Religious Post

Learn to Do Good

Rev. David J. Fekete, Ph.D.

Isaiah 1:1, 10-20                                             Luke 12:32-40                                     Psalm 50

No time like the present.  Eternity is now.  Heaven isn’t in the future, it’s here and now.  Now is when good feelings happen.  Now is when we seek truth.  Now is when peace and joy come into our lives.

Our reading from the Old Testament talks about sacrifices.  God tells the Israelites that God takes no pleasure in sacrifice.  God even exclaims, “who has asked this of you,/this trampling of my courts?”  What God is saying is that God never told the Israelites to sacrifice animals in the temple.  Yet sacrifice became the central way to worship for Israelites.

If you look at the early parts of the Old Testament, you will see a lot of laws and moral commands.  God tells the Israelites to protect the weaker people in society.  God tells them to care for the orphan, who has no adult male to feed, clothe, and give shelter.  Likewise, God tells the Israelites to care for widows, who also need food, shelter, and clothing since they have no adult male, or husband, to do this for them.

But with the rise of kingship, and with the building of the temple in Jerusalem by Solomon, animal sacrifice became the predominant form of worship, not moral living.  Making animal sacrifice the centre of worship was a man-made idea.  It is not what God wants.  God tells the Israelites specifically that God did not teach them to sacrifice animals,

For in the day that I brought them out of the land of Egypt, I did not speak to your fathers or command them concerning burnt offerings and sacrifices. 23 But this command I gave them, ‘Obey my voice, and I will be your God, and you shall be my people; and walk in all the way that I command you, that it may be well with you.’ (Jeremiah 7:22-23)

God wants us to live good lives.

We don’t sacrifice animals.  But the Isaiah reading makes us think about externals of worship.  Externals are the rituals we do on Sunday.  Externals are chanting the Psalms, listening to Bible readings, singing hymns, praying, hearing sermons, and taking communion.  They are called externals because they are behaviors that we do.  You can do all these things without having your heart in them.  You can just go through the motions.  You can go through the motions, and think you’re saved.  But if your heart is in them, they can have much power and meaning.

So this morning, I thought that I’d invite us to think about worship on Sunday morning.  Due to the financial issues we are dealing with it strikes me as something valuable to do.  So let’s first consider why we come to church.  Why do we take a few hours on Sunday to come here?  Let’s also think about what we like in church.  What parts of worship do we like?  Is it singing?  Is it the Bible readings?  Is it my sermons?  What do we like about church?  Another thing to think about is what happens to us in church?  Do we feel uplifted?  Do we experience a closeness to God?  Does the noise in our heads quiet?  Do we find an hour of peace?  Do we feel a connection and mutual love in the church community?  Do we come away from church different than when we arrive?

Another way to get at this subject is to ask different kinds of questions.  These may be hard to hear, but we are in a safe environment.  We can ask ourselves what we would miss if there were no church.  What aspect of our religious life would be gone without a church?  I hope that the answer to these questions would be something other than the rituals we do here.  I would hope that there is something in us that we would lose touch with without church.

Now we think about today’s Isaiah reading.  We realize that being religious isn’t only going to church.  Let’s think about what we get out of church.  What is there we can take out of church into the world?  Because if we don’t carry out into the world the spirituality we experience in church, we are like the Israelites who put all their faith in the ritual of animal sacrifice.  We would be putting our faith in the externals of worship, not what is in our hearts.  Maybe we leave church feeling inspired, and we bring that feeling of inspiration into the world.  Maybe we learn a new religious principle that we apply in our lives outside church.  Remember Swedenborg’s statement that, “All religion relates to life, and the religious life is doing good.”  In fact, real sacred space isn’t inside these walls.  Real sacred space is in the world around us where we do good to others and show our love for the neighbor.

Along these lines is another hard question.  What would we do without a Swedenborgian identity?  We can echo the words of Jeremiah in relationship to this church.  In Jeremiah, as we have heard, God says, “For in the day that I brought them out of the land of Egypt, I did not speak to your fathers or command them concerning burnt offerings and sacrifices.”  Our forefathers debated the very formation of this denomination.  Swedenborg himself never founded this church.  It was readers of Swedenborg in England who made the decision to start up a new denomination.  Many important voices said that the New Church was not meant to be a denomination.  Among these voices was Henry James, Sr. who wrote a pamphlet on that subject, titled, “The Church of Christ not an Ecclesiasticism: A Letter to a Sectarian.”  You can imagine God’s voice, maybe, saying, “I did not speak to your fathers or command them concerning a new denomination.”

Where would we be without a Swedenborgian identity?  I faced this question a few weeks back.  I considered transferring my ministry to the United Church.  I wondered what it would be like not to self-identify as a Swedenborgian anymore.  What would it be like to be a United minister?  In a way it was surprisingly liberating.  I no longer would look out at the world from the small minority world of Swedenborg, who no one has heard of, and some who have heard of us think us a cult.  Being a Swedenborgian can mean an us and the other mentality.  And since everyone in the world practically isn’t a Swedenborgian, we see the whole world as the other.  If I’m not Swedenborgian, then I’m not apart from the world, but I’m among everybody else.  Put in its most extreme form, we can also think that being Swedenborgian alone means we’re saved.  But take away the label, and where are we?  It was men in 18th century England who gave us this label.  Maybe it is doing more harm than good.

So we ask, what is meaningful in church?  Why do we come to church?  What would we miss if there were no church?  And finally, who would we be without the label of Swedenborg?  Challenging questions indeed.  But good questions to ask as we consider the future of this church.  And more importantly, good questions to ask in relation to our spiritual process.

Advertisements

What Is the Blues?

As a musician, I thought that I knew what the blues is.  But after a visit to Chicago, I don’t know.  I had thought that the blues was a feel, certain notes and often a stylized 12-bar chord pattern.  But after my visit to Chicago, I’m not sure that the blues is a matter of musical notes.

My first experience of Chicago blues was the House of Blues.  The walls of the Chicago House of Blues are covered with folk art.  The folk art was powerful, sometimes “abstract,” striking and soulful.  It affected me,  and set the tone for my experience in the club.  One collection of drawings had someone shot in every picture.  One woman had about 20 bleeding bullet holes in her.  There was a Santa Claus dead and bleeding from a gunshot.  There were other artworks that had smiles, grimaces, faces, figures–all carrying a heartfelt message.  In the upstairs concert hall, above the stage were symbols of many world religions with the words, “All Are One” in the central panel.  The stage of the downstairs club had red curtains with a large heart on fire on them behind the band.  The impression I had in the House of Blues was that I was in a shrine.  I even told my partner that this place was spiritual.  The music was part of this spiritual experience.  Heart.  Community.  Togetherness.

In Buddy Guy’s Legends, guitars were hung on the walls signed by the likes of Eric Clapton, Keith Richards, B. B. King, George Thorogood, Stevie Ray Vaughn, and other legends.  The MC who introduced the band worked the audience.  He asked where we all came from.  There were people from Canada, Switzerland, Turkey, England, Texas, South Side of Chicago, and other places all over the world.  As people in the audience called out their homes, the rest of us cheered.  The MC made jokes, warmed up the audience and brought us all together.  The music was communal, communion.  Heart.  Togetherness.  The music was part of the overall experience.

I live in Canada, and we have a good blues club here that brings in bands from all over North America and even Spain.  The music here is good.  As good as Chicago.  But we don’t have the bond of hearts I experienced in Chicago.  It’s more like an informal concert.  And I have never felt our club is a shrine.  I don’t know what the blues is.  It may be heart–soul.  Not good notes.

A CIRCUIT OF CONNECTIONS

Love

Connection

Support, community

Parents, brothers and sisters, cousins, aunts, uncles, grandparents

Home

When it all works

 

And then

 

Vocation, relocation, isolation

Alone, unknown in a strange town

The whole wide world

Strangers, business associates

Stabs at connection

Church, gyms, bars, gangs, the streets

Alcohol and drugs and one-night stands

Unaware

Screams at connection

 

And then

 

Incredibly good fortune,

or Providence

“O Lord thou pluckest me out”

Intimacy, soulmate, conjunction

Love

Mutual

Family again

Support

Connection

Home

After so much

A friend to the whole wide world

KNOWING WHAT LIFE HAS GIVEN

I have the gift of perspective

The gift of years and experiences

The time and capacity for reflection

Fruitful reflection to realize

The fulfillment I have . . .

I have struggled to get somewhere

And with the struggle over I have found myself nowhere

And I have grit my teeth

Steadfastly endured miserable circumstances

I have passed time—years—just getting by

Getting by, not living—quelle dommage, pity, year after year, getting by

Impoverished

Smoking cigar after cigar

Not even paying attention to the life going by

Alone

Hours, years did go by

Alone, impoverished

Then today . . .  and I have fulfillment

When did it come?  For how long has it been?

A calling,–is it that?—music, friendships, love

Volunteer responsibilities, travel, lifelong learning, research work

Fulfillment

Embraced in rich connections

Purpose, position, ownership

Comfort, contentment without complacency,

Community

I have the gift of perspective

Time and perspective and reflection

Giving me wonder at what I have, have humbly been granted

Granted with the time I have

IDENTITIES

We had been noticing them,

Carol and I

The regulars, but who seemed a little off

Dancing—

As if they were balancing on the edge of a cliff

Or swimming, teetering

Dancing in the same places on the floor

Night after night

We guessed about them,

But didn’t talk to them

 

And then I did.

Adoption, foster homes, homeless

High a lot

Flat affect, rarely smiling

Loving

Caring

Biblically literate

An artist

Single parent

Intelligence, intellect

Some talk of Swedenborg

 

I work so hard to attain

Degrees, my condo, car, career, my musical projects

Volunteer commitments

Affections for useful activities

Affections

Sobriety

Effort to learn right and wrong

True and false

And do

 

And yet . . .

The blues bar

Regulars

Night after night

A hang out

A home

Community

Church

Things I Think About, Alone

I eat my Denny’s spaghetti

And try to warm up

Alone

I can always go home

To a warm apartment

Alone

I think of my new Christmas clothes

My new guitar

New electric piano

New fine art print

Collection of ancient coins

They make me happy

Alone

I think of developing countries

Where many do not have such things

In their village

With their families, neighbours, relatives

Community, tribe

I think about these things

Alone