Worship Guide: This Past Sunday, 3/15/20


Detail, “Moses Striking Water from the Rock” c1648-53, by Jan Steen (1625-1679) Oil on panel, Städel Museum, Frankfurt am Main, Germany

Welcome & Introduction:
Welcome! This document is an experiment to keep our New Church of Montgomery community connected in a Sunday worship experience, while staying at home as the coronavirus is starting to spread into the Cincinnati area. Please settle in and prepare for worship wherever you are. Push away the cares of the world for a short time.

Call to Worship: The Lord is in His temple, let us come together in the light of His Divine Wisdom and with the passion of His Divine Love.

Opening Prayer: Lord, We are weary of the trials of our recent days . Tensions in our country, sickness in our towns, fears in ordinary activities, friends and neighbors dealing with hardships and confusion. It is hard to see what good things you are going to bring
out of the chaos. Help us feel your presence with us, so we can draw strength from knowing you are near. Help all those around us to navigate the tough conditions
and be with those who are suffering. Bring calm and wisdom to the caregivers, researchers, policy makers, and volunteers. Thank you Lord, Amen.

Affirmation: We honor the good and truth to be found in all spiritual traditions. We honor the earth and all of life as the creation of the Divine, the one Lord and God of us all. We honor and support the variety of individual paths, which together, make our one
spiritual community; and we honor and provide an open and safe place for all who
seek greater understanding and a life of deepening spirituality.

Readings & Context: From Genesis 3:11-13, the Lord God speaking. 11  He said, “Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten from the tree of which I commanded you not to eat?”  12  The man said, “The woman whom you gave to be with me, she gave me fruit from the tree, and I ate.”  13  Then the Lord God said to the woman, “What is this that you have done?” The woman said, “The serpent tricked me, and I ate.”

From Heavenly Secrets n.229, 233 Our rational capacity allows itself to be deceived by our sense of autonomy—which we love tenderly—or in other words, by self-love, so that we give no credit to anything we cannot see or feel. [The inner sense of the story of Adam, Eve, and the serpent describes our early childhood development of a love for autonomy, of being in control, and relying on our outer senses for understanding ourselves and our world.] We have no ability at all to do good or turn toward the Lord on our own; it is the angels who give us the power. Yet the angels themselves cannot do so. Only the Lord can. Still, we can do good and turn toward the Lord as if we were acting under our own power. This reality could never be grasped by our senses, by the academic disciplines, or by philosophy.

From Exodus 17:1-7, some time after the tablets of the Ten Commandments were brought down to the people from the mountains in Sinai. And all the congregation of the children of Israel journeyed … according to the commandment of the Lord, and pitched in Rephidim: and there was no water for the people to drink. 2  Wherefore the people did chide with Moses, and said, Give us water that we may drink. And Moses said unto them, Why chide ye with me? wherefore do ye tempt the Lord? 3  And the people thirsted there for water; and the people murmured against Moses, and said, Wherefore is this that thou hast brought us up out of Egypt, to kill us and our children and our cattle with thirst?
4  And Moses cried unto the Lord, saying, What shall I do unto this people? they be almost ready to stone me. 5  And the Lord said unto Moses, “Go on before the people, and take with thee of the elders of Israel; and thy rod, wherewith thou smotest the river,
take in thine hand, and go. 6  Behold, I will stand before thee there upon the rock in Horeb; and thou shalt smite the rock, and there shall come water out of it, that the people may drink.” And Moses did so in the sight of the elders of Israel. 7  And he called the name of the place Massah, and Meribah, because of the chiding of the children of Israel, and because they tempted the Lord, saying, Is the Lord among us, or not? [Sometimes we say the same thing, don’t we?]

From Arcana Coelestia n.8581 & 8586 “Behold, I will be standing before you there on the rock in Horeb” means the Lord in regard to the truths of faith; “the rock” as faith, here faith received from the Lord, for Jehovah says “Behold, I will be standing on the rock” … The people were given the water from this one rock in Horeb as “Horeb” means God’s law.  God’s law is meant by “Horeb”  because the law was proclaimed from there and faith received from the Lord is acquired from God’s law, that is, the Word; for through the Word the Lord teaches what faith is and also imparts faith. [The water, or “truths of faith”, flow from the rock (the Lord) as did the gift of the Ten Commandments (the Law) from Mt. Horeb in the Sinai.] The desire to know the truth is described by 'thirsting'…In John, “Jesus said to the Samaritan woman, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again,  but those who drink of the water that I will give them will never be thirsty. The water that I will give will become in them a spring of water gushing up to eternal life.”

From John 4:5-26, [The Pharisees had heard about the many baptisms done in Judea by Jesus’ disciples. Knowing that, Jesus traveled to Galilee via Samaria. At this time hatred existed between the Jews and the Samaritans.] 5  So he came to a Samaritan city called Sychar, near the plot of ground that Jacob had given to his son Joseph.  6  Jacob’s well was there, and Jesus, tired out by his journey, was sitting by the well. It was about noon.  7  A Samaritan woman came to draw water, and Jesus said to her, “Give me a drink.”  8  His disciples had gone to the city to buy food.   9  The Samaritan woman said to him, “How is it that you, a Jew, ask a drink of me, a woman of Samaria?” Jews do not share things in common with Samaritans.   10  Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him,
and he would have given you living water.”  11  The woman said to him, “Sir, you have no bucket, and the well is deep. Where do you get that living water? 12  Are you greater than our ancestor Jacob, who gave us the well, and with his sons and his flocks drank from it?”  13  Jesus said to her, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again,  14  but those who drink of the water that I will give them will never be thirsty. The water that I will give will become in them a spring of water gushing up to eternal life.”  15  The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water, so that I may never be thirsty or have to keep coming here to draw water.” 16  Jesus said to her, “Go, call your husband, and come back.” 17  The woman answered him, “I have no husband.” Jesus said to her, “You are right in saying, ‘I have no husband’;  18  for you have had five husbands, and the one you have now is not your husband. What you have said is true!”  19  The woman said to him, “Sir, I see that you are a prophet.  20  Our ancestors worshiped on this mountain, but you say that the place where people must worship is in Jerusalem.” 21  Jesus said to her, “Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when you will worship the Father neither on
this mountain nor in Jerusalem.  22  You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews.  23  But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father seeks such as these to worship him. 24  God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.” 25  The woman said to him, “I know that Messiah is coming” (who is called Christ). “When he comes, he will proclaim all things to us.” 26  Jesus said to her, “I am he, the one who is speaking to you.”

Message: “I am He, the One who is speaking to you.”
Clearly the Samaritan Woman was having difficulty understanding who this Jewish man was. I think in a similar situation we would all be equally or maybe even more baffled. In Jesus’ day at least, people expected to have prophets around, and a Messiah was expected. Not so common today. Most of us, if confronted by an actual prophet, would shy away and assume the person was off in left field somewhere, probably someone whose elevator did not quite get to the top. Have you seen that happen?
The readings from Genesis and Heavenly Secrets make it clear why that is the case. Being
creatures with well-developed egos, it is second nature for us to believe, without thinking about it, that we are perfectly capable of understanding the world before us relying on our senses and for understanding ourselves and our world.] We have no ability at all to do good or turn toward the Lord on our own; it is the angels who give us the power. Yet the angels themselves cannot do so. Only the Lord can. Still, we can do good and turn toward the Lord as if we were acting under our own power. This reality could never be grasped by our senses, by the academic disciplines, or by philosophy.

I’m guessing none of us have memory of an encountered a bona fide prophet, but we have seen how people can fool us, and fool themselves, so the logical conclusion is that there is another explanation.

In a Bill Cosby comedy routine, when being told what to do by the voice of Noah asks, “Who is this, really?”, and the Lord says, “It’s the Lord, Noah”, speaking in English of course. So I ask you, have you ever had a voice say to you, “it’s the Lord.” or “I am he, the one who is speaking to you”? Not many get a message like this verbally, in words of their own language. Perhaps you have, but I won’t be surprised if you tell me you haven’t. But if you are a religious person, and you have a concept of God who is in charge of things somehow, you might believe that it could happen, just it’s unlikely it would be you. We are taught that God is always with us and available to us. So does God speak to us? Often?

According to our teachings, God is in communication with us all the time. Traditionally this is called the action of the Holy Spirit – and it doesn’t work like Bill Cosby described. There are two important aspects of the explanation to this I want to cover: Who is “God”, and how do we experience this communication.

Who is your god? In Swedenborg’s view, all people worship some god, because they essentially worship whatever it is that they love the most. We all make decisions all the time that favor one thing over another. We would say in this church that it is indeed worshiping God, that is the Lord, if a person is generous, caring, thoughtful, and honest; loving those qualities derived from Divine Love and Divine Wisdom. But there are other gods. Maybe it is helping people, maybe it is money, or owning nice things, maybe it is being seen as important, or better than others.

We probably don’t think of these as gods communicating with us, but atheist, agnostic, believer, or saint, we all wrestle with choices that serve one of these gods or another. We understand the idea of conscience, wrestling with different motivations each contesting for our decision, for us to do their bidding as it were. Conscience is an arena where we deal with the options that are presented. God pulls us toward altruistic solutions, our ego pulls us toward selfish solutions. In this arena, the struggle is called temptation. Communication is the way God puts the better alternatives before us. Sometimes we seem to be arguing with ourselves. Enough about the other gods – it is really just God and us.

Now to get to how the communicating is done, how it can be all the time. God doesn’t miss any bets when it comes to using every opportunity to guide us. Anything that gives us a hint that there is a choice between good and bad is a message to check out God’s preferences vs. our egotistical alternative options. The list of communication media includes anything that we sense that makes us think.

It can be something we witness, something we are told or overhear, something we read about, and probably other things, too. We see a bully or a good Samaritan doing his thing. Conscience leads us to make our own judgements – is it self-centered behavior or God-centered behavior. Which will we embrace?

Social issues are issues because there are at least two sides. Maybe we are told directly it is right to support one side of a social issue. Maybe we hear somebody ask about it. Maybe we read a political article about it or hear a newscast. Maybe we read a book about how it worked out someplace else in the world, or perhaps we read a Bible passage about a similar issue.

Again, conscience wrestles – God and ego are still in there, but sometimes the right answer for us is hard to come up with. What would we choose? Besides TV, the internet, magazines, inspired texts, friends’ and neighbors’ ideas and behaviors, we also have customs and traditions we see, hear about, and can participate in. These can be very powerful, whether we recognize it or not. This time of year it is the traditions and rituals of Lent. For instance, I contend that whether or not we buy into meatless Friday as a self-help activity, it gives us the opportunity to ask why we do it, or why other people do it. Friday comes along during Lent and I think a steak would be nice, then “Can’t hurt to order fish instead of a steak.” I must have been taught that eating fish is a sacrifice, which is good – giving up of something delicious for something ordinary. Since
Good Friday commemorates Jesus’ that suggests we not be celebrating. And think of what Jesus gave up! How little is the sacrifice of having a fish dinner? During Lent, I am apt to remember that it is the 40 days before Easter. And remember that the Israelites wandered for 40 years in the desert. And that Jesus was tempted for 40 days. How would I do with that? These recollections are examples of God communicating that I can be more introspective. Does it even matter whether I believe those Biblical stories are accurate? No. It still makes me think. Lent is good for that.

The take-away: We can use the rituals like giving up things we love for Lent or not, but in our church approach we look at the whole Easter story, observing the struggles of all the characters in it we focus on how and why we struggle, too. We celebrate struggle as a worthwhile thing; if we don’t wrestle with temptations and win, there’s no spiritual progress. Let’s decide to make some progress! We can celebrate Lent by being thankful, appreciate struggle even if it brings anxiety, be somber in Lent and anticipate the far side of Easter where the story is all about how love and hope overcome sadness and fear. Amen.

Offering Reminder: We cannot pass the offering basket by email. But as you can, set aside your gift for a future Sunday, or mail it to the church. May the Lord bless all the gifts. We pray we can put them to good use in our work for the building up of the Lord’s kingdom on Earth. Amen.
The Lord’s Prayer, a contemporary version: – perhaps speak it silently to yourself…Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come, your will be done on Earth as in heaven. Give us our daily bread; and forgive us our debts like we forgive our debtors. Lead us to battle temptations, protect us from evil. Yours is the kingdom, the power and glory forever. Amen.

Closing Prayer: Lord, we find ourselves in an unfamiliar struggle this Lent. We are encouraged to by circumstance to give up many familiar activities, even fish-frys. As sports, classes, and conferences are cancelled, fill our lives with other things. Be with us as we decide what is prudent to do, who we can be with, how to balance our well-being with the safety of others. Be with those who are frightened, quarantined, sick, those who are dying and losing loved ones. Be with the people in hot spot where fear is high.
Be with our leaders and caregivers as they also struggle. We pray for all who are affected. We know not how you will bring goodness out of the current distress and
suffering. Help us with our uncertainty. Amen.

A Benediction: Adapted from a Prayer of St. Patrick…May the Strength of God pilot you; may the Power of God Preserve you. May the Wisdom of God instruct you; may the Hand of God Protect you. This day, and evermore, May Christ be with you!