action. And insulting someone includes damaging their reputation. There are many ways of varying severity to this level of anger. It includes backbiting and talking someone down to others. It includes gossip. It includes getting others fired up against someone. And all this leads to damaging someone’s reputation. For a person’s livelihood often depends on their reputation. These forms of attack—backbiting, gossiping, rallying others against someone—all these forms of anger are murder to the good reputation of someone else. This gets us back to the Blake poem. If we have something against someone, we need to confront them personally and diplomatically and bring our concerns to them face to face. “I was angry with my friend/I told my wrath, my wrath did end.”
But it is hard, sometimes, to face those with whom we have a problem. We don’t like confrontation. But what does that leave us with? Will we stew in anger and build a poison tree? Will we detract them behind their back?
There is another option here that I haven’t mentioned. We can let it go. Depending on the nature of our neighbor’s offence, we may not need to make an issue of it. We can drop the matter altogether in our minds. This is not saying that we need to be a doormat. If an individual is really damaging us, we will need to remain aware of the danger such an individual can be to us. Avoiding them in the future or trying to understand their nature are ways of dealing with the matter. Meanwhile, we don’t need to let the committee start in our heads in which we say, “He did this, and then that, and then still this other . . .”
In Matthew 5 we also have the beautiful saying of Jesus that brings all these considerations home. “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the sons of God.” Striving to establish peace is making heaven on earth wherever we are. And as Christians, this is our mission in life. At this time of year, especially, we cultivate ways to establish peace. We remember the birth of Jesus into the world, who is called Prince of Peace.
The ways of peace, of reconciliation, of conflict resolution—these are the ways of God. While the commandment is phrased negatively—“Thou shalt not”—it is saying positively, “Blessed are the peacemakers.” It is godly to live in peace one with another. And it is also much more pleasant to live in peace than it is to live in anger and resentment. So let us do ourselves a favor as we live out God’s commands. Let us be peacemakers and live in love toward our neighbors. Then we are children of God.

PRAYER

Lord, may we walk in peace with our brothers and sisters. We ask that you give us patience and forbearance. For in this world, we do meet with hurtful words and actions. May our response not be one of anger and rage and revenge. May we learn from your example to turn the other cheek. May we follow your example and be the blessed peacemakers who are your children. May we not meditate on our neighbor’s shortcomings but on their good points. May we seek not to remove the speck from our neighbor’s eye, but the beam from our own. Thus may we be truly called by your name, and bring heaven to earth through our hearts and actions.

And lord, we ask that you watch over those who are struggling and enduring hardship, be it sickness, poverty, or national unrest. Send your peaceful spirit to turmoil. May aid come to those in need and may all the nations of the world come together in good will to help nations that are suffering from natural disasters or internal strife.

Send the power of your healing love to those who are sick. We know on faith that in every trying situation, good can come. May we find the good in trouble, and healing where there is sickness.

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Dec 8th, 2013

Degrees of Parenthood
Rev. Dr. David J. Fekete
December 8, 2013

Genesis 17:1-8, 15-22 Matthew 10:34-39 Psalm 103

The fourth commandment is, “Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be long in the land which the LORD your God gives you.” On the first level of meaning, this commandment tells us to respect our parents. On the second level of meaning, it tells us to respect the church as our spiritual mother. And on the deepest level it tells us to revere God, who is Father to us all.
And then I have selected a problematic passage from the New Testament that seems to fly in the face of the fourth commandment. Jesus tells us to turn from our parents and our homes,
I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; 36 and a man’s foes will be those of his own household. 37 He who loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; and he who loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; (Matthew 10:35-37).
I think that if we look at these two passages developmentally, we can find a resolution to them both. Also, when we consider the deeper meanings of the fourth commandment, we will see that they cohere together beautifully.

We are told to honor our parents, for they have given us all we knew as children. They have fed us, clothed us, and taught us to be good citizens. While no human is without weaknesses, our parents have done the best they knew to give us all they could. Our early feelings of love were from our parents. Before we set out to make our way in the world, we had the unconditional love of a home that cared for us as special beings. As the wife in a Robert Frost poem says about home and family, “I should have called it/Something you somehow haven’t to deserve” (The Death of the Hired Man). We don’t have to deserve our parents’ love and support. They give it to us because we are their children. And we never outgrow our status as children in the eyes of our parents. Even adult children are loved as they were when young.
But we do grow up and leave our homes and family. We become our own persons and now we are in a world in which it seems we do have to deserve the love and respect we know. We may see that the world is different from the way we saw things as children. As we become adults, we examine our lives and see if the way we were brought up is the best way to live.
This is where I see the New Testament passage coming into play. We come to see God as our true parent. And we see that God is to be loved above all. This means that we shine a light on our lives from what we know of God’s ways. And we see where amendments need to be made in our lives. This is what loving God above all means. It means that our family life may limit our potential if we don’t grow beyond what we learned as children. There is another poem by Frost that illustrates this idea. The poet meets with his neighbor once a year to build a wall between the two of them. They have a stone wall that separates their properties. Over the course of the year, stones fall out of place and the two meet to put the wall between them back together. But the ironic thing about this wall is that the poet’s property is all orchard, and his neighbor’s is all pine. The wall serves no purpose! There are no cattle or animals that would roam into the others’ property. But the poet’s neighbor has a saying that he inherited from his father, “Good fences make good neighbors.” He holds this saying uncritically. He doesn’t look for why good fences make good neighbors. And, as we have seen, in this case, a wall makes no sense. Holding a stone in each hand, the neighbor seems to Frost, “like an old-stone savage armed.” Since his neighbor lives uncritically, Frost sees him moving
in darkness as it seems to me~
Not of woods only and the shade of trees.
He will not go behind his father’s saying,
And he likes having thought of it so well
He says again, “Good fences make good neighbors.”
Do we have the courage and the insight to go past what we have learned from our home life if we see that there are other ways to live? I think that living critically, and examining our lives are necessary steps in growing up. In my own life, for one reason or another, I was brought up arguing. I could almost always see a contrary way of looking at something and almost instinctively would open up an argument when a subject was brought up–in fact, when any simple assertion or statement was made. There were benefits to this habit. I joined the debate team in high school and lost only one debate the whole semester. And in school, when we needed a topic for a paper, having an argumentative disposition gave me things to write about as I would question readings that had been assigned. But there was also a down side. In certainly inhibited my social life. Many people don’t like to be argued with. Continually debating and contradicting others didn’t endear me to many people. I managed to isolate myself from others. But in a 12-step program, I learned that there were other ways of living. I learned that I didn’t have to debate and argue all the time. I remember one very wise person asking me, “Do you want to be right, or do you want to be happy?” And as I relaxed my argumentative nature, I learned to live and let live. Now I am Vice President of a wonderful organization in which 13 different faith traditions all work together to find peace, justice, and education with one another, and to promote such aims in culture. Where would I be if I still tried to impose my beliefs on others and tried to convince them of my way?
Jesus’ sayings are even stronger than the way I have been presenting them so far. He says, “A man’s foes will be those of his own household.” This is saying that our household is even a foe, an enemy. Here we are entering the idea of what Swedenborg calls hereditary evil. Swedenborg claims that we inherit from our parents tendencies to evil. But we need to be clear that these are only tendencies. If we act on these tendencies, then we acquire actual evil. Some of these evils are necessary in our upbringing. Consider self, for instance. It is part of growing up to become our own person and to make decisions about good and bad from our own lights. It is part of growing up to look out for our own interests and to provide for ourselves. Otherwise, we would be a burden on society. So self-interest is a necessary step in human development. But if self-interest grows too large in our characters, to the point where we will run roughshod over others in order to get what we want, then self-interest becomes a problem. In fact it becomes destructive self-love. Then self-interest becomes our foe, our enemy. In this way, healthy traits from our natural upbringing can grow into our foe. Then, we need to become militant against our natural tendencies. Now, we see that we need to set ourselves against ourselves and our upbringing:
I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; 36 and a man’s foes will be those of his own household. 37 He who loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; and he who loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me (Matthew 10:35-37)
So we may need to become militant against the familiar ways of acting that we may have grown into. This is one meaning of Jesus’ words, “He who finds his life will lose it, and he who loses his life for my sake will find it” (Matthew 10:39). We lose our lives for Jesus’ sake when we lose the evils we have acquired and let God and His goodness into our lives.
It is the church as our spiritual mother that provides the nurture and instruction to guide us into God’s kingdom and God’s ways. So as our spiritual mother, we respect our church. Our church has taught us the ways of God, and the church is a loving community that supports us as we walk our own path toward heaven. We see how all the commandments cohere beautifully. We honor the Sabbath when we honor our church. We hold no other gods before the One True God as we look to godliness and fearlessly reform our lives in the light we see from God. This is loving God above our mothers and fathers and honoring His name.
So the first four commandments all have God at their heart. Swedenborg tells us that the first commandments all refer to God and the second group of commandments all have the neighbor at their heart. This talk concludes the commands that center on God. Next week we begin the commandments that relate to our neighbor.

PRAYER

Lord, we give you thanks for all the loving memories we have of our parents and our home life. Our parents have taught us about love and about citizenship in this world. We know, Lord, that the early feelings of love we had in childhood remain with us and are your special dwelling in our hearts. And we give you thanks for our church. As we come of age, our church is as our spiritual mother. Our church nurtures us while we grow spiritually. Our church teaches us about being angels in your world. And Lord, we thank you for your love and nurturing of us. For you are our heavenly Father, and we are all your children. Help us to see one another as brothers and sisters under your protective wing.

And lord, we ask that you watch over those who are struggling and enduring hardship, be it sickness, poverty, or national unrest. Send your peaceful spirit to turmoil. May aid come to those in need and may all the nations of the world come together in good will to help nations that are suffering from natural disasters or internal strife.

Send the power of your healing love to those who are sick. We know on faith that in every trying situation, good can come. May we find the good in trouble, and healing where there is sickness.

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Dec 2nd, 2013

Sanctifying a Day
Rev. Dr. David J. Fekete
December 1, 2013

Isaiah 56:1-2, 6-8 Mark 2:23-28 Psalm 92

The third commandment is, “Honor the Sabbath day to keep it holy. Six days shall thou labor and do all thy work, but the seventh is the Sabbath to the Lord your God.” In Hebrew, the word Sabbath means to rest. There is a level of meaning to this commandment that relates to this world, and one that relates to the spiritual world. Without its inner meaning, or spiritual meaning, it would perhaps be hard to see this commandment as holy. I interpret this commandment in two ways, taking into account this world and the next. First, make time for rest. Second, make time for God.
From the worldly point of view, this commandment says that we need to set one day aside for rest from work. And I think that our society really needs to take this commandment seriously. So many in our society work 7 days a week. They don’t even take one day off. The excuse is that they need the extra money just to make ends meet. So the Sabbath is forgotten, buried under the frenetic work schedule of so many today. I don’t think that this is healthy. Surely a person who goes and goes and goes will sooner or later break down and get sick. I think that God has us all in mind when He tells us to set one day apart as a day of rest. After all, Jesus says that “the Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath” (Mark 2:27). We need a down day so we can recharge, relax, and find peace in a chaotic world.
Then there are the spiritual needs for the Sabbath. We need a day to spend with family and friends. We lose these spiritual treasures when we don’t take a day of rest—a Sabbath. And we need a day devoted to God, in a society that craves all our attention.
Some people do take one day off and try to cram all their chores into that one day—mowing the lawn or shovelling snow, grocery shopping, housekeeping, laundry, and all the other chores that work keeps a person from. Although on the positive side, many take that one day to sleep in and actually take a modicum of rest they so dearly need. That day of sleeping in and whirlwind catching up usually is on Sunday. Even taking one day off can crowd God out.
I ask, does a person need that much money? I think it’s really a matter of whether that one day of rest is valued. This gets us back to the very first commandment. No other gods before Me. There are so many worldly things that people think that they need that the Sabbath is buried. Do we need that expensive auto? Do we need that big house? Do we need those designer clothes? Do we need sumptuous food? These are the kinds of things that drive us to work and work and work to make ends meet. The question is whether those things matter more than our mental and bodily health. The question is whether they matter more than getting a personal life. For a person whose life is all work can’t really be said to have a life. I think of that sickness called workaholic. A workaholic is sub-consciously pushing away the personal things in life like loving, friends, and relationships. It is a fear-driven life and now we have a term from psychology that labels it as a sickness.
So it is no wonder that church attendance is dwindling. People’s lives are just too busy, among other reasons. The time that used to be reserved for God is eaten up by the demands of the world. For the Sabbath day is not just rest from work. It is a holy day on which a person learns about God and God’s kingdom, and meditates on the eternal things that really matter in life. On the natural level—that is, the level that relates to this natural world—we need a day to rest from work. But on the spiritual level, we need a day off work to meditate on God and to show our love to the neighbor. We need a holy day to fill our hearts with God’s Spirit in order to go back into the world with a spiritual disposition. For that spiritual disposition can easily wear thin and even wear out when our only thought is the demands of worldly life. All these considerations are contained in the first level of meaning for this commandment.
The higher levels of the third commandment are concerned with spiritual labor and spiritual rest. We struggle with spiritual temptations in this life as we regenerate. Our spiritual growth actually happens through struggle as we put off our cravings for selfish satisfactions and open our hearts to share with our neighbor and to do good out of love for God. While we are in this world, we are influenced by the spiritual world. We have those moments when we feel the angels near us with their peace and profound joy. But we also have moments when hell tries to drag us down from our heavenly reveries into fear and concern only for what the world can give us—prestige, wealth, and power. Swedenborg tells us that
The Divine Providence . . . continually leads unto salvation, and this through various states, sometimes glad, sometimes sorrowful, which the man cannot possibly comprehend; but still they are all profitable to his eternal life (AC 8560).
As we walk our spiritual pilgrimage, as we contend against unhealthy drives we are in the six days of spiritual labor. Paul has described this spiritual labor so well in Romans 7:
I do not understand what I do. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate to do. . . . For what I do is not the good I want to do; no, the evil that I do not want to do–this is what I keep on doing (Romans 7:12, 15, 18-19).
But the third commandment is all about the Sabbath and rest. There will be a day of rest, when the conflict we know will come to an end. This state of mind is called being regenerated. Then hell falls away, and angels surround us with their comfort, love, and peace. Now God is in our hearts for good. And we now have peace and rest from conflict and struggle. This state of being regenerated is what the Sabbath stands for.
We find the stages of spiritual growth described in Swedenborg’s commentary on the seven days of creation. There we see that the world was created in six days. God rested on the seventh day and made it holy. The creation story is a metaphor for our spiritual regeneration. We are reformed for the six days of creation. Each day represents a new stage in our progress. On the seventh day, our work of reformation is over and we have the eternal peace that comes with union with God. In this we come to the final level of meaning for the third commandment. The Sabbath in the highest sense is union with God. When our struggle is over, we are united with God forever. The union of God with humans and of humans with God is two ways. God always comes to us. But we vacillate in our relationship with God. As we live we are now closer, now further in our own relationship with God. All relationships are two-way. You can say that God is always loving us. But we need to return that love in order for the bond to be full. When we are of fixed purpose and when God reigns in our hearts and when there is no longer trial and turmoil stirred up from hell, then we are in the Sabbath day.
This is why the Sabbath is holy. It is because ultimately it stands for God and for our union with God. This is the whole goal of salvation–of creation itself, in fact. God created humans so that there would be a heaven from the human race. God wants everyone to be in a love relationship with Himself, which is what heaven is. And when we are all-in, in that love relationship we are at peace—the kind of peace only God and the angels can give us.
This is the whole of religion. And it means more than taking one day off work to go to church. But taking that one day to reflect on God’s grace, and to meditate on our path is a step in the right direction. God has many ways to bring us to Him. And God knows our hearts better than we do ourselves. It may be possible for a person consumed with work to find peace in their day-to-day lives. I just cannot imagine it. But I can say that taking one day and making it holy is a good way to live. It is a commandment. And it coheres beautifully with the first two commandments. No other gods means setting time aside for God. Not taking the Lord’s name in vain means making the Sabbath important in our lives. I think this society needs to take the third commandment seriously, and give ourselves a break.

PRAYER

Lord, our hearts and minds go out to you on this Sabbath day. As you have commanded, we come together to worship you on one sacred day which is devoted to you. We pray that you lift our thoughts to you and fill us with love for you as we love our neighbor. Lord, we work hard in this world. And this world demands much of us. But it is your will that one day be set aside for rest. And one day be set aside for you. Bless our Sabbath, Lord, this day. And we ask that you bless this church, where we all gather to uphold the Sabbath that you have commanded. We thank you for this place of worship, and for this congregation who have all gathered together in your name to uphold your Sabbath day.

And lord, we ask that you watch over those who are struggling and enduring hardship, be it sickness, poverty, or national unrest. Send your peaceful spirit to turmoil. May aid come to those in need and may all the nations of the world come together in good will to help those nations who are enduring hardship.

Send the power of your healing love to those who are sick. We know on faith that in every trying situation, good can come. May we find the good in trouble, and healing where there is sickness.

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