Spreading the Word
WELCOME TO TODAY'S WORSHIP SERVICE
Rev. Cameron Linen
Morning Has Broken
FROM THE BIBLE
The Great Commission
16Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. 17When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. 18Then Jesus came to them and said, "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in[a] the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age."
James 5:13-20 (New International Version)
New International Version (NIV)
Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 by Biblica
20 And God said, "Let the water teem with living creatures, and let birds fly above the earth across the expanse of the sky." [Genesis I:20]
Divine Love and Wisdom (Ager) n. 111
111. That this is so can hardly be comprehended by a natural idea, because in such there is space, but by a spiritual idea, such as angels have, it can be comprehended, because in such there is no space. Yet even by a natural idea this much can be comprehended, that love and wisdom (or what is the same, the Lord, who is Divine Love and Divine Wisdom) cannot advance through spaces, but is present with each one according to reception. That the Lord is present with all, He teaches in Matthew 28:20), and that He makes His abode with those who love Him, in John (14:23).
Those who are outside the Church (the nations) but nevertheless acknowledge one God, and in keeping with their religion lead a life of some kind of charity towards the neighbor, are in communion with those who belong to the Church” (AC 10765).
By Rev. Cameron Linen
As I read today’s reading from the Gospel of Matthew, my mind kept wandering to the implications of the message these eleven disciples were receiving. After all, here we had eleven people who had just lost their most beloved leader in the most horrific manner imaginable. They were most likely scared, confused, deeply saddened, disappointed, and – according to the text – even doubtful that they were really experiencing the risen Lord. As if this weren’t enough, they were then told by their supposed-to-be-dead leader that they were now charged with going out into a presumably unreceptive world to inoculate and teach people their new-found knowledge and wisdom. I’d say that’s a pretty tall order to fill! Thankfully, “disciples” in the church today are not presented with quite the same scenario. However, the notion of “spreading the Good News” still stands as an important concept we all must wrestle with. We may ask ourselves, “Are we supposed to spread our faith to others?”, and if so, “How?” “Does it matter?” “What would that look like?” “What would attract people to our faith?” “What would repel them?” These are all important questions to consider.
It should come as no surprise that Christians the world over view the message behind that Matthew passage in a myriad of different ways. Some feel that proselytizing is counter-productive at best, and downright injurious at worst. Others feel that it is our God given obligation to go out and convert, by whatever means, as many people as humanly possible. With the latter in mind, allow me to share with you a short anecdote on a recent experience I had with a Christian from another denomination. I was ministering (as a Chaplain) to a cancer patient in a hospital when I was interrupted by a relative of the patients who inquired “Are you saved?” My poorly thought out response went something like this, “Probably not in the same way you consider yourself to be.” Big mistake. After a short clarifying discussion with this relative, I was promptly told by her that it was “time for me to find a new career if I am not going to tell every patient that I see that they need to accept the Lord as their personal savior or else face eternity in hell.” Furthermore, she handed me a small brochure, manufactured by her church, and told me to “go home and pray.” I quickly and politely ended the visit, and as I was walking out the door I heard her say “Oh, and if you’re ever in the area, stop by our church!”
Now, raise you hand if you think this is an effective way to encourage people to come visit your church. Phew! Well, at least we’re on the same page regarding that. But there are thousands of people out there who will surrender reason and tact in the name of converting others to their particular denomination or theological positions. There are people who proselytize and do mission work in the name of our Christian God that, on the surface, would appear more the work of the Hells than anything beneficent….. as some proselytizing is rooted in control and power, in harmful and often forced conversion. As Deepak Chopra once commented, “The most dangerous idea is my God is the only true God, and my religion is the only true religion.” Is this what Jesus had in mind when he sent his disciples to “make disciples of all nations?” I personally do not feel it is. In fact, there are even reputable biblical scholars out there who feel that Jesus may not have even uttered these words. One organization of such scholars, the Jesus Seminar, claims that “Jesus probably had no idea of launching a world mission and certainly was not an institution builder.” They have good reason to believe that these sentences written in Matthew are later additions by well-meaning followers of the infant Church. Is this true? Perhaps we’ll never know. But instead of concentrating on the legitimacy of the origin of the Great Commission, maybe we should be asking ourselves, “Does is matter if Jesus said it or not?” What would happen if we all of a sudden decided that sharing our faith with others is neither commanded of us nor entirely necessary? How would churches grow? How would pews be filled? How would the Good News be transmitted to those who are interested in hearing it? How would Jesus’ message of love and hope reach those who would so desperately benefit from it? And along the same lines, why is it that our minds so often insist on proof before we accept anything as true?
Swedenborg has his own take on this passage in Matthew. When Jesus told his disciples to go “make disciples of all the nations”, he was, according to Swedenborg, referring to “nations” as any person, irregardless of their religious background or lack thereof, who leads a good life according to the principles known to them. In other words, any people in whom there is some goodness can be referred to as what Jesus meant by “nations.” In the Arcana, Swedenborg further explains, “Those who are outside the Church (the nations) but nevertheless acknowledge one God, and in keeping with their religion lead a life of some kind of charity towards the neighbor, are in communion with those who belong to the Church” (AC 10765). Similarly, Swedenborg felt that good people of all religions are saved. He wrote in Heaven and Hell, “It is a divine truth that there is no salvation apart from the Lord; but this needs to be understood as meaning that there is no salvation that does not come from the Lord.” Furthermore, he states in Divine Providence: “. . . even they to whom the gospel could not come, but only a religion, might also have a place in that Divine Man, that is… in heaven…” Finally, even more succinctly, he states “. . . as God wills the salvation of all, He has also provided that every one, if he lives well, may have some place in Heaven” (DP 254).
Swedenborg’s take on all of this works for me; but his authority for me lies in the fact that what he said makes sense, and not so much in his claim that he actually saw and heard these things in the spiritual world. Did he actually see and here these things? Perhaps, perhaps not, but I believe he saw and heard them because they are true, rather than believing they are true because this is what he saw and heard. So we’ve learned that Swedenborg insists that good people will be saved regardless of their religious beliefs because given time in the spiritual world, the angels will get to them and explain that Christianity is not necessarily the religion that people said it was on earth. In other words, good people will experience first-hand that their loving natures are in keeping with the God of all love and wisdom—the God we find in Jesus. This is a very good thing, because history bears witness to the fact that the Christianity we have lived out as Catholics, Protestants, and even Swedenborgians pales considerably in comparison to the example Jesus lived out while he walked among us. Swedenborg even goes so far as to state that the non-Christians in the next life are more receptive to the truths of faith than the Christians are!
What would Swedenborg say to the relative of that patient who tried to “minister” to me? Maybe he’d say something along the following lines: Because you are a Christian, you believe you are saved. But do you really understand what it means to believe? Belief is not simply a matter of confession, or allegiance, or attendance, or even rank within the church hierarchy. You could be the Pope, or a bishop, or a minister and not believe, because true belief—and now I’m quoting him—is “to love truth for the sake of truth, and not for the sake of selfish gain” (AC 9424.2). And furthermore, Swedenborg states, “We cannot become angels, that is, come into heaven, unless we bring something of an angelic character from living in the world. Present in this character is a knowledge of the way from walking in it, and a walking in the way through a knowledge of it” (Divine Providence #60).
So what does this all mean for us? Where do we go from here? Should we go out and tell as many people as possible as quickly as possible? Should we share our faith with no one, in fear of turning them away? Or should we live our lives being as useful as we can, witnessing to the Truth in God, however defined - whenever we can. Perhaps we should concentrate less on filling pews than on taking the opportunity to serve more people in our community. Maybe doing so would be like killing two birds with one stone! Perhaps we should avoid the pitfalls of traditional Christianity, which so often seeks to spend most of its time and energy spreading the message of theologians and philosophers who never knew Jesus and who constructed dogmas and creeds that miss the point entirely, and instead….simply spread the message of love taught by Jesus himself.
In conclusion, there is no reason to shrink from the commission Jesus has given us in the face of how destructive and counter-productive it has been historically manifested. That said, each of us needs to be a disciple. Each of us need to examine how our Swedenborgian heritage has positively influenced us, and to share that in a manner that best enables someone else to meaningfully experience it for themselves. Our discipleship need not lead to proselytizing, or shoving our self-righteousness down the throats of others. It can lead to respectful positive action for a better world, and a deeper connection with God.
Let Your Love Flow
Extinguish your candles