Preparing to Approach the Altar of Our God
May 26, 2002
But I tell you who hear me: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who ill-treat you. If someone strikes you on one cheek, offer the other also. And from anyone who takes your cloak, do not withhold even your tunic. Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back. Do to others as you would have them do to you.
If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners love those who love them. If you do good to those who are good to you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners do that. And if you lend to those from whom you expect repayment, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, expecting to be repaid in full. But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High, for he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful. (Luke 6:27-36)
Reading from Swedenborg
It is one thing to love our neighbors for the good or use they are to us, and another to love them for the good or use we may be to them. Even evil people can do the first, but only good people can do the second. Good people love goodness from goodness itself. In other words, good people love usefulness from a love of being useful. . . . When we do this, we are involved in kindness; but when we do the other, we are involved in a friendship that is not characterized by kindness. When we love our neighbors from kindness, we unite ourselves with the good in them, and not with their personality except to the extent that they are involved in good things. (The Doctrine of Faith #21)
Albert Einstein wrote, "Peace cannot be attained through violence; it can only be attained through understanding." I often wonder why it is so rare a thing for people to understand one another. It might be that understanding another person means we must also feel the pain that person feels.
Emanuel Swedenborg wrote, "Charity means love toward the neighbor and compassion; for those who love their neighbors as themselves have as much compassion for them in their suffering as they do for themselves in their own suffering" (Arcana Coelestia #351). Maybe we fear sharing others' suffering, and therefore we also fear understanding others. However, if we were to understand others and have compassion for them in their suffering, we would become healers and peacemakers--and there would be less suffering to share.
All of the suffering we have witnessed on and since September 11, 2001 is the result of human beings failing to understand one another. We live in a world of diverse cultures and beliefs that presents each of us with an unlimited potential for increasing our understanding, and thereby also increasing our wisdom, love and peace. Understanding brings into being wisdom; wisdom brings into being love; and love brings into being peace. Our Lord Jesus told us this very thing when he said:
You have heard that it was said by them of old time, "You shall not kill; and whoever shall kill shall be in danger of the judgment." But I say to you that whoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment; and whoever shall say to his brother, "Raca," shall be in danger of the council; but whoever shall say, "You fool," shall be in danger of hell fire. Therefore if you bring your gift to the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave there your gift before the altar, and go your way; first be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift. (Matthew 5:21-24)
The message is simple: we are to understand, love, and be at peace with each other before we approach our God. When we approach our God without first approaching, understanding, and loving our fellow creatures, we are disobedient to our Lord. He told us:
You have heard that it has been said, "You shall love your neighbor, and hate your enemy." But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those that curse you, do good to those that hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you, that you may be the children of your Father who is in heaven; for he makes his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. (Matthew 5:43-45)
Those now in armed conflict with our country must be included among those that we are to love, and for whom we are to do good. In fact, our Lord calls on us to especially seek their welfare. And if we are to seek their welfare, we must first understand them. We cannot simply discount them as "evildoers," and thereby believe we understand them. We have not understood people simply because we have labeled them. Understanding is deeper than that.
Understanding contains empathy. As Swedenborg expressed it, "Those who love their neighbors as themselves have as much compassion for them in their suffering as they do for themselves in their own suffering." Reaching this level of understanding begins, as most good things do, with prayer. Indeed, our Lord told us, "Pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you." It is time that we as a nation pray for understanding, so that we may be reconciled with our enemies, create a lasting peace, and approach the altar of our God.
If it is the Lord that we would serve; if we would seek to do his will and claim the title of Christian, we must become the servants of those who have attacked our nation. We must do this because he has commanded it done. We begin to do good for them when we seek to understand them. When we forgive them and seek their welfare, then and only then may we approach the altar of our God. Amen.
Creator God, you have given us a beautiful world, and we have turned it into a battleground. We see the results of following our own way all around us: wars and oppression, poverty and death. Bring us to our senses, we pray! Open our minds and hearts to accept your divine teachings of love for both enemies and friends; of understanding and compassion; of seeking the welfare of all--even those who have attacked us. Then we will approach your sacred altar in the peace of mutual love and understanding. Amen.
Rev. Carl Yenetchi