Archive for May, 2011

Love Makes a Person and a Church

Rev. Dr. David J. Fekete

May 29, 2011

 

Mark 10:35-45                                    Acts 2:41-47                                       Psalm 66

 

Last Sunday I talked about the Divine Human of the Lord, and how we are made in God’s image.  I said that we are human because God is human first.  Today I would like to explore what exactly it means to be human.

We can think of being human by virtue of our body.  That is, we have a head, arms and legs, and a torso, and that is our human form.  But in fact, our body is simply a vessel that responds to our soul.  Our body is made of material elements, but our soul is made of spiritual elements.  And it is actually our soul that makes us human.

Simply put, our soul is what we love.  We are human because we can love.  In fact, we are human because of our loves.  It is love that makes us human.  Love is who we really are.  What we love is our very life.  Take away love, and we wouldn’t want to do anything.  But love always strives to come into action.  We want to enjoy what we love, and we want to do the things we love.  So love needs some way to come into being.  It needs some power to act.  This is what truth is.  We can think of truth as the know-how to get done what we love.  Truth tells us how to bring into action what we love.  Say we love someone who is short of money.  When we love them, we want to help.  So we ask ourselves, “How can I help them?”  Truth tells us how to help them.  Truth may tell us to take them shopping for food.  Or it may tell us to fill up their gas tank.  Or it may tell us to take them to the employment office to help them find work.  This is what the early Christians did, as we heard in today’s reading from Acts.  There we read, “Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need” (2:45).  Truth is the way love takes form.  It tells us how to love.  So who we are is our loves, but our loves need truth to take action.  So the human form is both love and truth.  So Swedenborg writes,

The human form is nothing else than the form of all the affections of love; beauty is its intelligence, which it procures for itself through truths received either by sight or by hearing, external or internal.  These are what love disposes into the form of its affections; and these forms exist in great variety; but they all derive a likeness from their general form, which is the human form (DLW 411).

We can think about love a little further.  There are loves in the plural–that is many things we love.  And there is love in the singular–one overarching thing that we love above all.  The one, overarching thing that we love above all else is called our ruling love.  I may love skiing, or music, or eating.  But none of these things can be considered the ruling love.  These are affections that flow forth from the ruling love.  They are like small streams that flow forth from one great river.

A person’s very life is his love; and such as the love is, such is the life, yes, such is the whole person.  But it is the dominant or reigning love which makes the person.  This love has many other loves subordinate to it, which are derivations. . . . The dominant love is as their king and head; it directs them; and through them . . . it looks to and intends its own end, which is the primary and ultimate of all (TCR 399).

We can get an idea of what we love by looking at the things that we enjoy.  We enjoy doing what we love.  And we don’t enjoy doing what we don’t love.  So what we enjoy is a signal of what we love.

All that gives enjoyment, satisfaction, and happiness to any one, comes to him from and according to his ruling love.  For a person calls that which he loves enjoyment, because he feels it (TCR 399).

So we have many different kinds of things that we love–as I mentioned in my own case, skiing, music, eating, etc.  But all these enjoyments flow forth from the one reigning dominant love.

Swedenborg seems to think that there are only four basic dominant loves: Love to God and the neighbor, and love of self and the world.

There are two loves from which, as from their very fountains, all goods and truths arise; and there are two loves from which all evils and falsities arise.  The two loves from which all goods and truths are, are love to the Lord and love toward the neighbor; but the two loves from which are all evils and falsities, are the love of self and the love of the world (TCR 399).

These four loves are what make a person.  And they are also what make the church with a person.  According to Swedenborg, it is love itself that makes the church in an individual person and in church communities, and in the whole church on earth.  He describes the church as internal and external.  The internal of the church is like its soul; and the external of the church is like its body.  The internal of the church is love to God and the neighbor and the external of the church are the rituals like the Holy Supper, Bible readings, and preachings.

Those who place divine worship in frequenting places of worship, hearing preachings, going to the Holy Supper, and he who does these things with devotion . . . are of the external church.  But they who at the same time believe that such things are to be done, but still the essential of worship is the life of faith, that is, love towards the neighbor and love toward the Lord; these are of the internal church. . . . Still, with everyone who is of the church there must be both, namely, an external and an internal.  If there are not both there is no spiritual life in him; for the internal is as the soul, and the external is as the body of the soul. . . . But they who are in externals and not at the same time in internals are not of the church (AC 8762).

Clearly, it is the internal that truly makes a church.  In the passage we just heard, Swedenborg says, “the essential of worship is the life of faith, that is, love toward the neighbor and love toward the Lord.”  He repeats this point over and over again.

The internal of the church consists in willing good from the heart, and in being affected by good . . . But the external of the church is to perform rituals in a holy manner . . . (AC 6587).

Again, “Love and the derivative faith is the internal of the church.  There is no other faith meant which is the internal of the church than that which is of love or charity” (AC 1798).

These considerations bring us back to our earlier reflections on what it means to be human.  Our humanity is what we love.  We now see that the state of the church is also according to what a person loves.  The internal of the church is the same as what makes for a heavenly person.  The internal of the church is to will good from the heart and to be affected by good.  And just as it is with an individual, there are the same four loves that make or destroy the church: love of the lord and the neighbor, and love of self and the world.

The two loves from which are all goods and truths, which as was said, are love to the Lord and love toward the neighbor, make heaven with a person, they also make the church with him.  The two loves from which are all evils and falsities, which, as was said, are love of self and love of the world, make hell with a person; for they reign in hell; consequently also they destroy the church with him (TCR 399).

Swedenborg also gives illustrations of what the four loves look like.  The hellish love of self looks only to what benefits one’s self:

Love of self is to wish well to one’s self only, and not to others except for the sake of self; not even to the church, one’s country, human society, or a fellow citizen; it is also to do good to them only for the sake of one’s reputation, honor, and glory . . . (TCR 400).

We saw a suggestion of self love in our Bible reading from Mark.  In it, James and John, puffed up with selfish pride, ask to sit at the right and left hand of Jesus.  They say, “Let us sit at your right and the other at your left in your glory” (Mark 10:37).  The other disciples become indignant, and Jesus mildly reprimands them,

Those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them.  Not so with you.  Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant . . . For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve (Mark 10:42, 43, 44, 45).

By contrast, the heavenly love of God and the neighbor looks to do good to everyone–individually, and collectively in the church and in society:

Heavenly love is to love uses for the sake of uses, of good deeds for the sake of good deeds, which a person performs for the church, his country, human society, and the fellow citizen (TCR 400).

In our Bible readings, this love is illustrated by the early Christian church.  Acts 2:44-47 describes the shared love of the early Christian church.

All the believers were together and had everything in common.  Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need.  Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts.  They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor or all the people.

This is a beautiful picture of all that the Christian church stands for.  You can see the mutual love that reigned among these early Christians as they broke bread together and shared their possessions.

Just as the soul needs a body, so our loves need to fill our whole person.  Our love of God and the neighbor want to come forth in good and loving deeds to the church and the world around us. When we have love of God as our reigning love, then all the lower loves–love of the world and love of self are filled with heavenly love and life.  With God at the head we can love the world and ourselves in a godly manner.

If the love of heaven is inwardly in love of the world, and by this in love of self, the person does uses in each from the God of heaven.  In their operation, these three loves are like will, understanding, and action.  The will flows into the understanding, and there provides itself with means to produce action (TCR 394).

When we are in this condition, our heads can well be in the clouds, and our feet will still be standing on the earth.  We will be a heaven individually, and a church individually.

 

 

 

 

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May 22nd, 2011

He Shall Lead His Flock

Rev. Dr. David J. Fekete

May 22, 2011

Isaiah 40:1-11                                     John 10:1-10                                       Psalm 23

            What I take from these Bible readings is an emphasis on the Divine Humanity of God, whom we know in the person of Jesus Christ.  Jesus says that He is the gate through which we need to enter in order to be saved.  He says,

The man who enters through the gate is the shepherd of his sheep.  The watchman opens the gate for him, and the sheep listen to his voice.  He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out . . . and his sheep follow him because they know his voice.  I tell you the truth, I am the gate for the sheep. . . . I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved. . . . I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full (John 10:2,4, 7, 9, 10).

Jesus is telling us that He is the one from whom we have eternal life.  “I am the resurrection and the life,” Jesus says in John 11:25.  Jesus Christ, as the Divine Human is a Being that we can understand and form a relationship with.  It is to Jesus Christ that we pray.  It is to Jesus Christ that we appeal in times of trouble.  It is Jesus Christ in whom we rejoice when we feel close to God.

            Jesus tells us to come to Him, not to the Father.  He says, “I am the way and the truth and the life.  No one comes to the Father except through me” John 14:6.  God in His infinity is beyond our comprehension.  The power of the New Church is that it has the Divine Human to whom it can relate.  Jesus explains His relationship to the Father.  The Father is in Him as soul in body.

Don’t you know me, Philip, even after I have been among you such a long time?  Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father. . . . Don’t you believe that I am in the Father, and the Father is in me? . . . it is the Father, living in me, who is doing his work.  Believe me when I say that I am in the Father and the Father is in me (John 14:9, 10, 11).

This passage from John expresses the Swedenborgian idea of God perfectly.  Jesus says that it is the Father, living in Him, who does the work.  We understand God the Father to be Jesus’ soul, and Jesus Christ to be God incarnate, which means God in a body.  God and human are completely merged in Jesus Christ.  Jesus’ soul is the infinite Creator God and the infinite Creator God has a human form in Jesus Christ.

            In Genesis, we are told that we are created in the image and likeness of God–as humans.  And when God appeared to the prophets and Patriarchs of the Old Testament, He often appeared as a human.  God was so human that Jacob could wrestle with Him (Genesis 32:22-30).  The Elders of Israel ate a sacred feast on Mount Sinai when Moses brings them the law, and they see God.  We read,

Moses and Aaron, Nadab and Abihu, and seventy elders of Israel went up and saw the God of Israel.  Under His feet was something like a pavement made of sapphire, clear as the sky itself.  But God did not raise his hand against these leaders of the Israelites; they saw God, and they ate and drank (Exodus 24:9-11).

Notice in this passage that God has feet.

            What I think is most important in this is the idea of a Human God.  For us, God’s Divine Humanity is none other than Jesus Christ.  But to me, the human gods of other world religions are in keeping with our own teachings.  Buddhists revere the Buddha, and other divine bodhisattvas.  Bodhisattvas are Buddhas who postpone their own entrance into Nirvana in order to bring all beings to enlightenment.  They have a heaven that emanates from them into which a person can be born who calls upon their name.  I know of a Buddhist guru who thinks of Jesus as one such Bodhisattva.  Although strictly speaking these are not gods, nevertheless they function as gods and are called upon to save their followers.  In Hinduism, there are Shiva and Shakti, Vishnu, Brahma, and other deities.  I suppose that a criticism could be levelled that Hinduism can degenerate into idolatry when practiced unthinkingly.  But to those who penetrate to the depths of Hinduism, the human forms of God are incarnations–called Avatars–of the one great power Brahman.  I affirm these images of Divine Humanity in other religions as akin to our own devotion to Jesus Christ.  But to me, these gods do not form a real part in my belief system.  They are not from my own culture, and I would not fully appreciate their power if I tried to adopt them for my own.  No, I am a Christian, and for me, Christ is the gate keeper.  For me, Christ is the way, the truth, and the life.  I mention these other deities as instances of God’s Divine Human Form.

            There are two ways Swedenborg comments on the Divine Humanity of God.  One way is to talk about God as a person.  So Swedenborg says,

God is the essential person.  Throughout all the heavens, the only concept of God is a concept of a person.  The reason is that heaven, overall and regionally, is in a kind of human form, and Divinity among the angels is what makes heaven. . . . It is because God is a person that all angels and spirits are perfectly formed people. . . It is common knowledge that we were created in the image and likeness of God because of Genesis 1:26, 27 and from the fact that Abraham and others saw God as a person (DLW 11).

In this understanding of God, we can picture the risen and glorified Jesus Christ as the ultimate and first person.  We all have our humanity and personhood from God the First Person.

            The other way Swedenborg talks about God’s Humanity is by describing God’s infinite love and wisdom.  Love is God’s Being and Wisdom is the way God comes to us.  So Swedenborg calls love reality and wisdom manifestation.  Wisdom is the way love manifests.

In the Divine Human, reality and manifestation are both distinguishably united. . . . They are distinguishably one like love and wisdom.  Love occurs only in wisdom, and wisdom only from love.  So love becomes manifest when it is in wisdom (DLW 14).

In this understanding of personhood, love and wisdom are what constitute our humanity, too. 

The human form is nothing else than the form of all the affections of love; beauty is its intelligence, which it procures for itself through truths received either by sight or by hearing, external or internal.  These are what love disposes into the form of its affections; and these forms exist in great variety; but they all derive a likeness from their general form, which is the human form (DLW 411).

And our humanity, understood as love and wisdom, comes from God’s love and wisdom.  This is because God is the First and Creative Person in whose form we are all created.

Love or the will strives unceasingly towards the human form and all things of that form. . . . From this it is clearly evident that life (which is love and the will therefrom), strives unceasingly towards the human form.  And as the human form is made up of all the things there are in a person, it follows that love or the will is in a continual endeavor and effort towards the human form, because God is a Person, and Divine Love and Divine Wisdom is His life, and from His life is everything of life (DLW 400).

            This discussion of personhood may be a little abstract.  But when we think about it, we find that all we are as people are what we love and the intelligence to bring that love into being.  Love and wisdom are not just abstract ideas.  Love has a reality and wisdom also has a reality.  And lest we get too abstract, Swedenborg brings these ideas into actual bodily form.  Our love and wisdom first begin to activate the two hemispheres of our brain.  Then the brain acts into the lower reaches of our body through nerves that spread all through our bodies.  So our whole body responds to what we love and our understanding of how to bring that love into action.  So even in his somewhat abstract discussion of love and wisdom, Swedenborg anchors his discussion to the body.

Reality and its manifestation are distinguishably one in the Divine Human the way soul and body are.  A soul does not occur without its body, nor a body without its soul.  The divine soul of the Divine Human is what we mean by reality, and the divine body of the Divine Human is what we mean by the divine manifestation (DLW 14).

This is how Swedenborg considers the Divine Humanity of the risen and glorified Jesus Christ.  And God is in Jesus Christ as a soul is in the body.  “It therefore stands to reason that God is a person and in this way is God manifest” (DLW 16).

            We can speculate about other forms of God.  Some like to think of God as pure energy.  Others see God as Nature.  But I think that Biblically, and in Swedenborg’s theology, we are taught to see God in the form of Jesus Christ.  Throughout His life on earth, God and Man became totally united in Jesus so that Man became fully God and God became fully Man.  Jesus tells us, “Believe me when I say that I am in the Father and the Father is in me” (John 14:11).  Jesus is the gate through which we are to enter when we approach God.  Jesus tells us, “I am the way and the truth and the life.  No one comes to the Father except through me” John 14:6.  To some, this is called anthropomorphism, which is a big word for making God into a human.  But those who say that, fail to reflect on the truth that we are human because God is human first.

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Those Who Have Not Seen and Yet Have Believed

Rev. Dr. David J. Fekete

May 15, 2011

John 20:19-31                                     Revelation 1:4-8                                              Psalm 118

            In our reading from Revelation, John exhorts us to take to heart the things that are written it that book, because the time is near.  John says further that Jesus Christ has made us a kingdom of priests, as was said of the Israelites as far back as the book of Exodus (19:6).  And in John’s Gospel we are told that we have true life in the name of Jesus Christ. 

            The time when we will confront Jesus Christ is always at hand–every moment of our lives.  The potential for us to be a kingdom of priests and a holy people is always with us–every moment of our lives.  And living in Christ’s name is a reality that we can experience always–in every aspect of our lives.

            More is meant by living in the name of Christ than simply calling ourselves Christians.  And more is meant than that horrible doctrine that says only those who worship Jesus are saved.  You know I heard of a fundamentalist church who said that Gandhi was in hell, because he wasn’t a Christian.  Yet I think that Gandhi embodied the Christian life more than many of those who call themselves by His name.  Living in the name of Jesus Christ means living in the things that He taught.  And foremost among those things are love for the whole human race, peacefulness, and humility.  These are all virtues that Gandhi demonstrated in his life.

            Also among the important things that go along with living in the name of Jesus Christ is the belief that He rose from the dead.  This is important to believe because the resurrection is what makes Jesus one with God.  Jesus Christ was the only human who rose body and soul.  Ordinary humans leave behind their physical bodies and only our souls rise into the eternal life.  But Jesus had made his body so divine that even His physical body rose into eternity.  He proved this to His disciples by eating a fish when they thought they were seeing a ghost (Luke 24:42-43). 

            This concept was hard for Thomas to accept.  In John’s Gospel, he says,

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 (John 20:25).

Jesus appears a week later to Thomas and asks him to put his finger in Jesus’ hands and side.  Thomas in humility says, “My Lord and my God!”  Then Jesus says something that is of special relevance to us all.  He tells Thomas,

Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed (20:29).

            That is where we all are.  Few of us, perhaps none of us have actually seen Jesus.  And I would venture to say none of us have put our finger into his pierced hands, feet, and side.  And yet we believe.  We have not seen, and yet we choose to live in the name of Jesus Christ.  And I would also venture to say that the more committed we are to life in Jesus’ name, the more we feel connected to Jesus, and the more we feel ourselves filled with Christ’s Holy Spirit.

            Swedenborg calls this living in an affirmative principle.  He describes two ways to approach spiritual realities.  One is the affirmative way, the other the negative way.  The affirmative way is to begin our faith journey with a belief in truths because they are in the Bible and because God has taught them.  From there we develop more sophisticated belief systems.  The negative way is to doubt everything spiritual until it is proven to us by means of reason or by means of scientific evidence.  In other words, the negative principle doubts everything spiritual unless it is seen, heard, touched, or otherwise proven first.

There are two principles, therefore; one which leads to all folly and insanity, and another which leads to all intelligence and wisdom.  The former principle is to deny all things, or to say in one’s heart that he cannot believe them before he is convinced by things which he can apprehend, or perceive by the senses: this is the principle that leads to all folly and insanity, and it is to be called the negative principle.  The other principle is to affirm the things which are of doctrine from the Word, or to think and believe in one’s self that they are true because the Lord has said them: this is the principle that leads to all intelligence and wisdom, and it is to be called the affirmative principle (AC 2568).

            For those in the affirmative principle, spiritual truth makes more and more sense as we live a spiritual life.  Wherever we look, we find confirmations of what we believed early in our faith journey.  Every bit a man of the Enlightenment, though, Swedenborg is all in favor of using science, knowledge, and rationality to support and to confirm spiritual truths.

But those who are in the affirmative, that is, who believe that things are true because the Lord has said so, are continually being confirmed, and their ideas enlightened and strengthened, by what is of reason and outward knowledge and even by what is of sense; for a person has light from no other source than through reason and knowledge . . . (AC 2588).

Swedenborg describes this way of seeing things in a beautifully poetic passage.  He says that angels in the highest heaven do not see physical things, but when they see objects, the correspondence of what they stand for flows into their minds. 

They do not see the  objects, but the corresponding divine realities flow directly into their minds and fill them with a blessedness that affects all their sensory functions.  As a result, everything they see seems to laugh and play and live (HH 489).

So it is for us, too, when we are in the affirmative principle.

            The case is different for those who are in the negative principle.  If a person starts out doubting God, or doubting Jesus’ resurrection and won’t believe without proof, the proof they want will never come.  They will confirm themselves deeper and deeper in doubt, and rely more and more on scientific facts alone and unenlightened reason.  They will always find a way out of spiritual truth no matter how many arguments are given them.

Those who are in a negative state in regard to a thing being true because it is in the Word, say in heart that they will believe when they are persuaded by reason and outward knowledge.  But the fact is that they will never believe; and indeed they would not believe if they were to be convinced by their bodily senses, by sight, hearing and touch; for they would always be forming new reasonings against the things, and thus end by altogether extinguishing all faith . . . (AC 2588).

            But we need to be clear about one important point.  The affirmative principle that Swedenborg talks about is not blind faith.  Swedenborg affirms healthy questioning.  He wants people to question the truths they grew up with and to see whether one’s early doctrines are genuinely true or not.  So while affirming early basic truths, Swedenborg challenges us to test them against sound reason and Scripture to see if they are, in fact, really honest to goodness truths.

First the doctrinals of the church are to be learned, and then exploration to be made as to whether they are true; for they are not true because heads of the church have said so and their followers confirm it, inasmuch as thus the doctrines of all churches and religions would have to be called true, merely according to country and birth. . . . From this it is plain that the Word is to be searched and it is to be seen there whether they are true (AC 6047).

Swedenborg himself rejected some of the doctrines he grew up with.  One such doctrine was the doctrine of the trinity which teaches that God is three persons who have one essence.  He abandoned that doctrine for the one he teaches in his theology that God is one person, namely the risen and glorified Jesus Christ.  I, myself, have rejected some of the truths I grew up with in this very Swedenborgian church.  And I imagine that some of you who have come here from other faiths have also done some searching into the doctrines you were brought up with.  This kind of inquiry is not the negative principle Swedenborg talks about.  Rather, it is a good way to discover what is genuinely true and what makes the most sense.  So Swedenborg says in True Christian Religion that faith is nothing other than truth.

            After we have sifted through the doctrines we believed early in life, then we can explore all the sciences and systems of knowing that the world has to offer.

Afterward when he or she is confirmed and thus in an affirmative mind from the Word that they are truths of faith, it is allowable for him or her to confirm them by all the knowedges that he or she possesses, of whatsoever name and nature; for then, because affirmation reigns universally, he or she accepts the knowledges which are in agreement, and rejects those which by reason of the fallacies that they contain are in disagreement.  By means of knowledges faith is corroborated.  Wherefore it is denied to no one to search the Scriptures from a desire for knowing whether the doctrines of the church in which he or she was born, are true, for otherwise he or she can in no way be enlightened.  Neither is it to be denied to him or her afterward to strengthen himself by means of knowledges . . . (AC 6047).

This church is rather unique in its emphasis on reason and questioning.  Many other churches preach that church doctrines are to be accepted on faith alone and without question.  We, on the other hand, encourage questioning, searching, and testing the truth value of our teachings.  When we find truths that make sense to us, we can strengthen them by other doctrines–even from other faith traditions from all over the world.  We can strengthen our beliefs by philosophy, by science, and by common sense.  This, in fact, makes our own belief system all the more strong, because we have been convinced by our own intellect.

            But all of this depends on an affirmative attitude with regard to faith.  We need to begin by affirming the basic truths of religion or spirituality.  Then we can refine our belief system and search its doctrines for more and less true concepts.  Finally, when we have searched our beliefs for genuine truths, then we can strengthen it with other truths and by reasons.  Thomas required actual physical confirmation of Christ’s resurrection.  We don’t have that possibility.  We are those who believe without seeing.  Yet for us, to see things any other way just doesn’t make sense.  To see things any other way is blindness.

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May 1st, 2011

Burning Hearts

Rev. Dr. David J. Fekete

May 1, 2011

 

1 Kings19:9-13                                   Luke 24:13-35                         Psalm 116

 

The reading about the Apostles on the road to Emmaus is an interesting story.  As two disciples are walking along the road, Jesus Himself appears to them and walks along side them.  Although they walk about seven miles together, they do not recognize Jesus.  It isn’t until Jesus breaks bread with them that He is recognized.

There are some other plot elements to the story.  It begins with sadness and it ends in joy.  In the beginning, the disciples are sad because of the crucifixion and they are also somewhat perplexed about stories about the empty tomb.  And the story ends in joy, when the disciples actually recognize Jesus and realize that He has risen from the grave.

I’ve often wondered why the disciples didn’t recognize Jesus.  Did Jesus appear in a different form?  Or is it more about the state of mind that the disciples were in.  All we are told in scripture is that, “They were kept from recognizing Him.”  What kept them from recognizing Jesus?  Was it Jesus Himself?  Or was it something else?

I have an idea that I would like to share with you.  I think that part of what kept the disciples from recognizing Jesus was their own state of mind.  They had expected Jesus to be the Messiah whom the prophets said would take over the throne in Jerusalem.  All through the Gospels, we see that the people of Israel had expectations of Jesus that He Himself denied.  According to the beliefs of the Jews in Jesus time, the Messiah was to be a worldly ruler from the lineage of King David.  He would assume the throne in Jerusalem, drive out the Romans, and usher in a time of world-wide peace when all of the nations would come to Israel and be taught the Law of Moses.  At the birth of John the Baptist, his father sand a song about Jesus and John.  About Jesus, Zechariah sang,

He has raised up a horn of salvation for us . . .

salvation from our enemies

and from the hand of all who hate us–

to rescue us from the hand of our enemies;

and to enable us to serve him without fear (Luke 1:69, 71, 74).

The disciples with whom Jesus walked had the same expectations.  They told Jesus, “we had hoped that he was the one who was going to redeem Israel” (Luke 24:21).  They were utterly baffled and completely disappointed when Jesus was crucified and did nothing to liberate Israel from the hand of the Romans.

Is it possible that their own understanding of what the Messiah was supposed to be kept them from recognizing Jesus?  Perhaps they were so focussed on their disappointments that they didn’t recognize the glory that was around them.  Perhaps they were so caught up in their own shattered hopes, that they didn’t see the risen and glorified Lord right next to them.

There are story elements that support this interpretation.  After Jesus disappears, the disciples recall their walk with Jesus.  They say, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the scriptures to us?” (Luke 24:32).  If they had been paying more attention to their own spirits, and to Jesus, they would have noticed that their hearts were on fire.  They would have felt Jesus presence and perhaps recognized Him when He taught them as He had so often in His ministry.  But instead, their own disappointment and misunderstanding were occupying their minds to the extent that they shut out the emotions they were feeling and the identity of He who walked along side them.

I like this interpretation because it is something that I think we all can relate to.  How often do we pay attention to the fact that Jesus is walking beside us every day of our lives?  How often are we so caught up in “Getting and spending” that we don’t pay attention to the spiritual realities that surround us all the time.  The words “Getting and spending” come from a poem by Wordsworth called “The World Is Too Much With Us.”  And I think that for a lot of us, the world is, indeed, too much with us.  How much of what we think we desperately need, do we really need?  Or yet, how much of what we think we really need to do, do we really need to do?  How much pressure do we need to take on?  How much worry, fret, and anxiety do we really need to accept into our lives?  These are the kinds of things that shut out the peace of God.  These are the kinds of things that blind us to the presence of Christ in the world and in our lives.  These are the kinds of things that turn our hearts into images of the world and block the inflowing image and likeness of God into which we are all created.

I bring up this point because I, myself, suffer from this same spiritual sickness.  I can get so caught up thinking about the many tasks ahead of me, that the actual import of what I have to do becomes ten times greater than they really are.  I think that we all do have much to do in our busy lives.  But there is a solution.    When we approach our life’s tasks with the notion that what I need to do is what is right in front of me, and not think of all the other things that I need to do, some of the anxiety lessens.  It is when life piles item upon item on our plate, and we fill our minds with visions of everything that needs to get done–before we can actually get at those things–then we become a basket filled with worry, stress, and anxiety.  Then, our mind becomes filled with the world and we shut out the peace that is right with us at all times–that can be with us at all times.

We need to take time to quiet our minds, in order to feel Jesus walking by our side.  We need to find a quiet place and a quiet state of mind in order to let the world spin without us, and let in Christ’s peace.  We can do this, I think, even in the midst of our busy lives.  By working one thing at a time, and keeping a presence of mind as we work, we can keep an attitude of calm in the midst of a storm.  Things will get done, but the memory of what we have done and the anticipation of what needs to be done can dissipate.  Then, the task at hand is all we are in, and that can be handled calmly, with presence of mind, and in peace.

We can also blind ourselves to truth when we are too invested in our own ideas–as paradoxical as this sounds.  We can become too married to our own way of doing things to see anyone else’s way of doing things.  We can become too sure that we are right and others are wrong to be open to a better way of doing things, or another way of seeing things.  We can become too filled with ego to open our hearts to others’ feelings and other ways of living that aren’t our own.  When we do this we can become the problem, not the solution that we think we are.  We can get in the way of God’s way and replace it with our own ego-driven understanding of the way things ought to proceed.

This same issue works spiritually.  Our own ideas of God and our own ideas of our spiritual needs can actually interfere with God’s actual presence and with God’s still, small voice in our hearts.  How often are our prayers filled with things that we want, and want God to give us?  I mean material things and even spiritual things.  We can ask God for direction in life when we have issues in the world to deal with.  But we can also ask God for spiritual qualities that we think we need.  I have found myself asking God to help me achieve a spiritual goal that I had set for myself.  I didn’t even think to ask whether God wanted this for me.  In our prayer life, we need to be open to hear God’s voice to us.  We need to quiet our own thoughts enough to feel God’s presence and God’s will for us.  Otherwise, we are just like the disciples who were kept from recognizing Jesus by their own preconceptions of what the Messiah was supposed to be.  It was their own ideas of God that kept them from seeing God right next to them.

Let’s not blind ourselves by our own power to see.  Let us listen for that still, small voice in our hearts that is God’s constant presence with us. Let us not close off God’s influx with worldly concerns.  Let us not close our eyes to God’s true nature by images of God we form from our own private wants and perceived needs.  God is walking beside us all the time.  Let us quiet our busy minds and open a channel for Him to reach us.  Our hearts are burning within us.  Let us feel our burning hearts, and not pay attention instead to the many distractions we can fabricate from our own minds.  Then, when we see Jesus walking beside us in our lives, our hearts will be filled with joy–just as the hearts of the disciples did when Jesus was recognized as He broke bread.

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