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To Truly Call Him, “Lord, Lord”
Rev. Dr. David J. Fekete
February 27, 2011
Deuteronomy 11:18-21, 26-28 Matthew 7:21-29 Psalm 31
Jesus tells us that not everyone who calls Him, “Lord, Lord” will enter His kingdom. Not even those who perform miracles of healing and who proclaim their faith in prophesy, are sure of entering His kingdom. Jesus tells us that only the person who, “hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who builds his house upon a rock.” In Swedenborg’s system of correspondences, a rock signifies truth. And only a person whose life is grounded in spiritual truth can withstand the temptations and allurements of selfishness and the world’s seductions. It is not enough to call out, “Lord, Lord.” By this I understand those outward forms of religion such as attending church, reading the Bible, saying prayers, and even those who may know and study religions. These outward forms of religion are all good. And they can be very helpful in developing a spiritual life. But to truly be a spiritual person, it is not enough to only know about religions. It is not enough to only attend church. It is not enough to only confess being a Christian. No, to be a truly devout person, one needs to hear Christ’s words and apply them to life.
We hear a similar message in our Deuteronomy reading for this morning. The teachings in Deuteronomy are the same as those Jesus gives us. In Deuteronomy 11:18 we read, “Fix these words of mine on your hearts and minds.” God’s laws are to be internalized; they are not just to be known. No, Deuteronomy tells us to fix God’s commands on our hearts. This means that they are to be so intimately internalized that they are in our hearts, and hence all our thoughts and deeds. Since God’s laws are in our hearts, then they will be with us, as Deuteronomy says, “when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down, and when you get up” (11:19). That pretty much covers all of our lives.
What Jesus and Deuteronomy are talking about are spiritual truths. The rock on which the wise man built his house symbolizes building a life that is centered around spiritual truth. There are many places one may turn to in seeking spiritual truth, but I believe that church is one very important source of spiritual truth. Churches represent faith traditions. And I don’t mean just our denomination. Most churches, be they of the different Christian denominations, or of world religions such as Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, or Taoism to name a few, most churches are based around a tradition that has grown up over years of practice and reflection.
There are good things and bad things about a tradition. The good thing about a tradition is that it collects the wisdom of spiritual masters over a long period of time. In this respect, we can benefit from those who have gone before us. We can learn from wisdom that has been added to over time by those who have experienced spirituality in its depths and have struggled with spirituality in their own souls. We can benefit from those who have had the time to study spiritual texts in depth and who have shared the results of their study. Spiritual traditions can light our way as a lantern in the night.
The bad things about a tradition stem from the very things that make them good. Sometimes the words of humans are added to the words of sacred texts in such a way as to obscure the purity of the sacred texts. Sometimes human interpretations can cover over the sacred texts of a tradition. In a tradition, it is possible for human words to replace God’s Word. Then, the teachings of humans can mislead followers of a tradition, or distort God’s true message.
But I still affirm the need for a tradition. Some seekers today make up a brand of spirituality a la carte. By that, I mean they may pick something from Buddhism that they like, perhaps some Sufi poetry, a smattering of Taoism, and maybe the words of Jesus. While I am open minded about other wisdom traditions, there is a problem with this approach to spirituality. Spirituality a la carte can end up merely reinforcing the self. It is the self that chooses what the individual will take or reject. This is a problem, since a good deal of spirituality is the negation of self. Spirituality has as its goal the transformation of the individual from a self-oriented life to a God-oriented life. Spirituality also teaches the subordination of self to service to others. Spirituality levels pride and teaches humility. So without a faith tradition, one can end up only reinforcing the self that spirituality seeks to moderate. In many places, Swedenborg talks about, “How contrary to heavenly love and how filthy is the love of self” (AC 2040). On the other hand, if a person is firmly committed to a faith tradition, I do believe that faith can be expanded by reference to other great works of spirituality.
Spirituality teaches us to put God first, and the neighbor on equal footing with ourself. This teaching is not what society tells us. Society teaches us to seek self-affirmation and to get ahead at all costs–even if that means getting ahead by stepping on the heads of our neighbors. Society teaches us to seek social status and to get ourselves in a position to feel superior to others. Everwhere in shopping malls we are presented with images of the ideal person. Clothing stores show us what the perfect body and well-dressed individual should look like. They also show us what the ideal business person should dress like. Usually this means buying expensive designer clothes. We are shown pictured of health enthusiasts with sculpted abs. Posters and movies show boney models or actresses with body types that I consider unhealthy. Where can a person turn to find an alternative image from these icons? Where else but to a faith tradition?
Spiritual practice requires effort. We need to ask God into our lives, and we need to act in such a way that we admin the divine rays into our lives. I found some very provocative passages about this in Swedenborg. The rock on which the wise man builds his house signifies truth. And it is through truths that we learn what is good and what is evil. When we apply truth to our lives, we open ourselves to God’s love. The Swedenborg passages I found suggest that God is always there–but we can block God’s inflowing life and love. We use truth to get evils out of the way that stand between God and us. Swedenborg tells us that
There are loves of three kinds that constitute the heavenly things of the Lord’s kingdom; these are marriage love, love for infants, and the love for society or mutual love. . . . Whatever covers up, obstructs, and defiles these loves [must be removed] (AC 2040).
Note the language that is used here. We must remove whatever, “covers up, obstructs, and defiles.” This means to me that we have those heavenly loves in us already, and the problem comes when we block these loves. Swedenborg makes this even more clear. He writes,
so far as the evils of the lusts, and the falsities from them, are removed, the person is purified; and so far heavenly love can appear” (AC 2040).
So heavenly love appears when we remove what Swedenborg calls evils and falsities. Apparently, these things cover over heavenly loves that are in us. When we purify ourselves by removing those lusts, then heavenly love appears–there is nothing blocking it anymore.
It is truth that teaches us what is blocking the heavenly love that is in our soul. This is what is signified by the stone on which the wise man built his house. The stone is that truth that we can use to purify ourselves from the lusts of selfishness and worldliness. Swedenborg writes, “without knowledges of truth there is no purification. . . . a stone signifies truths” (AC 2040). As the wise man built his house on the rock, we need to form our lives upon truths. It seems to me that the church is the most fruitful place to learn spiritual truths. In a church one has the power of tradition–both living and historical. We are a community, and we can all benefit from the spiritual experiences of each other, as we sojourn in this life. Then there is the history of wisdom that church traditions provide. Now I am well aware that there is bad religion out there that drives thinking people away from the church. and I am well aware that we can find God outside the church. We can access wisdom traditions on our own. But I think that when we seek the truths that make a strong foundation for our house of life, the church is an invaluable resource. The people in it, and the people in its past are a solid support for our spiritual development.