Why Forgive?


by Rev. Calvin Odhner

Text: Luke 7:36-50
Divine Providence 100

Good morning, and welcome to the Pittsburgh New Church! 

This morning we begin our series on forgiveness. Is forgiveness important? Does the Lord want us to forgive? How can we be forgiven? Nobody gets through this life without feeling betrayal by someone: getting hurt, that feeling of being “done wrong” to. It could have happened when we were young, or it could have happened yesterday. We hold these wrongs in our mind. We carry them with us. If you would like, write one or two of these offences/wrongs on a label with the pens provided, and we’ll take care of it. 

I know a boy who picked up one of those bazookas sitting on a porch--a potato shooter. It was winter, and he picked it up and pulled the trigger! There was now a frozen potato in it, and it flew 200 feet and hit his best friend in the jaw! It broke his jaw and he had to have it wired shut for a month! It still hurts. If he were here, he’d be writing that down. So if you want, you can just write down story Q or story J. The Lord will know which one you mean! 

Sometimes, we can do things we feel are so wrong that we can never be forgiven for them! The Lord has a story for us about that in Luke. Let’s read it now!

At the opening of our story we find the Lord going to eat a meal with a Pharisee:

“Then one of the Pharisees asked Him to eat with him. And He went to the Pharisee’s house, and sat down to eat.”

Not only did He go into the pharisee's house, which signifies consociation with him as a man, but He also ate with him, which signifies conjunction through good, whatever good there was. 

Now Pharisees were known for their hypocrisy, not really being interested in what the Lord had to say unless they could gain from it. But here is our first instruction in this parable:

Many times the Pharisees had “done the Lord wrong” like people in our own lives have betrayed us. How often have we felt injustices by our spouse or a co-worker for some infraction! And yet we must continue to connect, overlook, and be tolerant, allowing for whatever good that can come about from that connection. The Lord spurned fear and resentment for the sake of the use. He continued to connect. He stayed in the game and went beyond personalities and problems. 

For He says:

“ A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.”               

(John 13:3)

 "And having entered into the pharisee's house, He reclined to eat." 

 In those days it was common at meals for guests to recline on cushions which were arranged in a pattern radiating outward from a central, low table. They faced the table, but their feet stretched out behind them, away from the center. 

“And behold, a woman in the city who was a sinner, when she knew that Jesus sat at the table in the Pharisee’s house, brought an alabaster flask of fragrant oil,  and stood at His feet behind Him weeping…”

Take a moment to think back to a time when you had done something so shameful, so wrong, that you wished you could erase that moment. But now that it is in your life, if only you could be forgiven for it. If only the Lord would forgive me. The "woman of the city" who came to worship the Lord was not merely a particular individual, but she represents all of us! 

She pictures the “affection for truth” which can be alive in everyone! It is with this affection for truth that we must approach the Lord if we wish to be conjoined with Him. 

She came with humility, conscious and repentant of her sins. She did not come ostentatiously with reasoning or promises of great plans. She came to perform a use for the Lord.

“… and she began to wash His feet with her tears, and wiped them with the hair of her head; and she kissed His feet and anointed them with the fragrant oil.”

When we picture this in our mind we can just imagine the humility and need for forgiveness this woman must have felt. But for the real power, we must turn to the internal sense. 

Washing represents the way we can cleanse our minds so we can clearly see and embrace the Lord. The Lord’s feet stand for the Word—the part of Him that touches the earth. The dirt on His feet represents the evils in us that cover Him and stand between the Lord and ourselves. Tears are the true ideas that she possessed to help her see and accept responsibility for her evils and repent of them. 

The story mentions both weeping and the shedding of tears: again, like everything in the Word: even this little detail is important. Weeping comes more from the mouth,  thus from the chest and abdomen, signifying grief of the heart over our falsities. Tears are a bitter watering of the eyes, coming from the thought and thus signifying grief of our mind. 

 When we discover the real condition our minds are in, we, too can feel a grief of heart and mind on account of our lack of truth and our false ideas. 

Only after the woman had washed the Lord's feet, and dried them with her hair, did she kiss Him on the feet. The kiss represents unition, and conjunction from affection, thus further acknowledgment and reciprocation with the Lord.

When we begin, from an affection of truth, to recognize and acknowledge our sins, we begin to see ourselves for what we are, all of us, interiorly: sinners, and we may wonder what we can do to obtain the Lord's forgiveness and mercy. 

The answer is in our story:

We are to approach the Lord with humility, especially when we have grief in heart and mind. We are to repent from our evil ways cleansing our minds so we can clearly see and embrace Him. And finally, from an affection for truth, we are to unite with Him and (like the fragrant oil) worship Him from the good of love. Notice that we are the one who must get busy and work to receive the Lord. 

The pharisee had failed to do this. The Lord pointed out, despite an appearance of concern and respect:

“... you gave Me no water for My feet, but she has washed My feet with her tears and wiped them with the hair of her head. 45 You gave Me no kiss, but this woman has not ceased to kiss My feet since the time I came in. 46 You did not anoint My head with oil, but this woman has anointed My feet with fragrant oil. 47 Therefore I say to you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven, for she loved much. But to whom little is forgiven, the same loves little.”

Without forgiveness we carry resentment that blocks the Lord’s entry into our mind. It is so important to forgive that the Lord incorporated these words into our daily prayer: "Forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.” 

 The Lord cannot forgive man his trespasses as long as he retains hatred, revenge and enmity in his heart. He indeed forgives all people, but the law according to which He forgives them is the same to all. It is by repentance, reformation, and regeneration that man receives the Divine forgiveness. To forgive is to create in ourselves a love of the neighbor which is charity itself--a love which, because of its greatness, because of its nobility, because of its Divine source, will enable us to receive forgiveness of the Lord.

We read:

"I have heard from heaven that the Lord forgives every man his sins, and never takes vengeance or even imputes them, because He is Love Itself and Good Itself; but that nevertheless sins are not on this account wiped out; for that can only be done by repentance."

(True Christian Religion 409.)

During this six week study of forgiveness, I challenge you to study forgiveness as a craft! For it is really a “practice” anyone can learn. The art of forgiving; instant and loving forgiveness. When you figure it out you can teach me. But we know it starts by approaching the Lord with an affection for learning the truth. This is called faith. This is why the Lord said to the woman: 

"Your faith hath saved you; go in peace." 
 

Resentment and Marriage

 

By Rev. Calvin Odhner

Text: 2 Samuel 11:1 - 12; Conjugial Love 4

“Then it happened one evening that David arose from his bed and walked on the roof of the king’s house.”   (2 Samuel 11:1)

Good morning, and welcome to the Pittsburgh New Church! It’s great to be back! I hope you had a good break and are ready to turbocharge your spirituality! What a great deal we have, being in the NEW CHURCH! We get to study heaven and hell and decide which to choose! TOTAL FREEDOM! We choose one or the other by loving what people in heaven love, or what people in hell love. Now, every parable, every story, and every psalm warns us to watch out for three nasty things: hatred, revenge, and adultery. These three beasts live in our desires, our expectations, and our resentments! So let’s find out how king David managed His hatred, revenge, and adultery. We read from 2 Samuel chapter 11.

The famous actress Katherine Hepburn was quoted as saying, “Life is hard. After all, it kills you.” Winston Churchill said: “If you’re going through hell, keep going.” Everybody finds out life is challenging! I’m sure all of us in here have been through some hard life things, real challenges; you’re probably going through some right now! This reminds me of Mark Twain’s quote: “It’s not the size of the dog in the fight, it’s the size of the fight in the dog.” And where can we get that fighting spirit? The Heavenly Doctrines!

We discover through the Heavenly Doctrines that challenges and temptations actually take us to a new level--they give us new insights. That’s why the Writings are timeless! They’re written to help with every stage of life. And if we live by key principles in them, life gets easier, because they teach us what makes us happy! Even if we don’t believe it--or live by it--at least we have a path home when we’re ready.

One of these key principles is: every love has a delight. Every love has a delight. Adultery has a delight; loving one wife has a delight. And since we love what delights us, by carefully monitoring our delights we can see if what we love is on track with what people in heaven love. Hell has everything to do with delights. A definition of hell is given in True Christian Religion:

A novitiate spirit was told to research what delight is, so he went around asking in the world of spirits, “What’s delight?” People said: “what kind of question is that? Delight is delight--when you’re glad or happy. One is just like another.” Others said: “Delight is laughing all the time and telling jokes.” Others said:  “Delight is eating and drinking until you’re intoxicated. Eventually, he found some wise people who helped him interview devils in hell. Here’s their conversation:

"The devils said, “Know, that everyone, good or evil, is in his own delight, a good man in the delight of good and an evil man in the delight of evil.”

And they asked, “What is your delight?”

They answered, that they were in the delight of whoring, stealing, defrauding, blaspheming. And they asked again, “What is the quality of these delights?”

They said, “They are perceived by others as fetid odors from excrements, and as the stench from dead bodies, and the rank smell from stagnant urine.”

And they were asked, “Are these delightful to you?”

They answered, “Most delightful.”

The others said, “Then you are like the unclean beasts that live in such things.”

They replied, “If we are, we are; but such things are the delights of our nostrils.”

And the others asked, “What else?”

They answered, that, “Everyone is allowed to be in his own delight, even the most unclean, as they call it, if only they do not infest good spirits and angels; but because from our delight, we cannot but infest them, we are cast into workhouses where we suffer horrible things."

It is here they describe the definition of hell:

"The prohibition and withdrawal of our delights there is what is called the torment of hell. It is really interior pain.”

(True Christian Religion 570:7)

Hell is a place where you can’t do what you love to do! This is why we can learn so much from what we delight in, and see if it would be allowed or not in heaven. In hell, people try to fulfill their delights anyway, and are forced to work in workhouses and suffer horrible things. So why would anybody keep hating, revenging, and adulterating? Because it feels good, at first: the pain and misery come later.

Desires

One of the easiest ways to see how hatred, revenge, and adultery show up in our lives is studying our relationships, especially marriage. Think back to a time when you were in love! It’s a fantastic feeling. There is no one else we desire more than that person. Everything in us wants to connect: men would climb Everest in the morning and cross the Sahara in the afternoon if needed to prove their love. Women spend hours to get that perfect look, the perfect dress and hair, or whatever else women do. Every part of the feminine is a perfect match for the masculine; this is the divine design.

We read:

“...[E]very particular--in fact every detail--of them offers conjunction....[T]his disposition to unite has been implanted from creation, so it is always there, and that means that the one yearns and pants to unite with the other. Viewed in its own right, love is nothing other than a desire, and from it an effort, to join together."

(Conjugial Love 37)

Expectations

But we also bring desires to our relationships, don’t we? Some of us believed: “We’ll have the same friends like my parents did,” or, “She’ll love to go on vacation where I love to go.” “He’ll understand that I need my coffee in the morning. He’ll bring it to me just like my dad did to my mom.” “It’s just going to be wonderful!” “He also knows that sometimes I need extra care, to lie in bed all day, so he’ll take care of the wash and everything.” So down the aisle we go with all these desires: how our finances will be, how our house will be, how romance will be…. “He’ll even make sure that I’m comfortable at night--so I can wear whatever I want.”

Now, after a week or a month or a year, we begin to place these things we desired into another box, called expectations. It was fine before we were married, when we just started our relationship. I didn’t expect much then, but now that we are married and it’s been a while, it’s time to get going! In fact, I feel like you even agreed to this stuff, that it was your end of the deal. And I kind of said yes because you kinda said yes to all these things!

Love of Self and the World

You see, coming down that aisle is not just two people. There is something else looming inside both of them: loves with their delights; the old love of self and love of the world. This is something nobody gets out of: everybody has it. It’s also part of the divine design. We read:

..[T]he worldly person is the one everyone is led to be at first when he grows up, which happens through information and finding things out, and through rational and intellectual thoughts.

(Conjugial Love 426)

And it’s this person who is running the show, figuring out what’s best for the marriage, determining if this is going to work.

Resentments

It’s this person, when his loves are not satisfied, when he doesn't get what he thinks he wants, who begins to put things in the next box: resentments.

The definition of a resentment is: “The experience of a negative emotion felt as a result of a real or imagined wrong.” It comes from the Latin “Sentire” which means “to feel.” So re-sentment is to re-feel a negative emotion over and over. And when we begin believing those loves we delight in, something new begins to happen. She may begin to say: “I hate that we don’t have the security, money, romance, children--fill in the blank. I want to punish you for not giving it to me, and I might even leave to find someone else (hatred, revenge and adultery…).

Throughout the Writings these three represent the opposite of charity and love to the neighbor. We read:

Everyone can see that… charity consists in being wholly unwilling to commit adultery with the wife of another; that charity consists in not doing injury to the neighbor in hatred and revenge; that charity consists in not reviling another, and so forth. He who abhors these things as sins, has charity, for he loves the neighbor.

(Last Judgment, Posthumous 164)

 

So we can see from this progression that the things we love, in the end determine who we are and the way we will think and act (CL 34).1 In many places, Swedenborg tells us how amazed he is that a person’s loves are the real person. He had this proved to him thousands of times. We read:

... Love is a person’s life, and therefore is the person himself... Love is the being of a person’s life or the essential reality of it, and thinking from love is the visible existence or manifestation of his life. So the speech and action that spring from thinking do not really spring from thinking but from love, and flow out through thought. From many experiences I have found out that after death people are not their thoughts, but they are their feelings and the thought from them, in other words they are there love and understanding that comes from it. After death people reject everything not in harmony with their love. In fact, they gradually assume the face, voice, speech, gestures, and manners of their life’s love.

(Conjugial Love 36)

So if our loves and desires lead to expectations, and expectations lead to resentments which carry hatred, revenge, and adultery. How can we change our loves? How can we begin to break the chain at the very beginning? This is where the Word comes in: everything in the Word is designed to heal us and to educate us on what we are actually like. We can see ourselves in King David. He desired Bathsheba; he desired what he thought would be delightful and make him happy. And we resent those who won’t fulfill our fantasies, who stand in our way, just as King David resented Uriah.

Each of us, through trial and error, learn over and over the that only way to happiness is through temptation, through fighting the distress that is felt when we are resisting something we love--the delight of evil. When we resist this evil delight, our spiritual mind is opened and our spirit is introduced into heaven even while we are in the world!

"Then it happened one evening that David arose from his bed and walked on the roof of the king’s house."  (2 Samuel 11:1)

Awe and Holy Fear: Surely the Lord is in this place, and I knew it not.

By Rev. Pearse Frazier

Fear is an emotion. And like all emotions it can be best understood as a passive experience. It's something that happens to you. We are not our emotions. We might feel joy, or anger, or sadness, or fear, but those are experiences that we feel. It's like feeling something rough or soft or painful or hot or cold. We're not cold or hot or painful. Those are things we feel. All of our feelings are passive in that way. This is an important thing to remember because too often we can identify ourselves as our emotions.

Fear is that kind of passive emotion. It's something we experience. And the Heavenly Doctrine in Arcana Coelestia 3718 tells us about different kinds of fear and why we experience what we experience. Think about any emotion for a moment. Any emotion is experienced of some affection that we have for something or someone being stimulated or stirred in a particular way.

If you love a child, for example, and that child is given something wonderful and they laugh, you experience the emotion of joy. If that child is harmed then you experience the emotion of sadness or anger. And when a child is threatened -- a child that you love -- you might experience the emotions of fear and anger.

Fear is when something that we love or have an affection for is threatened, is in danger -- that's when we experience fear. A simple illustration of this is why people are afraid of heights. They have an affection for their own health, and for their own life. And when they're at the top of a height, look down, think they might slip and fall, then naturally they think, I could lose this thing that I love -- me! It's a normal thing. They are not their fear. But they are their affection behind that fear. They do genuinely love themselves. And they are that love. It's an appropriate love that they have for themselves. This is why so often our fear does tell us about who and what we are. We are not our emotions, but our emotions tell us who we can or can't be.

In our reading we heard about two kinds of fear, holy fear and un-holy or natural fear. Natural fear is like the fear we just talked about, the fear that you have that you might be harmed. It's the fear that keeps most people in line. It's the fear that you might get a ticket if you speed. It's the fear that any kind of punishment or harm might come to you or to those you love, and it's felt as fear. The Writings say it's felt primarily in the body and in the natural man. You can imagine this fear; it's an unpleasant, physical feeling. It can tighten your stomach and send chills up your spine. We have physical things that we identify with fear, such as darkness, cold, screeching noises, a note out of key. These are the things that trigger the physical feeling of fear. They are all natural feelings of fear.

Holy fear, we're told, doesn't feel the same as natural fear. It doesn't feel physical in that way. We're also told that holy fear is when we have a fear of harm coming to something good or true outside of oneself. Returning to the example of a child: If you love a child and you're afraid for that child to be hurt, that's a kind of holy fear, and you might feel that fear as a knot in your stomach. But this is still a natural sort of holy fear and is not true spiritual holy fear.

We're told that good holy fear, spiritual holy fear, is felt as awe. In a moment we'll discuss love to the neighbor as it relates to holy fear. But first think about times when you have experienced awe or wonder -- Divine awe -- maybe you've been up early in the morning and you saw a sunrise and you thought, My God! What a beautiful sunrise! Literally thinking, Wow! The Lord made this amazing thing! And I've been given the blessing and the opportunity to see it. You are awed by that creation. That sense of awe is the feeling that accompanies holy fear.

But it's even more than that. A breathtaking sunrise is an example of a natural experience, a trick of aesthetics. Think to the moments in your life when real spiritual experience (not something visual) brought you awe. Maybe at your wedding. Or at the birth of your child. Or the death of a loved one, if you were there at their side. In these moments of real spiritual meaning when we experience a sense of awe and wonder, we think My God! We know that something more than our life has occurred here. We are struck by that wonder. Jacob experiences in his dream. That awe is what he's feeling when he wakes up. He realizes that the Lord is in this place. And he had not known it.

Often in our lives we'll have a sense of clarity, a moment where we truly understand that the Lord is God of Creation and is behind all the most meaningful moments of our lives. Maybe it is one of those important life experiences mentioned earlier -- your wedding or the birth of a loved one or the death of a loved one -- or maybe it's another important event, where acknowledgment and recognition of the Lord becomes clear and powerful, almost overwhelming.

We all acknowledge that on the average Tuesday morning, for example, when we wake up, awe is not the feeling we have. What should we do in those moments? How do we capture that sense of awe and clarity?

What does Jacob do? He sets up an alter. As we discussed with the children, you can set up an alter to the Lord in those moments of clarity and awe, when you feel a spiritual holy fear. You can do this with a mind meld, with your imagination, building literally an alter in your mind, setting up a stone and pouring oil on it. These images from the Word have powerful correspondential spiritual truth behind them. And your application of these kinds of images in your imagination can help order your mind.

The Heavenly Doctrine tells us time and again that we should meditate on the Word. This process applied to the story of Jacob's dream is the kind of thing that the Word is talking about: meditate on it. Really think about it.

If you're sitting there in front of a beautiful sunrise and you suddenly realize truly what it means for the Lord to be guiding you and your life, pause, close your eyes, set up an alter and pour oil on that alter, and pray to the Lord. Realize that He is with you.

These images have even more power when they are physical and tangible. This is why it is so useful to come to church. It's why we have an alter with the Word on it. It's why it's useful in your home to have an alter with the Word, a place set aside to remind you of the awe and wonder of the Lord.

Think back now to our original example of our love for a child. People love putting photos up of their children on Facebook. And when you go into a retired person's home, one of the things you may see are pictures everywhere, in the bathroom, in the bedroom, in the living room, on the refrigerator, why? These are physical reminders of the things that are important to that person. They are like alters to the objects of their affections. We put up pictures because we want to be reminded of the things that mean the most to us, and because we want to be reminded of those people for whom we have great affection and love.

Because we're natural, because we're here on earth and we're not perfect, often we'll experience a fear for the well being of those people. We feel this as worry in our stomach or chills up our spine. We might think, Oh, no, what could happen to my son or my daughter or my husband or my wife or my cousin? That fear can happen.

There is another fear. It is the spiritual holy fear of awe and wonder, for instance, when we can look at a picture of a loved one and we can say, My God! He has given them into my life. They are the son or daughter of the Lord, and they've been put into my life. This is like the true holy fear of angels. Angels do not worry about bad things that happen to other people. Their stomachs do not knot up and chills do not come up their spines, because they have faith and confidence in the Lord. And what's more, they know where their power lies.

We too can have that faith and confidence in the Lord, and that feeling the angels have, if we remember where our power lies.

We do not have the power to prevent terrible things from happening to the people we love. We cannot prevent terrorist attacks, or firebombings, or accidents or serious illnesses. We cannot. We can only do our best to mitigate against them.

Where then does your true power lie?

The answer to that question has to do with fear. True holy fear -- the fear that we as individuals might cause harm to those we love -- the fear that a parent has, the terrible fear, that maybe they are parenting poorly, that maybe they've done something wrong. It's the fear that we can have at work when we worry, Maybe I've offended one of my colleagues. Or it's the fear we can have in our relationships and friendships when we think maybe we've offended someone or caused someone harm, or maybe we might. That is true holy fear, because in that we can trust the Lord. We can ask the Lord for help in being a good friend and worker and parent and spouse. We can know and have confidence that shunning evils as sins and loving the neighbor is in our control and within our grasp. That's where we can have awe and wonder at the gift the Lord has given us.

Remember the Lord told Jacob that he would be a blessing to all nations. Remember we, each of us, can be a blessing to everyone in our lives.

In keeping holy fear, we acknowledge that we are the one who has power over our own sins. That is where our true power lies. We can shun sins. We can do better. The Lord has given us this power. This is the blessing we can be: we can treat our neighbor with love and kindness and honesty and faith. When we love the neighbor, we love God.

Have confidence. Set up an alter to the Lord in your mind, and the Lord will make you a blessing to all nations.

Amen.