Sermon: How the Church is Born in Man

Sermon Series 1:

How the Church is Born In Man

Pittsburgh New Church

October 13, 2019

Rev. Calvin Odhner

 

Text: Exodus (Portions)

Arcana:AC 4966

“Thou shalt love the Lord thy God from all thy heart, and in all thy soul, and in all thy mind; this is the first and great commandment; (Matthew 22:37)

 

Introduction

Has anybody ever had fresh corn on the cob?  Well that was probably planted by a farmer!  He had to get everything ready for that corn to grow—he had to plow the field, harrow it, and then level it some more because next he was bringing out the planter and everything has to be smooth for the planter. It’s the same with our mind, the Lord has to prepare the soil in our mind for “seeds”  and this is the story of Exodus. Let’s read it, Exodus chapter 1. 

 

Sermon

We have been learning that the Lord is more involved in our life more than we ever thought possible!  And it is finally in the Exodus story where we learn just how carefully and quietly the Lord enters into our mind. How gently he sets the stage and prepares everything so all will grow and multiply.

1. And these are the names of the sons of Israel that came into Egypt with Jacob; a man and his house they came.

2. Reuben, Simeon, Levi, and Judah;

3. Issachar, Zebulun, and Benjamin;

4. Dan and Naphtali, Gad and Asher.

5. And all the souls that came out of the thigh of Jacob were seventy souls; and Joseph was in Egypt.

 

When we talk about how the Lord enters our mind and begins His work, we first must acknowledge that the whole process is being run by what the Heavenly Doctrines call the “internal man” or the "internal celestial.” 

This is the “home” of the Lord within everyone and He is constantly providing us with life from this (AC 6636) source within us.  No one is ever left on his own to fend for himself, for the Lord provides a continuous source of life which we can choose to close off or open depending on our love of good (AC 6628).

You may have felt cut-off from the Lord at some time in your life, alone and without hope, but this was an appearance. Oddly, the Lord provides states like this for one reason! Our salvation, so that we will come to know some truth we do not recognize at the moment.

This “internal man” is “and Joseph was in Egypt.”  This is how the Lord describes Himself within our mind, as Joseph was the ruler of all Egypt so the Lord is the ruler of our whole mind.  

 

For the meaning of Egypt though, we must go all the way back to what was happening in this part of the world during ancient times—for where there is no space and time it is all the same to the Lord! 

Egypt was one of the homes of the Ancient Church, where they understood the correspondence of things of this world with the things of heaven.  It was actually a big deal, and they made studies of it. 

They knew “mountains" represented “people who possess the goodness of love,” (AR 336) because those angels motivated by their love to the Lord, live on mountains. 

 

They knew “valleys” meant the “church” in a person was literally “going downhill,” that their love and worship of the Lord had departed from holiness and was becoming unclean and profane in the “valley.”

It was in this land called “Egypt” that the Ancient Church fell and people started to mess around with magic-they actually became addicted to magic (AC 1462).  And so, the Land of Egypt, over time had two meanings—a place where people knew good correspondences, and then a place where they practiced evil correspondences. 

The word idea of a mountain remains the same-everybody knows what a mountain is! But now it had two meanings—a good correspondence and an evil correspondence.

You’re now ready to learn a word you will read over and over again in the Heavenly Doctrines—”memory-knowledge.”  Memory-knowledge is “the mountain,” it can be either good or bad depending on if it is connected with truth or falsity (AC 4964, 4749, 6023).  All memory knowledge is in the “external man.”  This is the Lords “secret trick.” He's got to get these truths of the internal man into the external man, so He implants them in memory-knowledges. We read

 in order that a man may be regenerated, his internal and external must be conjoined together, for unless they are conjoined, all good flowing in from the Lord through the internal man into the external or natural man is either perverted, or suffocated, or rejected, and then the internal man is also closed. The method in which this conjunction is effected is what has been described in this chapter, which method is by means of the insertion of truths into memory-knowledges.

                                                                  (AC 6052)

“And Joseph was in Egypt’ —this sentence can now come to life for us. Joseph represents the Lord in the internal man and Egypt represents memory knowledges in the “external man.” In this case, they must be good correspondences because the Lord is present and in fact, they are! They are memory-knowledges of the church! 

 

1. And these are the names of the sons of Israel that came into Egypt with Jacob; a man and his house they came.

2. Reuben, Simeon, Levi, and Judah;

3. Issachar, Zebulun, and Benjamin;

4. Dan and Naphtali, Gad and Asher.

 

Now it gets amazing!  Remember, we are talking about how the Lord enters our mind. How the Lord first starts cultivating His thoughts within us—Reuben, Simeon, Levi, all the brothers represent truths going into memory-knowledges.  Truths about the church, truths about how to love the neighbor and all the things that you have learned about how to treat each other.

These are all coming into “Egypt” but not just anywhere in Egypt, into the land of Goshen.  In the middle of the “natural man,” the Lord places this “best tract of land (6051) so that truths can begin to wax and multiply! 

Jacob, the patriarch of all the children of Israel signifies truth and here they come. You can picture them coming from the outlying lands down into the land of Egypt, all the families with their animals-good affections towards the neighbor.   

The Lord carefully delivering truths into your mind on good soil into a safe land where these truths of the church will multiply.

 Now it makes sense when we read

 

In the inmost sense the migration of Jacob and his sons into Egypt represented the first instruction of the Lord in knowledges from the Word…

                                                                  (AC 1462)

Now, how much control did you have over this?  Zero.

This is what I mean when I say you have no idea how much the Lord is managing your spiritual life. Never, ever give up, trust in Him, He has got this, stop stressing—it really does no good but gives the hells a ‘fun day out.”

Who gets all these truths from the Internal man?  Everyone! Even the Lord, remember this?

 

An angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream, saying, Arise, and take the young child and His mother, and flee into Egypt, and be thou there until I tell thee. And he arose and took the young child and His mother by night, and departed into Egypt, and was there until the death of Herod;...(Matthew 2:13-15, 19-21)

 

So here in this first chapter of Exodus we discover that nothing happens in our mind by chance or is left up to nature.  That the Lord carefully protects us and leads us to the land of Goshen, even when we thought Joseph was dead!  This is the epic journey we are all on and most of you know what’s coming—400 years of slavery, plagues, escape and disappointment, 40 years in the desert, yet, where does all this lead us?  Into the land of Canaan, a land flowing with milk and honey…

1. And these are the names of the sons of Israel that came into Egypt with Jacob; a man and his house they came.

2. Reuben, Simeon, Levi, and Judah;

3. Issachar, Zebulun, and Benjamin;

4. Dan and Naphtali, Gad and Asher.

5. And all the souls that came out of the thigh of Jacob were seventy

souls; and Joseph was in Egypt.

 

 Amen. Let us pray

Sermon: How the Lord Protects Us, Part 2

Sermon II: How The Lord Protects Us

Pittsburgh New Church

October 6, 2019

Rev. Calvin Odhner

 

Text: 1 Kings 3:16-28

Arcana: AC 6466,6467

24 Most assuredly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the ground and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it produces much grain.  (John 12:24)

 

Introduction

Good morning and welcome to the Pittsburgh New Church!  How many of you have seen a newborn baby?  Yes, nearly everyone—and if you talk to the mom of the newborn what’s always on her mind?  The baby!  She is always feeding it, cuddling it, checking every little thing—is it warm enough, is its head up enough, you might call it the "personal bodyguard" and “100% protection plan” for the baby.  And, you’ll never see a mother backdown from protecting her baby—no matter what, so strong is her love. This love was first, the Lord’s love that He imparted to mothers. This is how much the Lord cares for each of us!  Let’s read a story about a mother and a baby….

 

 

Sermon

We have been talking about how the Lord preserves our spirit, how he protects us from evil, attempts to surround us with good. This subject is so interesting, so complicated with so many new and fresh ideas regarding our life in this world and the next, that it must be digested slowly to receive the full impact of how the Lord preserves the human race.

Let’s start by following a novitiate spirit who has just arrived in the other world…

Spirits fresh from the world, before they have been instructed by angels, believe no otherwise than that the all of life is in the man himself, and that nothing flows in; because they know nothing in particular about heaven, thus neither about influx thence. (AC 6468)

 

These new spirits soon discover that there is only one life that flows in from the Lord into people, just as there is only one sun for this earth and it brings all our heat and light! 

Just as the sun is received by different objects according to how they are shaped or their color—the Lord’s influx flows into us according to the things we love and delight in. 

…everyone has life in accordance with the form of the interiors which he has acquired by willing and acting, thinking and speaking.  (AC 6468)

 

Good delights connect us with heavenly influx, evil delights connect us with evil influx.  So it is us who summons spirits to ourselves that match who we are.

Angels can tell if a new spirit is open to being instructed about the Lord. We read

 

Neither are spirits who are not good willing to be instructed in these things, for they desire to live from themselves    (AC 6468)

 

Who wants to hear about the Lord when we believe all life is from ourselves?  But, when a spirit is willing to be instructed he or she for the first time learns the secret of how the Lord leads people. He does so through spirits. Let me share with you the first time Swedenborg discovered this….

 

Before the way was opened to me to speak with spirits, I was of the opinion that no spirit or angel could ever know or

perceive my thoughts, because they were within me, and known to God alone.

And then it once happened that I observed that a certain spirit knew what I was thinking, for he spoke with me about what I was thinking of, in a few words, and gave an indication of his presence by a certain sign. At this I was astounded, chiefly because he knew my thoughts.

 From this it was evident how difficult it is for a man to believe that any spirit knows what he is thinking, when yet he knows not only the thoughts which the man himself knows, but also the least things of his thoughts and affections, which the man does not know—nay, such things as the man can never know during the life of the body. This I know from the continuous experience of many years.   (AC 5855)

 

It is these spirits—good and evil, that permit the life from the Lord to continually flow into us. Without them we would drop dead as a stone.

 In this way the Lord is technically within us and not just through general influx like animals, but in what the Heavenly Doctrines call “particular influx”— managing our thoughts and affections…

 

That all life is from the Lord, it has also been given to know from the fact that no spirit thinks and speaks from himself,

but from others, and these others from yet others, and so on.  (AC 6470)

 

In this, granted, strange way, the Lord protects and leads each of us. But His Leadership is even more powerful than we know—consider this statement concerning the Lord's power in our daily life:

It was shown me by experience during the space of an hour, how all the thoughts are ruled by the Lord. There was an

influx like a most gentle and almost imperceptible stream, the current of which does not appear, but still leads and draws.

This, which flowed in from the Lord, led in this manner all the series of my thoughts into the consequent things, and although gently, powerfully, so that I could not possibly wander into other thoughts, which also I was allowed to attempt, but in vain. (AC 6474)

 

This is how the Lord leads imperceptibility, leaving us in freedom and yet protecting our salvation.

 

Many people wonder why the Lord didn’t make sure they were given tons of money, or grandchildren, or a husband or even a wife, believing that everything has been left to fortune or chance.  But the Lord leaves nothing in our life to chance. He manages everything for our eternal welfare.

We don’t get to know why we don't always get what we want. We think we are just unlucky but the Lord plays a hand in every action of our life. 

A great example of this was with a “not so good spirit” Swedenborg met. The Lord actually permitted the angels to see where this man would have ended up without the His protection. 

 

There was a certain one who had confirmed himself in the notion that nothing is of the Divine providence, but that each and all things are of sagacity, and are also from fortune and chance….When he came into the other life he continued there his former life, as all do; he sought out and learned all things—even magical arts—that he supposed might be of service to him, and by means of which he might take such care of himself as to be fortunate… from himself.

 I conversed with him, and he said that he was in his heaven when this was the case, and that there could not possibly be any other heaven than that which he made for himself.….the same spirit was reduced into the state of his infancy, and the Lord showed the angels what his quality had been at that time, and also what was the then foreseen quality of his future life, and that every detail of his life had been led by the Lord, and that he would have plunged into the most atrocious hell if there had been even the least cessation of the continual providence of the Lord.

                                                      (AC 6484)

It may surprise you that the Lord works this closely in your life! But all this comes from His deep love for us! His words in the Word are a real invitation, a very real hope that we’ll join him…

 

“Seek ye the Lord while He may be found, call ye upon Him while He is near.       (Isaiah 55:6)

and again

“Come unto me, ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest”. (Matthew 11:28)                  

We read

Scarcely any man believes that the Lord takes such care of a man, and this continually from the first thread of his life to the last of it, and afterward to eternity.              (AC 5992)     

           

We’ve probably all heard that there are at least two angels and two devils with every person.  What you may not know is that these spirits change very quickly depending on our states(AC 5851) in a way, we are in charge of what angels or devil are with us.

So, what exactly do angels do in a day to protect us?  When infernal spirits attack, the angels protect—this is the order of operations.  Angels especially regulate our affections for these are what make up our spiritual life.  

They observe whether any new hells are open, and if a person has brought themself into any new evil. If they have, angels can close that hell as far as the person lets them and they can remove any spirits who attempt to emerge from that hell. 

What else are they looking for?  We are told they

disperse strange and new influxes that produce evil effects.   (AC 5850)

 Especially do the angels call forth the goods and truths that are with a man, and set them in opposition to the evils and falsities which the evil spirits excite.

…and this every moment, and every moment of a moment; (AC 5992:3)

 

All this happens every moment of every moment, so our job and your challenge this week, is to keep your thoughts clear and clean, keep your intentions directed towards heavenly ends. These two things bring the presence of the Lord into your life which bring tranquility, peace, and happiness (AC 6469).

 

                      Amen. Let us pray.

Sermon: The Permission of Evil

The Permission of Evil


Rev. Jared Buss

Pittsburgh; September 29, 2019


Readings: John 11:11-44; Divine Providence §251


One of the most foundational teachings of the New Church is that God is good. God is Love itself, which means that His very being is the desire to love and to bless something other than Himself (see TCR §43). And God is also Wisdom itself, which means that He has all power to bring what He wants into reality. These ideas are foundational—but it can be hard to reconcile them with the obvious truth that evil exists. Terrible things happen, and they happen to good people. If we believe in the Lord, we have to believe that He has something better in store for those who hurt, and that He has a plan for getting them there. That kind of faith is our rock and our refuge. But sometimes it’s hard to understand how the sad things we experience and a Divine plan to make everyone happy could possibly exist side-by-side. We’re tempted to think that maybe God isn’t really in control—but if He’s not in control, then how can He be called God? Or we’re tempted to think that He doesn’t actually want everybody to be happy, which is a terrible thought. To put it simply: if God is love, and God is in charge, why does so much evil happen?

A teaching that helps to make sense of this is the doctrine of permissions. In the Heavenly Doctrines of the New Church we’re told that the Lord governs every least thing in creation. This government is called His Divine providence. And we’re told that there are degrees of Divine providence. The Lord watches over everything, but some of what happens on His watch is what He really wants, and some of what happens is what He merely permits. In the book Divine Providence we’re told:

Laws of permission are also laws of Divine providence. There are no laws of permission per se or apart from the laws of Divine providence. Rather they are the same laws. When we say, therefore, that God permits, we do not mean that He wills, but that for the sake of the goal, which is salvation, He cannot prevent. (§234)

Things that the Lord permits are things He does not want. He merely allows them for the sake of a greater good. That greater good is our salvation—and that’s a really important idea to hold on to. In everything that the Lord does, His ultimate goal is to save everyone, which means to bring them into heaven, where they can find eternal joy (see DP §27ff.). His providence doesn’t make sense if we forget that that’s His goal—eternal joy, not earthly joy. He never does evil: people do evil, and He either stops that evil or He doesn’t. He never wants evil; but if He’s given a choice between something that would hurt somebody’s chances of salvation and some other thing, He goes with the other thing. If that other thing is evil, it is still, to Him, a lesser evil, and He permits it. This means that every bad thing we see—no matter how terrible—was permitted because it was the lesser of two evils.

The reading from Divine Providence used war as an example (§251). The existence of war is a challenge to many people’s faith—and people who don’t want to believe often point at war as evidence that there can’t possibly be a God. The reading makes it very clear that the Lord does not want war. People do terrible things in wartime, things that are “diametrically contrary to Christian charity.” And of course, anything contrary to Christian charity is entirely contrary to what He wants: He is Love itself. But the reading explains that preventing wars—though it seems unbelievable—would actually do more harm than permitting them. The explanation for this is really the explanation for why any evil is permitted. We read that evil loves in people cannot be kept bound, since “it is according to Divine Providence that everyone be permitted to act in freedom in accordance with his reason… and because without permissions, a person cannot be led by the Lord away from evil and so be reformed and be saved” (ibid.). We cannot be saved if we’re not allowed to act in freedom in accordance with our reason—if we’re not allowed to make our own choices based on our own sight of right and wrong. It can be tempting to think that God could force people to behave decently. But if He took our freedom from us, He would take our entire life from us. If He made even one of our choices for us He would obliterate us, and there would be nothing left to save. So He treats our freedom with incredible reverence. And freedom, if it’s to be real, must include the freedom to make the wrong choice.

On top of this, it’s actually better for evils to come to light than for them to remain bound up within us. We read that if acts of evil were somehow prevented, those evils would “remain shut in, and would, like the diseases called cancer and gangrene, spread and eat away every human spark of life” (ibid.). The unfortunate truth is that there’s evil in every human heart. The Lord’s desire is to save us: that means that that evil has to be dealt with. And to be dealt with it has to be recognized. It doesn’t have to be acted on—it just has to be recognized. We’re told, “evils cannot be removed unless they appear” (DP §278). Or as it says in our reading: “No one can be withdrawn from his hell by the Lord unless the person sees that he is in it and wishes to be led out of it; and this cannot come about without permissions” (DP §251). Sometimes it’s better for us to see hell around us and say, “No,” than for us to live in contentment with our eyes shut. This does not mean that war and things like it are good—no evil is good. It means that for the sake of the greatest good and the most precious thing in creation—our souls—the Lord permits us to see and do evil. War and things like it might seem like a tremendous price to pay for spiritual freedom; but could any amount of war ever cost more, in the Lord’s eyes, than the loss of a person’s soul?

To think in these terms requires a huge perspective shift. We don’t see the world this way. We don’t feel the world this way. Seeing wars and disasters and corruption on the news feels a lot worse than the idea of a person’s soul being lost. But God governs the world according to what He sees—and isn’t it right that He should do so? After all, He’s God, and as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are His thoughts higher than our thoughts (cf. Is. 55:9). We’re born into the natural world, so we’re born seeing things in a natural way—and we can’t help this. But the natural world is nonetheless just a veil on the face of creation. The Lord invites us to let go of the way we instinctively see, and to little by little have that veil drawn away. He says:

Lift up your eyes to the heavens, and look on the earth beneath. For the heavens will vanish away like smoke, the earth will grow old like a garment, and those who dwell in it will die in like manner; but My salvation will be forever, and My righteousness will not be abolished. (Is. 51:6)

What’s real and what’s precious and what’s worth protecting is not what our natural minds have called real and precious. To see the truth, we have to let the Lord change what we see; this requires deferring to His point of view. The wonderful thing is, when we let Him lift up our eyes and show us what is most beautiful, then we also see that those best and most beautiful things are the very things that He’s been protecting with the fiercest love all along, and that no evil has ever touched them. The world seems like a far better and safer place when we let Him lift up our eyes.

The death of the body is a particularly powerful example of this. According to our natural way of thinking, death is just about the worst thing that can happen. We often measure the awfulness of awful events by the number of people who died in those events. But death isn’t as terrible in the Lord’s eyes as it is in ours. He certainly doesn’t wish for anyone to die young, or to die of accidents or diseases or crimes. He wills for us to live long, healthy lives. But our natural minds regard death as a termination, as the loss of existence, and that’s simply not what death is. After death our souls live on forever, and in many cases our happiness after death is limitlessly greater than anything we knew in this world. The Lord sees death in those terms, and that’s why He governs the world the way He does.

In the story of Lazarus, from the gospel of John, the Lord teaches that death is not the end. In this story He actually says to the disciples that He is glad, for their sakes, that He was not there to heal Lazarus before He died, because this way He is able to do a greater miracle; this way He is able to show that He has power even over death; this way they may see and believe (John 11:15).

But this story about the raising of Lazarus shows us something else that is deeply important to remember when we think about the Lord’s permissions. When we hear that the Lord sees things differently than we see them, and that what seems terrible to us is not necessarily as terrible to Him, it’s easy to infer from this that what we feel doesn’t matter, because it’s wrong. It’s easy to picture Him dismissing us—patting us on the back, saying, “you’ll see it differently in the end.” But that picture isn’t true.

In the story of Lazarus, Jesus weeps (v. 35). What was it that grieved Him? It wasn’t Lazarus’s death. He had come to Bethany to raise Lazarus. He’d already said to Martha, in so many words, “Your brother will rise again” (v. 23). He’d already said, “I am the resurrection and the life” (v. 25). He knew Lazarus would rise. He wept when Mary, like her sister, said to Him, “If you had been here, my brother would not have died” (vv. 21, 32). He wept to see her and her people weeping (v. 33). He wept for their grief, and for their confusion, and for the darkness in their minds; they believed that their brother was gone and that their God had failed them. He wept to see their pain.

He knew that in a such a short time Lazarus would come out of the tomb, and everything would be okay. From the perspective of mere logic, there was no reason to weep. But though the Lord governs according to laws that never change, He’s more than just so many laws. He loves His children. Our pain is real to Him, because it’s real to us. He may see that things will be alright; He may see that the evil He’s had to permit has not harmed the things that matter most. And He’s too wise to try to make us see what we’re not ready to see.

Think of a parent whose little daughter was given a flower that she delights in, who comes to her parent on the verge of tears because her flower has started to wilt. What would a loving parent do in that situation? They’d see so much that they couldn’t make the child understand—yes, the loss of the flower is a little sad, but there are gardens full of those flowers still growing, and untold millions yet to grow and bloom, and that’s how it is with flowers. Each individual flower lasts a short time, but still flowers, as a whole, are a good and a joyful and an abundant thing, forever renewed.

But to the child, the parent would probably just say, “I’m sorry.” And perhaps say, “I can’t fix it.” And maybe give a hug. And maybe say, “I’m sure there will be more flowers in your life.”

The Lord is our Father, and we are to Him like children who just don’t understand what He understands. There are sorrows and losses in our lives; and maybe those losses are small in the grand scheme of things, but they’re big to us, and to Him that matters. He loves us and He comforts us. And all the while He sees what we can’t always see: that every loss is answered with new gifts; that for every sorrow there are blessings blooming in hidden places, and untold abundance yet to come. When we grieve for the evil in the world, He comforts us. And, gently, He suggests that what we see is not all there is; that in this, His kingdom, His will shall be done. “Most assuredly, I say to you that you will weep and lament, but the world will rejoice; and you will be sorrowful, but your sorrow will be turned into joy” (John 16:20).

Amen.


Sermon: How Are You Protected By the Lord?

Sermon: How Are You Protected By the Lord?

Pittsburgh New Church

September 22, 2019

Rev. Calvin Odhner

 

Text: Matthew 8:28-33

Arcana: 5853

 

The kingdom of God cometh not with observation, neither shall they say, Lo here, or Lo there; for behold the kingdom of God ye have within you (Luke 17:20, 21).

 

Introduction

Good morning and welcome to the Pittsburgh New Church!  Was anybody here protected by your parents when you were young?  Yes!  So many of us felt protected!  And how did they do it, they kept us out of harm’s way, right? The Lord, too, is an expert at keeping us out of harm’s way and today we are going to discover a few ways on how he does it!  Let's read from Matthew chapter 8…

 

 

Sermon

Many of us don’t spend much time thinking about it, but our minds are a phenomenal creation aren’t they?  Think about it—this interesting “thing” gets you up and at’em  every day. It makes a thousand different decisions every hour and those are just the ones you know about! So much is happening behind the scenes, our dream-life, our subconscious life, and our spiritual life. If we knew 1/10 of it we’d be exhausted!

The human mind is such a complex creation, the highest form of existence, it is truly a product of the Almighty!  Consider all the emotions and feelings that come up every minute—if we are watching an exciting movie our mind is making our pulse rise and respiration increase. It controls every action of our body, what we say and how we act.  Sometimes, what we are feeling we can’t even describe! Our own mind is a mystery even to ourselves! 

And what’s even more incredible, our mind has extension. Our thoughts can think of our favorite place, extend to it, see it, all within our mind because our thoughts have this (HH 86) feature. All thoughts in heaven are shared with everyone else.

Our mind is said to be intelligent and we are taught “real intelligence" is knowing what the life of heaven is and living it. (HH 86 ) Not how much we know academically.

Abraham Lincoln once said,

"If I were two-faced, would I be wearing this one?" --President Abraham Lincoln

 

Our face is our mind—our spiritual world, presented to view in natural world (HH 91).  All emotions that come to the face are first found in the mind and then exhibited on the face.

 We have no trouble believing we have an internal man that shows itself in the external man or the face. But the Heavenly Doctrines ask us to stretch even farther than this and believe all our thoughts, all our delights, everything that exists in us first come about in the spiritual world. Our permanent existence here on earth can only come about from a pre-existing correspondence from the other world.  Every part of our body—the nose, mouth, pancreas, all perform their uses first in the other world! Then they flow into those parts of us called influx to perform their uses (HH 96). 

… the universe has been so created and formed by the Divine that uses may be everywhere clothed in such a way as to be presented in act, or in effect, first in heaven and afterwards in the world, thus by degrees and successively, down to the outmost things of nature. (HH112)

 

The way you look, your features, your beauty were given to you by your parents but don’t put too much stock in your physical beauty which doesn’t last! You need to be looking for internal beauty!   This is the beauty only the Lord can give through temptation and the heavenly Doctrines make sure they mention that there were some really beautiful people on earth who are now in hell and don’t look too good! 

We read:

What the form of a man’s spirit is I have been shown occasionally; and in some who were beautiful and charming in appearance the spirit was seen to be so deformed, black and monstrous that it might be called an image of hell,

not of heaven; while in others not beautiful there was a spirit beautifully formed, pure, and angelic.

 

Moreover, the spirit of man appears after death such as it has been in the body while it lived therein in the world. (HH 99)

 

So it is our spirit that we need to get excited about growing!  It is our spirit that can take on the form of heaven and receive heaven according to the good that is within our mind.  

We read:

For heaven is not outside of the angel, but is within him, since the interior things which belong to his mind are arranged into the form of heaven,

thus for the reception of all things of heaven that are outside of him.

These also he receives according to the quality of the good that is in him from the Lord. It is from this that an angel is a heaven. (HH 53)

 

No one is more excited about the study of the mind and its growing into an angel than the New Churchman!   Every doctrine of the church deals with it…the doctrine of degrees, of influx, of correspondence; the process of reformation and regeneration; the communion of angels and men; the internal and external man; conjugial love;-all describe some phase of the human mind and its growth… and no amount of scientific investigation could discover the tremendous spiritual battle raging within each of our minds!  A combat of momentous proportions between powers of heaven and hell for the ownership of an eternal mind! 

The Lord has taken the most powerful measures imaginable to secure the protection of the human race from hell but how He does it takes a little getting used to in fact, when I discovered the real truth behind our protection I was just as indignant as many of the spirits in the Heavenly Doctrines are! 

There are two types of influx or life from the Lord that come from the spiritual world-general influx and special influx-general is for animals and everything that is born into it's natural instinct and into order….special influx is for people who born are not in order (5850).  This influx comes from at least two angels and two evil spirits that are constantly with a person.

  We read:

The influx from the spiritual world into man is in general of such a nature that man cannot think or will anything of himself, but everything flows in; 

                                                                  (AC 5846)

 

Now before you get upset and say “what are you talking about? my thoughts are my own—who else's would they be?” Remember that we are vessels of life, we are not life itself. We are kept alive by the Lord flowing into us and He chooses to do that via spirits for this reason-when we are born we love only ourselves and hate the neighbor except insofar as he favors our commands and allows us to possess things of the world (5850).  He allows evil spirits to be pulled from hell and enter the world of spirits where they share in the evil loves and affections we have.  At first, this is the only “life” we have from the spiritual world. Although it's a crummy spiritual life, without it, we would drop dead as a stone.  We read:

If he is avaricious, there are spirits

who are avaricious; if he is haughty, there are haughty spirits; if he is desirous of revenge, there are spirits of this character; if he is deceitful, there are the like spirits.

Man summons to himself spirits

from hell in accordance (5851)with his life.

 

Now, when these spirits get out of hell and into the world of spirits they love it! From hell where they are in infernal torment(5852), they now get to delight in the loves of self and the world again through this person—let’s call him Henry, who lives in the world. Henry and the evil spirit share the same thoughts and delights-yet neither one is aware of the other.

for they are in every thought and every affection of the man; (5852)

 

And this drama gets worse, the evil spirits enter into everything of Henry’s memory and believe Henry’s memory is their own! 

Hence it is that all things which the

man thinks they think, and all things which the man wills they will; and conversely, whatever the spirits think the man thinks, and whatever the spirits will the man wills;

for they act as a one by conjunction. Yet on both sides it is supposed that such things are in and from themselves, both on the part of the spirits and on the part

of the men. But (5853) this is a fallacy.

 

So, the Lord provides spirits to flow into Henry’s thoughts and what he wills, all this without his knowledge. This is a most merciful act by the Lord. Although, when Henry reads the Writings and discovers this, he may feel like he’s lost his identity. The Lord has kept Henry alive while he is insane, allowing him to believe that all life is from Himself and that the world was made just for him.  The important part is that the Lord has kept a connection with the spiritual world and Henry, and that’s enough for the Lord to begin His secret and efficient (5854) work with the angels on Henry’s mind.  Imperceptibly, the angels don’t worry about Henry’s thoughts and affections so much, they begin to flow into Henry’s “ends”—the things Henry wants to see happen while he’s on earth.  Ever so slowly and moderately the angels tenderly influence Henry.  Knowing that if they let up their influence even for a tiny moment of a moment, Henry’s mind would be reduced to a hell he could never pull out of—such is the nature of the important work of the angels.  If you were thinking “lawn chair’ when you become an angel think again!  Their work is eternal life or death, moment by moment, as Henry moves from state to state in his life. Sometimes he’s making horrible decisions and sometimes allowing himself to be lifted up by the angels. 

Your work this week is to notice what spirits are with you. Try to feel which society they live in, good or bad and to beg the Lord on your knees to bring you the spirits that lead to heaven.

When He had come to the other side, to the country of the Gergesenes, there met Him two demon-possessed men, coming out of the tombs, exceedingly fierce, so that no one could pass that way. 29 And suddenly they cried out, saying, “What have we to do with You, Jesus, You Son of God? Have You come here to torment us before the time?”

Amen. Let us pray.

Sermon: The Power of Holy Supper

Sermon: The Power of Holy Supper

Pittsburgh New Church

September 15, 2019

Rev. Calvin Odhner

 

Text: John 12:24

Arcana: AC 3464.2

 

And Jesus took the cup and gave to them, saying, This is my blood of the new covenant. (Matt. 26:27–28; Mark 14:24; Luke 22:20).

 

Introduction

We are living in fantastic times!  Where people don’t recognize church has any value and it is unclear what “God” means or how He can have meaning in our lives.  While at the same time, almost secretly, it has pleased the Lord to reveal the internal sense of the Word and now, for the first time, true christianity has arrived on earth revealing the internal meaning of the Word, the sacraments and especially Holy Supper! We can now approach the Lord-the Father-Son, and Holy Spirit as one God, the essential means of our salvation!  (TCR 700) Once we approach the One Lord, we become malleable, flexible in our will and able to be molded by the Lord.  Let’s read about us in Jeremiah Chapter 18….

 

 

Sermon

 

Its been said there are only two pains in life—the pain of discipline, which weighs ounces; and the pain of regret, which weighs tons (Jim Rohn).

We seem to be regularly encouraged by the Heavenly Doctrines to embrace the difficult—to seek the pain of shunning those things we delight in today so that the pain of regret, when we land in the other world, will be minimized.  We also experience the peace that inevitably follows our battles with temptation.

Is this wisdom of “overcoming the difficult” things in our lives any different than what we’ve been telling our kids for years? Eat your dinner before dessert, finish your chores before you go out and play, finish your homework before watching TV.  Shunning evil and walking away from instant gratification needs to become a way of life!

For the most part, we manage our own time.  We get to do what we want when we want, and yet, it’s not really a question of time is it? It’s really a matter of priorities—have you prioritized your spiritual welfare at the top of your priority list? This is the mark of an angel.

One of the top reasons people might not prioritize their spiritual life is that they don’t really believe there are consequences for our actions on earth. Academia and science teach us not to believe in things we cannot touch or see, and yet this is the “leap of faith” we all must make into our spiritual life. The thrust of the whole Heavenly Doctrines is to educate us on a spiritual system so broad and all encompassing, that we will make that leap of faith and change our lives for it.  That we will make that “educated guess” which says, ”maybe I’m wrong, but is it really worth the risk of not believing in something greater than myself? Especially with all the glorious "natural world” orderly evidence in front of me.” 

“False delights, like the lust for adultery for example, are the worst kind of trick for people on earth, because they are delightful at first but soon, strangely become un-delightful, and finally, in the other world, we are introduced into what the Heavenly Doctrines call ”it’s wretchedness.”

                                                                                             (CL 444)


When we believe there are no consequences for how we live, we fall into the trap this young man did:

 


I heard a certain spirit, a young man fresh from the world, boasting of his whoredoms and affecting praise because he was a more masculine man than others.

 

Among other boastful insolences, he gave vent to this: "What is drearier than to imprison one's love and live with only one woman? What is more delightful than to emancipate the love? Who does not tire of one only? Who is not enlivened by many? What is sweeter than promiscuous liberty, variety, deflowerings, the deceiving of husbands, and scortatory hypocrisies? Do not these things, contrived by subtleties, craft and intrigues, delight the inmosts of the mind?"

[2] Bystanders, on hearing these things, said, "Better not talk so. You do not know where you are…. or with whom you are.

 You have only just come here. Under your feet is hell and above your head is heaven. You are now in the world which is intermediate between heaven and hell, called the world of spirits. All who die in the world arrive here, are mustered, explored as to their quality, and prepared, the evil for hell and the good for heaven.

 Perhaps you still recollect from what you were told by priests in the world that whoremongers and harlots are cast down into hell, and that chaste married partners are taken up into heaven."

The novitiate laughed at this and said, "What are heaven and hell? Is it not heaven where one is free? Is he not free who can love as many as he likes? And is it not hell where one is a slave? Is he not a slave who must cleave to one?"

[3] But a certain angel looking down from heaven heard all this, and cut him off, that he might not further profane marriage, and said to him,

 "Come up hither! I will show you to the life what heaven and hell are, and what hell is like to confirmed whoremongers."
The angel pointed out the way and the young man went up. He was received and taken first into a paradisaical garden where were fruit-trees and flowers, the beauty, pleasantness and fragrance of which filled the mind with the delights of life.

 On seeing them he greatly admired them. He was still in the external sight, however, in which he had been when he saw analogous things in the world. In this sight he was rational. But in his internal sight, in which whoredom was the chief instinct, filling every particle of thought, he was not rational.

His external sight was closed, therefore, and his internal sight opened. Thereupon he cried, "What do I see! Only straw and dry wood? What do I perceive now? Is it not an evil odor? Where have those paradisaical objects gone?"

 

The angel said, "They are right before you, but do not appear to your internal sight, which is scortatory, for this turns heavenly things into infernal and sees only the opposite. Every man has an internal and an external mind, and so an internal and an external sight.

 

With evil men the internal mind is insane and the external is sane; but with the good the internal is sane and from it the external also. As the mind is, so in the spiritual world does one see objects."

Now…in this memorable relation this happened to the young man three more times with the angel finally saying:

I predict that you will become so enfeebled, you will scarcely know where to turn for manhood. Such is the lot in store for those who glory in the potency of whoredom."

After hearing this, the young man descended and returned to the world of spirits and to his former associates there, with whom he spoke modestly and chastely but not for long. (CL 477)

We can see from this memorable anecdote, that it is the internal man we need to be concerned about—the way we work on our internal man is through repentance.  Holy Supper is a sacrament of repentance.  It not only corresponds to the reception of the Lord's love and charity, but it also corresponds to the removal of what is evil and false. For this reason, the bread used in the Holy Supper and in all the gift offerings in the Israelitish Church was unleavened bread, for leaven corresponds to what is evil and false. The wine also has no leavening, for through the process of fermentation, which represents spiritual combat and temptation, this falls to the bottom and is removed.

 

    This “repentance” is beautifully illustrated in a short memorable narrative in the work True Christian Religion:

 

"After this the assembly of the English, inflamed with a desire to be wise, said to the angels, 'They say so many different things about the holy supper; tell us what the truth is about it.'

     "The angels replied, 'The truth is that the man who looks to the Lord and repents is by that most holy ordinance conjoined with the Lord and introduced into heaven.'

     "Those of the assembly said, 'That is a mystery.'

     "The angels replied, 'It is a mystery, and yet such as may be understood. The bread and wine do not effect this; from these there is nothing holy; but material bread and spiritual bread, as also material wine and spiritual wine, correspond to each other mutually, spiritual bread being the holy principle of love, and spiritual wine the holy principle of faith, both from the Lord, and both being the Lord. From this comes the conjunction of the Lord with man and of man with the Lord, not with the bread and wine, but with the love and faith of the man who has repented; and conjunction with the Lord is also introduction into heaven.'

     "And after the angels had taught them something about correspondence, those of the assembly said, 'Now for the first time we can understand this also.' And when they had said this, behold, a flame with light descended from heaven and affiliated them with the angels, and they loved each other mutually" (TCR 621:13).

Amen. The rite of Holy Supper will now be performed. 

Sermon: The Power of Angels

Sermon:The Power of Angels

Pittsburgh New Church

September 8, 2019

Rev. Calvin Odhner

 

Text: (Psalm 91:11),  (Matthew 18:10), (Matthew 1:20), (Matthew 4:11), (Luke 22:43)

 

Arcana: HH 228

The kingdom of God cometh not with observation, neither shall they say, Lo here, or Lo there; for behold the kingdom of God ye have within you.

                                                                   (Luke 17:20, 21)

Introduction

Good morning and welcome to the Pittsburgh New Church!  Has anybody here ever met an angel?  Well, maybe you have!   I’m not talking about the young man who comes home from a date and says, ”she’s an angel.” 

Angels are people just like you and me but somewhere on their journey on earth they made a decision to shun evil and do good!  They made a choice to follow the Lord!  Has anyone here made that choice?  Ok..good!  Then we may have here a whole room full of angels!!!!   Let’s see what the Word says about angels…

Sermon

Last week we talked about the power of the Lord in our life!  That we need to get to know Him!  Approach him. Ask Him to take care of us and to help us in our life. We need to make Him our King, our loving Heavenly Father. We were given multiple examples in parables: how the Lord is in the boat “asleep” and the disciples feel as though they are about to drown in the storm, but when  they "wake up” the Lord, that is; acknowledge Him and bring Him into the battles in their life,  there is a “great calm.”

 

We are to build our house on a rock rather than the sand so when a storm comes we can withstand the hells.  All these describing how we cannot take on the hells by ourselves. Multiple comparisons are given such as: we are “a mosquito against an elephant” when we try and take on the hells! It’s challenging to believe that we are actually in the habit of turning away from the Lord and harming ourselves isn’t it?  Yet the truth is, because of our heredity, we are constantly working against our angels and Divine Providence, which provides angels to hold us back from the hells every moment!  We are told hell “strives every moment to rush in upon (us) and destroy (us) forever.” (AC 987.3) This is fascinating isn’t it?! Because we don’t actually feel it!  We are protected by angels from feeling it! This concept is so important though, that it is described hundreds of ways in the Heavenly Doctrines…

…the Lord leads man by his divine providence in freedom always, and the freedom seems to man to be utterly his own. To lead a man freely in opposition to himself is like raising a heavy and resisting weight from the ground by means of screws through the power of which weight and resistance are not felt.

here’s another one

 …. it is as though someone is unknowingly with an enemy who means to kill him and a friend leads him away quietly and only afterwards tells him the enemy’s intention.

and again

Anyone can see from reason that lusts with their pleasures block and close the door to the Lord and cannot be cast out by the Lord as long as the man himself keeps the door shut and presses and pushes from outside to keep it from being opened. It is plain from the Lord’s words in Revelation that a man must himself open the door: Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him, and sup with him, and he with me

                                                      (Rev. 3:20)  (DP 33.2)

 Despite our heredity we are all created to be angels in heaven!  Everything is in place inside you for your entry into an eternal and beautiful home, “For man was created that he might come into heaven and become an angel;” (HH 57)  The heavens are full of angels that were people just like you and me!  Somewhere along the way they made a decision to stop doing evil.  We do this by shunning those things of our heredity which we all know and sometimes love.  We know what they are but it’s good to keep fresh in our mind what angels know.

Every love has its enjoyments; the love of evil with those in lusts also has, such as the love of committing adultery, of taking revenge, of defrauding, of stealing, of acting cruelly, indeed, in the worst men, of blaspheming the holy things of the church and of inveighing against God. The fountainhead of those enjoyments is the love of ruling from self-love.  They come of lusts which obsess the interiors of the mind, from these flow into the body, and excite uncleannesses there which titillate the fibers.

So these are the parts in us we are to watch out for in our daily thinking; watch for the “love of committing adultery, taking revenge, defrauding, blaspheming, depriving others of their possessions.”   We are told to counteract these loves we are to actively, with intention, seek the Lord basically on our knees, in humility and look to Him for truth and good we can incorporate in our life.  We read  “To look to God in life means simply to think that a given evil is a sin against God, and for that reason not to commit it.” This noble action, seemingly on our part, is what creates conjunction with the Lord.  When our evils have, as it were, been put away we are an angel in the making! We read

The pure in heart shall see God (Matt. 5:8);

He who has my commandments and does them . . . with him will I make an abode

                                                                  (John 14:21, 23).

There is a beautiful gift we get for doing our spiritual work which all angels develop, wisdom!  Who doesn’t want tons of wisdom!

A man has the love of wisdom when he is averse to the diabolical crew, that is, to the lusts of evil and falsity. (DP 35)

 So the constant objective of Divine Providence and every angel is to unite what is good to what is true and what is true to what is good within us. This is how we are united to the Lord. In this way angels are created right here on earth!

So great is the power of angels in the spiritual world that if I should make known all that I have witnessed in regard to it, it would exceed belief. Any obstruction there that ought to be removed because it is contrary to Divine order the angels cast down or overthrow merely by an effort of will and by a look.  Thus I have seen mountains that were occupied by the evil cast down and overthrown, and sometimes shaken from end to end as in an earthquake; also rocks cleft asunder to their bottoms, and the evil who were upon them swallowed up. I have seen also hundreds of thousands of evil spirits dispersed by angels and cast down into hell. Numbers are of no avail against them, neither are devices, cunning, or combinations of these, for the angels see through them all and disperse them in a moment. (HH 229) 

 

All the power the angels carry is from the Lord in their will and understanding—this is where our spiritual life lives!   And it is from the power of some of these angels who are near us that we have the power to use our will and the power to understand things.

All the power that is worth having is the power not to do what is evil.  When we use that power, the Lord will give us power to do what is good. He gives us His power through His angels.  This week your job is to consider becoming an angel! That’s right, I’m talking to you!  What would it take for you to make a decision today to become an angel?  It would change everything wouldn’t it!  "I’d like to gossip,” but angels don’t do that or ”I’d like to stonewall you and divorce you,”.but angels don’t do that!  

   This week, decide to become an angel and then you will understand the Lord’s words when he says…

“ He shall give His angels charge over thee, to keep thee in all thy ways.”

                                                                  (Psalm 91:11)

Amen. Let us pray

Sermon: The Power of the Lord

Sermon: The Power of the Lord

Pittsburgh New Church

September 1, 2019

Rev. Calvin Odhner

 

Text: Mark 35-41

Arcana: DP 278

 

"With God all things are possible" (Matt. 19:26; Mark 10:27; emphasis added). 

 

Introduction

Good morning welcome to the Pittsburgh New Church! 

In 1879 Edison invented the electric lightbulb.  It was a piece of carbonized sewing thread and it burned for more than 12 hours!  William Henry Vanderbilt was a business tycoon.  Once he saw the electric light he had to have one!  He insisted that Edison install a generator in his house and lights in the living room, which he did!

 

 But the living room was a picture gallery with silk cloth interwoven with metallic tinsel. The tinsel crossed the uninsulated wires and the whole living room caught on fire.  Mrs. Vanderbilt would not go back into the house until the generator was gone!!! 

 

Now we have something here—a whole lot more powerful than the electric light.  It brings a different kind of ‘light,” doesn’t it? And it offers us an eternity in heaven!

 

But, in order to harness it, you have to give something up. Only you know what that thing is and then we must come to the Lord on our knees and beg Him to give us this light, so that we may live.

 

The disciples came to this same realization when they were about to die on the lake.  Let’s read from Mark chapter 4….

 

 

 

Sermon

Who here has heard of goal setting?  Goal setting allows us to push forward to define success! It holds us accountable for the things we want to accomplish, right? But how about goal setting for spiritual goals like shunning this or that evil?  Big goals, especially ones that involve spiritual work and temptations, are fantastically hard to achieve on our own! Why?  

Maybe you have set the goal to not gossip.  You are amazing at not gossiping for a while but this destructive habit slowly creeps back into your life.  Until you look at yourself in shock and disappointment and think ”I’m no farther along in this than I was 5 years ago!” What is the problem? 

Maybe you are obsessive-compulsive, or angry, or controlling or lustful? Name any spiritual challenge you are working on or trying to eradicate from your life and we find that these nasty forces, even though we have worked hard on removing them come back into our lives with a vengeance. Sometimes, even worse than they were when we were focused on ridding ourselves of them in the first place. 

A friend of mine was working on telling the truth no matter what.  He didn’t even make it through one day without lying.  He “white-knuckled” it as best as he could and I could see that he was really trying.  But lying had become a way of life for him.  A crutch that he truly believed made his life easier.  His puny strength against his monster was almost a joke and this wasn’t the first time he’s struggled with this beast!

We can compare fighting evils in ourselves to fixing a engine.  It’s incredibly frustrating when you can’t figure out what the problem is. It might take days of trial and error but once you figure it out, people often say “of course that was it, how could I have missed it?”  Once you know the secret to fighting evils within yourself, one that creates permanent results—it can be used as a lifelong regeneration tool.

Fortunately, we have the Heavenly Doctrines to show us the way when we are discovering and fighting evils within ourselves and their one answer is “forget it.” Yep, forget it—you cannot do it.

Take our story for today—the disciples are in a boat and it begins to get flooded with waves.  By the way, this Sea of Tiberius is no joke—because of its position with the mountains around it, you can start off on the shore with a nice day and by the time you get to the middle of the crossing, you’re into a terrible windstorm, very much like when we start any so called ‘simple” project in our life.  

 

The waves and wind-representing temptation (AE 419.24) are so scary, the disciples begin to fear for their lives.  I imagine you have a similar image that I have in my mind. Experienced sailors in a somewhat primitive boat with a sail, water washing in on all sides. Tremendous wind blowing, to the point where the disciples are really afraid that they are going to die. But the odd thing is, on a cushion in the stern the Lord is asleep!  Who could sleep through that?  

An explanation comes to us from the internal sense of the Word. The storm represents our state before we have allowed the Lord to enter into our lives, before we have begun to go to Him first for everything. This is a very natural and non-spiritual state.   We are “white-knuckling" it in the boat with zero trust in anything but ourselves. Life is throwing everything it has at us—waves, wind, rain, all our natural affections flood us with emotional pain and commotion!  It is in this state we are told that the Lord appears “asleep.”

And they woke Him and said to Him, “Teacher do you not care if we perish?”  And He awoke and rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, “Peace! Be still!”  And the wind ceased, and there was a great calm. And He said to them why are you afraid? Have you no faith?”

 

Have you no faith?  Faith is when we realize “I can’t do this on my own,” “I just keep failing over and over again.” Faith is when we go to the stern of the boat and wake the Lord up!   We ask Him for help, sincerely beg Him, because we are really in trouble here on our knees in desperation before we are overcome and as it were, are drowned by the sea of evils in our life.

 

How much power did the disciples have over the wind and the rain? As much as we do today! None!  This symbolizes us fighting evils without the power of the Lord behind us.  It is a fruitless battle that always leads to failure. 

We read

"People are very greatly mistaken," we read, "who believe that they are able to rule over evil from themselves. [The truth is that] the Lord alone rules over evils residing with a person, and over hell residing with him or her”

 

…the Lord alone rules over evil in man and over hell with him….which strives every moment to rush in upon him and destroy him forever, ….if he does not so acknowledge and believe (this) in the life of the body, it is shown him (in) the life to come. (AC 987:1, 3; emphasis added). 

 

Again, we read

"Without Me you can do nothing" (John 15:5).

and again…

"With God, all things are possible" (Matt. 19:26; Mark 10:27). 

 

The Heavenly Doctrines teach that

 "the Lord alone has power to remove evils from a person, to withhold him or her from evil and hold them in good, and thus save them" (HH 5, ref. to AC 10,019). 

 

Another way this is taught is that when a person is engaged in spiritual combat or temptation, the Lord fights for them.  That is, He fights on our behalf (AC 63, 1691, 1693; HD 653; emphasis added).

 

Our part, is to learn the truths of His Word and decide to have the Lord be our King. It can only be the Lord alone who has the power to fight for us.  Any power of thought, will, or action we exercise as part of cooperating with Him, is actually His power acting into and within us. 

The Heavenly Doctrines have lots of comparisons of what we are like when we try to take the hells on by ourselves!

We read

All of heaven appears before God like a single human being, and on the other hand, all of hell is like a single gigantic monster.

 

 Consequently, to act against a single evil and its falsity is to act against that gigantic monster or hell, and this no one is able to do except God, because He has all power.

 

From this it is clear that unless a person approaches the all-powerful God, he has from himself no more power against evil and its falsities than

 

 a fish has against the ocean,

 

than a flea against a whale, or

 

than a grain of dust against an avalanche,

 

and much less than a locust has against an elephant,

 

 or a fly against a camel.

 

                                 WOW!

 

 Moreover, a person has all the less power against evil and falsity because he or she is born into evil tendencies, and evil cannot act against itself.

 

From all this it follows that unless a person acknowledges God and His omnipotence, and the resulting protection against hell, and also on his or her part fights with evil in him or herself,

 

they cannot but be immersed and overwhelmed in hell and there be driven about by evils, one after another, as a skiff at sea is driven by the storms. (TCR 68) 

 

Here is the secret to managing the evil within us. Bring the Lord into the equation and literally beg him, implore Him to raise you up from the depths of hell.  This He desires to do more from His love for us, more than anything in the universe!  Let Him! 

Just imagine, if you can—the Lord sitting up here with me right now. He has come today to speak with you because He loves you so much and wants you to harness this power He is offering!   Here is what He would say, paraphrased by me, from the Heavenly Doctrines….

        love one another; as I have loved you (John 13:34)

“I cannot take your sins away …unless you actually repent of them, which… means… seeing them, imploring My help, and desisting from them.                                      (Lord 17:3) 

 

Every one of Us… by nature is such that…. we can shun what is evil, as of yourself, from My power, if you implore it, then you will be doing good from Me. (Life 31) 

 

When you see and know… what sin is, if you implore My help, to not will it, but to shun it…. and afterwards to act against it, even if your heart is not completely in it yet, still…. you can exercise restraint on it…. by combat… and over time….. turn away from it…. and hate it. (DP 278) 

 

Come unto me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest (Matthew 28).

39 Then He arose and rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, “Peace, be still!” And the wind ceased and there was a great calm.

 

Amen. let us Pray

Sermon: The Annunciation

By REV. CALVIN ODHNER


Text: Luke 1:26-38, Matthew 1:18-24; Apocalypse Revealed 151


"I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the ending,... which is, and which was, and which is to come, the Almighty" (Revelation 1:8, 11).

Introduction

Good morning, and welcome to the Pittsburgh New Church! Next week we will celebrate the Lord’s birth, which is called the Lord’s advent! But what does “advent” mean? It means arrival, and sometimes, “glorious entry.” This is a time for us to allow the Lord to enter into our lives in a glorious way. One way we do that is by worshiping Him!

The Lord also came into Mary and Joseph’s life in a glorious way. Let’s read about that now…

Sermon

I believe the Lord has a message for you this Christmas! A message you don’t want to miss! A promise that will change your life, if you're ready!

This morning, if you will take the truths we just read about into your mind, if you will base your thinking on them as much as you can in a sensible way, something unexpected will happen. Even if you think “I don’t understand it completely” or “I’m not good at this,” none of that matters! The Lord promises--He promises!--that He will take whatever truth you receive this morning and will fill it with Divine light, even though it seems like simple knowledge. He will fill it with His Divine Essence, and it will become part of your spiritual path. He will create another stepping stone for you to heaven--write that down:True Christian Religion 73! That’s His promise, and if there’s one thing we’ve learned: if He says He’ll do something, it happens!

What happened to Mary?

Luke 1:26-45: Christ’s Birth Announced to Mary

One of the reasons the Christmas story is so special is because we get to see the Lord actively sending His angels, trying to connect with us as He did with this young couple, Mary and Joseph. Here is how He connected with Mary:

26 Now in the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, 27 to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. 28 And having come in, the angel said to her, “Rejoice, highly favored one, the Lord is with you; blessed are you among women!”

Since the end of the Most Ancient Church, the Lord had been sending prophecies of His Advent! Getting the world ready for his coming. But also, He had been preparing the angels in the heavens. The celestial angel society called “Gabriel” had expected the Lord’s coming since the first prophecy in Genesis:

[T]he "head of the serpent" would be crushed by the "seed of the woman."

And it was their “use” to “proclaim these good tidings” to Mary (Arcana Coelestia 2523).

Nothing had been left to chance! The Lord had carefully prepared for everything. In fact, the Lord’s whole life is described in the Old Testament, such as it was to be in the world, even His perceptions and thoughts were provided for and foreseen (Arcana Coelestia 2523). And now the time had come: in a little city in Galilee called Nazareth, the angel appeared to Mary.

It’s interesting to note that the city of Nazareth, which is in Galilee, is way up north of Bethlehem! The Lord could not have been born there! Why? Because He had to be born on the borders of Judah and Benjamin. Judah, representing the doctrine of love to the Lord and love to the neighbor, and Benjamin representing a person who knows the truth and lives it! (Apocalypse Explained 811.28 & 449). This is what the Lord brings into the world for each of us: a new way to learn the truth and live it. We read:

For every infant is born natural, and the natural, because it is next to the external senses and the world, is first opened, and this with all men is ignorant of truth and desirous of evil; but in the Lord alone the natural had a desire for good and a longing for truth; for the ruling affection in man, which is his soul, is from the father; (AE 449)

And so, the Lord provided that He would be born in Bethlehem as King David was before Him, for the Lord was born a King, whose natural was eager for good and whose will longed for the truth (AE449).

Mary represents the “affection for truth” in us, our willingness to learn the truths of the Word and follow them. Her willingness is exemplified by her words:

“Behold the maidservant of the Lord! Let it be to me according to your word.”(Luke 1:38)

She was ready to do whatever the Lord asked. It’s interesting that Swedenborg actually spoke with Mary:

It was once granted me to speak with Mary, the mother. She was then passing by, and appeared in heaven over my head, clothed in white raiment like silk. Pausing for a little she said that she had been the mother of the Lord, for He was born of her; but that He, having become God, put off all the Human He had from her; and therefore that she now worships Him as her God, and is unwilling that any one should acknowledge Him as her Son, because the whole Divinity is in Him.

(True Christian Religion 102)


But how did the Lord come to Joseph?

What happened to Joseph?

Christ Born of Mary

18 Now the birth of Jesus Christ was as follows: After His mother Mary was betrothed to Joseph, before they came together, she was found with child of the Holy Spirit. 19 Then Joseph her husband, being a just man, and not wanting to make her a public example, was minded to put her away secretly. 20 But while he thought about these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take to you Mary your wife, for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit. 21 And she will bring forth a Son, and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins.”

The people of the most ancient church were instructed directly through dreams (AC 125, 597.2), for a dream in the supreme sense, denotes the foresight of the Lord--things that are about to happen! Imagine the confidence we can develop in our lives when we acknowledge that everything in general and down to the least detail is foreseen by Him (AC 5091). Here, Joseph is instructed by an angel, but unlike Mary, the angel comes to him in a dream. We perceive Joseph’s willingness to follow the Lord, because he didn’t even wait till morning! He woke up, got out of bed, and did as the Lord commanded. He found Mary and “took to him his wife.”

These two people paint a picture for how we are to live our spiritual lives. First, we are to humbly accept what the Lord is telling us--that voice we hear in our mind, but don’t always obey: “[B]ehold…the maidservant of the Lord.” And when we hear the voice of truth, we are to act on it as soon as possible…

[B]eing aroused from sleep, [Joseph] did as the angel of the Lord commanded him and took to him his wife. (Matthew 1:24)

As Mary represents “an affection for truths of the church," Joseph represents an understanding of those truths. Mary wants nothing more than to be married to Joseph, as the love of truth seeks to be one with the understanding of truth.

When we agree to have this beautiful thing--the Lord’s truth--be born into our lives, we suddenly realize what a harsh environment we are bringing it in to. This new birth of love to the Lord and love to the neighbor is challenged at every turn, for there is no “room in the inn.” The love of self and the world have filled every vacancy. Herod is alive and well, ready to deceive, ready to kill off our new precious life as he seeks all power. Where are we to turn? Our only hope is to bolster our new-found truths with more instruction, with more insight into those fresh ideas and new ways of treating each other so that we can feel the Lord’s order get some purchase in our lives. We need to “feel it,” to create peace in our life. Therefore, we must go to Egypt!

13 Now when they had departed, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream, saying, “Arise, take the young Child and His mother, flee to Egypt, and stay there until I bring you word; for Herod will seek the young Child to destroy Him.”

14 When he arose, he took the young Child and His mother by night and departed for Egypt, 15 and was there until the death of Herod, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the Lord through the prophet, saying, “Out of Egypt I called My Son.” (Matthew 2:13-15)

Our study of the Word and its application to our life are what lead us to the Lord, for Egypt represents “knowledges and memory-knowledges, which are truths, useful to those who are in the faith of charity” (AC 1164.5).

The star that led the wisemen represented knowledges of good and truth and concepts about the Lord. (AE 422:20, De Verbo 7). The angels that appeared to the shepherds shared knowledge about heaven and where they were to go to worship the Lord. (AE 7016.12).

The Lord’s Advent and its surrounding events happened all to one purpose: through our knowledge of the truth, He creates a heaven from the human race! The Lord leads each one of us to Himself, so that we may kneel down and worship Him, offering our gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh, our celestial, spiritual, and natural good. These levels of good are the center of worship within us, and we worship Him truly when we move towards a spiritual way of living.

Yes! the Lord has a message for you this Christmas, and many of you have already heard the Lord’s angel call. This Christmas, let us nurture that beautiful new life within us, a willingness to follow every truth, even though right now we may not completely understand it, as we hear the angel say:

“Do not be afraid! … [T]ake to you Mary your wife, for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit… and she will bring forth a son, and you shall call His name Jesus… for He will save His people from their sins.”

Amen. Let us pray.


Sermon: Preparing The Way of The Lord

Rev. CALVIN ODHNER

Text: Luke 1:5-35; True Christian Religion 766


Then said Mary unto the angel, How shall this be, seeing I know not a man? And the angel answered and said unto her, The Holy Spirit shall come upon thee, and the power of the highest shall overshadow thee: therefore also that holy thing which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God (Luke 1:34,35).

Introduction

Good morning, and welcome to the Pittsburgh New Church! Very soon we will celebrate the Lord’s birth on earth and opening Christmas presents; it’s an exciting time of year! The Lord needed to be born so that He could save all of us! This was His goal in being born on earth. But how long had He been preparing to do this? And how was He born? Let’s read about it.


Sermon

Each year, each Christmas, we are given a new opportunity to celebrate the Lord’s birth! And not just because it’s a fresh Christmas, but because you are different! You are changing! You are becoming more spiritual, more awake to your spiritual needs and to your need for a connection with your Maker. We read:

“Behold, I am making all things new.” Rev. 21:5

Each year, the shepherds, the wisemen, Joseph, Mary and the Baby Lord stir our affections. The song of the angels, "Peace… good will to men," echoes in our mind! The awe of the incarnation, the Lord coming into the world, brings new ideas of how He can come more deeply into our lives.

"Hallelujah, the Lord, God, omnipotent shall reign, and His name shall be called wonderful, counselor, the mighty God, father of eternity, prince of peace.”

And with His entry into our mind comes the greatest gift we could ever ask for at Christmas: the gift of human happiness, every day to eternity. It’s so easy to forget that because of His birth we can find salvation! Without it, all human life would have been lost. But now the potential for a heavenly life exists as a practical reality. The spiritual freedom granted to each one of us through His glorification is now secure! It has been revealed in the internal sense of the Word with a clear path of instruction. The wonder, and majesty of His birth is just as present now as on that first holy morning when the world awoke to the good news of the Messiah's birth.

Even this morning we, too, have come to worship our Savior, whose life made our own possible.  Yet before the announcement of the Lord’s birth, there had been an unprecedented amount of preparation. Preparation that started before known history, when people fell away from being spiritual in the most ancient church, and this preparation continued until just before the Lord's birth.

The period covered by the Old Testament, and the centuries between it and the New Testament, were, spiritually and naturally, a preparation for the Lord's advent. This stands out in the Messianic prophecies, the first of which was given in the Garden of Eden.

And I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed; it shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise his heel. (Gen. 3:15)

At the very beginning of our exploration into the Word, the Lord takes time to explain this prophecy: that the serpent is all evil in general, and serpents have different kinds of poison corresponding to different kinds of hatreds (Arcana #250). In the other world, people are classified very carefully by the good and evil they carry there with them, just like animals are classified by species in this world. This poison comes from the great deceiver in Revelation, known as the five senses and the memory of the natural mind (Revelation 12:3, 9; 20:2). The great deceiver causes us to believe that the here and now is all there is to life, and if this is all there is, then hatred and revenge of the Lord and the neighbor are no problem! Nothing matters. This hatred will always be at odds or enmity with the church--the woman. The church will bruise the serpent’s head, and the serpent will bruise the Lord’s heel. The Lord’s advent, prophesied here, happens in each of us when we wake up to this raging battle, using Him as the commander of our army, and begin regeneration.

Each prophecy was adapted to the spirit of the age in which it was given, formed by the history of the times; and when we consider that each of these prophecies was needed to present some aspect of the Messianic concept, that each one could be given only to an age for which it had specific meaning, we see, in a new way the Lord's providential leading of the Jews through history.

He provided a systematic preparation for His coming, a connecting thread running throughout the Old Testament. Preparation was not confined just to prophecies, either. Within the land of Canaan itself, the Lord's ancestry was being prepared through many generations. This work required many signs, more and more open and definitive, by which He might be recognized at His advent.

Through geography, and by means of certain civilizations, there was a further secret preparation through world events; preparation looking to the provision of things necessary for the Lord’s advent itself and for the spread of Christianity throughout the then-known world.

In order that the Gospel might be preached and understood, it was necessary there be a cultural and religious exchange between Jew and Gentile; that certain ideas be developed out of history and philosophy; that there be a common language; and that the world be united under a stable government.

For hundreds of years the Divine Providence operated secretly to effect this preparation. The birth of the Lord marked the accomplishment of that work, as it marked also the end of the first great division of time.

With the Lord’s birth a new era began: an era of salvation for all who would believe, in heart and mind and life, that the child born in Bethlehem was indeed "a Savior who is Christ the Lord.”

We may ask why He came as an infant Child. Sadly, this was all the world could bear of the Divine at the time. Had the Lord descended in the glory and form of His Divine Nature, people would have been dazed and stunned by the sudden appearance of a Being transcendently holy; their eyes would have been blinded by the incandescence of the Divine, for the simple reason that because of generations of evil and worldliness, people's perception of spiritual truth had been completely lost.

A knowledge of the true nature of God and the vision of the heavenly life had long since been blurred by selfish hearts and deceitful minds. The lack of spiritual life in people was described by the prophet Isaiah:

Run ye to and fro through the streets of Jerusalem and see now and know, and seek in the broad places thereof, if ye can find a man, if there be any that executeth judgment, that seeketh the truth, and I will pardon it.

At that time, all the world could endure of Divine truth, the Word made flesh, was the very smallest form of human life, an infant who grew to manhood and talked of heavenly things in the veiled language of parables.

Only in this way could the Lord touch the hearts and minds of men. This constituted the first advent, and it was basically external, for the Lord came in a bodily form of flesh and blood; He mingled with people, healed their diseases and infirmities; performed other miracles which astonished the multitudes; and they witnessed with their own eyes His life and death. This first advent revealed the Lord as a Personal Being who was deeply concerned for the well-being of His children. It provided us with the rudiments of the Christian life through both example and lessons taught in the parables spoken from the hillside, at the seashore, and in the villages of Galilee. But now has begun another new age, one in which we may see and worship the Divine Human. In the second advent, the Lord comes not as an infant in swaddling clothes, but in a glorified form, the Divine Human, which touches the hearts and minds of all of us.

The truths veiled in the language of parable are revealed so that the inner meaning of the Scripture is opened to our rational mind. When we stand and gaze at the perfection of Divine law as seen in the spiritual sense of the Word, we experience a deeper concept of life’s purpose, a fuller appreciation of the Lord’s love, and a clearer understanding of His providence. With this deeper insight begins a new creation within us, a new soul infilled with the spirit of love and wisdom from the Divine. Remember how slow and reluctant people were to recognize and acknowledge the Lord’s first advent? Within the infant form, lying in a manger in Bethlehem, unseen, and hardly suspected by the adoring shepherds and gift-giving wise men, was the seed of Divine Life. In His Mind which grew so rapidly in strength and wisdom, was the Truth Divine that came as “a light to lighten the gentiles.” This wisdom was so concealed in a human form that few recognized its true nature; not many of the Lord's contemporaries thought of His words as "spirit and life."

The people were more interested in miracles, the prospect of an earthly ruler powerful enough to throw off the yoke of Roman tyranny than they were in justice and righteousness. And, once again, today few recognize His second advent.

Many of our local churches wait in silence and doubt, for many alleged prophets through the centuries have come forth with positive predictions, naming the day and the hour of the Second Coming, and nothing has happened. The people of old were looking in the wrong place for the coming Messiah, even while He was walking in their midst. Similarly, today the world waits with diminishing expectancy for the Second Coming, and yet we know it has already taken place.

We recognize by reading the Heavenly Doctrines that the second advent happens in the minds of people. In the reconstruction of our will and understanding with spiritual materials like the truths of doctrine. From the Arcana we read:

“Every advent of the Lord implies the desire to make a new beginning in the growth of the spiritual life on the part of those who are being regenerated” (see Arcana Coelestia 728).

What a whole new world of possibilities the truth of these words opens up for us and for Christians everywhere. Each time a truth from the Lord enters the spirit of man, it is indeed an advent. These repeated advents are not seasonal, not dependent upon the closing days of the year. Each day from January to December we can see the advent of the Lord to enlighten the mind with spiritual truth, satisfying the truth-hungry soul, and leading people ever onward and upward towards the very highest goal, a heavenly life of usefulness and joy. Despite Mary’s surprise, her trust in the Lord is evident from her willingness to do whatever she is asked. The virgin Mary signifies an affection in us, a capacity to be moved and affected by truth. The Lord comes to each one of us in this affection:

"Let it be to me according to your word.”

This is the attitude we must strive to attain. Every day the Lord is urging and pressing to be received. Will we receive His truth in our hearts? Will we acknowledge that it is His, to be served and obeyed? If so, the miracle of the Advent is continually renewed.

When our wills become more pliable, when we take a humble stance as Mary did, wisdom can begin to take root in us. We read this wonderful number in True Christian Religion:

The Lord is present with every man, urging and pressing to be received; and His first coming, which is called the dawn, is when man receives Him, which he does when he acknowledges Him as his God, Creator, Redeemer, and Savior. From this time man's understanding begins to be enlightened in spiritual things, and to advance into a more and more interior wisdom; and as he receives this wisdom from the Lord, he advances through morning into day, and this day lasts with him into old age, even to death; and after death he passes into heaven to the Lord Himself; and there, although he died an old man, he is restored to the morning of his life, and the rudiments of the wisdom implanted in him in the natural world grow to eternity. (True Christian Religion 766)

The name "Jesus" is the Greek form of the Hebrew word Jehoshua or Joshua, and it means "Jehovah saves." The Lord came to save His people. He came to save us from a life of unhappiness. For this to happen the Lord has laid simple tasks before us. He began His public ministry by saying, "Repent, for the kingdom of the heavens is at hand" (Matt. 4:17) and:

"The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand. Repent and believe the Gospel" (Mark 1:15)

To repent is to work with the Lord to establish heavenly order within your life. We create order by looking at how we are living our life, is there is any way in which we are hurting or injuring the Lord and other people-by what we say or do, or what we think or feel. We are told:

"In heaven the greatest person is the one who is least. For 'least' is used to describe a person who has no power and wisdom, and wants no power and wisdom from himself, only from the Lord" (Heaven and Hell 408).

Consider, this Christmas season, making a real commitment to move on one or two battle fronts. This is how we begin to see that Jesus Christ, our Lord, is present with us with His infinite love and power we will see that He alone is really able to remove our evils and forgive our sins. This is at the very heart of why the Lord came into the world and is at the every heart of why we celebrate Christmas.

As we make ready to celebrate this Christmas season, let us remember that the Lord came down and was born into the world so that He might save all people. And if He is going to save us, if we are going to be ready to live in heaven, we must be like Mary, who said to him: "Be it unto me according to thy word."

Amen. Let us pray

Zacharias and Elizabeth

by REV CALVIN ODHNER

Text: Luke 1:5-25; True Christian Religion 510

“But behold, you will be mute and not able to speak until the day these things take place, because you did not believe my words which will be fulfilled in their own time.”

Introduction

Good morning, and welcome to the Pittsburgh New Church! Christmas is a special time for all of us, but especially in the New Church, where we study the inner meaning of the Word. And here, in the Christmas stories, we find the Lord calling us! Imagine if someone was calling you. I suppose it’s easy to ignore someone calling you, right? Anyway…. Oh! Did you hear something? Who is that calling me? That has got to stop!

Imagine the Lord was calling you that loudly! That would be hard to miss, wouldn’t it? Today we’ll be reading about Zacharias and Elizabeth, the parents of John the Baptist. The Lord called him; He even sent an angel to talk to him. Let’s read how it happened!

John’s Birth Announced to Zacharias

In 1946 Dodge came out with the first Power Wagon. Oh, what a beautiful machine it was! A 230 cubic-inch flathead inline six cylinder gas engine, a 4-speed manual transmission, a two-speed 2-1 low range transfer case! Are you feeling this? It could pull anything, go anywhere! Some even had a built-in PTO with a 2500 pound winch! Try to breathe! But over the years, these trucks deteriorated. And like everything else man-made, they fell into ruin.

A truck’s predicament is very much like our own. We arrive here as beautiful little babies, full of life and love. Full of the innocence of ignorance, we are loved and cared for, hugged, but over time we come into our hereditary loves. We learn that we need to be “born again,” that we need to move from the “natural state” we were born into and have fallen in love with to a spiritual state with new ideas and new loves. When we delay or refuse to do this work, our minds deteriorate; they rust like a truck left in a field that’s turning into woods again. We discover that:

[A]ll walk according to their life, the evil in no other ways than those that lead to hell, but the good in no other ways than those that lead to heaven; consequently all spirits are known… from the ways wherein they are walking.

Apocalypse Explained  97.2

Fortunately, the Lord is patient and works with us to manage this self-focused inheritance from our parents, We’ve been given the faculty of becoming spiritual and we are told this happens in three stages.

The first stage is called “condemnation.” It’s really the trickiest stage. Why? “Our delights feel good to us! …[T]his keeps us from knowing we are in evils” (Divine Providence 83.2). Basically, we get trapped in love for ourselves and love of the world, and we think this is “goodness” itself! Amazing, isn’t it? That telling our spouse what to do and chasing money become the top priorities in our life?

This is the human predicament, and is the stage the Lord has set up for warfare. Because a battle must begin against the onslaught of loves from the “natural man.” If our higher self wins this battle, we develop a conscience! That’s good; we’re on our way. If the natural man wins, oddly, we appear to be in tranquility. Why? Because tranquility happens when nothing matters--good happens, evil happens…. If nothing matters, the the person is peaceful in this life. It’s not until the next life that this kind of person comes into the unrest and torment of hell (Arcana Coelestia 2183).

A purely natural life is a terrifying thing! Think of your own life when you didn’t feel the Lord’s presence. Life becomes a series of half-realized ambitions, disappointed dreams, moments of success mixed with frequent sorrow. Given enough time, even the happy feelings come to an end without the deeper happiness from a lasting relationship with the Lord, a firm knowledge that we live after death, married, in a place according to our loves, with people that love what we love. So few people have an actual opportunity to know this for real!

It’s when we are running this “natural life” game that we first run into Zacharias and Elizabeth!

There was in the days of Herod, the king of Judea, a certain priest named Zacharias, of the division of Abijah.

The “days of Herod the King” are a time in our life when the dominion of self-love, with all its destructive potential, is present--the natural man. This is the un-examined life with cruelty hidden within. Remember, Herod executed many of his own family members and wives from fear that he would betray him. Yet the Lord chooses to be born in this dangerous environment of our mind, and He is born so gently, so quietly. If we let Him, He begins to take command, loving us far better than we can love ourselves. And what are Zacharias and Elizabeth experiencing?

But they had no child, because Elizabeth was barren, and they were both well advanced in years.

Despite making our best effort to set up the perfect life, with the perfect house and the perfect income, in a purely natural life we can feel “barren,” hopeless. And what of the future in this state? What can we hope for? Where can this empty life lead us with its temporary joys and pleasures that are merely skin deep?

It is interesting to note that when Zacharias came within the holy of holies, when he came to the Lord and was worshiping, the angel of the Lord appeared to him. It’s when we decide to come to the Lord in humility that He can find a chink in the armor to enter….

So it was, that while he was serving as priest before God in the order of his division… an angel of the Lord appeared to him, standing on the right side of the altar of incense.

He was terrified, but angel comforted him, showed the secret of his heart was known, that he would have a son, a special boy who would turn many hearts to the Lord his God.

13 But the angel said to him, “Do not be afraid, Zacharias, for your prayer is heard; and your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you shall call his name John.

We can imagine Zacharias, as the years had slipped by, finally losing his conviction that he would actually have a son. But now, to be told it was possible in his old age--no wonder he doubted! Just as we can doubt that there could be more to our lives than just our natural desires and loves. The promise of John is that first inkling we get that there is more to life than living a natural self-centered lifestyle.

20 But behold, you will be mute and not able to speak until the day these things take place, because you did not believe my words which will be fulfilled in their own time.”

Being mute represents our inability to understand and obey the truth (AC 6988). Our lack of intelligence from the truth and living in a state of falsity (AE 455:20, AE 587:8). We are unable to “speak” the Lord’s truth because it is not yet within our heart.

22 But when he came out, he could not speak to them; and they perceived that he had seen a vision in the temple, for he beckoned to them and remained speechless.

23 So it was, as soon as the days of his service were completed, that he departed to his own house.

All of us come, at one time or another, to a time to make a decision that we will either follow the Lord or walk away from His church. Zacharias now needed to make that choice: would he name his son John? Or remain in a merely natural and disobedient life?

59 So it was, on the eighth day, that they came to circumcise the child; and they would have called him by the name of his father, Zacharias. 60 His mother answered and said, “No; he shall be called John.”

61 But they said to her, “There is no one among your relatives who is called by this name.” 62 So they made signs to his father—what he would have him called.

63 And he asked for a writing tablet, and wrote, saying, “His name is John.” So they all marveled. 64 Immediately his mouth was opened and his tongue loosed, and he spoke, praising God. 65 Then fear came on all who dwelt around them.

(Luke 1:59-63)

John the baptist’s birth represents the beginning of our life of repentance, when we are willing to examine our life and repent of the evil thoughts and aspirations of our old life. We read:

[A]cts of repentance are the things that actually produce the church within us.

(True Christian Religion 510)

So here, at the beginning of the our Christmas season, the first story we are given by the Lord reveals the spiritual life-and-death struggle going on within each us. This is the information each of us so badly needs as we approach the Lord this Christmas.

And who named John? Not just the angel, but Zacharias himself. The naming of John is an important victory for us, for in it we begin to accept repentance as part of our path to a heavenly life. If Zacharias had called the baby after his own name, he would have taken credit for his birth, just as we, when we experience the contentment after repentance, need to remember this is not the work of our hands. It is the work of the Lord within us. No one can repent on his own strength.

So they made signs to his father—what he would have him called. And he asked for a writing tablet, and wrote, saying, “His name is John.” (Luke 1:62-63)

This second stage of our spiritual life, reformation, is the reforming of our mind around the principles we already have learned, some of which we already have an affection for. Build your life around these principles! Live from the Heavenly Doctrines; let them influence every thought, every action! You are re-building your mind from the ground up. And someday, you’ll have that completely, reconditioned, rebuilt from the frame up, like a reconditioned Power Wagon!….that can pull anything and go anywhere.

Immediately his mouth was opened and his tongue loosed, and he spoke, praising God.


AMEN. LET US PRAY




True Christianity #510


Repentance Is the Beginning of the Church within Us


The extended community that is known as the church consists of all the people who have the church within them. The church takes hold in us when we are regenerated, and we are all regenerated when we abstain from things that are evil and sinful and run away from them as we would run if we saw hordes of hellish spirits pursuing us with flaming torches, intending to attack us and throw us onto a bonfire.


As we go through the early stages of our lives, there are many things that prepare us for the church and introduce us into it; but acts of repentance are the things that actually produce the church within us. Acts of repentance include any and all actions that result in our not willing, and consequently not doing, evil things that are sins against God.


Before repentance, we stand outside regeneration. In that condition, if any thought of eternal salvation somehow makes its way into us, we at first turn toward it but soon turn away. That thought does not penetrate us any farther than the outer areas where we have ideas; it then goes out into our spoken words and perhaps into a few gestures that go along with those words. When the thought of eternal salvation penetrates our will, however, then it is truly inside us. The will is the real self, because it is where our love dwells; our thoughts are outside us, unless they come from our will, in which case our will and our thought act as one, and together make us who we are. From these points it follows that in order for repentance to be genuine and effective within us, it has to be done both by our will and by thinking that comes from our will. It cannot be done by thought alone. Therefore it has to be a matter of actions, and not of words alone.


[2] The Word makes it obvious that repentance is the beginning of the church. John the Baptist was sent out in advance to prepare people for the church that the Lord was about to establish. At the same time as he was baptizing people he was also preaching repentance; his baptism was therefore called a baptism of repentance. Baptism means a spiritual washing, that is, being cleansed from sins. John baptized in the Jordan river because the Jordan means introduction into the church, since it was the first border of the land of Canaan, where the church was. The Lord himself also preached that people should repent so that their sins would be forgiven. He taught, in effect, that repentance is the beginning of the church; that if we repent, the sins within us will be removed; and that if our sins are removed, they are also forgiven. Furthermore, when the Lord sent out his twelve apostles and also the seventy, he commanded them to preach repentance. From all this it is clear that repentance is the beginning of the church.