Sunday Worship Service, December 28, 2008

Lay Service, led by Pete Toot

Prelude Song – “Love Came For Me” by Lee Holdridge

The Open Word – Call to Worship

As it is each Sunday, the Bible is open throughout the service to symbolize that the lessons it has for us are freely given, whenever we come for them. The candles shed light and warmth upon the
pages and the reader; these correspond to Divine Love and Divine Wisdom which together are the One God we meet anew in the Word.

With the passion from that Love, and with the understanding from that Wisdom, we live Life, and live it most abundantly.

Lighting the Candles

Old Testament: Ezekiel 13:17-22
New Testament: Matthew 25:33-46
Swedenborg: Heavenly Secrets 4663
Unison Prayer – Psalm 121

I will lift up my eyes to the hills, from whence comes my help.  My help comes from the LORD, who made heaven and earth.  He will not suffer your foot to be moved: He that keeps you will not slumber.  Behold, He that keeps Israel shall neither slumber nor sleep.  The LORD is your keeper: the LORD is the shade upon your right hand.  The sun shall not smite you by day, nor the moon by night.  The LORD shall preserve you from all evil: He shall preserve your soul.  The LORD shall preserve your going out and coming in from this time forth, and forever.  Amen

Petitions from the Congregation
Living Eternity Now
Meditation & Sharing
Closing Circle


Good morning.  I hope you all survived the Christmas celebrations and shopping adventures.  Hopefully we are all re-energized to run full-speed into the New Year.

This is a classical time for Stewardship Sunday, so I will say a few words on the topic before we turn to our main theme.  The Lord watches out for his church and provides for its continued viability by bringing together people to whom He has entrusted the riches and resources of the world.  It is through the sharing and generosity of the stewards in an institution like a church that it can function in the world.  While the church is hurting financially, our stewardship is far bigger than just putting money in the plate.  We all have blessings of one sort or another, some have time to contribute, some have encouragement and experience to share, some have tools or have useful personal connections that can be brought to the community to help it survive and grow.  Real stewardship is never grudging.  Never give more than you should – you are the only one who can figure out what you should.  You are not trying to pay back the church for what it has given you, though that may be a helpful rationalization.  You are not giving to feel rewarded for your gift, though you will.  You are a child of God in a family that is trying to pool its gifts to be more effective than the sum of its members could ever be going it alone.  So be thinking about what role you are playing as a steward, and what, if anything, you want to do differently for 2009.

This morning we will be taking up the Top Ten Beliefs of the Swedenborgian Church again, though I don’t know what John has planned for next week.  We’re going to do number 4 this morning, the one about eternity, what it’s all about, and how we are doing eternity right now.  And it ties into some fascinating ideas about the afterlife that may just be new to you.  As John has said each of the times we’ve done the Top Ten, the teachings of the church are not easy for everyone to accept, and in fact the church would rather you didn’t believe any of them based on the authority of the church.  You can take them or leave them, but hopefully some of you will find them useful and meaningful.  More on eternity later.  I mean, there’s plenty of time…


Lord, we invite one another into Your house his morning to worship together and experience connection to You in our midst.  We bring You with us, and we find You aleady here.  May we share the openness and passion that comes from Your love, and the curiosity and under-standing that comes from Your wisdom.



AC 4663. One who is unacquainted with the internal sense cannot but think that these words were spoken by the Lord of some last day, when all in the whole world will be gathered before Him, and will then be judged; and also that the procedure of the Judgment will be just as is described in the letter, namely, that He will set those who are to be judged on the right hand and on the left, and will speak to them as in the parable.  But one who is acquainted with the internal sense, and who has learned from other passages in the Word that the Lord judges no one to eternal fire, but that everyone judges himself, that … and who has also learned that the Last Judgment of everyone is when he dies, may know in some measure what these words involve in general. And one …knows the interior meaning of the words, may know what they specifically mean, namely, that in the other life everyone receives a reward in accordance with his life in the world.



One day, when Vice President Calvin Coolidge was presiding over the Senate, one Senator angrily told another to go “straight to hell”. The offended Senator complained to Coolidge as presiding officer, and Cal looked up from the book he had been leafing through while listening to the debate. “I’ve been looking through the rule book,” he said. “you don’t have to go.”

Well I don’t know what the ultimate fate of politicians is, or anyone for that matter, but at least Calvin got it mostly right, I’d say.  You won’t go there just because someone invites you or suggests you are on your way.

On the other hand, though you may not go where you’re told to go, everyone has to go, somewhere, sometime.  In Christian traditions the choices are limited.

You should find a printed version of Top Ten Belief #4 on your seats, and even if you already read it, you now get to hear it from me.  I’ll go slowly, and if you’re not getting the drift, let me know and we’ll figure it out.  Clearly it won’t have any value if it can’t be comprehended.

We are living Eternity right now.  Heaven and hell are both “places” that are “somewhere else,” as well as inner states of being.  How we are inside determines what place or environment we find ourselves in. In the spiritual world there is an appearance of time and space, but the dynamics that determine them there derive from our internal spiritual states and not rotations of our earth etc.  Thus, if I am in a state of love and faith toward the Lord, then I may well be seeing beautiful gardens full of attractive flowers and ripened fruit.  In this life, we are also in heaven when we are living spiritual lives; when we are trusting God, loving the people around us and also ourselves, doing good things with little or no hope of reward, feeling gratitude, and living the highest good we know, from primarily spiritual rather than material values.  Our surrounding environment here on earth may or may not be in accord with our internal state at any given moment. But what’s important is that the decisions we make in this world about the person we want to be and our resulting actions, develop and “shape” our spiritual character.  Just as we can make “heavenly” choices, we can also make “hellish” choices.  To the degree that we strive to make loving choices, the Lord is able to lead us into a more heavenly state.  To the degree that we turn away from goodness and justify self-serving, destructive behavior, we develop a character that separates us from God, thus keeping us spiritually in a hellish state.  For the sake of our eternal spiritual growth, it is important for us to be conscious of the choices we are making and, as much as possible, have clear-eyed perceptions of the effects those choices are having on us.  When we die, everything of our mind and will continues to live on in our spiritual body, that is, we continue to live on since our mind and will is exactly who we are and that can never die. Thus all the decisions that we’ve made in freedom, that is, made free from undue external force or manipulation, come with us.  In this sense we are living eternity right now.

There are a lot of references in the Bible to God as eternal, and in the New Testament there is a lot of promise of “eternal life” for the good people, and few easy-to-overlook references to “eternal punishment” for the bad guys.  But it is confusing because obtaining “eternal life” through belief in Christ is often contrasted with “not obtaining eternal life” or “death” as the alternative.  The Swedenborgian perspective on this is that “life” is good, but is not the only state of eternal existence.  It is handy to think of “death” in this context as being spiritually dead, or turned away from the source of life.  So the Lord gives eternal existence to everyone, but while the good folks get the good life, the bad guys just get a life sentence.  Here’s a elatively easy-to-follow quote from the writings:

AC 5006

“… the fact is that man is in this world in order to be initiated … into the things which are of heaven, and that his life in this world is hardly a moment in comparison with his life after death, for this is eternal. But there are few who believe that they will live after death; and for this reason also, heavenly things are of no account to them. …man immediately after death is in the other life, and … his life in this world is wholly continued there, and is of the same quality as it had been in this world….”

I find three interesting ideas about life in heaven and hell.  First, when you get there, it is not all that different for you than before you died.  It may not be the same kind of stuff or organized quite the same way as on Earth, but it looks similar, sounds similar, smells similar, etc., to the way your brain interprets the Earth.  We understand today, that the brain functions in a way that processes input from the physical world, and creates the consciousness of a reality.  Our spiritual body has the same kind of processing, but it creates a consciousness of a reality from input that is spiritual instead of physical.  The appearances are similar, because the physical world is created from and sustained through the spiritual world.  The human mechanisms we call mind and will seem to function the same in both worlds, but if we are open to it, the realization that the physical world and physical body have been sloughed off dawns on us.  Part of being closed to that idea is consistent with being dead spiritually, and so it is reported that people in hell don’t recognize that they’ve died at all.

The second interesting thing is that it is rarely automatic that you die and go immediately to heaven or hell.  There is a sorting out process where you learn about yourself with your newly opened spiritual senses, and turn toward God or away from God to find your most-comfortable direction.  If you think of God as the spiritual sun (S.U.N.) of heaven and everything revolves around that center, turning toward the center draws you closer, and turning away pushes you further away.  Like attracts like so similar orientation is perceived in the spiritual world as short distances, and unlike orientation is perceived as longer distances.  Spiritually coherent groups of people, that is angels, form societies and neighborhoods that seem physically close.  Self-centered people are innately of a different orientation from those who turn toward God, and they tend to be opposed to one another as well.  So I think of hell as appearing (to someone in heaven) sort of like a vast sparsely populated zone well away from the light of the sun where you find clumps or societies of like-minded but inherently ego-centric individuals, spaced well away from one another and not generally congenial to each other.

The third interesting thing to me is the idea that the quality of your life in heaven or hell, and what you’re doing, and who you’re thinking of, and how you feel, determine the appearance of your surroundings.  The idea that you will find what you want to find in heaven is supported by this concept.  It may well be that two angels in dialogue may have different perceptions of their surroundings.  In any case, you co-create the environment that corresponds with the things you love, and that goes for hell as well as heaven!  The person in hell can be to some extent comfortable and see their surroundings as pleasant and exciting and rewarding, based on their selfish outlook, but they cannot be satisfied because their real happiness depends on being superior in some way to others, and that is an unstable situation.  The torment of hell, then, is having to live in an environment with anger, resentment, fear, and frustration of passions that can only be turned against others.  Swedenborg talks about the fire of hell this way:

‘That “eternal fire” is not natural fire, is evident.  That it is not torment of conscience, is because all who are in evil have no conscience, and they who have had none in the life of the body cannot have any in the other life. But … it is [their appetite for evil] because all vital fire is from the loves in man–heavenly fire from the love of good and truth, and infernal fire from the love of evil and falsity,–or what is the same, heavenly fire is from love to the Lord and love toward the neighbor, and infernal fire is from the love of self and the love of the world.”(AC 5071)

The key idea here is that life flows into us from baby-hood, or who knows, maybe from conception, maybe even from earlier than that; and flows into us continuously throughout our residence in this world, and it never stops.  We can embrace it or shun it as a gift from God, but we all get it.  Moving from this natural world of Earth to the spiritual plane is not so much a moving as a dropping away of the physical masks and mechanisms and limitations of the natural world, and an opening of our spiritual senses, which some argue are active all the time, but not in our consciousness.  The person we are, the mind and soul if you will, goes on and continues to deal with issues and progress, or not, and the foundation we build here is not lost.  We don’t start over with a clean slate, so pay attention!  Your transcript goes with you.  Maybe that is not the most comforting idea, but that is one of the teachings that this church offers.  There’s a lot more to it, for another time.


Lord, we bring these gifts to you today to help our church do your work in the world.  We thank you for all you have given us, of which we return what we can.  Dear Lord, we thank you for all the people you have led to us to help and guide us.  We thank you for the many opportunities you give us to try again and again to be helpers and guides for others.  We thank you for being with us all the time, in our seeing and our feeling, in our thinking and our doing, in our inmost secrets and in our most public trials.  Thank you for all the things we forget to thank you for.  Thank you.  Amen.


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