Archive for April, 2015

He Carries them Close to His Heart
Rev. Dr. David J. Fekete
April 26, 2015

Isaiah 40:9-11 John 10:11-18 Psalm 23

Our reading from Isaiah tells us that God tends His flock like a shepherd. He gathers the lambs in His arms, and carries them close to His heart (40:11). What a lovely image of God! This is the same God of the Old Testament who appeared to Moses in the burning bush. This is the God who freed the Israelites from slavery in Egypt. This is a God who cares for His children. He carries us close to His heart.
Jesus is that Shepherd. He came to earth and became a human like we are. In John, we are told that Jesus is the good shepherd. He says that He knows His sheep and His sheep know Him. So great is Jesus’ love that He even calls others who are strangers. Jesus says,
I have other sheep that are not of this sheep pen. I must bring them also. They too will listen to my voice, and there shall be one flock and one shepherd (10:16).
Probably, the reference to the sheep that are not of the sheep pen means the Gentiles who weren’t Jewish Christians. This is an indication of how open Christianity was to other religions and to people who weren’t of the same belief as the Christian Jews. Paul speaks to this inclusion eloquently,
For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus (Galatians 3:27-28).
God is inclusive because God loves each and every human being. Swedenborg speaks about just how loving and inclusive God is,
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).
As God loves everyone, God want to make everyone as happy as we can be.
Jehovah, or the Lord’s internal, was the very Celestial of Love, that is, Love itself, . . . which is such that it wishes to save all and make them happy for ever, and to bestow on them all that it has; thus out of pure mercy to draw all who are willing to follow, to heaven, that is, to itself, by the strong force of love (AC 1735).
And if we cooperate with God, we will all find a place in heaven which is uniquely suited to our own disposition,
. . . because the Lord wants to save everyone, he makes sure that all of us can have our places in heaven if we live well (DP 254).
Jesus is the good shepherd. Jesus carries each of us near His heart. God sees only our good qualities. God is the true parent who understands us, who knows us, and who never ceases in His efforts to lift us upward.
All God asks of us is that we respond to God’s love. God only asks that we listen for God’s voice. And when we hear God’s voice, we follow the path that leads to where God is.
There is a lot of noise that can drown out God’s voice. There is anxiety. We can worry about a million things. Some of these things that we worry about–probably most–never happen. We can worry about things in the future that will never come to pass. We can worry about other people and what they are thinking about us. When it is entirely possible that they aren’t even thinking about us at all! Mostly we worry about losing something we have or not getting something we want. How can God’s peace come to us when we are blocking it with worries such as these? How much of our behavior is driven by fear, and not by love? Maybe we need to pause, breathe calmly and just let our worries and anxiety dissipate. And in the peace that will surely follow, we can see more clearly what actions we want to take. We can act in Godly ways, filled with God’s peace.
Then there is the issue of consumer culture. We live in a society that teaches us to crave more and more, to acquire things–expensive things, designer things, things like big, loud pick-up trucks–things we can show to other people and things we can point to to show we are a success. How can we feel contentment in God if we are consumed with acquiring things? Again, the peace that comes when we are united with God can be blocked by the lust for acquisition. I remember seeing a news story about a wealthy owner of a textile factory in the US. The factory was the basis for a small town’s whole economy. Most of the people in that town worked at the factory. Well disaster hit and somehow the factory burned down. The owner, however, took the insurance money and rebuilt the factory in the same town. He also paid wages to his employees while the factory was being rebuilt. The journalist was amazed at all this. He asked the owner why he didn’t just take the insurance money for himself. The man replied, “And do what?! Eat more food? Buy another suit?” It was due to this man’s religious convictions that he felt obligated to provide for his employees. Plus, he clearly felt he had enough for a happy life.
If we have things in our life that come between God and ourselves, we need to recognise them. There is no shame in having shortcomings. We humans are susceptible to sin. It is the human condition. Swedenborg writes,
From birth, each of us is like a little hell in constant conflict with heaven. The Lord cannot rescue any of us from our hell unless we see that we are in it and want to be rescued (DP 251).
What does it mean to be rescued from hell? It means to open our arms to God who loves us. It means to hear God’s voice and to follow God when God calls. When we hear God call, then God can free us from the slavery of sin. Remember this is the same God who heard the Israelites call out to Him and who rescued the Israelites from a mighty foreign power. This God has the power to bring all of us into His loving arms. This God has the power to fill us with His divine love and make us into an image and likeness of God.
If we have God with us, we have everything. We have contentment with what is our own. We have as much happiness as we can bear. We are never alone. We always have someone who is with us to rejoice in our happiness and to give us comfort when we are downcast. When we think of these things, the words of the 23rd Psalm come to mind. The Psalmist says it so well in his divinely inspired poetry. With God, our cup overflows. We can’t be happier. “Surely goodness and mercy will follow me all the days of my life.” When we let go of worldly craving and anxiety, we feel that we have every good thing that we need. We live with God’s mercy. With our life full of good things, we think of our afterlife. And the Psalmist says we will live contented in this life and we will dwell with God in the next life forever,
Surely goodness and mercy will follow me all the days of my life; and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever.

PRAYER

Lord, you are the God of the universe; the God of earth and all its people, and the God of galaxies and planets. By your power the heavens are kept in order. By your power stars and galaxies are born. And yet an image you choose for yourself is that of a humble shepherd. In the prophets and when you were on earth, you call yourself our shepherd. And humanity–everyone who has ever lived and everyone who will live are all the sheep of your flock. You hold your lambs close to your heart. We know that you hold each one of us near your heart. You love each single person. You call to us and we know your voice. Help us to listen for your voice. And when we hear you call, give us the willingness to follow the path that leads to you. Help us to remove the worries and selfish cravings that come between you and us. And when you call to us with open arms, may we respond, and open our arms to you.

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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Apr 19th, 2015

It Is I, Myself
Rev. Dr. David J. Fekete
April 19, 2015

Jeremiah 10:1-10 Luke 24:36-53 Psalm 4

The God we worship is a living God! Our God is not made up out of human imagination. Our God is not a crutch to lean on because we are weak. Our God is not a refuge because we can’t face reality. We worship the One God because God is real and God is living!
Our reading from Jeremiah contrasts some God-images from the nations around Israel. His message is not to study what other nations do that surround Israel. These would be the nations of Canaan, or Babylon, or Assyria, or Egypt. Jeremiah speaks of astrology and idols. He tells us not to be afraid of what astrologers say about stars in the sky,
Learn not the ways of the nations, nor be dismayed at the signs of the heavens because the nations are dismayed at them (Jeremiah 10:2).
Then Jeremiah turns to a discussion of idols. He says that the nations around Israel cut down a tree and carve it with an axe and then deck it with silver and gold. These idols cannot move. They cannot do evil, nor can they do good. Then come those powerful words, “The LORD is the true God; he is the living God” (10:10). God is alive. God is true.
The God we worship is everywhere. Our God is with us wherever we go, however we feel, whatever we do. God is always with us, bringing us into greater love and truer thoughts.
This is the God who appeared to the Apostles after the crucifixion. Jesus came to them in His resurrected body. They thought that they were seeing a ghost. But Jesus reassures them, “It is I, myself.” The One God whom we worship came to earth when we needed divine presence. God rose from the dead body and soul. God is now present to us as Jesus Christ who lives.
Some people think that humanity made up the idea of God. They say that God is a crutch to lean on because believers can’t face reality. But we know differently. We have met God in our hearts. We feel God’s presence when we read scriptures. God enlightens our minds. God leads us out of our selfish tendencies and fills us with neighbor love.
I wonder how many people have had some sort of personal encounter with God. People who have had near death experiences speak of a shining white being who fills them with unearthly love. They speak of a peace and serenity that is unknown in the world. I have spoken with such individuals. I haven’t had experiences like that. But I do remember a profound experience I had when I was in my late teens. It was an ordinary day, an ordinary afternoon. It was late afternoon and the sun was low in the sky. I was standing on the lawn of my parents’ house. I looked at the sun, and I thought about my church friends. It was as if the sun became God Himself. I felt a closeness to God I had never felt before. At that moment, I knew that there was a God; I felt God; and the sun, my church friends, and God’s reality became one feeling of conviction. Then and there I knew that God is real. I haven’t felt anything like that since. But here I am, 40-odd years later, and I can see that experience clearly in my mind, my heart.
I don’t even know if my belief system depends on that one mystical experience. I can say this: everything I think depends on God. Every decision I make, every way I try to make sense of things, everything I consider good depends on God’s reality. I was once challenged by a friend of mine. He asked me what I would do if no one knew of my actions. What if there were no God, no consequences, no one looking over my shoulder, what would I do? At the time I was stumped. I didn’t know what to say. I now know that it is impossible for me to enter the world that he was describing. I just can’t wrap my mind around a world without God. What I do, what I will do, is because i love God, because God is good, and I love what is good because I love God. My whole understanding of what is right and good is because there is a God. My whole understanding of religion is that a person is to do good because there is a God and because one loves God. Doing good for any other motive isn’t an act of spirituality. So my friend’s world that was absent of God took away my motive for action. I couldn’t function in his world.
Believing in God is a leap of faith. I don’t think that there is proof for God, the way there is proof for the existence of, say, oxygen or atoms. But I don’t think that the leap of faith that tells us there is a God is a very big leap. And once we make the leap of faith that there is a God, all kinds of confirming evidence comes flooding into our thoughts. From the design of a flower to a sunrise or sunset, to a Beethoven symphony–to a believer, God is everywhere. In Jeremiah’s words, “The LORD is the true God; he is the living God” (10:10).
People make all kinds of leaps of faith. Most people have many belief systems. They will think that the human race is depraved and prone to violence. The deceased filmmaker Stanley Kubrick depicted such a belief system in almost every film. They may think that humanity is inherently greedy. They may think that the world is dog-eat-dog. They may think that only the strong survive. They may think that nice guys finish last. All these ideas are belief systems. And you might have noticed that I listed almost all negative belief systems–belief systems that non-believers might hold.
But for believers, our primary belief system is that there is a God. If that one statement is true, what are the other ideas that follow from such a belief? This is a world of love. The world was created out of love and love is everywhere. There is beauty in the world. There is forgiveness. There is salvation from humanity’s worst inclinations. There is eternal life. Things matter. We are cared for by a God who loves each one of us. We are all brothers and sisters under one Divine Parent.
Finally we come to the Christian belief. That is, Jesus rose from the dead and became one with God. In Jesus we have God and Man fully united. Some find it hard to believe that a human who walked the earth could be God in the flesh. When I listen to the fourth movement of Saint Saens’ Third Symphony, I know that Jesus’ footsteps were God’s footprints in the dust of Israel. I know that Jesus was God walking on the earth. If there is a God, why couldn’t God come to earth? When I think from God first, it is easy for me to believe that Jesus is God. But when I think of the person Jesus first, then it is that whatever doubts I have arise. There are historical issues that can cast doubts on Jesus’ divinity. Swedenborg cautions us against trying to understand faith from systems of knowledge, like history.
To explore the mysteries of faith by means of outward knowledge is as impossible as for a camel to go through the eye of a needle . . . It is therefore evident that they who take counsel of sense and outward knowledge as to the things to be believed, cast themselves headlong not only into doubt, but also into denial, that is, into profound darkness (AC 233).
I remember a phrase that a minister from my youth used on occasion. He would speak of being made stupid by knowledge. If a person begins to think about faith from history and culture, one can begin to doubt. That is being made stupid by knowledge. I wrote about this in a poem. I said that too much light can blind the eye. We can get lost in what we know. In this case, learning is a curse.
When the disciples doubted Jesus, it was out of joy. Luke tells us, “They still disbelieved for joy.” They were so happy they couldn’t believe their eyes. It wasn’t doubt, or lack of evidence. Quite the opposite. Jesus was right there in front of them. It was joy. After Jesus ascended into heaven, that joy remained with them. When we think from joy, Jesus is real to us. When we think from the wonder of the resurrection, Jesus lives. When Jesus is in our hearts we know that He lives. The joy of Jesus is what gives me conviction. Love for Jesus makes Jesus live. It’s as simple as that. It is as simple as singing that wonderful live from Handel’s Messiah, “I know that my redeemer liveth.”

PRAYER

Lord, this morning we celebrate the fact that you live! You are the true and living God. You have risen from the grave body and soul and live for ever! We come to you this morning and pray that you enter our hearts. Strengthen our conviction in you. Give us to feel your presence. And in your presence, fill us with heavenly joy, even here on earth. Fill this sanctuary with your love and wisdom. Enlighten our minds to learn about you and your ways. Fill us with kind regard for our neighbors. We know that you are the true and real God, and we thank you for your constant regard for us, your children.

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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Apr 12th, 2015

The Beginning of Wisdom
Rev. Dr. David J. Fekete
April 12, 2015

Isaiah 54:9-14 John 20:19-31 Psalm 111

Today I would like to reflect on the connection between belief in God and the peace that is associated with it. When Jesus appears to His disciples after the resurrection, He says, “Peace be with you.” And next, as if He were filling their souls with that very peace, Jesus breathes on them and says, “Receive the Holy Spirit.” For it is when we accept Jesus into our hearts, and when His Holy Spirit fills our souls, it is then that we find peace.
Likewise, we find similar statements about peace in our reading from Isaiah. There it is said that God’s love for Israel will not be shaken nor His covenant of peace be removed. We find here that God’s love is associated with peace. In Isaiah we find these words, “Great will be your children’s peace. In righteousness you will be established” (54:13, 14). Here we find a connection between righteousness and peace.
Finally, in our reading from Psalm 111 this morning we find the well-known words, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.” God’s works are said to be just and his precepts are said to be upright. So fear of the Lord leads us into wisdom and God’s justice and uprightness. When the Bible talks about fearing God, I don’t take it to mean being afraid of God. I think of fear of the Lord as more akin to awe, or respect, or reverence. I think that to fear God is to respect His ordinances and to follow them. The Psalmist connects fear of God with following His precepts. He writes, ” The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom;/all who follow his precepts have good understanding.”
But God’s peace, His uprightness, and His justice all hinge on the question of belief. In our New Testament reading we see some familiar reactions to the question of belief. We find the disciples overjoyed when they see the resurrected Jesus Christ. Then we have Thomas who wants to be convinced by means of his senses that Jesus has risen. Thomas represents those who refuse to believe in God until it can be proven. We confront these issues every day in the world today.
Swedenborg talks about two principles we can apply when we approach the problem of belief. There is the affirmative principle and there is the negative principle. The affirmative principle is to begin with the assumption that spirituality is true and that spiritual life is real. From a positive belief in religion, one then can explore science, or philosophy, or we look at our experiences, or any other system of knowledge to find support for religion. The negative principle is to doubt spirituality until one finds proof of it in science, or philosophy, or other systems of knowing. This is the way Thomas was. He wanted to see the nail holes and touch them. Thomas wouldn’t believe until he saw and touched, or until his senses were convinced. About these two approaches to spirituality, Swedenborg writes,
There are therefore two principles; one of which leads to all folly and insanity, and the other to all intelligence and wisdom. The former principle is to deny all things, or to say in the heart that
we cannot believe them until we are convinced by what we can apprehend, or perceive by the senses; this is the principle that leads to all folly and insanity, and is to be called the negative principle. The other principle is to affirm the things which are of doctrine from the Word, or to think and believe within ourselves that they are true because the Lord has said them: this is the principle that leads to all intelligence and wisdom, and is to be called the affirmative principle (AC 2568).
The consequences of these two approaches are either to strengthen faith by confirming spiritual truths with facts, knowledge, or experiences, or to deny faith because the proof one was looking for wasn’t found. So Swedenborg tells us,
The more they who think from the negative principle consult rational things, the more they consult systems of knowing, and the more they consult philosophical things, the more they cast and precipitate themselves into darkness, until at last they deny all things (AC 2568).
But with those who believe first, faith becomes more solid when it is supported by reasons and facts. For those who believe first and then look for proof, faith is strengthened.
to regard rational things from the doctrine of faith is first to believe in the Word, or in the doctrine therefrom, and then to confirm the same by rational things. [This] is genuine order, and causes the man to believe the better. . . . they who think from an affirmative principle can confirm themselves by whatever things rational, by whatever systems of knowledge, and whatever things philosophic they have at command; for all these are to them things confirmatory, and give them a fuller idea of the matter (AC 2568).
In our reading from John, it is when Jesus appears to His disciples that He gives them the Holy Spirit, and with it the blessing of peace. For it is only when we have Jesus in our hearts, or whatever God you worship, only then will we know what spiritual peace means.
The Psalmist says that the fear of God is the beginning of wisdom. I take this to mean that reverence for God is the start of spiritual growth. Or belief in God is the beginning of wisdom. There is so much that follows belief. It is belief in God that leads us to live a Godly life. It is belief in God that leads us to learn what is good and what is bad. Then belief in God leads us to strive to follow God’s precepts or to walk in the ways of Jesus. After we believe in God, we begin the process of repentance, reformation, and regeneration. Belief in God is just the beginning. It is far from the end or goal of spirituality.
I was asked to write an article on, “How can our faith help us to create heaven here on earth?” And to respond, I thought about a seminar I attended at the Interfaith Centre. The question there was whether religion is a positive force or a negative force in society. Rabbi David Kunin brought up and interesting point. He told about asking an atheist friend whether this friend felt called to love and help everybody, or just his family and friends. The atheist said that he felt no obligation to help anyone but his friends and family. Without a love for God and our neighbor, why would we do good to anyone but those who benefitted us? How often do we hear, “What’s in it for me?” Or, “What will I get out of it?” These are not religious questions. These are questions we are likely to hear in this self-oriented society we live in. But in order for earth to be heaven, we need to extend our love to everybody. We need to be good to everybody we see. We need to try to make everybody as happy as we can. We need to see that everybody–not just our friends and family–is just like us and wants to be happy. We need to care about others even if there isn’t something in it for us. We need to good to others, even if no one knows about it. This, only religion teaches.
And there is one truth that stands out from this approach to living. Loving God and others makes us feel good. Expressing love to others gives us the peace that Jesus breathed on His disciples. Peace isn’t just relaxation. Peace is an active feeling of joy when we are doing what is good. And in order to find this joy, we need to know what is good. When I gave a talk about spirituality at a university in the US, many of the students and some of the faculty said that children have an inborn sense or right and wrong, and don’t need to learn it from religion. I’m not sure that is true. And even if it were true, do children have the sense that self-sacrifice is a virtue? Do children have an inborn feeling of generosity and do they naturally share their toys with their little playmates? Does anyone have an inborn sense that forgiving our enemies rather than retaliating is a virtue? Does humanity in general have the sense that trying to make as many people happy as we can in our lives and through our work, that this is a virtue? Do people today have the inborn sense that there is a God and we are not the centre of the universe?
I think not. I think we need to learn these things. I think that heaven can only be created by heavenly principles. Imagine a world in which everybody wants to make everyone else happy. Imagine a world in which everybody tries to understand each other, and tries to give each other what each one needs for their own welfare. Imagine a world in which everybody cares about everyone else. Wouldn’t living there be heaven? Wouldn’t it be wonderful to live there? Wouldn’t you want to live there? This is a very basic image of how Swedenborg describes heaven. This world would have that peace of Jesus in it and we would have that peace living in such a world.
But it seems to me that such a world depends on religious principles. Such a world depends on the uprightness that God’s precepts lead to. Such a world depends on the fear of God, which is the beginning of such a world. Such a world depends on the acknowledgment of God who alone can fill us with His Holy Spirit and the joy and peace that follow from our receiving it.

PRAYER

Lord, this morning we reflect on your peace. It is not a peace such as the world gives, but it is heavenly peace. When you gave your Holy Spirit to the Apostles, at the same time you gave them peace. Give us, we pray, the same gift of your Holy Spirit, and with it heavenly peace. Take away our worries; calm our anxieties; and still our troubled hearts. The peace you give is filled with joy. We delight in every good deed and true thought when we are filled with your Holy Spirit and the peace it brings. Teach us your ways and confirm us in our faith in you. We know that you are, and are there for our salvation. Thanks be to you.

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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The Light Shines in the Darkness
Rev. Dr. David J. Fekete
April 5, 2015
Easter Sunday

John 1:1-18 Mark 16:1-8 Psalm 118

In our reading from John, we heard a short poem about the entire life of Jesus. It is put at the beginning of John’s Gospel, as if it was a birth story, but it really covers the entire life and mission of Jesus. Talking about Jesus’ birth, John says, “The true light that enlightens every man was coming into the world” (1:9). Then there is a verse that seems to stand for all time, “The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not overcome it” (4).
I would like to speak today about this eternal verse. This eternal truth that the light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it. I want to call attention to an important Greek word. This word is very hard to translate into English. In the translation I read, the verse says that the darkness has not overcome the light. In the King James Version, it says that the darkness has not comprehended it. And in a third translation it says that the darkness has not understood it. So one Greek word has been translated as, overcome, comprehended, and understood. The word in question is katalambano. This is a very strong word. It means to violently seize. Another translation is to grasp. Maybe this word is the best translation. What does it mean to grasp something? It means to understand something. “I can’t grasp the meaning of this word.” And it also means to grab something. “I grasped his arm.” The Greek word means both. It means to understand something. And it also means to seize something by force.
I want to talk about both these meanings of the word katalambano–to grasp with the mind and to grasp physically by force. Both these meanings relate to Jesus. The angry mob tried to overcome Jesus by force on Good Friday. But also the forces of darkness cannot understand Jesus and His message. They don’t grasp what Jesus means, why He came, and what He brings to humanity. In fact, that is the very language Jesus uses when He forgives the mob who has seized Him and led Him away to be crucified. Jesus says, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34).
Easter is the culmination of the greatest story that begins with Christmas and ends with Good Friday and Easter. The birth of Jesus on Christmas points toward this joyous culmination on Easter. On Easter Day Jesus rose from the dead and united His Humanity forever with God. In the resurrected Jesus Christ God and Man became One Person. Through the risen Divine Humanity of Jesus, the light continues to shine in our hearts and minds.
Christmas is the biggest Christian celebration these days. And it deserves joyous celebration as it commemorates that day when the light came into the world. And Jesus’ life on earth and His teachings follow that miraculous birth. But I think that Easter should be bigger than Christmas. Because it was for the purpose of rising up from the grave and uniting Himself with God that Jesus came into the world. As the living God-Man in the resurrected Jesus Christ, now the light shines forever into the world and into the hearts of all who accept Jesus.
Last Friday was Good Friday. And Good Friday brings us back to our opening remarks. On Good Friday, Jesus was crucified. All of nature grieved at the death of the light. Luke tells us that there was darkness over the whole land; that the sun stopped shining. The curtain of the temple in Jerusalem that separated God from the people was torn apart.
The forces of darkness thought that they could extinguish the light. They thought that by getting rid of Jesus, they could silence Him forever. The chief priests of the Jewish religion saw Jesus as a political threat, and wanted Him out of the way. The forces of darkness thought that by crucifying Jesus, they could put a stop to His teachings and the joy He brought to humanity.
But they were wrong. The light shined, continued to shine, continues to shine. They could not overcome the light. Jesus lived, continued to live, continues to live. With joy and astonishment, Jesus’ Apostles met the risen Jesus in person. And over the next decades, people remembered Jesus’ life and the things He said. They remembered the teachings that brought light to a dark world. They remembered the person who brought life to a spiritually dead society. And they wrote down the words and the life of the Light of the World. Jesus lives! Praise Jesus!
The efforts to extinguish the light were responses of ignorance. Many people in Jesus day, perhaps most, didn’t really understand who Jesus was. The mob turned against Jesus because He didn’t come as a conquering king and drive out the Romans. They turned against Jesus because He didn’t make Jerusalem a light to the whole world–a nation-state to which all the countries of the world would pay tribute. The leaders of the Jews didn’t understand Jesus’ teachings. They saw Jesus as a threat to the way they thought religion should be practiced. And indeed, He was, as Jesus’ understanding of religion was much different than the legalism and the temple cult of Judaism back then. They saw Jesus as a threat because Jesus had such a massive following.
But there was enough in Jesus’ words that people did see light in His teachings. People flocked to Jesus and followed Him. They felt something powerful in this teacher-healer. The light may have shined in the darkness, but that light was growing more bright by each day.
The way John words his verse about the light is important. John says, “The light shines in the darkness and the darkness hasn’t grasped it.” He says that the light shines! He doesn’t say that the light shined. He doesn’t say that the light only shined when Jesus walked the earth. He says that the light shines in the present tense. The light still shines! Alleluia!
The same light that shined in Israel 2,000 years ago shines today. The same Jesus who walked the earth in Israel 2,000 years ago lives even now. Christ has risen from the dead and lives! He can come to us anywhere, at any time. He can walk beside us in our work lives. He can rest with us in our times of repose. He can enlighten our minds when we seek direction. He can enkindle the flame of love in our hearts when we do good deeds to our neighbor. The darkness hasn’t overcome the light.
There are some signs that seem to suggest that the light is being extinguished today. Church attendance is declining. Mainline denominations are closing their doors. Knowledge of basic teachings of the Bible are appallingly low. It looks like people don’t have a place for church in their lives anymore. People in my position, and many believers, wonder about the state of society.
But do these frightening facts mean that the light has stopped shining? Do these facts mean that the darkness is finally overcoming the light? I can’t believe that. I believe that the light still shines.
It may be that there is light outside the walls of organized religion. There are spiritual people who have been turned off by organized religion. There have been churches who teach harsh doctrines that thinking people can’t accept; that feeling people can’t stomach. There may well be good numbers of people who consider themselves spiritual but not religious. There are organizations like AA that are spiritual, in which practitioners find a God of their own understanding.
The light shines. Darkness hasn’t overcome it. Darkness cannot overcome it. Darkness outside of church walls won’t overcome the light. Darkness inside church walls won’t overcome the light. “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness hasn’t overcome it.”

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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Apr 4th, 2015

Pilate and Christ
Rev. Dr. David J. Fekete
April 3, 2015
Good Friday

Luke 23:1-46 Psalm 22

The words of Pilate and Jesus capture the human situation. Jesus forgives, as God forgives. But Pilate shows us that in our human condition, we may yield to forces of darkness that are at work in our world. We are poised between God and chaos, between light and darkness, between heaven and hell.
It still moves me that Jesus is able to forgive His persecutors. He is unjustly accused; unfairly convicted; cruelly executed. Yet Jesus says, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” I thought of another aspect to Jesus’ forgiveness. There is absolutely no retaliation, no divine retribution. Jesus is the Word made flesh; The Holy One; Emmanuel–God with us. This is whom the angry mob is murdering. They are killing God in the flesh. Think of the acts we read about in the Old Testament in which God punishes Israelites for turning to idols or to other Canaanite Gods. In contrast, Jesus’ message is one of forgiveness. The earth doesn’t open up and swallow the angry mob, as it did the Israelites who challenged Moses’ authority (Numbers 16). Fire doesn’t fall from the sky and destroy Jerusalem as it did Sodom. No. In Jesus’ unjust execution there is no divine revenge. There is only that plea from Jesus, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” Jesus forgives.
Lately I have been talking about the nature of God. I have stated that God can do only good to humanity. God loves the human race. God loves us so much that He came down to earth to re-establish a bond that had been severed by humanity. As I indicated above, there are places in the Bible where God is said to be angry and to take revenge on humans. I see this as a record of God written by a bronze age people–or maybe even a stone-aged people–in a warrior society. They would see God differently than we do, due to the society in which they lived. How can God really be angry or take revenge? Humans can’t! We are taught to put away angry feelings; we are taught not to take revenge. How could a loving God do the same things humans are forbidden to do? And as Christians, we are taught to follow in the footsteps of Jesus Christ and embrace His forgiveness. My God is the loving, forgiving Jesus Christ that we read about in the New Testament.
God forgives; God loves us; God does only what is good to us. But that isn’t the whole story. For there is the very real specter of evil in the world. We live in a world so broken that it could crucify the very God who came to save us. We live in a world in which we witness unspeakable acts of cruelty, some even done in the name of peaceful religions. This brings us to the figure of Pilate.
Pilate was torn between two courses of action. One was to release Jesus whom Pilate knew was innocent. The other course of action was to appease the angry mob and surrender to their will.
I have always pitied Pilate in his predicament. Maybe it is because Pilate is so human. Maybe it is because Pilate is in a situation we all know only too well–whether we will follow our conscience or surrender to forces of darkness.
Pilate tried to release Jesus. In Luke’s Gospel Pilate tries to set Jesus free three times. In each case the mob cries out for Jesus’ death. As we know, Pilate finally surrenders to the will of the mob. Luke’s wording is interesting in this. Luke says that Pilate doesn’t convict Jesus. What Luke says is that Pilate, “Surrendered Jesus to their will” (23:25). Pilate doesn’t sentence Jesus to death. Rather he hands Jesus over to the mob and lets the mob do what it will.
While I am sympathetic to Pilate, I do not mean to let him off the hook. Pilate knew what the right thing to do was. Pilate knew Jesus to be innocent and Pilate knew that the right course of action was to release Jesus. What Pilate did was to surrender to the powers of darkness. In our reading at the beginning of this service we read from John, “The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not overcome it” (1:5). Pilate surrendered the Light of the World to the darkness. In doing so, Pilate demonstrated the potential we all have to succumb to the darkness. While I think that Jesus forgave Pilate, as He even forgave the angry mob, Pilate still remains culpable for his failure to act according to his conscience.
We who call ourselves Christians follow the light. But we exist in a world that contains darkness. In this world, we will have trouble and struggles. We will be put in situations in which we are torn between doing good deeds and so turning to the light, or doing evil and so turning from the light. John tells us this,
Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come to the light for fear that his deeds will be exposed. But whoever lives by the truth comes to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that his deeds have been wrought in God (John 3:20-21).
Jesus loves every one of us, and forgives everyone of us. Jesus does nothing but good to us. Jesus will not be angry; will not take revenge, or punish. But the message of Good Friday is that we live is a world that is broken, and that we are broken humans. Still, the message that began with the incarnation on Christmas and continues through Good Friday into Easter is this, “But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave the power to become children of God” (John 1:12).

PRAYER

Lord you have given us the Bible to teach us your ways. In the stories and sayings, we learn what you would have us do and what we ought not to do. We learn from all the characters in the Bible. We learn from your life how to follow in your footsteps. We see in your Word the potential we have to fall away from you. We see the betrayal of Judas, we see the denial of Peter, and we see the horrors of mob violence. And we also see your unfailing forgiveness. Lord, we pray that you guide us ever toward you. Lead us, Lord, away from our potential to sin. Strengthen our faith in your saving grace, and plant our footsteps firmly in godly deeds. And bring us, we pray, into eternal joy with you in your heavenly kingdom.

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