The God We Worship

The God We Worship
A Sermon by the Rev. Peter M. Buss, Jr.

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“Philip said to Him, ‘Lord, show us the Father, and it is sufficient
for us.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Have I been with you so long, and yet you
have not known Me, Philip? He who has seen Me has seen the
Father’” (John 14:8-9).
Jesus and His disciples. If we look closely at the Lord’s
relationship with His disciples, one of the primary things He tried to do
for them was teach them who He was (and still is). He wanted them
to know that He was Divine. Through His miracles, His
transfiguration, His walking on the water, His raising of Lazarus from
the dead, and finally His own resurrection, He was working to get
them to understand that He was (as one teaching in the Writings for
the New Church puts it), “Infinite, Uncreate, Almighty, God and Lord,
altogether equal to the Father” (Doctrine of the Lord 55)-at least as
far as they could understand these things.

He has some success. Speaking for the disciples, Peter once
said: “We have come to believe and know that You are the Christ, the
Son of the living God” (John 6:69; cf. Matthew 16:16). And after
Thomas saw that Jesus had indeed risen as He said, he professed
His faith by saying, “My Lord, and My God” (John 20:28).
There is but one God. And yet, when it comes right down to it,
even these disciples didn’t quite understand the central message
Jesus was trying to convey. They could not comprehend that He was
the one God of heaven and earth. They could believe that He was the
Son of God, but not God Himself, Jehovah came down on earth.

They are not to blame for their misunderstanding. After all they talked
with Jesus, ate with Him, traveled with Him-He was a Person to them.
They also heard Him talk about God His Father, as if He was talking
about someone else. So Jesus led them as far as He could in the
right direction-that He was the Son of the living God. Anything beyond
that was “wholly incomprehensible” to them (see Arcana Caelestia
6993:2). We have to remember that at the time of the Lord’s birth
there was extreme darkness in all the world about spiritual things.
Jesus brought about the dawning of a new church which would see
more clearly. And at such a dawning, there was a beginning of
understanding, a beginning of belief and worship, with many things
yet to be said and comprehended. As Jesus Himself said: “I still have
many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. However,
when He, the Spirit of Truth, has come, He will guide you into all
truth” (John 16:12-13).

We now live in an era where that new truth is available. The
Lord has revealed the truth He promised to reveal. He has opened up
for us the Scriptures, and in them we may now see the truth about
Him-the truth He taught so long ago, and yet was not completely
understood. He wants us to be absolutely clear about things those
people were just beginning to understand. There are not two
Persons, or three in the God-head. There is one God, the Lord Jesus
Christ, and He is the one we are to believe in and worship. This is
why He was so blunt with Philip when he requested in innocence
(and perhaps even frustration): “Lord, show us the Father and it is
sufficient for us” (John 14:8).

As we read, He said to Philip: “Have I been with you so long,
and yet you have not known Me, Philip? He who has seen Me has
seen the Father, so how can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? Do you
not believe that I am in the Father and the Father in Me? Believe Me
that I am in the Father and the Father in Me” (John 14:9-11).
The central truth of the Word of God, the truth that Jesus tried
so hard to get people to believe while on earth is that there is but one
God. He is not only the Son of God, but the God of heaven and earth,
and one with the Father (see True Christian Religion 379). This is
what we are all called upon to believe.

The importance of a correct idea of God. There is a teaching in
the work of the Writings called True Christian Religion, a work
appropriately named for this topic, which describes how important it is
for us to understand who our God is: A correct idea of God is to the
congregation like the sanctuary and alter in a church, or like a crown
on the head and a scepter in the hand of a king, as he sits upon his
throne. From this hangs the whole body of theology, like a chain from
its anchor-point. If you are prepared to believe me, the idea everyone
has of God determines his place in the heavens (True Christian
Religion 163).

Why is it so important for us to have a correct idea about God?
Why is it that this one teaching-this one facet of belief will determine
our welfare to eternity? Why is it like the sanctuary and altar in a
church, or like the crown and scepter of a king? Why is it the most
important concept in all of religion? If I were to ask of all of you here
today, “How do you get to heaven?” I’d probably get responses such
as this: “Live a good life”, “Obey the Lord’s commandments”, “Shun
evils as sins against the Lord and then live a good life” or something
along those lines. And these would be correct answers.

But a correct idea and belief in the Lord is even more basic
than these statements. It is no accident that there are two great
commandments. The second one is: “You shall love your neighbor as
yourself” (Matthew 22:39). In general this is a command to live a
good life. But the first and great commandment in the Law is to love
the Lord our God with all our heart, with all our soul and with all our
mind (see Matthew 22:37-38). The reason for this is that we need to
know who is asking us to live a good life. For religion to make sense,
we have to know what kind of God the Lord is. Why is He asking us
to act in certain ways? If we don’t understand why He needs us to act
according to His commandments, what’s to convince us to do so
when the going gets tough, when temptation sets in and we feel like
doing something else? The truth about God is indeed the starting
point from which all the other facets of religion hang as links of a
chain from an anchor point.

Father/Son imagery. Now some people might raise a legitimate
complaint about the way the Lord has put His Word together. If it is so
important for us to know who the Lord is, and specifically to
acknowledge that He, the Lord Jesus Christ, is the one God of
heaven and earth, why didn’t He just say so? Why in the world would
He leave anything in His Word which would confuse us, or cause
many people to misunderstand this most central teaching? Why
would He speak to the Father as if to another? Why would He call
Himself the Son of God, and yet expect us to believe that He is more
than that?

We already discussed one reason: the people alive during His
life on earth could not believe anything further than that He was the
Son of God, and not God Himself. This is an important reason, for the
Lord always accommodates Himself to the understanding of the
people He is trying to lead. He is constantly trying to make Himself
accessible and knowable to the extent possible. And He did just that
for the people He taught and healed while He was on earth.
But, as you have probably already realized, there is a much
deeper and more profound reason for the way the gospels were put
together. There is a truth about the Lord our God which is played out
for us in the stories about Father and Son which we could not know
otherwise. There are three ideas I’d like to share with you today
which illustrate how the Father / Son imagery can help us, rather than
be a source of confusion.

1. Many names for one God. First, let us remember that when
we’re discussing the Lord, we’re discussing the Infinite. And, as one
teaching so eloquently points out: “The human mind, for all its
loftiness and superb analytical power, is finite, and there is no way of
rendering it anything but finite. Therefore it is incapable of seeing the
infinity of God as it is in itself, and so of seeing God (True Christian
Religion 28).

It goes on to say that we can see God in shadow-in other
words, as He has revealed Himself in Scripture. This is where the
various names of the Lord help us out tremendously. We cannot
know everything there is to know about God; indeed we would be
foolish to try. But the Lord has made it easier for us to know some
things. He has given us an ability to look at different facets of Him,
different Divine qualities that He possesses. And He labels each one
of these qualities with a different name for Himself. So we have
Jesus, which means “Savior,” and we have “Christ” which means
“King;” and Jehovah, which literally means “the One who Is, or
exists;” and “Immanuel” which means “God with us.” We also have
some of His activities categorized under different names: He is the
Creator and Redeemer, He is our Preserver and Comforter. All
of these things help us to look at one aspect of God at a time, to
understand it, and put it together with the other things we know about
Him, so that our faith in Him can develop.

The same is true of the three most dominant names for God,
which are Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. These also are different
aspects of the one God, highlighting certain of His Divine qualities, so
that we can come to understand our God more fully. So the first idea
about the imagery of the trinity is that, although it may seem like a
source of confusion for people, it is actually designed to help us
understand our God more fully.

2. The Trinity. The second idea which will help us see the value
in the imagery of the Trinity, is to see in concept how these three
make one. There is one teaching which is extremely helpful in this
regard. It goes like this: These three, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, are
the three essentials of a single God, which make one as soul, body
and activity do with a person (True Christian Religion 166).
The beauty of this teaching is that it makes so much sense. We
all have a soul-a life force within us. We all have a body. And these
two together make it possible for us to do things-to think and speak
and act, to walk, to express love, to reason, and to serve other
people. Working from this fundamental way in which we have been
created, we can come to realize that it works the same way for God,
for we are created in His image and in His likeness (see Genesis
1:26-27). That means that God has a soul, a body, and that He acts
by means of these two. The conclusion then is that “Father” is the
name which describes the Soul of the Lord, or His life-force-why He
acts, what He cares about, who He is at His core; “Son” is the name
of God which describes His body-the Human form we see in our Lord
Jesus Christ, showing forth or revealing to all who He is, and what He
wants for us; and “Holy Spirit” is the name given to what God doesthe
effect He has on us, the providence, enlightenment, comfort, and
eventual salvation He can bring to us.

3. The soul, body, and activity of God. With this construct of
soul, body and activity of the Lord, we turn to our third idea about the
Father / Son imagery of the gospels-specifically to one story where all
these ideas come together. The story is the one of Philip asking to be
shown the Father, to which Jesus responded, “He who has seen Me
has seen the Father.” Jesus began this teaching episode by saying to
His disciples: “In My Father’s house are many mansions; if it were not
so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you” (John
14:2).

We can now understand what He was really saying to them. If
we think about the “Father” as the soul or life-force of God, we can
see that His inmost desire is to bring us into heaven. What drives
God at His very core, and causes Him to do every single thing He
does, is love-a love for us, and a desire to make us happy from
Himself (see True Christian Religion 43). This is God in Himself: love
for all people, and that love is described by the name “Father.” What
better image could we be given of God’s love, than that of a Divine
Parent who cares for His children with infinite mercy?

And yet, Jesus says that He would prepare this place in heaven
for us; that He would return and lead us there. Further He explained
to the disciples (and to us), that we know how to get there: where He
goes, we know, and the way we know (see John 14:3-4). Thomas
reacted to this statement by saying: “Lord, we do not know where
You are going, and how can we know the way?” And Jesus replied: “I
am the Way, the Truth, and the Life. No one comes to the Father but
by Me” (John 14:5-6).

These words describe Jesus Christ, who called Himself the Son
of God. “No one comes to the Father, except through Me.” “I am the
Way the Truth and the Life.” This is why Jesus came on earth in the
first place-to reveal to people through His actions and His teachings
what kind of God He is and what He expects from us. We have many
teachings about our Lord, and all of them help us to understand Himall
of them point to the fact that He is a God of love-a God who cares
for us with more compassion and mercy than any human being could
ever do. This is what Jesus Christ showed to us. This is the God
teaching us about Himself, showing us what His plans are for us, and
explaining why He asks us to act in certain ways. The Son teaches us
this, and through the Son, we see the love of the Father, or through
the body of our Lord, we see His soul. As a teaching in the work True
Christian Religion says:

“By means of the Human, Jehovah God brought Himself into
the world and made Himself visible to human eyes, and thus
accessible (True Christian Religion 188:6).

And once we realize that He is accessible, we can see that He
can make a difference in our lives: He can affect us. This is His
operation, which is described under the name of the Holy Spirit.
Conclusion. The beauty of these concept of our God is that they
makes Him believable. He has a singularity of focus: all His energy is
directed towards making us happy to eternity in heaven. Everything
He teaches leads us towards that goal. In everything He does, He
works to bring us closer to Him so that He can be a bigger part of our
lives. He wants us to understand that He, the Lord Jesus Christ, is
our one and only God. He wants us to understand the way He has
put the gospels together that we can see more about Him through the
Father/Son imagery than we could without it. By means of the stories
of Jesus Christ, living in this world, teaching people and healing them,
He offers us a real picture of the kind of God He is-not merely an
intercessor between us and God the Father, but God Himself who
has the ability to teach us and heal our lives. He is one with the
Father. This is the truth that Jesus was trying so hard to get His
disciples to understand. There is but one God, and we are to place
our lives in His hands. It is the first and great commandment,
expressed in this way: “Hear O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is
One. You shall love the Lord Your God with all your heart, with all
your soul, and with all your strength” (Deuteronomy 6:4-5).
Amen.
The Lessons: Deuteronomy 6:1-9; John 14:1-11; True Christian
Religion 379

https://newchurch.org/

DAILY INSPIRATION

“Before a person can know what truth is, or be moved by good, the things that hinder and offer resistance must be removed.”

Arcana Coelestia 18

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