#SomethingWonderful #ArtistSpotlight: Pete Toot

We will be highlighting some of our exhibiting artists from our upcoming “Something Wonderful” Art Show and Sale (9/11/21) over the next few days. We hope you enjoy learning about these artists, and what has brought art into their lives, as well as the media and subject matter on which they’ve chosen to focus.

Pete Toot played around with pencil and ink for a long time, creating for his
own enjoyment, doodles and graphic designs. He took up painting after
retirement, about five years ago, and primarily works in gouache.

#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.

#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

#WeekendPlans: (via zoom) 12/20/20, Love Sunday -“Entering Bethlehem”

Celebrate Advent’s Love Sunday at 11 a.m., on Zoom with the New Church of Montgomery. December 20, 2020, our Lay-leader Pete Toot will lead us in “celebrating the journey into Bethlehem with a Swedenborgian perspective on spiritual dimensions of the coming of the Lord.” Join us prior to the service at 10:30 am, for fellowship.

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

#WeekendPlans: Zoom Church 9/6 “Between the Rivers”

The Title of 9/6’s service delivered by Lay-leader, Pete Toot, is “Between the Rivers,” and is a follow-up to Rev. Renee Machiniak’s Service last Sunday. Between the Red Sea and the Jordan we wander. This Sunday we will look at some of the happenings on the journey of the Israelites and what they mean to us on our journey. We will explore the why of the Ten Commandments, and the tension between following the law and following our heart, and what it means to symbolically take 40 years to bring them together.

Photo by Stevan Aksentijevic on Pexels.com

#MondayMusings: Sunday’s Sermon 7/5/20

man and woman drinking milkshake

Photo by cottonbro on Pexels.com

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.

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!

9/29 Sermon: “Listen to the World! – Revelation 1.0”

SERMON, by Pete Toot


Today we will be exploring the realm of creation we are most familiar with – the natural universe – the universe we see around us, that we live in day to day, that is fairly stable and doesn’t change much or quickly because of things we do.  This theme anticipates two things that are coming up, the Feast of St. Francis – celebrated officially on October 3rd – next Friday, and the Ohio Association meetings coming up next weekend, where the title is “Caring for Creation”.  Our worship theme introduces us to ideas common to both those, and especially leads into our Blessing of the Animals, which later in the service today.  So we’ll get things moving here and start our explorations momentarily.



Revelation is tricky.  God probably doesn’t think it’s tricky, but since the ways of the Lord are usually pretty obscure to us, human beings certainly do not come to an agreement about what is and what is not revelation, or whether it exists at all.  But we can simplify this discussion considerably.  First we will limit the topic to a Christian perspective – that we have a God who has a message for human beings and it involves Scripture, in our case the Bible.  I don’t think there is a church that disagrees with the idea that God had a great deal to do with what is in the Bible, though there is a lot of difference in what parts of the Bible serve this purpose, and how they got that way, and what we are supposed to do with them.  


Some 300 years after the life of Jesus on earth, the established church made the serious decisions about what writings are part of what is called the canon.  The canon is the bible we see today.  That left a lot of things out that even today theologians wonder if they didn’t take out too much or too little.  There are several different recognized bible versions in existence today that include or exclude some books.  But we won’t go very far in that direction.  In a revelation discussion there are a few key words that stand out as important.  I will give you three: Revelation, Inspiration, and Illumination.  All three have religious meanings.  This will get all on the same page – I hope.  There is no quiz.


Revelation: Revelation is the word of God as it is delivered by communication to persons.  It comes in two flavors, General Revelation, which we will get into in some depth later on, and Direct Revelation.  Direct Revelation is by words, visions, dreams, or face-to-face meetings and there are no middle-men, no messengers involved – just God and human beings.  Examples of Direct Revelation are God instructing Adam in the Garden of Eden, and God giving Moses the Ten Commandments.  The God-side of the conversation – the words, visions, dreams, etc., are infallible (the absolute Truth by definition), but you may not always be able to count on their reception to be accurate.  Or, it is admitted, God is not the only one out there communicating like that, so be careful what you hear, it could be angels or evil spirits, too.  There are several accounts of angels delivering messages, like to women informing them of their upcoming motherhood; and there is the account of the devil speaking to Jesus in the wilderness, just to name a couple of many. Nevertheless, this kind of thing is Direct Revelation if God is doing the communicating, and it’s the Truth, regardless of whether or not we can figure it out.


Inspiration: Inspiration, in particular Divine Inspiration, is what the Holy Spirit does so that the receiver can recommunicate the Truth to other people without losing it.  It is this that makes the Bible able to speak God’s words to those of us who didn’t get the message first-hand.  How this works is through what we call Divine Providence, whereby He can arrange for a person or persons to grow up with the attitude, skills, and inclination to receive the communication accurately and pass it along without adding in opinion, distortions, or other influences not intended by God.  These communicators are groomed by God to deliver the message in certain ways to obtain particular ends.  We call these people Prophets and Seers.  However, in Scripture, while the message they write down is indeed the Truth, it may not be in the style or context that is meant for everyone else to understand, and though they are God’s words, we may still not get the message if it is targeted to a different reader, or if we aren’t inclined to listen.


Lastly there is Illumination, literally shedding light on something.  In church-speak Illumination is what happens in the readers of Scripture that allows them to understand and believe passages that they need to hear.  When that happens, it may seem like God is speaking to them, but technically it is not a new revelation, it an old one now open to them.  I don’t know how universal this thinking is, but using this definition, we do not risk getting a swelled head thinking God has picked us out as special and is giving us original stuff.  But that may be a doctrinal viewpoint to help keep pride in check.


Those are the definitions.  Revelation is communication to man.  Inspiration is preparation of the receivers to prevent truth from being corrupted; and illumination is opening the final reader to an understanding related to the immediate need.  


Before I talk about General Revelation, a word about how our denomination understands Revelation.  To be clear, Swedenborgians do not all agree – no great surprise there.  One thing Swedenborg would say is that only certain books of the Bible are divinely inspired, those that have an inner meaning that is understandable only to the reader searching for it.  (I included notes on the back of the Readings insert where he addresses this.)  Swedenborg saw himself as chosen to be a receiver of Direct Revelation, but not as a perfect communicator of it.  And he would claim much of what he wrote is not Direct Revelation from the Lord, but what he was told by angels and spirits and what he was permitted to observe during the period where his senses were open to the spiritual realm. Also, he would say that we as receivers of Scripture can, and should, be looking for the inner meaning to aid us in our spiritual growth and understanding, and he offers as much help as he can, where he felt he could.  Nevertheless, he tells us that we are not to accept his teachings because he says they contain truths, but because we have found his lessons to make sense in our lives.  Meanwhile, revelation via Scripture is very valuable to us as we strive to build a good relationship with God, and the parts that speak to us can be illuminated when appropriate, to the extent we are open to receiving them, and that interchange is between us and God.  Intermediaries like Bible study guides, Bible school, and spiritual advisors can be very helpful, too, but are not a requirement.  It is also important that we can go to Scripture to look for God because it is easy.  It is available in English, familiar to us.  It speaks our language, whatever our language is.  That’s its disadvantage too – it’s a limitation to try to squeeze immense meanings into words than cannot hold them all.


But fortunately, God is not limited to reaching people by any particular vehicle of revelation.  Regardless of what devout Christians may sometimes perceive, God doesn’t choose certain people he wants to bring into heaven, so She will use all possible ways to give the invitation to all people, all the time, whether they want to listen or not.

So, on to General Revelation.  General Revelation is revelation available to everyone, sometimes called Natural Revelation.  It the communication of knowledge about God and spiritual things that can be discovered through observing creation, and the workings of the universe and our world.  So, when I titled this message “Listen to the World! – Revelation 1.0” I was restating that idea –that we should look to the creation itself for knowledge about God and spiritual things, and as this knowledge is embedded in creation from the very beginning, before Scripture was ever seen by man, it is indeed Version 1.0.  God does not have to lead us to find the Bible or the Quran or the other sacred texts – tough work we are – we are stubborn and resistant creatures.  And I’m not advocating avoiding Scripture by any stretch of the imagination.  But nature is right there before us – it is difficult to avoid it, and at least some of the messages there are obvious to one who looks for them.


[reference to today’s reading from Job 12: 1-12] In the reading from Job 12, Job says much the same thing.  Even though he “called God and [God] answered, [and Job] is innocent and blameless”, he is a joke to his friends.  Have you seen or experienced this kind of behavior yourself?  He goes on rather sarcastically to describe people’s response to God, then says “ask the beasts … the birds … the fish”.  “Talk to earth”, for they all know that the Lord’s hand made them.  What will the earth say?  The earth cannot help but bear the signature of God in every part.   [reference to 1 Corinthians 15:35-39 & 42-46] In the reading from 1 Corinthians we hear more about the correspondence between the natural and the spiritual.  Paul uses the term “resurrection of the dead” as he describes how the transition between the two realms are experienced by us, “the physical body comes first, not the spiritual one – the spiritual body comes later.”  He speaks of the natural and spiritual being sequential, but as he talks about the seed, he says essentially that it has the potential to be raised to a form much more wonderful.  That’s us he is talking about.  He speaks of humans, animals, birds, and fish each having their own kind of flesh, their own place in the natural world, and each illustrating spiritual principles that are embedded in all creation, here and beyond – the idea that all living things grow and mature from simple things, barely alive, to creatures that all fit into one orderly creation.  Many places in Scripture the animal kingdom and the plant kingdom are used as lessons on growth.  But only man, who has the greatest potential of all, is stubborn, resistant, and inherently selfish.  Aren’t all creatures selfish?  Indeed, they are in physical sense, but it is their nature to survive, to be prey or predator, to procreate, to provide and protect their successors.  They can also be generous, and as we see in our domestic animals and pets, friendly, useful, and companionable.  They are also innocent.  They were never made to be able to reject goodness, though they also are not able to see what is good beyond the physical.  They are not made to accept Christ as Savior or even understand such a thing.  That is both our challenge and our blessing.  


[reference to Arcana Coelstia, n.6323] Swedenborg also writes of this in the reading we used today.  Not in the plainest language for us 21st century people, but clear enough when you get familiar with his vocabulary and style.  He starts right out saying let’s look at things in the natural world, (which we can see), that illustrate the spiritual world (which we do not see, or rarely see).  He talks about the animals, birds, and insects, who, just like us, who are filled with love and to varying extents can choose paths in their lives consistent with that love.  They fit into the grand design of the world.  Man has the potential to do that too, but also the ability to turn away from it.  We make  those kinds of choices.  We can learn or not, we can behave well or not.  We can discern the truth of ideas or not.  We can express love or not.  We are indeed, as Swedenborg says, “born into a contrary order.”  


One outcome of this is that revelation is of no concern to animals.  Yes, they can be taught new things, yes, they can be trained to behave well, but they do not need revelation for that, to achieve their potential, to become what they are created to become.  That’s good news for the other creatures – but what about us?  What can we do? In particular what can we be taught by observing nature, or by observing society, or by exchanging deep ideas with other people? I’ll stick to observing nature, and we can exchange deep ideas later as we like.  Here are some thoughts on the matter, following Swedenborg’s invitation to see where some natural things illustrate spiritual things.


The universe is an orderly place.  It obeys the laws of nature.  Not that we know them all, but the evidence is that chaos does not reign, one set of rules applies to the whole shebang, and always has.  That lines up with the theological idea that God is Order itself.  I am guessing here, but I suspect a God of Whimsy would not lead to such a neat result.  Perhaps a committee of gods would?  I have imagined that those would be pretty small gods, maybe we could call them yes-gods – gods created in our image perhaps, and if they are anything like us at all, there still has to be a blueprint or committee charter to lead to total order.  I find the idea of multiple gods to not be in the evidence offered by an examination of creation.  So I see here two possible messages that I think are comforting –first, there is One organizing principle for all of creation – we call this God, One God and that one organizing principle is indeed very organized.  Perhaps even strict.  Have you ever tried to disobey a law of nature?  Like gravity?  It would also be awkward.  We do not need to choose between multiple gods to try to build a relationship with or an allegiance to.  We do that in effect by putting other things before God without any need to label them as gods.  The second message is that any approach to make changes in our lives, is a stable process – it has unchanging rules like the rest of the universe, whether we grasp them or not.  So those two ideas are big messages that are consistent with how we understand Scripture, and for that matter consistent with many sacred texts. They may enough, but wait there’s more.  Stick with me – this is good stuff, and not too long.


What else?  How about the idea that all living things start out small, dumb, and simple and then they grow up?  Can we then be confident that we are also meant to grow up?  Well, we do grow up physically.  We also grow in knowledge, hopefully in responsibility, possibly in social skills, in making decisions on what is important to us.  So, I see a lesson here that as creatures with conscience, we can grow in the direction of increasing understanding and goodness.  That is again consistent with Scripture – the idea that we are created for heaven and can get there as long as we pay attention to our moral compass, and we do the work.  


What else?  We look at the world and see that everything is connected to everything else.  Not just are there rules for each thing, there are rules to make sure each thing affects everything it touches, and as one thing touches the next, everything gets connected.  Our thoroughly inter-connected environment is therefore very interactive.  There is sunlight for all.  Plants compete for the sunlight to grow.  Grazers and gleaners compete with one another to feed on the edible plants.  Nesters and burrowers compete for space to live in trees, bushes, and fields.  Predators compete among themselves for prey.  Tiny livings things prepare the soil for plants.  Animals take in oxygen and breathe out carbon-dioxide.  Plants take in carbon-dioxide and breathe out oxygen.  Get the picture?  It is a huge system.  Herds cooperate to protect themselves from predators.  Packs of predators cooperate to capture enough food for their kind to survive.  These ways of life all fit together like puzzle pieces, each actor fulfilling the uses they are adapted to fulfill to make it all work together.  Are we connected?  We are, like it or not, though not always well-connected.  But we are human beings and not created to do that from birth, but only by choosing how we fit in.


What else? We’ll do one more.  Plants get their growing power from the sun.  Herbivores get their nourishment from the plants.  Carnivores get their food from the herbivores, and each other.  Man relies on the sun to tell time, to tell when to plant and harvest, and all living things rely on the sun to stay warm.  If there were no sun in the center of our solar system, there would be no physical life.  The analog is that we can understand the sun to be a correspondence of God – not God, but a representation of God – there would be no spiritual life (I would say any life) without God in our center.  The light and heat of the sun delivered to the earth are like the wisdom and love that enlightens our minds and warms our hearts.  The sun is also a great constant reminder that God is with us all the time.  Wisdom at one level – the fact of cosmic rules – is the same every morning.  Love at one level – the material presence of creation – is there every morning.  We take it for granted.


Actually, there are many many more passages written in nature.  These are just a few.  I summary…  One God, however one understands God; an orderly arrangement of all things natural and spiritual; growth as a universal life pattern, natural and spiritual; the interconnectedness of all things over space and time, above and below the firmament so to speak; and then reality of the power for life flowing from one center to everywhere around us and within us.  Maybe we can see that the revelation messages are not all that different.  They should be consistent, shouldn’t they?  It may be easier for some to look into nature than to look into Scripture.  For others it may be the other way around.  Here’s the rub – we are contrary creatures – if we seek answers, we may find them.  A risk for sure, we would not want to be jokes to our friends like Job was.  I say, let’s look anyway.


This exploration is just that, a look around, a wakeup call to see how the visible and invisible are intimately connected.  Scripture and nature can both guide us to the same place, what is this place???  It is the present point in space-time we each occupy – the here & now.  The past behind us, done and gone – the future before us, the next frontier, opportunity just waiting for us.  It is the present state of our love and understanding.  It’s where we are on our path in Life 1.0 – the life in the physical body – the one that comes first.  The one that we occupy just for a short time before we graduate to eternity. Some churches noting that we don’t know when our graduation will be would ask “Are you ready”.  Being one of the denominations that teaches improvement is an eternal process, we ask it differently: “Are you making progress or are you stuck?”  Today’s message has been an exploration of revelation, maybe a clue how to look for it, but not a recipe for dealing with it.  I think that ultimately the recipe is personal and resides in what revelation has to say to us.


A last word on the animals, the closest animals, the animals who we commune with as pets, or as creatures in our neighborhoods – our yards and ponds and birdfeeders.  Think about why we love them.  Even if sometimes they can be dangerous, one thing is sure – they are never out to save our souls or convert us.  They do not disagree with our ideas.  They may want to have something their way, however.  They can accept us as we are, and we can find peace and comfort in their nearness.  They can interact with us in many ways.  Some understand us pretty well, can detect our moods, can help us out, can be partners in family life or for life support or for specialists as career partners.  They too fit into the patterns we have talked about today.  


In many ways they model good behavior.  You may have heard the adage, perhaps it is a t-shirt or coffee mug slogan, “be the person your pet thinks you are”.  Why does that make sense?  Because they are not human beings that can conceive of a behavior that honors one person and puts down another, or that can see infirmities as defects, or that can make spiritual judgments about others.  They do not recognize those as possible places we can go and sometimes do.  It is nice they don’t judge us, and after all, those judgments we should make ourselves, about ourselves if we want to grow up to be who we are created to become.  Amen.