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A Real, Substantial Savior and God
Rev. Dr. David J. Fekete
April 17, 2016
Isaiah 42:1-7 Luke 24:36-53 Psalm 4
When Jesus appeared to His disciples after His death, they were frightened, overjoyed, and amazed. They were frightened because they thought they were seeing a ghost. This is understandable. If you or I saw someone appear to us whom we knew had died, we, too, might think that we were seeing a ghost. But Jesus seeks to calm their fears. He says that He is not a ghost, and invites them to touch Him and see His hands and side. This wasn’t enough. They didn’t believe their eyes for amazement and joy. So Jesus eats a broiled fish.
Jesus is trying to convince the disciples that He is a real, living, substantial being. He is not a spirit, or a ghost. He has physical powers and also spiritual powers. He can walk through locked doors, and He can eat a broiled fish. His risen body is real, substantial and present always, everywhere to aid us in our spiritual journey.
Two story elements come to my mind when I read this Easter account. First, there is Jesus’ greeting to His disciples. He says, “Peace be with you.” It was, and still is, a standard Jewish greeting to say, “Shalom.” This means, “Peace be with you.” But I think that with Jesus more than this standard greeting is meant. I say this because Jesus is the very bringer of peace. He is Peace Itself. So we call Him the Prince of Peace. And those who are in right relation with Jesus are in peace, themselves. We are in peace to the extent that we are in God and God is in us.
And in this story Jesus tells us the way to peace. This is the second story element that comes to my mind when I read this Easter appearance. Jesus says that, “Repentance and forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations.” In this verse we hear about forgiveness in the name of Jesus. And many jump too quickly to the forgiveness that they think comes in the name of Jesus. But the full verse is repentance and forgiveness of sins. For it is only through repentance that sins are forgiven. Repentance means that we actually see sin in ourselves and we stop doing it. This is a lifelong process and a process that gradually fills a person with spiritual life and love for God and for his or her neighbor. We don’t need to expect instant perfection in this process. In our society we want instant gratification. But sometimes this isn’t possible, as is the case with spiritual growth. Swedenborg is quite gentle when he talks about the process of repentance. He talks about taking on one or two sins at a recurring season. Perhaps he has in mind seasons like Lent. He talks about preparing to receive Holy Communion. From his Lutheran background and the experience of the Anglican Church he found while living in England, Swedenborg talks about repentance and the promise to begin life anew as part of the whole process of receiving Holy Communion. And in describing how this repentance process works, Swedenborg is concerned about us beginning the process more than he is in our completing the process.
Actual repentance, if performed at recurring seasons, as often, for instance, as a person prepares for the communion of the Holy Supper, if he or she afterwards abstains from one sin or another that one discovers in himself, it is sufficient to initiate him into its reality; and when he is in this, he is on the way to heaven, for from being natural he then begins to become spiritual and to be born anew from the Lord (TCR 530).
The process of repentance is one of letting love and faith into our hearts and minds. And as these come in, they push evil and sin to the periphery of our souls. Sin breaks apart and becomes quiet and troubles us no more. This is what forgiveness of sins is. It is actually the removal of sin.
The interior things of worship are those which are of love and faith, and hence the forgiving of sins, that is removals from them, because sins are removed through faith and love from the Lord. For so far as the good of love and of faith enters, so far sins are removed (AC9938).
It is God who instills this good of love and of faith. So we very much need that real, substantial Savior and God for spiritual life. It is God who lifts us up and out of self-interest and all the evils that stem from it. Swedenborg tells us that we “are withheld from evil and held in good by the Lord, so that it appears to [us] as if [we] were in good of [ourselves]” (HH 342). Whatever we feel of heavenly happiness and joy is from the real, substantial Savior and God, not from our own power. Angels and humans are in heaven,
not from any merit of their own, but from the Lord; and thus they may not boast before others of the good which is with them–for this is contrary to the good of mutual love . . . . (HH 342).
So we need Jesus and Jesus is here for us. In His risen, real and substantial body, Jesus is just as present to us as He was to those disciples that day long ago.
Most of the world religions I know of have a system of ethics, or what Swedenborg would call repentance and doing good. This system of ethics is what repentance in the name of Jesus means. Last Sunday I said much about the meaning of Jesus’ name. By His name, we mean all the qualities that Jesus stands for. We do not mean the word, “Jesus.” So wherever we find a system of ethics and repentance, we find life in the name of Jesus.
In both Isaiah and Luke we find an element of future looking. They look forward to a time when God’s faithful servant will,
bring forth justice;
he will not falter or be discouraged
till he establishes justice on earth (Isaiah 42:3-4).
And Jesus says that, “Repentance and forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations” (Luke 24:47). Isaiah and Luke have a vision of the whole earth finding forgiveness through repentance and justice flowing like a river. Forgiveness through repentance and justice are the things that bring peace to a person’s soul. And we look forward to a time when justice and forgiveness will fill the political world also.
If nations only knew forgiveness, how much conflict would be averted! If nations practiced repentance so that they knew when their ambitions were threatening the welfare of other nations, wouldn’t peace reign on the earth! If rulers established justice in their nations, atrocities like genocide, civil war, and rebellion would cease. We have the recipe. We have the program for peace. But it remains only an ideal, foreseen by prophets and foretold by Jesus in the words of Scripture. These are healing words. But who hears them? So the Psalmist sings, “How long will you love vain words, and seek after lies?” Yes, there is much vanity in the lust for self glory we see too often in the rulers of nations.
It is no wonder that Voltaire concludes his novel Candide with the words of resignation, “Yes, but we must cultivate our garden.” We can advocate for world peace; we can contribute to causes that seek to end world hunger; we can welcome refugees from cruel governments–we can do all these things to advocate for the world justice and peace the Bible speaks of. But finally, it is our own garden that we must cultivate. It is in our own heart and soul that the warring factions of darkness and light contend. And when through repentance, God’s love and faith fill our souls, then we will know the words of the Psalmist. Many see ruin and distress, but the Psalmist finds joy and the peace that Jesus gives to all. A real, substantial peace, from a real, substantial God,
There are many who say, “O that we might see some good!
Lift up the light of thy countenance upon us, O LORD!”
Thou hast put more joy in my heart
than they have when their grain and wine abound.
In peace I will both lie down and sleep;
for thou alone, O LORD, makest me dwell in safety.
Lord, we know of your compassion, your mercy, and your forgiveness. And knowing your love and compassion for us, we present ourselves before you. We ask you to shine your light on our souls, as we fearlessly examine ourselves. Let us see where we need to make changes in our attitudes, our feelings, and our behaviors. We ask you into our hearts, our Lord and God. Open up the chambers of our hearts and fill them with love and faith. And, Lord, as you fill us with your Holy Spirit, drive out all our shortcomings and sins. We know that our growth in the spirit is gradual, and we do not ask for an instant cure for the spiritual maladies we inherit with this mortal flesh. But step by step, inch by inch, may we measure our ascent up the mountain to the summit with 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.