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Change, Healing, and Leaving the Comfort Zone
Rev. Dr. David J. Fekete
June 19, 2016

1 Kings 19:1-18 Luke 8:26-39 Psalm 42

This morning’s readings are all about change. They tell us that change is not easy. They tell us further that change may be unwelcome. But they tell us, too, that the right change brings us closer to God.
The stories tell us something about the nature of sin, evil, and dysfunction, also. I list three levels of personality problems because I believe them all to be related. They are like a telescope with three sections, each section more inward and more close to the eye. In the case of sin, evil, and dysfunction, the three levels are related to the deepest part of the soul, the inner part of the soul, and the psychological mind. We change from the outward psychological mind first, and the process deepens through the inner soul as we confront evil, and finally touches the deepest part of our soul when we deal with sin. In my talk this morning, I will follow the same progression. I will begin with psychological dysfunction and progress into a discussion of sin. All along the way I will talk about change and healing.
The story of the demon possessed man gives us much to ponder. First, the man is living away from community. He is almost a dead man, unable to communicate with other humans and living among the tombs. He is either bound in shackles, or he breaks his chains and rushes headlong into the wilds. Both of these conditions are what sin and dysfunction are like. When we are under sin’s influence it is as if we are bound in chains. We are driven by lusts and unholy passions sometimes even against our own will. We can call these drives compulsions. For compulsions force us to do things that seem to be out of our power. On a natural level, the level that is closest to this world, we think of addictions. Drug addictions drive a person to imbibe alcohol or to shoot up or to ingest chemicals and the addict almost doesn’t have a choice so powerful can addictions be. Addictions can drive people to steal to get money for their drugs. Cleary, people in the grips of drug addictions have difficulty maintaining human contacts and relationships. When they are under the influence of drugs, they are not capable of intimacy. And stealing from other people is obviously anti-social behavior. Addicts are chained by the power of their drug. And the consequences of addiction drive them away from society, like the demon-possessed man. They are driven away from human community into the psychological wilds of lonely drug-induced insanity. This can leave to homelessness, broken families, jail, and even death.
But this is almost a physical problem—although there are spiritual and psychological aspects to addiction, also. A little deeper into the soul we can think of dysfunctional character traits and behaviors. Many people grow up in dysfunctional homes. Maybe their parents are alcoholics or abusers of drugs. Maybe their parents are abusive or harsh. In dysfunctional homes, children develop defense-mechanisms. They develop behaviors that allow them to cope with the dysfunction of their home life. I grew up in a home in which my father was harsh, domineering, and verbally abusive. Like many fathers of his day, he didn’t know how to show love. Men of his generation were not taught by society to be nurturers. My father was not very nurturing. One of my defense mechanisms was to argue back at my father. I learned to think quick and come up with excuses. I also met his anger with anger of my own. I yelled back at him when he yelled at me. This was one of the coping mechanisms I developed in my childhood.
Being argumentative and prone to anger and debate are not very social characteristics. If I were pushed a little further in this direction, I likely would have turned to criminal behaviors. With the poorly adapted social skills I learned at a young age, I was a lonely teen and young man. I was driven into psychological wilds. I was imprisoned in psychological chains. I needed the healing that we see in our Luke story. I needed for the demons who were possessing my soul to be exorcized. This is only one example of the kinds of dysfunctional behavior patterns a person can learn in unhealthy upbringings. There are many different kinds of mindsets, emotional conditions, and behaviors people learn to survive in childhood. We develop these unhealthy coping mechanisms unconsciously. We grow up with them and we don’t even see how they are holding us back. That is why Plato said that the unexamined life is not worth living.
I’m happy to say that with help from AA and from God, I have been delivered from much of this particular behavior. I’m also happy to say that later in life, the friction between my father and me was softened. Dad mellowed in his old age, and I became less confrontational. In his old age, my father and I became friendly. I’m now glad that circumstances threw us together late in his life, and that we had a chance to mend the difficulties between us when I was growing up.
On a spiritual level, sin functions much like addiction or dysfunctional behaviors. In a deeper way, sin isolates us from society, from community, from love—love for and with our neighbors, and love from and to God. Pride, for instance, keeps us from neighborly love and turns us away from God. I say turns us away from God because pride makes us not want God. It does not turn God from us, it turns us from God. God never turns away from us. God never removes Himself from our souls. God is always with us, for us, and loving us. I have heard that the letters in ego, e-g-o, mean edging God out. That is what pride does. If we think that we are all that matters; if we think that we are the greatest; then God can’t be the greatest. If we are the center of our own lives, then God can’t be the center of our lives. If we think that we do everything by our own power, then we can’t turn anything over to a higher power. If we are the center of our own lives, we care nothing for others. We only care about what we can get from other people. We only care about other people if they serve us and our wants. Clearly, a person in the grips of pride is living in a spiritual wilderness. A person consumed with pride is living among the tombs, and can be considered spiritually dead.
God wants to deliver us from all these conditions. Jesus healed the demon possessed man without even being asked to. This is the spiritual meaning of the first day of creation. It says that “The Spirit of God moved over the face of the deep.” In delivering us from sin, evil, or dysfunction, God moves first. Some religions say that there is nothing we can do for ourselves. They teach that God does it all. There is something to that doctrine. But this church teaches that we need to cooperate with God. God acts, but we need to react. In my own alcohol addiction, I had to take the first step and put down alcohol. But the spiritual program of AA reformed my spirit. God worked on me through the spirituality of the AA program. But I had to go to meetings. And I had to listen. God is all powerful. God is constantly in the process of saving us. But we need to cooperate with God. We need to react to the God-power acting in our soul, moving over the faces of the deep.
But change is uncomfortable. We may not welcome spiritual health at first. We are accustomed to our compulsions, our defensive behavior patterns, our sins. Even though they may separate us from our fellows and from God, we are comfortable with our character defects. To grow psychologically and spiritually, we need to leave our unhealthy comfort zone. Do you remember what the reaction of the villagers was when they saw the demon-possessed man healed and in his right mind? They were terrified. They asked Jesus to leave. They knew what they were dealing with when the demon-possessed man was out of his mind. But how would they integrate him now that he was healed and healthy? What kind of power was Jesus who could make the insane sane, the sick well? When we are sick psychologically or spiritually, we can flee from help when it is offered. We can also turn from healthy ways and sink back into the comfort of our maladapted patterns of living. Change isn’t easy. Change isn’t always welcome.
In our story from 1 Kings, God tells Elijah to anoint a new king over Israel. Evil King Ahab is done. Idols and false gods are thrown down. The one true God rules in Israel. 7,000 Israelites survive. Notice the number seven in the survivors who have not worshipped Baal. Seven is a holy number. It symbolizes regeneration, or new life with God in our heart. The seventh day of creation is the Sabbath and God rests. When our hearts are purified through God activity and our cooperation, we find rest from the restlessness of sin. When the false gods have been driven from our hearts and souls, God finds a place in us and we know peace and serenity. Then, like the man healed by Jesus, we will proclaim God’s power, love, and healing. We will proclaim it in our now loving life. And we will proclaim it person to person, when people see our good works and praise God.

PRAYER

Lord, we pray that you give us the power and the inclination to change. Shine your divine light on our souls, and illuminate the areas in which we need to change, the areas in which we need to behave differently, the areas in which we need to think differently. We are comfortable with our lives, Lord, whether we are living well or ill. We are used to things the way they are, whether or not there may be a better way. You have told us that we must be born again to enter the kingdom of God. Create in us, Lord, we pray, a new heaven and a new earth. Make us new beings in your own Holy Image and Likeness.

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.

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Jun 12th, 2016

What Is Sinful, Really?
Rev. Dr. David J. Fekete
June 12, 2016

1 Kings 21:1-11, 15-16 Luke 7:36-47 Psalm 5:1-8

Our Bible readings this morning give us stories about two sinful women. One is truly evil while the other’s sins are forgiven. The first woman–the one who is truly evil–is Jezebel. She is so wicked that when people want to call someone evil, usually a woman but anyone who is not of the true believers, they are referred to as a Jezebel. In the case of Jezebel, we have someone truly sinful and truly evil. But in Luke we have a sinful woman who is, actually, good. I would like to begin by talking about her.
In our story from Luke, a woman who is called sinful anoints Jesus with expensive perfume. This happens while Jesus is dining at a Pharisee’s home. The Pharisee thinks to himself, “If this man were a prophet, he would know who is touching him and what kind of woman she is–that she is a sinner” (Luke (7:39). But Jesus counters with a challenging saying, “Her many sins have been forgiven–for she loved much” (Luke 7:47).
This woman is definitely a sinner by one way of reckoning. Luke tells us that at the beginning of the story. He calls her, “a woman who had lived a sinful life in that town” (7:37). So by one way of figuring, this woman was a sinner. What is Jesus doing in this story? I think that Jesus is pointing to another way of reckoning sin. We don’t know what the woman is doing that causes her to be called sinful. But by the reckoning of the Pharisee–and, I guess, everyone else in the town–she was a sinner. But Jesus comes up with a very difficult statement to figure out. “Her many sins have been forgiven–for she loved much.”
As a minister, and as someone concerned with morality, I find this statement troubling. It seems to be saying that we can sin, as long as we are loving people. But that can’t be right. How, then, can we understand this statement and this story?
I think that what Jesus is doing is pointing to a new way of viewing sin. Maybe sins aren’t s list of, “Do this,” and “Don’t do that.” Isn’t there an old rock song that satirizes this kind of thinking, “Do this; don’t do that; can’t you read the sign?!” That song was actually by a Canadian band, the Five Man Electrical Band. I think that the Five Man Electrical Band is on to something with that song. What if morality isn’t really a list of right and wrong. What if morality isn’t a set of rules to obey. Instead, what if morality is really a person’s attitude. What if morality is really about being a loving person, like the woman in the Luke story.
Now this is a troubling idea for a moralist. If being good isn’t following a list of rules, what is it? In order to make the point that being good may not be following a set of rules, I’m going to give a few examples of when rules don’t work.
The thing is, we can follow a list of rules and still be miserable people. I read in a satirical magazine once about manners. The article said that good manners are important. You can insult someone without them realizing it if you have good manners. A person can be honest and still detest other people. A person can be law-abiding and still think of themselves as superior to other people.
I think that that is what is behind Jesus’ story of the Pharisee and the tax collector.
He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous and despised others: “Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, ‘God, I thank thee that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week, I give tithes of all that I get.’ But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me a sinner!’ 14 I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other; for every one who exalts himself will be humbled, but he who humbles himself will be exalted” (Luke 18:9-14).
The trouble with rules is that they can make a righteous person feel self-righteous. The trouble with rules also, is that they provide a framework from which to judge other people. If we have a list of rules in our mind about what a person should and should not do, we are then likely to judge them. That’s what the Pharisee in this story did. He had a list of rules about what it meant to be good. He is not unjust, an extortioner, an adulterer; he fasts, and tithes. He is doing what his list of right and wrong tell him to do. But by being right according to his set of rules, he looks down on others, “God, ” he says, “I thank thee that I am not like other men.”
But I do not mean to be understood to be giving everyone a moral holiday. In fact, morality based on attitude is sometimes more difficult. Morality based on whether we are doing the loving thing can be more severe than one based on rules. In the case of morality based on love, we need to ask ourselves if we are loving other people. It can be said that every truly evil deed is against love. We do not love someone if we steal from them. We do not love someone if we lie about them and backbite. We do not love if we want what they have. We do not love God if we value worldly things first. Do you see what I am doing? I am relating the Ten Commandments to love. If a person loves, they will not violate the Ten Commandments. But a person can keep the Ten Commandments and still not love. We need a list of rules when we forget about loving the neighbor.
“How can we love,” a person may ask. “How can I be commanded to feel something?” we may wonder. It tied the philosopher Immanuel Kant in knots. “How can I be commanded to love?” But, my friends, there is an answer. Love is the most natural feeling we have. But, unfortunately, loving self is part of the equation. We love God and the neighbor when we get self out of the picture. That is the essence of real morality.
That is what we find in the story of Jezebel. In this story, just about every commandment is broken due to selfishness. King Ahab wants a vineyard that is owned by Naboth. There’s coveting. But the land isn’t really owned by Naboth. In the belief system of ancient Israel, God owned the land and each tribe was given a portion of it. The land stayed in their ancestry in perpetuity. This way God saw to it that everyone had a fair amount of land to work. No one could amass vast quantities of land; no one could lose the land they owned from God. Ahab was violating this understanding of land by coveting Naboth’s vineyard.
The evil queen Jezebel concocted a scheme to get King Ahab what he wanted. She brought false testimony against Naboth and had him murdered. That’s two more commandments that were broken. By the way, Jezebel worshipped Baal and Astarte which violated the first two commandments. But my point here isn’t how many commandments Ahab and Jezebel violated. Rather I wish to emphasize how blind they were in pursuing their own selfish ends. They wanted Naboth’s vineyard and they murdered to get it.
I suggest that whenever we consider our own way above all, we are heading toward a violation of God’s ways. There may well be times when what we want is the same as what God wants. There may well be times when what we love is loving to others. Then love meets love and we are in heaven.
The idea I am getting at in all this is that doing the loving thing is what matters. There aren’t rules to cover everything. Even the 631 rules in the Hebrew Scriptures can’t cover every occasion. And even if they did, we really can’t remember 631 rules by heart. But Leviticus 19:16-18 are pretty comprehensive and Jesus sums them up quite well. Jesus tells us to love the neighbor. He got this from Leviticus 19:18. But Leviticus adds some more rules that help flesh out this general idea,
Do not go about spreading slander among your people. Do not do anything that endangers your neighbor’s life. I am the LORD. Do not hate your brother in your heart. Rebuke your neighbor frankly so you will not share in his guilt. Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against one of your people, but love you neighbor as yourself. I am the LORD (Leviticus 19:16-18).
Showing love is much more important than following a list of rules. Treating one another with fellow love is the one cardinal rule that all the lists one can think up point to. You can be righteous, but not loving. But you cannot be loving without being righteous at the same time.

PRAYER

Lord, we pray that you lead us in your ways. We know that a loving disposition is what you ask of us. We pray that you fill us with a love for our neighbors and for you. Many are the vexations of our spirit, when we are overcome with selfishness. And much peace comes when we are filled with your love. We pray this morning that you help us to remove our selfish drives, so that your love may enter our hearts.

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.

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Your Pain Will Turn to Joy
Rev. Dr. David J. Fekete
May 22, 2016

Romans 5:1-5 John 16:12-24 Psalm 8

Our readings this morning are about suffering in this material world. They tell us the unhappy news—as if we didn’t know it already—that we will have suffering in this world. But the readings do not leave us with suffering. Paul tells us that God’s love, which has been poured into our hearts, will overcome suffering. And John tells us that our pain will turn into joy.
We feel pain in this world for two reasons: because of the way the world is constructed, and because of the way human beings are constructed. Let’s look at the first cause of pain in this world—the way the world is constructed.
There’s a good rap song by the Black Eyed Peas called “Where Is the Love?” In it there is a line that goes, “Most of us only care about money making.” I suggest that that line is the cause of our pain from the way the world is constructed. The world is constructed to make money. I think that our pain would be less if the world were made to help each other out. I think that our pain would be less if the world were made according to principles of Christian charity and service to our fellows. I have a story from my recent experience that illustrates this idea. It concerns two schools—one a Provincial school and one a Christian school. The way they responded to a need I had is, I think, indicative of their differing orientations. One was founded as a secular school, and, accordingly, money making went into its policies. The other was founded as a Christian school, and, accordingly, charity and service went into its policies.
So I found a journal article that I wanted for an article I am writing for the National Council of Churches. I saw that both schools had the article. The Provincial school was in town, while the Christian school was some distance out of town. So I started with the Provincial school.
I went on line and saw that the article I wanted was in electronic form. I tried to access the article, using my guest library card, but was denied access to the article. So I called the university library. No one answered the phone. I got the librarian’s voice mail. So I left a message saying that I was trying to access the online article and left my phone number. I didn’t really expect to be called back. Then I noticed that the library had a chat service I could use. So I typed in my question and received an answer right away, “No, you can’t access online journal articles with a guest card.” Then I asked, “So there’s no way for me to get the article?” And I received no further responses from the chat line. So I called the other school and they said that they had the article and I could access it. I got dressed and got ready to drive out of town to the other school. As I was getting ready, my phone rang. It was the librarian at the secular university. She said that I could come in to the university itself and use the computers there with my guest card and access the article. So the guy on the chat line was wrong about me having no way to get the article, if he or she even cared. Then I asked the librarian if I could photo-copy the article and take it home, so I could highlight parts I needed. She said that, no, only students who actually pay tuition could use the library photo-copy machines. However, I could save the article to a memory stick, or email it to myself and print it at home. By now I was fed up with this school and all the hoops I had to jump through just to get a journal article, if I even could manage all the technology required for it. I decided to try the other school, the Christian school.
What a difference! I called the main switchboard and got a real human being, not a recorded menu of numbers to push for different departments. I asked for the library, and was immediately connected. At the library, I got a real human being. I asked her if the library had the journal and the date I was looking for. She asked me to hold just a minute while she checked. Would you believe that this librarian walked to the library shelf, found the journal with the date I wanted, and physically held the journal in her hand! I asked her if the article I wanted was there, and she looked through the journal and found it, and told me she had it in her hand. She said she would hold the journal behind the desk for me until I arrived. When I got to the library, they had a photo-copy machine I could use to copy the article, and pay the librarian after I made my copies. I gladly copied my article. It cost $2.50. I gave the librarian a $5.00 bill and told her to keep the change for the cause. Would you believe that she seemed truly appreciative, as I was for all the help they gave me?
How would we account for the difference between these two schools? I think that the Provincial school was more involved with money. The journals they dealt with wanted to sell their magazines to the university and protect their copyrights. The university had to make the deal with the publishers to somewhat limit the way their journals were used. It was all about money, I think. The Christian school genuinely cared about me and my needs. The librarian went over and above, I think, to help me out. I attribute this to her Christian values. She cared, the root of the Latin word, caritas, from which we get charity. Her Christian charity moved her to be as helpful as she could be. One school was driven by money; the other by Christian caring.
What if the whole world were moved by Christian caring instead of money-making? What if everyone tried to help out each other with what we need, instead of seeing other people as dollar signs? What a different world it would be then. That is the way Swedenborg sees heaven. Heaven is populated by angels, that is, good people who have made the transition to the next life. Angels do their tasks out of a love for what they are doing and with an intent of service. It is a joy for angels to fulfil their functions. And it is a joy for them to serve others.
The world could be that way, but it isn’t. When we confront a system that has making money foremost in its motivation, then our needs are secondary. Sure, our needs will be met if the world can make money that way. But in such a world, we are not cared for, personally. We are not loved. Hence, the pain we find in this world.
The other cause of pain in this world derives from who we are as people. There is a saying I hear at AA meetings often, “I want what I want when I want it.” Isn’t that true? We want our own way. And when we can’t get our own way, or get the things we want, or get them when we want them, then we are grieved and feel pain in this world. It sounds kind of childish when I put it that way, but isn’t it true?
Furthermore, often we want things that aren’t good for us. For instance, when we want to be in charge, and make other people do what we want them to do, we will be frustrated if others don’t cooperate. Certainly, if we are in a position of power—maybe at work, or even as a parent—we need to establish order. But we also need to establish harmony. We need to consider the common good and we need to provide for it in a way that honors each person we have authority over. Even the Prime Minister is a servant of the people. Teaching us to serve one another, even Jesus said, “The Son of Man also came not to be served, but to serve” (Mark 10:45). And so with other wants that may not be good for us, like craving only luxury goods such as expensive clothes and cars, caring only for sensual gratification, overindulging in harmful things like too much alcohol or tobacco, in short—self-will run riot.
That is the other side to pain we feel from human nature. We have to get along with other people. When I was younger, I was a fierce individualist. I did my own thing, like we were taught to do in the ‘60’s. I remember a friend of mine once asking me if I was content to be alone with myself. I said that, yes, I was content to be alone. She said, “That’s good, then you are at peace with yourself.” She wasn’t ready for my answer. I said, “Yes, I’m at peace with myself. It’s just the rest of the world I have trouble with.” That made her a little nervous. When one human being who wants their own way has to contend with other humans who want their own way, there will be friction, conflict, and pain. That is what makes relationships so difficult. Two individuals must become one and act together in harmony. That can only happen when each person cares about the needs and joys of the other person.
That is what the librarian at the Christian school did. She cared and she served. When we care as much for others as we do for ourselves, and especially when we want what is good out of a love for God, then we will feel joy. That is the ultimate result of spiritual growth. When we want what is good for others, when we are filled with God’s Holy Spirit, we will know the promised joy. Then Jesus will come again—this time into our hearts, not into the material world. Then our pain will turn to joy.

PRAYER

Lord, you have told us that in this world we will have pain, and we will know persecution. You have also said that You have overcome the world. Lord, we ask that You be with us in our pain, and in our difficult moments. We know pain in many ways, through loss, through frustration, through disappointment. The world is not constructed to reward the good. Yes, bad things happen to good people. Yet in all this pain, You are and will be with us. You give us the promise that our pain will turn to joy. For pain and sorrow are not the end of the story. There is the promised joy that comes with patience and with spiritual growth. We trust that in You no truly bad thing can happen to us. Though we must bear the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, at times, in You everything that happens to us conduces to our spiritual wellbeing. Thanks be to You. In You do we put our trust.
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.

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May 15th, 2016

Life in the Spirit
Rev. Dr. David J. Fekete
May 15, 2016

Numbers 11:24-30 Acts 2:1-21 Psalm 104

This Sunday is Pentecost. On this Sunday we celebrate the giving of the Holy Spirit to the Apostles. In a way, it can be considered the beginning of Christianity as a church.
I was talking about this church once to a friend of mine. She asked me, “Does it have the Spirit?” I was caught off guard for several reasons. One was, that we don’t usually talk much about the Spirit. My friend was a member of a Pentecostal Church, and those churches do emphasize the Spirit. Their worship services are very emotional and literally, Spirited. Our services, however, are quiet, contemplative, and subdued. But this doesn’t mean that we don’t have the Spirit. It is simply a question of our style.
We talk a good deal about truth. For us, truth and the understanding of truth is one way we talk about the Spirit. John pretty much equates the Holy Spirit with truth. In John 14, we read,
If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will pray the Father and he will give you another Comforter, to be with you for ever, even the Spirit of truth . . . you know him, for he dwells within you, and will be with you (14:15-16, 17).
So in this passage from John, the Comforter is called the Spirit of truth. Just a little later in the same passage, the Comforter is called the Holy Spirit.
These things I have spoken to you, while I am with you. But the Comforter, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you (John 14:25-26).
So this Comforter, who will be sent, is the Spirit of truth, the Holy Spirit, and it will teach us all things, and call to remembrance all the words Jesus had said. John’s interpretation of the Holy Spirit is truth oriented.
But the way Acts presents the Holy Spirit is different. It is a much more lively portrayal of the Spirit. The Apostles are gathered together in a room. There is a sound like the rush of a mighty wind. Tongues of fire appear above the heads of those gather there. This is a scene of awe and eeriness. But it becomes an impassioned scene of liveliness. Everyone starts speaking in foreign languages. A whole room of preachers all exclaiming in a foreign language. The witnesses gather around and wonder at this, for each one can understand what the Apostles are preaching in their native tongue. The miracle is that those who are preaching are uneducated fishermen all from Galilee, who had never learned foreign languages. But Parthians, Medes, Elamites, Mesopotamians, Judeans, Cappadocians, thos from Pontus and Asia, Phrygia, Pamphyilia, Egypt and Libya all hear the messages of the Apostles in their native tongue. There are scoffers nearby, who denounce this miracle by saying that the Apostles are drunk. But Peter defends them all by saying that they aren’t drunk because it is only the third hour of the day.
This passage is the primary source for Pentecostal Churches when they claim that speaking in tongues is a sign of the Holy Spirit. But when congregants of these Pentecostal churches speak in tongues, it is not foreign languages they speak in, as did the Apostles. They simply blurt out sounds that mean nothing to anyone.
I see the main image here as one of enthusiasm for Jesus. So I return to the question my friend asked me. Do we have the Spirit? Do we have enthusiasm for Jesus? For of the many Christian churches there are out there, I think that we put Jesus most powerfully in the centre. For us. Jesus is the embodiment of All that God is. I say embodiment because for us, Jesus is God’s body. When Jesus ascended into heaven and sat at the right hand of God, we understand this to mean that Jesus’ human flesh, now glorified, is the very power that God works through to regenerate us. The Old Testament Yahweh, or Jehovah God as the King James Bible translates Him, God came down to earth, took on human flesh and became Jesus of Nazareth. Jesus is God in the flesh, God has a glorified body in the risen Jesus Christ. Talk about truth, this is certainly a truth to get behind and celebrate! We of all churches should have enthusiasm for Jesus.
Often, I think we hide our message under a bushel. We can be shy about our teachings. We can fear what other Christians would say when we make our statement of God’s unity of person. We can quench the Spirit in us that testifies to the reasonableness and intuitive soundness of our beliefs. There is one God and that God is embodied in Jesus Christ. There aren’t three gods. There aren’t a god and a half. There is only one God and that God is embodied in the One Person of Jesus Christ. (Can I get an Amen!)
I’m not suggesting, though, that we push our beliefs on others. That can be an annoying experience when someone comes up to me and preaches their doctrines to me. I have mine; I respect yours; let’s find our way home in our own ways.
But there is another way to let our light shine that isn’t pushing our ideas on others. That is the example we live. When we had the service here after the teen retreat, one teen made a bold and challenging statement. He said that he thought it was hypocrisy when adults tell him, “Do as I say, not as I do.” I think that the way we live is the most clear and powerful statement of what we believe. Swedenborg writes, “All religion is of life; and a religious life is doing good” (Doctrine of Life 1). Being filled with the Spirit is doing good. That is another way to think of the question, “Do we have the Spirit?” Does our life reflect the way of Jesus? Are we living by the Spirit or by the flesh?
Paul gives us a clear list of what it means to live by the Spirit versus living by the flesh. We find this in Galatians 5:19-25.
19 Now the works of the flesh are plain: fornication, impurity, licentiousness, 20 idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, anger, selfishness, dissension, party spirit, 21 envy,[b] drunkenness, carousing, and the like. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God. 22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, self-control; against such there is no law. 24 And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.
We can preach our gospel by the deeds we demonstrate. Jesus is pretty strong about calling on His name but not doing the things He commands. This issue occasions the story about the wise man building his house on the rock.
46 “Why do you call me ‘Lord, Lord,’ and not do what I tell you? 47 Every one who comes to me and hears my words and does them, I will show you what he is like: 48 he is like a man building a house, who dug deep, and laid the foundation upon rock; and when a flood arose, the stream broke against that house, and could not shake it, because it had been well built.[c] 49 But he who hears and does not do them is like a man who built a house on the ground without a foundation; against which the stream broke, and immediately it fell, and the ruin of that house was great.” (Luke 6: 46-49).
Our faith will be ruined if it is not built on the firm foundation of a good life. All those golden teachings of this beautiful church will be swept away over time if they are not grounded in our lives. For it is our lives that anchor our beliefs. It is the natural degree that is called a container, or a vessel that holds the higher degrees in it. Nobody wants someone coming up to them and trying to convert them to their belief system. But someone may come up to us, having observed the way we live, and ask us what we believe. They will see that we are filled with the Spirit.

PRAYER

Lord, on the first Pentecost long ago, you gave your Holy Spirit to the Apostles. That occasion was attended by miracles and signs of wonder. Today, we ask that you send your Holy Spirit to this church and its people. Perhaps in a more quiet way, but just as strong, we ask for your Spirit to fill our hearts. May it enlighten our minds, and fill our hearts with love for you and for one another. May your Spirit inspire us to do all manner of good deed. May your Spirit inspire us to think true and healthy thoughts. And may your Spirit inspire us with useful, positive, and heavenly feelings.

Lord, we pray for those who are sick. Send your healing love to those ailing, and comfort their family and friends. Lord, we ask for the grace of your healing love for all in need.

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May 1st, 2016

If You Love Me
Rev. Dr. David J. Fekete
May 1, 2016

John 14:15-27 Revelation 21:22-22:1-5 Psalm 67

Our Bible reading this morning begins with Jesus’ words, “If you love me.” The immediate issue and question arises about loving Jesus, loving God. How do we love Jesus? Jesus’ answer is clear and straightforward. The answer to the question, “How do we love Jesus” is by keeping His commandments. For Jesus’ words are, “If you love me you will keep my commandments” (John 14:15).
I may sound like I’m belaboring the obvious here. But this point is not obvious. This plain statement of Jesus is so often not heard. For many Christians, faith is what Christianity is all about. Many Christians say that accepting Jesus as their personal savior is what saves. I agree that faith and accepting Jesus matter. There is that famous verse, John 3:16:
For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.
This verse says that whoever believes in Jesus we might or may have eternal life. The King James Version of this verse says that whoever believes should have eternal life, as does the Revised Standard Version. What they are trying to capture with that word should is the Greek subjunctive tense. In the Greek language, you use the subjunctive tense when expressing strong emotion, or, as in this case, when it isn’t for sure. The subjunctive tense means that it is a maybe. Jesus is not saying whoever believes in Him will have eternal life. Rather He is saying that whoever believes in Him may, or might have eternal life. The New International Version, with its evangelical leanings, wants there to be certainty associated with belief in Jesus. So it translates the verse whoever believes in Him shall have eternal life.
Believing in Jesus may give eternal life. But it’s not enough in itself. Believing matters. Faith matters. But so do good deeds. John turns our attention to deeds just after he talks about believing in Jesus. John says that our deeds matter. It is our deeds that will turn us to Jesus or away from Jesus. Using archetypical imagery of light and darkness, Jesus says that good deeds turn a person toward the light, and evil deeds turn a person away from the light.
And this is the judgment, that the light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil. For every one who does evil hates the light, and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed. But he who does what is true comes to the light, that it may be clearly seen that his deeds have been wrought in God (John 3:19-21).
So if a person’s deeds are good, he or she will turn to the light. Jesus is the light. That is how one can say that Jesus is a judge. As the light, people whose deeds are wrought in God will turn to Jesus. And as the light, people whose deeds are evil will turn from the light. So Jesus isn’t judging in the sense of a king or a judge. He is the light and a person will turn toward the light or turn toward darkness by their own choice. Toward the light if their deeds are good. Toward darkness if their deeds are evil.
For every one who does evil hates the light, and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed. But he who does what is true comes to the light, that it may be clearly seen that his deeds have been wrought in God (John 3:19-21).
Jesus remains the same light calling people to safe harbor. The judgment is self-judgment.
This is a very Swedenborgian concept. This church teaches that God doesn’t condemn anyone to hell. Rather heaven and hell are freely chosen by each person for themselves. And the idea is exactly as John puts it. People who love God and the neighbor wander upward into heaven’s heat and joy and remain. People who hate God and their neighbors can’t stand the heat and hate the people in heaven, so they turn away to the cold of hell. As in John, in Swedenborg God remains the loving light that invites everyone to come to Him. But it is individuals who choose to come to God’s loving light or to turn away into hateful, cold darkness.
This is why believing in Jesus isn’t enough. It may lead a person to good deeds wrought in God. In this case, we have what is necessary and sufficient—belief in Jesus and deeds wrought in God as John 3:19-21 teaches. By itself, John 3:16 isn’t enough when it comes to salvation. To understand how Jesus saves, one needs to read to the end of the chapter—especially verses 19-21, which are about deeds wrought in God or in darkness.
There are a few words in John 3:21 that are particularly interesting and instructive. Those words say that, “He who does what is true comes to the light.” Doing truth is what brings a person to the light. This interests me because I usually think that doing good is what brings a person to the light. Good is a deed, not truth. I think of truth more as a matter of belief or thought.
But a Hindu friend of mine made a remark once that struck me deeply. And the remark was about a word for truth. In school, I was taught that the Sanskrit word dharma means truth. So the teachings of the Buddha are called dharma. But my Hindu friend translated the word differently. She said that dharma means righteousness. So instead of an intellectual thought, or truth, dharma means right action.
This led me to ponder. Isn’t that what truth really is? Truth is the right way to live. Truth is the lamp guiding our steps. Truth is right behavior spelled out for us.
I’m saying much about doing truth because it brings us back to our reading from John 14 that we heard this morning. Jesus says that if we love Jesus we will do what he commands. “If you love me you will keep my commandments” (John 14:15). If we keep Jesus’ commandments, we will receive the Counselor, the Advocate, who is called “The Spirit of Truth,” and the Holy Spirit. This Spirit of Truth dwells with us and in us. It is the truth, the righteousness that we live out and do, that is this Spirit of Truth,
If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will pray the Father, and he will give you another Counselor, to be with you for ever, even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him; you know him, for he dwells with you, and will be in you (John 14:15-17).
Likewise, Jesus’ word embodies the love and righteousness of God. When we think of a word, we think of an idea. Again, we are tempted to think of something intellectual when we think of words. But Jesus says that his words are life, “The words I have spoken to you are spirit and life” (John 6:63). Jesus says that loving Him means keeping His word. This is the same thing that Jesus said about keeping His commandments. Jesus says that if we love Him we will keep His commandments; and Jesus says that if we love Him we will keep His word. The parallel language means that Jesus’ word and Jesus’ commandments are one and the same. And it gives life,
If a man loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him. 24 He who does not love me does not keep my words; and the word which you hear is not mine but the Father’s who sent me (John 14:23-24).
This is the same word that is spirit and that gives life.
There is a Native woman I know who said something very interesting about her spirituality. And her comments will bring all this home. She said that in her tradition they don’t speak of a religion. They talk instead about a way of living. And I think that everyone present at that interfaith gathering agreed with her. The representatives of every tradition that was there that day agreed that religion was really a way of living. It is certainly the case with this religion. There is that famous statement from Swedenborg, “All religion relates to life, and the religious life is doing good.”
As I said at the beginning of this talk, not every Christian agrees with this. There are many who think that believing in Jesus is all you need. I remember talking with a chaplain at the University of Alberta. I told her that we believe something very simple that I though every religion teaches. I said we believe that salvation is believing in God and doing good. She surprised me with her answer. She said, “Paul is ambiguous when it comes to the issue of good works.” Well it looks like this sermon is about to morph into a discussion on Paul, so I’d better wrap it up now. In any event, however ambiguous Paul might be, I don’t see the same ambiguity in Jesus. “If you love me, you will keep my commandments” (John 14:23).

PRAYER

Lord, you have instructed us to keep your commandments if we love you. And Lord we do love you. We ask only for knowledge of what your commandments are, and the strength to put them into practice. We seek to learn your words in our study of the Scriptures. And we seek to learn your words in our church, through our experiences in the world, through our conversations, and through meditation. Your wisdom is infinite. And we can never cease in our efforts to grasp your infinite truths. Give us to love your words and your commandments. And give us the power to carry them out in our daily lives. For that is showing love to you.

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.

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Apr 24th, 2016

Those Who Have Not Seen
Rev. Dr. David J. Fekete
April 24, 2016

Isaiah 61:8-22 John 20:19-31 Psalm 133

In our New Testament reading this morning, Jesus appears to his disciples and shows them his hands and side. The disciples are overjoyed when they see Jesus. But Thomas is not with them. When the disciples tell Thomas that they have seen the risen Jesus, Thomas does not believe them. He declares, “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe it.” In the course of the story, Jesus appears to Thomas, too. He invites Thomas to do just what Thomas wanted to do to prove Jesus had risen and is alive. Jesus tells Thomas, “Stop doubting and believe.” Humbled, Thomas can only say, “My Lord and my God!”
The disciples and Thomas are fortunate. They have actually seen and touched the risen Jesus. Jesus tells them, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” This is where we are. We believe, but we have not seen. At least this is the case for most of us. There are those who have had near death experiences and tell of a dazzling white being who appears to them. But for most of us, all we have is the gospel testimony to Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection. And John tells us that he has recorded the life of Jesus, “that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.”
There are two issues that come to my mind in this line that I would like to discuss this morning. The first issue is that of belief from the testimony of the gospels. The second issue is just what is meant by having life in the name of Jesus. For John tells us that we “may have life in his name.”
Let’s begin by talking about belief. Most of us haven’t seen Jesus. And I would say further that most of us probably don’t know anyone who has seen Jesus and come running up to us exclaiming, “I have seen that Lord!” as did Mary of Magdala. We are those of whom Jesus says, “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” We are those for whom John has written his gospel. It is through the Gospels that we know about Jesus. And it is through the Gospels that we come to Jesus.
When I read the gospel stories, I have a feeling inside that this is true. My heart grows warm and I actually feel God’s presence in my heart. The may be called the emotional content of the gospels. This may be called an inner conviction that these stories are true. Not everyone has this feeling. There are those who read these stories and nothing happens. There are those who read these stories and doubt. There are those who read these stories and outright disbelieve. You could say that my feelings of conviction are entirely subjective. That is, my conviction depends on a feeling that I have inside me. This feeling of conviction is one that I can’t give to someone else. I can tell others that when I read the gospels I have a feeling of conviction. But I can’t give that feeling to another. And I must admit that that is the limit of my faith. My faith is an inward feeling that I can’t give to someone else. My proof for God’s existence is subjective, locked within my own feelings and thoughts, and I am unable to present others with anything more than my own feelings of conviction.
But there’s another aspect to the gospel stories. I have talked about the feelings that arise in me when I read the gospels. There is also a cognitive aspect to my experience of the gospels. There are all those beautiful teachings of Jesus. Reading the gospels also educate me in the way of love. The gospels show me how to walk in a Godly way. They teach me to be meek, humble, innocent, peace loving, and to be filled with love for God and my neighbor. So the gospels enkindle my heart and illuminate my mind.
Those qualities I just mentioned as the gospel lessons are included in the name of Jesus. So John says that “we may have life in his name.” By His name, much, much more is meant than just the word “Jesus.” All the qualities that Jesus embodied are meant by His name. Swedenborg writes that, “a name in the Word signifies the quality” (AC 2009). So the name Jesus means all the qualities that He stands for, taught, and demonstrated by His life. It is not just the word Jesus. When we say in the Lord’s prayer, “Hallowed be thy name,” it is not just the word God that we are talking about. It is all the holy qualities of God that are hallowed. So Swedenborg writes,
here also by name is not meant the name, but all the things of love and faith; for they are God’s or the Lord’s and are from Him. Because these are holy, the Lord’s kingdom comes and His will is done on earth as it is in the heavens when they are held as holy (AC 2009).
So by God’s name, or Jesus’ name, more is meant than just a word. All the holy things of love and truth that constitute God’s being are meant by God’s name.
This is what is meant by that controversial verse, John 3:18. The verse reads, “Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned because he has not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son.” Some Christians take this to mean that a person must believe in the name “Jesus” in order to be saved. They take this to mean that all the people in the world who have another name for God will not be saved. So the Hindus, Buddhists, Muslims, Sikhs, Zoroastrians, Jews, and all the other billions of people who are not Christian will not be saved. Common sense alone dictates that this cannot be true. And in our faith we say that God “is present to save all people, everywhere, whose lives affirm the best they know.” For it is not the word “Jesus” that saves. It is all the qualities that Jesus stands for that save.
It is the qualities that Jesus embodied and stood for that save. It is the love, the forgiveness, the meekness, the wisdom, the Godliness that were demonstrated by Jesus and that He stands for–these are the things that save regardless of what faith they are found in. These are the qualities that give life. When we ourselves embody these qualities, then we can be said to have life in His name. These are the qualities we heard in our Isaiah reading, “For I, the Lord, love justice . . . so the Sovereign Lord will make righteousness and praise spring up before all nations.” It is righteousness and justice that are encompassed in the name of the Lord in this passage.
So wherever we find these Godly qualities, we find spiritual life whether the word “Jesus” is used or not. William Blake points to spiritual qualities when he talks of the divine image. God is not just a word, it is all the holy things of love and all the truths that teach the way of love. For Blake, some of these words are mercy, pity, peace, and love. And he writes in his poem, The Divine Image,

To Mercy, Pity, Peace and Love,
All pray in their distress:
And to these virtues of delight
Return their thankfulness.

For Mercy Pity Peace and Love,
Is God our father dear:
And Mercy Pity Peace and Love,
Is Man his child and care.

For Mercy has a human heart
Pity a human face:
And Love, the human form divine,
And Peace, the human dress.

Then every man of every clime,
That prays in his distress,
Prays to the human form divine
Love Mercy Pity Peace

And all must love the human form,
In heathen, turk, or jew.
Where Mercy, Love & Pity dwell,
There God is dwelling too.

Blake says it so well. Wherever we see qualities like this, we are seeing God. Maybe we are more like the disciples than I thought at first, who believe and who see.

PRAYER

Lord, we call ourselves by your name. And we follow your ways in our own lives. But it is not your name alone that we worship. We honor all that you stood for. We emulate in our own lives what we see you doing in the gospels. We learn your teachings and we apply them in our own lives. For when we call upon your name, we call upon all the divine qualities you embraced on earth. We call upon all the divine qualities you embody now in your risen and glorified Humanity. We ask you to inspire our will, our intentions, and our hearts with those same qualities. That by living a life in keeping with your ordinances, we may truly be called by 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. 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. We pray for Linda, and for John, and for Irene, for Erik. Grant all who are in need your healing love and power.

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A Real, Substantial Savior and God
Rev. Dr. David J. Fekete
April 17, 2016

Isaiah 42:1-7 Luke 24:36-53 Psalm 4

When Jesus appeared to His disciples after His death, they were frightened, overjoyed, and amazed. They were frightened because they thought they were seeing a ghost. This is understandable. If you or I saw someone appear to us whom we knew had died, we, too, might think that we were seeing a ghost. But Jesus seeks to calm their fears. He says that He is not a ghost, and invites them to touch Him and see His hands and side. This wasn’t enough. They didn’t believe their eyes for amazement and joy. So Jesus eats a broiled fish.
Jesus is trying to convince the disciples that He is a real, living, substantial being. He is not a spirit, or a ghost. He has physical powers and also spiritual powers. He can walk through locked doors, and He can eat a broiled fish. His risen body is real, substantial and present always, everywhere to aid us in our spiritual journey.
Two story elements come to my mind when I read this Easter account. First, there is Jesus’ greeting to His disciples. He says, “Peace be with you.” It was, and still is, a standard Jewish greeting to say, “Shalom.” This means, “Peace be with you.” But I think that with Jesus more than this standard greeting is meant. I say this because Jesus is the very bringer of peace. He is Peace Itself. So we call Him the Prince of Peace. And those who are in right relation with Jesus are in peace, themselves. We are in peace to the extent that we are in God and God is in us.
And in this story Jesus tells us the way to peace. This is the second story element that comes to my mind when I read this Easter appearance. Jesus says that, “Repentance and forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations.” In this verse we hear about forgiveness in the name of Jesus. And many jump too quickly to the forgiveness that they think comes in the name of Jesus. But the full verse is repentance and forgiveness of sins. For it is only through repentance that sins are forgiven. Repentance means that we actually see sin in ourselves and we stop doing it. This is a lifelong process and a process that gradually fills a person with spiritual life and love for God and for his or her neighbor. We don’t need to expect instant perfection in this process. In our society we want instant gratification. But sometimes this isn’t possible, as is the case with spiritual growth. Swedenborg is quite gentle when he talks about the process of repentance. He talks about taking on one or two sins at a recurring season. Perhaps he has in mind seasons like Lent. He talks about preparing to receive Holy Communion. From his Lutheran background and the experience of the Anglican Church he found while living in England, Swedenborg talks about repentance and the promise to begin life anew as part of the whole process of receiving Holy Communion. And in describing how this repentance process works, Swedenborg is concerned about us beginning the process more than he is in our completing the process.
Actual repentance, if performed at recurring seasons, as often, for instance, as a person prepares for the communion of the Holy Supper, if he or she afterwards abstains from one sin or another that one discovers in himself, it is sufficient to initiate him into its reality; and when he is in this, he is on the way to heaven, for from being natural he then begins to become spiritual and to be born anew from the Lord (TCR 530).
The process of repentance is one of letting love and faith into our hearts and minds. And as these come in, they push evil and sin to the periphery of our souls. Sin breaks apart and becomes quiet and troubles us no more. This is what forgiveness of sins is. It is actually the removal of sin.
The interior things of worship are those which are of love and faith, and hence the forgiving of sins, that is removals from them, because sins are removed through faith and love from the Lord. For so far as the good of love and of faith enters, so far sins are removed (AC9938).
It is God who instills this good of love and of faith. So we very much need that real, substantial Savior and God for spiritual life. It is God who lifts us up and out of self-interest and all the evils that stem from it. Swedenborg tells us that we “are withheld from evil and held in good by the Lord, so that it appears to [us] as if [we] were in good of [ourselves]” (HH 342). Whatever we feel of heavenly happiness and joy is from the real, substantial Savior and God, not from our own power. Angels and humans are in heaven,
not from any merit of their own, but from the Lord; and thus they may not boast before others of the good which is with them–for this is contrary to the good of mutual love . . . . (HH 342).
So we need Jesus and Jesus is here for us. In His risen, real and substantial body, Jesus is just as present to us as He was to those disciples that day long ago.
Most of the world religions I know of have a system of ethics, or what Swedenborg would call repentance and doing good. This system of ethics is what repentance in the name of Jesus means. Last Sunday I said much about the meaning of Jesus’ name. By His name, we mean all the qualities that Jesus stands for. We do not mean the word, “Jesus.” So wherever we find a system of ethics and repentance, we find life in the name of Jesus.
In both Isaiah and Luke we find an element of future looking. They look forward to a time when God’s faithful servant will,
bring forth justice;
he will not falter or be discouraged
till he establishes justice on earth (Isaiah 42:3-4).
And Jesus says that, “Repentance and forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations” (Luke 24:47). Isaiah and Luke have a vision of the whole earth finding forgiveness through repentance and justice flowing like a river. Forgiveness through repentance and justice are the things that bring peace to a person’s soul. And we look forward to a time when justice and forgiveness will fill the political world also.
If nations only knew forgiveness, how much conflict would be averted! If nations practiced repentance so that they knew when their ambitions were threatening the welfare of other nations, wouldn’t peace reign on the earth! If rulers established justice in their nations, atrocities like genocide, civil war, and rebellion would cease. We have the recipe. We have the program for peace. But it remains only an ideal, foreseen by prophets and foretold by Jesus in the words of Scripture. These are healing words. But who hears them? So the Psalmist sings, “How long will you love vain words, and seek after lies?” Yes, there is much vanity in the lust for self glory we see too often in the rulers of nations.
It is no wonder that Voltaire concludes his novel Candide with the words of resignation, “Yes, but we must cultivate our garden.” We can advocate for world peace; we can contribute to causes that seek to end world hunger; we can welcome refugees from cruel governments–we can do all these things to advocate for the world justice and peace the Bible speaks of. But finally, it is our own garden that we must cultivate. It is in our own heart and soul that the warring factions of darkness and light contend. And when through repentance, God’s love and faith fill our souls, then we will know the words of the Psalmist. Many see ruin and distress, but the Psalmist finds joy and the peace that Jesus gives to all. A real, substantial peace, from a real, substantial God,
There are many who say, “O that we might see some good!
Lift up the light of thy countenance upon us, O LORD!”
Thou hast put more joy in my heart
than they have when their grain and wine abound.
In peace I will both lie down and sleep;
for thou alone, O LORD, makest me dwell in safety.

PRAYER

Lord, we know of your compassion, your mercy, and your forgiveness. And knowing your love and compassion for us, we present ourselves before you. We ask you to shine your light on our souls, as we fearlessly examine ourselves. Let us see where we need to make changes in our attitudes, our feelings, and our behaviors. We ask you into our hearts, our Lord and God. Open up the chambers of our hearts and fill them with love and faith. And, Lord, as you fill us with your Holy Spirit, drive out all our shortcomings and sins. We know that our growth in the spirit is gradual, and we do not ask for an instant cure for the spiritual maladies we inherit with this mortal flesh. But step by step, inch by inch, may we measure our ascent up the mountain to the summit with you.

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.

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Apr 10th, 2016

Do You Love Me?
Rev. Dr. David J. Fekete
April 10, 2016

John 21:1-19 Revelation 5:11-14 Psalm 30

In our reading from Revelation, we hear praises to God from every living creature. John tells us that,
I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea, and all therein, saying, “To him who sits upon the throne and to the Lamb be blessing and honor and glory and might for ever and ever!” (5:13)
Then the elders fall down and worship the Lamb. What a wonderful vision! Every creature worshiping Jesus. For the Lamb that Revelation refers to is Jesus. So the question arises, “How do we worship Jesus?” And I think that our reading from John tells us how. That would be the questions Jesus asks Peter, “Peter, Son of John, do you love me?” Worshiping God is loving Jesus, for Jesus is God with us.
There is some kind of dynamic going on between Peter and Jesus, when Jesus asks Peter if he loves Him. The first two times, Jesus asks Peter if he loves Jesus with an all-giving spiritual love. Peter answers that he is Jesus’ friend. Peter does not answer by saying he loves Jesus with the all-giving spiritual love Jesus asks. In the Greek language that the New Testament was written in, there are three words for love. There is the spiritual love that is all encompassing and all-giving. The word for that love is agape. Then there is love between friends. The word for that love is philos. Finally there is love between lovers, or desire. The word for that kind of love is eros.
So Jesus first asks Peter if he loves Him with the spiritual love that is all-encompassing, all giving. “Do you love me?”—agape. Peter responds by saying, “Yes, Lord, you know that I am your friend.” What is going on here? Jesus asks Peter about spiritual love and Peter responds with friendship. Is love more than Peter wants to commit to? Is love more than Peter is capable of? Does Peter want to lighten things up and not talk about love, but friendship? How would you feel if you asked someone if they loved you, and they said, “Yes, I’m your friend?” Would we feel slighted? Jesus asks Peter a second time, “Do you love me?” A second time Peter says, “Yes, I’m your friend.” The third time, though, Jesus perhaps comes to where Peter is emotionally. He asks, “Are you my friend?” This time Peter gets his feelings hurt because Jesus asked him three times if he loves Him. Peter again responds, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I am your friend.”
I think that Jesus is calling all of us to love unconditionally. Being friendly is good. But I think that Jesus really wants us to love. When we love, we are friendly, that is true. But love means a lot more than being friendly. The Apostle Paul gave us one of the most enduring testimonies to what love is like. Let’s hear the words of the great Apostle,
If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing. Love is patient and kind; love is not jealous or boastful; it is not arrogant or rude. Love does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrong, but rejoices in the right. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends; as for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away. . . . So faith, hope, love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love (1 Corinthians 13:1-8, 13).
The core Christian message is to love. Even after Paul’s glowing testimonial to love, we may ask ourselves how do we do this thing called love? I think that Jesus tells us in His words to Peter. When Peter says that he is Jesus’ friend, each time Jesus says, “Feed my sheep,” or “Tend my sheep.” Some people read this passage to be only for ministers, pastors, and priests. They think this because of who Peter was. Jesus told Peter that he was a rock on which Jesus would found the church. And Peter was a strong Apostle who started some of the churches of early Christianity. The Catholics believe that Peter was the first pope, and that all the popes could be traced back to this first pope, Peter. And every minister, or pastor, is charged to be a shepherd of his or her flock, meaning their church. But I think that this message is for every Christian.
When Jesus asks Peter if he loves Him, Jesus is actually asking each one of us if we love Jesus. And the message Jesus gives to Peter is given to each one of us, “Feed my sheep.” We show that we love Jesus by caring for each other. There’s an old blues song that seems to capture some of what it means to care for each other. The refrain to this song goes, “When things go wrong, go wrong with you/It hurts me too.” Caring about others means that we hurt when they hurt. But not only that. For Christian love to be true, we also rejoice and are happy when others are happy. We could add to the blues song, “When things go right, go right with you/I’m happy too.” But then it wouldn’t be a blues song, I guess.
Caring about other people is different than friendship. Caring means that we try to help other people and make things good for them. And this for everyone, not just our friends and family. When we love other people with spiritual love, we want what is best for them for their own sake.
When we consider how to love other people spiritually, we need to consider all kinds of people. We need to consider people who seem to be in a bad place and people who seem to be in a good place. We would respond differently to each kind of situation. If someone is in a bad place, we want to make things better for them. If someone has a drug problem, for instance, we would want to encourage them to get clean and sober. Of course we give them loving support along the way. But we don’t want to be an enabler and make it easy for them to continue to harm themselves. As I’ve said before, I used to have a problem with alcohol. People used to tell me all the time that I drank too much. That’s one of the reasons this denomination wouldn’t let me be a minister when i was younger. Things came to a head when I was teaching. I showed up drunk to teach one day, and one of my students went to my department head. Well, I got fired. That was the best thing that could have happened to me. That student did me a favor. That student was acting from truly Christian motivation (though I don’t know if she was a Christian). She was looking out for the best interests of the school, and intimately for me. I got help for my addiction, and my life got much, much better. So much better than it was when I was spending my time in bars getting stupid.
Now I’m living a healthier life. I am in a loving relationship with Carol, as many of you know now. It is a relationship I could never be in if I were still a drunk. I have held this job for nearly 10 years, ten happy years. I can celebrate with others and I do celebrate with others. My friendships now are solid and caring. Caring for other people isn’t just intervening when others are in a bad way. It is also living well with others and enjoying healthy activities with them. It is mutual support. And, yes, it is friendship. It is a willingness to be friendly to everyone. Sometimes our offer of friendship is not returned. Maybe this is what was happening in the story of Jesus and Peter. Maybe the all-giving spiritual love Jesus wanted from Peter was something Peter wasn’t capable of. But finally, Jesus came to Peter where Peter was, and asked him to be His friend. We won’t be loved by everyone or be befriended by everyone. But we can leave the door open, and hopefully share in another’s joy with a few treasured friends.
Jesus did come to Peter where Peter was. And Jesus comes to each of us where we are. We don’t have to be saints or angels for Jesus to love us. Jesus loves us wherever we are, in whatever spiritual condition we are in at the moment. And Jesus is always calling us to love. To love Him and to care for our fellows as we walk the road of life. And Jesus’ love is God’s love. For God came to earth in Human form as Jesus. God walked with us. God touched us. God loved us, and loves us. And God asks all of us, “Do you love me?”

PRAYER

Lord, we know that you call to us all the time. You ask us if we love you. You ask if we care for our fellows. Sometimes, we may not be ready to hear your call. Sometimes we may not feel charitable toward our neighbors. But you come to us however we are disposed. You call to us on our level. And when you call to us, you gently lift us upward toward heavenly life, toward heavenly love, toward heavenly love. Take our lives and make them yours.

And Lord, we pray for the sick. May they experience the power of your healing love. Fill them with the grace of your healing power. Comfort their family and friends. We pray for the grace of your healing power for all who are ailing in body or soul.

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The Easter Story: Joy and Courage
Rev. Dr. David J. Fekete
Easter 2016
March 27, 2016

Luke 24:13-53 Psalm 136

The Easter story is a story of joy and courage. Good Friday is a story of sadness and weakness. But it is followed with the joy of the resurrection and the courage of the early Christian church.
Just three short days ago we reflected on humanity at its worst. The intimate friends of Jesus betrayed Him and denied knowing Him. These are examples of human weakness and fallenness. And in them, Jesus remained with the Apostles, even in their fallen condition. So God remains with each one of us in our fallen condition.
But in three short days, all that changes. The Apostles and the women following Jesus see Him resurrected. Paul tells us that in addition to the Twelve Apostles, five hundred people at once saw the risen Christ. At first the Apostles react with disbelief, so profound is their joy.
The Apostles must have been as confused as they were overjoyed to see the risen Jesus Christ. Let’s look at the way events unfolded. First there was Jesus, and the power of His personality and the healings and miracles and the wonder of His teachings. Jesus attracted a large following and He was critical of the religious orthodoxy and the powerful Jewish authorities. Jesus grew to such proportions that it looked like His ministry would continue through years and years. Then there was the notion of the Messiah. And if Jesus were the Messiah, He might live on a purified earth forever as a divine king. Then all this came to a screeching halt when Jesus was arrested. Jesus did not put up a fight. He was thrown into prison, flogged by Pilate, and finally crucified like a common criminal. None of all this made any sense. We have the story of the disciples on the road to Emmaus that tells us they were confused, sad, and trying to make sense of it all. Finally, Jesus appears to them in the flesh, raised from the dead. Fear, joy, and wonder now overwhelm the Apostles. But Jesus opens their minds to the scriptures so that they can understand the complete story of Jesus. Now we have the beginnings of Christianity. We have the full account of Jesus—His life, His death, and His resurrection.
With the resurrection we are dealing with the very beginnings of the Christian church. At this point we might call it the Christian movement instead of church. Christianity began with few and grew over the millennia. It began with the Jews in the Holy Land and through the work of Paul and other Apostles, spread through the Gentile population.
What made Christianity prosper so? I ask that question because I think it is one we can ask of ourselves? When we ask what it was that started up the early Christian church and kept it going and growing, we are asking ourselves what it is that appeals to us in Christianity.
First, I think that Jesus is a God for the people. The Roman gods lived on Mount Olympus way far above humanity. They intervened in human affairs on a whim and their power was absolute. Jesus, on the other hand, walked on the dust of Palestine along with the people. His teachings and stories were often taken from earthy affairs, like farming, or family life, or business. And Jesus cared about humanity. Much of the Jesus story is about healing the sick and driving out demons. Jesus teaches that even the hairs on our head are numbered by a caring God and when a sparrow falls, the least of common birds, it is known and provided for by God. In Classical mythology, the god Prometheus cares about humanity and brings us fire. For this, the gods punish Prometheus. Not so with Jesus. The Father God is known through the Human Jesus and cares about us as much as does the gentle God Jesus.
Another factor in the success of early Christianity is community. Christians cared for one another and provided for burial rites as a burial society, for instance. Christians shared common meals together. They would eat together, sing hymns and tell stories about Jesus. These were called love feasts. This must have meant a lot in a cold, heartless world in which there were more slaves than free men. Christians cared for one another in the difficult times in the Roman world. These were times when people were forced out of house and home due to economic causes. Christian communities gave shelter to the economically displaced. And Jesus’ teachings took away the shame of poverty—“Blessed are you poor.”
I like to think that Jesus’ teachings are the real substance of Christianity. All the time I hear people say that they like Jesus’ teachings, even if they are not believers. Our world is becoming as uncaring and cold as was the Roman Empire. I fear we are losing a sense of community. My parents and grandparents told me about the depression days. Hard as those times were, my grandparents said that people helped each other out. Now, though, families are spread all over the globe at best, broken and scattered at worst. I’m not sure people care for one another as they grapple against their neighbor to obtain the BMW and find elite singles on dating sites.
Now, as much as ever, perhaps more, Jesus’ teachings are needed. Jesus teaches that we are to love the neighbor as we love ourselves. Jesus teaches that we are to forgive our neighbor the wrongs we perceive. These are community-building teachings. And Jesus teaches us to honor God. We are to recognize that before God, no one can stand perfectly clean. But Jesus does hold out the challenge for us to clean up our act. “Be ye perfect, even as your heavenly Father is perfect.” And Jesus teaches us to thank God for all the good things we have been given. We didn’t get them by our own power, but by God’s grace. These are humble-building teachings. These teachings put humanity in its place. These teachings remind us that even if we have the BMW and an elite partner from the dating site, we stand under an infinite Being and all our accomplishments are essentially equal to that of our brothers and sisters, our fellows. God is the great relativizer.
The complete Jesus story is not just about the early Christian church, the love feasts of early Christians, Christian love and community, and Jesus’ social and theological teachings and His emphasis on God. It is not even about the wonder of the risen and glorified Jesus Christ. That takes up only a few chapters in all the Gospels. I think that the complete Jesus story is about the life Jesus. Early Christianity is about telling the life of Jesus at the suppers they held with one another. For it is the life of Jesus that exemplifies the Christian way. The teachings of Jesus may explain why Jesus did what He did. The teachings of Jesus may serve as ethical rules we can govern our lives with. The teachings of Jesus may tell us where we fit into the picture of the universe, heaven and earth. But we learn all this by studying how Jesus lived.
Remembering the stories of Jesus’ life are the best examples of how we Christians are to govern our lives. Jesus’ teachings go so far. He couldn’t say everything. But when we see how Jesus reacted to different things, we can extrapolate how we can and should react to challenges and celebrations in our lives. “What would Jesus do,” people say. And the more we know about the life of Jesus, the better we can guess how Jesus would respond to a given situation.
And the life of Jesus brings in a final point. That is the power of Jesus’ personality, His presence. There was something about Jesus that attracted multitudes. There was some power in Jesus that made people want to talk about Jesus years after His resurrection. There was something about Jesus that invoked people’s worship. I have to think that the power of Jesus’ presence is still with us in His resurrected and glorified Humanity. I feel Jesus’ presence when I read the Gospels. I feel Jesus’ presence when I pray, or in church. Jesus is a living being to me, still, 2,000 years after His resurrection.
In many ways we are like the early Christian church today. The great Christian institutions are fading. Sure, it’s going to take a long time for denominations like Catholicism to fade from the world, if it even will. But many mainline churches are consolidating their members and closing doors—even Catholic churches. We are losing the momentum of the Christian institution. People are turning to the church, when they do turn back, for similar reasons as early Christians found in it. They are coming back to church for community. They are coming back to church from humility and the worldly shocks that teach us we are not all-powerful. They are coming back to church because the words and the example of that one extraordinary life 2,000 years ago still have meaning today.

PRAYER

Lord, we come to you this Easter morning filled with joy. As the season begins to renew itself with warming weather, so we come before you with renewed hearts. We have lived through the times of penitence that Lent brings, and now we come to you ready for a new beginning. We pray this morning that you fill us with spiritual light and warmth. We pray this morning that you give us strength to begin spiritual life anew. We pray this morning that you inspire us with the will and power to reach for heaven once again, now and ever.

And Lord, we pray for the sick. May they experience the power of your healing love. Fill them with the grace of your healing power. Comfort their family and friends. We pray for the grace of your healing power for all who are ailing in body or soul.

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And Still Remained in Relation
Rev. Dr. David J. Fekete
Good Friday, 2016

The sad Good Friday story is also another example of Jesus’ unbounded love and forgiveness. In the Good Friday story we have humanity at its worst. And yet Jesus remains with humanity, forgiving and staying with humanity even in our worst behavior.
Tonight I don’t want to talk about the angry mob that turned on Jesus. The mob that welcomed Him with songs of praise just one week before calling for His execution. Tonight I’d like to talk about the Twelve Apostles.
The Twelve Apostles were the small group that Jesus chose to remain close to Him. These were the Apostles who followed Jesus wherever He went. They dined with Him, slept in His company, and they were privy to all the teachings of Jesus. Indeed there was a vast mob that followed Jesus. They heard some of what Jesus taught. They observed some of Jesus’ miracles and healings. But the multitudes by and large stayed in their villages when Jesus left to preach elsewhere.
But the Twelve Apostles left everything and followed Jesus wherever Jesus went. They saw all the miracles. They witnessed all the healings. They heard all the teachings. In fact, in John’s Gospel Jesus calls them friends. They may even have been as close to Jesus as was Mary, His mother. Maybe even closer. For the Twelve Apostles followed Jesus in His professional work, His ministry. And sometimes our colleagues and adult friends mean as much to us as our families when we are grown. Sometimes more. In any event, the Twelve Apostles were Jesus’ closest comrades, Jesus’ closest friends.
And these close friends of Jesus let Him down on a number of levels. I say that they let Jesus down because that is how it appears to me, not how it appeared to Jesus. One of the intimate Twelve, Judas, actually turned against his teacher and friend and gave Him up to the authorities. And he did it with a kiss, not by knocking Jesus out and dragging Him to the Jewish authorities. Jesus’ steadfast follower Peter, the Rock on whom Jesus would build the church, denied knowing Jesus when questioned by the mob. The Twelve Apostles couldn’t even stay awake and wait with Jesus as He prepared for His death. While Jesus was praying, they fell asleep.
These betrayals were all the worse because they were betrayals by Jesus’ closest friends, His most intimate relations. The mob that first loved Jesus and then turned against Him was bad enough. But the mod is rather impersonal. We wouldn’t say that the mob knew Jesus very well. But this was not the case with the Twelve Apostles. So it was especially painful and disappointing that Jesus’ most intimate followers would care so little as to fall asleep while Jesus is sweating blood, or deny knowing Him after His arrest, or to betray Him with a kiss.
Jesus knew all this. He knew Peter would deny Him and confronted Peter about it. He knew Judas would betray Him. But how does Jesus react to this disappointing knowledge? Does Jesus turn His back on the Twelve and shake the dust off His feet? No. Jesus says, “I have earnestly desired to eat this passover with you before I suffer” (Luke 22:15). Knowing the weakness of humanity, knowing the shortcomings of His intimate followers, Jesus wants still to dine with them. Jesus wants one last supper with His Apostles. Maybe as much for Himself as to share His presence with them for one last time.
Despite human frailty, Jesus remains in relation with us. We all fall short of the glory of God at one time or another in one way or another. And yet God remains in relation with us. God stays with us. God loves us as He did His weak Apostles. God holds out His holy hand to us and offers to lift us out of the mire of worldly passions. And to hold out His loving hand, God stays with humanity in a love relationship. In the book of Revelation Jesus says, “Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if any one hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat supper with him, and he with me” (3:20).
The Last Supper of Jesus with His Twelve Apostles is the supper Jesus eats with all of us when we open the door to Him. In our fallenness and in our weakness, Jesus stays with us, loves us. Jesus knows our hearts and never turns from humanity. Let us pray not to enter into temptation, let us pray to hear Jesus’ knock on the door, open the door, and let Him in.

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