Archive for March, 2015

Mar 29th, 2015

He Will Proclaim Peace
Rev. Dr. David J. Fekete
March 29, 2015
Palm Sunday

Zechariah 9:9-12 Matthew 21:1-11 Psalm 118

Today we think about the triumphant arrival of Jesus into Jerusalem. This Sunday marks the beginning of Holy Week. In less than a week, we will go through the betrayal and crucifixion of Jesus on Good Friday. And then we will celebrate the happiest day in human history in Jesus’ resurrection and triumph over death.
This Sunday is all about the celebration of Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem. But since we all know the whole story very well, we can’t help but feel the irony of this triumphant entry. While a large crowd celebrates Jesus arrival, we know that within a week a large crowd will cry for Jesus’ death. I can’t help but think that Palm Sunday is a lesson in mob mentality.
I think that the reason why the crowd turned against Jesus is because he didn’t live up to the mob’s expectations. The mob was set up by the prophesies about the coming Messiah. We heard one such prophesy today from Zechariah. Matthew quotes this passage from Zechariah to explain Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem. So I think that this passage deserves some attention.
I can see how Jesus fulfills some of this prophesy. And I can also see why Jesus didn’t fulfill other parts of it. I think the problem is that Zechariah 9 sends out a mixed message. The passage is about a king coming to Jerusalem. Verse 9 states, ” Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem! Lo, your king comes to you.” This is a special king. The king is gentle, righteous, and brings salvation. The king also proclaims peace to the nations. This much fits with what we know about Jesus.
But there is more. This king will also rule the nations. The king will bring peace, but he will do so by wielding power. Zechariah says that the king will,
Take away the chariots from Ephraim
and the war-horses from Jerusalem,
and the battle bow will be broken (Zechariah 9:10).
This king will rule the entire known world,
His rule will extend from sea to sea
and from the River to the ends of the earth.
The reference to the River is the Euphrates. To rule from the Euphrates to the ends of the earth means that the king’s rule will cover the whole world. The king is to restore the lost fortunes to Israel, “Even now I announce that I will restore twice as much to you” (9:12).
This is what the people of Jerusalem were expecting. They were expecting a king who would restore the fortunes of the Jews twice over. Yes, the king would bring peace. But he would bring peace by driving out the foreign powers now in control of Jerusalem and Israel. The prophesy in Zechariah says that the great Egyptian power and the Assyrian empire will be brought low. And the people read that prophesy as especially pertaining to Rome. The king when he arrives will destroy the grip of the Romans and liberate the Israelites. The prophesies promised this and everyone was expecting this. Upon the birth of John the Baptist, Zechariah twice exclaims his hopes for the deliverance of Israel by Jesus,
He has raised up a horn of salvation for us
in the house of his servant David
(as he said through his holy prophets of long ago),
salvation from our enemies
and from the hand of all who hate us– . . .
to rescue us from the hand of our enemies (Luke 1:69, 74).
Not only will Israel be freed from her oppressors, she will be a light to all the rest of the world. Isaiah is one prophet replete with these prophesies.
I, the LORD, have called you in righteousness;
I will take hold of your hand.
I will keep you and will make you to be a covenant for the people
and a light for the Gentiles (Isaiah 42:6).
All the nations surrounding Jerusalem will flock to her and pay her tribute.
Nations will come to your light;
And kings to the brightness of your dawn . . .
the wealth of the seas will be brought to you,
to you the riches of the nations will come . . .
Foreigners will rebuild your walls,
And their Kings will serve you. . . .
The sons of your oppressors will come bowing before you;
all who despise you will bow down at your feet
and will call you The City of the LORD,
Zion of the Holy One of Israel (Isaiah 60:3, 5, 10, 14)
Anyone whose expectations are that high are going to be terribly disappointed when they don’t come to pass. These were the expectations put on Jesus. He seemed to have fulfilled much of the prophesies that people were hoping for in those days. For there were prophesies about a servant who would do these miraculous things,
Here is my servant, whom I uphold,
My chosen one in whom I delight;
I will put my Spirit on him
and he will bring justice to the nations. . . .
In faithfulness he will bring forth justice;
he will not falter or be discouraged
till he established justice on earth. . . .
to open the eyes that are blind ((Isaiah 42:1, 3, 6).
“Behold, your God
will come with vengeance,
with the recompense of God.
He will come and save you.”
5 Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened,
and the ears of the deaf unstopped;
6 then shall the lame man leap like a hart,
and the tongue of the dumb sing for joy (Isaiah 35:4-6).
It was clear that God’s Spirit rested on Jesus. He did open the eyes of the blind, the ears of the deaf, and gave the lame man to leap like a deer. The people in Jesus’ day had high hopes for their redeemer. And high hopes for what He would do for them, and to the Romans.
But Jesus did none of these deeds of warfare and rule. He was the humble Suffering Servant who did not resist the authorities when they came to arrest Him.
And the irony is that Jesus did and does bring peace. But it is not a peace such as the world understands it. It is not peace from war or conquest of nation against nation. When He was questioned by Pilate during His trial, Jesus said,
My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jews. But now my kingdom is from another place (John 18:36).
The kind of peace Jesus brings us is peace of the heart. The peace that Jesus brings is the peace that comes when we turn from vengeful feelings and anger. The kind of peace that Jesus brings is when we are filled with love, joy, and forgiveness.
Jesus does have a kingdom. That kingdom is spiritual, not material. And the spiritual world is not located in any place. Rather, it is everywhere, inside us.
That means that wherever we are, at any time, we have access to the peaceful kingdom that Jesus rules. We have the power to open our hearts to Jesus and find His peace. When we empty our souls from hateful feelings, anger, and resentments, we find peace and love flowing into us in their place. Some call this serenity.
I don’t think that even Jesus’ closest followers were aware of this truth while Jesus was alive. It was after the horror of Good Friday, and the joy of Easter that the disciples were able to ponder Jesus’ teachings and come to terms with this remarkable life, this remarkable God-Man.
Unfortunately, the history of Christianity has not lived up to its founder’s beatific vision of inner peace. There have been squabbling and even wars between fellow Christians and other religions. The message of peace that Jesus brings is as near to you as the person next to you and as distant as injustice and oppression around the globe.
And as we consider how we will respond to our immediate neighbor or our neighbors around the globe, I think the starting point is in our own hearts. We will not be in a place to foster peace if we are not peaceful in our own hearts. You cannot give away what you don’t have. Let us, then joyously welcome Jesus into our hearts. Let us welcome Him as the king of our spirit. And let us reflect on his teachings of peace, forgiveness, and healing. Then we will not be disappointed, bitter, or vengeful in our lives. For Jesus’ kingdom is not of this world, it is in our souls. Let us prepare a place for Him now.

PRAYER

Lord, this Sunday we think about the joy of your arrival in Jerusalem. We think of the joy you bring to us when we let you into our hearts. But in a short week, the people of Jerusalem turned against you. May we remain faithful to you in our lives and in our beliefs. You are our savior. Besides you, there is no God. May we always hold a place for you in the centre of our life. May we hold a place for love in the centre of all our affairs. And may we empty our hearts of anger and resentment and open the chambers of our hearts for your Spirit, Love, and forgiveness.

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. We pray for the grace of your healing power for all who are ailing in body or soul.

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Mar 22nd, 2015

When I Am Lifted Up
Rev. Dr. David J. Fekete
March 22, 2015

Jeremiah 31:31-34 John 12:20-33 Psalm 51

John 12 is all about the glorification of the Lord. It is captured in verse 32, “And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to myself.” This is a reference to Jesus’ resurrection. And it says that when Jesus is resurrected He will draw all men to Himself. When Jesus says that He will draw all persons to Himself, He means He will draw us into heaven with Him. This is stated earlier in verse 26, “If anyone serves me, he must follow me; and where I am, there shall my servant be also.” These statements support this church’s view of salvation. We believe that it is the resurrected Jesus Christ whose divine love and wisdom lifts people into heaven. So John’s Gospel says, “and I when I am lifted from the earth, will draw all men to myself.”
Notice what this Gospel does not say. It does not say that Jesus’ death on the cross is what saves. It says nothing about the atonement doctrine. It does not say that Christ’s death is what saves. It does not say that Jesus bore the sins of humanity when He was crucified. It does not say, “When I am crucified I will save humanity.” No. It says, “And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to myself.” This is very important. This statement says that it is the resurrection that truly matters. Not the crucifixion.
There are many references in this passage to the word glorification. Jesus says that He will be glorified. So John 12:23 reads, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.” References to glorification are scattered throughout the passage. The glorification of Jesus is the complete unification with God. When God and Man are completely one, then Jesus is glorified. And when Jesus became glorified, He was then able to save humanity in a new way. Now through the glorified Humanity of God, God was and is able to come to humanity through God’s own Human Body. Jesus was fully God and fully Man according to the Athanasian Creed. And John’s Gospel tells us just how human Jesus was. Jesus had material form. John tells us that, “The Word became flesh.” And Jesus Himself tells us that He has a material body and gives proof. In an Easter story, Jesus appears before the Apostles,
Jesus Himself stood among them. But they were startled and frightened, and supposed that they saw a spirit. And he said to them, “Why are you troubled, and why do questionings rise in your hearts? Se my hands and my feet, that it is I myself; handle me, and see; for a spirit has not flesh and bones as you see that I have.” And while they still disbelieved for joy, and wondered, he said to them, “Have you anything here to eat?” They gave him a piece of broiled fish, and he took it and ate before them (Luke 24:36-43).
This spiritual and material Jesus Christ–God and Man–comes to each of us through His own power and Humanity. It is the inflowing love and wisdom from the Divine Human that saves.
Jesus explains the power of the resurrected Divine Human in the parable about the grain of wheat in today’s reading. He says, “Unless a grain of wheat falls to the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit” (12:24). The metaphor here is that a grain of wheat does nothing unless it is planted. But when it is planted, a sheaf grows up that produces heads of grain and much “fruit.” The plant of wheat that grows up is a reference to Jesus’ resurrection. Just as the wheat seed grows up and bears fruit, so Jesus’ resurrected Divine Humanity draws humanity to Himself, saving all who follow Him. The imagery is the fruit that grain of wheat produces–not the grain of wheat dyeing. So it is the resurrection that is spoken of here.
Jesus grew up in the world and put off the humanity He inherited from Mary. The process of putting off the maternal humanity and putting on Divine Humanity is the process called glorification.
We follow a similar process. Jesus says, “If anyone serves me, he must follow me” (12:26). We follow a similar process of putting off what we inherit from our parents and put on what flows in from God. The process we go through is called regeneration, or rebirth.
We grow up learning coping mechanisms that fit us to life in the world. Our first mind is a worldly mind. Our first way of acting is matched for survival in the world. It can be said that we are an image of the world upon first attaining adulthood. But we need a second birth in order to become spiritual. Our souls need to be formed into a spiritual body that is an image of God. Jesus teaches this in the story of Nicodemus in John 3.
We need to accept spiritual life by living according to spiritual principles. Some people grow up with ineffective behavior patterns. These people need to re-learn better, more constructive behavior patterns. In theological language, this would be putting off worldly lusts and putting on heavenly affections. Some people are born generally good people. But even such people need to live according to spiritual principles. We need to do good because it is Godly. Doing good out of mere habit, or because we want to be respected and honored, or to advance our standing in our communities–none of these approaches to doing good are spiritually beneficial. Doing good for those reasons is really doing good to ourselves. We are doing it to make ourselves look good or we’re just doing it out of habit. It is serving self, not God.
There are many examples of this kind of good. Some people do good to their friends. But this is serving self. Their friends are people that they have made their own. So friendship is a kind of second self. Likewise, doing good to family members is also serving self. We are bound to family by blood or marriage. This is a kind of second self, too. I knew a man who was so filled with love for his grandchild that he thought himself on a par with Christians, whom he held in contempt. He thought himself equally loving. But when I asked him if he felt equal love for other children, he was stumped. His love actually didn’t extend past his own bloodline, and his own.
The real test of spirituality is whether a person can and will do good for a stranger. Will a person do good to a stranger who embodies good qualities. Or even further, and I think that this is hard for any of us, will we do good to enemies? That is the real test of spirituality. If we do good only to people who do good to us, we are serving self. Who wouldn’t do good if they think that the other person will sooner or later do good back to them? But to do good to someone who is a good person according to all appearances but is at odds with us is truly serving God. In a case like this, we are looking at what is good, not what we get out of it. Looking at good wherever we find it is serving God. God is good; good is God. So when we love what is good, we are loving God.
That is why doing good to an enemy is spiritual. That is why doing good for a cause is spiritual. That is why it is not enough to do good out of habit or because we want to look good. To be spiritual, we need to do good out of love for what is good in and of itself.
I don’t think that we are born with this love for goodness. I think that it needs to be implanted in our hearts from heaven and from God. That is the new covenant spoken of in our reading from Jeremiah 31.
Behold, the days are coming, says the LORD, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah . . . I will write it upon their hearts (Jeremiah 31:31, 33).
This is the second birth that Jesus teaches. We need to grow up out of our families. We need to realize that the world is bigger than father and mother and brother and sister. We are becoming spiritual when we begin to see the world as brother and sister. And we are becoming spiritual when we begin to see God as our Father and the Church as our mother.
Jesus united God with His Humanity. We become spiritual from being born worldly. The process Jesus followed is called glorification. The process we follow is called regeneration, or rebirth. The risen Jesus comes to us and fills us with His love and wisdom. So He says that when He is lifted up He will draw all men to Himself. And in the resurrected Divine Humanity, God saves us struggling humans. So the wheat seed falls to the earth dead and raises up a head of grain. Jesus’ death and resurrection gives humanity the power to be with Jesus eternally in heaven. That is the fruit born of the dead and resurrected Jesus Christ in His Divine Humanity.

PRAYER

Lord, we give you thanks for coming to humanity when we were in need of your presence. You came to earth and showed us the way back home to you. You struggled with temptations and overcame them all. You taught us that we need to follow in your footsteps. We, too, must struggle with temptations. And as you put off everything mortal that you inherited from Mary, so we, too, must put off our worldly inclinations and put on heavenly ones. We pray this morning that you inspire us with heavenly loves as we turn from worldly passions. We pray that you teach us from your divine wisdom, as we turn from the appearances that the world teaches us. And as you were resurrected on the third day, we pray that we may be reborn a new creation, in your image, and in heaven with you forever.

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. We pray for the grace of your healing power for all who are ailing in body or soul.

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That the World Might Be Saved
Rev. Dr. David J. Fekete
March 15, 2015
Numbers 21:4-9 John 3:14-21 Psalm 107:1-3, 17-22
John 3:17 is one of my favorite Bible passages. It reads, “For God sent the Son into the world, not to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him.” This is the Jesus I believe in and the one whom I love. This is the loving Jesus, the saving Jesus, the Jesus who dedicated His whole life to serving and saving humanity.
Unfortunately, just before this lovely verse is one that has caused much harm and misunderstanding in the history of Christianity. That verse is the infamous John 3:16. Conservative Christians who know little about the Bible seem to know this one verse well and have committed it to memory and heart. That one verse reads, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” Conservative Christians—and there are a lot of them—take this to mean that Jesus saves. Not only that. They take this verse to mean that only Jesus saves. They take this verse to say that every other religion in the world is false and their followers will be damned for not believing in Jesus. I’m not kidding. This is what they truly believe. This idea is patently false.
I can give you a couple examples I’ve run into to show just how prevalent this erroneous belief is. When I was seeking a minister to do an internship with before ordination, I approached a Lutheran minister in Florida. This minister gave me serious consideration—even to the extent of looking up the Swedenborgian Church online. He had printed up several pages from it and even highlighted some lines. One line he particularly drew my attention to was one that said we believe that everyone of every faith can be saved. This line was highlighted in yellow. He pointed to it and exclaimed passionately, “I can’t accept that!” For him, Jesus bore the sins of humanity on the cross. And you are saved only if you have faith in Jesus. And just recently in my trip to Urbana University in Ohio, I ran into this issue again. After I had talked to a world religions class about Swedenborg and Hinduism, a student approached me and the teacher when class ended. He said that this practice of accepting different religions was a sign that the “one world religion” foretold in the book of Revelation. This class was promoting that one world religion by showing tolerance to other religions than Christianity. Then the student said he was offended. He thought that only Christianity saved and that he could prove it from the Bible. These are only two of many encounters I have had with conservative Christians who cling to that one passage, John 3:16.
Reason alone tells us that this idea is false. Can it be that the billions of Jews, Muslims, Hindus, or Buddhists are all damned because they don’t believe in Jesus? The God I know and worship could never be that narrow, heartless, and cruel. The God I know and worship came into the world, “not to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him.”
John’s Gospel explains just how Jesus saves the world. And that explanation is open to all the world’s religions. John tells us that Jesus is the light. People who hate the light turn away from it because their deeds are evil. While people who love the light turn to it because their deeds are wrought in God..
And this is the judgment, that the light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil. For every one who does evil hates the light, and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed. But he who does what is true comes to the light, that it may be clearly seen that his deeds have been wrought in God (John 3:19-21).
This statement could have been lifted from almost any sacred text from the world’s religions. These categories of light and darkness are used in almost every religion in the world, in fact, probably every one. It even finds its way into the mythology of the Star Wars movies where warriors of the light battle the dark side of The Force.
So this is why and how Jesus saves—because He brings the light to humanity. And students of the world’s religions know that Jesus isn’t the only revealer to bring light to humanity. Notice, too, that this passage speaks of judgment. It begins with the words, “And this is the judgment . . . .” See, too, that the judgment is self-judgment. Jesus doesn’t cast people away. It is people who turn themselves away from the light—“Everyone who does evil hates the light, and does not come to the light” (3:20). People who love the truth come to the light—“But he who does what is true comes to the light that it may be clearly seen that his deeds have been wrought in God” (3:21). So the judgment is self-judgment. People either come to the light or turn from the light of their own accord. Swedenborg completely agrees with this idea–heaven or hell are chosen. It is a person’s own choice whether he or she wants to live in heaven’s light or hell’s darkness.
That is how we are to understand the condemnation mentioned in verse 18, “He who believes in him is not condemned; he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.” The salvation here described is not a matter of accepting Jesus as a person’s savior in one ecstatic moment during a religious frenzy. And the condemnation is not because a person hasn’t accepted Jesus as one’s personal savior in one ecstatic moment of religious frenzy. How shallow Christianity would be if that were the case!
The issue here is stated plainly. Those who do evil turn from the light (3:20). And those who do good turn toward the light that it may be clearly be seen that their deeds have been wrought in God (3:21). How clearly this is stated! It isn’t a matter of believing in Jesus at all! It is a matter of godly deeds or evil deeds. This passage states plainly that faith alone doesn’t save. Deeds that are wrought in God are what save and cause a person to turn to the light.
That is how I understand this problematic passage. And this is why I am Christian and also open to the world’s religions.
Likewise, our passage from Numbers requires careful reading. In it, the Israelites complain about the worthless food they have to eat in the desert. By way of punishment, God sends them fiery snakes and many Israelites get bitten and die. If we read this story as written, God looks angry and punishing. But this church teaches that the Bible is written in appearances. These appearances are not actually true. The appearances are how God appeared to people when the Bible was written. And some of the Bible stories are 4,000 years old. People who lived back then saw God in a fearful, childlike way. God can look like an angry parent, or a furious warlord—personalities that primitive peoples knew. We understand God differently today. We see God as loving and doing only what is good to humans. The story that makes God look like He is punishing is an appearance. I have quoted Swedenborg on this a few Sundays ago. But as it is so critical to understanding the Bible, I would like to quote him again on this issue.
In many places in the Word anger, wrath, and vengeance are attributed to God and He is said to punish, . . . [but] the genuine truth . . . is, that God is Love itself, Mercy itself, and Good itself, and such a Being cannot be angry, wrathful, or vengeful. These things are attributed to God in the Word, because such is the appearance. These are appearances of truth (TCR 256).
This is the loving, saving God I know, believe in, and worship. And, in fact, in this story, when the Israelites repent, God sends them a means of healing. So this story is actually about sin, repentance, and divine forgiveness.
In both our Old Testament reading and our New Testament reading, God is seen as a Being who is in relationship with humanity. In the Old Testament reading, God listens to the Israelites and sends them healing when they turn toward God. And in our New Testament reading, we have a God who actually comes to earth to save us. As one of my theology teachers said, “God plays ball with you.” And coming to humanity in order to save us from ourselves is the best ball game we can play with God. This God, Jesus Christ, is the loving God I worship and adore, and He loves me, loves us more than we can imagine.

PRAYER

Lord, you have told us that you came not to judge the world, but to save it. We pray this morning that you enter our hearts and minds with your saving love and wisdom. You came to bring light to the earth. And you continue to bring light to the world. Enlighten our minds, we pray, this morning and each day. Enkindle in our hearts the flame of your holy love. Inspire our footsteps to walk in the path of your righteousness. And give us to perform deeds wrought in God.

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. We pray for the grace of your healing power for all who are ailing in body or soul.

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Mar 8th, 2015

Purifying the Temple
Rev. Dr. David J. Fekete
March 8, 2015

Exodus 20:1-17 John 2:13-22 Psalm 19

In our reading from John, Jesus makes a connection between His body and the temple in Jerusalem. In a scene filled with dramatic action, Jesus drives out the money changers and the men selling animals for sacrifice. The Jews question Jesus, asking Him by what authority He does these things. Jesus’ answer is cryptic. He says, “Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up.” By this, Jesus is referring to the temple of His body. It is a prediction of the resurrection. After Jesus’ death on the cross, He is raised from the dead after three days.
It can be said that this one story sums up Jesus’ entire mission on earth. Cleansing the temple and raising His body from the dead are what Jesus came to earth to do. Cleansing the temple is a metaphor for reforming the church. And raising His body from the dead is a way of saying that Jesus cleansed His mortal part to such a degree that there was nothing left but the Divine Human. This Divine Human was a total and complete union of God and Man in the body of Jesus Christ. Cleansing the temple is also a metaphor for Jesus cleansing His humanity and making it divine. For the temple symbolizes Jesus’ body.
Driving out the money changers and those selling sacrificial animals would have been seen as a huge disruption in the status quo. For many Jews–and particularly for the leaders of Jewish culture–the temple was the very focal point for Jewish worship. Performing the right sacrifice for the right reason was at the heart of worship in those days. By driving out the salesmen and money changers, Jesus was challenging the way Jews worshipped. He was saying that they had it all wrong.
Who would be prepared to hear that about their worship? Who would be able to see why Jesus was doing what He did? Who would accept the fact that the way things had been done for thousands of years was wrong? So it is not surprising that the Jews would ask Jesus, “What sign have you to show us for doing this?” In other words, they are asking Jesus who He was to disrupt things so dramatically. For here was a peasant from the backwoods of Galilee coming into the ancient heart of Judea, the most cosmopolitan city in Judea, the capital, if you will, and dramatically vandalizing the temple. I’m not so sure His answer would have been satisfactory. In fact, it may have been inflammatory.
He says that He was able to raise the temple in three days were it torn down. What could this possibly mean? Could it mean that Jesus was Lord of the temple itself? Does it mean that Jesus could tear down and build up? John’s Gospel tells us that Jesus meant that His body would be raised up in three days after His death on the cross. But what does this have to do with the temple? Somehow, Jesus is making a connection between Himself and the temple.
The connection between Jesus’ body and the temple can be seen in what Jesus did for the church and how He did it. Cleansing the temple can be seen as a metaphor for what Jesus did for the church. Jesus cleansed the church. He reminded Jews of the teachings that are at the heart of their laws. Jesus reminded them that love for God and love for the neighbor are at the heart of all the law and the prophets.
Jesus taught further that religion is an inward matter. He taught that it is not an outward matter of performing the right sacrifice for the right reason. I think that John is setting up the reader for this teaching. In all the other Gospels, Jesus’ dramatic cleansing of the temple happens late in His ministry. It immediately follows Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem which we celebrate on Palm Sunday. But In John’s Gospel, the cleansing of the temple happens very early in Jesus’ ministry. It comes right after Jesus’ first miracle, when He turns water into wine at the wedding feast. By cleansing the temple this early, John is already pointing his readers away from external practices. John is telling us that temple sacrifice isn’t what religion is all about.
The idea that religion is something internal then comes in the very next chapter of John. In Jesus’ discussion with Nicodemus, Jesus teaches that we must be born again of water and the Spirit. Then John actually negates temple sacrifice in the next chapter, with the story of the woman at the well. The woman asks Jesus about temple sacrifice. She says, “Our fathers worshipped on this mountain; and you say that in Jerusalem is the place where men ought to worship” (John 4:20). Jesus’ reply teaches the world that temple sacrifice is not what religion is about,
The hour is coming when neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father . . . But the hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshippers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for such the Father seeks to worship him. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth (John 4:21, 23-24).
With these words, Jesus points away from temple sacrifice and toward our internal spirit. He tells us that our spirits need to seek God, not our body with correct rituals.
So by pointing toward our spirits, and pointing away from the temple, Jesus is reforming Jewish worship. He is implanting a new form of religion in the world. In this sense, cleansing the temple is a metaphor for purifying the way religion had been practiced. He is cleansing the world and opening the windows of heaven to flow into each human with new life from God.
And this opening of heaven was done through Jesus’ Divine Humanity. John’s Gospel contains those beautiful words, “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth; we have beheld His glory” (John 1:14). This Word that became flesh was God, is God. God became flesh. Can you imagine the power of God in a Human form, walking right next to you? You would certainly be able to feel it. The two disciples who walked next to Jesus on the road to Emmaus certainly felt it. They said to each other, “Did not our hearts burn within us while he talked to us on the road, while he opened the scriptures to us?” (Luke 24:32).
This church teaches that before Jesus’ incarnation, God flowed into humans through the heavens. The church also teaches that the spiritual world had become so filled with evil spirits who choked off heaven’s influx. Heaven’s influx was blocked. But when God became a material being, God could flow into His own Humanity, and bring the power of God’s Love to earth through Himself. Jesus was now the conduit from God to humanity. This divine connection from on high to here below broke up the grip hell had in the spiritual world and opened heaven’s light again. Now heaven could flow into us and God could come directly to us through the resurrected Divine Humanity of Jesus. So in our statement of faith we say, “He defeated the demonic power, destroying its hold on the world, releasing us from bondage.”
So on the earthly plane, Jesus reformed religion by teaching that temple sacrifice was not the way to worship. He taught that our inward state was where to find true religion. And Jesus reformed and reordered the spiritual world to allow this to happen in our souls. Jesus’ incarnation opened up a way for God to come to us here on the material world. And as He brought God to humanity in His own Divine Human form, God also opened up the windows of heaven so that heavenly light could shine through to us here on earth.
By driving out the money changers and the salesmen from the temple, Jesus taught us a new way to worship. He cleansed religion as He cleansed the temple. And by raising up His divine Human form, by His own power, God and Human became one. God can now come to us immediately through the risen and glorified Jesus Christ. And God can come to us through the opened windows of the heavens.

PRAYER

Lord, when you were on earth you cleansed the temple of impure practices. You also made your humanity divine, by purging the merely mortal humanity. So this morning we pray that you cleanse the temple of our bodies. We ask you to give us the strength to cooperate with you in the good work of purifying our souls. Give us the power to drive out every evil and limiting passion and thought. May we be filled with your Holy Spirit. And may we be open to your inflowing love. May the windows of heaven be opened to us and may heavenly light shine upon us and fill us with the desire to good at every opportunity we have.

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. We pray for the grace of your healing power for all who are ailing in body or soul.

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Mar 1st, 2015

All Can Be Regenerated
Rev. Dr. David J. Fekete
March 1, 2015

Isaiah 6:1-8 Luke 5:1-11 Psalm 138

In our second week of Lent, I selected Bible passages that treat to purification from sin. I find the Bible readings for this morning both interesting and comforting. They both concern a meeting between man and God. In the Old Testament, the prophet Isaiah sees God above the awe-inspiring cherubim. And in the New Testament reading, Simon Peter, James, and John meet Jesus while they are fishing. In both passages, God comes to the people—they don’t seek Him out. And God comes to the people where they are in life. He doesn’t appear in a period of prayer, or meditation—He comes right in the middle of their lives. The first response of the people to whom God comes is the same. They both feel conscious of their own unworthiness. Isaiah says, “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts (6:5). Likewise, Simon Peter bows down at Jesus’ knees and says, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man” (Luke 5:8). The striking thing about these responses is that they come from the people themselves, not God. It is Isaiah and Peter who see themselves as sinful, not God. And God stays right there with them; He does not depart. He cleanses Isaiah with a coal taken from the temple and despite his fear, Peter follows Jesus straightaway.
I take two basic ideas from these readings. One is how God sees us. And the other is God’s response of cleansing when we are brought into His presence.
I was comforted by the way God acts when He appears to Isaiah and Peter. Both men feel their own unworthiness, in fact, their sinfulness. Yet God sees no offence. God comes to us regardless of our own spiritual state. We don’t have to be perfect for God to come to us. We need not be saints to encounter God. In so many passages in the Old Testament, we hear of God being angry, or punishing, or even vengeful. But Swedenborg teaches that these are all appearances. They are ideas about God that were given to a primitive, warrior people, who themselves thought that way. So they saw God that way. But Swedenborg sees God very differently. He makes a beautiful statement about how God views the human race. He says that God does not see our evils. And furthermore none of those dreadful images of God represent who God actually is.
The Lord imputes good to every person, but hell imputes evil to every person. That the Lord imputes to man good and not evil, while the devil (meaning hell), imputes evil is a new thing in the church; and it is new for the reason that in the Word it is frequently said that God is angry, takes vengeance, hates, damns, punishes, casts into hell, and tempts, all of which pertain to evil, and therefore are evils. But . . . the sense of the letter of the Word is composed of such things as are called appearances and correspondences . . . when such things are read these very appearances of truth, while they are passing from a person to heaven, are changed into genuine truths, which are, that the Lord is never angry, never takes vengeance, never hates, damns, punishes, casts into hell, or tempts, consequently does evil to a person (TCR 650).
In another place, Swedenborg tells us that God cannot even look at us sternly,
as He wills only what is good he can do nothing but what is good. . . . From these few statements it can be seen how deluded those are who think, and still more those who believe, and still more those who teach, that God can damn any one, curse any one, send any one to hell, predestine any soul to eternal death, avenge wrongs, be angry, or punish. He cannot even turn Himself away from humanity, nor look upon anyone with a stern countenance (TCR 56).
God doesn’t even judge us, let alone damn anyone to hell.
That the Lord imputes good to every person and evil to none, hence that He does not judge any one to hell, but so far as a person follows raises all to heaven is evident from His words: Jesus said, “When I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw all persons unto Myself” (John 12:32); “God sent His Son into the world not to judge the world, but that the world through Him might be saved” (John 3:17); Jesus said, “I judge no man” (John 8:15) (TCR 652).
And God’s love extends to the whole human race—good and bad. “The love of God goes and extends itself, not only to good persons and things, but also to evil persons and things” (TCR 43).
What would it feel like to see God face to face? Perhaps like the Bible passages we heard this morning, meeting God face to face might make us feel our own unworthiness. In the presence of infinite goodness and infinite love, we would probably see how far from infinite goodness we are. This brings to mind the second aspect of these Bible readings. In Isaiah, God purifies the prophet with a coal taken from the altar. And in the New Testament, despite his own feeling of sin, Peter drops his nets and immediately follows Jesus. When God comes to us, He brings us purification.
What purification means is seen differently in different churches. Some Christians say that Jesus bore our sins, and our sins are atoned for if we believe. Swedenborg sees the matter differently. For Swedenborg, our sins have become a part of our personality. They are in our emotions, our thoughts, and our behaviours. They are part of who we are. In order to be purified, we need to examine ourselves and see each self-limiting thought and response for what it is. We need to weed the garden of our personality and root out those aspects that would choke off the fruit of the Spirit.
Sins are removed so far as a person is reborn, because rebirth is restraining the flesh that it may not rule, and subjugating the old man . . . . Who that yet has sound understanding, cannot conclude that such things cannot be done in a moment, but successively, as a person is conceived, carried in the womb, born, and educated . . . . For the things of the flesh or the old man are inherent in him from birth . . . as an infant grows, reaches childhood, then youth, and then begins to think from his own understanding, and to act from his own will. Who does not see that such a house which has been thus far built in the mind, . . . cannot be destroyed in a moment, and a new house built in place of it? Must not the lusts . . . be themselves first removed, and new desires which are of good and truth be introduced in the place of the lusts of evil and falsity? That these things cannot be done in a moment every wise person sees from this alone, that every evil is composed of innumerable lusts; . . . therefore unless one evil is brought out after another, and this until their connection is broken up, a person cannot be made new (TCR 611).
Even though this is a lifelong process—indeed a process that continues to eternity in the next life—the good news is that everyone can be reborn if they are but open to God’s influence. Swedenborg states this in no uncertain terms, “Since all men have been redeemed, all may be regenerated each according to his state” (TCR 579). This idea of rebirth is inclusive, rather than exclusive. It means that everyone has their own path to take in the process of spiritual rebirth. One person’s path may be very different from another’s. Our path may be very different from someone else’s. The variety of ways in which people are reborn are as infinite as there are faces in the human race.
All may be regenerated, each according to his state; for the simple and the learned are regenerated differently; as are those engaged in different pursuits, and those who fill different offices . . . those who are principled in natural good from their parents, and those who are in evil; those who from their infancy have entered into the vanities of the world, and those who sooner or later have withdrawn from them . . . and this variety, like that of people’s features and dispositions, is infinite; and yet everyone, according to his state may be regenerated and saved (TCR 580).
There is a powerful force emanating from God that draws everyone in the whole human race upward to heaven.
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).
I find these passages remarkably refreshing. It isn’t only people who have been brought up good who are regenerated, but even those who Swedenborg says “are in evil.” When I read this, I think about those unfortunate young people who are brought up in neighbourhoods where gangs dominate the culture. Or others who have had difficult upbringings. All these can be reformed and regenerated—each according to his or her upbringing and state of mind.
I think the main point in all this is to be open to God when He comes. In Revelation, Jesus says, “Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him, and he with me” (Revelation 3:20). Let us all listen for that knock. And let us all, regardless of what state we are in, open the door and eat the holy supper with our Lord.

PRAYER

Lord, you have come to earth to save humanity. And we are taught that every person can be saved who turns to you. None of us are righteous by our own efforts. This morning we pray that you touch our hearts with your divine goodness and bring us close to you. We would be close to you all the time–in our work lives, in our rest, and in our play. We know that it is your will to have everyone near to you. Lift us, we pray, into your kingdom, that we may find joy in you to eternity.
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. We pray for the grace of your healing power for all who are ailing in body or soul.

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