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

The Trinity: Aspects of One Divine Essence

In the New Church we whole-heartedly believe in the Holy Trinity. In fact, we are very interested in the “trinity” concept. But to us, a trinity does not consist of three similar things on the same level (which might be regarded as a “trio”), but a trinity consists of one thing on three different levels. For example, three houses in a terrace do not form a trinity, but one house with three stories is a trinity. (Noah’s Ark was like that; it had “lower, second and third stories.” [Genesis 6:16]) Three oranges do not make a trinity; but one orange does, if you consider its skin, its flesh, and its pips or seeds. Three people do not make a trinity; but one person does, if you consider his soul, his body, and his influence or outflowing life.

The Holy Trinity—False View

The old, false idea of God was that he was, is, and ever has been, a trinity of three persons: Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, all existing side by side since before the creation of the universe. The theory is that at a certain point in time, one of these three persons, the Son, came into the world as a baby, grew up here to adult status, was crucified, was buried, and then ascended back to Heaven, to rejoin the Father and the Holy Ghost; after which everything was as it had been.

No “Son from Eternity”

The main error here is the supposition that the Son of God existed as a second person of the Holy Trinity since the beginning. We have already discussed this in Chapter 11, but let us recapitulate some reasons for disbelieving it.

(1) A son must have a mother, and there were no women available before the creation. Mary of Nazareth was the mother of Jesus, and she came comparatively late in the story.

(2) If the Son had been there from the beginning, surely he would have been mentioned in the Old Testament, which he isn’t! On the contrary, Jehovah declares in Isaiah: “I am God, and there is none else.” (Isaiah 45:21)

N.B.—The “Son of God” mentioned in Daniel 3:25 (A.V.) is a mistranslation that should read: “a son of the gods”— Nebuchadnezzar’s idea of a glorious spiritual being. It was, of course, an angel. (See Psalm 34:7)

(3) If the Son of God had been in existence from eternity, presumably an adult, how was it that he came into Mary’s womb as an embryo, then a fetus, and finally a sucking baby? Surely he would have arrived a full-grown man, knowing everything!

It is true that Jesus claimed to have been in existence since “before Abraham was.” (John 8:58.) He was not a created being, like other men. His soul was Jehovah himself, the great “I am.” That is why, when Jesus said, “Before Abraham was, I am!” the Jews tried to stone him for blasphemy. He did not say, however, that he had been the Son of God prior to his birth in Bethlehem.

Let us make this point perfectly clear. In so far as Jesus was divine, he was God. Not the Son of God (which he was when mixed with Mary’s heredity) but simply God.

Three Essentials in One Person

We have seen that everyone is a trinity, consisting of three essentials in one person. You have a soul or spirit, a physical body, and an “influence” or sphere or outgoing personality by which others know you. There is also another kind of trinity involved in every project you undertake: love, wisdom, and power (or, in the terms of the old philosophers: end, cause, and effect.) Suppose you set out to mend an electric fuse. (1) There must be the love—the desire to have the fuse mended, which is in your heart, or will. This is the end in view. (2) You must have the wisdom—the know-how, which is in your head, or understanding. This is what causes the project to be undertaken. (3) Lastly, you must have the power, which resides in your hands. This produces the effect.

In the beginning, God was a trinity like this. At heart, he was just love. But love cannot exist alone, it needs others outside itself whom it can love and make happy. So love produced wisdom, which set to work to plan the creation of a finite universe full of creatures, including people. His wisdom was (as it were) the architect, the builder. “In the beginning was the Word; all things were made by him.” (John 1:1, 3)  Finally, the divine wisdom sent out energy from the divine love to accomplish its plans, rather as an architect employs construction workers. This energy was the divine power. In Old Testament times, then, the holy trinity consisted of love, wisdom, and power, three essentials in one person, that person being Jehovah God.

The Word Became Flesh

When, later on, God wished to enter his universe as a man, he naturally came as the divine wisdom or Word, which had created the universe in the first place. “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth.” (John 1:14) Now, in Bethlehem, for the first time, we have the Father-Son relationship within the Godhead. The divine love was the Father, and the divine wisdom was (as it were) the Son. And their outpouring energy was the Holy Spirit.

This Father-Son relationship lasted for only only 33 years, from the birth of Jesus until his resurrection from death. After the ascension, the Holy Trinity consisted of (1) the divine Inmost, (2) the divine Human, and (3) the outflowing divine life. These three essentials correspond to the heat, light, and radiation of the spiritual Sun in Heaven, which is the Lord as seen by the angels.

We will now place these trinities together, side by side, and we think you will see how similar they are. In fact, they are really the same, under different names! God’s nature has not essentially changed, and we are in his image and likeness.

Before While Jesus After
Creation was on Earth the Spiritual
Old Testament New Testament Ascension Sun
1 Love Father (Soul) Divine Inmost Heat
2 Wisdom (Word) Son (Body) Divine Human Light
3 Power Holy Spirit (Life) Divine Life Radiation

The Holy Ghost

Nobody seems to know why the Holy Ghost should be addressed as “him,” and called a “person.” The word “ghost” simply means spirit, breath or wind, and suggests “outflowing life or activity.” At the baptism of Jesus (Luke 3:2) the holy spirit entered him from Jehovah and was seen as a dove; only after receiving it was he enabled to do his redemptive work. He later promised his disciples that, when he was glorified, or united completed with his Father, this same holy spirit would overflow from him into them, as the comforter. (John 14:26 and 7:39) Thus, immediately after the resurrection, Jesus “breathed” on them in the upper room, and said: “Receive ye the holy ghost.” (John 20:22) A few weeks later, at Pentecost, the same holy spirit came down in full force upon all who believed in him—”as tongues of fire and a rushing mighty wind.” (Acts 2:2-4) Since then, the holy spirit was, and still is, the powerful stream of life that flows into men’s hearts and minds from the glorified Lord Jesus Christ; i.e., from the Divine-Human. Those who receive it are said to be “baptized with the Holy Spirit.”

THE PRODIGAL SON

THE PRODIGAL SON
A Sermon by Rev. Thomas L. Kline
Preached in Bryn Athyn November 8, 1992

“This my son was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found” (Luke 15:24).

Jesus said that a man had two sons. The younger son went to his father and demanded his inheritance. It says he went to a far-off country, and there he wasted all that he had with riotous living. A famine arose in the land, and the young man had nothing to eat. And so he hired himself out to go into the fields to feed the swine. He was so hungry that he would have eaten the food of the pigs. But suddenly, he came to himself. He said to himself, “I will go to my father and ask him for forgiveness, and I will become as a hired servant to him.” We can picture the young man coming back after a long journey. Will his father forgive him? Will his father be angry with him?

His father is waiting for him! His father sees him at a distance, runs to him, and embraces him. The father has compassion on his son. And at the end of this story, we hear those words of the father to the older brother: “It is right that we should make merry and be glad, for your brother was dead and is alive again, and was lost and is found.”

There is something in each of us that is touched by the power of this parable. This is because it is a story of hope. We might have a friend or relative that seems to turn from the Lord. We might have a friend that for a time seems lost, spiritually wounded, a person in a time of spiritual crisis. And the everlasting message of this parable is that there is a way back. The Lord gives us a path to restore our souls no matter how hopeless the situation.

The father figure in this parable is so important. It is a picture of the Lord Himself, the Lord Jesus Christ as our heavenly Father. And what we see is a picture of the Divine love. When the young man returns, we don’t see the father demanding payment or retribution for the son’s sins. We don’t see anything that suggests the traditional dogmas of Divine atonement or punishment for sin. No, those old-fashioned, traditional ideas of God are not based on Scripture. In this parable we see only forgiveness after the long journey of repentance and reformation. The father celebrates his son’s return. The Lord rejoices when we come back to our spiritual home.

There is a message in this parable for a church congregation. The reason why Jesus even told this parable was that the church leaders of that time came to Him complaining that He was spending too much time with sinners. The scribes and Pharisees were murmuring because Jesus was associating with sinners, drunkards, and tax collectors. And the Lord’s answer was simple: “They that be whole need not a physician, but they that are sick.” This is why He had come to bring sinners to repentance, and to restore their lives.

And so we ask the question of ourselves: What is the purpose of our church? What is the purpose of this congregation? Certainly the church is for the worship of the Lord. Certainly it is for the proclaiming of the Lord’s Word. It is for the life of charity and service. But the church also exists for something else.

In the book of Revelation, the New Church is said to be the “healing of the nations.” The leaves of the tree of life are for the healing of the nations. It is a vision of the church as a hospital, the church as a place for spiritual healing, the church as a place where the sick and wounded come. There is a battle going on in the world today. It is a great battle between heaven and hell. And, as in any battle, there will be casualties: our sons and daughters, our friends and neighbors, our family. And the church is the place for those who are hurting, those who at times have failed, those who are dying spiritually, to come and receive support in the road that leads back to a restoration. It is a vision of the Lord Jesus Christ as the Divine physician.

But there is a more interior meaning to this story. It is a level of meaning opened by the Heavenly Doctrines of the New Jerusalem. This story of the prodigal son is the personal story of our rebirth and regeneration. It is the story of the Lord’s healing our troubled heart. And in this story, we find, step by step, the journey that we take as the Lord leads us on the path to heaven.

Let’s just look at the steps of regeneration outlined in this story.

Number one is permission, what the Writings of the New Church call the “doctrine of permission.” In this story the father allows his son to leave and go to a distant land. It almost seems that the father willingly gives his son all of his inheritance knowing that this will lead to grief and pain for the son. And how can this be? Why would a loving father do this?

The Writings of the New Church say that this permission to leave is a picture of the magnitude of the Lord’s love and wisdom in our lives. The Lord loves us so much that He will even allow us to turn from Him at times if this is what we truly choose. He will allow us to turn from Him and even experience the consequences, the pain and suffering of that turning away. And this is said to be of His permission, not of His will.

He grieves when we turn and suffer the consequences of evil. The pain of evil is not the Lord’s punishment; no, the Lord weeps for us. And still, in His love He allows this because in His infinite wisdom He foresees that sometimes it is only through the process of the journey that we can finally choose what is good, fight for what is good, and make what is good our own. So number one: the Lord permits us to leave.

And step number two: If we do choose to turn from Him, He is not passive. If we do choose to turn from Him, He protects and guides us every step of the way. He is with us on the perilous journey.

We have a beautiful teaching in the Writings of the New Church that during times of temptation and despair it seems as if the Lord has left us, whereas in fact He is closer than ever. The Lord is closest to us in times of temptation.

In this parable it seems that once the son left home and went to the distant land, his father was out of the picture. It seems that his father just stayed home and worried. It is important to realize that this is written from the viewpoint of the son: When we turn from God it seems as if He is distant from us; that’s how it feels to us.

But from the Lord’s perspective, He never leaves us. If we could re-write this parable from the Lord’s viewpoint, the father would be with that son in that distant land, actively protecting, guiding and leading.

How does the Lord protect us when we are in the distant land? First is the famine. The Lord allows us to hunger in the distant land. He allows us to hunger for righteousness. The Lord will never let us be completely satisfied with evil. No, something inside of us will hunger for a life that is higher. And it is this hunger that finally causes us to turn back to the Lord. Jesus said, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness.”

Another thing He does when we are in the distant land: He withholds us from further evils. In the parable, it says the son was almost to the point where he was about to eat the food of the pigs, but he didn’t eat it. A person who has been in a state of disorder will often say, “Yes, I was in terrible disorder, but somehow there was something preventing me from going all the way down to hell. Something was holding me back.” The Lord’s hand is there protecting us from the hells even when we are in active evil.

A third thing He does when we are in the distant land: The Lord causes us to remember our home; He lets us remember our spiritual home. In the story the son remembered his father’s house. We hear the words, “I will arise and go to my father.” It’s a memory of heaven. The Writings of the New church speak about heavenly memories that stay with us always. Memories of heaven that remain with us sometimes we call these “heavenly remains.” No matter where we are in life, we all have a memory of heaven (sometimes from our earliest childhood) stored up in the interior parts of our minds. And that memory of heaven tempers and bends our life back to our spiritual home, when we are in the height of temptation and despair.

But then we come to the climax of the story, the turning point, and it is the turning point in our lives. The story says that the young man was in the field, far from his home, hungry. The young man, when he was at his lowest moment of despair, came to his senses. One translation says, “He came to himself.” It is the beginning of true repentance. For the first time we find him thinking the words, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you.”

The young man suddenly sees his life in a new way. It is as if his eyes are opened. It is interesting that the Writings of the New Church use the word “inversion” when they talk about this change. When it seems as if things can’t get any worse, suddenly we come to this turning point; we come to this moment of change, and our lives are totally inverted. Everything is changed from top to bottom. The love of self that used to be at the top is now at the bottom, and in its place is a love of the Lord and the neighbor. We hear the words, “I will go and serve my father; I will hire myself to him; I will be as servant to him,” and we begin to lay down our lives. Jesus said, “He that shall lose his life for my sake shall find it.”

And we find that there is a road back home. That’s the young man journeying back home, retracing every step that He had taken. The Writings of the New Church call this “reformation.” And notice the power of that word: the Lord literally “re-forms” us. He makes us anew.

And then there is a time of rejoicing. Here are some of the internal meanings revealed in the Writings of the New Church: The ring the father put on his son’s finger pictures “internal conjunction.” The robe pictures “truths of our faith and trust in God.” The sandals picture our life changed even to the most “down-to-earth” parts. And the fatted calf pictures our life of charity.

So this entire 15th chapter of the gospel of Luke deals with the subject of lost things and the Lord’s rejoicing over what is lost being found again. Let us take these wonderful teachings and apply them to our lives. Let us reach out with hope and forgiveness to those who are hurting, supporting them on the Divine path of restoration. Let us express this love of the Lord Himself as He comes to restore our own lives toward heaven, realizing that in His sight we are all in need of the Divine healing. This is a picture of the Lord Jesus Christ as the Divine physician, and tells His everlasting message of hope: “It is right that we should make merry and be glad, for your brother was dead and is alive again, and was lost and is found.” Amen.

Lessons: Psalm 84, Luke 15, TCR 394-5

True Christian Religion 394, 395

THERE ARE THREE UNIVERSAL LOVES THE LOVE OF HEAVEN, THE LOVE OF THE WORLD, AND THE LOVE OF SELF.

These three loves must first be considered for the reason that these three are the universal and fundamental of all loves, and that charity has something in common with each of them. For the love of heaven means both love to the Lord and love toward the neighbor; and as each of these looks to use as its end, the love of heaven may be called the love of uses. The love of the world is not merely a love of wealth and possessions, but is also a love of all that the world affords, and of all that delights the bodily senses, as beauty delights the eye, harmony the ear, fragrance the nostrils, delicacies the tongue, softness the skin; also becoming dress, convenient houses, and society, thus all the enjoyments arising from these and many other objects. The love of self is not merely the love of honor, glory, fame, and eminence, but also the love of meriting and seeking office, and so of ruling over others. Charity has something in common with each of these three loves because viewed in itself charity is the love of uses; for charity wishes to do good to the neighbor, and good and use are the same, and from these loves everyone looks to uses as his end, the love of heaven looking to spiritual uses, the love of the world to natural uses, which may be called civil, and the love of self to corporeal uses, which may also be called domestic uses, that have regard to oneself and one’s own.

… That these three loves are rightly subordinated when the love of heaven forms the head, the love of the world the breast and abdomen, and the love of self the feet and their soles. As repeatedly stated above, the human mind is divided into three regions. From the highest region man looks to God, from the second or middle region to the world, and from the third or lowest to himself. The mind being such, it can be raised and can raise itself upward, because to God and to heaven; it can be extended and can extend itself to the sides in all directions, because into the world and its nature; and it can be let downward and let itself downward, because to earth and to hell. In these respects the bodily vision emulates the mind’s vision; it also can look upward, round about, and downward.

[2] The human mind is like a house of three stories which communicate by stairs, in the highest of which angels from heaven dwell, in the middle men in the world, and in the lowest one, genii. The man in whom these three loves are rightly subordinated can ascend and descend in this house at his pleasure; and when he ascends to the highest story, he is in company with angels as an angel; and when he descends from that to the middle story he is in company with men as an angel man; and when from this he descends still further, he is in company with genii as a man of the world, instructing, reproving, and subduing them.

[3] In the man in whom these three loves are rightly subordinated, they are also coordinated thus: The highest love, which is the love of heaven, is inwardly in the second, which is the love of the world, and through this in the third or lowest, which is the love of self; and the love that is within directs at its will that which is without. So when the love of heaven is inwardly in the love of the world and through this in the love of self, man from the God of heaven performs uses in each. In their operation these three loves are like will, understanding, and action; the will flows into the understanding, and there provides itself with the means whereby it produces action.