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Church of the Holy City

Living for Others

Living for Others
Rev. Dr. David J. Fekete
March 1, 2009

Leviticus 19:9-18 Luke 22:24-30

“Who is greater?” Jesus asks, “The one who sits at table or the one who serves.” Jesus says the obvious, of course it is the one being served. He then goes on to say that He Himself came to serve. Thus Jesus reverses the common perception about who is greater. It is greatest to serve, not to be served. And in the middle of the Old Testament book of Leviticus, a book primarily devoted to tedious regulations about sacrifice, we find the words, “love your neighbor as yourself” (19:18). We all recognize this Leviticus passage as one of the two great commands that Jesus taught. But many do not realize that Jesus was not teaching something new. The Pharisee is asking Jesus which commandment is the greatest in the Law—namely the first five books of the Bible. So Jesus answers the Pharisee by quoting the Law—namely Leviticus 19:18, “love the neighbor as yourself.”
Jesus calls our attention to a bold new way to look at our purpose in life. Some people question what their purpose is on earth. Particularly people who have survived a near death experience. Jesus tells us our purpose is to serve others. Swedenborg says this in a simple sentence, “Man is not born for the sake of himself, but for the sake of others; that is, he is born not to live for himself alone, but for others . . .” (TCR 406). This message is as bold today as it was when Jesus first said this in the first century A.D.
This means we’re not here to look out for number one. We’re not here to get what we can out of life. We’re not here to seek fame and fortune for ourselves. We’re here to do something good for someone else.
This is about the opposite that our society teaches us. We’re taught by society to make a name for ourselves. There’s an old song by a strange group called Devo that captures the kind of messages our society tells us. They say, “Move forward! Get ahead!” Get ahead, get to the top of your office or business. Make a lot of money. There’s another rock song that goes, “What have you done for me lately?” Imagine walking into the office of some CEO and saying, “What are you doing for your neighbor? How are you serving?”
But we’re not here to serve ourselves. We’re here for the sake of others. We’re here to say a kind word to the grocery clerk when we buy our groceries. We’re here to cheer up our friends when they are having a bad day. We’re here to spread joy in whatever way we can. This is what heaven is all about.
The enjoyments and happiness in the other life are constantly communicated from one to many by a real transmission that is wonderful . . . and these communications are effected without any loss to him who communicates. . . . From this it may be manifest what the happiness of those who love the neighbor more than themselves, and who desire nothing more than to transfer their happiness to others. This has its origin from the Lord, Who thus communicates happiness to the angels (AC 1392).
What a beautiful image of God Swedenborg gives us. He says that when we share our joys with others, we are an image and likeness of God. Sharing joy, says Swedenborg, “has its origin from the Lord, Who thus communicates happiness to angels.” God, for Swedenborg, is not a condemning God, is not a stern, judging God, but a God who wants to communicate happiness to angels.
Sharing joy with others is a selfless act. When we genuinely love others from the heart, we don’t take credit for the good we do them. We are happy if we have made them happy and the happiness of others is our concern.
They who are in this enjoyment [heavenly good] do not wish to hear of merit, for they love to do good and they perceive that they are favored in the doing; and they are sorry if it is believed that their doing is for the sake of a return. They are like those who do good to friends for the sake of friendship, to brother for the sake of brotherhood, to wife and children for the sake of wife and children, to their country for the country’s sake, thus from friendship and love. They who do acts of kindness also say and urge that the do them not for their own sake, but for theirs (TCR 440).
So far I have been talking about doing good to the neighbor in terms of the individual. But the neighbor is also a group of people. The neighbor is also the people of the city we live in, or the country we live in, or the people in our church, believers everywhere of all creeds, or society in general. So the neighbor is also people in a collective sense. Now I have to come back to that CEO that I painted in a negative light earlier. I asked the CEO, “What have you done for others?” Well it is entirely possible, that by being a conscientious CEO, that business man is serving society. In this sense, by doing the job a person is called to do, people serve the greater good of society, or the neighbor in a collective sense. This is the heart of the famous “Protestant work ethic” that we hear about sometimes. Doing one’s job, whatever that job is, is a calling from God to serve society. People traditionally think that only ministers have a call from God. But the Protestant work ethic says that the owner of a factory, a plumber, a teacher, a social worker, and an auto mechanic all have a calling from God to do the work they have chosen. So doing your job faithfully is a religious act. It is doing good to the neighbor as a collective. It is an act of charity.
Charity itself is to act justly and faithfully in the office, business, and work in which one is, because all things which a man so does are of use to society; and use is good; and good, in a sense apart from persons, is the neighbor (TCR 422).
The neighbor is also good itself. And when we love the neighbor spiritually, we love the good that is in a person, not just the person. This idea has its origins in Aristotle’s friendship philosophy. Aristotle teaches that only the virtuous person can truly be a friend. And it is virtue first that one seeks out in another. Swedenborg says essentially the same thing, substituting only the word virtue for good. So Swedenborg teaches that we are to love the neighbor according to the good we see in him or her.
… a man is to be loved according to the quality of the good in him. Therefore good itself is essentially the neighbor. . . . Now as the Lord is to be loved above all things, it follows that the degrees of love toward the neighbor are to be measured by the love to Him, thus by the measure in which another possesses the Lord in himself, or has possession from the Lord; for so much good he also possesses, because all good is from the Lord (TCR 410).
Seeing the neighbor as good itself combines Jesus’ two great commands into a marvelous unity. Jesus said that the two great commands were to love the Lord above all and to love the neighbor as oneself. But when we understand the neighbor to be good itself, and when we acknowledge that all good is from God and is God, then loving good is loving God. “He who loves good because it is good and truth because it is truth, eminently loves the neighbor, because he loves the Lord who is Good itself and Truth itself” (TCR 419). So loving good and loving truth, wherever we find it, is loving the source of good and truth, namely God.
Some people seek spirituality in exotic forms. They practice yoga, or meditate, or fast, or, like me, do Tai Chi. But spirituality is not a commodity a person can gather and have as a personal possession. Spirituality is measured by a person’s relationships. Is one a good neighbor to all the people they come in contact with in their daily lives. So one measures spirituality by whether one is a good friend, a loving parent, a sympathetic partner, a friend to strangers. If yoga, or meditation, or fasting, or Tai Chi make a person more responsive to the people he or she encounters in their daily life, then these are valuable spiritual practices. If these disciplines make a person a faithful worker, then they are valuable. The point here, is that spirituality is seen in the extent to which a person embodies those two great commandments from the Torah, loving God and loving the neighbor. And these two commandments come down to loving and doing good, according to one’s best understanding of good.

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