Holy Spirit

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Spiritual Topics

Holy Spirit


The nature of the Holy Spirit is a topic where there’s a marked difference between standard Christian theology and the New Christian perspective. The “official” dogma of most Christian teaching is that the Holy Spirit is one of the three persons that make up one God, in the role of reaching out to people with the power of God to bring them into a desire for righteousness. He is perceived to be proceeding from the other two: God the Father and Jesus the Son.

That old formulation was the result of three centuries of debate among early Christians, as they tried to understand the nature of God. At that time, there was a sizeable minority that rejected the God-in-three-persons view, but — the majority won out, at the Council of Nicea, in 325 AD.

The New Christian teaching is more akin to some of the old minority viewpoints. It regards the Holy Spirit as a force, or activity, coming from God — not a separate being. This aligns with our everyday understanding of “spirit” as the projection of someone’s personality. It also accounts for the fact that the term “the Holy Spirit” does not occur in Old Testament, which instead uses phrases such “the spirit of God,” “the spirit of Jehovah” and “the spirit of the Lord,” where the idea of spirit connected closely with the person of God.

The Writings describe the Father, Son and Holy Spirit as three attributes of one person: the soul, body and spirit of the one God. They also say that the term “Holy Spirit” emerges in the New Testament because it is connected with the Lord’s advent in the physical body of Jesus, and because of the way that advent changed the way we can learn the Lord’s truth and become good people.

According to the Writings, the churches that came before the advent were “representative.” The people in them (in the best of those churches, anyway) knew that the Lord had created the world, and that the world was thus an image of the Lord, and they had the ability to look at that created world and understand its spiritual messages; they could look at the world and understand the Lord. And they did it without trying and with great depth, much the way we can read a book when what we’re actually seeing is a bunch of black squiggles on a white sheet of paper.

That ability was eventually twisted into idol-worship and magic, however, as people slid into evil. The Lord used the Children of Israel to preserve symbolic forms of worship, but even they didn’t know the deeper meaning of the rituals they followed. With the world thus bereft of real understanding, the Lord took on a human body so He could offer people new ideas directly. That’s why the Writings say that He represents divine truth (“the Word became flesh,” as it is put in John 1:14).

The Holy Spirit at heart also represents divine truth, the truth offered by the Lord through his ministry in the world and its record in the New Testament. The term “the Holy Spirit” is also used in a more general sense to mean the divine activity and the divine effect, which work through true teachings to have an impact on our lives.

Such a direct connection between the Lord and us was not something that could come through representatives; it had to come from the Lord as a man walking the earth during His physical life or – in modern times – through the image we have of Him as a man in His physical life. That’s why people did not receive the Holy Spirit before the Lord’s advent.

What we have now, though, is a full-blown idea of the Lord, with God the Father representing His soul, the Son representing his body, and the Holy Spirit representing His actions and His impact on people.

(References: Doctrine of the Lord 58; True Christian Religion 138, 139, 140, 142, 153, 158, 163, 164, 166, 167, 168, 170, 172)

http://newchristianbiblestudy.org/

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The Trinity – and the Mistake People Made in 325 AD

           
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Jesus is clearly identified in the Gospels as the son of God, and during his ministry regularly referred to “the Father”, seemingly as a separate, higher being. Yet he also stated his own divinity, which was reinforced when he was resurrected after the crucifixion and appeared, in the flesh, to his followers.

So was he God? What about the Father? Could he and the Father both be God? And what about the Holy Spirit, also mentioned with great frequency? Was that a third divine being?

This seeming paradox led to a variety of interpretations among early Christians, which led to a council of 300 church leaders in the Turkish town of Nicaea in 325 A.D. They settled on the idea of three beings making up one God, an idea which was confirmed and expanded in a second council in Constantinople in 381 A.D. The doctrine took final form in what’s known as the Athanasian Creed, adopted by the Roman Catholic Church in the sixth century.

That creed, which is still central to most Christian churches today, says that the three – Father, Son and Holy Spirit – are equally God and equally all-powerful, and that all three existed from eternity and will exist to eternity. It says the Son was “begotten” of the Father and the Holy Spirit “proceeded” from the Father and the Son, but all three are “uncreated,” are equal, and are together one God in the Holy Trinity.

The Writings say this false doctrine was the beginning of the end for the Christian church, leading to an inevitable belief in three gods, even when people spoke of one God. They also say that three separate infinite beings would be impossible, since something that’s infinite cannot be divided.

Instead, the Writings say that God the Father – Jehovah, as He is known in the Old Testament – planted His own essence in Mary so that it could be clothed with a physical human body. Through Mary the resulting man – Jesus – also inherited all the typical human weaknesses and desires for evil, which meant that despite his divine soul He could lust for evil as powerfully as anyone ever has.

That human frailty allowed Jesus to engage directly in battle against the hells, which had at the time grown so powerful that people were nearly cut off from heaven. Those battles were waged the same way our battles are waged: through temptation. The Writings say Jesus subjected Himself to temptation throughout His life, on a scale and to a degree that we can’t imagine. But as He won each battle, he forced another part of hell into submission.

Those battles had another effect. With each victory, Jesus turned a little bit of His human reality into divine reality, slowly uniting his human exterior with His internal soul, which was Jehovah Himself. By the time of His ministry, what people saw was mostly divine. Through His final temptation, on the cross, he purified the final aspects of his physical humanity, so the body that was buried and resurrected was fully divine – Jesus was Jehovah and Jehovah was Jesus. And since He took that divine human body with Him to heaven, Jesus is till Jehovah and Jehovah is still Jesus, which is expressed in the Writings as the Lord.

As for the Holy Spirit, the case is this:

The Lord has always offered people spiritual guidance, but originally did so from a distance. The earliest people learned of the Lord through angels, and by seeing spiritual meaning in the natural world. Later the Lord used inspired people – Moses and various judges and prophets – to teach others about spiritual things. This changed, however, when He came among us as Jesus. As Jesus He spoke to people directly, teaching them Himself about spiritual things, teachings that were recorded and passed on to us today. The term “the Holy Spirit” describes the power of that direct teaching and the way the Lord uses it to motivate us.

The Holy Spirit, then, draws its power from things that have always been true, but it’s a power that came into effect through Jesus. That’s why it’s an expression that does not ever occur in the Old Testament, which instead speaks of the Spirit of Jehovah or the Spirit of the Lord.

So what does the Trinity mean to us now? What is the presence of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit in our lives? The Writings say that the three aspects of the Lord do indeed exist, but rather than being three people they are the soul of the Lord (the Father), the body of the Lord (the son) and the Lord’s activity (the Holy Spirit).

http://newchristianbiblestudy.org/

Here is a reference to a key passage in Swedenborg’s work, True Christian Religion 163.

How good a parent am I?

 

Spiritual Questions & Answers

ParentMany a parent wonders how good they are at the job. According to the Chief Inspector of Schools, David Bell, many parents fail to impose proper discipline in the home and simply put children in front of the television rather than talk and play with them.

Many studies have described a bad parent as being neglectful or over-controlling. For example, professor Dieter Wolke at the University of Warwick found that such negative parenting is linked to a moderate increase in the risk of being a bully and a small increase in the risk of being a victim of bullying.

None of this may be true for your children. Nevertheless, perhaps as a parent with a conscience you fear you are not giving them enough of your time, or haven’t found the right way to balance being both warm and firm with them in a consistent way. Here are some questions that can help you assess just how good you are in the role of mother or father.

Are you too scared to let them do their own thing?

There is probably a natural urge for any parent to want to jump in to protect the  child at the slightest hint of danger. Pamela Druckerman, an American mother living in Paris, said that her heart would regularly jump when walking around her neighbourhood because a French parent often lets small kids race ahead of them on the pavement. They trust their children will stop at the corner and wait for them. “ Watching this is particularly terrifying when the kids are on scooters.”

It is hard to get right when to allow children to learn from their mistakes. Too lax, and you might have a serious injury or worse on your hands. But too protective and your child never experiences sufficient sense of autonomy and does not learn to be street-wise with the self-confidence that goes along with this. The key I feel is self-reflection. What is your inner attitude? Do you construct worst-case parent scenarios or are you able to calmly assess the realistic risks?

Do you get too angry about their failures?

It is surely only natural to feel disappointed from time to time with children’s conduct and performance. Feeling cross for any parent is understandable when we see them being naughty. However, does this anger last? Are we furious when they do poorly on the playing field, or at school tests? For example the aggression and foul-mouthed behaviour of some fathers watching their sons play football. I would argue that such anger expresses an attitude that the children are there to fulfil the parents own frustrated ambitions.  Something similar can be heard in the conversation between mothers who politely vie with each other to boast about their own children’s accomplishments.

Do you resent the inconveniences they cause you?

Baby’s cry loudly if uncomfortable and hungry and mothers quickly respond with selfless affection making things better. However, as they get older children also make their demands. And often for their own good they will need you to drop what you are doing to talk with them. How willing are you to spend time with your child doing an activity he or she enjoys even when you are tired or want some time to yourself? It is often personally inconvenient to have to attend to someone else rather than what had been occupying you.

Have you the patience to try to understand how they feel

Focusing on what children are saying and doing is necessary if a parent is to show empathy whilst firmly defining boundaries around right and wrong. If you treat your children with understanding then they will likely treat others the same way. Only your patient communication can help them gain appreciation of what is deeply important and learn to deal with their negative emotions in the context of your loving concern. But trying to talk with kids along such lines may mean a great mental effort and can be emotionally taxing.

Is it too painful for you to let them fly the nest?

A parent who clings to older offspring, failing to provide the slight nudge when it is needed for them to start to live away from the parental home, is doing them no favours. Such a parent seems not to realise that it isn’t about releasing kids into the wild and abandoning them. It is just recognising that a young person is someone in his or her own right, — a separate being with their own life style choices, need for privacy and individual ambition and thus the need to live their own life.

Do you envy them?

Carol Ryff, a psychologist at University of Winsconin found that parents, who thought their kids were better-adjusted than they themselves had been in their twenties, weren’t all that pleased. In fact, thinking their kids were faring better than they had made them downright grumpy. Grown children may evoke envy in some parents and the sense of missed opportunities.

The spiritually-minded or materially-minded parent

According to one point of view, parents who are inwardly self-centred and materialistically minded are more likely to be negative parents. Emanuel Swedenborg wrote that these parents — who he termed ‘naturally-minded’ — feel affection for their small children “kissing and embracing them, carrying them and hugging them to their breasts and make a quite excessive fuss of them.” However, with the growth into adolescence these same parents :

“Pay little or hardly any attention to their inward affections, …but only to the outward features which they find attractive. It is to these their love is attached, fixed and clings. This makes them also close their eyes to their faults, making excuses for these and favouring them. The reason is that in their case the love of their offspring is also a love of themselves” (Emanuel Swedenborg CL 4645)

Copyright 2013 Stephen Russell-Lacy
Author of Heart, Head & Hands Swedenborg’s perspective on emotional problems

http://www.spiritualquestions.org.uk/resources/

Posted on15th May 2013CategoriesEthics, Ethics & ChildrenTags, ,, , , , , ,, , , , , , , , , ,, , , ,  Leave a comment

Father – is he uniquely important?

Spiritual Questions & Answers

Discovering inner health and transformation

fatherTraditionally, the father has been the bread-winner for the family. These days, however, many women have well-paid jobs in the professions and business. The two sexes are said to be equal, and the ‘new man’ as a father is supposed to reduce his time at work so as to be as actively involved as the mother – not just in domestic chores – but also in time spent with the children, and in thinking about their health and schooling.

Does the gender of the parents matter?

However in doing more of what mothers have traditionally done, some men are beginning to wonder if there is any unique role for a father that can be valued. As the mother goes out to work, the father is no longer the sole or sometimes even main family bread-winner.

A lead article in the Journal of Marriage and Family concludes “The gender of parents only matters in ways that don’t matter.” This assumes there is nothing that a father brings to the table of parenting that is not easily replicated by the mother. Is a father then not distinctly needed other than as an additional parent?

The father in animal studies

In fish, reptiles and in many species of mammals, there is seen little or no paternal role in caring for offspring. It is the females who must do all the work of caring for the young. For example a male bear leaves the female shortly after mating and will kill and sometimes eat any bear cub he comes across, even if the cub is his. Bear mothers spend much of their cubs’ early life protecting them from males. Domesticated dogs are not monogamous with their mates and show little interest in their pups.

On the other hand there are some animals where the fathers take a paternal caring role with their young. A male wolf helps feed, protect, and play with his pups and is the one who does most of the hunting for the young when the mother is securing the newborn pups. Most male waterfowl are very protective in raising their offspring, sharing scout duties with the female. Examples are geese, swans and gulls and a few species of duck. When the families of most of these waterfowls travel, they usually go in a line and the fathers are usually the ones guarding the offspring at the end of the line while the mothers lead the way.

In animal studies, whether the parents are monogamous seems to be a crucial factor in the involvement of the adult male in the young.

The love of a mother

In humans, from the child’s conception, the mother is the parent who nourishes the baby and forms the primary attachment which is continued as the infant grows and experiences her affectionate nurturing care. And so she is likely to be the major caregiver of the children, even if she herself is employed to a larger or smaller extent in the labour force. According to spiritual philosopher Emanuel Swedenborg, the love of children directly affects women because of the linkage of a deeper monogamous affection he called conjugial love with the female sex.

In recent years social science studies have been showing the benefits on children of healthy father-child relationships for example higher self-esteem, increased curiosity, greater empathy.

Why should this be the case? Is it because two parents are better than one? Or is it because each sex has something special to offer to child raising?

The mother is usually more affectionate and closer to children whereas the father tends to be more emotionally distant. Some men will drift and muddle through their home life, others make every effort to be a thoughtful and loving parent giving time for play, and keeping an eye on the child’s well being.

Swedenborgian view of gender

For Swedenborg the male mind is more prone to understanding and the female to feeling and thus a father  has a tendency to see things from a broader perspective. If there is something in this, then in so far as a father is interested in his children’s welfare, can he not offer a distinctive good sense? For example as a result of his male approach to life children may be more interested about the world around them and develop greater problem solving skills.

A father’s influence on the children may be indirect as often the mother has more contact with them. Nevertheless her loving care and way of dealing with the child may possibly be influenced after discussing common concerns with her partner and getting his views on wider issues.

Does a good father not also combine with his partner to contribute to the caring and moral atmosphere in the home? If so he is likely to want to explore and share good ideas of relevance to the child’s developing understanding. Arguably, in the fatherly role, a man can be instrumental in fostering ethical principles and ideas about the meaning of life that remain unconscious within the child as he or she developments into adulthood.

Copyright 2014 Stephen Russell-Lacy
Author of  Heart, Head & Hands  Swedenborg’s perspective on emotional problems

http://www.spiritualquestions.org.uk/

Posted on8th October 2014CategoriesMeaning of life, Other aspects of meaningTags, , , ,  Leave a comment

A personal God for thinking about

Spiritual Questions & Answers

Discovering inner health and transformation

Personal GodMany people believe there is a higher spiritual energy they call God that transcends the mundane material world. This for them is not a personal God but rather a higher power that ensures there is order in nature the laws of which can be discovered by science.

Idea of a personal God

Another view is that God is the origin for all that is humanly good in the universe — the  higher principles of ethical living, human virtue, creative inspiration, depth of the human soul and its capacity for wisdom and compassion and so on.

Those who favour a personal God suggest that any idea of God as as an infinite force or abstract law behind the facts of science, that is anything other than a Divine person, actually makes God something less than we ourselves.

It is argued that without our sense of God’s human dimension there would be no point to looking for the benefit of communication through prayer and no chance of sensing God’s personal presence.

But if God is to be thought of as a personal God ie divinely human, is God merely an image of us or are we an image of God?

Literal or symbolic understanding of God

David Wulff has pointed out that many religious people interpret images and rituals in a symbolic way. Many others, however, interpret such things in a literal manner. Most Evangelical Christians will say that the whole Bible should be taken as factually true, but even they will accept that ‘the mountains skipped like rams’ (Psalm 114:4) is not a factual description of a major earthquake; it’s a poetic metaphor.

But where do you draw the line? How much is factual? Did Jesus do miracles? Was his a virgin birth? And so we find different attitudes towards the Christ of history: either a view that the truth about the Divine needs to be metaphorically or figuratively expressed (if it is to be communicated at all) or an acceptance that Christ was literally ‘the Son of God’. Do we have to have to believe in the Chirst of history as divine in order to be able to relate to a personal God?

The interpretation of Christ by Carl Gustav Jung as a central archetype is an example of the symbolic orientation. This is because Christ’s quality is said to be intimately related and continuous with the figure of the Father. This is probably an easier position to accept because Jung was not talking about any God but rather our image of God: he was writing as a psychologist and not a theologian.

There are many mainstream Christians who although not requiring that all the events and sayings in the Bible are literally true, nevertheless,

“… just want so much to be told that at least this one really happened, that at least this one saying was really uttered by Jesus. They do not want to hear that stories are legends or that they emerged from the consciousness of the primitive church.” (James Barr)

Personal God of church dogma

Apparently a lot of Christians are still prepared to go along with church dogma about Jesus as part of a Divine Trinity of Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Others are searching for a more rational understanding. For example in their rejection of what they see as an illogical doctrine of the Trinity, Unitarians deny that Jesus is their personal God.

A different so-called Christian heresy, Monarchianism, which began before AD 200, also rejected the Trinity, holding that there is only one God, not three divine persons of the Godhead. It saw Trinitarian belief as polytheism. Instead it claimed that the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit are all one being, simply performing three different roles, like an actor playing several parts and thus implied that the Father suffered on the cross.

Swedenborg’s idea of a personal God

Something similar to this view of a personal God is found in Swedenborg’s books. Here we find a new concept that of Divine Humanity, a central feature of God, which became fulfilled in the life of Jesus Christ.

According to this view, in Jesus, God took on a human nature, which could bring the Divine into more direct contact with every individual member of his human family. Jesus was to grow up as a normal human being. He could grow weary, become angry and weep. But because his paternal heredity was divine, he never gave in to temptation but grew in love and wisdom. The tendencies towards being self-centered, that he had along with us, were gradually removed, until he fulfilled his divine potential.

And so the position is that before the days of Jesus there was no direct link or bridge between the infinite and the finite, between the perfect and the imperfect. But after his life he was fully human and fully divine and a more direct link was established so that people could approach the Lord Jesus in prayer as the one person of God in whom there is a heart of compassion (symbolised by Father), a head of wisdom (symbolised by Son) and hands of power (symbolised by Holy Spirit).

“Jesus is the God whom we can approach without pride and before whom we can humble ourselves without despair ” (Blaise Pascal)

http://www.spiritualquestions.org.uk/

Copyright 2011 Stephen Russell-Lacy
Author of  Heart, Head & Hands  Swedenborg’s perspective on emotional problems

Posted on24th November 2012CategoriesMeaning of life, ReligionTags,, , , , , ,, , , , , ,, , , , , ,  Leave a comment

Honouring Father and Mother

Sermon: Honouring Father and Mother

I preached this sermon on May 8, 2011, at the Olivet New Church in Toronto.

HONOURING FATHER AND MOTHER

“Honour your father and your mother, that your days may be prolonged upon the land which Jehovah your God is giving you.” (Exodus 20:12)

The Writings for the New Church tell us that there are deeper senses within the literal sense of the Word, although this does not do away with the importance of the literal sense.  Within the literal sense there is a spiritual sense, which is primarily about love toward the neighbour; and even deeper than this is a celestial sense, primarily about love to the Lord.  All of the Ten Commandments contain both of these deeper senses.  But the first three commandments in particular focus on love to the Lord, and the final six – the list of thou-shalt-not’s – particularly focus on love toward the neighbour.  Today, though, we’re focusing on the bridge commandment, the one that most clearly conjoins the two tables of love to the Lord and love to the neighbour.

In the literal sense, this precept commands us to honour our parents.  In this sense, the commandment is especially important for children, since in childhood parents stand in for the Lord, and much of a person’s relationship with God as an adult will be coloured by his childhood relationship with his parents.  Even as adults, though, we ought to follow this commandment in the literal sense.    Although we no longer owe them obedience, we still owe our parents gratitude and love.

It is impossible to list all the things parents do for their children – giving birth, feeding and clothing them, giving them protection and love.  They also introduce them into religion, into following the Lord.  The Writings describe that in the Most Ancient Church, or the golden age represented in the Word by Adam and Eve, people did not live in cities of countries, but in clans and families.  They did not have rulers as we do now, but they honoured the head of their family and showed gratitude to them because of the spiritual gifts their parents gave them, for their love and their wisdom, and especially for introducing them into the worship of the Lord.

Of course, not all parents do introduce their children into the worship of the Lord.  Parents make mistakes, and there are parents who do harm to their children.  Sometimes as we grow older we move away from parents who continue to hurt us, and sometimes this is a healthy thing, just as sometimes the healthiest thing for a marriage is for a couple to separate.  But even in these extreme cases, we have this commandment to honour our parents.  We are not to honour the evil in them – but as with anyone else, there is good in them, and we are commanded to honour whatever good there is, and to focus on that more than on the evil.  All of us – no matter what our relationship with our parents – are asked to find forgiveness for whatever harm they’ve done, and show gratitude for the goodness in them.

In the strictest literal sense, this commandment refers to honouring one’s actual parents, or legal guardians who stand in their place.  But the book True Christian Religion says that in a wider sense – although still on a natural level – this commandment refers to honouring our country and her leaders (TCR 305).

Just as our parents provide us with necessities of life and protection from harm when we are children, our nation provides us with necessities of life and protects us from invasion.  We call our homeland out “motherland” or “fatherland.”  The word “patriotism” comes from the Greek word “pater,” meaning father.

Our country does not just mean our government – it means all the people who make up our nation, and honouring our nation as parent extends beyond honouring our government.  But True Christian Religion says it also does mean showing honour to our leaders almost as parents, and teaching children to do the same.  The idea of honouring our leaders, or even expressing patriotism for our country, can make many of us today feel uneasy.  The twentieth century saw terrible abuses of nationalistic fervour, and the thought of honouring leaders and nations as parents for many people calls to mind frightening images of blind obedience to corrupt causes.

But honouring our country does not mean blind allegiance – it means supporting what is truly good in it, showing gratitude for this, and honouring our leaders’ efforts to promote the country’s welfare.  The book Charity, written as a manuscript by Swedenborg and published after his death, gives the example of the way that a Protestant born in Venice or Rome could love his homeland, even though those were Catholic cities at the time.  We read as follows:

For example: if I had been born in Venice or in Rome, and were a Reformed Christian, am I to love my country, or the country where I was born, because of its spiritual good? I cannot. Nor with respect to its moral and civil good, so far as this depends for existence upon its spiritual good. But so far as it does not depend upon this I can, even if that country hates me. Thus, I must not in hatred regard it as an enemy, nor as an adversary, but must still love it; doing it no injury, but consulting its good, so far as it is good for it, not consulting it in such a way that I confirm it in its falsity and evil. (Charity 86)

The way we honour a country as our father and mother is not by ignoring its evil, but by supporting whatever is good in it while as much as possible discouraging its evil.

So far all the aspects of the commandment we’ve looked at are part of the literal sense.  But it is easy to see how this commandment as an internal sense as well.  Throughout the Word, God is called our Father.  The Lord even said, “Do not call anyone on earth your father; for One is your Father, He who is in heaven” (Matthew 23:9).  This does not literally mean that we cannot call our fathers “father,” but that we should acknowledge that in a truer, deeper sense, God is our Father.  Honouring our father means loving and revering Him.

It may not seem as obvious at first, though, what it means to honour our motherin the spiritual sense.  But upon a close reading of the Word, a clear picture begins to emerge.  Throughout the prophets, the nation and people of Israel are referred to as “the mother” of the individual Israelites living there at the time.  In Ezekiel, the children of Israel are told, “Your mother was like a vine in your bloodline, planted by the waters, fruitful and full of branches because of many waters” (Ezekiel 19:10), talking about the way that the Lord established them as His people.  In the New Testament, John saw the Holy City New Jerusalem “prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.”  Through this imagery, it becomes clear that the “bride” of the Lord, and the mother of each person, is the Lord’s people, or His church.  And so honouring our mother in the spiritual sense means revering and loving the church.

But what is this church that we are supposed to love and revere?  In the simplest sense, the church is a group of people who subscribe to the same doctrine.  In the strictest sense, it’s a local congregation.  Before we look deeper and beyond this, it’s important to recognize this simple view of the church.  It’s easy to feel general goodwill toward all the people who follow the Lord, which is the church in a broader sense; but it is sometimes harder to revere and love the actual people in a church congregation, the real people sitting in the pew next to us.  We may have disagreements or conflicts, or a clash of personalities.  But still we are to honour our church community for the good and truth that it contains and teaches.

What makes the church like a mother, according to True Christian Religion, is that just as a mother provides natural food, the church provides spiritual food.  From the church ministers we learn truths from the Word; from church members, we have encouragement and support in living by the Word.

The spiritual sense of this commandment is to love and revere God and the church.  Deeper than this, there is a celestial sense.  In the celestial sense of “honour your father and your mother,” “father” refers specifically to the Lord Jesus Christ, and “mother” refers to what is called the communion of saints, the church scattered throughout the world.

The Lord Jesus Christ is our heavenly Father.  The prophet Isaiah wrote, “Unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given…” – and one of the names of the Son who would be born is “everlasting Father” (Isaiah 9:6).  The Lord Himself said, “He who has seen me has seen the Father” (John 14:9).

The Lord is our Father – and He describes the Holy City, the New Jerusalem, as His bride, adorned for her husband.  In this sense, our mother is not only our local church, or even the church throughout the world, but the Lord’s kingdom, which exists within people in this world and throughout heaven, in whoever acknowledges the Lord and has faith in Him and charity toward the neighbour (see True Christian Religion 416).  Although we cannot always feel their influence, the angels and good spirits act as our spiritual mothers.  The Lord flows into the heavens, and through the heavens into our minds.  This marriage of the Lord’s life with the responses of the angels gives birth to all the infinite truth and goods in our minds and hearts.

We can also think of the kingdom of God, though, apart from thinking of individual angels or other people.  The Lord said, “The kingdom of God is within you.”  And even this sense, the kingdom of God, or the church within us, is our mother.  What is the church within an individual?  The Writings tell us that in particular, the church within us that acts as a mother is the truth of the church.  We learn truth, and it becomes as if it were our own.  When we act according to the truth we know, the Lord joins His good to it – that is, the Lord adds love to it.  For example, we know in our ourselves that it is wrong to lie; as if of ourselves we resist the tendency to lie; and we gradually find over time that wedislike lying, that we would rather tell the truth.  The Lord has added His goodness to our truth.  This results in a new birth in us – a new perception of what it mean to follow the Lord, a new love for acting by that truth.

In this sense, our truth is the church, and it’s married to the Lord’s goodness and love. But in actuality, we know, even that truth that seems to be ours is really the Lord’s.  Even the effort to live by that truth is the Lord’s, even though it feels to all appearances as if it is from ourselves.  The Lord’s kingdom is our mother, but in the truest sense, the Lord’s kingdom is the Lord himself with us.  The angels acknowledge that heaven is heaven from the Lord in it, not from anything that belongs to themselves.  It is the same with the Lord’s kingdom on earth, which we call the church: anything good in it, anything that makes it the church, in reality is the Lord’s, although He allows us to experience it as if it belonged to us.

This is why the book Arcana Coelestia says that in the supreme sense, honouring our father means honouring the Lord as to good, and honouring our mother means honouring the Lord as to truth, which is loving the Lord’s kingdom.  We read, “’mother’ signifies truth, and in the supreme sense the Lord as to Divine truth, thus His kingdom, because the Divine truth which proceeds from the Lord makes heaven” (AC 8896).  Honouring the Lord as to truth is honouring His kingdom.  The Lord’s truth within angels is married to the Lord’s love.  This marriage – the marriage of the Lord’s good with the Lord’s truth, taking place within us and with our participation – is what makes heaven with a person.  That is why this commandment contains a promise: that if you follow it, “your days shall be prolonged upon the land which Jehovah your God is giving you.”  In the internal sense, these words mean that goodness will increase in a person in heaven to eternity because the Lord flows in wherever goodness and truth are joined together.

In the supreme sense, “mother” signifies the Lord as to Divine truth.  This does not mean that we are to picture the Lord as a woman, or as our mother, or as some kind of androgynous being.  The Lord came into the world as Jesus Christ, and we worship Him under this form.  It is vital that we worship Him as a human, and this includes even worshipping Him with the form He had in this world, although now glorified.

Still, though, in Himself, the Lord is the source of all good feminine qualities as well as masculine.  All the positive traits that we associate with motherhood come from the Lord.  When He was in the world, the Lord wept over Jerusalem, and said, “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the one who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing!” (Matthew 23:37).  This image of a hen protecting her chicks describes a universal sphere that flows out from the Lord, a sphere of protecting what has been created.  In people, this sphere manifests itself as a love for little children.  This sphere directly affects women in a special way that it does not affect men, although it flows through women and from them does affect men.  The nurturing role of a mother stems from this nurturing sphere in the Lord, and when a good mother looks after her children, she is acting from the Lord’s love.

When we respond in gratitude to a mother’s love, then, we are in fact responding in gratitude to the Lord.  And so when we follow this commandment – to honour our father and our mother – on any level, we may in fact be following it on the deeper levels without being aware of it.  When we honour the good things in our parents, and in our country and leaders, we are really honouring the Lord and His church, since these qualities all come from the marriage of the Lord with his church.  And the more we learn about the internal senses within this commandment – that it means loving and revering God and the church, or specifically the Lord Jesus Christ and His kingdom – the more we learn about these things, the more consciously and fully we can follow the commandment on every level, and the more we can become aware of the blessings it gives.  We come into the fulfillment of that promise – “that your days may be prolonged upon the land which the Lord your God is giving you.” Amen.

Lessons: Exodus 20:1-17; Mark 3:31-35; True Christian Religion 305-307

True Christian Religion 305. Honour thy father and thy mother, that thy days may be prolonged, and that it may be well with thee upon the earth.

So reads this commandment in Exod. 20:12; Deut. 5:16. In the natural sense, which is that of the letter, “to honour thy father and thy mother” means to honour parents, to be obedient to them, to be devoted to them, and to return thanks to them for the benefits they confer, which are that they provide food and clothing for their children, and so introduce them into the world that they may act in it as civil and moral persons; and introduce them also into heaven by means of the precepts of religion, thus providing both for their temporal prosperity and their eternal happiness. All this parents do from a love which they have from the Lord, in whose stead they act. In a relative sense it means that if parents are dead, guardians should be honoured by their wards. In a broader sense, to honour the king and magistrates, is meant by this commandment, since these provide for all in general the necessities which parents provide in particular. In the broadest sense this commandment means that men should love their country, since it supports and protects them, therefore it is called fatherland from father. But to country, king, and magistrates honour must be rendered by parents and by them be implanted in their children.

306. In the spiritual sense, “to honor father and mother” means to reverence and love God and the church….

307. In the celestial sense, “father” means our Lord Jesus Christ, and “mother” the communion of saints, which means the Lord’s church spread throughout the whole world….

Coleman’s Blog | The thoughts and reflections of a New Church (Swedenborgian) minister

http://www.patheos.com/community/goodandtruth

Lord, Teach Us to Pray

Sermon: Lord, Teach Us to Pray

On Sunday, September 11 I preached on the topic of prayer at the Church of the New Jerusalem in Dawson Creek, BC.  I spoke from notes and I didn’t have a manuscript; the following is a rough draft of some of the things we talked about.  So, it may be a little rough around the edges, but hopefully it gets across the main ideas. (Note for those unfamiliar with New Church terminology: “the Writings” refers to the divinely-inspired theological works written by Emanuel Swedenborg).

Readings: Matthew 6:7-13; Matthew 26:36-44; Arcana Coelestia 2535

LORD, TEACH US TO PRAY

Throughout the world, probably throughout the entirety of human history, people have been praying.  Even with all the diversity among religions in the world, almost every religion has some kind of prayer – an attempt to communicate with something greater, and to ask something of that higher power.

But the religions of the world vary in how they pray, what form of prayer they believe will be effective.  Within the land of Judea, the Lord’s disciples saw many different forms of prayer, by both Jews and Gentiles; and they naturally wondered how they should pray.  The gospel of Luke recounts a time that they saw the Lord praying, and came to ask Him about it: “And it came to pass, as He was praying in a certain place, when He had ceased, one of His disciples said to Him, Lord, teach us to pray, as John also taught his disciples” (Luke 11:1).  His response to them was to teach them what we now know as the Lord’s prayer.

In that gospel, the Lord said, “When you pray, say, ‘Our Father, who art in the heavens…”  He told them to use the exact words of that prayer, and there’s evidence that the earliest Christians did pray the Lord’s Prayer regularly.  And there is power in those very words.  In fact, the book Arcana Coelestia says of this prayer, “In the contents of this Prayer there are more things than the universal heaven is capable of comprehending.”  By praying the Lord’s Prayer, we open ourselves up to countless thoughts and affections from heaven.

But the occasion recorded in Luke was not the only time the Lord taught His disciples to pray this prayer.  He taught the same prayer also as part of the Sermon on the Mount, recorded in the Gospel of Matthew.  And on that occasion, rather than telling His followers to say those exact words, He told them to pray “in this way” – that is, for all their prayers to be modelled on the Lord’s Prayer.

Like the disciples, we wonder how we ought to pray.  Who do we pray to?  What kinds of things should we pray for?  How should we pray in a way that will really make a difference?  The Lord provides us with His prayer as a model to answer these questions.

Our Father who art in the heavens:

We begin with the question of Who we should pray to.  And we begin with the most important part of the prayer, which is contained in all the things that follow.  We can think of the entire prayer as a column descending from highest to lowest, a picture of the Lord in His essence descending down into all levels of creation (see Arcana Coelestia 8864:4).  The first thing in the prayer is “Our Father,” and in the original Greek text, this is actually, “Father of us” – Father is the first and most important thing.

Think of the relationship we’re invited to have with the God of the Universe – not as a distant, unknowable being, but as our own Father, in the relationship between a parent and child.  “Our Father” is the Lord in His essence, which is His infinite Divine love.

Now, for those who think of a God as a Trinity of persons, it may seem like we are supposed to pray to “the Father” rather than “the Son.”  Swedenborg recounts an experience with spirits who tried to argue just that (see True Christian Religion 112).  But the Lord Himself made clear over and over again that it is impossible to approach the Father except through the Son, because the Father is in the Son as the Soul is in the Body.  Jesus said, “I and my Father are one” (John 10:30).  When they asked Him to show them the Father, Jesus told His disciples, “He who has seen me has seen the Father” (John 14:9).  “Our Father” is the Lord God Our Saviour, Jesus Christ.

Hallowed be Thy name

A person’s name is an external thing that still contains within it an idea of who they are.  For example, even the mention of the name of a friend brings to mind all that friend’s qualities.  And so, our Father’s “name” represents all His qualities and all the ways He manifests Himself to us.  And the way He manifests Himself is in His Divine Humanity, as the Lord Jesus Christ.  That’s why when Jesus said, “Father, glorify Thy name,” a voice from heaven answered and said, “I have both glorified, and will glorify again” (John 12:28).  The Father’s name, in the deepest sense, represents His Divine Human.

This is who we pray to: the Lord God Jesus Christ, in His essence of Divine Love (the Father) and all His qualities and manifestations (His name).

Thy kingdom come

We know come to the content of the prayer – what we pray for (although praying “hallowed be Thy name” is actually the beginning of this).  Praying for the Lord’s kingdom means praying for spiritual things – for the Lord’s good and truth to descend into the world – since as the Lord said, His kingdom is not of this world.  And in the most general terms, prayers that are answered are prayers for spiritual things.  One of our lessons, taken from Arcana Colestia 2535, says, “If a person prays from love and faith, and for only heavenly and spiritual things, there then comes forth in the prayer something like a revelation… as to hope, consolation, or a certain inward joy.”  More specifically, the prayer that the Lord’s kingdom come is a prayer that His New Church will descend more and more into the world – that is, that more and more people will be able to see that the Lord Jesus Christ is the one and only God, and that salvation comes from living according to the Ten Commandments.

Thy will be done

Following right after the prayer that the Lord’s kingdom come is this prayer that His will be done.  This statement is essential in every prayer, as it says in Arcana Coelestia 8179:

For in prayer from the Divine it is always thought and believed that the Lord alone knows whether it is profitable or not; and therefore the suppliant submits the hearing to the Lord, and immediately after prays that the will of the Lord, and not his own, may be done, according to the Lord’s words in His own most grievous temptation at Gethsemane (Matt. 26:39, 42, 44).

This prayer that the Lord’s will be done makes a prayer spiritual.  For example, we may pray, “Lord, I really want to get this job.”  In itself, that is a natural prayer.  But if we pray along with this, “Not my will, but Your will be done,” the prayer becomes spiritual – we are praying that we get the job if it is going to be the best thing for our spiritual welfare, and the best thing in the Lord’s providence.  We acknowledge that He knows what is best for us, and that He will grant it.

As in heaven, so upon the earth

Although some English translations have this as, “on earth as it is in heaven,” the original Greek has heaven first.  This continues the picture of the prayer as descending down from the Lord in a column – beginning with His essence (the Father) down through His kingdom (heaven and the church within people) into every level of human life.

Give us this day our daily bread

The Lord’s Prayer continues to model the kinds of things we ought to ask for in all our prayers.  “Bread” represents goodness and love, and so by asking for bread we are asking that the Lord inspire us with love – another element in spiritual prayer.  It’s also important to note that the prayer is to give us today our daily bread.  We don’t ask for bread for a week or a month – we ask that the Lord give us as much as we need for today.  It echoes the Lord’s command to the children of Israel to only gather as much manna as they needed for a day.  When we pray that the Lord give us only what we need, the Lord can inspire us with a greater trust – so that we can be free from some of the worry about “what we shall eat, or what we shall drink, or what we shall wear” (Matthew 6:31).

But forgive us our debts

Some translations have this as “forgive us our trespasses” – and immediately following this prayer in the sermon on the mount the Lord said, “For if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you” – but in the prayer itself, it literally says, “Forgive us our debts.”  The reality is, we all owe an unpayable debt to the Lord.  He gives us life and the ability to act – and when we take that life and use it for evil, to trespass against others – we have stolen something from Him.  We owe Him a debt.  But the Lord forgives every debt.  He doesn’t keep a tally sheet.  But for that forgiveness to be effective, we have to repent of our sin, as the Lord calls us to do over and over again.  “But if a wicked man turns from all his sins which he has committed, keeps all My statutes, and does what is lawful and right, he shall surely live; he shall not die” (Ezekiel 18:23).

As we also forgive our debtors

For the Lord to flow in with forgiveness, we need to have a spirit of forgiveness ourselves.  The image of debt here helps us see the ways that we can be unforgiving – when we keep track of all the ways people have wronged us, the way they “owe” us, when we keep a tally sheet of how we are better than them.  The Lord asks us to throw that away.  This doesn’t mean we let harmful people continue to do harm – but in our attitude toward them, we are not to hold anger or hatred against them.  This part of the prayer also acts as a model showing us that true prayer must come from a spirit of charity, as said above in Arcana Coelestia 2535.

And lead us not into temptation

The Lord never actually does lead anyone into temptation, as is known in the Christian world from the epistle of James: “Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am tempted by God”; for God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does He Himself tempt anyone. But each one is tempted when he is drawn away by his own desires and enticed.” (James 1:13-14)  But it can appear that God leads us into temptation, and this part of the prayer is a prayer that the Lord protect us in temptations, as well as an acknowledgment that He does not tempt.

But deliver us from evil

We’ve seen several different things that we can ask the Lord for in prayer.  We ask that His kingdom come – a prayer for the spiritual state not just of ourselves, but for everyone in the universe.  We ask that He give us our daily bread – the good things that are necessary for our spiritual well-being.  And now we descend to the lowest level, where evil spirits attack us; and the final thing we pray for is that the Lord protect us from evil.  It is an acknowledgment that the Lord is present with us on all levels – from where He dwells “in the heavens” to the valley of the shadow of death, where he delivers us from evil.

In this part of the prayer there is an acknowledgment that we are in evil, and that of ourselves we are helpless to get out of it.  And one of the essentials in true worship is humility – the acknowledgment that of ourselves we are nothing but evil, and that all goodness and truth comes from the Lord alone.

For Thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, forever. Amen.

The other side of the acknowledgment that we are powerless against evil is the acknowledgment that the Lord does have power.  This final acknowledgment encapsulates the entire prayer, showing the Lord’s presence on every level of our lives.  We acknowledge that the kingdom is His – all good and truth with angels and spirits and men.  We acknowledge that the power is His – the power He has to act from Divine Love.  And we acknowledge that the glory is His – the awe-inspiring wisdom and truth from Him, that we can only ever capture a glimpse of.

Two final questions

The Lord’s prayer gives us a model for true prayer.  We pray for spiritual things, and from charity.  We pray that the Lord’s will be done.

But there may still be a question: if we are praying that the Lord’s will be done, do our prayers really make a difference?  Right before teaching His disciples the Lord’s Prayer, the Lord said, “Your Father knows the things you have need of before you ask Him” (Matthew 6:8).  If our Father knows what we need, does asking make any difference?

The answer is clearly yes.  Because in the act of asking, we open ourselves up to receive the things that the Lord wants to give us.  We open ourselves up to the answers to our prayers, which come as “something like a revelation as to hope, consolation, or a certain inward joy.”

And this raises one final question: do our prayers make any difference to anyone else, or only to ourselves, in opening us up?  The Writings say little on this topic directly.  But we are told that anyone who knows of the Lord’s second coming, and the New Heaven and the New Church, pray that the Lord come with light (Apocalypse Revealed 956).

The Writings do teach that we all exist in our spirits in the spiritual world, and that when we think of someone else with love, our spirits draw closer (see for example Arcana Coelestia 1277).  And so perhaps this is the way that prayers do affect others.  When we pray that the Lord’s will be done, we are not going to change the Lord’s will – but we can align ourselves with it and act as another vessel for it.  If we know someone who is suffering, for example – the Lord is already flowing into that person with His love and wisdom.  He is flowing in directly, and He is flowing in through countless angels and spirits.  When we pray for that person that the Lord be with them and that the Lord’s will be done, we join that spiritual force that the Lord is able to flow through.  We will not be the sole difference-maker – but we can say, “I want to be on that team” that the Lord is acting through.

Conclusion

In praying our prayers, we open ourselves up to be vessels of the Lord’s will, so that through us His kingdom can come more fully into this world.  The Lord’s prayer provides a model for us to acknowledge the Lord’s power and ability, His love and wisdom, on every level of our lives.

“Thy kingdom come; Thy will be done, as in heaven so upon the earth.”

Amen

Coleman’s Blog | The thoughts and reflections of a New Church (Swedenborgian) minister

http://www.patheos.com/community/goodandtruth