Archive for April, 2012

So God and Man Is One Christ
Rev. Dr. David J. Fekete
April 29, 2012

Isaiah 53 John 10:11-18 Psalm 23

Last Sunday we speculated on how Jesus was conceived. This speculation involved a discussion of the relationship between the soul and the body. As controversial as it may be, I favored Swedenborg’s theory that the soul comes from the father and the body from the mother. He speaks to this point in several places in his writings. In True Christian Religion, we find a clear statement of the relationship between soul, body, and parents,
The soul which is from the father is the person himself, and the body which is from the mother is not the person in itself, but is from him. The body is only a covering of the soul, composed of such things as are of the natural world; but the soul is of such things as are in the spiritual world. Every person, after death, lays down the natural which he had from the mother, and retains the spiritual which he had from the father, together with a kind of border (limbus) from the purest things of nature, around it . . . for in the seed from which everyone is conceived, there is a graft or offset of the father’s soul, in its fullness, within a certain envelope of elements of nature. By these its body is formed in the womb of the mother, which may grow into a likeness of the father, or into the likeness of the mother (TCR 103).
We also saw that with Jesus we do not have the usual relationship between father and son that ordinary humans have. By that I mean that with Jesus, we do not have sperm and egg uniting to form a new person. In ordinary human birth, father and son are two distinct persons. But when we think of Jesus’ birth, we do not think of two distinct persons, but one person with a divine soul and a human body.
The Athanasian Creed affirms this understanding of Jesus’ nature. There are parts to the Athanasian Creed that we reject, but I have edited them out and cited those passages that affirm the unity of God and Man in Jesus Christ:
For the right Faith is, that we believe and confess; that our Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, is God and Man; God, of the Essence of the Father . . . and Man, of the Essence of his Mother, born in the world. Perfect God; and perfect Man, of a reasonable soul and human flesh subsisting. Equal to the Father, as touching his Godhead . . . Who although he is God and Man; yet he is not two, but one Christ. . . . One altogether; not by confusion of Essence; but by unity of Person. For as the reasonable soul and flesh is one man; so God and Man is one Christ . . . .
In Jesus, as the Athanasian Creed says, God and Man are one even as soul and flesh, or soul and body are one. God lives in Jesus as our soul lives in our body. We have Jesus’ testimony to this in John 14. There, Jesus says to Philip,
Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words I say to you I do not speak on my own authority; but the Father who dwells within me does His works, Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me (10-11).
So when Jesus uses the language of Father and Son it does not mean Father and Son the way ordinary humans use the words. For us it is two different beings. For Jesus, it is a matter of inner and outer; of higher and lower; of internal and external; of essence and manifestation. When Jesus said that God is His Father, the Jews understood this to mean that He is One with the Father, not a different person from the Father. John tells us that calling God His Father made the Jews so angry that they plotted to kill Jesus. And they were angry because calling God His Father made Jesus equal with God. At least that is what John tells us,
This is why the Jews sought all the more to kill him, because he . . . called God his own Father, making Himself equal with God (5:18).
So when Jesus uses language of Father and Son, it is to be understood as a figure of speech meaning identity. That is, when Jesus calls God His Father, it is a figure of speech that means He is from God and He is God.
That is how we understand the divine aspect of Jesus. But there is also the human aspect to consider. Jesus received a humanity from His human mother, Mary. And Jesus made His humanity divine by a process similar to the way our souls are regenerated. I have talked in other sermons about the three “R’s”–repentance, reformation, and regeneration. This isn’t the place to review what the three “R’s” mean. Suffice it to say that we need to turn toward God of our own free will and to ask God into our lives. Jesus needed to do the same thing. The human Jesus needed to turn toward His origins and ask God into His life. So the Human approached God and God approached the Human.
We need to keep in mind how thoroughly human Jesus was. His human consciousness needed to prepare a place for God in Himself, just as we need to prepare a place for God in our souls. So in Jesus, the Human turned to God in the same way that we need to turn to God. God and Human could unite in Jesus only because Jesus asked God into His life and prepared the way for a full union of Human and Divine. So Jesus experienced two different states of consciousness. In one state He was fully Human and asked God into His life. In the other state God filled Jesus’ Humanity with Divine Power and God and Man were closely united. Christians have talked about these two states of consciousness in Jesus. Or at least Christians at the time of Swedenborg spoke of these two states. Swedenborg tells us,
That the Lord, while He was in the world, was in two states, which are called states of exinanition and of glorification, is known in the church; the former state . . . was the state of humiliation before the Father, for in it He prays to the Father and says that He does His will, and ascribes to the Father all that He has done or said. . . . Moreover, without this state He could not have been crucified (TCR 104).
Alternating between these two states, Jesus brought His Humanity to God and God came to dwell in Jesus’ Humanity. This is like our own process of regeneration. For us, we need to open our hearts to receive God’s love and wisdom. Then we need to bring that love and wisdom into our outer life. Our process is an alternation between inner and outer even as Jesus’ process was an alternation between God and Human.
The reason that the Lord had these two states of exinanition and glorification, was, that there is no other possible way of progressing to union, since it is according to the Divine order, which is unchangeable. The Divine order is, that man should dispose himself for the reception of God, and prepare himself as a receptacle and habitation into which God may enter and dwell as in His temple. . . . According to this order every person proceeds and must proceed, that from being natural he may become spiritual. In like manner the Lord, that He might make His natural human Divine . . . In like manner the Lord united Himself to His Father, and the Father united Himself to Him; in a word, the Lord glorified His Human, that is made it Divine, in the same manner in which He regenerates a person, that is, makes him spiritual (TCR 105).
This state of exinanition is when Jesus’ divinity is as if withdrawn. That is the time when Jesus’ Human nature seeks God. Even so, as we are regenerated, we need to freely seek God and make our lives a fit place in which God can live. Recall what God says in Revelation 3:20, “Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me.” Those simple words tell the whole story, “I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me.” The process is mutual–we come to God and God comes to us. There needs to be effort on our part, in order to complete the cycle. God comes to us only when we come to God. We need to push proprium out to the periphery of our consciousness and allow God’s Holy Spirit to fill our souls in its place. We need to transform proprium with good emotions called remains. So Jesus’ too, needed to expel the maternal humanity He received from Mary and put on the Divine Humanity in its place. This is why Jesus talks to God as to another sometimes. There were times in His life when He was in the humanity from His mother and that very humanity needed to turn to God just as we, too, need to turn to God.
There is one difference, though. Jesus’ soul was God. Our soul is the mortal and finite soul we receive from our parents. God’s Holy Spirit can enter our lives and transform us. But it can never make us one with God. Jesus was different. Since His soul was God, when Jesus’ Humanity was completely mature spiritually God was in His Human fully and completely. So it can hardly be put more clearly and more succinctly than those ancient words of the Athanasian Creed, “So God and Man is one Christ.”

PRAYER

Dear Lord, we are beset at times with a flood of worldly concerns. We can lose our trust in your divine guidance and we can become fretful and discontent with life. Help us to hold fast to confidence that no worldly concern is overwhelming, and that you are with us always and will lead us ever upward to you. Help us to see that inner good that lies within each of us as a gracious gift from you. Give us the confidence to let that innate goodness shine in all our affairs. let our lives bear witness to the truth that we are Christians and that we are yours.

Lord, we ask for your peace to descend upon this troubled world. Where there is conflict and war, let there be understanding and peace. Inspire our leaders, and the leaders of other nations to govern their people with compassion and with your Holy Love. Where there is famine and thirst send your generosity. Where there are natural disasters, may help come from good neighbors and from compassionate governments. Where there is want and unemployment, lend your patience and hope.

Dear Lord, we ask you to send your healing love to all suffering in body or soul. Lord, be with all who are in need of your healing presence and power.

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To Understand the Scriptures
Rev. Dr. David J. Fekete
April 22, 2012

Isaiah 41:14-20 Luke 24:36-53 Psalm 4

Luke says something that is very important for our denomination and the teachings we believe. And we find it said twice in Luke. In our reading this morning, Jesus says, “These are my words which I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the law and the prophets and the psalms must be fulfilled” (Luke 24:44). Then Luke says those all important words, as he explains what Jesus means. Luke writes, “Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures” (24:45). So Luke tells us that Jesus opened the minds of his disciples to understand the scriptures. This means that what is written in the law and the prophets and the psalms are about Jesus. By the law and the prophets and the psalms, Luke means the whole Bible. So in other words, the whole Bible is about Jesus. Earlier, Luke tells us the same thing in the story of the disciples on the road to Emmaus. In that story, Luke tells us, “And beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the scriptures concerning himself” (24:27). Luke doesn’t say that Jesus opened their minds to only those scriptures that concern Jesus. He says that every scripture is about Jesus (en pasais tais graphais ta peri eautou).
I say that these verses are important for our denomination because we believe that there is an internal level to all the scriptures. As Luke says, we believe that all the scriptures treat the Lord, who He is, and His development on earth. This is the highest level of the internal meaning of scriptures. We also believe that the scriptures treat the course of the church’s progress through the ages. This level of scriptures begins with the earliest humans and progresses to the present day. This is the next level of inner meaning to the scriptures. Finally, the scriptures treat the processes of spiritual growth and development that we as individuals go through. This is the lowest level of inner meaning. So there are three levels of inner meaning to the scriptures. The highest treats the Lord. The second describes the church. And the third treats the individual. Luke tells us only about the highest level. That is, Luke tells us that all the scriptures concern the Lord.
Our church is not alone in claiming that there are deeper levels to the scriptures. Philo of Alexandria in the first century BC explained the Old Testament by means of a symbolic system. (From comparisons with Swedenborg, I believe that Swedenborg not only read Philo, but was influenced by him.) Then in the second century AD, the church Father Origen described an internal sense of scriptures by interpreting them symbolically also. Then in the fourth century, Augustine and Gregory of Nyssa came up with symbolic systems of Bible interpretation. In fact, Augustine wrote a book that tells us when and how to interpret the Bible symbolically, and when to take it on face value.
When Swedenborg talks about the highest level of inner meaning, he describes mostly the process by which Jesus united His Human Nature with His Divine Origins. On Easter we celebrate the final union of God and Man when Jesus rises from the grave and is one with the Father. This miracle of God and Man becoming one is celebrated in all the resurrection stories. And it is in our Luke story. Jesus appears to the disciples apparently out of thin air. Startled, the disciples think they are seeing a ghost. But Jesus reassures them. He shows them that He is still the material, physical Jesus they knew before the crucifixion. He says, “See my hands and feet; for a ghost has not flesh and bones as you see that I have.” To further prove His humanity, Jesus eats a broiled fish. But it is also clear that Jesus is more than just flesh and bones. He appears before the disciples from nowhere. He is both spirit and flesh even as He is both God and Man.
Isaiah prophesied Jesus’ coming. In our reading this morning, Isaiah talks about a time when God will come to humanity and bless us with miraculous gifts. For the poor and needy who seek water, God will “open rivers on the bare heights,” He will “make the wilderness a pool of water, and the dry land springs of water” (Isaiah 41:18). When the poor and needy seek God, “the Lord will answer them.” He promises, “I the God of Israel will not forsake them” (17).
If all the prophets are about Jesus, as Luke says, then this passage from Isaiah is about Jesus, too. I think that it does sound like Jesus’ ministry. He cared about the poor and needy. He answered those who sought Him, nor did He forsake them. And when Isaiah speaks about God giving water to those who are parched with thirst, the Gospel of John speaks about Jesus telling the woman of Samaria that He will give her living water. By Looking at Isaiah in this way, it does appear that he is talking about Jesus.
There is one problem, though. Isaiah is talking about Jehovah God doing these things. If Jehovah God is supposed to be doing these things, but we see Jesus doing them we have a contradiction. But this is only a contradiction is Jesus and Jehovah God are two different deities. This contradiction is resolved if Jehovah God is Jesus are the same Being. This contradiction is resolved if Jesus is Jehovah God in the flesh.
This brings up the issue of the Trinity. For throughout the New Testament, we hear about God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. This makes God sound like three persons. But Deuteronomy 6:5 says what we all intuitively know, “The Lord our God, the Lord is One.” There is only one God. To reconcile these two ideas, the Nicene Creed speaks of a trinity of persons who have one essence. This means that there are three persons but one essence. Some may profess to understand how three persons can have one essence. I cannot.
This Sunday I will begin a discussion on the unity of God and the Biblical language that suggests the trinity. I have mentioned these concepts in other sermons, but I haven’t given them the thorough discussion they require. In the next few sermons, I hope to clarify this profound and difficult problem. I hope I won’t only make it all murkier.
In the New Testament, we hear Jesus Himself addressing the Father as if the Father were a different person. In beginning our discussion on the trinity, it makes sense to start at the beginning. That is, with the birth of Jesus. For with birth we have the primary relationship between Father and Son.
I am going to speculate a great deal in considering the birth of Jesus. For we don’t have theology to tell us exactly what happened. Nor do we have science to tell us, either. Since we believe that Jehovah God was Jesus’ soul, we need to begin by considering the relationship between soul and body. Swedenborg tells us that our soul comes the father and our body from the mother. Today, science tells us that our bodily traits come from both parents. But science doesn’t tell us anything about the soul. I think that Swedenborg’s system is plausible as we know that it is the father’s sperm that swims up the birth canal to the egg. We know also that the life process starts to happen when the sperm pierces the egg’s membrane and the two DNA strands of father and mother unite. This looks as if the sperm has life in it.
Now back to the issue of the soul. Swedenborg claims that the sperm has the soul in it. And the sperm comes from the father. But clearly, the soul in the sperm is not the same as the father’s soul. The son or daughter’s soul is different from the father’s soul. When children become adults, father and son are two different adult persons who have their own individual souls. Son and daughter grow up to become different persons from their father. In the case of us humans, father and son are indeed two separate persons. My father is not me and I am not my father.
Things are very different when we speculate about the relationship between Father and Son in the case of Jesus. Science can tell us nothing about how Mary’s egg became fertilized. All we know are the enigmatic words of Luke:
The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy, the Son of God (1:35).
I take this to mean that God gave life to Mary’s egg by uniting His own soul with Mary’s finite egg. In this way of thinking, there was no sperm and egg. There was God’s power uniting directly with Mary’s egg, giving it life. Somehow, God caused Mary’s DNA to live and to produce a baby. So the soul of Jesus was the power of God, or Life Itself, or God Himself.
So when we talk about the relationship of Father and Son in the case of Jesus, we are always dealing with a metaphor. Everyone has a father and mother. In the case of Jesus we know that His mother was Mary. That’s simple enough. The other parent is God, who in ordinary language would be the Father. But Father in the case of Jesus is very different from human fathers and sons. Our soul is different from our father’s. So in our case, father and son are two persons. But Jesus’ soul is His Father. Father and Son are not two different persons. Jesus’ Human body came from Mary. But His soul was God Himself. Father and Son are one Person, one Essence, one Body.
So when Jesus talks about His Father, He is always using figurative language. God is a sort of Father in that He is the origin of Jesus’ life. But the connection between soul and body in Jesus is an intimate union of God and human. God is only Father sort of, not as our fathers are. His relationship to His Father is not the same as humanity’s relationship to our fathers. He did have a humanity as we do, but His soul was divine. I don’t know exactly how God caused Mary’s DNA to live and conceive a child. I don’t know if we ever can. But we do know that a Divine Human was born 2,000 years ago. We do know that that child grew up as humans grow up. We do know that that child served in a ministry to all Palestine. We do know that that child died on the cross. But we also know that that child rose from the grave as no ordinary human can. With the resurrection, God and Man were fully united. And in that One Holy Person, matter and spirit are united in the Divine Humanity of the risen and Glorified Jesus Christ.
This is a difficult doctrine to accept. Indeed, Jesus said, “Blessed is he who is not scandalized by me” (Matthew 11:6). And Paul says,
the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. . . . For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom (1 Corinthians 1:18, 25).
A Divine Human is hard even for ministers in this denomination to accept. But as the Doobie Brothers, a great rock band from the 70′s say, “I don’t care what they may say; I don’t care what they may do; I don’t care what they may say, Jesus is just alright with me, O yeah.” And on a more sublime note, there is a beautiful 14th century hymn that Mozart set to music that seems to sum up all I’ve been talking about,
Ave verum corpus, natum de Maria virgine
Hail true body, born of Virgin Mary
All this speculation I have done about the biology of the incarnation may indeed be foolishness. But I wanted to establish some kind of groundwork to talk about Jesus’ language in the Gospels, when He addresses God as if another person. And I wanted to provide some speculation on how to preserve the unity of God to contrast the doctrine of the trinity. If I have failed to convince, or if my speculation seems forced, is it really any weirder than the doctrine that says there are three persons with one essence?

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Apr 15th, 2012

The Beginning of Wisdom
Rev. Dr. David J. Fekete
April 15, 2012`

Isaiah 54:9-14 John 20:19-31 Psalm 111

Today I would like to reflect on this connection between belief in God and the peace that is associated with it. When Jesus appears to His disciples after the resurrection, He says, “Peace be with you.” And next, as if He were filling their souls with that very peace, Jesus breathes on them and says, “Receive the Holy Spirit.” For it is when we accept Jesus into our hearts, and when His Holy Spirit fills our souls, it is then that we find peace.
Likewise, we find similar statements about peace in our reading from Isaiah. There it is said that God’s love for Israel will not be shaken nor His covenant of peace be removed. We find here that God’s love is associated with peace. And in following verses we read, “Great will be your children’s peace. In righteousness you will be established” (54:13, 14). Here we find a connection between righteousness and peace.
Finally, in our reading from Psalm 111 this morning we find the well-known words, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.” God’s works are said to be just and his precepts are said to be upright. So fear of the Lord leads us into wisdom and God’s justice and uprightness. When the Bible talks about fearing God, I don’t take it to mean being afraid of God. I think of fear of the Lord as more akin to awe, or respect, or reverence. I think that to fear God is to respect His ordinances and to follow them. The Psalmist connects fear of God with following His precepts. He writes, ” The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom;
all who follow his precepts have good understanding.”
But God’s peace, His uprightness, and His justice all hinge on the question of belief. In our New Testament reading we see some familiar reactions to the question of belief. We find the disciples overjoyed when they see the resurrected Jesus Christ. Then we have Thomas who wants to be convinced by means of his senses that Jesus has risen. Thomas represents those who refuse to believe in God until it can be proven. We confront these issues every day in the world today.
Swedenborg talks about two principles we can apply when we approach the problem of belief. There is the affirmative principle and there is the negative principle. The affirmative principle is to begin with the assumption that spirituality is true and that spiritual life is real. From a positive belief in religion, one then investigates science, or philosophy, or we look at our experiences, or any other system of knowledge to find support for religion. The negative principle is to doubt spirituality until one finds proof of it in science, or philosophy, or other systems of knowing. This is the way Thomas was. He wanted to see the nail holes and touch them. Thomas wouldn’t believe until he saw and touched, or until his senses were convinced. About these two approaches to spirituality, Swedenborg writes,
There are therefore two principles; one of which leads to all folly and insanity, and the other to all intelligence and wisdom. The former principle is to deny all things, or to say in the heart that
we cannot believe them until we are convinced by what we can apprehend, or perceive by the senses; this is the principle that leads to all folly and insanity, and 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 within ourselves that they are true because the Lord has said them: this is the principle that leads to all intelligence and wisdom, and is to be called the affirmative principle (AC 2568).
The consequences of these two approaches are either to strengthen faith by confirming spiritual truths with facts, knowledges, or experiences, or to deny faith because the proof one was looking for wasn’t found. So Swedenborg tells us,
The more they who think from the negative principle consult rational things, the more they consult systems of knowing, and the more they consult philosophical things, the more they cast and precipitate themselves into darkness, until at last they deny all things (AC 2568).
But with those who believe first, faith becomes more solid when it is supported by reasons and facts. For those who believe first and then look for proof, faith is strengthened.
to regard rational things from the doctrine of faith is first to believe in the Word, or in the doctrine therefrom, and then to confirm the same by rational things. [This] is genuine order, and causes the man to believe the better. . . . they who think from an affirmative principle can confirm themselves by whatever things rational, by whatever systems of knowledge, and whatever things philosophic they have at command; for all these are to them things confirmatory, and give them a fuller idea of the matter (AC 2568).
In our reading from John, it is when Jesus appears to His disciples that He gives them the Holy Spirit, and with it the blessing of peace. For it is only when we have Jesus in our hearts, or whatever God you worship, only then will we know what spiritual peace means.
The Psalmist says that the fear of God is the beginning of wisdom. I take this to mean that reverence for God is the start of spiritual growth. Or belief in God is the beginning of wisdom. There is so much that follows belief. It is belief in God that leads us to live a Godly life. It is belief in God that leads us to learn what is good and what is bad. Then belief in God leads us to strive to follow God’s precepts or to walk in the ways of Jesus. After we believe in God, we begin the process of repentance, reformation, and regeneration. Belief in God is just the beginning. It is far from the end or goal of spirituality.
I was asked by the editor of the Paulhaven Journal to write an article on, “How can our faith help us to create heaven here on earth?” And to respond, I thought about a seminar I attended at the Interfaith Centre. The question there was whether religion is a positive force or a negative force in society. Rabbi David Kunin brought up and interesting point. He told about asking an atheist friend whether this friend felt called to love and help everybody, or just his family and friends. The atheist said that he felt no obligation to help anyone but his friends and family. Without a love for God and our neighbor, why would we do good to anyone but those who benefitted us? How often do we hear, “What’s in it for me?” Or, “What will I get out of it?” These are not religious questions. These are questions we are likely to hear in this self-oriented society we live in. But in order for earth to be heaven, we need to extend our love to everybody. We need to be good to everybody we see. We need to try to make everybody as happy as we can. We need to see that everybody–not just our friends and family–is just like us and wants to be happy. We need to care about others even if there isn’t something in it for us. We need to good to others, even if no one knows about it. This, only religion teaches.
And there is one truth that stands out from this approach to living. Loving God and others makes us feel good. Expressing love to others gives us the peace that Jesus breathed on His disciples. Peace isn’t just relaxation. Peace is an active feeling of joy when we are doing what is good. And in order to find this joy, we need to know what is good. When I gave a talk about spirituality at a university in the US, many of the students and some of the faculty said that children have an inborn sense or right and wrong, and don’t need to learn it from religion. I’m not sure that is true. And even if it were true, do children have the sense that self-sacrifice is a virtue? Do children have an inborn feeling of generosity and do they naturally share their toys with their little playmates? Does anyone have an inborn sense that forgiving our enemies rather than retaliating is a virtue? Does humanity in general have the sense that trying to make as many people happy as we can in our lives and through our work, that this is a virtue. Do people today have the inborn sense that there is a God and we are not the centre of the universe?
I think not. I think we need to learn these things. I think that heaven can only be created by heavenly principles. Imagine a world in which everybody wants to make everyone else happy. Imagine a world in which everybody tries to understand each other, and tries to give each other what each one needs for their own welfare. Imagine a world in which everybody cares about everyone else. Wouldn’t living there be heaven? Wouldn’t it be wonderful to live there? Wouldn’t you want to live there? This is a very basic image of how Swedenborg describes heaven. This world would have that peace of Jesus in it and we would have that peace living in such a world.
But it seems to me that such a world depends on religious principles. Such a world depends on the uprightness that God’s precepts lead to. Such a world depends on the fear of God, which is the beginning of such a world. Such a world depends on the acknowledgment of God who alone can fill us with His Holy Spirit and the joy and peace that follow from our receiving it.

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Our Blood, Commingling, Virginal, With Heaven
Rev,. Dr. David J. Fekete
April 8, 2012
Easter Sunday

Matthew 28:1-20 Psalm 136

In our reading from Matthew this morning, Jesus tells his disciples, “Surely I will be with you always, to the very end of the age.” This is the promise of the incarnation. This is the promise of the story that begins with Christmas, when the Light came into the world, through the story’s climax on Easter, when God and Man became fully one. It is the incarnation of God in the form of Jesus Christ that brings God to us mortals here on earth and in the spiritual world when we cross over. The incarnation which climaxes in Christ’s resurrection, makes God a power that we can understand. It makes God a person with whom we can communicate in a love relationship. And it gives God the power to reach us whatever state we are in through His own very Humanity.
I would like to expound these points by reflecting on a poem by Wallace Stevens. It is a poem all about religion, and has references to God’s incarnation, to Jerusalem, and to heaven. One stanza in particular contrasts Christianity with the Roman view of gods. It compares Jove, the Roman king of the gods, with Jesus. Wallace Stevens is difficult to understand, but I think if we let his words wash over us, and if we just let the images arise in our minds, we will get at his meaning. The passage goes as follows:
Jove in the clouds had his inhuman birth.
No mother suckled him, no sweet land gave
Large-mannered motions to his mythy mind.
He moved among us, as a muttering king,
Magnificent, would move among his hinds,
Until our blood, commingling, virginal,
With heaven, brought such requital to desire
The very hinds discerned it, in a star. (Sunday Morning, Stanza III)
The Roman god Jove lived high on a mountain top, up in the clouds. He presided over the affairs of humanity according to his divine whims. We had essentially no free will according to the Roman world view. Fate determined our whole existence. The course of our lives was woven out in a thread at the time of our birth. When Jove wanted us to do something, we had no power to resist his divine will. He was a god in the heavens, we were humans on earth and there was no bridge between us. So Wallace Stevens says,
Jove in the clouds had his inhuman birth.
No mother suckled him, no sweet land gave
Large-mannered motions to his mythy mind.
There are myths about Jove coming down to earth. And when he does so, he interacts with humanity however he pleases, without regard to our consent. So Stevens, again,
He moved among us, as a muttering king,
Magnificent, would move among his hinds.
These lines conclude Stevens’ reflection on the Roman god Jove. The stanza then moves on to a reflection about Jesus. In the lines about Jesus, we see a different God entirely. Jesus is a God whose very blood commingled with our own, when He was born a baby by Virgin Mary. About Jesus, Stevens says,
Until our blood, commingling, virginal,
With heaven, brought such requital to desire
The very hinds discerned it, in a star.
The star Stevens mentions is, of course, the star that the wise men followed, that came to rest above Baby Jesus. And I think that Stevens captures the idea of incarnation beautifully. Our blood commingled with heaven in the form of Jesus Christ. While no mother suckled Jove in the clouds, Stevens implies just how human Jesus was by suggesting that the infant was suckled by His very human mother.
Jesus’ humanity gives us several gifts. First, through His own Humanity, God can come to us through Himself. Jesus has a Human form that partakes of the very matter that He created. Before the incarnation, God came to humanity through inspiration from the heavens. With the resurrection, God comes to us through His own Human Form. You could say that God comes to us Human to human. Jesus went through every developmental stage that we go through. Jesus learned truths as we do; Jesus formed a rational mind that made decisions for Him; Jesus lived an adult life of service. This means that wherever we are on our own developmental path, Jesus was there and can come to us through His own Humanity. This gives Jesus total power to cut through any infernal blockage we might be experiencing and to bring us His infinite goodness. This, Jesus does through the power of His resurrected Humanity.
Another gift that Jesus’ humanity gives us is a way for us to understand and relate to God. We can understand a God in Human Form. We have stories about Jesus’ life on earth. We have stories about God in the flesh that give us an understanding of what God is like and how God acts. Jesus is a God we can understand. Jesus is a God we can relate to. We can love a human being. This is what Jesus gives us. We know that God is infinite. But our minds are now and always will be finite. Our minds can never understand infinity. In fact, when we try to comprehend how vast the universe is–and even in its vastness it still is finite–we have difficulty grasping its dimensions. How much more difficult would it be to comprehend God’s infinity! If God were only infinite, there would be no way for us to grasp God’s nature. There would be no way for us to relate to infinity. The infinite God would be forever beyond our finite grasp. But we can understand and relate to God’s Divine Humanity. The Infinite God is within Jesus as our soul is in our body. And we come to that infinity through Jesus. That is why Jesus says, “No one comes to the Father but through me” (John 14:6). It is through Jesus, that we come to the infinite God. It is through the humanity of Jesus, that we can approach God’s infinity. It is Jesus’ Divine Humanity that we can relate to and form relationship with.
Finally, Jesus as God on earth shows us the ways of God. In the Old Testament we have prescriptions and directions about how to live. With the New Testament we see these prescriptions acted out. With the stories about Jesus, we can see how God would act and react to various situations. We can thus understand how we are to act in those same situations. And we can figure out how to act in other situations by considering those stories. I once asked a friend of mine what I should do in a certain situation I was perplexed by. His response illustrates perfectly what I am talking about. He asked simply, “What would Jesus do?” We know enough about Jesus’ life that I think we can answer that question in most of the situations we go through. Our footsteps can walk the same path that Jesus walked. We can follow Jesus and live a life in accordance with His own Divine life. That would be our goal, anyway. We can embody the love, the patience, the forgiveness, and the compassion that Jesus showed while He was on the earth. The Human God Jesus showed us the way for us humans to approach godliness in our own lives.
Jesus said, “Surely I will be with you always, to the very end of the age.” He will be with us as a presence in His Divine Humanity. He will be with us in our hearts as we form a loving relationship with this God-Man. And He will be with us in our own lives as we embody the things He stood for, the things He lived for. God came to earth on Christmas. He lived the life an ordinary human would, but with this difference: Jesus completely united this Humanity with His own Divine soul. While we weren’t on the earth when His own feet walked the dust of Palestine, Jesus still walks beside us on the streets of Edmonton as the risen and glorified Divine Human.

PRAYER

Lord Jesus Christ, we give you thanks that you have taken to yourself your great power and that you reign. You have conquered death in your resurrection and shown us the glorious gift of eternal life in you. We pray that you be with us always, as you have promised that you will be. Give us open hearts so that we may receive the inflowing love from your Divine Humanity. Be with us as we walk this path here on earth, and be with us as we make ready our souls for our eternal life in heaven with you. Enlighten our pathway so that we may follow in your footsteps. For you came to earth to bring us back home to you; you came to earth to show us the ways of God; you came to earth, lived, died, and were reborn in order that we may be one with you and you one with us. Praise be to you!

Lord, we ask for your peace to descend upon this troubled world. Where there is conflict and war, let there be understanding and peace. Inspire our leaders, and the leaders of other nations to govern their people with compassion and with your Holy Love. Where there is famine and thirst send your generosity. Where there are natural disasters, may help come from good neighbors and from compassionate governments. Where there is want and unemployment, lend your patience and hope.

Dear Lord, we ask you to send your healing love to all suffering in body or soul. Lord, be with all who are in need of your healing presence and power.

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And He Surrendered Jesus to Their Will
Rev. Dr. David J. Fekete’
April 6, 2012

Luke 23: 1-49 Psalm 22

On Good Friday we see Jesus especially in His humanity. He works no miracles. He teaches no multitudes. And He submits to the ultimate human experience of death.
Nevertheless, our reading from Luke shows Jesus as a truly Godly Man. He endures a terrible fate with calmness, patience, and compassion. He shows us how God on earth acts toward the human race that He loves. And He shows how humanity can act when our best nature is called forth.
Swedenborg tells us that the crucifixion was the final and worst of Jesus` temptations. Jesus went through grievous temptations throughout His life. But in the crucifixion Jesus` deepest love was assailed as was the most basic human drive for life.
Let`s see if we can imagine the crucifixion might have meant for Jesus. Of course we cannot enter the Divine Mind and plumb its depths. We do not have a mind that in any way can compare to His. But I still think there is value in speculating about some of what the crucifixion may have meant for Jesus. Jesus is the Divine Human, and He has a Human Nature as we do.
To begin with, we need to say something about temptations. Temptations are struggles in which our loves come under attack. One form of temptation is when God helps us to deny a profane pleasure. In this form of temptation, our profane love and delight comes under attack. We seek to flee from these unhealthy drives and rep-lace them with healthy, holy loves. Another form of temptation is when heavenly loves and delights are polluted by profane passions that evil spirits inspire into us. We feel horrified at these feelings and fear that our heavenly loves are being overwhelmed. This form of temptation has the benefit of strengthening our hold on heavenly loves, as we fight to keep them in our hearts.
I think that when Jesus was on the cross, His deepest love was threatened by the human race and by the hells. Jesus` deepest love is for the whole human race. He came to the earth in order to save us. He came to earth to teach us the ways of God, and the heavenly life. He came to earth to call us home. Yet one of Jesus` earliest perceptions was about how depraved the human race had become. He saw that humanity was consumed with destructive self-interest and that humanity had ceased to regard each other with love and care. A history book about some of the things that happened in the Roman Empire will give us some indication of just how horrible humanity was capable of being. When Jesus looked at the human race, and saw its character, He was horrified. Swedenborg tells us,
the thought . . . concerning the human race, that this was their quality, struck horror; for the Lord’s love toward the human race was so great that He wished to save them all to eternity, by the union of His Human Essence with the Divine, and of the Divine with the Human (AC 2222).
How did we appear to Jesus as He endured that horrible death–a death that was commonplace in the Roman Empire? Earlier in Jesus’ ministry, it may have looked like humanity had a chance. Multitudes were moved by Jesus’ presence and His teachings–from as far north as Phoenicia all the way south to Jerusalem. In fact, that was one of the very charges that the chief priests brought against Jesus. They told Pilate, “He stirs up the people all over Judea by His teaching. He started in Galilee and has come all the way here” (Luke 23:5). Now these very multitudes had turned against Jesus and were calling for His death. Luke tells us that the chief priests and teachers of the law were the primary orchestrators of Jesus’ death. But Mark makes it a mob scene. Pilate releases Barabbas in order, “to satisfy the crowd” (Mark 15:15).
I can imagine the humanity of Jesus looking at the violent crowd and wondering if they would accept His teachings, turn, and be saved. It sure didn’t look like it at the time of the crucifixion. Jesus’ only thought was for the salvation of humanity. Even as He endured the cross, He said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” Enduring the insults, the mockery, the trumped-up charges against Him; watching humanity go amok with the frenzy of blood; Jesus forgave, and saw that they didn’t know what they were doing.
Let’s shift gears a little, now. Let’s see Jesus as a mere man–not as the Son of God. With Good Friday, we emphasize the crucifixion and death of Jesus: things that happened to many human beings during the Roman Empire. And we, too, will face death in our given time. Let us, then, for a minute, look at Jesus’ humanity and his death. What quality of a man would, could, go through all that Jesus did, and forgive the mob scene that led to His terrible death? Can you imagine any mere man forgiving his murderers, forgiving the church orthodoxy that brought him to Pilate on trumped-up charges? Can you imagine any mere man bearing this tragic reversal in fortune with the calmness and acceptance that we see in Jesus of Nazareth? Such a man is hard to imagine and is worthy of our utmost respect, admiration, and emulation.
To me, the way Jesus died is almost proof enough that He is indeed God in the flesh. In Mark, the Roman centurion who witnesses the way Jesus died, exclaims, “Surely this man was the Son of God” (Mark 15:39). To endure all that Jesus did with a compassionate heart; to forgive in the face of humanity at its worst; to submit to death without a struggle or fight–these are the qualities of God. This is the love of God. This is the example we all are called to follow. In all our small or large difficulties in this life, compassion and forgiveness are the qualities God wants us to embody. Love for our enemies, doing good to those who persecute us, forgiving those who oppose us–these are the lessons of the crucifixion. And with the crucifixion, we see that even in death, Jesus had a final lesson yet to teach the human race He so loves.

PRAYER

Dear Lord Jesus, we love you and you are our God. But we sometimes fall short in our devotion to you. And we fall short in our dealings with each other. Too often we think of ourselves first, and forget about those around us and how we treat them. We come to you conscious of our own failings and shortcomings. Yet we know that you came to bring a fallen humanity back to you. And we know that today you are still with the human race, that you are still with each of us, calling us home to you and to your kingdom. Enlighten our minds and soften our hearts so that we may respond better to our loved ones and our neighbors. Fill our hearts with devotion to you. And may we never forget that we are your children, and that you, our Father, wish nothing more than to live eternally together with us in heavenly joy.

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Apr 1st, 2012

The Apocalyptic Kingdom
Rev. Dr. David J. Fekete
April 1, 2012

Zechariah 9:9-17 Mark 11:1-11 Psalm 118

Our Bible readings this morning deal with the subject of apocalypticism. This big word refers to a vision of the world that comes in the late prophets. Much of the apocalyptic writings are vast and sometimes terrifying visions. One large group of apocalyptic writings is the whole book of Revelation. The visions in Revelation are all apocalyptic. Apocalyptic writings speak of a whole new world order. They see the world as absolutely devastated of justice and God’s peace. They envision a time when God Himself will come into the world and set things right. Much apocalyptic writing refers to a grand cosmic battle between God’s angels of light and the angels of darkness. We find such an apocalyptic vision in our reading from Zechariah 9 this morning minus the angels of darkness and light. We first hear about God coming and destroying the world:
Then Yahweh will appear over them
and His arrow go forth like lightning;
The Lord God will sound the trumpet,
and march forth in the whirlwinds of the south.
The Lord of hosts will protect them,
and they shall devour and tread down the sling stones;
and they shall drink their blood like wine,
and be full like a bowl,
drenched like the corners of the altar (Zechariah 9:14-15).
Then God ushers in a time of peace,
On that day the Lord their God will save them
for they are the flock of his people;
for like the jewels of a crown
they shall shine on his land.
Yes, how good and how fair it shall be!
Grain shall make the young men flourish,
and new wine the maidens (16-17).
The apocalyptic time in Zechariah is associated with the coming of the Messiah, as are many prophesies about the end of days. And the prophesy about the Messiah is how the Jews interpreted Jesus’ triumphant arrival in Jerusalem. So the Gospel writers reference Zechariah 9 when they describe the Palm Sunday arrival of Jesus in Jerusalem. Zechariah reads,
Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion!
Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem!
Lo, your king comes to you;
triumphant and victorious is he,
Humble and riding on an ass,
on the colt the foal of an ass (9:9).
According to Zechariah, when the Messiah comes, he will rule over the whole world, bringing peace, “from sea to sea, and from the River to the ends of the earth” (9:10).
Apocalyptic prophesies like this appear in several places in the Old Testament. They are in Isaiah, Ezekiel, Daniel, Zephaniah, and other books. We find them also in the Dead Sea Scrolls. One notable text is called The Scroll of the War Rule. In it, we find expectations of a cosmic battle between the sons of light and the sons of darkness.
These apocalyptic expectations were very much in the air at the time of Jesus. In fact, the Essenes, a monastic group of Jesus’ time, were waiting for this battle in war readiness so that they could fight alongside the sons of light. And these apocalyptic expectations were all bound up in Jesus’ ministry. Jesus Himself talked much about the nearness of the kingdom, and of the coming of the kingdom. Jesus’ triumphant ride into Jerusalem was seen as the arrival of the very Messiah of the prophesies. That is why the Gospels reference the passage from Zechariah that we heard this morning,
Lo, your king comes to you;
triumphant and victorious is he,
Humble and riding on an ass,
on the colt the foal of an ass (9:9).
And because of the way that the Jews understood the apocalyptic prophesies, they did not understand how Jesus could have died. Even if He did rise from the grave on Easter. Last Sunday we heard Jesus predict His death. He compared His death and resurrection to a grain of wheat falling to the ground. But John tells us that the Jews questioned Jesus about this. They asked,
We have heard from the law that the Christ [Messiah] remains forever. How can you say that the Son of Man must be lifted up?” (John 12:33).
The crucifixion of Jesus was a crushing blow to those who were hoping for the final days and a restored earth.
The Jews of Jesus’ time were not alone in their belief that the final battle and the coming of the kingdom would happen physically on the earth. Paul thought that these events would happen very soon–probably in his own lifetime. Therefore he urges people not to make any major changes in their life. In 1 Corinthians 7, Paul advises the churches,
Everyone should remain in the state in which he was called . . . Because of the present crisis, I think that it is good for you to remain as you are. . . . What I mean, brothers, is that the time is short. . . . For this world is passing away (1 Cor. 7:20, 26, 29, 31).
And at the end of the book of Revelation, Jesus says, “Surely I am coming soon” (22:20). And an even more mystifying statement is in Luke 21, “Truly, I say to you, this generation will not pass away till all has taken place” (21:32).
So here we are 2,000 years later and the great cosmic battle hasn’t come. A look around us will tell us that God hasn’t set the world right. What are we to say? How do we reconcile these prophesies?
There are people today who, as did those in Jesus’ day, are still waiting for the end times. It is my belief that the end days will not come in the form of a great cosmic upheaval in the physical world. I read these prophesies in the light of Luke 17:20-21. There, Jesus says,
The kingdom of God is not coming with signs to be observed; nor will they say, “Lo, here it is!” or “There!” for behold, the kingdom of God is within you.
The battle of darkness against light happens inside our souls. The coming of God, with God’s reign of peace happens in our souls. The world to be restored is the inner world of our hearts and minds which need to be reformed and regenerated.
When we go through difficulties and trials; when we go through soul shaking temptations, when we are confronted with hardships that threaten to overwhelm us; when these inner battles take place in our souls, we welcome with great rejoicing and cheer the coming of Jesus into our lives and the peace He brings. We are going to have difficulties in this world. Jesus tells us that we will:
“In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world” (John 16:33). The mountains of our self-interest will be shaken and toppled. Earthquakes will shake our complacency. And our understanding of reality will be darkened as we are brought from false views of the world into more enlightened views of it and our place in it.
When we read the prophesies about the end times, how can we understand them except as archetypical symbols of the great tribulations of our souls. Consider the following passage from Matthew 24:
The sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken; then will appear the sign of the Son of Man in heaven, and then all the tribes of the earth mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with great power and glory (24:29-30).
It seems to me that if we read these symbols as referring to physical events, we rob them of their spirituality. Does not the sun and moon darkening mean more than an eclipse? And when the stars fall from heaven, where will they go? We now know that the stars are spread through the whole universe and are not pinpoints of light above the earth. And what is meant by the power of the heavens shaken? The sky can’t shake. That line has to mean something inside us, even as heaven and hell reside within the human consciousness.
After these trials and psychic calamities, we will see the risen and glorified Christ appear to us. Jesus will shine through the broken up shards of our worldliness and proprium. This is a time after temptation, when we are receptive to Christ’s peace. We will gratefully welcome the appearance of our Savior and God and let Him into our hearts and minds. As did the joyful residents of Jerusalem, when Jesus comes to us we will welcome Him with song and rejoicing. And we will sing with the Psalmist,
Blessed is he who comes in the name of the LORD. . . .
The LORD is God,
and he has made his light shine on us.
With boughs in hand, join in the festal procession
up to the horns of the altar.
You are my God, and I will praise you;
you are my God, and I will exalt you.
Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good;
his love endures forever (Psalm 118).

PRAYER

Lord we ask for your love and mercy to descend upon all sorts and conditions of humanity. May the whole human race welcome you into their hearts, as the joyful residents of Jerusalem did in ages past. May we face the tribulations of this life with patience and courage. May we see your face shine through all sorts of adversities and may we be filled with your peace as we pass through the difficulties that will come to us in this fallen world. Lord, send us your love and peace and make us willing to receive the spiritual gifts you would freely give us.

Lord, we ask for your peace to descend upon this troubled world. Where there is conflict and war, let there be understanding and peace. Inspire our leaders, and the leaders of other nations to govern their people with compassion and with your Holy Love. Where there is famine and thirst send your generosity. Where there are natural disasters, may help come from good neighbors and from compassionate governments. Where there is want and unemployment, lend your patience and hope.

Lord, send your healing love to all those suffering in body and soul. We ask you to give the gift of health to all in need.

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