Caesar and Christ

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There is no greater drama in human record then the sight of a few Christians, scorned and oppressed by a succession of Emperor’s, bearing all trials with a fierce tenacity , multiplying quietly, building order while there enemies generated chaos, fighting the sword with the word, brutality with hope and at last defeating the strongest state that history has known. Caesar and Christ had met in the arena, and Christ had one.

Love and Judgment

Love and Judgment

A Sermon By Rev. Mike Gladish

A Big Spiritual Dilemma

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As we prepare to celebrate the birth of Christ each year we are confronted with the age old problem of reconciling two apparently contradictory principles: love and judgment. “For God so loved the world,” we read, “that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life” (John 3:16). Yet Jesus Himself said “For judgment I have come into the world…” (John 9:39). “For this cause I was born, and for this cause I have come into the world, that I should bear witness to the truth” (John 18:37).

What a curious fact. We normally think of God Himself as somehow requiring judgment, and Jesus as the loving Savior. But truth is the standard of judgment, and it does tend to condemn, since no one is perfect, indeed “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). So if Jesus came to teach the truth and to judge, how are we saved?

Most Christians say that we are saved by faith in the “fact” that He suffered and died on our behalf, offering Himself as a sacrifice to atone for the sins of the whole human race (past, present and future). The idea is that in confronting the evils and falsities of the world He became a “lightning rod” for all the hatred of the world, and that by suffering on our behalf He relieved us of any need to suffer. In classic Christian theology this is called the “vicarious atonement.”

But this makes the love of God rather demanding, don’t you think? – that He should require a Divinely human sacrifice to move Him to pity and forgiveness? Indeed, it seems rather pagan, doesn’t it? One gets the sense of an angry, jealous God demanding payment for the sins of the world and being appeased only by the brutal murder of His own Son. What kind of love is this, and what kind of judgment?

Unconditional Love?

What a contrast this is from all the talk we hear today about “unconditional love,” that is, love that requires nothing but accepts all

people without qualification. We hear it everywhere! “God loves me just as I am.” And it’s TRUE! But does He love the WAY we are? Note the Gospel is ALL about the need to change, beginning with the first words of Jesus’ public ministry, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matt. 4:17).

So how can we understand God’s love? And how can we reconcile that love with what He does require?

Here’s a simple answer: God’s love is such that He wants to make us happy to eternity (True Christian Religion 43). You can’t ask for much more than that.

But in order to be happy we have to live in harmony and co-operation with the laws of order. Who could possibly imagine that God would love our misery or our mistakes, our selfishness or our stupidity? No, it is because He loves us that He wants us NOT to be miserable, selfish or stupid. And this love is unconditional, but it requires wisdom, or judgment to be effective.

So getting back to Christmas, we can think of it this way: – God in His Infinite love says to Himself, “My people are miserable, what can I do to make them happy?” And from His infinite wisdom He replies, “I must go down there and show them how to find happiness; I must not force them, but teach them, and show them, so that they have a choice and can turn their lives around.”

The Real Nature of Judgment, or Conditions for Salvation

There are two words in the Gospels for judgment. One refers to condemnation and the other to the concept of discernment, or prudence. The Lord in the Gospels clearly spoke of both, but when He taught He did not do so with any intention to condemn but rather “that the world through Him might be saved” (John 3:17). And here’s the key: – not saved by His sacrificial death on the cross, but saved by the freedom that His teaching and a proper discernment of the truth provides (John 8:32) so that we can enjoy an orderly, fulfilling spiritual life.

And this freedom implies decisions, judgments that we must make. For example, there is no doubt that we should love all people, even as our heavenly Father loves all people, “making His sun to shine on the evil and on the good… sending rain on the just and on the unjust”

(Matthew 5:45), but we cannot love their evil or their falsity or their confusion or their grief. We cannot love it and we cannot confirm it or support it. Thus we cannot show our love for all people in the same way. Neither could the Lord, which is why He condemned the scribes and Pharisees even though presumably He loved them too.

And He said, “If your brother sins against you, rebuke him; and if he repents, forgive him” (Luke 17:3-4). Note, “If he repents.” The same message is clear in the parable of the prodigal son: his father had compassion on him when he repented and came home (Luke 15:11-32). To do otherwise would be to support the disorder, and that is NOT truly loving. So we have the teaching that “Christian prudence demands that a person’s life should be carefully checked, and charity exercised accordingly” (New Jerusalem and its Heavenly Doctrine 85).

But again, back to Christmas.

There is an appearance in the literal stories in the Gospels that God sent His Son as someone separate from Himself into the world, “that the world through Him [not the Father] might be saved.” But the truth is that God, being pure, unconditional love in its very essence, provided for the salvation of the world by clothing HIMSELF in the human form AS Jesus Christ so that He could teach the truth with love and so remove all the obstacles to a life of faith.

This is why, in perhaps the most famous Advent prophecy of all, we read, “For unto us a Child is born, unto us a Son is given… and His name will be called Wonderful, Counselor, the Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace” (Isaiah 9:6). Note, He is all of these in ONE person.

This is why Jesus Himself said, “I and My Father are one” (John 10:30); “He who has seen Me has seen the Father” (John 14:9).

But how could the Infinite be contained in a finite body? And who looked after the rest of the universe while it was so contained? We might as well ask how the mind can look after the body while its thoughts are focused on one small thing. The fact is, the infinite is not contained or limited in any way, but it does manifest itself in a focused way in the love and wisdom of Christ.

The Dilemma Solved

So we see that the story of Christmas is not the story of God demanding any thing, least of all a human sacrifice. It is the story of love providing the wisdom necessary for us to take responsibility, to make good judgments, and to keep His commandments for our own sake, indeed, for our eternal welfare.

So it is the story of love and wisdom working together, as they always do, and working in this case in a human form for all to see and understand.

“I have come,” Jesus said, “as a light into the world, that whoever believes in Me should not abide in darkness” (John 12:46). And “He who follows Me shall not walk in darkness, but have the light of life” (John 8:12).

So, may this and “all your Christmases be bright” with the light of His love and wisdom!

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Daily Inspiration

“A person is entirely the same character as their love.”

Arcana Coelestia 6872

Behold! The Lamb Of God!

Behold! The Lamb Of God!
A Sermon by Rev. Dr. Reuben P. Bell

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For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who
is Christ the Lord. And this will be the sign to you: You will find a Babe
wrapped in swaddling cloths, lying in a manger.
Christmas–the birth of our Lord Jesus Christ almost 2,000 years
ago, and celebrated (by no accident) at the darkest time of the year.
There are many themes woven into the Christmas story. But of all the
themes in the Biblical narratives, we return most often, it seems, to the
theme of light–to the primeval archetypes of darkness and light. Is there
a more basic metaphor in the human experience?

With almost gnostic precision, the Apostle John tells us of the
Lord of light, who came into the world to bring us everlasting life, and to
make us “children of God”:

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God,
and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. In Him
was life, and the life was the light of men, that was the true light
which gives light to every man who comes into the world. And the
Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His
glory, the glory as of the only
begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth [John 1:1-14].

The Lord was Divine truth incarnate, who said to us “I am the light
of the world. He who follows Me shall not walk in darkness, but have the
light of life.”

Our lesson from the Apocalypse Revealed has a lot to say about
light. It tells us that when we encounter images of light in the Word, we
are to think of Divine truth, streaming in from the spiritual sun of heaven.
Because light and truth are linked in use–they correspond–and the Lord
comes to us across discrete degrees of order from His abode above the
heavens by means of correspondence.

And truth? We know about truth in this church, if nothing else. We
love truth. The Writings for the New Church proclaim themselves to be
the Lord’s Second Advent by means of the internal sense of the Word–
Divine truths locked up for centuries–finally disclosed and taught in
those thirty volumes of doctrine… truths to lead us to the good of life.
And these truths are what make the New Church new. But what is truth?
Now this is an important question–not just an academic pursuit–
because if the Lord did come into the world as truth incarnate, we must
define this thing very closely. Why? To understand truth is to know more
about the Lord. And that is always good. Let’s see what the Writings can
tell us about truth:

All truth is from good, for it is the form of it, and all good is the
inmost being of truth. Good when it is formed, so as to appear to
the mind, in speech is called truth (Apocalypse Explained 136).
Truth is the form of good; that is, when good is formed so that it
can be intellectually perceived, then it is called truth (Arcana Coelestia
3049). In the Word the Lord is called Jehovah as to Divine good; for
Divine good is the very Divine. And the Lord is called the Son of God as
to Divine truth; for Divine truth proceeds from Divine good, as a son
from the Father, and also is said to be born (Arcana Coelestia 7499).
Divine good can in no way be and exist without Divine truth, nor
Divine truth without Divine good, but one in the other, mutually and
reciprocally…. The Divine good is the Father, and the Divine truth is the
Son (Arcana Coelestia 2803).

So truth, according to this series, is the very nature of Divine good
Itself. Since good is of the will, and thus not immediately available or
even apparent to us fallen humans, it needs a form; a shape, a skin, an
external aspect, or something we can see. And that is just what truth is.
Who was born on Christmas day? Jesus Christ, the form of Divine good
itself, “was made flesh, and dwelt among us.” Someone we can see.
Now if we can see Him, we can strive to imitate Him. And that is called
regeneration. That’s the whole idea of truth: every building project needs
a set of instructions.

So we have truth… loads of it-in the Word itself, and in the internal
sense of the Word, revealed in the Writings for the New Church. And
that’s wonderful. But you know, like everything else in this world, there
can be complications.

There are some other teachings about Divine truth, that reveal the
great power in it, and also tell us what happens when we forget that
good and truth are supposed to go together. Truths serve as weapons
of destruction in spiritual warfare, and they are necessary if we are to
overcome the falsities that the hells use against us in the great battle for
our souls (Arcana Coelestia 2686). And truth is powerful stuff. It has to
be. In its pure form–the light that flows into heaven from the sun there
that is the Lord Himself–it would burn us to ashes, if it weren’t
accommodated–filtered a bit–into a less potent form, that we can use
(Divine Love & Wisdom 110). This filtered form is the Word, and the
Writings, but BEWARE: there is great power in these as well. Like any
weapon, truth must be handled very carefully, and it must be used in a
proper and responsible way. And we must also remember that using
truths to overcome the hells and using truths in our daily activities–in
discussions and conversations and all our interactions–are two different
things.

Truth, used alone, by itself–without the good that is supposed to
be there with it–can destroy the people around us by its ability to cut to
the heart–of their intentions, their expectations, and their motivations–
sometimes before they know what these really are. And it leaves no
room for negotiation–no room for improvement, or starting over. Truth
alone does not teach, or lead–it condemns, and it leaves no survivors.
The Arcana Coelestia tells us that “in the other life, truths separated
from goods appear as arrows” (Arcana Coelestia 2686:6). I guess they
would.

Now as a weapon in the war against the hells, this is great,
because this battle is for life or death. But for daily use, around the
house, in our jobs–around people who are not our enemies, but just
plain old regenerators like ourselves, we must be very careful that we 1)
use truths only in the presence of good, and 2) use them very cautiously
even then. Pick your weapons carefully. Truth can kill.

There is a beautiful flowering plant native to Europe, with flowers
like little purple thimbles. From the dried leaves of this plant, called
Digitalis purpurea we get a powerful drug called digitalis, that can
restore a failing heart to normal for a considerable period of time. It
remains an important drug, to this day. But the dosage is interesting–
and kind of scary: as little as a tenth of a milligram per day. And if you
get too much? It will stop your heart.

Save a life, or stop one; all from the proper, careful use of a
powerful agent for good. Truth is like digitalis: it must be used wisely,
and with great care, with the good of the person always in mind. And
there we have the good that goes with the truth.

So what does all this have to do with Christmas? Well, we found
that the Lord came to us as “the light of the world,” and we found that
light signifies truth, so we made that connection: The Lord was Divine
truth, come into the world in human form; Divine good Itself, but
accommodated to our reception in the form of truth. (That is why He
called Himself the Son.)

And we learned that Divine good can in no way be and exist
without Divine truth, nor Divine truth without Divine good, but one in the
other, mutually and reciprocally… and you don’t want to try to use truth
by itself, because it’s just too dangerous. You’ve got to combine truth
with good when you are using it around the house.

What does this have to do with Christmas? The Lord is Divine
truth Itself–infinitely powerful; more powerful than you or I can imagine,
and He decided to visit this planet and bring that truth to bear on the evil
that was about to engulf its people. It was an urgent situation, that
demanded such a drastic remedy. And so Divine good descended into
this world in the form of all truth; Jehovah bowed the heavens, we read
in Psalm 18, and thick darkness was under His feet. He made darkness
His hiding place, darkness of waters, clouds of the heavens. At the
brightness before Him His clouds passed, with hailstones and coals of
fire. That’s powerful.

So how did Divine truth come to us? How did the “light of the
world” make His entry into this world of darkness? What did John the
Baptist say, when he saw Him coming; walking toward him at the
Jordan River?

Behold! The lamb of God! Lamb??? All this power, in the form of
a man, and John calls Him a lamb? That’s right. And he knew just what
he was talking about. For there is born to you this day in the city of
David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be the sign to you:
You will find a Babe wrapped in swaddling cloths, lying in a manger.
A baby, wrapped in a blanket. The power of the most high, wrapped up
in the innocence of an infant. Divine truth, yes, but wrapped up in all the
good that the Lord could muster in this world. Of course! Can you
imagine that much truth, by itself, alone, to work its work of destruction?
Short work, at that. Imagine! No freedom; no second chance; no
reformation or regeneration; no process; no covenant; no Savior; and
worst of all, no Friend of the human race. Just judgment: in or out that
day, and the job is done. The Lord did not choose that kind of mission
on this earth 2000 years ago. He came to bring us life, not death: I am
the light of the world. He who follows Me shall not walk in darkness, but
have the light of life. Judgment tempered with mercy. Truth conjoined to
good. That is the way the Lord Himself operates, to leave us the room
(the freedom) to bring our lives into order and to follow Him to His
kingdom in heaven.

And we must do the same. We have lots of truths. The Lord has
decided that we should receive them at this time in history: the doctrines
of the New Jerusalem, to open up the infinite truths of the Word. But we
must handle His truths gently and carefully with one another, as we use
them, to correct and lead, and reform, and teach, but never to cut, or
tear, or kill.

We must always serve up His truths with equal measures with
good, to our families, to our friends, to people at work, to the people we
meet, to people we don’t even like very much. Because truth applied as
a weapon is a weapon.. and you’ll be sorry if you use it that way.
But will this work? Will anyone buy the strength of your truth if it’s all
wrapped up in “love your neighbor as yourself?” Can you make an
argument or take a stand while “doing unto others as you would have
them do unto you?” Can you still be strong, using truth all wrapped up in
good?

I am the light of the world. He who follows Me shall not walk in
darkness, but have the light of life.

Of course you can! It worked on the shepherds. They came and
saw the babe, wrapped in swaddling clothes, and they helped spread
the news. It worked on the “Wisemen” from the East: they believed. It
will work for you. And it will transform the people around you. This is the
magic of Christmas: love, come down from heaven, in the form of truth,
but “wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.” AMEN
Lessons: Isaiah 11:1-6, Luke 2:1-20, Apocalypse Revealed n. 796

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DAILY INSPIRATION

“Nobody is able, from things that are lower, to grasp with their mind things that are higher.”

Arcana Coelestia 2568

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