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Church: What’s in It For Me?
Rev. Dr. David J. Fekete
September 20, 2009
1 Kings 8:62-66 John 2:13-22
Jesus says that “Where two or three come together in my name, there am I with them” (Matthew 18:20). I think that when people come together in God’s name, a very special kind of community is formed. I feel that there is a great value in attending church services, which I would like to discuss.
However, I think that the idea of church services has fallen out of favor in culture at large today. We are still feeling the effects of the outright assault on organized religion that happened during the ‘60’s. I recall a rock group I listened to then called Jethro Tull. They had a song called, “Wind Up.” In the song are the lines, “I don’t believe you; you have the whole damn thing all wrong. He’s not the kind you have to wind up on Sunday.” Then there is the John Lennon song that asks, “Imagine there’s no religion,” which he takes to be a good thing.
Many people my age are spiritual but they don’t think they need church. Some will say that they find God perhaps in a sunset. Or perhaps out in nature. They have the idea that God can be found anywhere, any time and that they don’t need to go to church to find Him. This is true. God is everywhere and can be found whenever we call out to Him. But I still feel that there is value in attending church, where people come together collectively to seek God.
Have you ever noticed that different venues bring out different aspects of our personality? Let me illustrate this by giving you some examples from my own life. I like football, and a few weeks ago I went to an Eskimos game. The football game brought out my competitive side. I shouted and cheered and stood up when the Eskimos scored. As it turns out, the Eskimos that night blew a 14 point lead to lose by 1 point. That brought out a side of my personality, too. I was mad for a few hours. Then there are those times when Carol and I play gin rummy together. It’s a fun loving time. A time for shared intimacy and mutual affection. We are happy when each other gets a particularly good hand. We congratulate each other when someone gets three aces. It’s affectionately competitive, too. We play for a stuffed monkey that I won at Capitol-X. The winner gets to display the monkey in their home. It’s like the Stanley Cup. Then there are the Tai Chi classes I go to twice a week. It’s a good aerobic workout. But it also calms my mind, and removes stress. I come home with a still mind and a tingling body, with the chi that I cultivate at these classes.
So different people, and different environments bring out different things in us. And I think that when people come together in God’s name, something precious is brought out. I think of places like Paulhaven. A deep bonding happens to everyone there—both campers and staff. The love and joy we all feel is deeply missed when we have to say goodbye. Tears flow freely and especial memories and connections are created.
Swedenborg calls these memories “remains”.
As to remains, they are not only the goods and truths which a man has learned from the Lord’s Word from childhood up . . . but they are also all the states derived thence; such as states of innocence . . . states of love towards parents, etc. . . . states of charity towards the neighbor, and also pity for the poor . . . in a word, all states of good and truth. These states with the goods and truths impressed on the memory, are called remains; which are preserved in man by the Lord and stored up . . . in the internal man (AC 561).
Places like Paulhaven generate remains. Not only that, but some environments block remains. In some worldly environments, remains cannot show through. In other places, though, remains open up and we feel the spiritual states associated with them. Church is one such place. It is a spiritually safe place where remains can come to the surface. Not only that, but church creates more remains. So one use of the church is to allow remains to shine forth and also to create more of those states of innocence and love called remains.
Another use of church is to help form our spiritual life. Swedenborg distinguishes between internal worship and external worship. Internal worship is in our hearts and consists in love and charity. External worship are the rituals we associate with church services. And external worship is of great value.
A man is continually in worship while he is in love and charity: external worship is merely the effect. The angels are in such worship, and therefore there is with them a perpetual Sabbath . . . .
But man, while in the world, ought not to be otherwise than in external worship also, for internal things are excited by external worship, and by it also external things are kept in holiness so that internal things can flow in; besides that man is thus imbued with knowledges, and is prepared to receive heavenly things; and also is gifted with states of holiness, of which he is unaware, which are preserved for him by the Lord for the use of eternal life . . . (AC 1618).
We are brought into a spiritual state of mind in worship. Sometimes I will come to church with a problem or some anxiety from the world that I want an answer for. Yet I find that after the service, my problems seem not so important. My worries dissolve and I see the greater picture of things. The problems of the world are put into perspective. They don’t seem so all important. So another value of church is to create a space of holiness where spiritual feelings and thoughts can flow in. It also puts things in perspective. Church can play an important role in forming our spiritual life.
Church also gives us a check against the messages with which society continually bombards us. A friend of mine was looking through a magazine that featured expensive homes furnished and decorated extravagantly. He told me that magazines like that keep him focused on his goals. For this person, material acquisition was his goal. Society also teaches us that self-interest is good. We are encouraged to be “self-made men.” We are taught to climb the corporate ladder and to claw our way to the top. It’s the CEO’s that are gods to the world. Still other messages from the world plaster popular magazines. There we find pictures of girls so skinny that some develop eating disorders to try to emulate these unnatural body types. Church reminds us that these are only worldly goals. God is the true CEO. Church teaches us to stay humble and realize that without God, we are nothing. It keeps our ego’s in check. Church teaches us that helping others, not stepping on their heads in order to get ahead, is what we should strive for. Where else than in church are we going to find a corrective to the messages the world preaches? So another value of church is to provide a corrective to the messages the world sends out.
Finally, church gives us a community that can’t be found elsewhere. At its best, church is like a second family. We should be able to depend on our church for support and love in what is often a cold, alienated world. In church, our deepest feelings are nurtured. Our very spiritual life is fostered in church. Our feelings about God run deep in our souls. Only in the spiritual community of church do we share our most intimate experiences of God and spirituality. That is why conflict in the church community is so painful. We can only really be hurt by those we care deeply about. People with whom I share my ideas and feelings about God are precious to me. When discord arises in the church community, we are touched in the deep recesses of our souls. We need to be especially sensitive in our church community. We need to realize that others care as deeply about God and the spiritual life as we do. We want to be there for others and care and support them in our mutual pilgrimage on earth. So church is a precious second family we can turn to for support and caring on as deep a level as we experience on earth.
So church fills a very important role in our spiritual life. It fulfills a role that can’t be found elsewhere. In church our hearts and minds are elevated to God and the heavenly life. Church puts our worldly concerns in perspective. Church is a safe place for our remains to open up. In church we build new remains that serve our spiritual condition. In church we find a corrective voice to the messages we receive all over from the world around us. Finally, in church we have a spiritual family. Our spirituality is nurtured in church, and we find a level of care we can’t find elsewhere in the world. Church is that special place where we join together in God’s name with others. Church brings out the best in us. Church is good for our souls. “O, come, let us worship and bow down.” Amen.
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