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)


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…


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). 



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….





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.




 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


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).


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…


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


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).


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.


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


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.”


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.


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.

Humbleness: The Beginning of the Second Coming


Text: John 1:19-26; John 3:25-35; Divine Providence 326:6

“Whosoever therefore shall humble himself as this little child, the same is greatest in the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 18:4)


Good morning, and welcome to the Pittsburgh New Church! I hope you had a wonderful Thanksgiving! You all survived Black Friday!

Now we move into a very exciting time of year! Each Christmas season the Lord gives us a fresh opportunity to renew our covenant with Him! To renew the deal we’ve made, to be a servant of the Lord. For some of us, it helps to have a written contract--something we can look at! I’ve got one started, but it needs finishing. By the end of the sermon today, I hope you can fill in the rest of the contract and sign it! Only check off what works for you!

Now, here at the beginning of the season the Lord sends us John the Baptist! Why? John represents the literal sense of the Word: camel’s hair, leather girdle, locusts and wild honey….but John has a message for us. Listen for John’s humility in the face of the Lord, knowing the Lord is coming, just as the Lord can make a second coming in us as we step into humility.

We’ll focus in on one skill: humility.

This morning we are exploring why we are New Churchman. What does it take for the Second Coming to begin to shine in our life?

You know there are so many other religions to choose from--some a lot more fun than ours! So why are we hooked on this one? Our text today looks at one of the key elements to being New Church: humility.


For many people, religion has brought a sense of peace and security into their lives. It comes through trust in something outside of themselves. This is especially true in the New Church. We read:

…[P]eace has in it confidence in the Lord, that He directs all things, and provides all things, and that He leads to a good end. (Arcana Coelestia 8455)

But doesn't everyones religion bring confidence to its adherents? Doesn't every religion claim to have the answer of how to be a “good” person and how to have a spiritual life?

We know from the Heavenly Doctrines that everyone has an inborn intuition. There is “something” greater than ourselves, an intuition that there is some source we all came from which is One. That’s because everything divine coheres as one,  and constantly inspires in us the idea of one God (True Christian Religion 8). But, what varies in each of us is the reception of this influx, and this determines our conjunction with the Lord (Ibid (3)). The differing forms of our minds receive Him according to what corresponds in them, to what is heavenly.

Just as the human body has many forms--blood vessels, nerve fibers, supporting tendons, cartilage, bones, nails which have varying degrees of life in them, so heaven is made up of many people from many different religions, each with a different mind and differing degrees of conjunction, each performing a supporting role in the Grand Man (DP 326).

We read:

The Grand Man, which is heaven, in order that all these things may be in it, cannot be composed of men all of one religion but of men of many religions. (DP 326:10)

Thus, in the Lord’s Divine Providence there are today 1 billion Hindus, 14 million Jews, 1 billion Buddhists, 1.8 billion Muslims, and 2 billion Christians. Now, if each religion brings some level of conjunction with heaven, what is the big deal about belonging to the New Church?

Let’s first, take a look at what makes a religion a religion. All religions have two main principles which make it so that everyone can be saved: the acknowledgement of one God, and the refraining from doing evil because it is against God (DP 326:9). Anyone who follows these two principles will find a home in heaven and enjoy happiness to their own degree (DP 326:10, DP 254 III (3)).

But you may say, “Every religion teaches people how to live and how to obey the laws of God? Every religion professes to have the secret of a good life and offer salvation by means of it, don't they?” So how is the New Church different? We read in the Heavenly Doctrines:

All religion is of life, and the life of religion is to do what is good. (Doctrine of Life 1).

The faith or the New Church is based on the conviction that in the theological Writings of Emanuel Swedenborg the Lord Jesus Christ has fulfilled His promise to come again, that He may be visibly present with people, to teach them and lead them in paths of true happiness and lasting peace.

The purpose of His second coming is to establish His Kingdom here on earth as well as in the heavens. The Church is the Lord’s Kingdom on earth, and the Lord Himself described His plans and specifications of a true Christian Church, one that is designed to be altogether distinct from the former Christianity or any other religion!

The Heavenly Doctrines completely revolutionize our understanding of what the Word teaches, and of how it’s teachings are to be applied. They present a radically new idea of God; they offer an entirely new concept of heaven, and the life of people after death; and they give us a new interpretation of what is meant by a truly religious life. The whole world is invited to join in! To move from a natural faith to a spiritual one; to be re-born into a spiritual person (TCR 8)! Nothing could bring us more happiness or be more exciting!

This can only happen to each of us when we take the truths of doctrine--and you know what I mean by truths here--the Ten Commandments, the truths you have learned from reading and listening to sermons, the truths you have come to love.... Only by using them in our daily life do we get the benefit they provide: conjunction with the Lord.

This is what’s so incredible about the New Church! The Heavenly Doctrines are not asking us to bow down to the east 5 times a day, meditate for an hour, detach from things of this world or follow detailed meal rituals. Although these might work for some people, what the Lord is really asking of us who are to be in the New Heaven, is to have nothing less than a complete change of heart! A new outlook! A dramatic change in who you are; a change in what you love, which is the core of who you are! He is asking each of us to trade in the things we think make us happy, for things that actually do create happiness! It’s actually quite simple, but not easy!

Many of us have learned doctrine and can recite it! But doctrine retained in the memory as abstract knowledge without a deeper understanding and application to life dissipates. We don’t even take it with us into the spiritual world! It’s in the “doing,” the application of what we have learned, that changes our loves and makes the Second Coming happen in each of us!

So, right here at the beginning of our Christmas season, what is the first skill John the Baptist introduces to us? Humility. We are told in the Heavenly Doctrines, if we really want this regenerative process to happen in our life, we start with humility! John the baptist gives his disciples a basic lesson in humility. In the face of Jesus’s growing popularity and his own waning popularity, John gives us a one-liner to live by:

“He must increase, but I must decrease.” (John 3:30)

To the extent that John’s motto is true of us, we are growing in humility.

We are told humility starts with an acknowledgement of God, but what does this involve? It is simply recognizing that there is an omniscient, omnipresent Divine Man who is all powerful and loving. Who cares for us intimately, guiding us in everything we do, all the while leaving us in freedom to choose Him or not.

The corollary to this acknowledgment is the acknowledgment of self (NJHD 129). If all good and life is from Him, where does that leave us? It slowly dawns on us that, we are, since we are born into evils of every kind, nothing but unhealthy loves and thoughts; no good can come from us. We are born this way! But there is no need to lament our situation. The Lord has given each of us every means, including specific directions, on how to escape from our predicament, and follow Him. We read:

Only into an humble heart can the Divine flow. (NJHD 129)

So far as a person is in humility, so far he is removed from the love of self, where evils live, and open to reading and learning what His role in this process is. We read:

Indeed within self-love there lies contempt for all others in comparison with oneself; there lies hatred and revenge if one is not venerated most highly; and there lies mercilessness and cruelty within it, and thus the worst evils of all into which good and truth cannot possibly be introduced, since they are completely opposite. (Arcana Coelestia 5957:3)

The Lord does not desire humility for His own sake, but for our sakes, so that we will be in a state and condition ready to receive the Divine truths He so much wants to impart to us.

The sister of humility is repentance; each requires the same acknowledgment. We read:

Repentance begins with the same acknowledgement and does not become a reality except through humility, and humility does not become a reality except through heartfelt confession that in oneself one is such a source of evil and falsity. (AC 4779)

Today many religions falsely teach that we are inherently good, that merely having faith in God and being a “good” person will lead to heaven. But this belief puts the natural man to sleep, and keeps him from rooting out his deeper evils which lurk in his affections.

The “gift” to each of us in the New Church is in the realization that we, of ourselves, are incapable of looking towards the Lord, where everything is Divine and Holy, and prefer the life of exteriorly “looking good,” while interiorly remaining comfortable in our natural thoughts and affections (AC 5957). This is what the Lord meant when He spoke to the Pharisees: “[Y]ou wash the outside of the cup…” So, as uncomfortable as it may be, we can be grateful we are in the New Church, where we know the truth about ourselves and the means of escape!

As we move into this Christmas season, let us remember the words of John the Baptist:

Then they said to him, “Who are you, that we may give an answer to those who sent us? What do you say about yourself?” He said: “I am ‘The voice of one crying in the wilderness: “Make straight the way of the Lord,”

Amen. Let us pray.

Readings for sermon

Divine Providence 326:6

[6] Second:……. Everyone acknowledges God and is conjoined to Him according to the good of his life. All can have a knowledge of God who know anything from religion. They can also speak of God from knowledge, that is, from what is in the memory, and some may also think about Him from the understanding.

However, if one does not live well, this only brings about presence; for he can nevertheless turn himself away from God towards hell; and this happens if he lives wickedly.

But only those can acknowledge God in their heart who live well; and these according to the good of their life the Lord turns away from hell and towards Himself. The reason is that these alone love God, for they love Divine things, which are from Him, in doing them.

The Divine things which are from God are the precepts of His Law. These are God because He is His own Divine going forth: this is to love God, and therefore the Lord says:

He that keepeth my commandment, he it is that loveth me....But he that keepeth not my commandments loveth me not. John 14:21, 24.

[7] This is the reason why there are two tables of the Decalogue, one relating to God and the other relating to man. God works unceasingly that man may receive what is in his own table; but if man does not do the things that are in his table he does not receive with acknowledgment of heart the things that are in God's table; and if he does not receive them he is not conjoined.

Therefore those two tables were so joined together as to be one, and were called the tables of the covenant, for covenant signifies conjunction. Everyone acknowledges God and is conjoined to Him according to the good of his life because the good of life is like the good that is in the Lord, and consequently that originates from the Lord.

Therefore when man is in the good of life conjunction is effected. The contrary is the case with evil of life; for this rejects the Lord.

[8] Third: The good of life, that is, living well, is shunning evils because they are contrary to religion, thus contrary to God. That this is the good of life, or living well, is fully shown in THE DOCTRINE OF LIFE FOR THE NEW JERUSALEM, from beginning to end. To this I will merely add that if you do good to the fullest extent, for example, if you build churches, adorn them and fill them with votive offerings; if you expend money lavishly on hospitals and guest-houses for strangers, give alms daily, succour widows and orphans; if you diligently observe the holy things of worship, indeed, if you think about them, speak and preach about them as from the heart, and yet do not shun evils as sins against God, all those goods are not good. They are either hypocritical or meritorious, for there is still evil interiorly within them, since the life of everyone is in all things that he does, in general and in particular. Goods only become good by the removal of evil from them. Hence it is clear that shunning evils because they are contrary to religion, thus contrary to God, is living well.


[3] But it is very different when by John is understood the Lord as to the Word, or the Word representatively.

Then by "the wilderness of Judea in which John was" is signified the state in which the Word was at the time

when the Lord came into the world, namely, that it was "in the wilderness," that is, it was in obscurity so great that the Lord was not at all acknowledged,

neither was anything known about His heavenly kingdom;

when yet all the prophets prophesied about Him, and about His kingdom, that it was to endure forever.

(That "a wilderness" denotes such obscurity, see n. 2708, 4736, 7313.)

For this reason the Word is compared to "a reed shaken by the wind" when it is explained at pleasure; for in the internal sense "a reed" denotes truth in the ultimate, such as is the Word in the letter.

(References: Malachi 4:5)

[4] That the Word in the ultimate, or in the letter, is crude and obscure in the sight of men;

but that in the internal sense it is soft and shining, is signified by their "not seeing a man clothed in soft raiment, for behold those who wear soft things are in kings' houses."

That such things are signified by these words, is plain from the signification of "raiment," or "garments," as being truths

(n. 2132, 2576, 4545, 4763, 5248, 6914, 6918, 9093);

and for this reason the angels appear clothed in garments soft and shining according to the truths from good with them

(n. 5248, 5319, 5954, 9212, 9216).

The same is evident from the signification of "kings' houses," as being the abodes of the angels, and in the universal sense, the heavens;

for "houses" are so called from good (n. 2233, 2234, 3128, 3652, 3720, 4622, 4982, 7836, 7891, 7996, 7997); and "kings," from truth (n. 1672, 2015, 2069, 3009, 4575, 4581, 4966, 5044, 6148).

Therefore by virtue of their reception of truth from the Lord, the angels are called "sons of the kingdom," "sons of the king," and also "kings."

(References: Arcana Coelestia 2233-2234, 7996-7997)

[5] That the Word is more than any doctrine in the world, and more than any truth in the world, is signified by

"what went ye out to see? a prophet? Yea, I say unto you, and more than a prophet;" and by, "there hath not arisen among those who are born of women a greater than John the Baptist;"

for in the internal sense "a prophet" denotes doctrine (n. 2534, 7269); and "those who are born," or are the sons, "of women" denote truths (n. 489, 491, 533, 1147, 2623, 2803, 2813, 3704, 4257).

[6] That in the internal sense, or such as it is in heaven, the Word is in a degree above the Word in the external sense, or such as it is in the world,

and such as John the Baptist taught, is signified by, "he that is less in the kingdom of the heavens is greater than he;”

for as perceived in heaven the Word is of wisdom so great that it transcends all human apprehension.

That the prophecies about the Lord and His coming, and that the representatives of the Lord and of His kingdom, ceased when the Lord came into the world, is signified by,

"all the prophets and the law prophesied until John."

That the Word was represented by John, as by Elijah, is signified by his being "Elias who is to come."

[7] The same is signified by these words in Matthew:

The disciples asked Jesus, Why say the scribes that Elias must first come? He answered and said, Elias must needs first come, and restore all things. But I say unto you, that Elias hath come already, and they knew him not, but did unto him whatsoever they wished.

Even so shall the Son of man also suffer of them. And they understood that He spoke to them of John the Baptist (Matthew 17:10-13).

That "Elias hath come, and they knew him not, but did unto him whatsoever they wished" signifies that the Word has indeed taught them that the Lord is to come, but that still they did not wish to comprehend, interpreting it in favor of the rule of self, and thus extinguishing what is Divine in it.

That they would do the same with the truth Divine itself, is signified by

"even so shall the Son of man also suffer of them." (That "the Son of man" denotes the Lord as to truth Divine, see n. 2803, 2813, 3704)

[8] From all this it is now evident what is meant by the prophecy about John in Malachi:

Behold I send you Elijah the prophet before the great and terrible day of Jehovah cometh (Malachi 4:5).

Moreover, the Word in the ultimate, or such as it is in the external form in which it appears before man in the world, is described by the "clothing" and "food" of John the Baptist, in Matthew:

John the Baptist, preaching in the wilderness of Judea, had His clothing of camel's hair, and a leathern girdle about his loins; and his food was locusts and wild honey (Matthew 3:1, 4).

In like manner it is described by Elijah in the second book of Kings:

He was a hairy man, and girt with a girdle of leather about his loins (2 Kings 1:8).

By "clothing," or a "garment," when said of the Word, is signified truth Divine there in the ultimate form; by "camel's hair" are signified memory-truths such as appear there before a man in the world; by the "leathern girdle" is signified the external bond connecting and keeping in order all the interior things; by "food" is signified spiritual nourishment from the knowledges of truth and of good out of the Word; by "locusts" are signified ultimate or most general truths; and by "wild honey" their pleasantness.

[9] That such things are signified by "clothing" and "food" has its origin in the representatives of the other life,

where all appear clothed according to truths from good, and where food also is represented according to the desires of acquiring knowledge and growing wise.

From this it is that "clothing," or a "garment," denotes truth

(as may be seen from the citations above; and that "food" or "meat" denotes spiritual nourishment, n. 3114, 4459, 4792, 5147, 5293, 5340, 5342, 5576, 5579, 5915, 8562, 9003; that "a girdle" denotes a bond which gathers up and holds together interior things, n. 9341; that "leather" denotes what is external, n. 3540; and thus "a leathern girdle" denotes an external bond; that "hairs" denote ultimate or most general truths, n. 3301, 5569-5573; that "a camel" denotes memory-knowledge in general, n. 3048, 3071, 3143, 3145, 4156; that "a locust" denotes nourishing truth in the extremes, n. 7643; and that "honey" denotes the pleasantness thereof, n. 5620, 6857, 8056). It is called "wild honey," or "honey of the field," because by "a field" is signified the church (n. 2971, 3317, 3766, 7502, 7571, 9139, 9295).

He who does not know that such things are signified, cannot possibly know why Elijah and John were so clothed. And yet that these things signified something peculiar to these prophets, can be thought by everyone who thinks well about the Word.

[10] Because John the Baptist represented the Lord as to the Word, therefore also when he spoke of the Lord, who was the Word itself, he said of himself that he was "not Elias, nor the prophet,” and that he was "not worthy to loose the latchet of the Lord's shoe," as in John:

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and God was the Word. And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory.

The Jews from Jerusalem, priests and Levites, asked John who he was. And he confessed, and denied not, I am not the Christ.

Therefore they asked him, What then? Art thou Elias? But he said, I am not. Art thou the prophet? He answered, No. They said therefore unto him, Who art thou? He said, I am the voice of one crying in the wilderness, Make straight the way of the Lord, as said Isaiah the prophet. They said therefore, Why then baptizest thou, if thou art not the Christ, nor Elias, nor the prophet? He answered, I baptize with water; in the midst of you standeth one whom ye know not; He it is who is to come after me, who was before me, the latchet of whose shoe I am not worthy to unloose.

When he saw Jesus, he said, Behold the Lamb of God, who taketh away the sin of the world!

This is He of whom I said, After me cometh a man who was before me; for he was before me (John 1:1, 14, 19-30).

From these words it is plain that when John spoke about the Lord Himself, who was Truth Divine itself, or the Word, he said that he himself was not anything, because the shadow disappears when the light itself appears, that is, the representative disappears when the original itself makes its appearance.

(That the representatives had in view holy things, and the Lord Himself, and not at all the person that represented, see n. 665, 1097, 1361, 3147, 3881, 4208, 4281, 4288, 4292, 4307, 4444, 4500, 6304, 7048, 7439, 8588, 8788, 8806.)

One who does not know that representatives vanish like shadows at the presence of light, cannot know why John denied that he was Elias and the prophet.

[11] From all this it can now be seen what is signified by Moses and Elias, who were seen in glory, and who spoke with the Lord when transfigured, of His departure which He should accomplish at Jerusalem (Luke 9:29-31); namely, that they signified the Word ("Moses" the historic Word, and "Elias" the prophetic Word), which in the internal sense throughout treats of the Lord, of His coming into the world, and of His departure out of the world; and therefore it is said that "Moses and Elias were seen in glory," for "glory" denotes the internal sense of the Word, and the "cloud" its external sense (see the preface to Genesis 18, and n. 5922, 8427).

(References: Arcana Coelestia 2135; Exodus 24:1-2)

Why Forgive?

by Rev. Calvin Odhner

Text: Luke 7:36-50
Divine Providence 100

Good morning, and welcome to the Pittsburgh New Church! 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

For He says:

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

(John 13:3)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The answer is in our story:

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

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

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

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

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

We read:

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

(True Christian Religion 409.)

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

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

Resentment and Marriage


By Rev. Calvin Odhner

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And they asked, “What is your delight?”

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

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

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

They answered, “Most delightful.”

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

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

And the others asked, “What else?”

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

It is here they describe the definition of hell:

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

(True Christian Religion 570:7)

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


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

We read:

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

(Conjugial Love 37)


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

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

Love of Self and the World

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

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

(Conjugial Love 426)

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


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

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

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

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

(Last Judgment, Posthumous 164)


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

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

(Conjugial Love 36)

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

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

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

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

By Rev. Pearse Frazier

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Where then does your true power lie?

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

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

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

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