The God We Worship

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Arcana Coelestia 18

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Silence and Music in Worship

Silence and Music in Worship

A Sermon by the Rev. James P. Cooper

Mitchellville, March 7, 2004

We frequently begin services of worship with the words, The Lord is in His holy temple. Let all the earth keep silence before Him. (HAB. 2:20) These words are usually followed by a very brief moment of silence before the minister and the congregation go on with prayers, music, responsive readings, and so forth. Upon reflection, we find that there is almost no silence anywhere in our services: even the interlude between the lessons and the sermon is filled with music. Perhaps some have wondered what is meant by the call for silence that is apparently never answered.

“Noise” stands for all the activity in our mind, all our thoughts and concerns about things of this world. Our plans, our hopes, our mental lists of things to do – our things. Whenever we sit quietly for a moment, all these ideas begin to flow into our mind, fighting for our attention. They make a kind of noise, they cause us to be distracted from thinking about elevated things. Our attention is totally directed towards ourselves, and we become self-conscious. Is the chair comfortable? Is the room too hot or too cold? Is it time for lunch yet?

Sometimes we feel self-conscious when reading aloud during the service, such as during the prayers and the psalter. We may worry about how we sound to others, whether or not we are doing it right, whether or not we are saying all the words correctly. Others of us are distracted by the songs – we may either sing an old favorite with too much enthusiasm, or worry about hitting all the notes in an unfamiliar hymn. There are a lot of different ways that we can become self-conscious during the responsives and the singing in the office.

Then, when we are sitting and listening to the lessons or sermon, we begin to make use of the quiet moments to get a little thinking done. We begin to work on the problems we are having at home or school or at work, or perhaps to plan the new patio, or redecorate the living room. And before we know it, the service is over, and we cannot remember a thing that happened or was said during the whole thing. We couldn’t hear it over the noise of our own thoughts. This is the noise that needs to be silenced.

We should not be embarrassed by this, for it happens to everyone of us any time we relax our attention. If this never happened, the Lord wouldn’t have mentioned it in the Word! Our invitation to worship tells us that we must do everything we can to enter into the true sphere of worship of the Lord by stilling the noise in our heads, by turning our attention away from the cares and concerns of the natural world and turning our attention towards the Lord and His Word.

In the Jewish Church, and to some extent in the early Christian Church, the function of the congregation was only to witness acts of worship performed by the priesthood. In the ancient Jewish Church, the average person’s contribution to worship was to bring the item to be sacrificed, and then watch while it happened. The priests and the Levites conducted the worship, the people stood outside the gates and watched. This carried over to a certain extent into the Catholic Church. The classic illustration is that of a monastery where each monk performs the mass by himself in his room rather than all joining together in a common service of worship; and is further illustrated by the practice (ended in the US in the 1950’s) of delivering the service in Latin no matter what language the congregation understood. Since they were only witnesses to something that the priests were doing, they didn’t need to understand. The Eastern Orthodox Church continues to provide services in Greek, proudly holding to ancient traditions and rejecting modern innovations.

In the New Church, the function of the priest is to lead the congregation in their own personal worship of the Lord, to help provide such forms as are suitable for genuine worship. The priest does not stand between the people and the Lord, but during the course of the service alternately represents the people to the Lord (as when he approaches and opens the Word), and the Lord to the people (as when reading the lessons). There is a whole body of doctrine on the subject of “Liturgics” that provides the basis for deciding how the priest will move on chancel, which direction he faces, the kinds of chancel furniture, and where the furniture goes, but the essential point is that in the New Church it is the whole congregation that is worshiping the Lord, and the priest worships as a part of that congregation.

The appearance is that worship is a passive thing. After all, the congregation spends most of the time during a service quietly sitting and listening either to lessons from the Word, to a children’s talk, or to a sermon, or waiting for the next thing to happen. But such listening is passive because no response is expected. Ask yourselves this question: would you listen differently if you were going to be tested on the material presented in the sermon? If you were going to be tested in some way, would you not wish to have pencil and paper handy to take notes to study from? Would you not wish to have a text book to follow along in? Would not our whole approach to listening become active instead of passive?

Everyone of us has spent a lot of time in school, and each one of us learned along the way that we enjoyed best and learned the most from those courses we took where we conscientiously did the work assigned by the teacher. Simply stated, we found that the more we put into our study, the more we got back out!

If such a thing is true in other areas of life, is it not also true in worship? Will not our own personal worship of the Lord Jesus Christ be as valuable and meaningful to us as the amount of effort we ourselves put into it? Does this not tell us how important regular study of the Word is? Does it not also mean that if we simply bring our bodies into church and expect worship to happen to us, it will not be a meaningful and valuable experience?

We need to learn to take part in the worship service by actively listening, that is, by listening to what the priest is saying with a sense of affirmative skepticism. –Think about what is being said. – Does it sound true? – If you lived according to it, would you being living a good life? – Would you feel right making decisions that way? – Does what the priest says agree with your understanding of the Word? – If not, why not?

Such questioning is essential to the development of the rational mind. Even in heaven the angels must be skeptical of what they hear, for we are told that they are never taught something without the opposite idea being presented at the same time, so that they will have to think about it, compare it to what they already know to be true, and come to a decision about it based upon their own understanding (See EU 77). Even in heaven, we will not be able to accept what is taught with blind faith. We must prepare ourselves for heaven by practicing active listening and affirmative doubt in this life first.

Actively listening, challenging, questioning and testing your understanding against that of the priest during his sermons or messages is also important, for by so doing you are actively taking part in the worship of the Lord, you are using your gift of intelligence in the way that God intended.

But, active listening, being fully involved intellectually is only half the story. Everyone knows that if we want to communicate ideas we use language. Words, either written or spoken, are the means by which ideas move from one mind to another. The Writings tell us that there is also a communication of affection from one will to another, and music is the means of that communication. In other words, music is to our loves as words are to our thoughts!

This concept is well known as shown in common speech. When we share an affectional bond with someone, we say that we are “in tune” with them. When things are going well with the people around us, we say that things are “harmonious.” We see further evidence of this when we remember that happy people hum, whistle, and even burst forth into song – any song – any fragment of a song! We say that people who are happy have a “song” in their heart! There are no doubt many other examples that we could use.

Not only is music a sign of a happy heart, but we also find that music is a good way to change a heart. Studies have shown that music is very effective in changing your mood. If someone is feeling low, you cannot just play happy, cheerful music and expect them to change. It’s far more likely that they will angrily turn the music off. However, it has been found that if you first play music that approximates the person’s mood, and you gradually change the selections from moody to cheerful to bright, the mood will follow.

We can see that, used properly, music can be used to bring a person’s state from depression to cheerfulness, from hell to heaven. If we agree to that view, then can we also assume that the opposite is true, that music is capable of taking someone from a heavenly state to a hellish one? Are there kinds of music that express anger and frustration and hatred and by means of presenting these affections in a powerful way actually bring people into a state of hellish affections? While we should be very careful before postulating a direct cause and effect relationship between heaven or hell and certain kinds of music, we must look carefully at the kinds of affections that any piece of music inspires in our hearts.

In heaven, the harmony is actual, not symbolic. Time after time Swedenborg reported hearing heavenly choirs. He explained that each heavenly society has its own distinctive affection or love, and this distinctive love is expressed in the songs of that society. These teachings were in the minds of the priests of the New Church as they set about the task of forming a distinctive new ritual for the New Church. These teachings about music, affection, and harmony are the reason why each service begins with music followed by congregational singing, so that the whole of the congregation can be brought into a common sphere of worship. In the same way, the service ends with congregational singing, followed by a period of quiet music, so that the people can quietly and gently leave the sphere of worship behind.

Music is a powerful tool for creating a response in worship. Just as words are carefully selected by the priest to bring an idea into form in the sermon, so, ideally, the music should be selected to bring the affections of the congregation into a focus that supports and develops the ideas presented in the sermon. The choice is also limited to those songs that a congregation is capable of singing with some confidence and pleasure.

Congregational singing is supposed to bring the diverse collection of people present for worship into a harmony of affection, a harmony that is more perfect according to the variety within it. In order for us to feel the harmony with the others in the congregation, it will be necessary for us to deliberately, consciously put aside our fears about singing in church We must try not to think about how we sound to the others nearby. We must instead try to think about the sound of many people singing together, and how each voice blends in and contributes to the beauty and the quality of the whole.

To do this, we must first find silence. We must leave our thoughts and cares about the world outside the church door as we enter. We must put away the thoughts about the cares of the natural world so that there will be room for the Lord to enter through His Word. Then, as we hear His Word read and preached, we must focus our attention on it, compare what we hear to what we already know, to what we believe, to what we have learned from experience. Finally, we must un-self-consciously take part in the affectional side of worship through song and prayer. Prayers are offered to the Lord by the priest for the congregation, and by the priest and the congregation together. This speech with the Lord is an important part of every worship service, for it turns the mind away from self and towards the Lord. It can be an effective means of silencing our self-consciousness.

When the noise of the world is put off, we will find our worship to be satisfying to us in many different ways. The more effort we put into the worship experience, the greater the spiritual benefit we shall receive.

“Oh, sing to the Lord a new song!

Sing to the Lord, all the earth.

Sing to the Lord, bless His name;

Proclaim the good news of His salvation from day to day.” (Psalm 96:1,2)


First Lesson: HAB 2 (port.)

{2} Then the LORD answered me and said: “Write the vision And make it plain on tablets, That he may run who reads it. {3} For the vision is yet for an appointed time; But at the end it will speak, and it will not lie. Though it tarries, wait for it; Because it will surely come, It will not tarry. … {18} “What profit is the image, that its maker should carve it, The molded image, a teacher of lies, That the maker of its mold should trust in it, To make mute idols? {19} Woe to him who says to wood, ‘Awake!’ To silent stone, ‘Arise! It shall teach!’ Behold, it is overlaid with gold and silver, Yet in it there is no breath at all. {20} But the LORD is in His holy temple. Let all the earth keep silence before Him.”

Second Lesson: MAT 19:16-22

Now behold, one came and said to Him, “Good Teacher, what good thing shall I do that I may have eternal life?” {17} So He said to him, “Why do you call Me good? No one is good but One, that is, God. But if you want to enter into life, keep the commandments.” {18} He said to Him, “Which ones?” Jesus said, ” ‘You shall not murder,’ ‘You shall not commit adultery,’ ‘You shall not steal,’ ‘You shall not bear false witness,’ {19} ‘Honor your father and your mother,’ and, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’” {20} The young man said to Him, “All these things I have kept from my youth. What do I still lack?” {21} Jesus said to him, “If you want to be perfect, go, sell what you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.” {22} But when the young man heard that saying, he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions.

Third Lesson: AC 2594,5

Gentiles living on earth today however are not so wise, but for the most part are simple in heart. Nevertheless those of them who have led charitable lives one with another acquire wisdom in the next life. Let these be spoken of in what follows next.

I was once listening to a certain [choir] which sounded tuneful yet harsher than [choirs] normally do. From their sound I recognized straightaway that they came from the gentiles. Angels told me that they were gentiles who had been raised from the dead three or four days previously. I listened to this … choir for many hours and perceived that throughout the short period I was listening to them they were being perfected more and more. Wondering at this I was told that these people can be inaugurated into choirs, and so into harmonious groups, within a single night, whereas with the majority of Christians the same is scarcely possible within thirty years. …Choirs exist when many speak simultaneously, all as one, and each as all.

Copyright © 1982 – 2005 General Church of the New Jerusalem.
Page constructed by James P. Cooper
Page last modified September 27, 2009


A Sermon by Rev. James P. Cooper
Preached in Mitchellville, Maryland February 11, 1996

“I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing” (John 15:5).

It’s obvious that each of us has made either a conscious or an unconscious decision to come to church today. Today’s sermon deals with the reasons behind a person’s decision to come to church, and attempts to answer why people feel a need to attend church, and to discover what it is in the human makeup that draws us together to contemplate the Divine influence in the course of our lives.

Many of us come to church without taking much thought about it. It is what we always do on Sunday. Attendance at church is for many a tradition, a habit, something that is done as naturally as walking. I think we can say with a fair degree of assurance that the angels themselves have just such a habit, and it gives them great delight to freely express it. After all, is not the process of regeneration a matter of getting rid of bad habits and acquiring good habits with the Lord’s help?

But there are others of us, who, for one reason or another, have never acquired the habit of regular church attendance, and so must make a conscious choice to attend church each week. It is necessary to speak in broad generalities here, for there are as many specific reasons as there are individuals making the choices, and of course each individual makes that choice each week after balancing many different options, but several general areas that are worth thinking about can be identified.

The first area to consider is that of the very nature of our church services. Our services are designed to attempt to balance two uses: worship of the Lord and instruction from His Word. The worship includes elements of both humiliation and praise, the prayers while kneeling representing humiliation and supplication, and songs while standing representing praise and adoration. The instruction includes both reading directly from the Word and preaching from the Word. In other words, our church services have been carefully designed to serve many needs in ways as appropriate as possible. However, the area of instruction in general and the sermon in particular have taken on a greater importance than the worship. Perhaps this is because the sermon is the largest single element in the service. Perhaps since the priest spends a far greater time preparing the sermon than any other element of the service, it takes on a pre-eminent status in the priest’s mind, and so subconsciously affects his attitudes which then eventually find their way to the congregation.

Because of our emphasis on reading the Word, and the sermon as the most important part of church, and perhaps because of our traditional emphasis on education as a special use of the New Church, many people choose to come to church to hear the sermon’s message, to be instructed. We come to church hoping to hear something from the Word that will help us out in the trials and tribulations of our daily lives. We hope that we will hear something that will help us solve our problems. Fortunately, that hope and desire is satisfied often enough that we continue to come. Obviously, very few people would continue coming to a church week after week if they were never satisfied with the instruction they received. So we can say that one major reason that people come to church is to learn things that will help them live more satisfying lives.

But the skeptic asks, “Why do you go to church for that when there are so many self-help books and special interest clubs available?’ Indeed, why do we need to come to church for these things? Why is church felt to be so special? If people choose to come to church to learn things, why not have a doctrinal class format? These questions focus our attention on another major reason for attending church: to satisfy some of our emotional needs.

The Heavenly Doctrines tell us why we hunger for more than just instruction when they tell us that a person is more than just his intellect, that his mind is both will and understanding. The affectional part needs to be stimulated and fed too. However, it is more subtle in getting its message across. Unlike the intellectual side, the affectional side of us cannot directly communicate ideas, so instead it supplies the desire, the inclination, to worship, and the intellectual provides the reason (which of course it couches in its own rational terms). So we feel an urge to go to church (from the affectional side of the mind) and the intellectual side provides the reason, which is to go and learn something.

This is illustrated by the way we act on vacation. We take our children to a zoo or to some historical spot and we then commence to lecture them about the important events that happened at that spot, or instructing the children in the various things that we have learned about the animals. The affectional side of us just wanted to have a family outing to some place new and interesting, and perhaps to enjoy looking at the animals, but the intellectual side is embarrassed at such a blatant waste of time, so it has to provide some rational reason for such otherwise frivolous behavior. As a result we make a holiday trip into an “educational experience” for the children so that we won’t be caught having fun. We need to remember that the affectional and intellectual sides of us are partners, that there is value in play for the sake of play, in doing something together for no other reason than to share a pleasant experience.

This should remind us of the memorable relations where we see the angel wives gently but powerfully leading their husbands by merely a look or a gesture, but the husbands were unable to communicate in that way and instead gave lengthy explanations of what they were doing. This should illustrate the idea that going to church is like a marriage. Worship is the “wife” and instruction the “husband,” that is, the affectional side of a church service is as essential to the churchgoer as a wife is essential to a marriage!

Our affectional side, our will, speaks in our mind without words. It acts as an “inner voice” that does not argue, does not fight, but when we begin to choose to do the wrong things, it makes us uneasy. At the same time, it makes us feel good when we are doing the right thing. Indeed, it has been said that the reason people attend church is to “attend to the inner voice.” The interesting thing is that this inner voice has a common message to all people, a message that gently draws them to worship in some way. The Heavenly Doctrines tell us that the Lord Himself flows into the mind of every person, from the beginning of his life to eternity, with the message that there is a God and that He is one (see TCR 8). The Lord Himself is that inner voice, gently, quietly calling us to Himself. There are many places in Scripture where the word “voice” is used, and we are taught that when it is the voice of Jehovah, it represents a “revelation” from God (see AC 219), and at other times it represents the “thought and affection, which are the interior things of the voice” (AC 10455).

We are also taught that doctrine, that is, how we understand how the Word applies in our lives, is formed by reading the letter of the Word from doctrine. The teaching about the universal influx shows how this is possible. The Lord flows into the interior degrees of the mind of every individual from the first moment of life with this central doctrine: that there is a God and that He is one. Every human being shares this heritage and gift from God. What he does with it afterwards is a matter of his own free choice, but every one of us begins with this doctrinal basis “built in.” Everything we learn after that is learned in the light of this first truth, particularly the things that we learn from the letter of the Word. Can’t we see this from the way little children speak of the Lord with confidence and joy? They are pre-disposed to receive the Word with gladness.

As we grow older, we learn many things, most of which are not from the Word. We learn about cruelty, hatred, and greed, and as we see others exhibit these evils we become cynical, skeptical and suspicious. The “inner voice” cannot be stilled, but it becomes much harder to hear amidst the noise of a mind fully involved in the things of the world. But it is there, quietly, gently feeding its message of hope and peace into the turmoil of the active mind. So we come to church to attend to the needs of the inner voice as well as to learn strategies for coping with life, but we cannot properly care for the needs of the inner voice until we are aware of it and come to know its needs, to be sure to make our visit to church worshipful. We can improve the quality of our worship by first recognizing its importance as the feeding of the affectional side of our minds, and so preparing ourselves for genuine worship.

Two specific ways to prepare ourselves for worship are firstly to leave personal cares at home when we come to church, and secondly to examine the thoughts we have while in church from time to time to avoid allowing our minds to wander into thoughts about the house, or things yet to do at work, or whatever. It is very important that the mind be focused on the Lord and the things of His kingdom if genuine worship is to take place. Further, there must be an opening of the way if instruction about the Lord is to enter; the walls of resistance have to be lowered. This cannot be done automatically, but we must consciously choose to open ourselves to worship and instruction, for the hells do not want this to happen and will inflow with all manner of distracting thoughts if they perceive that we are beginning to genuinely worship and learn about the Lord.

Our rational minds tell us that we should worship the Lord because we have read the Word, and we have found that when we live according to the Ten Commandments our life is more satisfying than when we do not; therefore we can believe that the Word is from the Lord and is true: it is true because we perceive that to live according to it is good. The Word tells us in many places that we should worship the Lord, so we have duly set up churches and other places of worship where we go to fulfill this instruction addressed to our rational mind, and this is as it should be. However, we need to remember that the affectional side of our life needs nourishment too; it needs to humble itself before the God of Love, to join with friends and family to sing praise to Him who gives life to all, to rest in the warmth of His love, to be simply and profoundly grateful to Him who created us, and who sustains us with His love every moment of our lives. Amen.

Lessons: Exodus 30:1-10, 34-38; John 15:1-17; TCR 8 (portions)

True Christian Religion 8

There is a universal influx from God into the souls of men of the truth that there is a God and that He is one. That there is an influx from God into man is evident from the universal confession that all good that is in itself good, and that exists in man and is done by him, is from God; in like manner every thing of charity and every thing of faith; for we read: “A man can take nothing except it be given him from heaven” (John 3:27); and Jesus said: “Without Me ye are unable to do anything” (John 15:5), that is, anything that pertains to charity and faith. This influx is into the souls of men because the soul is the inmost and highest part of man, and the influx from God enters into that and descends therefrom into the things that are below, and vivifies them in accordance with reception. The truths that are to constitute belief flow in, it is true, through the hearing, and are thus implanted in the mind, that is, below the soul. But by means of such truths man is simply made ready to receive the influx from God through the soul; and such as this preparation is, such is the reception, and such the transformation of natural faith into spiritual faith.

There is such an influx from God into the souls of men of the truth that God is one because everything Divine, regarded most generally as well as most particularly, is God. And as the entire Divine coheres as one, it cannot fail to inspire in man the idea of one God; and this idea is strengthened daily as man is elevated by God into the light of heaven. For the angels in their light cannot force themselves to utter the word “Gods.” Even their speech closes at the end of every sentence in a oneness of cadence, and there is no other cause of this than the influx into their souls of the truth that God is one.