#WeekendPlans: 4/30/23 “The Return of the Light” w/Pete Toot

This Sunday, the theme of the message is “The Return of the Light.” Not by accident is that it is also the theme of May Day, or Beltane, the ancient celebration of the beginning of summer, still celebrated with bonfires, dancing, and rituals from pagan spirituality and Christian practices.

Join us via Zoom this Sunday, 4/30/23, 11 am, with lay-leader, Pete Toot, as we take a look at the wheel of the seasons of the year, and explore the inner meaning of seasons and their connection with spiritual growth. Join us as we dive into some of Emanuel Swedenborg‘s correspondences and what the Bible can tell us on these things that seem strangely connected. Link provided to church members and their guests.

ribbons on a maypole. Photo by Chaman Kumar on Pexels.com

#SundaySermon: 10/17/21 “People of the Book” by Rev. Dick Baxter

Did you miss Sunday, 10/17/21’s service with Worship Leader, Gloria Toot? Catch the service on our YouTube channel or this week’s video below at minute 12:29, or read the pdf:

Gloria Delivered a wonderful sermon by Dick Baxter from 1991

#WeekendPlans: Lay-led Service w/Gloria Toot 10/17/21

We will be having a zoom church service on Sunday, October 17, 2021, led by lay-leader, Gloria Toot. The subject is on an “Our Daily Bread” sermon entitled “People of the Word.”

We hope you can join us and offer your own personal reflections.

Sunday School 9:45 am, Fellowship 10:30, Service at 11:00 am.

Zoom link will be provided in an email to church members and their contacts.

Photo by Luis Quintero on Pexels.com

#WeekendPlans: “What’s the Use” 7/18/21

Please join us this Sunday, July 18, 2021, for New Church of Montgomery’s Zoom church service led by Pete Toot. The title of the service is “What’s the Use?”

Sunday School begins at 9:45 am, Fellowship at 10:30 am, and Worship at 11:00 am.

Members and their contacts will receive an email with the zoom login later in the week.

#SundaySermon: 3/21/21, Lay Leader Pete Toot

Zoom Church Service, March 21, 2021, Lay Leader Pete Toot– On Obedience and Freedom
Message – “Do As You’re Told”

Good morning everyone. I see you all showed up as you were instructed. So you see there are some times when being obedient is not something we are aware of. Well, I would not say you are here because I told you to; but something in you wanted you to be here – and you obeyed that. Good job! The awareness issue may turn out to be a big deal, as we will see later. But first I must tell you a story about a famous Buddhist Zen master, Bankei, and a talk he was giving. He was a real person, but who knows if the story is true…

Master Bankei gave talks that were attended not only by Zen students but by persons of all ranks and sects. He never quoted any sutras nor indulged in scholastic dissertations. Instead, his words were spoken directly from his heart to the hearts of his listeners. However, the fact that he attracted large audiences angered a priest of the Nichiren sect because his adherents were going to these talks to hear about Zen. This Nichiren priest came to the temple, determined to debate with Bankei.

“Hey, Zen teacher!” he called out. “Wait a minute. Whoever respects you will obey what you say, but a man like myself does not respect you. Can you make me obey you?”

“Come up beside me and I will show you,” said Bankei.

So the priest pushed his way through the crowd to the teacher. Bankei smiled. “Come over to my left side.” The priest did so. “No,” said Bankei, “we may talk better if you are on the right side. Step over here.”

The priest proudly stepped over to the right. “You see,” observed Bankei, “you are obeying me and I think you are a very gentle person. Now sit down and listen.”

It was obvious to us right away, but not so obvious to the priest that at least in a small way he was indeed being obedient to Bankei. We can analyze what happened in this story, but I will give you the short version. He did exactly what Bankei asked him to do, but why he did it has, in my opinion, more to do with him following the need to be seen as a reasonable, socially correct, well behaved gentleman. He did not sense that Bankei was actually ordering him around. He didn’t realize they had gotten to the obedience part of the discussion. Think about some times when you have followed instructions even when you weren’t really thinking about being an obedient person. Maybe you got called to dinner, even if you weren’t ready, but went anyway… That ever happen? What motivation was strongest?

Well the Bible is full of places where it is essentially said “Do as you’re told!” Are we not told to follow the Ten Commandments? Are we not told to make a joyful noise to the Lord? Are we not told in Deuteronomy to not do all sorts of things, like “do not eat any abominable thing!” So for your diet, no pork chops – no ostrich steaks – no rabbit stew. And in the New Testament reading, we heard James say, “Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says.” – Do what it says! Not only that, but in the next breath he says, “whoever looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom and continues in it … doing it—they will be blessed in what they do.” “…the perfect law that gives freedom…” And there we have it – the paradox I promised to put before you today. Do it, obey the law, the perfect law, this law that gives freedom, and you will be blessed. Just do what you’re told, and that’s freedom, and it’s good for you. How can that be? Is it just a jumble of words that don’t really fit together? How can obedience and freedom be the same thing? Isn’t freedom doing what you want to do, whether or not it agrees with this law or that law. Isn’t it being free of having your behavior dictated to you? [Refers to the reading from James 1:19-

Those of you who have children may have heard the complaint “You are not the boss of me!” It is a common child ailment – parents call it rebellion. It is a cry for freedom! Emancipation! Mom! Dad! Enough of this child slavery! … Well we know that there are certain maturity issues related to children that make it in the best interest of the child that they be told what to do. Don’t run into the street! Stop kicking your brother! Eat your vegetables! You cannot wear that to school! … Because I said so. There are laws for adults, too, that are in our best interest. Stop! That’s a red light. You get it. We don’t think of that as slavery – most of us don’t – we think it is practical way to organize a cooperative society.

But a law by any other name is not a rose. Many laws have been abridgements of freedom,
depending on who you are. Like, no, you can’t vote, you’re a woman. No, you can’t use that
restroom, you’re black. So there are good laws and bad laws, and some in between. And having a law to obtain fairness doesn’t mean it will be followed. We could discuss the social issues all day, but the point is that when we talk about obedience and freedom, the critical question is obedience to what, and freedom from what? And to whose interest? It is clear these questions apply when we talk about civil laws, but what about religious laws?

In our religious scriptures we find the Ten Commandments. We find similar commandments in most if not all other religions. We are told to follow them, or else! We are being told by Scripture, or by God through scripture, that these are the rules. Some of those rules have made it into civil laws, like stealing and killing, and there are penalties imposed by the legal system such as fines, imprisonment, or execution. Most of the penalties are not to protect the law-breaker – but are punishments or for public safety. But in the case of laws like the Ten Commandments, failing to obey does come with this kind of a penalty, but is more like the laws of nature – they don’t get repealed and you can get hurt if you defy them. Defy gravity and it can hurt you. Or the law of averages – think about what it is that stops you from playing Russian Roulette too many times? Are these oppressive laws? Well they might keep us from doing what we want to do, so sure, they make us less free. We are less free, but we accept it.

But let’s go back now to the Ten Commandments. I think we can agree that we are indeed being told what to do, and what not to do. If I put another god before God – what is the penalty? Say I love money more than anything else – you can say money is what I worship. Money is my god. There is no civil penalty for loving money. I can live my whole life and not be subject to disciplinary action. So now we get to the crux of the matter. We are closing in on the paradox that James presents us with. Let’s say I disobey God’s rules a lot and never get caught. How does disobedience take away my freedom? Our teachings have a lot to say about it. I’ll say a little about it.

The readings we heard today from Genesis [Gen 49:8-12] and Arcana Coelestia [AC 6333, 6374] showed the idea behind an outer and inner sense of the Word. The same outer and inner structure is true of everything in creation. We start with the definition of a human being as a spiritual person housed in a physical body. The physical person is what we know about. It has senses and memory to provide information to our brain, and it has hormones, feels pain, and does things and says things. The spiritual person is tucked away “inside” – not physically inside, but inside in the way a person’s attitudes and moral qualities are inside. If I run into a person who is caring and honest, I can not tell that by their physical appearance, a medical examination or even an autopsy. Where do these reside? They do not have a physical existence, and though they can be demonstrated by the person’s physical actions, these could be an act. Our teachings and our experience say that we spend a certain time in this world, and then we die. That is, the physical person runs out of gas and as far as we can tell, they are no longer alive. But the spiritual person keeps on going. What happens when I die is that I still possess whatever caring and honesty I developed while here in the world. I wake-up, recognize my spiritual self and can still feel emotions, think thoughts, interact with the people around me, those others who are gone from the physical realm. In many ways it is like not having died at all, but in a while we see that in many ways it is different; and as great as that discussion can be, we won’t have it now. The key thing is that if I disobeyed spiritual rules in my worldly life, the consequences are that I have to live with who I have become, in the afterlife. I am not going to go into the nature of heaven and hell, I am going to let you take it at face value that heaven is better than hell. Given a choice, and I believe I do have a choice, I think I’ll choose heaven. In heaven you get to associate with people who primarily love what God is all about and each other, in hell you get to associate with people who don’t love you and hold tight to whatever they can get. There are lots of sermons about heaven and hell, but I want to touch on the meaning this has for us in this world.

Starting out in life we only want what we want – As a newborn I am self-centered, I want food, comfort, and attention. I become aware gradually that there is something besides me in the universe, and that is a natural progression. As I grow up, that can change. The inclination I retain throughout my life to look out for myself is still there, called ego, but as I grow up I learn things, experience things, and if all goes well, ego is no longer the boss of me. This gets to a part of the paradox – doing what WE want is not freedom after all, but slavery to this hidden, sneaky ego-master. That’s not freedom, so what is? This hasn’t helped us see how obeying the law James talks about is getting us freedom. It still sounds like we either obey one boss or another, that we always obey something. Is that the right answer – there is no freedom? Emmanuel Swedenborg sheds light on this. And I warn
you that at first it looks like we just replace one paradox with another. Swedenborg tells us that, “Few know what freedom is and what non-freedom is. Freedom seems to entail everything that is in keeping with any love and associated delight, and non-freedom to entail everything that is at variance with these. That which is in keeping with self-love and love of the world, and with the desires belonging to those loves, seems to man to be freedom; but that is the freedom of hell. That however which is in keeping with love to
the Lord and love towards the neighbor, consequently with the love of what is good and true, is true freedom, being the freedom that exists in heaven.”

Arcana Coelestia n. 2870

What he says here is about behavior in the external life, that is, this freedom involves our ability to choose a path “which is in keeping with” at any given time one of what we call the four ruling loves: as he states here, “self-love and love of the world,” and “love to the Lord and love towards the neighbor” the last two being preferred to the first two. And while in our heart we are motivated by different desires at different times, these desires at their root are all driven by just one of these four, the one we love best. To outward appearances moving towards God or away from God are not what we would call freedom in the common usage we are familiar with. In both cases our behavior, whatever we think or plan or verbally support, is quietly managed by where our heart is centered. We are not in control like it seems. Swedenborg agrees. He says,

“… it must be borne in mind that in man the Lord alone is active and man of himself is merely passive; and that it is by means of the influx of life from God that man is also active. It is because this influx from God is unceasing that it seems to man as if he were active from himself; and it is because of this appearance that man has free-will….”

True Christian Religion n. 110

We understand from this that there is only one life in creation, our life is a gift from the Lord and it is delivered undetected through our spiritual self. We think we act from ourselves, we think we decide what to do, but our choices are actually largely limited, as said above, to those choices which serve the desires of our ruling love. Notice that he says that we have free-will, but what does that mean?

For human beings there are two things that are truly ours, the rest is an appearance. The two things, in theological terms, are called will and discernment. In everyday terms, will is how we actually make our bodies do what we intend, and discernment is understanding our options and making plans. Our ruling love does a lot of the directing of how we think about things – because we mostly use thinking to plan how to get what we want … often what our ego wants. But the mind is more flexible than the heart. Our inner self, the part closest to God and the whole spiritual realm, is influencing our thinking, everything is not completely up to what the heart wants. The heart is pushy, it desires, it craves, but it is not doing the thinking. When we are considering things like generosity, like nurturing and protecting others, like questioning what is truth, or what is useful, we are more tuned into the better influences from our inner being. But there is a trick – to get our heart to go along with these influences, what our conscience says, or what our notion to improve ourselves suggests, we have to overcome the temptation to just follow our old way of doing things. The idea is that we cannot change our ruling love by ourselves. We have to practice living as if we already are the better person we have envisioned. If it is a big change, it is easier to say than to do. In some circles this process is called “fake it until you make it!” It is a matter of overriding an existing habitual behavior we are fond of and developing a new habit our ego resists. There are plenty of temptations to put change on hold and just stay in our comfort zone.

The result of overcoming temptation becomes a satisfaction and warm fuzzy that is due to being more closely aligned with the Divine, closer to heaven. As a simplification, we might say satisfaction comes from Divine Wisdom, and warm fuzzies come from Divine Love. We become open to the Lord changing our heart. Changing our heart is not heavy lifting for the Lord though, it is built into the creation. It can’t … not … happen. And in case it wasn’t clear, when it does happens we move away from ego-centered and selfish motivations to more people-centered and generous motivations. The practice we do is the real work. But we are not in this alone. It is helpful to be able call upon someone else to be a supporter as you practice spiritual growth. It is helpful to connect with the ultimate source of Wisdom and Love through prayer, or introspection, or listening to your inner self while reading the Word or other sources of inspiration. Even getting encouragement from someone who is also connected to God (like you are) is available from the Lord as part of God’s design. However you do that, regardless of what you call it, by whatever name or image you find helpful to you for what I call God, by whatever tools you have in your spiritual toolbox, it can bring support for change from the inside.

So the bottom line of this message is if we just think in terms of getting what we want, the
freedom we treasure is an illusion, but the treasure is real – a hidden capacity to choose to give up slavery to an insistent but very limited ego which makes us small; to turn to a life that is open to all kinds of possibilities for being more like the Lord leads us to be – to become proficient at loving others and smart in selecting behaviors that are useful. Practice, practice, practice!

I want to leave you with a few things to think about…
–Have you ever become suddenly aware that you might have made a selfish decision?
Does it hit right away, or show up after the fact?
–Have you ever changed a habit that was pleasurable, but that somehow you decided was
not a good idea? How did you decide to change?
–Have you had discussions with yourself where you go back and forth thinking about a
situation in the past or future, where you have tried out ideas about different behaviors?
Done some “what ifs?” or “if onlys.” How did that go?

What I tried to offer today was not a biblical endorsement of behaving well, nor a lament of
the possible unpleasant outcome of a selfish lifestyle, but a glimpse at the mechanics of
spiritual growth. It is just talk, though, to describe how taking such a path works, there is
work to be done to follow it. It is simple to say “avoid temptation”, and “eliminate bad habits,”but to actually do it, what you’re told, …well it’s complicated. Amen.

#WeekendPlans: 3/21/21 Zoom Church w/Pete Toot

Please Stay on the Path

The theme of this Sunday’s zoom service is Obedience & Freedom, and the message title is “Do As You’re Told”.

We will venture to explore how the generally accepted idea that “doing whatever we want is the ultimate freedom” is a justification for our slavery, and the expression “You are not the boss of me!” is fighting words from the depths of our fears, presented to our voice courtesy of our supreme ego.

How can following the rules be freedom and choosing to go our own way be un-freedom? We will look to Scripture and what insights our church’s teaching bring to this apparent paradox.

9:45 am Sunday School, 10:30 am Fellowship, 11:00 am Worship

Zoom link provided to Church members and their guests

Presentation/Sermon Notes from 2/7/21: “All God’s Critters”

New Church of Montgomery, Presented via zoom and Google Slides

Feb 7, 2021
“All God’s Critters”
11:00 am, Lay-led Service, by Maggie Panyko


Opening Prayer:
Oh Dearest Lord, may the food we eat nourish us and treat the earth kindly. May its nutrients transform into food for thought. May every bite we take bring us joy, and reflect our gratefulness to the earth and its caretakers.

Lighting of the Community Candles

  • We light the first candle to honor the good and truth to be found in all spiritual traditions.
  • We light the second candle to honor the Earth and all of life as the creation of the Divine, God of us all.
  • We light the third candle to honor and support the variety of our individual paths which together, make our one spiritual community
  • We light the fourth candle to honor and provide an open and safe place for all who seek greater understanding and a life of deepening spirituality.

Opening Statement:
Inherent to a vegetarian diet is usually a conscious decision about avoiding meat and animal products for the purpose of compassion for animals and creating a more sustainable system of raising food which is also kind to the earth. 
The purpose of today’s lesson is to teach a little about some of the history of the Swedenborgian church as it relates to vegetarianism and Christianity.


Genesis 1:29, New Living Translation
29 Then God said, “Look! I have given you every seed-bearing plant throughout the earth and all the fruit trees for your food. 30 And I have given every green plant as food for all the wild animals, the birds in the sky, and the small animals that scurry along the ground—everything that has life.” And that is what happened.

Job: 12, 7-10
But ask the animals, and they will teach you; the birds of the air, and they will tell you; ask the plants of the earth, and they will teach you; and the fish of the sea will declare to you. Who among all these does not know
that the hand of the Lord has done this? In his hand is the life of every living thing and the breath of every human being

Matthew 14, 13-17
13 Now when Jesus heard this, he withdrew from there in a boat to a desolate place by himself. But when the crowds heard it, they followed him on foot from the towns. 14 When he went ashore he saw a great crowd, and he had compassion on them and healed their sick. 15 Now when it was evening, the disciples came to him and said, “This is a desolate place, and the day is now over; send the crowds away to go into the villages and buy food for themselves.” 16 But Jesus said, “They need not go away; you give them something to eat.” 17 They said to him, “We have only five loaves here and two fish.” 18 And he said, “Bring them here to me.” 19 Then he ordered the crowds to sit down on the grass, and taking the five loaves and the two fish, he looked up to heaven and said a blessing. Then he broke the loaves and gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the crowds. 20 And they all ate and were satisfied. And they took up twelve baskets full of the broken pieces left over. 21 And those who ate were about five thousand men, besides women and children.

Secrets of Heaven, 1002 Swedenborg
[6] The reason blood is called soul and symbolizes the holiness of charity, and the reason it represented the holiness of love in the Jewish religion, is that it constitutes the life of the body. Since blood constitutes the life of the body, it is the body’s outermost soul, so that we can call it the physical soul, or the vehicle of our physical life. And since external objects represented inner attributes in the representative churches, blood represented the soul, or heavenly life. The symbolism of not eating as not mingling now follows. 1002 Regarded in itself, eating meat is a profane custom, since people of the very earliest times never ate the flesh of any animal or bird but only grains (particularly wheat bread), fruit, vegetables, different kinds of milk, and milk products (such as butter). Butchering living creatures and eating the flesh was heinous, in their eyes, and characteristic of wild beasts. It was only on account of the menial labor and the functions the animals performed for them that they captured any. This can be seen from Genesis 1:29, 30. But when time passed and people turned as savage as wild animals and in fact more savage, for the first time they started to butcher animals and eat the meat. In view of the fact that people were like this, practice was also tolerated, as it still is today. To the extent that people follow it in good conscience, it is permissible, because everything we consider true and consequently allowable forms our conscience. For this reason, no one these days is ever condemned for eating meat. 1003 This now shows that not eating flesh in its soul, [not eating] blood means not mingling profane things with holy. Eating blood with flesh never mingles profane things with holy, as the Lord also taught explicitly in Matthew: It is not what goes into the mouth that renders a person unclean but what comes out of the mouth; this renders a person unclean, since the things that come out of the mouth come out of the heart. (Matthew 15:11, 17, 18, 19, 20)


From Swedenborg.org: Jonathan Rose explains that Swedenborg mentions the eating of meat several times in his writings, but he doesn’t appear to come down on one side or the other. In one passage, he seems to imply that eating meat is savage (Secrets of Heaven §1002), and this has influenced a number of Swedenborgians to become vegetarian. In another passage (Divine Love and Wisdom §331), though, Swedenborg refers to eating meat as a normal practice, with no reference to his earlier remarks.
What about Swedenborg himself? According to the anecdotes left behind by those who knew him, Swedenborg was primarily a vegetarian who occasionally ate fish, but he would only eat red meat if he was offered it as a guest in someone’s house or at some type of public function.

-Other accounts by his maid say he ate eel and pigeon pie – wikipedia, Sigstedt, C. The Swedenborg Epic: The life and works of Emanuel Swedenborg Bookman Associates, 1952, p. 476, # 642).

1745 – Swedenborg begins to have visions. His first: Swedenborg was dining in a private room at a tavern in London. By the end of the meal, a darkness fell upon his eyes, and the room shifted character. Suddenly, he saw a person sitting at a corner of the room, telling him: “Do not eat too much!”. – ” Small Theological Works and Letters” by Emanuel Swedenborg. Edited and published by the Swedenborg Society (London, 1975)

The New Jerusalem inaugurated (in Heaven) in 1757 was to become the experience of all who would discipline the flesh … Bible Christians embraced with equal conviction any secular goals which seemed to fulfil their beliefs.-Lineman

In 1772, Swedenborg dies

In approx 1794, several societies form for the study of Swedenborg’s writings

1809 – The Salford Bible Christians of Northwest England are founded by William Cowherd, a Swedenborgian who broke away to form his own church. They come to be known as the Cowherdites; their chapel, Known locally as the Beefsteak Chapel, urged its members to participate in a meat-free diet as a form of temperance.  They are one of the philosophical forerunners of the secular Vegetarian Society formed in Kent, England in 1847. According to PJ Lineman, a writer on the English Swedenborgians, he notes that  “the Bible Christians ‘ saw the death of Jesus as a symbol of the destruction of man’s body so that his spirit could be set free’.14 These beliefs influenced Cowherd’s teachings on vegetarianism and temperance. Lineham considers that Cowherd ‘thought that meat eating and the drinking of intoxicating liquor excited man’s animal nature and prevented him from recovering his infinite nature’.15 Dietary reform was primarily for man’s spiritual development. He also notes that Cowherd criticised other Swedenborgians for believing that ‘ so long as a sinful brutal nature continues within us, it is still permitted’.16 Swedenborgian principles were desacralised, and coupled with the social movements of the age.

1817  Reverends William Metcalfe and James Clark, followers of Rev. Cowherd, cross the Atlantic with 40 followers and form the Philadelphia Bible Church – wikipedia; Bible Christian church

1825 a group of people attempt to form an Owenite colony in Yellow Springs, OH. It is attractive to local Swedenborgians, but dissolves after a few months, though they were, “intelligent, liberal, generous, cultivated men and women,” – ysnews.com

1838, a boarding school in Surrey, England, founded by the Owenites, was called the Concordium, and also known as Alcott House, served their pupils a meat-free diet. Owenism was a utopian social experiment designed to do something with the poor after the Napoleonic Wars, “to place the unemployed poor in newly built rural communities.” -Wikipedia, Owenism

Congregational Response:

Meditation Hymn:

The Lamb 1826
“The Lamb” by William Blake
, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Pastoral Prayer:
Dear Lord,
We pray for our church family all over the world, past, present and future.
We thank them for their knowledge and the good things that have been passed down for the good of humanity. We pray that compassion for all souls is always foremost in our mind, Whether we speak of animals in the field awaiting slaughter, or our neighbors without food. We pray that our choices are kind ones, and that our imprint upon this world is light unless it is in the form of giving and generosity.
May we kindle kindness in our hearts to feel and share the warmth of love, Love that comes from you.

Prayers of the People, Silent or Aloud:
Let us now pray, in our hearts, for our neighbors, friends, and loved ones in distress and need and express our thankfulness for the abundance with which we are blessed.

The Lord’s Prayer:
Our Father, who art in Heaven, hallowed be Thy name. Thy Kingdom come, Thy Will be done on Earth as it is in Heaven. Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. For Thine is the Kingdom, the Power, and the Glory now and forever. Amen.

Closing Song:
“GO NOW IN PEACE,” Written by Joe Wise

For Fun: DIY Impossible Burger Recipe













Secrets of Heaven, Swedenborg: https://49lirp3us0hl3fg75c1nefee-wpengine.netdna-ssl.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/12/NCE_SecretsofHeaven2_portable.pdf 

#WeekendPlans: “All God’s Critters” Zoom Church

Please join us this Sunday, February 7, 2021, for Sunday School – 9:30 am, Fellowship – 10:30 am, or our Lay-Led Worship – 11:00 am.

Maggie Panyko will lead our service entitled, “All God’s Critters,” which will touch on our duties as stewards of the earth and the history of vegetarianism in the Swedenborgian church.