Archive for October, 2014

Oct 26th, 2014

Delight in the Law
Rev. Dr. David J. Fekete
October 26, 2014

Leviticus 19:1-2, 15-18 Matthew 22:34-46 Psalm 1

Jesus did not come to abolish the Law of Moses, but to fulfill it. And this does not mean just the prophesies of the coming Messiah. Jesus taught the same Law that bound the people of Israel. That Law is summed up in Leviticus 19:18 and is cited by Jesus in Matthew 22:39: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Even Paul, whose name is sometimes used to say the Jesus abolished the Law, repeats what Jesus says and affirms the Law of love,
Owe no one anything, except to love one another; for he who loves his neighbor has fulfilled the law. The commandments, “You shall not commit adultery, You shall not kill, You shall not steal, You shall not covet,” and any other commandment, are summed up in this sentence, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law (Romans 13:8-10).
It is this love for the neighbor that brings delight to our lives. Psalm 1, which we read this morning, says, “his delight is in the law of the Lord.” We may think of the list of rules called the 10 Commandments to be unhappy commands characterized by the words “Thou shalt not.” These may look like they were given by a stern taskmaster. But when we see that this list of thou shalt nots actually points to a joyous love for our neighbor, then we find delight in the Law. For when we live in love, we are delighted in everything we do.
I have heard it said that love is an action word. It is not just a feeling. Or should I say that because it is a feeling, it wants to pour forth into act. Love seeks to express itself. It wants to flow into good deeds.
These good deeds are called uses by Swedenborg. We can call any act of love a use. For the term use is not just useful. Uses are any expressions of heavenly love. When we are filled with love, our love will flow into good deeds.
This is why Jesus links his commands of love and with bearing fruit. His command is to love one another as He loves us, “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you” (John 15:12). And He says that this command of love will show itself in good deeds, which Jesus calls bearing much fruit,
If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you will, and it shall be done for you. By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit, and so prove to be my disciples (John 15:7-8).
Swedenborg says that heaven is a kingdom of uses–”The kingdom of the Lord is a kingdom of uses” (HH 387). In heaven, everyone is filled with love for their neighbor. And as love wants to flow into kindly deeds of love, heaven is a place where everyone is doing kindly deeds of love one to another. Imagine how delightful such a kingdom is. Swedenborg does a pretty good job of describing the wonderful joy of heaven,
How great the enjoyment of heaven is, may be evident only from this, that it is an enjoyment to all in heaven to communicate their enjoyments and blessings to others; and because all such are in the heavens, it is manifest how immense is the enjoyment of heaven; for . . . in the heavens there is a communication of all with each, and of each with all (HH 399).
Imagine it! Heaven is populated with the souls of all the good people who have ever lived. And there is a communication of everyone with everyone. The whole of heaven flows into each individual and each individual contributed their good to the whole, “heaven being a communication of all goods” (HH 268). Swedenborg calls this an extension of thoughts and affections into heaven and from the whole heaven into an individual,
all the thought of his or her understanding, and all the affections of one’s will, extend themselves every way into heaven according to its form, and wonderfully communicate with the societies there, and these in turn with him or her (HH 203).
This mutual desire to share one’s joys and to receive the joys of others flows forth ultimately from God. This is God’s nature. God created humans in order to give us happiness and joy forever. “God in creating [the universe] had one end in view, which was an angelic heaven from the human race” (TCR 13). It is God’s nature to give of God’s self. And as God is Love Itself, God wants to flow into our hearts with His Divine love.
His love is the love of communication of all that He has with all, for He wills the happiness of all. Similar love is in everyone of those who love the Lord, because He is in them; hence there is a mutual communication of the enjoyments of angels with one another (HH 399).
Love for God and for the neighbor is a love of sharing. And sharing means receiving and giving. Heavenly love feels another’s joy as joy in self. Everyone can share in another’s misery. This is because we see our own misery in it. But only heavenly love feels another’s joy as one’s own joy. This is because to feel another’s joy we need to transcend self and open ourselves to another’s world.
I think that the dynamics of the me-generation have done much damage to this mutual sharing of joys. Back in the ’70′s we were taught to become our own selves. We were taught self-actualization. This meant the discovery of who we are. We were taught to do our own thing. We were taught not to please others, but to please self. Being caught up in striving to please others was mockingly called the “please me game.” I think of a rather tragic story that illustrates this world view. Back in the ’60′s there was the first group of a movement later called “Hippies.” These were the “Merry Pranksters” led by Ken Kesey. There is a story about Kesey and one of the Merry Pranksters named Pancho. Pancho had discovered a book of oriental carpets that blew his mind. He exclaimed, “Come on, man! I mean, like, I gotta share this thing . . . I can’t keep this whole thing to myself!” He showed the book to Ken Kesey. But instead of sharing in the joy of these beautiful patterns, Kesey replied with a sad rebuff: “Why should I take your bad trip?” It wasn’t Keyse’s trip so Kesey saw no reason to share the other’s joy in the oriental patterns. This story captures well the attitude of the ’60′s and ’70′s. Psychology and philosophy preached the doctrine of self, self-actualization, and self-affirmation. This doctrine had little to say about sharing another’s joy, which was often labeled as co-dependancy.
I think most of us may have made a better effort at sharing the joy this young man found in his oriental rugs. He was attempting to share his discovery with others. In order to feel another’s joy we don’t have to share the same interest. We may not have seen the same beauty in the carpet patterns. But we would surely have seen that they meant something to the young man. And we could still feel his happiness in these carpets. His happiness would become our happiness even if we didn’t understand why he was so enthralled with the patterns. On a personal note, I think I would have seen something in those carpets, anyway, though. The whole essence of loving is feeling another’s joy as our own joy.
The hallmark of love is not loving ourselves but loving another and being united with them through love. The hallmark of love is also being loved by others because this is how we are truly united. . . . The essence of love is that what is ours should belong to someone else. Feeling the joy of someone else as joy within ourselves–that is loving (DLW 47).
This understanding of mutual love and mutual union is what Swedenborg’s notion of heaven is all about. Otherwise there can’t be that wonderful communication of each other’s joy with each other. The very love we feel is because we accept God’s love. That receiving is what makes us want to give all we have to our neighbor and to be united with our neighbor by being happy when they are happy. This isn’t co-dependency. Feeling another’s joy is heavenly happiness. Sharing and being united through sharing is what makes loving union possible. And loving union is the sum of all the Law and Prophets.

PRAYER

We give you thanks, Lord, because you have given us your law. Your law teaches us the way to you. Your law guides us in the ways of your kingdom. And we are grateful that your law is not too difficult for us. We do not need to travel across the sea to obtain it. Nor do we need to ascend up into the heavens to obtain it. For you have written your law upon our hearts. You teach us that loving you and loving our neighbor are what you command. And if we treasure these words of yours in our hearts, we will show our love in good deeds to our neighbors. Help us to see opportunities to do good. And liven our hearts to take action when we see the opportunity to do good. By this we show that we are your disciples.

And Lord, we pray for the sick. May they experience the power of your healing love. Fill them with the grace of your healing power. Comfort their family and friends. We pray for the grace of your healing power for all who are ailing in body or soul.

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Oct 19th, 2014

God and Man
Rev. Dr. David J. Fekete
October 19, 2014

Isaiah 45:1-7 Matthew 22:15-22 Psalm 96

Today’s readings concern the relationship between God and humans. And in particular, between God and man. Jesus’ words carry the full implications of this relationship, “Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and render unto God the things that are God’s.” There is so much contained in this statement that it could exhaust many sermons. I will try to unpack some of this statement this Sunday.
The relationship between God and man in our Isaiah reading is between God and Cyrus, the king of Persia. Cyrus emerged onto the world scene when the Israelites were captives in Babylon. Cyrus conquered Babylon and liberated the Israelites. He allowed them to return home and rebuild the temple. But even as God announces that He would subdue nations before Cyrus, God also says very clearly, “I will strengthen you” (Isaiah 45:5). God is clear that Cyrus’ power comes not from the might of the king, but from God. Then just a little further in the text, Isaiah goes on to preach a sermon saying that there is no other God besides Yahweh, or Jehovah as the King James Bible translates His name.
I am Yahweh, and there is no other;
apart from me there is no God. . . .
I am Yahweh, and there is no other.
I form the light and create darkness,
I bring prosperity and create disaster;
I, Yahweh, do these things (Isaiah 45:5, 6-7).
So although Cyrus was invincible, and although all the kingdoms in the Near East fell before him, Cyrus was still a man. From the point of view of Israel, it was God who gave Cyrus his power. Furthermore, in this rather late development in Israelites thought, Isaiah says that there are no other gods. There is only Yahweh–”apart from me there is no God.” There are suggestions that earlier in Israelite history there may have been an idea of a pantheon of gods, of which Yahweh was king. Psalm 29:1 says, “Ascribe to the LORD, O heavenly beings,/ascribe to the LORD glory and strength.” These heavenly beings may have been lesser gods in a Hebrew pantheon. And in Genesis 1:26 God creates humans in the image and likeness of God. However, the Hebrew is in the plural. It is not God in the singular who does the creating. So Genesis 1:26 reads, “Let us make man in our image.” But Isaiah 45 makes clear, if there may have been earlier doubt, that there is only One God–”Apart from me there is no God.” I don’t know much about Persian mythology, so I can’t say whether Persians thought that Cyrus was a divine-king, a god-man. I do know that they had such an idea in their mythology. When Alexander came back from Persia, he adopted their beliefs and called himself a god. So it is possible that Cyrus was thought a god. But Isaiah makes clear that from an Israelite point of view, Cyrus is still a man. All his seemingly divine power was given him by the one and only God, Yahweh.
We encounter a similar dynamic in our story from Matthew. In this case, I am more certain. In the time of Jesus, Caesar thought himself to be a god. It was this idea that gave the Pharisees their ammunition to try to trap Jesus. They even bring representatives from the local ruler, Herod, with them. They indirectly challenge Jesus as to whether He thought Caesar was a god. They ask Jesus, “Is it right to pay taxes to Caesar or not?” (Matthew 22:17). Some Christians and Jews refused to pay taxes because Caesar’s image was on the coins. They thought that paying taxes to Caesar was admitting that Caesar was a god. They thought that paying taxes was a form of idolatry. Jesus shows His divine Wisdom in His answer. He even begins by asking whose image is on the coin. His questioners say, “Caesar’s.” Jesus then brings the issue to its basics. The coin is Caesar’s–give to Caesar what is Caesar’s. He then adds to give to God what is God’s. Paying taxes is a civil duty, not idolatry.
With that one statement, Jesus captures the challenge of living in this dual world. For we live in God’s world, and we live in Caesar’s world. We need to give our attention to both. We need to position ourselves to succeed in this world, perhaps even to thrive in this world. And yet we need to reserve our highest concern for the demands of God. So we are neither to forget God when we make plans in this world, nor are we to forget the world when we turn to God.
The Catholic hierarchy turn radically from this world. They give up the world and live in convents and monasteries. Or they take a vow of poverty and give up family to live as priests. As a Protestant, Swedenborg would say that this is sacrificing the demands of Caesar for only God. And as a Protestant Church, we encourage people to live in the world. For it is in the world that we are able to do good to our neighbor. By paying our dues to the world, by positioning ourselves to succeed in the world, we are able to be of service to our fellows.
I recall when I was younger that I had a kind of contempt for the world. My head was in the clouds and my feet weren’t planted firmly in the world. When I did something good, I tried not to take credit for it. And being a good Swedenborgian, I kept my good deeds to myself, not broadcasting them to others. I did this to the point that one person in the church complained to the school administration that I wasn’t doing anything and the church was sinking good money into me in the form of scholarships for my divinity education. So in the middle of the school year, when I was buried in my school work, the faculty had me write a letter to this anonymous individual detailing all that I had been doing, which was considerable. The anonymous individual–and to this day I don’t know who they were as that was kept from me–the anonymous individual said that she didn’t know I was doing all that. My faculty said that maybe I needed to run around waving a flag whenever I did things for the church.
I was angry at all this. I had grown up thinking that good was to be done without taking credit for it. This is true. That is how a person renders to God what is God’s. But then there is Caesar. When we are in a subordinate position, Caesar demands that we let our supervisors know our merits as an employee. This brings to mind another story from my early manhood. When I was applying to Harvard, I had to write a 5,000 word essay about myself. In effect, this was a document selling myself to the admissions committee. At this point, I knew that I needed to pull out all the stops. I very eloquently narrated my sterling qualities, my worldly and extra-curricular experiences, and my academic brilliance. This document was a testament to my brilliance and uniqueness. When my younger brother read it, he said that I was saying how great I was. I explained to him that this document was not the place for false modesty. It was the purpose of such a document to let the admissions committee know all the qualities that would make me a fitting student at Harvard. To my extreme relief and delight, my document worked. The case is similar for job applications and résumés. The purpose of these documents is to put forth all your positive qualities so that a potential employer knows you are the best person for the position. All this is rendering to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s. These are some of the ways we position ourselves to be effective in the world. For even in the Lord’s Prayer we say, “On earth, as it is in heaven.”
But in all this self-promotion, we dare not lose sight of God. We are doing this all in order to be in a strong position to serve in the world. We are serving God in all this. It is a delicate balance indeed to remain in the world and not forget our Maker. The temptation is to get lost in the world. To take ourselves too seriously and our worldly success to importantly. Success and self-promotion can become ends in themselves. We can think only of what benefits self, of who worships us as a god, and how successful we will appear in the eyes of others. Should this happen, then we do not render to God what is God’s. For if we succeed, it is because God strengthened us and caused our plans to succeed. God says in Isaiah, “I bring prosperity and create disaster” (45:7). And if we get lost in the world, we forget why we set out to position ourselves to begin with, which is to be of service.
When we render to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s, then heaven descends to earth. Then we are a walking church, bringing God into our lives and into the world around us. Then things truly are, “On earth as they are in heaven.”

PRAYER

God, you reign in the heavens above. And you reign in this material world. And you have created us humans to live in both worlds. For it is in this material world that we do good services to our neighbor. And it is through the heavens above that we are inspired with the love for doing good. This morning we pray for you to grant us favorable opportunities in this world to serve. We pray for good work, for prosperous leisure activities, and the means for success in this material world. And as we pray for the good things of this world, we pray likewise for the eternal gifts of love and wisdom that come from you through heaven. May we seek the good things in this life for the sake of you and your kingdom. May we bring heaven to earth, and play our own small part in the descent of the Holy City.

And Lord, we pray for the sick. May they experience the power of your healing love. Fill them with the grace of your healing power. Comfort their family and friends. We pray for the grace of your healing power for all who are ailing in body or soul.

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The Many Voices of Gratitude
Rev. Dr. David J. Fekete
October 12, 2014
Thanksgiving Day

Leviticus 23:33-43 Matthew 6:25-33 Psalm 107

Thanksgiving is almost my favorite holiday. What I like about it is the official recognition of thankfulness and gratitude. Gratitude is a core response to God’s salvation. We are saved by God’s unceasing efforts to bring us to Him. He lifts us out of our cravings for selfish satisfaction and brings us into a love for others and into the happiness of heaven. For all that I am eternally grateful.
God wants to bring us to Himself in order to give us the ineffable happiness of heaven. The joys of heaven so transcend the joys of this world that there are no words to describe them. This the Lord wants for every human being,
it is the constant effort of the Lord’s divine providence to unite us with himself and himself with us and thereby to make us his images. It also follows that the Lord is doing this so that he may give us the bliss of eternal life, since this is the nature of divine love (DP 123).
God wants us to experience these joys because that is the nature of love. Think of someone you love–maybe a child of yours or your partner. Aren’t you happy when they are happy? Don’t you seek to render them happy by any means at your disposal? Don’t you wish to be in their company–united in a reciprocal relationship? This is pre-eminently the case with God, who is all love, and is the source of our own very love,
The Lord, from the Divine love or mercy, wills to have all near to Himself; so that they do not stand at the doors, that is, in the first heaven; but He wills that they should 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).
God works unceasingly to bring about this happiness in us. God works unceasingly to lift us out of our self-destructive and unsatisfying pleasures and into truly gratifying and satisfying delights. If we open the door to God, this will happen to us. Swedenborg tells us that there is a spiritual current lifting us all upward toward heaven, like the tides or a powerful river,
There is actually a sphere elevating all to heaven, that proceeds continually from the Lord and fills the whole natural world and the whole spiritual world; it is like a strong current in the ocean, which draws the ship in a hidden way. All those who believe in the Lord and live according to His precepts, enter that sphere or current and are lifted (TCR 652).
This all is a gift from God. It is not because we work to earn it. It is not because we deserve it. It is a freely given gift from God. For that I am grateful and I give thanks.
But there are also things in this natural world that I have a heart of gratitude for. These too, I thank God for. Sometimes it is helpful to stop and consider just what we have. When times are hard for us it is helpful to make a list of the good things we have. If we do this simple exercise, we will see that we have enough. We may even find that our cup runs over.
I start with the basics. I have a roof over my head. I have enough food. I have reliable transportation. I have a job. I have pleasant entertainment like my musical projects. I have a YMCA membership that gives me healthy exercise. I have books to expand my knowledge with. I have friends. I have Carol in my life and her love. I have clothes to wear. I have the Canadian Health program for when I am ill. I have a lot to be grateful for. All these material goods are gifts from God. And I know that He gives me what I need.
A while back I gave a talk at an AA meeting. This was a meeting that had some tragically unfortunate people in it. I realized that some of the things I just listed these unfortunates did not have. When they asked us to talk about gratitude, I had to get even more basic than the list I just made. So I thought about what things I had to be grateful for on a more basic and profound level. I am grateful that I’m alive. I am grateful for health. I am grateful for my sobriety. I am grateful that the sun rises each day. I am grateful for the beauty of nature. I am grateful that there is a God who cares about me and who loves me.
You know, with all these things to be grateful for, why would I ever feel that I want for anything? Clearly I have more than enough.
The origins of our Thanksgiving Day are religious. It goes way back to one of the oldest parts of the Old Testament. It goes back to the Festival of Booths, or as it is called in Hebrew, Sukkoth. This festival is still in practice. It is essentially a harvest festival. It was one of the most joyous festivals in the Hebrew Calendar. God tells the Israelites,
And you shall take on the first day the fruit of goodly trees, branches of palm trees, and boughs of leafy trees, and willows of the brook; and you shall rejoice before the LORD your God seven days (Leviticus 23:40).
There were to be offerings of various kinds brought to the temple each day of the seven-day festival. There was music and feasting. In general it was a celebration of God’s bounty in giving the harvest to the Israelites.
We live in a society of supermarkets, and food is always available to us. It may be difficult for us to imagine what it was like for a society to depend on the season’s harvest. But the very survival of the Israelites depended on a bountiful harvest, as is the case with other ancient cultures. In the Old Testament there are records of seasons of drought, and the devastating consequences that drought had for society. There were no supermarkets with shelves full of every imaginable produce and meat that the Israelites could go to if the crops failed. In fact, the Israelites considered a bountiful harvest to be one sign that their society was in right relation with God. Bountiful harvests were part of that grand Hebrew term, “Shalom”. Peace is only one meaning of that word. Rest from war, and bountiful harvest was also part of the peace of God when in right relation with Him.
And all these blessings shall come upon you and overtake you, if you obey the voice of the LORD your God. 3 Blessed shall you be in the city, and blessed shall you be in the field. 4 Blessed shall be the fruit of your body, and the fruit of your ground, and the fruit of your beasts, the increase of your cattle, and the young of your flock. 5 Blessed shall be your basket and your kneading-trough. . . . 11 And the LORD will make you abound in prosperity, in the fruit of your body, and in the fruit of your cattle, and in the fruit of your ground, within the land which the LORD swore to your fathers to give you. 12 The LORD will open to you his good treasury the heavens, to give the rain of your land in its season and to bless all the work of your hands; and you shall lend to many nations, but you shall not borrow (Deuteronomy 28:2-5, 11-12).
All these blessings–blessings of fertility–follow upon being in right relation with God: “If you obey the voice of the LORD your God.”
This Thanksgiving, as you prepare to eat your feast, as cultures have done since agriculture was developed, remember that the food you are about to eat is a gift from God. Although you may have bought it at a supermarket, it was God who grew the crops and turkeys. I ask you to remember all the many small things your life is blessed with–things that are gifts from God. And I ask you to remember that you are loved by God, who labors continually to give you happiness and joy that last forever.

PRAYER

Lord, we give you thanks this Thanksgiving morning for the countless blessings you shower upon us. You fill our lives with good things which are so many we can’t begin to name them all. We thank you especially for your unceasing work for our salvation. You constantly lift us up out of our selfhood and give us new life as if our own. Yet it is your own good and truth that forms this new self. And with the grafting of your good and truth in us, we are filled with the joys of heaven that are lasting and eternal. We thank you, too, for the good things of this world. We thank you for our material goods–food, shelter, friends, family, and loved ones. These, too, are gifts from you. For this and all the good things in our lives, we thank you Lord God Almighty.

And Lord, we pray for the sick. May they experience the power of your healing love. Fill them with the grace of your healing power. Comfort their family and friends. We pray for the grace of your healing power for all who are ailing in body or soul.

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The Stone the Builders Rejected
Rev. Dr. David J. Fekete
October 5, 2014

Isaiah 5:1-7 Matthew 21:33-46 Psalm 80:7-15

What connects our Old Testament reading and our New Testament reading is the metaphor of the vineyard. In the Old Testament, a vineyard is planted and nurtured, but it grows only wild grapes. The metaphor in the Old Testament symbolizes Israel’s turning away from God and God’s righteousness. Jesus draws on this metaphor in our New Testament reading. In the reading from Matthew, the owner of a vineyard hires out the land to tenants. They try to take possession of the vineyard, killing the servants and finally the son of the owner. Jesus says that the owner will remove those tenants from the vineyard and replace them with others who will yield good crops for the owner. In this parable, Jesus is saying that the kingdom of God will be taken from the ruling powers of the Jews in His time. He buttresses this parable with another reference to the Old Testament, saying, “The stone which the builders rejected has become the cornerstone, The Lord has done this and it is marvelous in our eyes.” This is from Psalm 118:22, 23.
The New testament story about the vineyard refers to the development of the Jesus movement in Jewish society. The owner of the vineyard is God. The wicked tenants are the religious authorities in Jesus’ day–the Pharisees, the temple priests, and the Sadducees. The kingdom of God is taken from their hands and given over to the lower social strata in Judea and even to outsiders like the Romans and Greeks. We are told in Matthew that the leaders of the Jews know this, but that Jesus is so popular that they fear the crowds,
When the chief priests and the Pharisees heard his parables, they perceived that he was speaking about them. But when they tried to arrest him, they feared the multitudes, because they held him to be a prophet (Matthew 21:45, 46).
We can’t say that all the Jews rejected Jesus. There was a strong group in Israel. But the Apostle Paul brought Christianity to the un-churched. Paul brought Christianity to the Greeks and Romans. And in doing so, Paul relaxed Jewish practices and the Jewish religious calendar. Since Christianity began in Israel, among the Jews, to release Greek Christians from the practices of the founders of Christianity would have seemed like watering down the faith. It would have seemed like letting anyone be a Christian regardless of how they practiced religion. It was a momentous shift in practice and belief.
While this was going on with the early church, there was the issue of Jesus Christ Himself. The reference to the stone rejected by the builders is a reference to Jesus Himself. Jesus was rejected by the religious authorities of His day and handed over to be executed by the Roman authorities. But Jesus was embraced by the lower classes of Roman society and by social outcasts.
We can forget just how anti-establishment Jesus actually was in His day. He was not on the side of those in power. He was not on the side of the elites. It was the peasantry, the social outcasts, and even Romans who embraced Jesus and His teachings. The established religion of Judaism rejected Jesus. And the leading religious authorities sought to silence Him. When they could not silence Him, they got rid of Him.
But they could not silence Jesus. They could not get rid of Him. They could not stop the power of this bright new religion. Not only was the Jesus movement rejected by the powers in Judaism, but this was also the case among Romans. The religion of the Roman Empire was that of the mythic gods like Jupiter, Diana, Mars, Mercury, and the goddess of good luck, Fortuna, among others. Also the Roman emperor himself was called a god, and there were shrines for Romans to bring offerings and sacrifices to him. While this was the state religion of Rome, Christianity was considered illegal. Christianity was against the law and punishable by death. One of the things that made Christianity irritating is that they would not offer sacrifices to the Roman gods. They refused to do so because they considered this idolatry. But what made them even more irritating is that they would not sacrifice to the emperor god. This made them actually a threat to the emperor’s rule and power.
So in its beginnings, Christianity was not part of the status quo, as it is today, or was today. The leader of Christianity, Jesus Christ, was a capital criminal, and the religion itself was illegal, punishable by death. The early Christians met underground, in catacombs, and hid their practices from Roman society.
For this reason, many of the underprivileged groups in western history have drawn support from the New Testament. The African-Americans during slavery and after during civil rights movements of the 1960′s have drawn support from the New Testament. There have also been more recent movements in Latin America that have drawn support from the New Testament for social liberation. There is a whole discipline of theology called Liberation Theology.
And yet, these scriptures are so inclusive that the socially powerful also draw support from the New Testament. People in power positions and regular members of the dominant social groups in western society are Christian. And before I paint too anti-establishment a picture of Jesus, there are New Testament stories in which Jesus dines with a Pharisee (Luke 7:36-50) and finds tremendous faith in a Roman centurion (Matthew 8:5-10).
Despite being forbidden by Roman society, despite the attempts to silence Jesus and do away with Him, Christianity survived, grew, and thrived. So powerful are the teachings of Christ that they transformed the western world. They speak to issues that every human faces. The stories are simple enough that everyone can understand them, if they use a modern language translation. And yet the stories are deep enough that everyone from learned to simple can find lessons for life in them. The parables have such depth to them that they speak to us in all the different states we go through in our spiritual development. They are meaningful at the start of our faith journey. And they are meaningful after we have progressed far in our faith journey. They speak to me when I am troubled and downcast. And they speak to me when I am at peace and feeling close to God. So Jesus says, “the words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life” (John 6:63). And Peter affirms this, saying, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life; and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God” (John 6:68-69).
Jesus’ words are words of eternal life. He teaches us the way to heaven and the way to live in this world with peace. His words still the troubled mind and kindle in our hearts the sacred flame of heavenly love. His words guide our steps and teach us what is good.
But His words only affect us if we know them. I recommend daily reading of the Bible. Let the words sink in. Think about the stories. Consider the main characters and how they function in the stories. I find that just meditating on the New Testament stories themselves puts me in a more peaceful state. And I gather ideas about life from these stories, the morals from the stories , or lessons they teach. Sometimes, just reading a story carries my emotions along with it. This can elevate my feelings and deepen my love and compassion for the whole world.
It is reasons like all the above that have made Christ’s teachings last for 2,000 years. Jesus’ teachings prevailed against the Roman gods, against the threat of a terrible death, and against a society structured to support the Roman Empire. These teachings even survived when the Empire fell into chaos. And for good or for bad, these teachings held the western world together as it rebuilt through the dark ages, the middle ages, and into the status it now enjoys in the world. “The stone which the builders rejected has become the cornerstone.”

PRAYER

Lord, we have sought to learn about you and to follow in your footsteps. We pray that you enlighten our minds when we read your scriptures. For you have left us writings that contain Your Word. These stories and parables are inspired by you and contain unlimited wisdom. May we turn to them for guidance and comfort. And when we turn to Your Word, we pray that you come to us. We pray that you enlighten our mind and enkindle our hearts with the holy flame of your love.

And Lord, we pray for the sick. May they experience the power of your healing love. Fill them with the grace of your healing power. Comfort their family and friends. We pray for the grace of your healing power for all who are ailing in body or soul.

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