Archive for May, 2016

Your Pain Will Turn to Joy
Rev. Dr. David J. Fekete
May 22, 2016

Romans 5:1-5 John 16:12-24 Psalm 8

Our readings this morning are about suffering in this material world. They tell us the unhappy news—as if we didn’t know it already—that we will have suffering in this world. But the readings do not leave us with suffering. Paul tells us that God’s love, which has been poured into our hearts, will overcome suffering. And John tells us that our pain will turn into joy.
We feel pain in this world for two reasons: because of the way the world is constructed, and because of the way human beings are constructed. Let’s look at the first cause of pain in this world—the way the world is constructed.
There’s a good rap song by the Black Eyed Peas called “Where Is the Love?” In it there is a line that goes, “Most of us only care about money making.” I suggest that that line is the cause of our pain from the way the world is constructed. The world is constructed to make money. I think that our pain would be less if the world were made to help each other out. I think that our pain would be less if the world were made according to principles of Christian charity and service to our fellows. I have a story from my recent experience that illustrates this idea. It concerns two schools—one a Provincial school and one a Christian school. The way they responded to a need I had is, I think, indicative of their differing orientations. One was founded as a secular school, and, accordingly, money making went into its policies. The other was founded as a Christian school, and, accordingly, charity and service went into its policies.
So I found a journal article that I wanted for an article I am writing for the National Council of Churches. I saw that both schools had the article. The Provincial school was in town, while the Christian school was some distance out of town. So I started with the Provincial school.
I went on line and saw that the article I wanted was in electronic form. I tried to access the article, using my guest library card, but was denied access to the article. So I called the university library. No one answered the phone. I got the librarian’s voice mail. So I left a message saying that I was trying to access the online article and left my phone number. I didn’t really expect to be called back. Then I noticed that the library had a chat service I could use. So I typed in my question and received an answer right away, “No, you can’t access online journal articles with a guest card.” Then I asked, “So there’s no way for me to get the article?” And I received no further responses from the chat line. So I called the other school and they said that they had the article and I could access it. I got dressed and got ready to drive out of town to the other school. As I was getting ready, my phone rang. It was the librarian at the secular university. She said that I could come in to the university itself and use the computers there with my guest card and access the article. So the guy on the chat line was wrong about me having no way to get the article, if he or she even cared. Then I asked the librarian if I could photo-copy the article and take it home, so I could highlight parts I needed. She said that, no, only students who actually pay tuition could use the library photo-copy machines. However, I could save the article to a memory stick, or email it to myself and print it at home. By now I was fed up with this school and all the hoops I had to jump through just to get a journal article, if I even could manage all the technology required for it. I decided to try the other school, the Christian school.
What a difference! I called the main switchboard and got a real human being, not a recorded menu of numbers to push for different departments. I asked for the library, and was immediately connected. At the library, I got a real human being. I asked her if the library had the journal and the date I was looking for. She asked me to hold just a minute while she checked. Would you believe that this librarian walked to the library shelf, found the journal with the date I wanted, and physically held the journal in her hand! I asked her if the article I wanted was there, and she looked through the journal and found it, and told me she had it in her hand. She said she would hold the journal behind the desk for me until I arrived. When I got to the library, they had a photo-copy machine I could use to copy the article, and pay the librarian after I made my copies. I gladly copied my article. It cost $2.50. I gave the librarian a $5.00 bill and told her to keep the change for the cause. Would you believe that she seemed truly appreciative, as I was for all the help they gave me?
How would we account for the difference between these two schools? I think that the Provincial school was more involved with money. The journals they dealt with wanted to sell their magazines to the university and protect their copyrights. The university had to make the deal with the publishers to somewhat limit the way their journals were used. It was all about money, I think. The Christian school genuinely cared about me and my needs. The librarian went over and above, I think, to help me out. I attribute this to her Christian values. She cared, the root of the Latin word, caritas, from which we get charity. Her Christian charity moved her to be as helpful as she could be. One school was driven by money; the other by Christian caring.
What if the whole world were moved by Christian caring instead of money-making? What if everyone tried to help out each other with what we need, instead of seeing other people as dollar signs? What a different world it would be then. That is the way Swedenborg sees heaven. Heaven is populated by angels, that is, good people who have made the transition to the next life. Angels do their tasks out of a love for what they are doing and with an intent of service. It is a joy for angels to fulfil their functions. And it is a joy for them to serve others.
The world could be that way, but it isn’t. When we confront a system that has making money foremost in its motivation, then our needs are secondary. Sure, our needs will be met if the world can make money that way. But in such a world, we are not cared for, personally. We are not loved. Hence, the pain we find in this world.
The other cause of pain in this world derives from who we are as people. There is a saying I hear at AA meetings often, “I want what I want when I want it.” Isn’t that true? We want our own way. And when we can’t get our own way, or get the things we want, or get them when we want them, then we are grieved and feel pain in this world. It sounds kind of childish when I put it that way, but isn’t it true?
Furthermore, often we want things that aren’t good for us. For instance, when we want to be in charge, and make other people do what we want them to do, we will be frustrated if others don’t cooperate. Certainly, if we are in a position of power—maybe at work, or even as a parent—we need to establish order. But we also need to establish harmony. We need to consider the common good and we need to provide for it in a way that honors each person we have authority over. Even the Prime Minister is a servant of the people. Teaching us to serve one another, even Jesus said, “The Son of Man also came not to be served, but to serve” (Mark 10:45). And so with other wants that may not be good for us, like craving only luxury goods such as expensive clothes and cars, caring only for sensual gratification, overindulging in harmful things like too much alcohol or tobacco, in short—self-will run riot.
That is the other side to pain we feel from human nature. We have to get along with other people. When I was younger, I was a fierce individualist. I did my own thing, like we were taught to do in the ‘60’s. I remember a friend of mine once asking me if I was content to be alone with myself. I said that, yes, I was content to be alone. She said, “That’s good, then you are at peace with yourself.” She wasn’t ready for my answer. I said, “Yes, I’m at peace with myself. It’s just the rest of the world I have trouble with.” That made her a little nervous. When one human being who wants their own way has to contend with other humans who want their own way, there will be friction, conflict, and pain. That is what makes relationships so difficult. Two individuals must become one and act together in harmony. That can only happen when each person cares about the needs and joys of the other person.
That is what the librarian at the Christian school did. She cared and she served. When we care as much for others as we do for ourselves, and especially when we want what is good out of a love for God, then we will feel joy. That is the ultimate result of spiritual growth. When we want what is good for others, when we are filled with God’s Holy Spirit, we will know the promised joy. Then Jesus will come again—this time into our hearts, not into the material world. Then our pain will turn to joy.

PRAYER

Lord, you have told us that in this world we will have pain, and we will know persecution. You have also said that You have overcome the world. Lord, we ask that You be with us in our pain, and in our difficult moments. We know pain in many ways, through loss, through frustration, through disappointment. The world is not constructed to reward the good. Yes, bad things happen to good people. Yet in all this pain, You are and will be with us. You give us the promise that our pain will turn to joy. For pain and sorrow are not the end of the story. There is the promised joy that comes with patience and with spiritual growth. We trust that in You no truly bad thing can happen to us. Though we must bear the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, at times, in You everything that happens to us conduces to our spiritual wellbeing. Thanks be to You. In You do we put our trust.
And Lord, we pray that you bring peace to this troubled world. May those who harbor ill will for their neighbors learn to understand and see the fellow humanity that they share. May those who strive against each other see that they are like in their wishes and in what they want for their land and nation. And may warring factions find their way to peace.
Lord, we ask for you to heal those who are sick. As you worked miracles of healing when you were on earth, how much more can you work healing miracles now that you have risen and have all authority in heaven and on earth. Grant all who are in need your healing love and power.

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May 15th, 2016

Life in the Spirit
Rev. Dr. David J. Fekete
May 15, 2016

Numbers 11:24-30 Acts 2:1-21 Psalm 104

This Sunday is Pentecost. On this Sunday we celebrate the giving of the Holy Spirit to the Apostles. In a way, it can be considered the beginning of Christianity as a church.
I was talking about this church once to a friend of mine. She asked me, “Does it have the Spirit?” I was caught off guard for several reasons. One was, that we don’t usually talk much about the Spirit. My friend was a member of a Pentecostal Church, and those churches do emphasize the Spirit. Their worship services are very emotional and literally, Spirited. Our services, however, are quiet, contemplative, and subdued. But this doesn’t mean that we don’t have the Spirit. It is simply a question of our style.
We talk a good deal about truth. For us, truth and the understanding of truth is one way we talk about the Spirit. John pretty much equates the Holy Spirit with truth. In John 14, we read,
If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will pray the Father and he will give you another Comforter, to be with you for ever, even the Spirit of truth . . . you know him, for he dwells within you, and will be with you (14:15-16, 17).
So in this passage from John, the Comforter is called the Spirit of truth. Just a little later in the same passage, the Comforter is called the Holy Spirit.
These things I have spoken to you, while I am with you. But the Comforter, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you (John 14:25-26).
So this Comforter, who will be sent, is the Spirit of truth, the Holy Spirit, and it will teach us all things, and call to remembrance all the words Jesus had said. John’s interpretation of the Holy Spirit is truth oriented.
But the way Acts presents the Holy Spirit is different. It is a much more lively portrayal of the Spirit. The Apostles are gathered together in a room. There is a sound like the rush of a mighty wind. Tongues of fire appear above the heads of those gather there. This is a scene of awe and eeriness. But it becomes an impassioned scene of liveliness. Everyone starts speaking in foreign languages. A whole room of preachers all exclaiming in a foreign language. The witnesses gather around and wonder at this, for each one can understand what the Apostles are preaching in their native tongue. The miracle is that those who are preaching are uneducated fishermen all from Galilee, who had never learned foreign languages. But Parthians, Medes, Elamites, Mesopotamians, Judeans, Cappadocians, thos from Pontus and Asia, Phrygia, Pamphyilia, Egypt and Libya all hear the messages of the Apostles in their native tongue. There are scoffers nearby, who denounce this miracle by saying that the Apostles are drunk. But Peter defends them all by saying that they aren’t drunk because it is only the third hour of the day.
This passage is the primary source for Pentecostal Churches when they claim that speaking in tongues is a sign of the Holy Spirit. But when congregants of these Pentecostal churches speak in tongues, it is not foreign languages they speak in, as did the Apostles. They simply blurt out sounds that mean nothing to anyone.
I see the main image here as one of enthusiasm for Jesus. So I return to the question my friend asked me. Do we have the Spirit? Do we have enthusiasm for Jesus? For of the many Christian churches there are out there, I think that we put Jesus most powerfully in the centre. For us. Jesus is the embodiment of All that God is. I say embodiment because for us, Jesus is God’s body. When Jesus ascended into heaven and sat at the right hand of God, we understand this to mean that Jesus’ human flesh, now glorified, is the very power that God works through to regenerate us. The Old Testament Yahweh, or Jehovah God as the King James Bible translates Him, God came down to earth, took on human flesh and became Jesus of Nazareth. Jesus is God in the flesh, God has a glorified body in the risen Jesus Christ. Talk about truth, this is certainly a truth to get behind and celebrate! We of all churches should have enthusiasm for Jesus.
Often, I think we hide our message under a bushel. We can be shy about our teachings. We can fear what other Christians would say when we make our statement of God’s unity of person. We can quench the Spirit in us that testifies to the reasonableness and intuitive soundness of our beliefs. There is one God and that God is embodied in Jesus Christ. There aren’t three gods. There aren’t a god and a half. There is only one God and that God is embodied in the One Person of Jesus Christ. (Can I get an Amen!)
I’m not suggesting, though, that we push our beliefs on others. That can be an annoying experience when someone comes up to me and preaches their doctrines to me. I have mine; I respect yours; let’s find our way home in our own ways.
But there is another way to let our light shine that isn’t pushing our ideas on others. That is the example we live. When we had the service here after the teen retreat, one teen made a bold and challenging statement. He said that he thought it was hypocrisy when adults tell him, “Do as I say, not as I do.” I think that the way we live is the most clear and powerful statement of what we believe. Swedenborg writes, “All religion is of life; and a religious life is doing good” (Doctrine of Life 1). Being filled with the Spirit is doing good. That is another way to think of the question, “Do we have the Spirit?” Does our life reflect the way of Jesus? Are we living by the Spirit or by the flesh?
Paul gives us a clear list of what it means to live by the Spirit versus living by the flesh. We find this in Galatians 5:19-25.
19 Now the works of the flesh are plain: fornication, impurity, licentiousness, 20 idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, anger, selfishness, dissension, party spirit, 21 envy,[b] drunkenness, carousing, and the like. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God. 22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, self-control; against such there is no law. 24 And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.
We can preach our gospel by the deeds we demonstrate. Jesus is pretty strong about calling on His name but not doing the things He commands. This issue occasions the story about the wise man building his house on the rock.
46 “Why do you call me ‘Lord, Lord,’ and not do what I tell you? 47 Every one who comes to me and hears my words and does them, I will show you what he is like: 48 he is like a man building a house, who dug deep, and laid the foundation upon rock; and when a flood arose, the stream broke against that house, and could not shake it, because it had been well built.[c] 49 But he who hears and does not do them is like a man who built a house on the ground without a foundation; against which the stream broke, and immediately it fell, and the ruin of that house was great.” (Luke 6: 46-49).
Our faith will be ruined if it is not built on the firm foundation of a good life. All those golden teachings of this beautiful church will be swept away over time if they are not grounded in our lives. For it is our lives that anchor our beliefs. It is the natural degree that is called a container, or a vessel that holds the higher degrees in it. Nobody wants someone coming up to them and trying to convert them to their belief system. But someone may come up to us, having observed the way we live, and ask us what we believe. They will see that we are filled with the Spirit.

PRAYER

Lord, on the first Pentecost long ago, you gave your Holy Spirit to the Apostles. That occasion was attended by miracles and signs of wonder. Today, we ask that you send your Holy Spirit to this church and its people. Perhaps in a more quiet way, but just as strong, we ask for your Spirit to fill our hearts. May it enlighten our minds, and fill our hearts with love for you and for one another. May your Spirit inspire us to do all manner of good deed. May your Spirit inspire us to think true and healthy thoughts. And may your Spirit inspire us with useful, positive, and heavenly feelings.

Lord, we pray for those who are sick. Send your healing love to those ailing, and comfort their family and friends. Lord, we ask for the grace of your healing love for all in need.

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May 1st, 2016

If You Love Me
Rev. Dr. David J. Fekete
May 1, 2016

John 14:15-27 Revelation 21:22-22:1-5 Psalm 67

Our Bible reading this morning begins with Jesus’ words, “If you love me.” The immediate issue and question arises about loving Jesus, loving God. How do we love Jesus? Jesus’ answer is clear and straightforward. The answer to the question, “How do we love Jesus” is by keeping His commandments. For Jesus’ words are, “If you love me you will keep my commandments” (John 14:15).
I may sound like I’m belaboring the obvious here. But this point is not obvious. This plain statement of Jesus is so often not heard. For many Christians, faith is what Christianity is all about. Many Christians say that accepting Jesus as their personal savior is what saves. I agree that faith and accepting Jesus matter. There is that famous verse, John 3:16:
For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.
This verse says that whoever believes in Jesus we might or may have eternal life. The King James Version of this verse says that whoever believes should have eternal life, as does the Revised Standard Version. What they are trying to capture with that word should is the Greek subjunctive tense. In the Greek language, you use the subjunctive tense when expressing strong emotion, or, as in this case, when it isn’t for sure. The subjunctive tense means that it is a maybe. Jesus is not saying whoever believes in Him will have eternal life. Rather He is saying that whoever believes in Him may, or might have eternal life. The New International Version, with its evangelical leanings, wants there to be certainty associated with belief in Jesus. So it translates the verse whoever believes in Him shall have eternal life.
Believing in Jesus may give eternal life. But it’s not enough in itself. Believing matters. Faith matters. But so do good deeds. John turns our attention to deeds just after he talks about believing in Jesus. John says that our deeds matter. It is our deeds that will turn us to Jesus or away from Jesus. Using archetypical imagery of light and darkness, Jesus says that good deeds turn a person toward the light, and evil deeds turn a person away from the light.
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).
So if a person’s deeds are good, he or she will turn to the light. Jesus is the light. That is how one can say that Jesus is a judge. As the light, people whose deeds are wrought in God will turn to Jesus. And as the light, people whose deeds are evil will turn from the light. So Jesus isn’t judging in the sense of a king or a judge. He is the light and a person will turn toward the light or turn toward darkness by their own choice. Toward the light if their deeds are good. Toward darkness if their deeds are 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).
Jesus remains the same light calling people to safe harbor. The judgment is self-judgment.
This is a very Swedenborgian concept. This church teaches that God doesn’t condemn anyone to hell. Rather heaven and hell are freely chosen by each person for themselves. And the idea is exactly as John puts it. People who love God and the neighbor wander upward into heaven’s heat and joy and remain. People who hate God and their neighbors can’t stand the heat and hate the people in heaven, so they turn away to the cold of hell. As in John, in Swedenborg God remains the loving light that invites everyone to come to Him. But it is individuals who choose to come to God’s loving light or to turn away into hateful, cold darkness.
This is why believing in Jesus isn’t enough. It may lead a person to good deeds wrought in God. In this case, we have what is necessary and sufficient—belief in Jesus and deeds wrought in God as John 3:19-21 teaches. By itself, John 3:16 isn’t enough when it comes to salvation. To understand how Jesus saves, one needs to read to the end of the chapter—especially verses 19-21, which are about deeds wrought in God or in darkness.
There are a few words in John 3:21 that are particularly interesting and instructive. Those words say that, “He who does what is true comes to the light.” Doing truth is what brings a person to the light. This interests me because I usually think that doing good is what brings a person to the light. Good is a deed, not truth. I think of truth more as a matter of belief or thought.
But a Hindu friend of mine made a remark once that struck me deeply. And the remark was about a word for truth. In school, I was taught that the Sanskrit word dharma means truth. So the teachings of the Buddha are called dharma. But my Hindu friend translated the word differently. She said that dharma means righteousness. So instead of an intellectual thought, or truth, dharma means right action.
This led me to ponder. Isn’t that what truth really is? Truth is the right way to live. Truth is the lamp guiding our steps. Truth is right behavior spelled out for us.
I’m saying much about doing truth because it brings us back to our reading from John 14 that we heard this morning. Jesus says that if we love Jesus we will do what he commands. “If you love me you will keep my commandments” (John 14:15). If we keep Jesus’ commandments, we will receive the Counselor, the Advocate, who is called “The Spirit of Truth,” and the Holy Spirit. This Spirit of Truth dwells with us and in us. It is the truth, the righteousness that we live out and do, that is this Spirit of Truth,
If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will pray the Father, and he will give you another Counselor, to be with you for ever, even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him; you know him, for he dwells with you, and will be in you (John 14:15-17).
Likewise, Jesus’ word embodies the love and righteousness of God. When we think of a word, we think of an idea. Again, we are tempted to think of something intellectual when we think of words. But Jesus says that his words are life, “The words I have spoken to you are spirit and life” (John 6:63). Jesus says that loving Him means keeping His word. This is the same thing that Jesus said about keeping His commandments. Jesus says that if we love Him we will keep His commandments; and Jesus says that if we love Him we will keep His word. The parallel language means that Jesus’ word and Jesus’ commandments are one and the same. And it gives life,
If a man loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him. 24 He who does not love me does not keep my words; and the word which you hear is not mine but the Father’s who sent me (John 14:23-24).
This is the same word that is spirit and that gives life.
There is a Native woman I know who said something very interesting about her spirituality. And her comments will bring all this home. She said that in her tradition they don’t speak of a religion. They talk instead about a way of living. And I think that everyone present at that interfaith gathering agreed with her. The representatives of every tradition that was there that day agreed that religion was really a way of living. It is certainly the case with this religion. There is that famous statement from Swedenborg, “All religion relates to life, and the religious life is doing good.”
As I said at the beginning of this talk, not every Christian agrees with this. There are many who think that believing in Jesus is all you need. I remember talking with a chaplain at the University of Alberta. I told her that we believe something very simple that I though every religion teaches. I said we believe that salvation is believing in God and doing good. She surprised me with her answer. She said, “Paul is ambiguous when it comes to the issue of good works.” Well it looks like this sermon is about to morph into a discussion on Paul, so I’d better wrap it up now. In any event, however ambiguous Paul might be, I don’t see the same ambiguity in Jesus. “If you love me, you will keep my commandments” (John 14:23).

PRAYER

Lord, you have instructed us to keep your commandments if we love you. And Lord we do love you. We ask only for knowledge of what your commandments are, and the strength to put them into practice. We seek to learn your words in our study of the Scriptures. And we seek to learn your words in our church, through our experiences in the world, through our conversations, and through meditation. Your wisdom is infinite. And we can never cease in our efforts to grasp your infinite truths. Give us to love your words and your commandments. And give us the power to carry them out in our daily lives. For that is showing love to you.

And Lord, we pray that you bring peace to this troubled world. May those who harbor ill will for their neighbors learn to understand and see the fellow humanity that they share. May those who strive against each other see that they are like in their wishes and in what they want for their land and nation. And may warring factions find their way to peace.

Lord, we ask for you to heal those who are sick. As you worked miracles of healing when you were on earth, how much more can you work healing miracles now that you have risen and have all authority in heaven and on earth. Grant all who are in need your healing love and power.

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