Today’s Service: Church and Community

Yield to Love

READINGS:

Genesis 28:3 (NIV):
May God Almighty bless you and make you fruitful and increase your numbers until you become a community of peoples.

John 15:4-5 (NIV):
4 Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me. “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.

Heaven and Hell by Emanuel Swedenborg (translated by George Dole) n. 68
Each Community in the Heavens Reflects a Single Individual
Several times I have been allowed to see that each community of heaven reflects a single individual and is in the likeness of a human being as well. There was one community that was infiltrated by a number of spirits who knew how to assume the guise of angels of light. They were hypocrites. As they were being set apart by some angels, I observed that the whole community first looked like something cloudy, then gradually took on a human form, though still a cloudy one, and finally appeared in the light as a person. The individuals who were in that person and made it up were the ones who participated in the benevolence of that community. The others, who were not in the person and did not make it up, were the hypocrites. These latter were cast out, while the former ones were retained. This is how the separation was accomplished.

TALK (written and delivered by Worship Leader Sue Marie):

What is church?

I do not think “church” is a building or a specific denomination. Rather, church is community. Church is relationships. It is small groups meeting for a common purpose. It is our chance to let God be among us as “someone with skin on” through us.

Church is the story of the Good Samaritan. It is the poor young lady from Nepal who was in my community college ESL class who makes sure she gives food to the homeless man at her bus stop each day even though she has barely enough money to feed herself and her family. She is Hindu, and she is the closest I have come to the personification of church in this world.

But the Church is not just one place, group, or gathering. The Church is the tapestry created by the weaving of seemingly separate threads into one. These threads are our daily acts of kindness to our neighbors. They are our thoughts and prayers, our sacrifices for others, and our forgiveness of one another.

The Church is all the cells that comprise what Emmanuel Swedenborg calls “the Universal Human” (or “Grand Man” in some older translations)—the Church on earth as well as in the heavens with God as the head. All the people who choose good and who reflect God’s image in their acts of love to the neighbor are the Church.

“It is worthy of note that just as heaven as a whole presents itself as one entire human being, which is therefore called the Grand Man, .. so each community in a similar way presents an image of a human being. For the image of heaven as a whole imprints itself on communities and makes them similar to itself, and not only on communities but also on the individual persons within a community. This is where the individuals get their human form from, for each person in an angelic community is heaven in the smallest form it takes. Variations in their human form are determined by the kind of good and truth with them, which explains why each spirit and angel is seen in a form exactly matching his thoughts and affections that he communicates to communities round about. This being so, the more that spirits and angels are governed by goodness and truth, the more beautiful is their human form. “~~Emmanuel Swedenborg, Arcana Coelestia, n. 6605 (Elliott, trans.)

What is the Church’s role in the universal Community?

If we are the Church, then the Church’s ministry is our love of God and love of our neighbor as enacted by each of us living our useful purpose on this earth as God calls us and doing good for our neighbor. This is true Christian love—the Golden Rule, which is found in all religions.

The Church, then, is an amalgamation of living, acting communities of humans loving God and other humans where we support and learn from one another regardless of geographical or religious boundaries. It is the interconnected web.

Our society can be so dysfunctional. On one hand, people march in the streets for the rights of the historically disenfranchised, and, on the other hand, they dismiss people they consider “different” as unacceptable and not part of their communities, as not mattering, even as not belonging to society. It is just not right. None of it is: not the violation of rights of the disenfranchised and not the dismissal of humanity from those who have suffered great mental and emotional wounds from others.

But, it is the society in which we live, and it is the very same society that presents to the Church its most important issue of the decade: to be church among society so that society experiences community at its deepest, most effective level where real healing and universal community can occur.

MEDITATION HYMN: They’ll Know We are Christians By Our Love

DISCUSSION:

  • What does “church” mean for you?
  • What are your expectations of church as community?
  • What do you think the Church’s role is in the universal Community?
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