Archive for July, 2014
Total Love for the Whole Human Race
Rev. Dr. David J. Fekete
July 20, 2014
Genesis 18:20-33 John 3:3-17 Psalm 86
God’s greatest wish is to save the whole human race. We heard about God’s forgiveness and mercy in our Psalm this morning, in God’s discussion with Lot, and in the words of Jesus. Today’s Psalm is full of statements about God’s love and forgiveness for us. David sings, “You, Lord, are forgiving and good, abounding in love to all who call to you.” And he says further, “Great is your love toward me.” From an earlier time period, Lot bargains with God. And in his bargaining, God says that if only 10 righteous people are in Sodom, He will not destroy the city. And then there are those comforting words of Jesus in John 3,”God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through Him.”
Jesus came into our world for the sake of saving the whole human race. Swedenborg tells us that one of Jesus’ earliest perceptions was the state of humanity then. We are told that Jesus saw that the world was filled with self-love and that it was in grievous need of salvation. In fact, we are told that Jesus was horrified at the state of humanity then. But at the same time, Jesus had a perception that by the union of His humanity with the Divinity of His soul, He would be able to save the human race and establish a new church.
Jesus’ life on earth was one of total love for the whole human race. And so great was His love, that He wanted to save a fallen humanity. Salvation means giving all the Divine happiness and joy that God has to us. Salvation means lifting us all up into heaven, which is the same thing as saying, lifting us into God’s own sphere of love and happiness. Salvation of humanity, and giving us the joys of heaven to eternity was God’s greatest wish. Swedenborg tells us,
With the Lord, when He was in the world, there was no other life than the life of love towards the entire human race, which He burned with a desire to save to eternity. That is the very celestial life, by which He united Himself to the Divine, and the Divine to Himself–for Being itself, or Jehovah, is nothing else than Mercy, which is of love to the whole human race–and that life was of pure love . . . (AC 2253).
And the salvation of the whole human race continues to be God’s greatest wish. His unbounded love for us wills to bring us into union with Himself, and to fill us with the love and joy of His Holy Spirit.
The Lord wills the salvation of all, and therefore the salvation of all is His end . . . His coming, redemption, and the passion of the cross, were for the sake of the salvation of men . . . the salvation of men was and forever is His end (TCR 142).
When I was meditating on these passages, I began to see God in a different way. I thought about God’s will to save us. And I saw God as a Being who was asking me into His life. I saw God as a Being who wanted me as His friend. I don’t think that this is overly humanizing God. Remember that God is a Human Being. God is The Divine Human Being, with all the emotions that make us human. Swedenborg suggests that this is God’s nature. He says,
The Lord, from the Divine love or mercy, wishes to have all near to Himself; and so that they should not stand at the doors, that is, in the first heaven; but He wishes them to be in the third; and, if it were possible, not only with Himself, but in Himself. Such is the Divine love, or the Lord’s love (AC 1799).
This is a very different God from the one some think of. I hear again and again about people being turned off by organized religion because they have been taught that God punishes and casts into hell. But God can do none of these things. God is all love and can only wish to befriend us all. He can only do good to us, and strive with all His wisdom and power to bring us into a love relationship with Himself.
But salvation is only possible if we respond to God’s love. Like all lovers, God can’t force Himself on us. If God could force His will on us, everyone would be in heaven. I thought about our capacity to sin. My thinking about sin changed, also. I saw sin as turning our back on God. As sad lovers can tell, love can be rejected. Free will gives us the ability to spurn God, and to turn away from love. I began to think of sin as spurning God’s love. I saw it as letting God down. That passage from Luke came to mind where Jesus weeps over Jerusalem. It is one of those few passages that really show Jesus’ human side. The passage is as follows,
O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing! (Luke 13:34)
The truth is that God does long to gather us under His Divine wing, as a mother hen does her chicks. This may be the passage that the great German poet Schiller had in mind in his Ode to Joy. “All men become brothers wherever your gentle wing is.” Beethoven set this beautiful poem to music in his great ninth symphony. And when the poem gets to that line from Schiller, all the instruments drop off and in lovely four part a cappella harmony, the voices all mix and mingle in the most beautiful and plaintive melodies that rise and fall in almost a plea, or prayer, for all humanity to be brothers under God’s gentle wing.
I think seeing God this way, and seeing sin this way are more positive ways of viewing both. God is supreme heavenly love that wishes to draw all to Himself, and sin is turning our backs on God. This gives us a much more positive way of viewing our role in spiritual life. Our role is simply to turn toward God’s love. Our role is to open up a channel in our hearts for God. Our role is to think of God’s love and orient our life toward it. Someone once told me that we give power to whatever we think of. He said it’s like this. What happens if I tell you, “Whatever you do, don’t think about a pink elephant.” What will be the one image that then enters our minds? Of course it will be that pink elephant! When we think of God’s love, and of His ardent desire to give us His love and joy, and when we think of our role as turning toward this love, what, then, will fill our minds? Won’t it be that very Divine Love and that God who wants to gather us under His wings as a mother hen?
This is not to say we can ignore character defects. When they appear, we need to see them, acknowledge them, and turn away from them. They do fulfill a use in our spiritual life. They remind us that we always need God in our life to fill our souls with His Holy Spirit.
That brings us back to God. All the good we have in our lives, all the love that we share with others, all the blessings and peace that we feel are from God. They are God’s gift to us, because He loves us. They are God’s gifts to us because God wants to give everyone all that He has. And since God is all good, and all loving, goodness and love are what he ceaselessly gives us. It is God’s greatest wish that we but receive them.
Your smallest free-will offering would be greatly appreciated for this important work. Cheques may be made out to The Edmonton New Church Society, and mailed to:
Church of the Holy City, 9119-128A Avenue, Edmonton, AB T5E 0J6
Progress, Not Perfection
Rev. Dr. David J. Fekete
July 13, 2014
Isaiah 1:11-18 Matthew 13:24-30 Psalm 32
This talk is about regeneration, or the slow process of spiritual perfection. It is not about sin, although it may appear so from the readings I selected. In all the readings, there is a consciousness of sin, but also the process of spiritual growth.
In Isaiah, God says that although our sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow. So here there is an acknowledgement of sin, but also the promise that they will be removed. And in Psalm 32, the Psalmist confesses his or her sins before God and they are forgiven. Then in Matthew 13 we have a most interesting parable about the growth of spirituality. Weeds are sown in a wheat field and both weeds and wheat grow up together. Only at the harvest are they separated. The wheat is put in the barn while the weeds are burned. In this story, our sins are the weeds and the good deeds of spirituality are the wheat.
While Isaiah and Psalms promise that our sins will be washed away or forgiven, only the Matthew passage shows that this is a process. Our spiritual life grows alongside our sins. We are not washed clean instantly. And our sins are only forgiven to the extent that they are removed.
We grow spiritually by a combination of personal effort and circumstances. But we are guided along the way by Divine Providence. Divine Providence works in the least of our thought processes, and by everything that happens to us.
Our personal effort consists in learning truths about spirituality and then by putting these truths into practice. The circumstances that contribute to our growth are largely trials and distress that shake up our self-will and turn us around to love others as much as ourselves.
The process of spiritual growth is one of replacing one set of delights with another set of delights. In our early life, we delight chiefly in what benefits self. To this degree, we think little of others, and even rage against them if they get in our way. Swedenborg describes this process. In a person’s early spiritual life,
that which he calls good and believes to be good, is evil; and that which he calls truth and believes to be truth, is falsity. For example: loving himself above others; desiring better for himself than for others coveting what belongs to another; taking thought for himself alone, and not for others except for the sake of himself. As of himself man is desirous of these things he therefore calls them goods, and also truths; and what is more, if anyone injures or endeavors to injure him in respect to these goods and truths as he calls them, he hates him, and also burns with revenge toward him, desires and even seeks his ruin, and feels delight in it, and this in proportion as he actually confirms himself in such things, that is, in proportion as he more frequently brings them into actual exercise (AC 3701).
I can think of a quote from Beethoven that may illustrate this stage of development. He once told a prince,
Prince, what you are, you are by accident of birth. What I am, I am by my own efforts. There have been thousands of princes and there will be thousands more. There is only one Beethoven!
This may look a bit like an inflated ego. More likely, it was Beethoven trying to maintain self-respect in a social strata that looked down upon commoners, of which Beethoven was one. But this one quote doesn’t say all there was to Beethoven’s personality. Wheat grows up alongside weeds, and on earth, we will be a mixed bag of amazing generousity and love and horrifying tendencies toward evil. While Beethoven made the statement about his greatness due to his own efforts, he also made a comment showing great humility,
The true artist can have no pride. While he may be loved and admired by others, he himself sees that art has no limitations and he awaits the moment when the greater genius shines forth in him like a distant star.
The kind of self-interest that is destructive of our soul and of others who get in our way yields to a more other-interested personality. At first, by means of temptations and upheavals in our complacencies. Swedenborg speaks of a early stage in our spiritual development in which a person, “discoursed piously, and brought forth goods, but he did so in consequence of the temptation and straitness under which he labored, and not from faith and charity” (AC 10). However, in time, we grow into a more heavenly person, filled with heavenly loves and delights,
when he is still further perfected, he takes care to do good to those who are in good, and this in accordance with the quality of the good in them, and at last he feels delight in doing good to them, because he feels delight in good, and pleasantness in the things that confirm it. These confirmatory things he acknowledges as truths and they also are the truths of his new understanding, which flow from the goods which are of his new will.  In the degree that he feels delight in this good, and pleasantness in these truths, he has a feeling of what is undelightful in the evils of his former life, and of what is unpleasing in its falsities and the result is that a separation takes place of the things which are of the former will and the former understanding from the things that are of the new will and the new understanding; and this not in accordance with the affection of knowing such things, but in accordance with the affection of doing them (AC 3701).
These stages of development are put in one succinct passage in the Arcana Coelestia,
All affections have their delights; but such as are the affections, such are the delights. The affections of evil and falsity also have their delights; and before a man begins to be regenerated, and to receive from the Lord the affections of truth and good, these delights appear to be the only ones; so much so that men believe that no other delights exist; and consequently that if they were deprived of these, they would utterly perish. But they who receive from the Lord the delights of the affections of truth and good, gradually see and perceive the nature of the delights of their former life, which they had believed to be the only delights, that they are relatively vile, and indeed filthy. And the further a man advances into the delight of the affections of truth and good, the more does he begin to regard the delights of evil and falsity as vile; and at last to hold them in aversion (AC 3938).
I need to emphasize that this is a process, not an instantaneous absolution. We will cling tenaciously to our instinct for self-preservation and self-gratification. Recall that in our early spiritual life, the good things that we do are brought about by temptation and struggle which we labor under. It is only as we grow to higher stages that our life pours forth good and loving feelings and actions, spontaneously.
These words suggest that our spiritual journey is not one of being “happy, happy, happy,” as the song goes. It is more like the old gospel song that says, “Just a few more weary days and then, I’ll fly away/To a land where joy shall never end, I’ll fly away.”
Along the way, we will have times of ecstasy, joy, and intense love; and also, perhaps, shocking glimpses of unholy passion wafting through our minds. The wheat grows up alongside the weeds. We retain somewhat of the old loves with which we started our spiritual journey or else we would have no life at all. These old loves were all we knew and they sustain us as we progress into more peaceful heavenly delights.
I think the good news about all this is that the journey is one of delight to delight. Our path is one of lower delights to higher delights. It is delight all the way. This delight will be broken in intervals of trial and distress, but we will be following our heart’s promptings all the way. From delight to delight we climb the stairway to heaven.
Lord, this morning and every morning, we pray that you guide our steps as we seek your kingdom. Enlighten our minds, so that we may know what it means to be good. Clarify our understanding of the way things are. Give us to see and acknowledge that you are at the centre of creation. Give us the strength to follow the truths you have taught us. Give us the courage to leave behind old behavior patterns that interfere with the influx of your love. Fill us with humility before you, and care for our fellows. And bring us into everlasting joy in your holy kingdom of love.
Lord we pray for the vitality of this “online church.” Give us to feel your presence. May we find this church community a resource for our continued spiritual development.
And Lord, we pray for the sick. May they experience the power of your healing love. We pray for the grace of your healing power for all who are ailing in body or soul.