Archive for January, 2014

Jesus Doesn’t Call Us on a Coffee Break
Rev. Dr. David J. Fekete
January 26, 2014

Isaiah 9:1-9 Matthew 4:12-23 Psalm 27

Jesus calls us ever upward into heaven’s light and warmth. And this call can come at any time. It can come when we are working; it can come when we are socializing; it can come when we are in difficult times; it can come when we are in the depths of despair. Jesus doesn’t wait until a convenient time to call us upward into heaven.
In our reading from Isaiah, the light of God’s presence comes when Israel is in darkness. This makes me think of the Christmas story, when Jesus is born in the darkest time of the year, in the darkest point of human history. But this imagery can also depict one aspect of our spiritual journey, and the circumstances when we hear Jesus call. In our spiritual journey, there can be times of dire distress. There can be times of darkness and despair. These are times when our complacency is shaken. These are times when our world is broken. These are times when the world isn’t acting the way we thought it should. These are times when we hit bottom.
It is often during these difficult times that we make the most spiritual progress. These soul-shattering times break up our ego and our worldly cravings. In Swedenborg, these experiences are called temptations.
When the truths of faith which a man believes in his heart, and according to which he loves to live, are assaulted, it is called spiritual temptation . . . Those assaults take place in various ways–by an influx into the thoughts and the will of scandals against good and truth . . . and at the same time by an apparent closing of the interiors of the mind, and consequently of communication with heaven, by which he is cut off from thinking from his own faith, and willing from his own love. . . . These temptations are very grievous when they are joined with pains induced upon the body; and still more so when those pains are of long continuance and of increasing severity, and when the Divine mercy is implored, and there is still no deliverance; hence results despair, which is the end (NJHD 196).
St. John of the Cross called this the “dark night of the soul.” And it finds voice in T.S. Eliot’s poem FOUR QUARTETS:
I said to my soul, be still, and let the dark come upon you
Which shall be the darkness of God. As, in a theatre,
The lights are extinguished, for the scene to be changed
With a hollow rumble of wings, with a movement of darkness on darkness,
And we know that the hills and the trees, the distant panorama
And the bold imposing facade are all being rolled away- . . .
I said to my soul, be still, and wait without hope
For hope would be hope for the wrong thing; wait without love,
For love would be love of the wrong thing; there is yet faith
But the faith and the love and the hope are all in the waiting.
Wait without thought, for you are not ready for thought:
So the darkness shall be the light, and the stillness the dancing. (East Coker, III)
Eliot’s image of the scene change in a theatre is appropriate for this idea. For there is a good that comes out of these times of darkness. Our self-will is broken, and we are more firmly grounded in our truths and love of good. So the panorama of our world does indeed change. Old, self and world oriented values are replaced with more internal, spiritual values.
They[temptations] conduce to the opening of the internal person . . . and also to the breaking up of the loves of self and the world, and to subduing the lusts which are from them. When these things have been accomplished there come to the person enlightenment and perception of what are truth and good, and what are falsity and evil. From this there come to him or her intelligence and wisdom, which afterward increase from day to day (NJHD 194).
Temptations rock our world. This reminds me of some song lyrics. One is by Lester Quitzau which goes like this:
There comes a time
When the clouds roll in
Let that pourin’ rain
Just wash my soul within (Let It Shine).
Then there is Heather Brooks,
Sometimes the tears are going to fall;
Sometimes the devil’s going to call . . .
Without those desperate hours
Would I ever turn to you
And realize my weakness
Fall into the well . . . (Sometimes).
Temptations change us and make us see things differently. And temptations actually change who we are. They make us more meek and mild, along with making us more wise and intelligent in spiritual matters.
Temptations remove what is of self-love and of contempt for others in comparison with self, consequently what is of self-glory, and also of hatred and revenge arising therefrom. When therefore the person is somewhat tempered and subdued by temptations, then [he or she] begins to become yielding to, and compliant with the life of the Lord’s love . . . He [or she] is afterward gifted with another personality, being made mild, humble, simple, and contrite in heart (AC 3318).
So Jesus calls us at times when we are in the depths of despair, in the dark night of the soul, when we have hit bottom.
But there are other times when Jesus calls us–not only when we are in the depths of despair. Consider the story from our New Testament reading. Simon Peter, Andrew, James, and John were all busy at their trade when Jesus called to them. Jesus can call to us when we are immersed in the things of this world. For instance, when we are at work, when we are in company with others, when we are at leisure–any time.
We have opportunities to do good at all times in our lives. That is what the call of Jesus means. It means being honest when we are with others. It means being caring when others are in need. It means being helpful in any capacity open to us. I, myself, had an opportunity to hear Jesus’ voice when I was working just a few days ago. I was in the office, working on this very sermon. As I was working, I noticed that outside there were car wheels spinning for quite some time. I knew that someone was stuck in the thawing ice on the roads. He had been spinning his wheels for a long time, so I realized that he wasn’t getting anywhere. I stopped what I was doing and went out to push him. As I was pushing, two other men came to help. And between the three of us, we still couldn’t get the man unstuck. So one of the men went to get his truck and he pulled the man out. I didn’t save the man single-handedly, but I did what I could and became a catalyst for the truck driver who actually saved the day.
We are called to good deeds in every aspect of our lives. Jesus doesn’t wait until we are on break. Jesus will call us into good deeds at any time. We don’t need to give up on life in the world to be holy. We don’t need to become monks. We don’t need to become evangelists. For every time we do good out of love for our neighbor, we are spreading the gospel message. They will know we are Christians by our love.

PRAYER

Lord, we know that you call to us in the midst of our busy lives. You call us upward into heaven’s glory at all times of our lives. May we be open to your call. May we be listening for your still, small voice. May we be open to your words for us. And may we do the things you call us to do. For we seek only for knowledge of your will for us and the power to carry that out. We know that you call to us in every aspect of our lives. Your voice is there in the midst of hard times and even despair. Your voice is there in our happy times and times of joy. You are with us always. Let us listen for your voice, and remain open to your presence.

And Lord, we pray for peace in this troubled world. May conflict be absorbed in your loving kindness. May warring factions see that they are like in their desires for love and the good things of this world.

And Lord, we pray that you heal those who are suffering with illness. Lord, send your healing love to all who are in need.

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It’s What’s Inside that Counts
Rev. Dr. David J. Fekete
January 19, 2014

1 Kings 21:1-16 Matthew 23:25-28 Psalm 31

The ninth and tenth commandment are all the Ten Commandments in summary form. The ninth and tenth commandments prohibit coveting. The commandments are divided this way. The ninth commandment says, “You shall not covet your neighbor’s house.” By your neighbor’s house is meant everything in your neighbor’s house. That means his house itself, his wife or her husband, their possessions, all their material and spiritual goods, their car, their family and all that the house implies. That is why the commandment first mentions your neighbor’s house. Then the tenth commandment lists those very things within the house: “Your neighbor’s wife, his manservant, or his maidservant, his ox or his ass.” Then we see the final wording of the final commandment, “Or anything that is your neighbors.” So we see that the ninth and tenth commandment includes everything that belongs to your neighbor.
But the ninth and tenth commandment make a powerful and new move from the other commandments. They speak of what is inside a person. All the other commandments are behaviors. They are actions. So they speak of using God’s name in vain, of false testimony, of murder, of adultery, and so on. All these commandments can be legislated. That is, you can make laws about them and compel people to refrain from doing these things under a legal penalty. But the ninth and tenth commandment are different. They speak of where a person’s heart is. They speak of what is going on in our minds and hearts. As such, we can’t make a law against coveting. We can’t prohibit a person from thinking or wanting something that isn’t his or hers. That is, we can’t make a civil law against wanting what is someone else’s. We can only make spiritual laws against such things. For spiritual laws deal with what is in a person’s heart. And unless restrained by civil or moral law, it is likely that the things a person covets will show themselves behaviorally. What we crave with an unholy desire is likely to manifest in action.
We see this in the case of Ahab and Naboth from our Old Testament reading. King Ahab covets the land on which a simple Israelite has a vineyard. The Israelite’s name is Naboth. Now there’s something important about this land of Naboth’s. It isn’t just property that Naboth purchased and that he can sell at will. This is land is owned by God, and you could say that it is loaned to the Israelites to hold for ever. All the Israelites had land given to them by God. Each tribe had a certain portion of the Holy Land, and they divided it up among the households. The Hebrew word for this portion of land that Yahweh Himself owned, is called nahala. Now Ahab wants this very nahala that God owns and that is in the possession of Naboth. We see very clearly in this story that coveting is a sin against God Himself, as are all the commandments. Ahab is coveting land that belongs to God, not only Naboth, when he covets the land of the simple Israelite.
And in this story we see the result of coveting that is unchecked by civil law. Ahab was king, and as such could do pretty much what he wanted to do–or so he thought. The Israelite kings were bound by God’s laws just as much as were the simple Israelites. But when a king got carried away with his own power, he could think himself immune to God’s laws. So Ahab’s unbridled lust for land resulted not only in theft of Naboth’s land, it ended in murder. In order to steal Naboth’s nahala, Ahab ends up murdering the poor man. It is the unbridled coveting of Ahab that ends in theft, murder, and ultimately sacrilege as Ahab violates God’s laws regarding the nahala. In this story we see that all the commandments are connected. We see, too, that violating the commandments are a violation of God’s will, not just civil law.
Spiritually, the ninth and tenth commandment talk about the very goal of regeneration. There are many ways to talk about regeneration. But one way is to talk about the internal person and the external person. The goal of regeneration is to make our external person conform to our internal person. That way, who we are on the inside is who we are on the outside. I spoke of this last Sunday. I talked about living authentically. About projecting to the world the person we truly are and not hiding behind a persona that isn’t really us.
But the process goes deeper than just being self-confident. It means that inside, we have been purged of worldly cravings. What I am calling worldly cravings are called “lusts” in Swedenborg and other theologians. Lusts are desires that can never be satisfied. When we lust we want more and more and more and we are never filled and at rest. The process of regeneration gets rid of these worldly lusts, these insatiable cravings. They are replaced by healthy, constructive feelings. These healthy feelings are called affections in Swedenborg. Affections are stable, peaceful, and mild. When we are living according to healthy affections, we find ourselves contented with life. Our minds know serenity. We are at peace, even when we are active in our lives.
So when we have peace in our hearts, our internal has been reformed. But is our outer person also at peace? Now we return to the other eight commandments. The other eight commandments are almost all phrased negatively. That is, they begin, “You shall not.” These commands, too, reflect the process of regeneration. For we begin the process of regeneration when we desist from harmful actions. When we refrain from backbiting and gossip, for instance, we are keeping the commandment against murder. As I said when I discussed that commandment, murder is also killing a person’s reputation. It is character assassination. When we gossip and backbite what is going on internally? Isn’t it a form of hatred or anger or revenge we are nurturing before we say harmful words? We can stop those harmful feelings by not practicing the act of gossiping. And so on in other ways with other spiritual issues. When we desist from harmful behaviors, then the feelings that prompted them go away. As I have heard it said before, “Bring the body and the mind will follow.” I take that to mean that when we stop harmful behaviors, we then grow into healthier mental states.
But we need to refrain from harmful behaviors from a spiritual motive. We need to want to be good. We need to have in view a healthy state of heart and mind. This is where our New Testament reading comes in. Jesus denounces the teachers of the law and the Pharisees for doing good outwardly only. He actually calls them hypocrites,
Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. Blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and dish, and then the outside also will be clean (Matthew 23:25-26).
Jesus develops this idea further. He drops the metaphor of the cup and dish and takes up another metaphor that is even more hideous. He compares the Pharisees and teachers of the law to white-washed tombs.
Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like white-washed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of dead men’s bones and everything unclean. In the same way, on the outside you appear to people as righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness (23:27-28).
So we can’t just refrain from evil actions only. We need to refrain from evils from a spiritual purpose. We can’t want to look good only for show, or to keep us out of jail, or to make others like and respect us. For these acts to have spiritual value, we need to do so from a spirit of love for God and for our neighbor. As I said earlier, laws can force us to be good outwardly. But no law can reform our minds and hearts. That, only God can do. But we have a part to play in this. We can restrain ourselves from behaviors that are spiritually and socially unacceptable. And when we do so with the desire to be good, then our internal is reformed along with our external. When we don’t dwell on harmful thoughts, and when we keep our minds clean so that they are as clear mirrors, we will find that our hearts grow more peaceful. When we don’t fill our souls with covetous desires, we will find love and affections filling our spirits more and more.
When we desist from coveting, we will more and more be inwardly as we are outwardly. And in the world of our own psyche, heaven will be on earth. And everything we touch in this world will be transformed by the wisdom and good will we have become. And they’ll know we are Christians by our love.

PRAYER

Lord, we give you thanks for the good things that we have. For we know that all we have is a gift from you. Help us to remain content with what we have–be it much or little. For we know that you give us what we need–be it much or little. And Lord, we ask that you fill our hearts with love for our neighbors. Give us to rejoice in the good things our neighbors possess. May we not seek to envy what our neighbors have. But rather, let us rejoice in the good things of our neighbors, as we do with the good things you have given us. Lord, we are grateful for everything we have. May we always remain thankful, and not covetous. For we know that you have given us what we need to become angels in your kingdom forever.

And Lord, we pray for this internet church, where we come to worship you and to learn the ways of your kingdom. Join with us this morning as we come together in your name. Guide and protect us in the world, carrying today’s message which you have given to us.

And Lord, we pray for peace in this troubled world. May conflict be absorbed in your loving kindness. May warring factions see that they are like in their desires for love and the good things of this world.

And Lord, we pray that you heal those who are suffering with illness. Lord, send your healing love to all who are in need.

7-Week Online Old Testament Course
Taught by Rev. Dr. David J. Fekete
March 3-April 20
Course Tuition: $75

In the upcoming months I will be offering a series of courses in the Old Testament, the Gospels, and the Letters of Paul. This series begins with a survey of the Old Testament.
This course is a historical survey, which means that we will be studying the essential events of the Old Testament. In future reading, students will know how to locate the passages being read within the history of the Israelite people. As we will see, the theology in the Old Testament usually relates to the historical events in each book. I hope to provide new perspectives for those well acquainted with the Old Testament and also give a manageable introduction for those just coming to it. To indicate your interest in taking the course, please email Rev. Fekete at: revdrfekete@gmail.com.

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Jan 12th, 2014

Living Authentically
Rev. Dr. David J. Fekete
January 12, 2014

Isaiah 28:14-18a John 9:35-41 Psalm 5

The eighth commandment prohibits false witness. In the strictest sense, this means not to falsely accuse someone in a law court or publicly. In a wider sense it prohibits lying and hypocrisy. And in a still wider sense it prohibits deceitful plots or other means of attack from a motive of revenge or enmity or hatred.
But there is an important consideration in this commandment. The lies and deceits that it prohibits must be motivated by an evil intention. In Swedenborg’s words, the lies must be committed, “with an evil end in view” (TCR 321). This leads me to ponder what we call “little white lies.” Usually when we tell white lies, we are doing so with good intentions. That is we can lie about a person’s weight, or their haircut, or their dress, or some other small matter. When we tell lies about such matters, we usually do so in order to spare our acquaintance’s feelings. We do so from a good motive. We do not lie about such things “with an evil end in view.” So it would appear to me that in Swedenborg’s eyes, these are not what the eighth commandment prohibits. Can I go ahead and say that it appears these little lies are OK?
Let us look at the other side of this subject. Let us consider what I would call being “brutal honesty.” For I think we can be honest to a fault. We can speak the truth without regard to someone’s feelings. And the truth can be hurtful when it is spoken with disregard to the way it comes across. I think of a saying by Ghandi. He said, “Whenever one has a truth, it must be given in love or the message and the messenger will be rejected.” What kind of person would respond to a question about a new dress in this way? “
“Do you like my new dress?”
“No. It makes you look fat.”
This kind of response isn’t being truthful. It is being cruel. We can be cruelly honest when we say things like that.
There are numerous opportunities for us to be cruelly honest or to be truthful in a loving way. There are all kinds of degrees of honesty that can be applied to this type of question. A good friend of my family told me once, “You can’t be sort of honest.” But I disagree. There is a vast spectrum between brutal truth and loving criticism. If it is clear that the other person really likes her dress, we can respond to her affections and encourage her. We can say something like, “Yes, it looks fun.” Or we can find something we like about it. “I like the colors, or the pattern.” If we are a trusted and close friend, and our opinion is genuinely sought as an honest appraisal, our response may be different. If we feel that the dress is unflattering and we think that our friend wears it in jeopardy, we may have to be honest. But honest in a caring way. Our truth needs to be given in love. We may say something like, “It wouldn’t have been my choice.” Or perhaps something like, “I don’t think it is flattering.” And hopefully a gentle discussion would open up about it. My intention here is not so much to give advice as it is to show degrees of honesty that diverge from cruel honesty to gentle truth.
We can also be honest in a neutral, critical manner. I have sent out a few articles for publication to numerous journals. The journals respond and say whether they will print the article or not. When they decline the article, they almost always give criticism. They list sources I may want to include in a revision. They talk about strong and weak points in the article. They talk about flaws in my reasoning that would need to be corrected. In short, they usually tell me how to make my article better. In some cases, I have taken two or three rejection letters and added sources and refined my article according to their helpful criticism. The result has been a later publication in another journal.
There is another matter to consider here. The prohibition against false witness raises the issue of authentic living. How authentic a life are we living? Is the person we project to the world the person we truly are? Do we have the strength of conviction to openly let ourselves be seen? Or do we hide our true feelings and ideas behind a false identity? I remember a talk I had with my older brother long ago. I mentioned how I would exaggerate some parts of my character and hide others and outright lie about still others. He said,
“Then people aren’t meeting you. They are meeting someone you are not. You will not be understood, you will not have friends who are your real friends. They will be friends with someone you are not.”
I took this to heart. And I think that I can say I live fairly honestly now. There are some things that I do not let people see until I know them well. I think we do need an external personality that functions like tree bark. The bark on trees protects the tender centre from insects and other harmful natural threats. So our personalities protect us from social harm and from outright crimes. But when we are in safe emotional environments, we can open up and let our more intimate side be seen. In retrospect, I find that as I age, the more personal conviction I have and the less I fear from others. I am living with even more and more openness and integrity as I see that others pose less and less a threat to my convictions and to who I am.
On a spiritual level, bearing false witness means to teach something false when we know that it is false. It means persuading ourselves and others that evil is good when we know differently. Again, the motive matters here. In Swedenborg’s words, we violate the eighth commandment when we “do these things from design and not from ignorance” (TCR 322). This is where our New Testament reading is applicable. In John 9 we read,
If you were blind, you would not have sin; but now you say “We see;” therefore your sin remains (9:41).
The blindness here refers to spiritual ignorance. If we do not know what is true, we are not responsible for thinking and speaking what is false. But if we know the truth, and choose to cover it or outright speak against what we know to be true, then we sin gravely.
This is the reason why the Bible was written in correspondences. All we need for our salvation is in the literal level of the Bible. It is in the very Ten Commandments we are learning about these weeks. It is in the two great commandments Jesus teaches: to love God and to love the neighbor. It is in the stories about Jesus’ life, the moral stories in the historical parts of the Bible, and it is in the prophets and Psalms. But the deeper levels of spiritual truth are clothed in correspondences. This is because if we knew spiritual truth we would be forced and compelled into a choice. Plain truth would force us either to agree with it or to turn our backs on it. If we weren’t ready in our regeneration to receive a truth, we would be compelled to confront it without the proper spiritual preparation. Then truth would be forced upon us. We might rebel against it, we might angrily and grudgingly accept it, or we might reject it. And neither of these options is what God wants. God wants to be received willingly and happily. Truth is to be seen when we are ready to accept it joyfully. It is not to be seen until we are ready for it. So we have the familiar saying, “When the student is ready, the teacher will appear.” If we reject truth when we see it clearly, it is much worse than if we simply don’t know it. If we are blind, we do not sin. If we see, and then turn our backs on what we see, then it is much worse. So God clothes pure truth in correspondences. This is the meaning of Jesus’ saying in Luke:
And when his disciples asked him what this parable meant, he said, “To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of God; but for others they are in parables, so that seeing they may not see, and hearing they may not understand” (Luke 8:9,10).
These open up and become transparent as we mature spiritually. The divine poetry enlightens our minds and warms our hearts as it leads us gently to God.
So the eighth commandment is for lies that we do purposefully and from a bad intent. It is not white lies we tell from a good heart. It is not falsities we speak from innocence. The eighth commandment prohibits falsities and deceits we tell knowing full well that they are lies and from a hateful and malevolent purpose.
However, the eighth commandment encourages us to live with integrity. It encourages us to live honestly and to have the courage of our convictions. But living with integrity also includes living a loving life. When we have truth to speak, we will speak it lovingly. Our honesty will not be a hurtful honesty. We will live at peace with ourselves, and in harmony with our neighbors. Living honestly will render us trustworthy to others. And an honest life will also make us fitting witnesses to the life and love of Jesus. They will know we are Christians by our life.

PRAYER

Lord, we ask for you to reveal your truth to us day by day. We know that your Word is written in symbols that can be opened to ever deeper levels of meaning–yes, even into the wisdom of angels. As we grow spiritually in our journey, we ask that you guide us into insights and understanding when we approach your word. And as we learn more and more about your kingdom, we ask for the strength and courage to live openly according to our faith. Give us, we pray, the confidence to let our light shine before the world, so we may bear faithful witness to you and your way.

And Lord, we pray for this church, where we come to worship you and to learn the ways of your kingdom. Join with us this morning as we come together in your name. Guide and protect us when we depart into the world, carrying today’s message which you have given to us. And Lord, be with the members of this online ministry as we seek your kingdom together.

And Lord, we pray for peace in this troubled world. May conflict be absorbed in your loving kindness. May warring factions see that they are like in their desires for love and the good things of this world.

And Lord, we pray that you heal those who are suffering with illness. Lord, send your healing love to all who are in need.

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