Divine Worship

Divine Worship

A Sermon by the Rev. James P. Cooper


O come let us worship and bow down; let us kneel before the Lord, our maker. For He is our God, and we are the people of His pasture and the sheep of His hand (Psalm 95:6-7).

It is our common heritage that we gather together to worship the Lord, to bow down before Him. It can be very useful then, for us to take some time to reflect on the nature of Divine Worship, to take some time to think about the One Whom we worship, and to think about why and how we worship Him.

If we look around us and observe the great number and variety of churches in the world, we note that not only is the New Church a small minority among Christian Churches, all of Christianity constitutes a minority of the people living on this planet. Consider the following teaching from the Arcana:

It is commonly supposed that those born outside the Church, who are called heathens and gentiles, cannot be saved for the reason that they do not possess the Word and so do not know the Lord, without whom there is no salvation. But that gentiles too are saved may be known from the single consideration that the Lord’s mercy is universal – that is, it reaches out to every individual human being. For gentiles are born human beings the same as those within the Church, who are a relative minority; and they are not to blame because they do not know the Lord. (AC 2589, emphasis added)

This teaching is very reassuring because it shows how the Lord implements His goal of creating a heaven from the human race. It also leads us to consider that because there are great numbers of people who either consider themselves members of some sect, or regularly attend some form of religious service, outside of the Christian world culture, it can be seen that there is a common urge among all created human beings to take part in some form of Divine worship. We can also see that those forms are dependent not on some arbitrary and objective standard of behaviour, but on application of principles provided by the Lord in different forms for a wide variety of peoples and nations.

Anyone who beholds the universe, who considers the magnitude of creation and its underlying order, has to acknowledge some supreme being or entity. The Lord inflows through good spirits associated with us with the sense that He is present with us, and that He desires our worship. We are taught in the Heavenly Doctrine that any person who does not have this sense of a need to worship, or who can look at the universe and not acknowledge a Creator is under the dominion of infernal spirits, for such selfishness can only be from hell. (See AC 1308)

The Lord flows into everyone of us with a sense of His presence and a feeling of desire to worship. He does this in secret ways because it is essential that no person be forced into doing something he cannot love, that is totally contrary to his ruling love. We are told that the Lord bends us towards heaven, little by little, ever gently. He never breaks our spheres or attempts to compel our thoughts. He leads us by establishing a spiritual sphere in which we can thrive and uses this to lead us to new truth and consequently to new loves.

This must be done in secret, for He knows that if He were to openly enter our lives, we could no longer be free. How many times have we told someone we love something that was the opposite of what we really wanted to say because it was what we believed they wanted and needed to hear? Would we not also make the same effort to tell the Lord what we thought He wanted us to say? Since He is always with us, would we ever be free to be ourselves if we were constantly aware of His presence?

A person can worship many things. He worships himself when he puts himself above all others, including the Lord – which he does when he believes that his needs are more important than everything else. Divine Providence 250 teaches,

…The worshipper of self and of nature believes that dignities and wealth are the supreme and the only happiness that can be granted, thus happiness itself. If in consequence of worship begun in infancy he has any thought of God, he calls them Divine blessings, and as long as he is not too puffed up by them, he thinks that there is a God, and even worships Him. But there lies hidden in the worship a desire, of which he is unaware at the time, that he may be raised by God to still higher dignities and to still greater wealth. If he attains these his worship tends more and more to outward things until it so falls away that at length he thinks God of little account and denies Him; and the result is the same should he be cast down from the dignity and opulence on which he had set his heart.

A person worships the world when he puts acquiring positions of power, honours, and wealth above all else. Of course, neither worshiping self nor worshiping the world is genuine worship, for genuine worship has the Divine Human of the Lord as its object, and nothing else. Thus the Divine Human is both the source and the object of all proper Divine worship. (See AC 6674:4)

It is a key point to understand that although the Lord inflows into every person with the perception that there is a God and that He is to be worshipped, it is not enough to simply worship a nameless, formless entity. Can you really, genuinely love a person whom you have never met? Can you really worship “energy” in the abstract? Of course not. That is why the Lord provides the inclination to worship internally, but allows each of us to choose the forms from those available to us in the world, but especially effective are those which He Himself provided for us in the Word.

Why does the Lord provide us with the inclination to worship, but not provide us with specific forms? For the same reason He gives us the control over our understanding while He Himself governs our will according to the choices we make in our rational minds: He does it for the sake of our spiritual freedom. It must be clear to everyone that while someone could be compelled to perform the external rituals of worship, no one can be compelled to genuine, internal worship. Real worship can only arise through spiritual freedom. (See AC 1947:2, 2880, 2881)

There are two reasons why worship cannot be compelled. The first is that worship does not really belong to us. We may suppose that worship is from ourselves because it is performed by us by our own free choice. But reflect for a moment and you will see that it is really love and faith that make worship genuine and rewarding, and they do not come from a within, but rather they come from the Lord. Worship then becomes the acknowledgement that all love and faith are from the Lord by returning them to Him who is their Source (See AC 10203). It’s like bringing forward a gift of fruit at Thanksgiving. By so doing, we show that we know that He is the One who gives all gifts.

This in turn leads us to the second reason why worship cannot be compelled by another, which is that genuine worship must be accompanied with a sense of adoration or elevation of the Lord, and since God cannot be raised any higher by a person, this relative change of positions can only be accomplished when a person lowers, or humbles himself. There is no way that a one person can humble another person’s proprial loves in relation to the Lord by any kind of external influence. Since genuine worship requires humiliation before the Lord, and this cannot be compelled, therefore genuine worship cannot be compelled in another.

The church in a person, like the church in the heavens and in the world, must have both an internal and an external. This means that in order for there to be a genuine spiritual church there must be forms in which it can live and thrive. The church cannot exist without rituals and structures and traditions any more than we can live in this world without a body, clothes, and routines. The challenge to us as members of the Lord’s Church is to see that the external things of the church are arranged in such a way as to properly contain spiritual things, yet not restrict the freedom of people in the church to worship and live according to their own understanding of doctrine. And, as our understanding of doctrine grows and changes, this will be reflected in changes in the rituals and traditions of the church.

Although the rituals of the church are important forms which serve to receive and hold spiritual things, we must remember that merely performing the rituals of the church, no matter how regularly and devotedly, does not, in itself, confer salvation.

The person who is of the internal church, that is, who has begun to be regenerated by the Lord, makes worship of the Lord from charity the essential of his religious life. He worships the Lord not just by going to church, but by guiding every activity of his life according to what he knows to be true from the Word. Such people are found in every culture, and in every organized church. They express their worship and charity in a great variety of forms, but they all hold their own forms to be essential.

The person who says that he needs no outward forms of worship, that occasionally reading the Word or thinking about spiritual things is sufficient, fools only himself. (See AC 1098) It is the same as saying that you can be in love without desiring to embrace your loved one. If that’s the case, then the love is not true or genuine, for true love not only seeks to love one other than self, it also desires to make the one loved happy, and to be conjoined with the one loved. All three of these qualities must be present for it to be real love (See TCR 43).

In this context it would be useful to remember that the simple habit of regular church attendance is an important part of worship. Human nature is such that we have a great deal of inertia. It always seems like such a huge amount of bother to get ready and go to some event on time. But most of us will recognize that if we give in to the inertia and stay home, we don’t feel any better for it. On the other hand, if we overcome the inertia and attend the service, or the meeting, or whatever we almost always feel enlivened and invigorated by the experience, and are willing to admit to ourselves that we are glad we made the effort. So, making the effort to attend church is something that provides a benefit to the individuals.

At the same time, it’s a benefit to the others who attend. Being part of a lightly attended service makes people uncomfortable. Not only does it make the singing less heavenly, but there’s an underlying suspicion that maybe you missed the memo and really you’re supposed to be somewhere else with all the other people! We are, after all, social animals, and have a fundamental need to be a part of the crowd, and it makes us nervous when the crowd seems to be somewhere else.

The Heavenly Doctrines further teach the amazing idea that the Ancient Church and the Christian Church did not differ at all from each other as to their internal worship (nor, one could suppose, do any of the Lord’s five churches), but they differed only as to their external forms. The true worship of the Lord from charity does not differ from church to church or from age to age because the Lord, who is the only and true source of genuine worship, does not change. Only the external expression of true worship will vary. (See AC 1083:3)

All worship has as its goal that each one of us may be purified from evils and falsities, and consequently that goods and truths may be implanted in us by the Lord so that we may be reborn into spiritual life. (See AC 10022:e) Real worship consists of a life of use and charity towards the neighbour. The externals of worship, such as attending church, attending the festivals, and saying daily prayers, are necessary. But, without the life of charity, they have no effect on a person’s spiritual life.

Although our forms, our rituals, are important because they are our best expression of internal things, we need to recognize that the forms themselves are not true worship of the Lord. They can, and must, change from time to time, and from place to place. The internal of worship inflows from the Lord, and like all other forms of influx, it is receive (and thus takes form) according to the receiving vessel.

Our goal then should be to create forms that can embody the internal of worship from the Lord, and also remember that there is no genuine worship that does not express itself through love towards our neighbour.

And so we need to turn to the Lord as our shepherd and our guide to lead us in His paths of truth, to learn worship the Lord by our loving care of those around us, for He said, Inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me (Matthew 25:40). AMEN

First Lesson: Genesis 14:14-20

(GEN 14:14-20) Now when Abram heard that his brother was taken captive, he armed his three hundred and eighteen trained servants who were born in his own house, and went in pursuit as far as Dan. {15} He divided his forces against them by night, and he and his servants attacked them and pursued them as far as Hobah, which is north of Damascus. {16} So he brought back all the goods, and also brought back his brother Lot and his goods, as well as the women and the people. {17} And the king of Sodom went out to meet him at the Valley of Shaveh (that is, the King’s Valley), after his return from the defeat of Chedorlaomer and the kings who were with him. {18} Then Melchizedek king of Salem brought out bread and wine; he was the priest of God Most High. {19} And he blessed him and said: “Blessed be Abram of God Most High, Possessor of heaven and earth; {20} And blessed be God Most High, Who has delivered your enemies into your hand.” And he gave him a tithe of all. Amen.

Second Lesson: AC 1175 (portions)

…It has been stated and shown already that internal worship, which springs from love and charity, is worship itself, and that external worship without that internal is not worship at all.

Making internal worship external however consists in making external worship essential instead of internal, which is the reverse of worship itself. It is like saying that internal worship without external is no worship, when in reality external worship without internal is no worship at all. Such is the religion of people who separate faith from charity. That is to say, they make matters of faith more important than matters of charity, … and so make outward forms more important than inner essentials.

… It is like saying, for example, that if a person lived where there was no Church, no preaching, no sacraments, and no priesthood, it would be impossible for him to be saved or to have any kind of worship, when in fact he is able to worship the Lord from what is internal. It does not follow from this however that there should not be external worship.

[2] To make the point plainer still, take as another example people who make the essential of worship consist in going to church, attending the sacraments, listening to sermons, praying, celebrating the festivals, and many more practices of an external and ceremonial nature, and who convince themselves, while talking of faith, that these activities, which are the outward forms of worship, are sufficient.

People, it is true, who make worship springing from love and charity the essential engage in the same activities, that is to say, they go to church, attend the sacraments, listen to sermons, pray, celebrate the festivals, and much else, doing so most earnestly and carefully. But they do not make these practices the essential of worship. Since their external worship has internal worship within it, it has that which is holy and living within it; whereas the worship of the people mentioned above does not have anything holy or living within it for it is the inner essential itself that makes the external form or ceremony holy and living. Amen.

Copyright © 1982 – 2007 General Church of the New Jerusalem.

Page constructed by James P. Cooper

Page last modified September 27, 2009

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