Archive for February, 2013

Feb 24th, 2013

Grace and Human Effort
Rev. Dr. David J. Fekete
February 24, 2013

Genesis 17:1-7, 15-16 Mark 9:2-9 Psalm 22

In our Bible readings we have examples of God appearing to humanity. In our Genesis reading, El Shaddai appears before Abram. And in our New Testament reading, Jesus manifests His divine origins. His clothes become dazzling white, and Elijah and Moses appear and talk with Jesus. These two Old Testament characters represent the law and the prophets–Elijah as one of the greatest prophets and Moses as the giver of the law. As if this weren’t enough, a cloud envelops them and a voice thunders from the cloud, “This is my Son, whom I love. Listen to him!” Whatever doubts Peter and James may have had about Jesus’ divinity, after this, I imagine that they were convinced that He is God incarnate.
If we take the Old Testament story literally, we come away with some worldly ideas about God’s relationship with humanity. One thing that we might take from this passage, is that God chose the children of Israel to be some special race. This would mean that modern day Jews are somehow special to God, more special than other races on the earth. And you will find that some evangelistic churches, who take the Bible literally, pay attention to the state of Israel. They do indeed think that what happens to the Jews is a measure of how close the end times are. If this be the case, it is hard to see any relevance to our own spiritual lives in the story of Abraham.
However, if we see the Bible as holy and as a story of God’s relationship to all of humanity, we would look at the story of Abraham differently. We would see it as a symbol of God’s relationship with all of humanity. We would see the dynamics of God and Abraham as dynamics that apply to all of us. We would see the relationship of God and Abraham as archetypical of humanity’s relationship with God. This is how I will be approaching the story this morning.
In this morning’s story, God appears to Abraham out of nowhere. All we are told is that, “When Abram was ninety-nine years old, the Lord appeared to him.” God then tells Abram that his descendants will be numerous and great; indeed that kings will come from his lineage. All this is unmerited. That is, Abram has done nothing to deserve all this. It is simply God’s will to bestow on Abram all these benefits. And to have children and descendants after one was the greatest benefit that could be bestowed on a person in Old testament society.
To be given great progeny is symbolic of the way God gives spiritual life to humanity. God takes us where we are, removes our evil tendencies and replaces them with loving and good enjoyments and delights. And God does this regardless of how bad off we may think we are, or how bad off we actually are. This is a story of God’s great mercy for all of humanity. This story symbolizes how God comes to everyone and gives all of humanity the gift of spiritual life. For God’s mercy is infinite. And God’s love is infinite.
Jehovah, or the Lord’s internal, was the very Celestial of Love, that is, Love itself, to which no other attributes are fitting than those of pure Love, thus of pure Mercy toward the whole human race; which is such that it wishes to save all and make them happy for ever, and to bestow on them all that it has; thus out of pure mercy to draw all who are willing to follow, to heaven, that is, to itself, by the strong force of love (AC 1735).
This is a lovely description of God’s nature. It talks about God’s great mercy for the whole of humanity.
Do we need God’s gift of spiritual life? When we look at ourselves, what do we see? Some people are hard on themselves and see themselves as all selfishness and ego. I have a friend who thinks that we need to be honest about who we are and be aware of our fallen nature. He cited that Psalm, “I am a worm and not a man,” to capture just how far from Godliness we are and how much we need God’s mercy and redemption. He used the Swedenborgian term proprium to say that he was utterly consumed with selfhood and in desperate need for God’s salvation. Then, on the opposite side of the issue, are those who are self-satisfied and completely comfortable in who they are. They do not need God, do not need spirituality, and are just fine, thank you. One of my professors in divinity school told us that a minister’s job is, “To comfort the afflicted and to afflict the comfortable.”
The truth is, we all do need God. We don’t need God because we are too weak. We don’t need God because we are unable to face hard facts of existence and need a crutch. We need God because God is the source of all spiritual life. Without God we are just animals. But with God, we are living beings whose soul and mind is in heaven–whether in this world or in our final home in the next. We need God in order to be filled with the heavenly loves and good enjoyments and delights that God alone can give us. The heavenly joys that Abraham’s children and descendents signify.
God is heaven–heaven is God. To the extent that God is in us, we can say that heaven is in us. This is where Swedenborg’s unique teaching about heaven comes in. Swedenborg claims that heaven is not a place. It is not a realm that has a wall around it. It is not a place one enters through a gate where Peter stands guard. For Swedenborg, heaven is a state of mind and heart. Heaven is a disposition. Heaven is a condition of psyche in which a person feels love and thinks truly.
One can only feel spiritual love and think spiritual truth from God. These divine qualities are offered to everyone. And whoever accepts these qualities, is in heaven. So Swedenborg writes,
it is the Divine proceeding from the Lord, which flows in with angels and is received by them, that makes heaven in general and in particular. The Divine proceeding from the Lord is the good of love and the truth of faith. In the degree, therefore, in which they receive good and truth from the Lord, they are angels and are in heaven (HH 7).
This passage makes clear how much we need God. We need God’s love in us and we need God’s truth in us for us to be “in” heaven. We need God in us in order for our spiritual descendents to multiply.
Now we confront a paradox in Swedenborg. We need God’s love and wisdom in us to be whole spiritual beings. We have seen above that God wants to give everybody all that God has, and God wants to make everybody as happy as we can be. Then comes the tricky line. It is from the passage I quoted a little bit back. We saw that “out of pure mercy” God wishes “to draw all who are willing to follow, to heaven, that is, to itself.” God draws everybody to Himself, regardless of where the individual is or thinks that he or she is. But we have to be willing to follow.
In the Abraham story, God tells Abraham all the things that He is going to do for Abraham. Abraham gets all these things as a free gift. Passages like this make some churches think that humans can play no part in our own salvation. They are suspicious of all human effort in our own salvation. They support this belief with Isaiah 64:6, “all our righteous acts are like filthy rags.” And also by quotes from Paul, such as Ephesians 2:8-9,
For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith–and this not from yourselves, it is a gift of God–not by works , so that no one can boast.
This teaching is a cornerstone of many Protestant churches.
But with Swedenborg, as in so many other issues, it’s not a matter of either-or. It is so often a matter of both-and. So it is with the issue of salvation. Indeed it is all God’s work. But consider that one line, “all who are willing to follow.” God draws everyone to Himself and into joy, love, and peace. But we have to do the things we need to do to be filled with God’s Holy Spirit. We have to ask God into our lives. And we have to remove the obstacles to God’s inflowing Spirit. The way it is put in Revelation is that God knocks at the door; we have to open the door. Then God will come in and eat supper with us.
Gregory of Nyssa, the great Catholic Father, compared this to climbing Mount Sinai. At the top is the glory of the Lord. We see this, and we know where to head. But we are doing the climbing. Perhaps this story is too works oriented. Perhaps this story looks like we are doing too much work to get to God. Maybe we should use an image from a trip Carol and I took to Jasper. There are mountains in Jasper, too. We went up to the top of one. But we didn’t climb. We entered a cable car and were lifted up to the mountain top effortlessly. But we did have to enter the cable car!

PRAYER

Lord, you call to us every moment of every day. You call us home to you and to your kingdom. You lift us upward into heaven’s joys and delights sometimes without our even knowing it. Help us to hear your voice calling. Help us to listen for your voice. Help us to follow in the way you wish for us to walk. We pray for the power to turn toward you and away from selfish gain and dominance. Grant us the willingness to do your will, and not the will of our own ego-driven tendencies. Lead us, Lord, in the paths of righteousness. And bring us home finally to live with you for eternity.

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Feb 17th, 2013

An Everlasting Covenant
Rev. Dr. David J. Fekete
February 17, 2013

Genesis 9:8-17 Mark 1:9-15 Psalm 25

We have talked about repentance and the process of regeneration over the past few weeks. This morning’s Bible readings are about the fruits of repentance, which is conjunction with the Lord. Conjunction with the Lord is what regeneration is all about, and it is also called the Heavenly Marriage. This is symbolized by the covenant God makes with Noah.
That this symbolizes the presence of the Lord in charity, may be evident from the significance of a covenant, as shown above, where it was shown that a covenant signifies regeneration, and indeed the conjunction of the Lord with the regenerate person by love; and that the heavenly marriage is that covenant itself, and this the heavenly marriage with every regenerate person (AC 1023).
There is a process Swedenborg describes that leads to this final stage. Although we speak about a final stage, we do not mean that there is no further development. As God is infinite, and we are finite, there will never be an endpoint where we have reached complete union with God. We will approach God near and nearer, we will grow wiser and wiser, we will grow deeper and deeper in love for God and the neighbor, but there will never be an end to our spiritual progress.
But there is a final point we can come to in the process of repentance and rebirth. When we talk of repentance, we are at the threshold of spiritual progress. We are beginning to see evil in ourselves and we are beginning to long for a better, healthier life. Then comes the formation of conscience. We are not born with any innate knowledge as babies. Everything has to be learned. This includes spiritual truths. We form a conscience through learning truth in church, in readings, through conversations, through intuition, through experience, through trial and error, and through a host of other means. So the early stages of our spiritual development is the formation of conscience–a learning of right and wrong.
Since this all happens in our mind, we say that this stage of our reformation happens in the understanding. This understanding is above our natural, behaviors that we were born into. it is a higher mind. It leads us from the world into heaven.
The second stage is when our emotions become aligned with our conscience. This stage begins when we want to live according to the way we have learned. It is entirely possible for us to know what is right and still live contrary to it. But as we progress spiritually, we want to live according to the right and good way we have learned. This desire to live according to conscience is a new will–it is a new emotional complex. It is a heavenly love for with is right and good.
This is when conflict arises between the way we have been living and the way we now know to be spiritually beneficial. Paul describes this conflict beautifully,
I do not understand what I do. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate to do. . . . For what I do is not the good I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to do–this is what I keep on doing (Romans 7:12, 15, 18-19).
This struggle can be dire. These can be a desperate times. Our evils, or unhealthy ways of living, can so cloud over our spirituality that we can even doubt God’s power or even God’s very existence,
So long as temptation continues, a person supposes the Lord to be absent . . . and to such a degree as sometimes to be reduced to such despair that one can scarce believe there is any God. Yet the Lord is then more intimately present than one can ever believe. When, however, temptation ceases, then one receives consolation, and then first believes the Lord to be present (AC 840).
What is happening in these times is a separation of our outer person from our inner person. When we are immersed in our evils, we see them and struggle against them. It is our inner person, it is our conscience, that sees the nature of our evils. Having seen them, and having resisted them, they are separated from us and cast to the outside of our consciousness. Our inner person more and more rules in our consciousness. And our behavior, or our external person, follows the right way of living that our conscience has learned.
When humanity’s will became wholly corrupt the Lord separated the proprium of his understanding from the corrupt proprium of his will, and in the proprium of his understanding formed a new will, which is conscience, and implanted charity in the conscience, and innocence in the charity, and thus conjoined Himself with humanity, or, what is the same, made a covenant with him. So far as the proprium of the will of a person can be separated from this proprium of the understanding, the Lord can be present with him, or conjoin Himself, or enter into a covenant with him. Temptations and such like means of regeneration cause the proprium of the will of a person to be quiescent, to become as nothing, and as it were to die (AC 1023).
When we delight in acting as we have learned from conscience, we are said to be reborn. This is the heavenly marriage that I began this talk with. Before this state of mind, we acted from the understanding. We acted from truth and from spiritual knowledge. We used self-discipline to render ourselves compliant with what we know to be right and good.
Now a great change takes place in our condition. Now we act according to what we love. Now we act no longer from truth–we act from desire. Our desires have been rendered compliant with teachings about righteousness. We no longer need to be prompted by our understanding. We now love what is good and we act from that love. Our emotions are now heavenly in nature; we are filled with God’s love, and we can act freely according to what we want to do. This is because all we want to do is heavenly.
This is called a final stage because we stay in this condition. We learn and grow, but we do so from our loves. When we hear a truth, we test it by what we love. And since we are in heavenly loves and affections, our emotions tell us if what we hear is true or not.
This is where Ralph Waldo Emerson took exception to Swedenborg. Emerson, a philosopher, didn’t understand Swedenborg’s own attack on intellect. Emerson held up Swedenborg as the Representative Man of mysticism, but still criticized his subordination of intellect to emotion. Emerson called it, “the profanation of thinking to what is good” (p. 16). Emerson’s criticism is strong. He says that Swedenborg, “falls into jealousy of his intellect . . . makes war on his mind, takes the part of conscience against it, and on all occasions, traduces and blasphemes it” (p. 16).
And yet Jesus reminds us that it is from the mouths of babes and sucklings that true praise comes–not from philosophers. And, further, it is not the intelligent but the pure in heart that will see God. We can all look forward to that day when our heart will lead our footsteps. We can look forward to the day when inner conflict will cease. We can look forward to the day when the rainbow is the symbol and sign that the spiritual marriage of God with us is a living reality.

PRAYER

Lord, we give you thanks this morning. For although we may stray from your ways, you never cease to call us back; your mercy is eternal, and you never cease to lead us back toward you and your kingdom. You have established your covenant with the human race, and our relationship is as a marriage. You are our head and husband and all of humanity is bound to you in love as a bride. We look forward to the day when we will follow our hearts freely and act spontaneously in all good and loving ways. We look forward to the day when struggle will cease, and our affections will be firmly fixed in the ways of heaven. We look forward to the day when we will dwell in your kingdom forever.

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Feb 10th, 2013

The Little Toil of Love
Rev. Dr. David J. Fekete
February 10, 2013

2 Kings 5:1-14 Mark 1:40-45 Psalm 30

My sermon title this morning is taken from a poem by Emily Dickenson. It is a poem about humility and love. It is a short and a simple poem, but rich and deep in what it says,
I had no time to hate, because
The grave would hinder me,
And life was not so ample I
Could finish enmity.

Nor had I time to love, but since
Some industry must be,
The little toil of love, I thought,
Was large enough for me.
Emily Dickenson is telling us that if we hate, there will be no end of it–”life was not so ample I/Could finish enmity.” There wasn’t enough time to love, either. But a person has to do something, so she finds that, “The little toil of love, I thought,/Was large enough for me.” And it is that little toil of love that I wish to speak about this morning.
There was as time when I wanted the great things in life. I wanted them for myself. I wanted to be like Beethoven or Bach and do some great work that the world would take notice of. I had a friend a while back, who wanted to dedicate his life to the Peace Corps, and go to Africa to help build wells and feed the starving. I know of those who revere Sister Theresa and her dedication to the suffering. But God doesn’t seem to have called me to any of these deeds of greatness. While we all have our ideas of what we would like to do or be, ultimately God will decide what is best for us–and for the world.
I came to these reflections by pondering the amusing story of Naaman in our Old Testament reading this morning. This is a story of great expectations, too. Namaan is a mighty commander of an army, but has leprosy. He goes to Israel to be cured by the prophet Elisha. Namaan makes a grand display of his appearance at Elisha’s house. He comes with his horses and chariots and stops at Elisha’s door. Elisha doesn’t even meet Naaman face to face; he sends his messenger to Namaan, telling him to bathe in the Jordan seven times and his leprosy will be cured. At this Naaman is enraged. He leaves saying,
I thought surely he would come out to me and stand and call on the name of the Lord his God, wave his hand over the spot and cure me of my leprosy.
Naman wanted a General’s honor and thought that he had been slighted by Elisha. Then he looks upon the Jordan River with contempt compared with the rivers in his own Damascus,
Are not Abana and Pharpar, the rivers of Damascus, better than any of the waters of Israel? Couldn’t I wash in them and be cleansed?
He leaves the home of Elisha in a rage. His pride has been wounded. He expected a grander reception and a grander display of God’s power.
But Naaman’s servants ask him to reconsider, and they make a persuasive argument. They say,
If the prophet had told you to do some great thing, would you not have done it? How much more, then, when he tells you, “Wash and be cleansed!”
Naaman does so and his leprosy is cured. This is a conversion experience for Naaman. He tells Elisha that he now knows there is no other God in the world besides Yahweh and he will worship Him for the rest of his life.
God may be asking us only to do Emily Dickenson’s “little toil of love.” He may not be calling us to some great thing, but only to some small way of showing someone else care and love. Naaman wanted some grand spectacle to show God’s reality. Instead, he was given a small task that demonstrated God’s great care for him when he was healed. God may ask only a similar small task from us. And there may be powerful results in our life from it. I confided to one of our ministers my desire to be another Beethoven, and he told me,
Those are great men. Their lives have transformed the world. For most of us, we do our part by the lives we come in contact with. The little ways we affect the people in our lives. That is how we do our part.
It was Rev. Paul Zacharias who told me that, and I didn’t like it then. I understand those words now. I think he was saying that “the little toil of love . . . was large enough for me.”
I think about a visit I made to the lake home of Andrew Glover last summer. Every now and then I ask him to give me a lesson on jazz theory. That day we were at the piano for a good two hours. Then Andrew said, “Do you want to take a break and go on a bike ride?” He had a spare bike for me and we were off. We pedaled through the forest to the lake and talked to some fishermen. Then we pedaled into town. Now all the while, Andrew was stopping every time he saw an empty bottle or can and collected them in a bag he had on his bike. He even dove into some dumpsters looking for bottles. On one occasion he looked at me and laughed, and said, “I’m not crazy, these bottles really add up.” We got back to the house and did some more music. Then Andrew invited me to stay and have some shake-and-bake chicken. I did and it was delicious.
Now I tell this story to illustrate a point. I found the bike ride and eating shake-and-bake chicken just as meaningful as I did the jazz theory lesson. And I feel that Andrew, himself, did also. This was an exchange of friendship in the middle of an essentially professional relationship. We didn’t have to go on that bike ride, or eat together. But it made for a most pleasant visit. Was that not just what Emily Dickenson was talking about? Was that not a “little toil of love?”
It’s times like this that are just as important for our lives as the great deeds of culture’s giants. We may not be destined for immortality, but we are no less valuable for it. I know of people who have survived near death experiences. Some have even seen the bright light and come back. Some of them ask me what they have been brought back for. I feel that they are thinking of some great thing they have been saved for. Of course I do not know. But it may be that they have more growth to do. And it may be that there are countless lives they are meant to touch with their own special way of showing love.
This, then, calls our attention to the other people in our lives. It calls our attention to the gifts we are graced with each day by a generous God. In our New Testament story we have another healing from leprosy. Jesus tells the man to go to a priest and offer the sacrifice according to the law of Moses. This is to be not only a thank-offering, but a testimony to the priests. It is a formal way of giving thanks to God and a way of telling the priests about Jesus. Jesus does not want the man to tell the populous about his healing, but the man does so anyway. So great is his gratitude that he cannot keep quiet about it. This story reminds me to be thankful for all the grace God has put in my life. How easy it is to want those great things for ourselves and forget what is right in front of us.
In closing, I would like to suggest a kind of prayer. I would suggest that at the end of every day, we look back on the day and count the blessings that have come our way. The good people we see daily. The kind word. A phone call from a friend or family member. The opportunities we have been given to share God’s love with others. For it was Rabbi David Kunin who taught me to thank God for opportunities to do good. Some of you may already be doing something like this. What I’m suggesting is to look for “the little toil of love,” in our lives.

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Feb 3rd, 2013

That Is Why I Have Come
Rev. Dr. David J. Fekete
February 3, 2012

Isaiah 40:18-31 Mark 1: 29-39 Psalm 147

This morning’s Bible passages are cosmic and at the same time personal. In our selection from Psalm 147, God determines the number of stars, calls the stars by name, and brings clouds and rain to the earth. These powers put God above the heavens in a cosmic context. But in the same Psalm, this cosmic God, who determines the number of stars and calls each one by name, this cosmic God cares for each single, humble person. This cosmic God heals those who are weak and brokenhearted, and He takes delight in those who place their hopes in His unfailing love:
The LORD sustains the humble . . . He heals the brokenhearted
and binds up their wounds. . . .
the LORD delights in those . . . who put their hope in his unfailing love.
We have a similar passage in Isaiah 40. In this passage, as in Psalm 147, God is a cosmic God who also cares for the weak and humble of the human race. Isaiah 40 is even grander in the way it depicts God. Isaiah says that God, “Sits enthroned above the circle of the earth.” This is the God who created everything, “The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth.” As in Psalm 147, Isaiah says that God, “brings out the starry host one by one, and calls them each by name.” This is a God who, “brings princes to naught and reduces the rulers of this world to nothing.” While God brings rulers to nothing, He cares for the humble. Isaiah also says that God, “Gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak.” This shows the typical Old Testament protection of the disenfranchised in society, but Isaiah 40 concludes with an inspiring passage addressed to all who have faith in God:
Even youths grow tired and weary,
and young men will stumble and fall;
but those who hope in the Lord
will renew their strength.
They will soar on wings like eagles;
they will run and not grow weary,
they will walk and not be faint (40:30-31).
This Isaiah passage is interesting for another reason that bears on our New Testament reading. In Isaiah 40 we find one of the many, many places in which God is called the Holy One. Isaiah 40:25 reads, “‘To whom will you compare me? Or who is my equal?’ says the Holy One.” In Mark, we are told that the evil spirits know who Jesus is. Last Sunday, we heard about the evil spirit who said, “I know who you are–the Holy One of God” (Mark 1:24). This statement tells us that Jesus is the Holy One in Isaiah, or Yahweh God.
When the evils spirit identifies Jesus as the Holy One, Jesus’ first response is to say, “Be quiet!” He doesn’t want His identity revealed. We find the same thing in this morning’s Mark reading. In Mark 1:34 we read,
Jesus healed many who had various diseases. He also drove out many demons, but he would not let the demons speak because they knew who he was.
I’m curious as to why Jesus would conceal His identity. I do have a few thoughts, though. I think it is for the same reason that God displays His glory and wonders every day–but only to those who have eyes for it. We see the sunrise, the sunset, and the starry heavens to which the Psalmist and Isaiah testify. We see these as free gifts from God. We are treated to these wonders daily, if we choose to look at them. Yet God does not sign these works of divine art as human artists do their paintings. In a beautiful sunrise, there is no signature that reads, “I, God, made this.” This is to preserve our freedom. God will not force Himself on us. God will not, cannot, compel anyone to believe or love. Think of someone you love. Can you force them to love you back? You can do things that make you attractive, you can entice someone to love you back, but we are powerless to actually make someone love us who doesn’t. It is the same with God. God wants a genuine love relationship with us. He entices us to return His infinite love by giving us sunsets each night, and then He brings out his stars. He touches our hearts in prayer, and when we do good to others. We can see God in His creation, and feel God and know He is there–but only if we begin by wanting God in our lives. We will never see God if we withhold our assent until God proves himself to us.
So Jesus didn’t want to force belief on people. He simply wanted to do good to the human race, and to demonstrate what Divine Love looks like. “That is why I have come,” Jesus says. And He travels throughout Israel healing, preaching, and driving out evil spirits. He showed that God cares about us, teaching us what is good, and taking away the things that hurt us. But Jesus didn’t seem to want people to get caught up in questions as to who He was. He continually dodged questions about whether He was the Messiah. He also dodged questions about whether He is God. On one occasion, He pointed the Jews to His actions, in order to answer their questions about who Jesus was.
Do you say of Him, whom the Father has sanctified and sent into the world, “You blaspheme;” because I said, “I am the Son of God?” Do not believe me unless I do what my Father does. But if I do it, even though you do not believe me, believe the works; that you may know, and believe, that the Father is in Me, and I in Him (John 10:36-38).
So Jesus doesn’t offer proof that He is the Son of God. He points His questioners to His works. It is as if Jesus says, “Look at what I’m doing. My actions speak for themselves.” And the works Jesus does are all dedicated to the human race whom He loves–teaching and healing.
We can take this story to a personal level. Jesus can heal our spirits the same way that He drove out evil spirits 2,000 years ago. By driving out evil spirits from our souls, Jesus can come into our hearts with love. For the Great Creator God, who formed the earth, spread out the sky, and brings the stars out at night one by one, has all power to save and infinite love for His creation.
Jehovah, or the Lord’s internal, was the very Celestial of Love, that is, Love itself, to which no other attributes are fitting than those of pure Love, thus of pure Mercy toward the whole human race; which is such that it wishes to save all and make them happy for ever, and to bestow on them all that it has; thus out of pure mercy to draw all who are willing to follow, to heaven, that is, to itself, by the strong force of love (AC 1735).
God has love and mercy to everyone. God is present with everyone. God dwells in the deepest recesses of everyone’s soul. We might call these deepest recesses our sub-conscious. We are not aware of this level of our personality.
Who we are is a matter of where our conscious mind is. It is what we consciously love and enjoy, and what we think about. And for us to feel happy, we need for God to enter the conscious level of our personality. When we feel heavenly loves; when we think true thoughts, and when we do good things, then we can say that our personality is Godly. Then we can say that we have an angelic personality. Then we can say that God’s Spirit lives in our hearts. Then we can say that we are heaven-bound.
These thoughts bring us to a final statement about the process of regeneration. We have looked at spiritual causes for the good and evil that we feel in our lives. I now need to finally talk about how we open up to allow God into our lives.
God is love itself. We are only vessels that can hold love. This means that in order for us to have God’s love in our hearts, we need to get rid of anything that would block God’s love. As I said before, God wants to enter into a relationship with every human being. He looks with care and mercy on the whole human race. “The mercy of the Lord is perpetual with every person, for the Lord wills to save all persons whomsoever” (AC 8307). But God cannot flow into us until we have removed evils from our lives.
this mercy cannon flow in until evils have been removed, for evils and falsities therefrom oppose and hinder. As soon however as evils are removed, mercy flows in, that is, good of mercy from the Lord, which good is charity and faith (AC 8309).
Swedenborg is quite optimistic about our power to resist evil. He says that God gives us all the power to do so,
That a person can abstain from evils, is because the Lord continually flows into the will of a person with that endeavor, and thus implants in his freedom [the power] to desist from evils, and also to apply himself to good (AC 8307).
How do we do this? Swedenborg gives us two formulas. The first formula is to, “examine one’s self, to know and acknowledge one’s sins, to make supplication to the Lord, and begin a new life” (TCR 535). We are told that this is “exceedingly difficult,” and Swedenborg gives us another way that he claims is easier is also given.
when one is considering evil with the mind, and is intending it, he should say to himself, “I am thinking of this and intending it; but because it is sin, I will not do it (TCR 535).
It was Socrates who said that the unexamined life is not worth living. I think that all great spiritual leaders call us to some sort of critique of our life.
Well, after Swedenborg talks about the work that goes into reformation, he seems to let us off the hook. In a magnanimous act of spiritual diplomacy, Swedenborg writes, “But still, all they who do good from religion avoid actual evils” (TCR 535).
This church puts a lot of emphasis on good works. We talk about resisting harmful and unhealthy drives and we talk about doing good and healthy things, for ourselves and for those around us. This is how we understand putting our hope in the Lord. And when God flows into our souls with His Divine Love, then our hearts feel the way Isaiah talks about it,
but those who hope in the Lord
will renew their strength.
They will soar on wings like eagles;
they will run and not grow weary,
they will walk and not be faint (40:30-31).

PRAYER

Lord, we think of you with wonder and awe. You have created the vast unfathomable universe, with its billions of galaxies and stars. And we think of you with wonder and awe when we contemplate the smallest things in life, the cells in our bodies, the molecules in the cells and the atoms in the molecules. You have created them and through perpetual creation, you keep alive all of the things that grow and walk the earth. We give you thanks, Lord, for your care for us. For even as you rule the universe, you care for each single humble human being. Your love goes out to everyone; you wish to bring everyone into relationship with you; and you never cease to lift us out of our worries and cares and into heaven’s peace.

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