#PsalmOfTheDay: Psalm 117

Psalm 117, New Living Translation

Praise the Lord, all you nations.
    Praise him, all you people of the earth.

New Living Translation, Psalm 117, Line 1

Psalm 117, Science of Correspondences

1, 2. Song of praise to the Father by the Lord, that He gave help in temptations. P. P.

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#PsalmOfTheDay: Psalm 27

Please leave your reflections in the comment section:

Psalm 27 New Living Translation (NLT)

The Lord is my light and my salvation—

    so why should I be afraid?

The Lord is my fortress, protecting me from danger,

    so why should I tremble?

When evil people come to devour me,

    when my enemies and foes attack me,

    they will stumble and fall.

Though a mighty army surrounds me,

    my heart will not be afraid.

Even if I am attacked,

    I will remain confident.

The one thing I ask of the Lord—

    the thing I seek most—

is to live in the house of the Lord all the days of my life,

    delighting in the Lord’s perfections

    and meditating in his Temple.

For he will conceal me there when troubles come;

    he will hide me in his sanctuary.

    He will place me out of reach on a high rock.

Then I will hold my head high

    above my enemies who surround me.

At his sanctuary I will offer sacrifices with shouts of joy,

    singing and praising the Lord with music.

Hear me as I pray, O Lord.

    Be merciful and answer me!

My heart has heard you say, “Come and talk with me.”

    And my heart responds, “Lord, I am coming.”

Do not turn your back on me.

    Do not reject your servant in anger.

    You have always been my helper.

Don’t leave me now; don’t abandon me,

    O God of my salvation!


Even if my father and mother abandon me,

    the Lord will hold me close.


Teach me how to live, O Lord.

    Lead me along the right path,

    for my enemies are waiting for me.


Do not let me fall into their hands.

    For they accuse me of things I’ve never done;

    with every breath they threaten me with violence.


Yet I am confident I will see the Lord’s goodness

    while I am here in the land of the living.


Wait patiently for the Lord.

    Be brave and courageous.

    Yes, wait patiently for the Lord.

#PsalmOfTheDay: Psalm 17

Please share your reflections in the comment section.


1 O Lord, hear my plea for justice.

Listen to my cry for help.

Pay attention to my prayer,

for it comes from honest lips.

2 Declare me innocent,

for you see those who do right.

3 You have tested my thoughts and examined my heart in the night.

You have scrutinized me and found nothing wrong.

I am determined not to sin in what I say.

4 I have followed your commands,

which keep me from following cruel and evil people.

5 My steps have stayed on your path;

I have not wavered from following you.

6 I am praying to you because I know you will answer, O God.

Bend down and listen as I pray.

7 Show me your unfailing love in wonderful ways.

By your mighty power you rescue

those who seek refuge from their enemies.

8 Guard me as you would guard your own eyes.

Hide me in the shadow of your wings.

9 Protect me from wicked people who attack me,

from murderous enemies who surround me.

10 They are without pity.

Listen to their boasting!

11 They track me down and surround me,

watching for the chance to throw me to the ground.

12 They are like hungry lions, eager to tear me apart—

like young lions hiding in ambush.

13 Arise, O Lord!

Stand against them, and bring them to their knees!

Rescue me from the wicked with your sword!

14 By the power of your hand, O Lord,

destroy those who look to this world for their reward.

But satisfy the hunger of your treasured ones.

May their children have plenty,

leaving an inheritance for their descendants.

15 Because I am righteous, I will see you.

When I awake, I will see you face to face and be satisfied.

New Living Translation

#SundaySermon @JennTafel “Wrestling with God and Receiving Justice”

Listen Here or Read Rev. Tafel’s sermon from 10/20/19

Wrestling With God and Receiving Justice

October 20, 2019

New Church of Montgomery

Good morning! It’s great to be back worshipping with you all today.


Something you may not know about me is that I grew up in the Washington, D.C. area through pre-school and most of my elementary school years. When I was in Kindergarten my mom’s mother came to live with us since my mom went to work full time and I wasn’t quite ready for taking on the world of elementary school by myself yet—especially getting myself to the school. I have a few memories of what this time in my life was like. I remember my Grandma making peanut butter and jelly toast for me and she taught me how to play Rummy…which was really more for her than me I think—my Grandma loved to play cards.My Grandma would help me get on and off the bus each day and seemed genuinely interested in what was going on in my world. It was a great way to start off my school career. 


The next year was a bit dicey since the bus service was not available to those of us who weren’t in Kindergarten. I don’t know what the determining factor was for the school for children between the ages of five and six—but apparently it was a big difference. I didn’t feel the shift—but okay. I think my parents took me through the way I’d be walking so I had some kind of idea of what I was in for. I remember walking with my sister and that was difficult for both of us as we could think of about a hundred other things we’d both rather be doing than having to walk next to each other on the sidewalk going to school. The good news is that we made several stops along the way and gathered a bunch of people to share the journey. I don’t think it was a mile from our house to school but it felt like walking to the moon—and back…and yes it was significantly awful in the winter. At some point along the way I became I latchkey kid. I knew the way quite well after that first year of walking. I knew how long it took to meet up with each group of friends. I knew where the honeysuckles were for a treat walking into school. I knew which yards I could steal flowers from for gifts for my teachers (except for my second grade teacher). I knew who the crossing guard students were and the whole process of crossing large streets together and how big the pack of kids were as we finally made it to the school. It was a journey every single day and there was a particular way to go about it and I knew what the consequences were if any piece of the puzzle was missing. I don’t think I knew how dangerous this whole process was while I was experiencing it but it was made clear to me several times that we needed to stick together. 


This process became what I knew like the back of my hand. Whenever I engaged in a new project, going on a trip, or heck just running errands—this became my way of operating. There was a process of getting from point A to point B and it was detailed and organized. I would get super frustrated when I was younger if I was told we were going somewhere and we did not stick to a plan. There was more to the story but the summary is that I don’t deal well with chaos—or perceived chaos. There is a balance to be achieved between going with the flow and not having a sense of what is going on or what is expected.


This brings us to the lessons from Scripture. Ourstory from the Old Testament features Jacob wrestling with a figure through the night (some say it’s an angel or God but no one knows for certain). This incident takes place the night before Jacob is set to do battle with his brother Esau and Esau’s army (Jacob was on the run because he took their father’s blessing by deceit). There are several facets to this story: sibling rivalry, mysterious or other-worldly encounters, the birth of a nation, and our ability to make sense of it all—or not. In our theology the concept of wrestling (as Jacob did with the figure) “denotes temptation as to truth preceding conjunction with good.” 


As I mulled this over and thought about how our theology boils down to its simplest form to the marriage of Divine Love (goodness) and Divine Wisdom (truth)—I wondered what temptationsexist before truth and goodness can be united. In this particular story the temptation is to operate from our natural or rational self as opposed to our spiritual nature. This is where our story from the Old Testament connects with our story from the New Testament. The unjust Judge in the story with the persistent widow is also an example of operating from the natural self and not the spiritual self. 


In the example I shared above of what it’s like for me to go about my day or work on a project—I have had to do some serious unwinding of rigidity. I had the template of how to go to school imprinted young and hardwired from years of repetition. And so, it would seem I would be able to have a handle on life and what is thrown at me. And yet…I still struggle. As I wrestle with the theology and the point of existence—I work through the regeneration process time and again when faced with triggers and the curve balls thrown at me. What I am currently working on, is handing all aspects of my life over to Spirit. I mean, things go far better when I step aside and allow things to unfold but that is definitely not my default setting. An example, I was visiting with my Goddaughter last week and I was exhausted from working back to back overnights as Chaplain and it was pouring rain. I had to drive about a half hour north of Lansing to meet up with her at a local cider mill. I got to our meet up location way before she did and once she arrived we had a great time and got caught up with each other—and then I had to face the drive home still exhausted and still in the rain. I had flashes of which exit to take but it meant potentially more time on surface streets and so I ignored my gut instinct and the flashes that were coming to mind. Well, instead of dealing with more time on surface streets I had to deal with wasted time in a construction zone. Gee, was that my rational mind saying, “I got this!” only to be met with more frustration? What would’ve happened if I followed what I can only say wasSpirit communicating with me? I know this is how Spirit communicates with me and yet I dismissed it because I thought I knew better.


I would argue that this is the temptation that presents itself before truth can unite with goodness—the idea that “I know better!” based on life experience, our culture, family dynamics and advice, and whatever else stands as a barrier to God or Spirit’s operation in our daily routine which becomes the life we lead. So what do we do about it? As one who does not trust so easily I will say that it is an experiment in handing the reigns over to the Creator of the universe. My new life experience over the past couple years tells me that it works better when I show my gratitude, actively engage in the regeneration process daily or at least weekly, and witness to the positive changes that are unfolding around me. Again, this is not my default setting but it is quickly becoming so.


As one who has been standing with two paths before me I can say for certainty what life is like when I’ve been the one in charge trying to navigate what’s thrown at me, using faulty coping skills because that is what I’ve known (please hear I do not cast blame—this is rather a statement of awareness and observation), and doing my darndest to try and be proactive in ways that only trip me up constantly. As Robert Frost (yes a well known Swedenborgian) said—he took the road not taken and that it made all the difference. I am choosing a path unknown to me but boy is there more light and less chaos…and that is making a difference to me. It takes effort, courage, and persistence.


Coming back to the stories from Scripture—persistence is a key word or concept in both of them. Full disclosure: I gave the sermon title and theme to the folks here before I knew the direction this message would take—which happens more often than not but here we are. And as I am wont to do—I approach my projects and tasks with due diligence. The question I posed in the theme for this message (I know you all read the teaser on the church website!) had to do with wrestling with God and receiving justice…I mean I could’ve asked a larger question but not sure what that would be. I guess what I would ask is what does justice look like to you? Is it something you’re seeking in your daily life? Is it something you’re interested in pursuing on behalf of those who don’t have the ability to be heard…or even asked to the table? The persistence of the characters in both stories pursued their interests and ultimately interests beyond them…yes it seems like the answer was given to only them but Jacob fathered a nation and the widow’s persistence changed the mind of a city official which possibly had an impact on life beyond her story. When we actively engage our spiritual nature and the presence of God…truth and goodness unite and a legacy beyond us can unfold.


As I said, choosing a life unknown and unfamiliar and engaging God in all details takes effort, persistence, and courage. And when life throws curve balls and our circle tells us to get back in our comfort zone—we need encouragement. I look to folks like Brene Brown—a voice becoming well known in our culture—who is a researcher on shame, vulnerability, and courage. The title of her book “Daring Greatly” comes from the well-known (and especially now well-known) quote from Theodore Roosevelt. I will end with this quote that sticks with me quite often these days…



#ThursdayThoughts “Be Not Afraid” Sermon

Please enjoy Guest Minister, Rev. Julie Conaron’s selected readings and sermon from Sunday, August 4, 219, at the New Church of Montgomery.


Fear runs a large part of our lives, and there’s much fear in the Word. How do we cope with this debilitating feeling in our lives?


Fear/being afraid/frightened is a common thread for many of us in our lives, from childhood up to old age.


Be thinking of the many ways fear seems a part of our lives.



Genesis 50:15-21 When Joseph’s brothers saw their father was dead, they said, “Perhaps Joseph will hate us and will certainly pay us back for all the wrong we did to him.” So, they sent a message to Joseph, saying, “Your father gave this command before he died: ‘Say to Joseph, “I beg you, forgive the transgressions of your brothers and their sin. For they did evil to you.”’ Now please forgive the transgressions of the servants of the God of your father.” And Joseph wept when they spoke to him.


Then his brothers also went and fell down before his face and said, “We are your servants.” Joseph said to them, “Do not be afraid, for am I in the place of God?But as for you, you intended to harm me, but God intended it for good, in order to bring it about as it is this day, to save many lives. So now, do not fear. I will provide for you and your little ones.” So, he comforted them and spoke kindly to them.


(Despite what Joseph’s brothers did to him he bore them no ill will. He had so much faith and trust in God he was not afraid. However, his brothers were very fearful, thinking he would pay them back for treating him so badly.)


A similar story happened with Esau and Jacob:

Genesis 33: 1-17 Then Jacob looked up and saw Esau coming and four hundred men with him. So, he divided the children among Leah, Rachel, and the two female servants.  He put the female servants and their children in front, then Leah and her children next, and then Rachel and Joseph last.  He went on before them, bowing himself to the ground seven times, until he came near to his brother.


But Esau ran to meet him and embraced him and fell on his neck and kissed him, and they wept. When Esau looked up and saw the women and the children, he said, “Who are those with you?” Jacob said, “The children whom God has graciously given your servant.” Then the female servants came near, they and their children, and they bowed down. Leah also with her children came near and bowed themselves. Afterward Joseph and Rachel came near, and they bowed themselves.


Esau said, “What do you mean by all this company that I met?” Jacob answered, “These are to find favor in the sight of my lord.” Esau said, “I have enough, my brother. Keep what you have for yourself.” Jacob said, “No, I pray you, if I have now found favor in your sight, then receive my gift from my hand. For I have seen your face, and it is as though I have seen the face of God, with you having received me favorably. Please take my blessing that has been brought to you, because God has dealt graciously with me and because I have plenty.” So, he urged him, and he took it.


Then Esau said, “Let us journey on our way, and I will go ahead of you.” But Jacob said to him, “My lord knows that the children are weak, and the flocks and herds with young are with me. If they are driven too hard one day, all the flock will die. Please let my lord pass over before his servant, and I will lead on slowly, according to the pace of the livestock that goes before me and the pace the children will be able to endure, until I come to my lord at Seir.”


So, Esau said, “Let me leave some of the people that are with me with you.”

But Jacob said, “What need is there? Let me find favor in the sight of my lord.”

So, Esau returned that day making his way back to Seir. But Jacob journeyed to Sukkoth and built himself a house and made booths for his livestock. 


(Of course Jacob was afraid. He had done bad things to his brother Esau: pretending to be him and stealing his birthright. However, Esau bore him no ill will: he was just happy to see him again.)




So, both Esau and Jacob and Joseph and his brothers had had issues with each other. Yet the characters who were afraid were those who had done their sibling wrong, not the wronged sibling. And these stories are different: the brothers who did wrong behave differently


Here are some definitions of fear:


feeling fear; filled with apprehension: afraid to go. 


(feeling regret, unhappiness, or the like: I’m afraid we can’t go on Monday. 

feeling reluctance, unwillingness, distaste, or the like: He seemed afraid to show his own children a little kindness.)



In the spiritual world the Writings tell us that those in evil and falsity are afraid, but there are other fears as we progress on our spiritual journey


AC 4249. And Jacob feared exceedingly, and was distressed. That this signifies the state when it is being changed, is evident from the fact that fear and distress are what are first in temptations, and that when the state is being inverted or changed these take precedence. The arcana which lie hidden in what is here said that Esau went to meet Jacob with four hundred men, and that Jacob therefore feared and was distressed can’t easily be set forth, for they are too interior. 


When good is taking the prior place and is subordinating truths to itself, which takes place when we’re undergoing spiritual temptations, the good that then flows in from within is accompanied by very many truths which have been stored up in our interiorperson. These can’t come to our mental view and understanding until good acts the first part, for then our natural begins to be enlightened by good, when it becomes apparent what things in it are in accord, and what are discordant, from which come the fear and distress that precede spiritual temptation. For spiritual temptation acts upon the conscience, which is in our interior person; and therefore when we enter into this temptation we don’t know where such fear and distress come from, although the angels with us know this well; for the temptation comes from the angels holding us in goods and truths while evil spirits are holding us in evils and falsities. ** (like Jacob wrestling with the angel?)


[2] For the things that come forth with the spirits and angels who are with us are perceived by us exactly as if they were in us; for while were living in the body, and if we don’t believe all things flow in, we suppose the things which come forth interiorly are not produced by causes outside of us, but that all the causes are within us, and are our very own; yet such is not the case. For whatever we think or will (our every thought and affection) are either from hell or heaven. When we think and will evils, and aredelighted with the consequent falsities, we may know our thoughts and affections are from hell; and while we are thinking and willing goods, and are delighted with the derivative truths, we may know they are from heaven, that is, through heaven from the Lord. the combat of evil spirits with angels appear as fear and distress, and of temptation, in us.


AE 80 (talking about John’s fear). Saying unto me, Fear not, signifies renewal of life. This is evident from the series of things in the internal sense. For John lay as dead, and the Lord, seen as the Son of man, laid His right hand upon him, and said to him, “Fear not.” His “lying as dead” signified failure of his self-life; the Lord’s “laying His right hand upon him” signified life from Him; therefore His saying to him “Fear not” signified renewal of life; for all who come suddenly from self-life into any spiritual life are at first afraid, but their life is renewed by the Lord. 


This renewal is effected in this way that the Divine presence, and fear on account of it, are accommodated to reception. The Lord is present, indeed, with all in the universe, but more nearly or remotely according to the reception of good by means of truths with them from Him (as when we take the Holy Supper). For good is that in which the Lord is present with angel, spirits and people; therefore the extent and quality of good from the Lord with them are what determine the extent and quality of the Divinepresence; if the presence goes beyond this, there is anguish and tremor; but by accommodation to reception there is renewal of life. This renewal is what is signified by “Fear not;” also in other places, where it is said by the Lord or by the angel of the Lord when seen: Renewal of life, that comes by accommodation to reception, appears in the spiritual world, when it is presented to view, as a cloud. All societies there are encompassed by such a cloud, denser or rarer according to reception. (Fears come between us and the Lord, heavens)

Note several different fears here: fear of losing what we had/fear on taking a new journey




So, what do we do when those fears attack us? How do we cope with that unpleasant feeling?PRAYERS TO GOD


Are we in spiritual temptation, or are we allowing hell to attack us?


Stories: fear of loss by families/can lead to denial of situation/fear of the unknown.


How does fear affect your life?


Here are some nurturing passages from the Word:


Jos 1:9 “Have I not commanded you? Be strong and of good courage; do not be afraid, nor be dismayed, for the LORD your God is with you wherever you go.”


Isa 44: 1- 8 Yet now listen, O Jacob, My servant, and Israel, whom I have chosen. Thus says the Lord who made you, and formed you from the womb, who will help you:
Do not fea
r, O Jacob, My servant, and you Jeshurun, whom I have chosen.
For I will pour
 water on him who is thirsty, and floods on the dry ground;
I will pour ou
t My Spirit on your descendants and My blessing on your offspring;
and they shall spring up as among the grass,
 as willows by the water courses.
One will say, “I am the Lord’s”;
 another will call himself by the name of Jacob;
and another will write on his hand, “Belonging to the Lord,”
 and name himself by the name of Israel.


Thus says the Lord the King of Israel, and his Redeemer the Lord of Hosts: I am the first, and I am the last; besides Me there is no God. Who is like Me? Let him proclaim and declare it, and recount it in order for Me, since I appointed the ancient people. And let them declare to them the things that are coming, and shall come. Do not fear, nor be afraid; have I not told you from of old, and declared it? You are My witnesses! Is there a God besides Me? There is no Rock; I know not any.



Photo by Maggie Panyko 2019, Outer Banks, North Carolina

Light the way. Pray for #Jeffersontown, #Pittsburgh

“We light the first candle to honor the good and truth to be found in all spiritual traditions…” ~Four Candles Opening Prayer- New Church of Montgomery


Pray that our differences may be points of light to highlight the joys we should find in one another.

In the wake of more mass shootings and displays of hatred, we pray to love one another more each day; respecting differences, and coming together to find places and times to share peaceful dialogue.