Sunday Service, Delivered via Zoom, by Pete Toot, July 5, 2020. New Church of Montgomery, Glendale, OH
So we have had our trip through the topics of breathing, except I will add one more we are all very much aware of these days – It is the scary idea that the air we breathe – the air that sustains us in our mortal containers here – may be bad for us – with viruses we cannot see and know little about. I plan to continue breathing, but I do not want to be breathed on, nor do I want to breathe on anyone else. So what is the take-away from the stories about breathing?
Well, we were created and are given life from moment to moment due to the ongoing process of creation. All of our ancestors, ourselves, and all of our descendants. That happened in Genesis 1, which we skipped over. And a key
feature of this is that as mortal earthly creatures we inhale and exhale along with all the other animals; and we share the planets’ atmosphere. We are all in this together. The Lord said you all get to breathe air, even if I have to give you gills.
In Genesis 2, the inner meaning of the story deals with how as human beings, each one of us, has been given the opportunity for what is sometimes called second life – real life – where that inner part of us resides and deals with deeper matters. The natural person deals with walking around, eating, staying warm, and making more natural people. And as we grow up we learn things, get street smarts, find chocolate and movies and cool cars. We get jobs, make money, spend money, talk a lot, and play video games, and support our local businesses. As we mature and get spiritual, we learn about God, pay attention to laws, help other people and may join a church or a country club. In Genesis 2 when God breathed into the nostrils of the man made from dust, humans became human – came to life the way scripture talks about life. Understanding the inner meaning of the passage, we understand that we are talking about each one of us. Yes, each of us breathes earthly air, we think and feel and behave in the natural world, but so do animals.
At our best we can get to the point where we are generous, fair, and law-abiding. But the reasons we behave well the way we do at that point is just based on intellectual religious and moral ideas, what we have learned about what being good means, and natural desires and motivations that have to do with being proud of ourselves, living well, being well thought of, and being safe. Once we are moving beyond the that point, our behavior may not look any different, but our motivations are less based on natural instincts and personal goals and whatever faith we come to believe, and more based on simply loving to behave generously, having real caring feelings for the people around us, and out of genuine love for what God loves. So even if we are moved by love instead of, or in addition to faith, we may still have decent reputations, live well, and be safety-conscious. I would say, however, that this is just the beginning of becoming what Swedenborg calls the heavenly person.
At this point, in the neighborhood where most of us hope we reside, we are all still short of breath. Short of breath because we are still mostly doing just fine living by bread alone. How much do we actually live from the words that come from the mouth of God? We read them. We may understand them. Sometimes they speak to us, but our egos keep getting in the way, and we are afraid of them. We are afraid of ourselves! We are afraid to be the self we could be, and the self we are is a very stubborn self to deal with.
In Deuteronomy, we heard two different lessons this morning: It took the people of Israel 40 years of rigorous testing and shaping before they could be shown that bread alone is not enough. Even then it didn’t stick very well. And in Matthew we here Jesus repeating it – hungry as He was, tempted to forget it and just go for the bread. So lesson 1 is that acting from love is seriously important. The other lesson, from Deuteronomy 10 and again echoed in the new testament, is that we are to love everyone – no exceptions! Meaning foreigners, Jews, Gentiles, Christians, men and women, free and slave. Today the list is longer, but the inner meaning is unchanged. Love everyone – wherever they are on any spectrum you can think of: gender and gender identity, race and ethnicity, wealth, education, IQ, height, weight, color, the nature of your job or your politics or your family or your history.
There is no doubt people see some others as problem people. Some think that loving people they think are somehow wrong or evil or lost is simple – just use tough love so they can be fixed. While love comes in many different forms, there is no formula for who deserves what type of love. Just like there is no formula for us to figure out who besides ourselves may need to change. There are plenty of Bible stories we could find to support this, but we won’t go there. In the end, we make progress because we humans are designed to make progress – and we invite change for ourselves by taking a deep spiritual breath once in a while, letting go, letting God help us with our courage, thoughtful decision-making, and putting our egos aside.
One important thing for us today: What sets Swedenborgians apart from others? Are the lessons from today only for Swedenborgians? The answer is that we are not set apart from anyone else because of who we are or what we believe, but only are distinguishable because of what we have. We have what we think of as the treasure of Swedenborg’s teachings. But we don’t own them. We are asked to try them out
and put them to work if they work for us. So where are we…
Lesson 1 – Moving to a state where we love to be on good behavior is important.
Lesson 2 – Everyone is important regardless of who they are.
Lesson 3 – Is that as we look around and see all the turmoil and chaos, pain and violence, irrationality and stubbornness in our world, we should remember that in one way or another everyone is dealing with it in some way. Some just cringe, some take contrary but enthusiastically defended stands, some give in to anger, hate, ignorance, and revenge. Some just do what they can get away with for themselves. How you deal with it, even when you are courageous and energized and pleased with your approach, is not how the person next to you might deal with it, or even want to deal with it.
Let’s look at the big happenings around us, 2020 – but I won’t endorse any platforms or positions here – you get to do that for yourself. Here are my top 4 issues for 2020. Racial Inequality. Is that an issue you are passionate about? Do you want to do something about it? – make it go away? – make it a blessing? – what? Maybe your passion is about some other form of discrimination – there are plenty. Political Polarity. Does that stir you up? Do you want to do something about that? –build bridges? – eliminate the “evil” party? – change the structure? – what?
Maybe your passion is primarily about one of the issues – plenty of those, too. Planetary Future. Have you a concern? We’ve talked about this before. Do you want to do something about it? – stop the fussing? – reverse climate trends? –
escape the Earth? – what? All three are on the table – probably more than three.
COVID19 Impact. Do you have a passion here? What to do? – Who should decide what we do? – Can people go to virus-free places? – How do we care for others?
- Apply lesson 1 – Allow … courage to challenge anxiety and move us in a positive spiritual direction. Try out new attitudes and exercise giving things up to the Lord to handle. This allows new actions to be taken, passions to be recognized and put into behavior – behavior that lets us contribute where your passions and talents lie.
- Apply lesson 2 – Realize your passion may be very different from someone else’s just
as important passion. Your solutions and ideas want to be shaped to address the problems you see and be a blessing to everyone they affect. This comes from respecting everyone as your brothers and sisters.
- Apply lesson 3 – Besides stepping out of our comfort zones and being inclusive, take lessons from our teachings, and here are some. Think of these as some clues about to how to be a better activist…
Order: The Lord is Divine Love and Wisdom, and from that Divine Order. Place your passion into an orderly behavior. Sort out what makes your passion strong. Understand there are different loves in play. Test for ego!
Change: Assume all ideas have some reason behind them, and could show you their wisdom if you looked for it. Value the people who have ideas and celebrate the energy available for change. The Lord is making all things new.
We learn progress comes out of the chaos of ill-fitting pieces being pulled apart so they can be rearranged. We are not privy to how God is moving in the world, but there is nothing out of which Providence cannot bring good.
Education: Listen to why people support different solutions. Check out your authorities – why do you believe some and not others. Recognize where different solutions do work for different people and consider how your ideas
might too. Understand your objectives and how flexible you need to be to make them useful to everyone affected.
Union: We speak of union in the context of caring and understanding. There is strength in the variety and interactions of community in terms of shared concern and synergy – find those of like thought, but do not buy into all the
ideas they may have. Focus on actions that are spiritually consistent, and compromise where appropriate. Try not to dilute your focus – know you have boundaries and learn where they can be stretched, and where they need to be
Prayer: Ask for and accept support from God and your community, without a need to set preconditions on where they stand on your issues. Give back to your community similar support.
If life is all about learning to be good, to see truth, to be useful – then we are all indeed asked to bring our uniqueness to bear on service to our neighbors. We are called to be activists, though the connotation of activists as advocates of drastic and hurtful behavior does not apply. We can be little or big activists – be engaged in big or little ways in whatever size and shape issues call for our attention. But we are called. Let’s help each other answer their call. Amen.