TO EMBRACE THE SPIRITUAL

TO EMBRACE THE SPIRITUAL

Invocation.

            This poem can’t rhyme
            Held in rhetoric’s weak embrace
            I’m writing it in a casino
            Listening to the little ball
            Swirl around the roulette wheel
            Nobody is noticing me
            Except a Chinese lady’s glance
            I’d rather write in a dive
            Or a coffee shop that isn’t too hip
            Or a library
            But they’re all closed this time of night
            Still, this poem won’t be plastic

Recitative.

There is an outdated English word
An archaic notion that probably doesn’t mean much
Except to me, and maybe to the devout
I don’t experience it often, except

Sometimes from immigrants, or among students
In religious colleges;–it isn’t just they try to help me out
More, the pleasant way they go about it—almost cheerful
You can tell they wish well to me, to everyone, beyond the journals

It is pleasant to experience a good-natured person
Sincerity is part of it
It isn’t just getting along, nor someone who won’t ice you
But to actively promote the good

It’s not just the kind of thing that will keep you out of a bar fight
Or make someone next to you want to talk to you, drinking beer
Nor even refined social graces, though they’re close
One discovers the good when it is sought out, actively

It could be giving an airport bartender you’ll never see again a good tip
Maybe, more ambitious, learning to play a Bach fugue
Instead of indulging in Facebook
Venturing out of your echo-chamber to confront truth

I try to make Carol happy and it makes her happy when I try
You have to know someone, care, study to make them happy
Learn the kind of thing they like, living in both your worlds together
It’s not a matter of getting them to like what you like

Carol didn’t like Mozart’s Requiem, nor Beethoven’s 4th Piano Concerto
When I took her out on dates—you can’t talk in a concert, anyway
I don’t look at show homes with Carol, anymore
And tap on the walls, listening for the drum sound of thin drywall

She likes it that I like the things I like, and I, too, for her things
I listen to the plots of the stories Carol is reading
Carol likes me to read her the poems I write
We go on walks together in the park

I know the kind of funny quips that make Carol laugh
And when we need to talk seriously about life’s terms
Walk through the world’s unkind circumstances together
I’ll make a personal observation and Carol will listen

This good-nature, this embrace of the good
Which devout people are like
It’s a certain way to approach life, to regard other people
It’s all more than getting someone out of your face

Playing a Bach fugue does something to my soul
You can’t get hanging out in a bar
Making your fingers work through the harmonies rearranges synapses
Generates the peace I uniquely feel playing Bach or talking with Carol

Bach was a believer and even when he didn’t write church music
The peace is there in the harmonic structure
Like the secular Fugue V of The Well-Tempered Clavier
Which I’m learning, now.  Carol isn’t a musician

She grew up on a farm.  Her dad sang in the church choir
My encounters with Carol rearrange my brain synapses like Bach
It’s that quality of good, of good-nature, that realm I enter with Carol
Like reading the Bible, or writing a sermon, or leading worship

You don’t want to break up that mindset with cheap talk
Sometimes, when I venture out of the house, I use language
That brings into existence a caricature of my soul, cheapens who I am
It isn’t elitism, this aversion for ungracious word order

You read stories of Jesus hanging out with the disgraced
Yet his words stand through millennia
It’s not elitism, this want to live spiritually
More a love for the life words can give, the peace love can give

TOO MUCH ART

Too much art can ruin a guy
Make a guy think that scales and well-crafted phrases matter
More than the well-being of people, more than wishing well
For those whose lives we touch, for yourself
Then, when someone’s father needs to be put in extended-care,
Or your car breaks, your world collapses
You won’t know how to deal
How to care
Religion puts it all in perspective
Gives your soul strength of life you need to get by
I preached today; I’m alright with the world
The rear axel on my car sounds like it will probably break soon
It could be the differential; maybe only shocks—I’m not a mechanic
Either way I won’t be able to fix it
I emerge out from my protected home life
I’m listening to club music I don’t particularly like
Because it’s the young barkeep’s style and it makes her happy
The whole idea of it all is cute, and
I’ve heard enough Jethro Tull in my day,
Sympathy for the Devil over 50 years
The music morphs
It’s anemic, vapid pop and
I sadly reflect that it may reflect her generation
You hope not, wish that you had Whitman’s gift of optimism
Too much art can ruin a guy
I was in church, today, and I’m alright with the world

Philosophy of Education

I went to school to learn. That may seem self-evident. It should be self-evident. But it is not.

As I reflect back, I see that many of my colleagues did not go to school to learn–at least, that was not their primary objective. I remember asking one of my Harvard English professors why it was that hardly anybody in class asked questions or even spoke. The distressing reason was that the students wanted to make a good impression on their professor. Silence is less risky than asking a question that could indict the interlocuter. But I asked a lot of questions when I didn’t understand something, or when I disagreed with an interpretation. I was less concerned with the way I looked than I was concerned with learning.

I remember talking with a professor at a wine and cheese social. We were talking about students who try to ingratiate themselves with influential professors. It happened to be an influential professor I was talking to. He told me that it is so obvious when students try to do it. Then he exclaimed, “You’re not like that, David!” Never have been.

My academic major was not calculated to lead to a tenured faculty position. Were I interested in an academic career, I would have been an English major, or would have majored in scriptures, or ethics, or history, or any number of well-established academic disciplines. But I majored in religion and literature. There were only two major universities in the US that had religion and literature majors. Not a promising discipline to major in.

But I wanted to learn about modes that express meaning. I believe that two leading ways humanity has expressed meaning are religion and literature. I already had a B.A. in philosophy. I achieved my aim of learning about meaning. I learned about poetry and about religions and they taught me about meaning in life. And, more importantly, I learned how to continue my learning after school. And I continue to learn, even in these, my senior years.

I am not commending the path and approach I took to education. I was never tenured, never had much of an academic career. But I’m at a stage in life when many of my friends are done with their careers. So it’s all in the past with all of us. And, finally, in these my senior years, I am happy with the learning I have pursued and continue to pursue, and the subsequent life I have cultivated and now live.

The Son of This Slave Woman

The Son of This Slave Woman

Rev. Dave Fekete, Ph.D.

June 21, 2020

Genesis 21:8-21                                  Matthew 10:24-39                                           Psalm 86

            The readings from this week’s lectionary are extremely timely.  Well, they were written thousands of years ago.  But they are current, timely.  I write this talk conscious of the upheaval going on in the US.  But I am a Canadian Permanent Resident, and I write also conscious of my Canadian home.  The issue of these readings is privilege.  When Sarah says, “the son of this slave woman shall not inherit along with my son Isaac,” she is claiming privilege for her son.  Hagar’s son Ishmael was of a different race from Sarah’s son Isaac.  Ishmael was Arab, Isaac was an Israelite.  Further, Ishmael was the son of a slave.  Isaac was the son of a free Israelite.  Sarah doesn’t want her slave’s son to share in the prosperity of her privileged son.

The parallels with the racial issues surfacing in the US are clear.  Protesters are talking about systemic racism.  And a primary indicator of systemic racism is the wage disparity between white Americans and Americans of color.  Another salient issue is the disparity in policing between white Americans and Americans of color.  The murders of George Floyd, Rayshard Brooks, and Breonna Taylor by police are but three examples of countless cases that people of color know about in their day to day lives.  A newscaster on TV brought up the fact that an African-American senator had been pulled over by the police seven times in the past year.  A US senator!  Then the newscaster looked straight into the camera and asked, “How many times were you pulled over last year?”  I haven’t been pulled over for about seven years.  And that time was because the Canadian police didn’t have a record of my US driver’s license before I got a Canadian license.  But this US senator had been pulled over seven times in one year for no other reason, apparently, than the color of his skin.

I suspect that I may be losing my Canadian friends at this point as I am talking about the US.  For Canada, our reading from Matthew seems more appropriate.  In Canada, we aren’t seeing protests but that doesn’t mean we’re insulated from racial injustice.  I think the line from Matthew 10:26 applies to life here, “for nothing is covered up that will not be uncovered, and nothing secret that will not become known.”  We don’t see racism in Canada because we are in the majority, what would be called privileged.  But even here, downstairs in this very church, we had a Muslim woman speaker who said some disturbing words.  She said people here in Edmonton tell her to go home, just because of the color of her skin and her religion.  And she was born in Canada.  Go home means stay in Canada!  She told us that she is scared for the wellbeing of her son, because of the color of his skin and his religion.  Carol’s own hairdresser, a Canadian of East-Indian decent, told her that when he and his friends went into a diner in Red Dear, the whole white crowd of customers were staring at him and his friends.  They left without ordering.

And in Canada, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission began in 2007.  That’s one year after I got here.  The Truth and reconciliation Commission was established to repair the damage from the Residential Schools.  The Residential Schools were set up to systematically destroy the Indigenous culture and spirituality.  To eradicate every vestige of Native life and to replace it with the culture of white Christianity.  Practically every Christian denomination was involved in the systematic obliteration of First Nations.  Children of children of the Residential Schools are still suffering the effects of the schools.  Their parents, who were interred in the schools didn’t grow up in families.  They grew up in huge dormitories with little sanitary facilities.  The Residential Schools largely succeeded.  Many spirits of First Nations individuals have been crushed.  Hence, their parenting skills are often diminished.  Life on reservations is often impoverished, some even lack adequate drinking water.  I’ve heard Canadians tell me that the government sends plenty of money to the reservations but the chiefs keep it all for themselves.  I know a chief who told me he made $30,000 when he was serving his Nation.  When I toured Blue Quills University in Saddle Lake, I noticed a stack of fliers that read, “Do you know anyone who has been murdered, or have you heard of anyone who was murdered?”  Then there was a number to call and an office set up to deal with these murders.  The fliers were just sitting there on the table.  Have you yourself ever in your life seen a flier asking you if you know someone who was murdered?  Then giving you a number to call?  What does that say?

These issues I have been discussing are our symbolic father.  They are the culture we have inherited.  They are the society that has given us birth and these issues are the issues we have been brought up in.  It is for this reason that Jesus says,

Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.

35 For I have come to set a man against his father,
and a daughter against her mother,
and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law;
36 and one’s foes will be members of one’s own household.

The voices that are rising up in the US are the sword of truth.  In Swedenborg’s system of symbolism, a sword stands for truth.  Jesus does not bring peace when there are festering wounds infecting society.  Then Jesus calls us to set ourselves against our father, mother, and household when that family is diseased with injustice.

In Canada, we have issues of racial injustice, but no mass protests.  It was a brave teen-aged girl who used her smart phone to record the murder of George Floyd that set off the powder keg in the US.  We don’t have something like that smart phone recording here in Canada.  Though the power of privilege and racial injustices are rampant under the peaceful surface of Canadian society.

“Do not think I have come to bring peace to the earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.”  That sword of truth is intended to cut through the peaceful surface of unjust social structures.  And we need to be swordsmen and women.  It is our duty to seek out the truth and to become informed.  I think it’s easy to go with what we’ve always heard.  It’s easy to go with opinions about issues that may not be true.  I personally know people in Canada who think that Muslim women like Salima are trying to overturn the Canadian legal system and replace it with Sharia Law.  They think this especially about refugees from war torn middle eastern countries.  It is opinions like this that need to be measured against the sword of truth.  One truth about this very issue is, “Which Sharia Law?”  There are at least four schools of Muslim tradition, much the same way we have Catholics, Lutherans, and Swedenborgians.  Each of the more than four schools of Muslim tradition have their own style of Sharia Law.  So the whole opinion that Muslims are trying to replace the Canadian legal system with Sharia Law falls apart when we ask which Muslim sect is trying to do this with what Sharia Law.

Swedenborg teaches that the religious life is characterized by a love for truth.  In fact, faith itself is called a cohering arrangement of many truths.  An incoherent mash of opinions is not faith.  As Christians, it is incumbent on us to search for truth.  As Christians, it is incumbent on us to measure our opinions against the sharp sword of truth.

And finally, Swedenborg teaches that the sword of truth must be wielded by a loving hand.  It was Gandhi who said, “When you have a truth to tell, it must be given with love, or the message and the messenger will be rejected.”  The riots and looting in the US got the attention of the world several weeks ago.  But I suspect that the subsequent weeks of peaceful protests will do more to make lasting structural change in the US.

Well, this is supposed to be a Fathers’ Day sermon.  I’ve gone all-in Swedenborgian, though, and spoken about father as our inherited evils.  Not personal evils, but collective social evils.  We Swedenborgians have an advantage in all this.  Repentance, reformation, and regeneration are central doctrines in our theology.  And never in my lifetime, has the call for repentance been louder.  And our world is in dire need of reformation.  And regeneration means re-birth.  If we are zealous about our repentance, and dedicated to reformation, we will see a rebirth in society.  We need to be aware of our privilege.  And being of the privileged race, it is especially important for us to educate ourselves.  And some of us may even be moved to wield the sword of truth to cut through centuries of oppression and social injustice.  And the children of enslaved persons will finally find their rightful share in the prosperity we take for granted.

 

YOUTH, AGE, DEATH

I’m not sure the way to think about death

Is to think about death

Mine will be around 30 years or so, likely

Some do not know 30 lived years yet

And to them, now, as it was to me, then, 30 years is a long time

But when your life is twice thirty plus

And 30 years ago means an ethics class on Charles Taylor at the University of Virginia

Vivid in the aging memory

Death is nearer

I say the young should not think about death

But revel in the animée of youth

Nor should anyone think about death

I believe we all should revel in animée

In age you mine the memory for what matters

Looking back over time, so many lives lived

Parent, child, sibling, friend, partner,

Student, apprentice, employee, employer, creator, maker, volunteer

So many ideologies following

Family values, local customs, blindly following the herd,

Breaking free of local customs, assimilating to new traditions

Ethical options adopted, opted for

Spirituality, religion, evolving principles of justice, righteousness

Age has much to sift through, choose, assent to, reject

Evaluating a life lived long

Choosing how to use life in remaining years

Anticipating life, how to live, live well, time that remains well

In remaining years, in future years

Possible eternity outside time and years and then where is death?

Options

Opting for a good life, life lived well, the good life, optimize

Exorcized ghosts of island martinis and beers past

Cast-off pass-times, past times, distractions, dreams of fame, cheering mobs, irascible passions

How to live, live well, care well

Caring for values that ground being

Ground of Being

And it is enough to be

Animée

Youth, age, death

Science and Religion

The great thing about the virtual world is that it connects people of like and differing minds all over the planet.  I visited the site of a blogger who liked one of my posts.  He wrote about science and religion.  He said that he values science exclusive of religion.  Science will teach truth, he writes, religion is made up.  I would like to respectfully dissent from this view.  A few definitions need to be made.  Science doesn’t teach truth.  It teaches fact.  Religion teaches truth.  Facts are verifiable, but they are meaningless.  Truth may be disputed, but only truth has meaning.

There may be proof for the existence of quarks.  I don’t know; I’m not a scientist.  But as I watch television news programming about racial injustice in the US, a quark doesn’t matter all that much to me.  But the words of the Hebrew prophet Amos do, “But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream” (5:24).  The Big Bang occurred 13.7 billion years ago.  Fact.  But it doesn’t tell me how to treat my fellows like Jesus does, “Do to others as you would have them do to you” (Luke 6:31).  Chemical salts are made by ionic bonds.  Fact and provable.  But that won’t tell me the nature of my own consciousness as do the Upanishads.  ” Whoever knows the self as “I am Brahman,” becomes all this universe” (Brihadaranyaka Upanishad 1.4.10).  

I respect scientific inquiry and science explains the physical world–as far as it goes.  But in the realm of human relations, and in the matters that matter to me, I prefer religion.

 

ANGELS ASCENDING AND FALLING

Self-expression: the Word of the ‘70’s

Psychology, now pop-psychology, psychobabble

Self

Today are other conjugations of ego

Self-acceptance, self-affirmation, self-love

Self-denial, self-sacrifice, annihilation of ego

Conjunction, communion, Word that gives life

Literature, Biblical literacy, Holy Writ

Soul, body, spirit, Spirit, psyche

Psychology never will enlighten, reform, sanctify

Describe the ladder that reaches to heaven

Religion

Reconnect brokenness, plumb psychic depths, elevate fallenness

Give visions, dreams, prophesies, the vantage point

To witness

Angels ascending and falling

Religious Post

Separating Good from Evil

Rev. David J. Fekete, Ph.D.

August 18, 2019

Jeremiah 23:23-29                              Luke 12:49-56                                                 Psalm 82

Our reading from Luke can’t be taken at face value.  It can’t be true as written.  Jesus didn’t come to break up families.  Jesus says,

they will be divided:

father against son
and son against father,
mother against daughter
and daughter against mother,
mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law
and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law (Luke 12:53).

Jesus must mean something other than father and son, mother and daughter, and mother-in-law and daughter-in-law.

Swedenborg teaches that the Bible is written in symbols.  He calls these symbols correspondences.  These symbols speak to human spiritual growth, the history of spirituality, and God’s spiritual development on earth, as the Human Jesus united fully with the Divine God, which was His soul.  The separation of family members refers to God separating different aspects of our personality.  It means a separation between our spiritual self from our worldly self.  Our worldly self is concerned only with what’s in it for me.  It is concerned only with what we can get out of a situation.  It means self-oriented self.  In its worst form, worldly self will rage against anyone who doesn’t favor him or her, serve him or her, or, in fact, worship him or her.  This self-oriented self is called proprium in Swedenborg.

But God teaches us to love God first, and our neighbor as our self.  These loves are opposed to self-oriented loves.  When we learn spiritual truths, we learn that self-oriented self needs to be sacrificed, denied, replaced with God-and-other-oriented self.

We begin our lives as self-oriented selves.  Spirituality is grafted onto the motives and drives of self-oriented self.  And our motives that are self-oriented need to change.  Our very selves change.  The emotions of self-interest are different than the motives of God and other interest.  The feelings are different.

Self-interest is like an animal instinct.  Self-interest will butt its way ahead in a passion to be first in line, first and foremost, be more important than anyone else.  This is hard to achieve.  So self-oriented people are often frustrated, mad, and vengeful over anyone ahead of them.  Think of a dog running to a food dish.

Spiritually-minded loves are peaceful, content, pacific, delightful, and joyful.  The spiritually-minded are in harmony with others.  They are interested in other people, and join in joyful cooperation with others.  Spiritually-minded people are also driven.  But they are not driven by self-interest.  They are driven by love for the projects they undertake.  They are driven by love for being of service, for being useful, for helping out, for finding ways to make others happy.

Since we start out self-oriented and we end up God and other oriented, we are in process.  There are many different ways in which we are changed from self to God and other orientation.  Sometimes hardships happen to us.  These hardships can break up our self-interest.  When we are prohibited from getting our own way, our ego drives are crushed.  Sometimes, we work on ourselves.  We learn the ways of spirituality.  We implement these teachings in our own life.  But however it happens, our ego-driven, self-oriented self needs to be separated from our spiritual self.  Another image that we find for this in the Bible is in the creation story.  On the second day of creation, the waters are separated.  God separates the waters above the heavens from the waters under the heavens.  Separating self-serving drives from heaven-serving loves.  That’s how we understand Jesus’ words, “Do you think that I have come to bring peace to the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division!” (Luke 12:51)

These are the words of true prophets.  Words that say that the members of one’s own household are the enemy.  Words that tell us to take up our cross and follow Jesus.  As we grow spiritually, we will know a new peace and tranquility.  But we will also know turmoil and struggle.  True prophets will tell us that we will know both states of mind.

But this society has false prophets, as we heard about in Jeremiah.  Many are the voices we hear that tell us to favor self, instead of overcoming self.  This is what Jeremiah is talking about, “Will the hearts of the prophets ever turn back—those who prophesy lies, and who prophesy the deceit of their own heart?” (Jeremiah 23:26).  The false prophets of our day massage our ego.  They tell us to get ahead.  Psychologists speak of self-affirmation, self-gratification, self-expression.  “They plan to make my people forget my name by their dreams that they tell one another, just as their ancestors forgot my name for Baal” (Jeremiah 23:27).  I grew up in the “Me-Movement.”  What is meant by this term is that we were taught just that—self-realization, self-expression, self-gratification, self, self, self.  “I me, mine; I me mine; I me mine.”  And the prophets then, and still today, preach that false message.  That would truly be forgetting God’s name for Baal.  God’s name is to deny self, take up your cross, and follow Jesus.  Love God; love others.

Let’s consider Jesus’ life compared with the false prophets of our day.  Jesus’ birth story begins with the Roman Emperor, Caesar Augustus.  Then, with the subject of Jesus’ birth, we are in a barn, then on a hillside with shepherds.  The contrast could hardly be sharper.  Jesus’ life was one of continual service and giving.  He taught, healed, he fed the multitudes.  He never wrote anything down, there is only one historian who mentions Him just once in passing, He lived in the countryside, not the bog cities, He died a common criminal.  Jesus was a loser, not a winner.  While Caesar Augustus was actually worshipped as a god, he isn’t now.  In fact, after his death, the next emperor was the god of the day and no one was worshipping Augustus any more.  His palace is now gone, he himself only one historical figure amid a myriad.  Yet the peasant born in a barn, who never wrote anything down, who died a common criminal is still worshipped and is still God.  Jesus said that the first would be last and the last would be first.  The ultimate winner, the Roman Emperor has been forgotten.  And the loser is remembered and worshipped still.

The true prophets preach the Jesus story.  This is the story of humility, of love, or service, of giving, of self-sacrifice.  The opposition between the Jesus story and the story of our false prophets is stark.  But the only way to be a real winner, is to follow the way of Jesus.

 

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.

Religious Post

It Was I Who Taught Ephraim to Walk

Rev. David J. Fekete, Ph.D.

August 4, 2019

Hosea 11:1-11                                                 Luke 12:13-21                                     Psalm 107

Hosea prophesies in a time when Israel is under threat of attack.  Assyria is about to sweep down over Israel and destroy the Kingdom.  Hosea prophesies about this, and blames the imminent destruction of Israel on their worship of Baal and other gods of Canaan.  Yahweh was the God who delivered them from slavery in Egypt.  And Yahweh was the God who held their whole society together.

Our passage from Hosea 11 is interesting.  It shows a very loving, caring God.  Some passages, maybe many passages in the Hebrew Scriptures depict God as vengeful and punishing.  This reading from Hosea is different.  It depicts God as a nurturing parent.

God tells the Israelites, “To them I was like one who lifts/a little child to the cheek” (Hosea 11:4).  This is a tender, nurturing image of God.  Every parent knows what Hosea is talking about.  Every parent has lifted up a baby and kissed him or her on the cheek.  Or maybe held the baby up over their head.  This is a God who cuddled the Israelites as a parent cuddles their children.

God tells the Israelites that it was God who taught them to walk.  I remember when my brother was learning to walk.  How we held his little arms to steady him while he staggered in his infant steps.  This is what God did for the Israelites, “It was I who taught Ephraim to walk,/taking them by the arms” (Hosea 11:3).

In a very real way, God taught the Israelites to walk.  Worshipping Yahweh meant following all Yahweh’s laws.  The Israelites didn’t just believe in Yahweh as they would any other God.  Believing in Yahweh meant accepting Yahweh’s ways, following Yahweh’s laws, obeying Yahweh’s commands.

When the Israelites escaped from slavery in Egypt, they were essentially a mob.  There were Israelites and other races all fleeing slavery.  But they were not in a city.  They had no king.  They had no social structure.  They were simply a mob fleeing slavery.  So the challenge of Moses, of God, was to organize this mob, wandering in the desert, into a society.  So we think of Moses as the Lawgiver.  Moses ascended Mount Sinai and heard God speak.  God told Moses the laws that would become the basis of Israelite society.

Turning away from God meant turning away from God’s laws.  As Israelite society became wealthy and as corruption set in, they found it more convenient to worship the gods of the neighboring tribes.  So Hosea accuses the Israelites of worshipping Baal, the storm god of the Canaanites, and other Canaanite gods and goddesses.  The Israelites thought that if they sacrificed to these gods, they would be protected by the god or goddess’ powers.  Then they wouldn’t have to follow Yahweh’s laws of justice, love, and compassion.  The Israelites could enjoy their wealth, exploit the poor and weak, and sin if Yahweh wasn’t their God any more.

And that’s what Hosea accuses them of doing.

Hear the word of the Lord, you Israelites,
because the Lord has a charge to bring
against you who live in the land:
“There is no faithfulness, no love,
no acknowledgment of God in the land.
There is only cursing, lying and murder,
stealing and adultery;
they break all bounds,
and bloodshed follows bloodshed (Hosea 4:1-2).

Notice how Hosea’s accusation follows the 10 Commandments.  False witness, murder, stealing, adultery, and although Hosea doesn’t say it here, making graven images and having other gods before Yahweh.  Hosea points out that worshipping Baal is tied up with breaking God’s laws.

The same is true for us.  Believing in God isn’t the end of religion.  It’s just the start.  If there is a God, then all God’s laws matter in our lives.  We can’t just believe in God and then do whatever we want.  Jesus says, “Why do you call me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not do what I say?”  What does Jesus say for us to do?  Hosea, the Hebrew prophet tells us in words that Jesus echoes in the New Testament.  In our Hosea reading, we are told to be faithful, to love, to acknowledge God.  Then he points us to the 10 Commandments: No other Gods, truth telling, no murder, no stealing, faithfulness to our partners.  That is what Jesus tells us to do,

Just then a man came up to Jesus and asked, “Teacher, what good thing must I do to get eternal life?” . . . If you want to enter life, keep the commandments.”   “Which ones?” he inquired.  Jesus replied, “‘You shall not murder, you shall not commit adultery, you shall not steal, you shall not give false testimony, 19 honor your father and mother,’ and ‘love your neighbor as yourself’” (Matthew 19:16-19).

Following those laws will lead to eternal life.  And they will also lead to a good life here on earth.

This brings in the New Testament story we heard this morning.  A man exerts a lot of energy building big barns to store his abundant crops.  He plans to store his produce so he can live a life of ease in retirement, eat drink and be merry.  However, when the barns are done, he dies and never gets a chance to live his retirement dream.

We look forward to eternal happiness in heaven.  We can think sometimes that because we belong to this church, we are among the chosen.  Yet these ideas can work against us.  Looking forward to eternal life and priding ourselves on our religion takes our minds off the present.  The man in the New Testament story was expending all his energy building barns with his mind on the future.  But his future never came.

That story tells us to attend to our present.  Our eternity isn’t in the future.  It’s the way we are living now.  Are we living a live of peace?  Are we living a caring life?  Are we loving toward others?

If we are, we will be living a present life that is holy and blessed.  We will be in our eternal peace and joy.  We can be distracted by worries, by anxieties, by trivial pastimes.  That line in T. S. Eliot, “Distracted from distraction by distraction.”  Rather than anticipating our eternal joy, I suggest we attend to our present.  How are we filling time?  Is it blessed?  Is it peaceful?  Is it joyful?  If not, we need to ask ourselves if we are getting in the way of our own peace of mind.  It is true that in the next life, our feelings of spiritual joy will be more manifest than they are now.  But our life here and now can still approach the peace and tranquility of eternity.  How are we living in the present is the question that Luke asks us to consider.

At Paulhaven, a teen asked me, “What if religion is a scam?”  She was asking, not asserting that it was.  And she hadn’t thought it through very thoroughly.  But she didn’t want to be duped and wondered if this was all just a scam.  I replied that even if religion is a scam, what better way is there to live.  Isn’t a life of love, being true, honest, caring, humble, and peaceful—isn’t that a good way to go through life?

We will feel the results of our spirituality.  If we remove our blocks, our sins, and seek peace we will find it.  That will be a good way to live, even if religion is a scam.  But religion isn’t a scam.  There is a God.  And if we love God and follow God’s laws we will be blessed now, and forever.

 

 

 

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