Archive for July, 2011
God’s Greatest Wish
Rev. Dr. David J. Fekete
July 17, 2011
Genesis 18:20-33 John 3:3-17 Psalm 86
God’s greatest wish is to save the whole human race. We heard about God’s forgiveness and mercy in our Psalm this morning, in God’s discussion with Lot, and in the words of Jesus. Today’s Psalm is full of statements about God’s love and forgiveness for us. David sings, “You, Lord, are forgiving and good, abounding in love to all who call to you.” And he says further, “Great is your love toward me.” From an earlier time period, Lot bargains with God. And in his bargaining, God says that if only 10 righteous people are in Sodom, He will not destroy the city. And then there are those comforting words of Jesus in John 3,”God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through Him.”
Jesus came into our world for the sake of saving the whole human race. Swedenborg tells us that one of Jesus’ earliest perceptions was the state of humanity then. We are told that Jesus saw that the world was filled with self-love and that it was in grievous need of salvation. In fact, we are told that Jesus was horrified at the state of humanity then. But at the same time, Jesus had a perception that by the union of His humanity with the Divinity of His soul, He would be able to save the human race and establish a new church.
Jesus’ life on earth was one of total love for the whole human race. And so great was His love, that He wanted to save a fallen humanity. Salvation means giving all the Divine happiness and joy that God has to us. Salvation means lifting us all up into heaven, which is the same thing as saying, lifting us into God’s own sphere of love and happiness. Salvation of humanity, and giving us the joys of heaven to eternity was God’s greatest wish. Swedenborg tells us,
With the Lord, when He was in the world, there was no other life than the life of love towards the entire human race, which He burned with a desire to save to eternity. That is the very celestial life, by which He united Himself to the Divine, and the Divine to Himself–for Being itself, or Jehovah, is nothing else than Mercy, which is of love to the whole human race–and that life was of pure love . . . (AC 2253).
And the salvation of the whole human race continues to be God’s greatest wish. His unbounded love for us wills to bring us into union with Himself, and to fill us with the love and joy of His Holy Spirit.
The Lord wills the salvation of all, and therefore the salvation of all is His end . . . His coming, redemption, and the passion of the cross, were for the sake of the salvation of men . . . the salvation of men was and forever is His end (TCR 142).
When I was meditating on these passages, I began to see God in a different way. I thought about God’s will to save us. And I saw God as a Being who was asking me into His life. I saw God as a Being who wanted me as His friend. I don’t think that this is overly humanizing God. Remember that God is a Human Being. God is The Divine Human Being, with all the emotions that make us human. Swedenborg suggests that this is God’s nature. He says,
The Lord, from the Divine love or mercy, wishes to have all near to Himself; and so that they should not stand at the doors, that is, in the first heaven; but He wishes them to be in the third; and, if it were possible, not only with Himself, but in Himself. Such is the Divine love, or the Lord’s love (AC 1799).
This is a very different God from the one some think of. I hear again and again about people being turned off by organized religion because they have been taught that God punishes and casts into hell. But God can do none of these things. God is all love and can only wish to befriend us all. He can only do good to us, and strive with all His wisdom and power to bring us into a love relationship with Himself.
But salvation is only possible if we respond to God’s love. Like all lovers, God can’t force Himself on us. If God could force His will on us, everyone would be in heaven. I thought about our capacity to sin. My thinking about sin changed, also. I saw sin as turning our back on God. As sad lovers can tell, love can be rejected. Free will gives us the ability to spurn God, and to turn away from love. I began to think of sin as spurning God’s love. I saw it as letting God down. That passage from Luke came to mind where Jesus weeps over Jerusalem. It is one of those few passages that really show Jesus’ human side. The passage is as follows,
O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing! (Luke 13:34)
The truth is that God does long to gather us under His Divine wing, as a mother hen does her chicks. This may be the passage that the great German poet Schiller had in mind in his Ode to Joy. “All men become brothers wherever your gentle wing is.” Beethoven set this beautiful poem to music in his great ninth symphony. And when the poem gets to that line from Schiller, all the instruments drop off and in lovely four part acappella harmony, the voices all mix and mingle in the most beautiful and plaintive melodies that rise and fall in almost a plea, or prayer, for all humanity to be brothers under God’s gentle wing.
I think seeing God this way, and seeing sin this way are more positive ways of viewing both. God is supreme heavenly love that wishes to draw all to Himself, and sin is turning our backs on God. This gives us a much more positive way of viewing our role in spiritual life. Our role is simply to turn toward God’s love. Our role is to open up a channel in our hearts for God. Our role is to think of God’s love and orient our life toward it. Someone once told me that we give power to whatever we think of. He said it’s like this. What happens if I tell you, “Whatever you do, don’t think about a pink elephant.” What will be the one image that then enters our minds? Of course it will be that pink elephant! When we think of God’s love, and of His ardent desire to give us His love and joy, and when we think of our role as turning toward this love, what, then, will fill our minds? Won’t it be that very Divine Love and that God who wants to gather us under His wings as a mother hen?
This is not to say we can ignore character defects. When they appear, we need to see them, acknowledge them, and turn away from them. They do fulfill a use in our spiritual life. They remind us that we always need God in our life to fill our souls with His Holy Spirit.
That brings us back to God. All the good we have in our lives, all the love that we share with others, all the blessings and peace that we feel are from God. They are God’s gift to us, because He loves us. They are God’s gifts to us because God wants to give everyone all that He has. And since God is all good, and all loving, goodness and love are what he ceaselessly gives us. It is God’s greatest wish that we but receive them.
Your smallest free-will offering would be greatly appreciated for this important work. Cheques may be made out to The Edmonton New Church Society, and mailed to:
Church of the Holy City, 9119-128A Avenue, Edmonton, AB T5E 0J6
The Tie that Binds
Rev. Dr. David J. Fekete
July 10, 2011
Joshua 24:14-27 John 19:25-27 Psalm 26
Today I would like to reflect on the use of the church congregation in spiritual life. I believe that the church community, the congregation plays a vital role in our faith journey. So I chose Bible passages that relate to the formation of a congregation.
In our reading from Joshua, Joshua calls together all the tribes of Israel and challenges them. He tells them all the wondrous things that God has done for them. Then he asks them if they want to follow Yahweh or the other gods from Mesopotamia or Egypt. They all agree to follow Yahweh. This is one example of what a congregation is. It is a coming together of people all in the name of God. God formed the center of the life of Israel. It is their relationship with God that served as the binding force for their whole society. And this is what a congregation is. We all come here to this church in God’s name, to worship and connect with God together.
In our New Testament reading we have a slightly different approach to forming a congregation. Jesus is on the cross, and gathered at His feet are His mother, His mother’s sister, Mary, the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. Also there is the disciple whom Jesus loved, which I take to be John. Jesus tells His mother that John is now her son. And He tells John that now Mary is his mother. This points to a relationship among Jesus’ followers. He is forming a bond of family between Mary and John. This is another way to view the congregation. It is a bond of love among the members and friends of the church. As Mary and John now become family, a church congregation is in many ways a family relationship among all the congregants.
So we could say that a congregation is a kind of sacred family. We are family in the good will we share for each other when we come together, and in the mutual support we give to one another. And we are a sacred family because we come together in the name of God.
I think that there is a power that grows when we come together to worship. Each of us alone can indeed approach God, but it just doesn’t feel the same as when we come together as a congregation. I think that there is a kind of resonance that occurs when we all come together in a group to focus on God. Somehow, all of our holy feelings reinforce each other and the whole church becomes filled with God’s presence and a deep feeling of love comes over the collective body. I suggest that this experience can aid us in our regeneration.
It is difficult to put into words what I’m talking about. But I have a couple metaphors that will help us to reflect on the uses that a congregation fulfils in our regeneration. One of these metaphors was in Rev. Gabriella Cahaley’s ordination speech at Convention this year. She is a life guard and told us about a life-saving technique. The technique she told us about was the human chain. When someone is floundering in deep water, a life-guard won’t go out alone to rescue the victim. Instead, they form a human chain. Someone stands in shallow water, and others join hands in a chain that reaches out to the floundering victim. It is dangerous for a person to go out all alone to rescue a victim. It is safe to rescue the individual by forming a human chains of hands all joined together.
I like this metaphor for the way a congregation works. We are religious because we are all in need of God’s salvation. And a church congregation is just that chain of hands that join together to bring God’s salvation to us all. In AA, we all join hands at the end of the meeting. The leader then says, “Hold onto the hand next to you, it may be the hand that saves your life.” Without the mutual support we give each other in the AA program, the power of alcohol would be too great for us to overcome alone. Likewise, without the mutual support that we give to one another as we worship and share our lives together, the temptations of the world may be too great for us to withstand all alone. Without the mutual support we find in a congregation, where would we be? Would we find that feeling of love, peace, and God’s presence so powerfully all alone? Members of this church have told me that when they have been forced to be away from the church, their spiritual life suffers. And when they come back, they feel so much stronger and more spiritually fit. How much do all those things that make up a congregation mean to us! A smile, the socializing at coffee hour, the knowledge that people are ready to help us when we are in need, the listening when we are in distress. A congregation is a vital life-line in God’s work of salvation in this world.
Another metaphor that comes to mind is a story I remember from my childhood. A father was on his death-bed and called his children together. He was concerned that the family would fall apart after his demise so he gave them a lesson to remember. He told one of his children to go out and gather a bunch of sticks. The child brought the sticks to him. He then told his children to break the sticks one at a time. This was easily done and soon the room was full of broken sticks. Then he told his child to bring in another bunch of sticks. This time he told him to tie the sticks all together in a bundle. “Try to break the sticks, now,” he said. His children took the bundle across their knees, stomped on them, hit them on the wall but they were unable to break the sticks when they were all bundled together.
We are all here for the same purpose. We are here to worship God and share fellowship in Christ’s name. Together, we reinforce each other’s faith. Together we are like the sticks tied in a bundle. With mutual support for one another, our journey to God will be greatly facilitated.
I would now like to do something that I haven’t done here yet. I would like to lead the church in a guided meditation.
I ask you to close your eyes.
Now imagine Christ standing in the center of the altar with His arms reaching out. Think about Christ’s qualities–His forgiveness, His unfailing love for the whole human race, and for each of you individually.
Now think of Christ surrounded by a dazzling golden light.
Now think of that golden light flowing out from the Christ and filling the whole church.
Now think of the positive feeling that you feel for this church. You may wish to remember specific good moments that you have experienced in this church. Now call to mind the love that you feel for this church, the love that makes you come back week after week.
Now while you are feeling that love for this church, think of the people you know in it, one by one, and hold them in that feeling of love you have for this church.
Then think of yourself as one person in the whole congregation.
Now think of where we are in the order of service today and open your eyes.
When Swedenborg talks about heaven, he compares it to a human body. He talks about angels of the heart, of the lungs, of the brain, and of other organs. Everyone in heaven is unique and each individual angel has a unique gift to bring to the whole of heaven. And so it is with the church. We are all individuals. Some of us are very different from others. And yet each of us has a special gift we bring to the church that no one else can bring. And our very diversity perfects this congregation.
This church is a vital and living organism. And each and every one of you have your own contribution to bring to the church body. Let us celebrate our walk together in this congregation.
Free will offerings of $5-$20 are gratefully appreciated and will contribute to the vitality and operation of this ministry. Cheques may be made out to The Edmonton New Church Society, and mailed to:
Church of the Holy City
Edmonton, AB T5E 0J6