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The Purpose of the Church

In Matthew 5:16, Jesus said:

Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.

In Revelation 12:7-17, it says:

Now war arose in heaven, Michael and his angels fighting against the dragon. And the dragon and his angels fought back, but he was defeated, and there was no longer any place for them in heaven. And the great dragon was thrown down, that ancient serpent, who is called the devil and Satan, the deceiver of the whole world—he was thrown down to the earth, and his angels were thrown down with him. And I heard a loud voice in heaven, saying, “Now the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God and the authority of his Christ have come, for the accuser of our brothers has been thrown down, who accuses them day and night before our God. And they have conquered him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, for they loved not their lives even unto death. Therefore, rejoice, O heavens and you who dwell in them! But woe to you, O earth and sea, for the devil has come down to you in great wrath, because he knows that his time is short!”

And when the dragon saw that he had been thrown down to the earth, he pursued the woman who had given birth to the male child. But the woman was given the two wings of the great eagle so that she might fly from the serpent into the wilderness, to the place where she is to be nourished for a time, and times, and half a time. The serpent poured water like a river out of his mouth after the woman, to sweep her away with a flood. But the earth came to the help of the woman, and the earth opened its mouth and swallowed the river that the dragon had poured from his mouth. Then the dragon became furious with the woman and went off to make war on the rest of her offspring, on those who keep the commandments of God and hold to the testimony of Jesus.

In Secrets of Heaven 9276:7, it says:

The Church…resembles an actual human being in this respect, that a person has two fountains of life, namely The Heart and The Lungs. It is well known that when human life begins the first part to develop is the heart and that the second is the lungs, and that from these two as fountains of life every other part of the body receives life. The heart of the Grand Man, that is, of heaven and the Church, is composed of those who are governed by love to the Lord and love towards the neighbour, and so, considered without reference to persons, consists in love of the Lord and love of the neighbour. But the lungs in the Grand Man, or heaven and the Church, are composed of those who are governed by charity towards the neighbour, which comes from the Lord, and from this by faith, and so, considered without reference to persons, consists in charity and faith coming from the Lord. The remaining organs and members in the Grand Man however are composed of those who are governed by external forms of good and external truths, and so, considered without reference to persons, consist in external forms of good and external truths, by means of which internal truths and forms of good can be brought in. Just as the heart, then, flows first into the lungs, and subsequently from itself through these into the organs and members of the body, so too the Lord flows through the good of love into internal truths, and through these into external truths and forms of good.

And finally, in Matthew 28:16-20, it says:

Then the eleven disciples went away into Galilee, to the mountain which Jesus had appointed for them. When they saw Him, they worshiped Him; but some doubted.

And Jesus came and spoke to them, saying, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them into the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” Amen.

May the Lord bless the hearing and the doing of His Word.

This is June 13th. New Church Day approaches. The 19th of June. Celebrating the anniversary of the beginning of the establishment of the Lord’s New Church in heaven and on earth with the publication of the book, True Christian Religion. What are you planning on doing about it?

There will be a pageant here. There will be a picnic. The Cathedral will be lit. In some homes, people will decorate. In some homes, there will be special foods prepared. These are all great external ways of acknowledging one of the most significant dates in the history of creation.

The New Jerusalem is descending down out of heaven from God. What are you doing about that?

The Lord established the New Church, first in heaven, and then on earth, by means of the opening up of the internal sense of His Word, and going back and explaining what His life on Earth was all about, and giving us the tools that we need to go back to His Word and to see the deeper truths that have been lying hidden there all along. The Lord did this, and He did it through the means of people.

First, he called Emmanuel Swedenborg. He opened his eyes. He sent him back to read the Word. He taught him.

But beyond that, He has called many more people to help with the establishment of the Church on earth.

In heaven, on June 19th, the Lord sent out His disciples into the spiritual world to help establish the New Heaven. On earth, it is up to us to establish the externals that can act as vessels for His church on earth.

What is the church?

It’s not this building. It’s not a corporation in Pennsylvania. It’s not the priesthood; the priesthood serves the church. The word “minster” means “servant”.

We’re told very clearly that the job of the priesthood is: to administer the things of worship, to teach truths, and to use those truths to lead people to a life of good. That’s the use of the ministry, of the priesthood.

What’s the purpose of the church?

It’s not really that mysterious. The purpose of the church can be seen in the reflection of the purpose of the priesthood.

The purpose of the church is to worship the Lord, to go to His Word to learn His truths, and then to live those truths: to do good. That’s why there’s a church.

We all personally benefit from our participation in this process of worshiping the Lord, learning truths, and doing good. Which includes shunning evil. It includes being useful in our daily lives. It includes finding extra ways of helping those in need. It includes enjoying time together, and recreations.

We’re also told that the church is the heart and lungs to the larger kingdom of the Lord on earth. What does that mean?

The New Church is meant to be the heart and lungs to what we sometimes refer to as “the Universal Church”.

Out there are people who are not part of this movement we call “the New Church”, who nevertheless in their hearts intend to do good, intend to follow the Lord. They are living their lives as best they can. The main difference between them and the people in this building now is they have less data, less information. Other than that, the intent is the same. These are people who want to follow the Lord. They just have a less clear idea given to them of who that is, and what that means. And yet, they manage. They do a very good job. They go to heaven. They do good on earth.

But they could do better, if they had better information. We could do better. Otherwise, you could come to church once, open up the Word, read a little bit, and be done. No more learning truth!

But, that’s not how it works. We can all do better in how we understand the Lord and his purposes for us.

So, the church is the heart and lungs to this larger church. What do the heart and lungs do?

The heart moves blood in sort of a figure eight. The heart moves blood first out to the lungs. And then draws it back to the heart. From there, it sends it out to the rest of the body. And then, the blood returns back to the heart again to complete that loop.

And in fact, here’s something interesting, once you think about the internals sense of it: the force needed to move the blood through the body is so great that the heart by itself can’t do it; it’s only through the action of the rest of the body that the blood can finally be moved back towards the heart.

So, there’s a reciprocation there, but it’s principally the heart that moves the blood through the body. That’s what a heart does. It moves the blood to the rest of the organs and members of the body.

What do the lungs do?

The lungs breathe in air, and then breathe out air. This is a process of taking in oxygen and releasing various toxins. Every part of your body, every last cell of it, needs oxygen. The lungs by themselves cannot do the job, though, because oxygen is in a gaseous form that can’t transfer from the world around us into the cells of our body.

The lungs can do a great job of bringing this air with the oxygen in it in to the body, but then they’re done. That’s all they can do. The lungs need a heart to send blood out there, so there can be a marriage, so that the oxygen can be wed to the blood cells. So, there can be a marriage of good and truth. And this oxygenated blood then gets drawn back by the heart and sent out to the rest of the body.

And that is a clear spiritual picture of the Church.

When the Lord looks at us, that’s what He’s seeing. We are the heart and lungs to this larger body. When the Lord looks at humanity, He sees us in the form of a person. When He looks at the Church, and He sees us in the form of that person’s heart and lungs.

Now, if you think about it, a heart and lungs by themselves are pretty pointless. If we had a real heart and lungs as a visual aid here, we probably wouldn’t even want to look at it. That’s not the human form. That’s just a little piece of it.

A heart and lungs apart from the body have no value. Likewise, the Church does not exist for itself. The Lord established a Specific Church for the sake of the entire human race.

We’re taught that the world connects to the Lord by means of the Church. Even people who are not aware of the Church have a connection to the Lord through the Church. But, we’re told that their connection is a dimmer one, and a more distant one.

So, we are to be that heart and lungs. How do we do that as a church?

Well, we could decide to just be the lungs of the world. we could say, “Our job is to go to the Word and read it. And be done.”

That doesn’t do the world any good. That fills our minds with truths, but that’s not enough.

We could say, “Well, what if we send blood out to the lungs and back—what if we do that?”

Well, then we’re marrying good and truth; that’s a good thing. And the heart itself can be fed; and the heart can be kept alive that way through this oxygenated blood. But the rest of the body’s going to die.

We need to take that marriage of good and truth out to the world! Not just the truth by itself. Not just good by itself.

We could decide, “Well, as the church, our job is to feed the poor and the hungry and the needy, and to visit the people in prison, and to do all these natural goods of charity and that’s it, that’s what we’re going to do. And then, on Sunday morning, we’ll get together privately and talk about the Lord.”

That wouldn’t be a church. There’d be blood without oxygen.

We could decide, “Well, let’s just take the Word, and buy Super Bowl ads, and billboards and just plaster the Word everywhere, where everyone can see it. And then we’d be a church.” That’s trying to put air into the cells without first taking the oxygen out, wedding it to good, and putting it into use.

People receive truths that are connected to good. People learn best when their affections are engaged. The most useful way of being the church, from an evangelical standpoint, is to find ways of doing good, in the Lord’s name.

The Lord said:

“Let your light [your truth] so shine before men that they may see your good works and so glorify your Father who is in Heaven.”

That right there, in a sentence, is the doctrine of evangelism.

Wed good to truth and take that out into the world. Do good things, certainly—support natural charity, as a benefaction—but do it in a way that also offers the truth.

Consider when you do something kind for someone just on an individual level. When you pull over on the side of the road to help somebody change a tire, because the Lord has commanded you to love your neighbor as yourself. And you look at this person by the side of the road and you think, “If I were in that position, I would really want somebody to help me right now. And this is what the Lord wants. And as inconvenient as this is for me, I’m going to help that person.” You’re wedding good with truth.

And then when the person tries to praise you for it, to say, “Wow! You must be an incredible person. Bless you. You are an angel…” then—just as the angel did with John in the book of Revelation—you have to stop them from bowing down to you, and say, “This? This isn’t from me. I’m trying to follow my Lord as I understand Him. I’m trying to live the life that I learn about in my church.”

And that will plant a seed. It may even start a conversation. “You go to church? What church?” That’s outreach, that’s evangelism. And that is marrying good to truth.

Now, the Lord has established a particular Church, time and time again, because the human race needs a particular Church, a specific Church. And an interesting thing happens every time, in the Word, where we read about the establishment of a Church: the Lord gives a particular commandment over and over and over again—though in the New Testament, it sounds different than in the Old Testament.

The first church is symbolized by Adam. The first human being. And the Lord’s first command to Adam was to “Be fruitful, and multiply.”

Eventually the Church that Adam represents fell away from the Lord—turned away from the Lord—turned to all sorts of evil, to the point where the Lord needed to establish a new Church for the sake of the revival of the human race. That Church is represented by the man, Noah.

And in the story of Noah, as he comes out of the ark, the Lord commands Noah, “Be fruitful and multiply.” And so starts the Ancient Church.

Jacob has his name changed to “Israel”. And he is to be the father of the Israelite people., and he is the symbol of the start of another Church.

And the Lord commands Jacob: “Be fruitful and multiply.”

Now, on an external level, this is just a command to have children and grandchildren, and to spread biologically. But, on a deeper level, being fruitful means bearing fruit: doing good. And multiplying is the result of taking truth, wedding it to good, and bringing it into life.

There’s story after story about the use of truth that results in more truth. The parable of the talents: each of those people who took their small amount of money out into the world and invested it, came back with double. And that’s what happens when we live truth. When we wed truth to good, our understanding of the truth increases.

So that’s one level of being fruitful and multiplying. There are a couple more ways of looking at it.

But first, what about the Christian church? When the Lord established the Christian church, He did not give a command to reproduce. He said nothing about being fruitful and multiplying—in so many words.

In the New Testament, He spoke in terms less remote from the spiritual meaning. He said:

Go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them into the [one!] name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit [meaning, in His name, “Jesus Christ”], and teach them to obey everything that I have commanded.”

Which, on a spiritual level, is being fruitful and multiplying. On a personal level, again, the Great Commission is telling us the keys to being the church: becoming disciples, learning the commandments, obeying them. That’s the life of religion.

But the Lord spoke to us as individuals, and He spoke to us as the Church. And the Church itself is meant to turn to the Word, then to live it and to do good. And to be fruitful. And to multiply. And to make disciples of all the nations.

There is nowhere in the Writings that describes an internal sense for the Great Commission. We could speculate as to why that is. Some may say it’s because the internal meaning is very close to the plain, external meaning. There are parts of the Word where the internal sense is identical to the literal sense. For instance, in the Old Testament, when the Lord said, “I, the Lord your God, am one,” the internal sense of that is…”I, the Lord your God, am one.” There are parts of the Word that shine forth plainly. Perhaps the great commission is one of those. We’re not told otherwise.

But even if you start to look at what it means on a deeper level, it still draws you back to the idea of the church as a body being fruitful and multiplying. This is not because we need numbers in the church, but because there are numbers of people out there who need the church. They don’t have enough opportunities to hear what we get to hear every Sunday.

Remember, the church is not here for our comfort. Because we’re the church. We’re not here for ourselves, any more than you, as an individual, are put on this earth just to have a good time. The Lord would like you to have a good time; it’s one of the wonderful things about our theology. Because we have a theology that at its heart is about eternal happiness, and the Lord loving you and wanting you to be happy. But, what He wants you to actually do is to make other people happy. And then trust that He’ll have other people make you happy.

Likewise, the Church’s purpose on earth is to serve the human race.

Now, we’re told that the greatest pleasures in heaven are all wrapped up in the joys related to marriage, to “conjugial love”. It says in the book, Conjugial Love, in number 68:2, in explanation of this:

The reason why all pleasures, from first to last, are conferred on that love, is that its purpose so far excels that of the others. Its purpose [the purpose of the love within marriage] is the propagation of the human race, and so of the heaven of angels. …This purpose was the ultimate aim of creation….

So, once again, the Word leads us back to this idea, on a very natural level, of reproducing. And it makes sense when you think about all the joys associated with marriage, and all the power involved in that relationship, and how the Lord constantly talks of the Church as a marriage—it makes sense then to connect that idea with the purpose of the Church.

A healthy marriage—under typical circumstances—has some sort of offspring. (Note that, because of the imperfections of living in the natural world, this can mean different things in different circumstances to different couples.) Now, every healthy spiritual marriage has spiritual offspring.

If we’re going to be the heart and lungs to the Church—if we as a church are going to be the heart and lungs to the greater Church and humanity—then there has to be a means of connecting what we have with what people need. There have to be blood vessels.

We have to be in the world, and we have to be not of the world. That is a very hard place to stand.

We are called to stand firmly for a set of truths and beliefs that are at odds with what most of the world usually says. But to do it in a way that allows people to approach it, to connect with it. In a way that’s not merely condemning (the way truth is by itself), but that is uplifting—as truth is when it’s wed to good.

So, what can we do about this?

Well, first of all, the biggest threat to our success—the biggest threat to this greatest mission ever given to people in the history of humankind—is the separation of faith from charity.

We have this story of the dragon out to kill, first the woman’s offspring (her son, which represents the doctrine of the New Church), then out to kill the woman herself (the New Church), and then, out to kill her other offspring. We’re not even told about that right away. We have this great victory. The dragon is first thrown out of heaven, then is stopped from killing a woman. Then it says, “In fury, he went off to kill her other offspring.”

Those “other offspring” are people who desire to follow the Lord and His commandments, who are not of this church. And the dragon’s out to kill them. There is spiritual warfare being waged right now on the whole human race.

And that dragon is a symbol of the separation of faith from charity, and the division of the Lord—who is one person, the Creator of the Universe and the Savior of Mankind—into this sort of odd three-person-one-God-idea that just destroys any real understanding of who He is. That’s what the dragon is a symbol of.

And that the dragon attacks the child, attacks the woman, and attacks her offspring is not just a warning to us along the lines of, “Well, there are those other churches that teach those bad doctrines; you’ve got to be careful of them…” This is a warning to us about what happens inside our own hearts, and inside our own church. The separation of faith from charity happens every day.

Every time I decide to be right instead of good, I’m separating faith from charity. Every time you see somebody else’s error and point it out while ignoring the good in them that you’re meant to look towards, you’re separating faith from charity. When we fight—in our families, in our marriages, well… There’s a good kind of conflict. Remember, we have to stand firmly for what is true. But if we can’t do it in a loving way, then, once again, we’re separating faith from charity. And we are killing the church.

Happily, the Lord raises His Church up in many different ways, and He’s not depending just on us. But, wouldn’t it be better if we continued to participate in what He’s trying to do in the world?

So, here’s what we can do. It’s very simple. It’s not easy, but it’s very simple.

On an individual level: continue to turn to the Word, continue to marry good with truth, and continue to shun evils.

Look in your heart and examine your life, find things that do not belong, and take them to the Lord and ask Him to help remove them. If you don’t have an evil to look for, focus this week, or this month, on ways that you might be separating faith from charity, and see how you can put those two back together while still standing, in integrity, with the truth, but in a loving way.

What about Bryn Athyn as a congregation and as a community? The Lord sees each congregation as a person. What can that person do?

Bryn Athyn can continue to stand, in integrity, for the truth that has always been preached here in your churches, and that has always been taught in your schools, and can do it in a way that is welcoming and inviting to the world around you. In time, Bryn Athyn, as a person, can reproduce! Can be fruitful, and multiply. In the proper order of things, denominations don’t need to start new congregations; it’s not the shepherds who make new sheep. Congregations themselves should reproduce! Be fruitful, and multiply.

Someday, there should be a church in Doylestown. One in Germantown. One in Cherry Hill. Why not one in West Philadelphia? And you people here can do that. You don’t have to wait for permission; it’s not hard to do.

Open up new doors.

Create more events: marriage symposiums, family symposiums, conferences. Invite people to hear about the life after death. Find ways of taking the truth that we’re taught, marrying it to good, and taking it out into the world, so that the people that are desperate for it can find it, can connect with it, and can draw closer to the Lord. So that they can worship Him, in His Divine Human.

You have the power to change lives. You have immense power. And with the proper and humble exercise of that power, the Lord will give you great joy.

Just as the joys of marriage are wonderful, so are joys that come from any kind of marrying good to truth. And anyone who has been a witness to somebody “coming in from the cold”—somebody finding a church community where, finally, the Lord made sense, where doing good really was the point—if you’ve been a witness to somebody having that “coming home” experience, you know the joy that I’m talking about. It is overwhelming, and it is beautiful. And you have the opportunity to participate in it.

The New Jerusalem is descending—down from heaven, from God—and you are invited to be a part of its establishment on earth. What a privilege!

Be fruitful, and multiply.


[This sermon was first preached at the Bryn Athyn Cathedral on June 13th, 2010, at 11:00 a.m. Audio of that is available at]

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How to Love

Message Outline

[Bryn Athyn Family Contemporary worship gathering, Bryn Athyn Church School, Bryn Athyn, PA, 2010.04.26, 0930.]


  • I am in love, and full of love, and it brings me joy.
  • My most painful moments have been because of love.


  • Love is important
  • Lord is Love
  • But HOW do you love?


Love Defined (DLW 47)

  • To feel another person’s joy as if it is your own.

Three Parts to Love (TCR 43:1)

  • Outside of oneself
  • Be more at one with them
  • Bless” them from yourself

The Secret to Love (John 15:1-17)

  • The Lord is the root of love
  • Keeping commandments improves love
  • Love others the way the Lord loves us: sacrificially


  • Repent: work on your own spiritual growth
  • We are first attracted to ourself in others, but must then learn to love the OTHER in others.
  • Practice selfless listening: still mind, attention to body language, prayer.


  • When you love, you bring the Lord into people’s lives.

Divine Revelation about Love

Divine Love and Wisdom 47

Divine love and wisdom cannot but be and have expression in others it creates. The essence of love is not to love self, but to love others and through love to be conjoined with them. It is also the essence of love to be loved by others, for thus is conjunction achieved. The essential ingredient in all love consists in conjunction; indeed in it consists its life, which we call pleasure, gratification, delight, sweetness, bliss, happiness and felicity.

Love consists in willing what one has to be another’s, and in feeling the other’s delight as delight within oneself. That is what it is to love. In contrast, to feel one’s own delight in another, and not the other’s delight within oneself, is not to love; for this is loving self, whereas the first is loving the neighbor.

These two types of love are diametrically opposite each other in nature. Both indeed conjoin, and to love what one has in another-in other words, to love oneself in another-does not appear to undo that conjunction; but in fact it does so undo the conjunction that the more anyone has loved another in this way, the more the other eventually hates him. For such a conjunction gradually becomes undone of itself, and love then turns to hatred to the degree that it does.

True Christian Religion 43:1

The essence of love is loving others who are outside oneself, wanting to be one with them, and blessing them from oneself. Two things – love and wisdom – constitute the essence of God; but three things constitute the essence of God’s love: his loving others who are outside of himself, his wanting to be one with them, and his blessing them from himself. The same three constitute the essence of his wisdom because in God love and wisdom are united, as was just explained. It is love that wants those three things, however, and wisdom that brings them about.

John 15:1-17

“I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit. Already you are clean because of the word that I have spoken to you. Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. If anyone does not abide in me he is thrown away like a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned. If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples. As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.

“This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you. No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you. You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name, he may give it to you. These things I command you, so that you will love one another.”

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The Role of the Pastor

Just a week ago the annual meetings of the Council of the Clergy of the General Church concluded. One of the topics discussed was church government. As we read in New Jerusalem and Its Heavenly Doctrine, the priesthood–we call them ministers, pastors and bishops–are responsible for governing the church.

But what is a priest? What is our job description? One way of getting a handle on this is to look at the uses of a shepherd. (“Pastor” actually means “shepherd”.) Shepherds help their flocks by providing protection from wild animals. They guide the sheep in and out of the sheepfold. They lead them to good sources of water. And they ensure that their flock has plenty of good food.

Pastors are commanded by the Lord to do the same, only on a spiritual level. Pastors ensure order in the church by means of Divine Law. We administer external worship–Sunday morning gatherings, Holy Supper, Baptisms, Weddings and the like. We teach people the truths of faith from the Word. And then we are meant to use those truths to lead people to live a life of good, and so to lead them to the Lord. Note that teaching truths is not enough, if we are not also leading to the good of life.

In both Ezekiel and in John we read contrasts between good shepherds on the one hand, and evil shepherds and thieves on the other. What marks an “evil shepherd”? Evil pastors abuse their power. They work for the sake of their own gain and honor, rather than for the sake of the salvation of souls. And they separate the truths they teach from the life of good.

Now, the one truly good shepherd is the Lord Himself. He alone teaches, and He alone leads. But He has provided for there to be a priesthood that exists for the sake of facilitating the learning of His truths and the living of His goodness. A good shepherd, like the Lord, gathers the scattered. He works to help heal the spiritually sick and wounded. Very importantly, a good shepherd “enters by the door”, meaning a good pastor preaches not from his own intelligence and prudence, but from his understanding and perception of the Lord’s Word. And then a good pastor joins truth to good and so leads his flock to the Lord.

So what can you do with this information? Two things. First, now that you know more of what the Lord has taught us in His Word about the purpose of the priesthood, you can hold us accountable. What’s more, only by having a clear idea of what the role of the pastors is can you know how best to partner with them to help form the Lord’s church. The priesthood is not the church; we are only servants. You as the church have a responsibility to approach the Lord, learn from His Word, and live a life of charity. We clergy cannot do that for you. But be confident that we are all dedicated to helping you do that for yourselves.

[The above is a summary of the message I delivered at the Bryn Athyn Cathedral on Sunday, March 7th, 2010, at 11:00 a.m. Below are the full readings and a transcript of the complete sermon. You can also listen to it online at]

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How to Love

[This is a minimally edited transcription of the sermon I preached last Sunday at 11am at the Bryn Athyn Cathedral. The audio is here.]

February can be a hard month. We’ve had a pretty rough one this year, in fact. There are fun parts to it. But it’s been cold. And it’s been inconvenient. And sometimes it seems like it’s the shortest month in the year on purpose, because it’s the hardest one to get through. Right in the middle of February, though, we celebrate Valentine’s Day. Right in the middle of all of the cold, and the dark, and the flu season, we have a day set aside for celebrating love. And this is something that really needs to be celebrated—it needs to be focused on—that needs to be thought about and talked about and practiced and studied. Love is everything.

We have piles of cliches about love: “Love makes the world go round.” “God is love.” These are cliches that everyone knows, that we see on bumper stickers, because one of the most fundamental truths behind the entire universe is that God is love itself. And that so pervades the universe that He created that we can innately sense the truth of this idea of the importance of love.

In our personal experience, we know what it feels like to be loved. It feels good. On a more mature level, it feels good to love. To be able to make somebody else happy brings joy to oneself. And, in fact, we’re taught that all delight, all joy, all happiness comes from heaven, and that all of the joy and delight and happiness in heaven comes from love. And, in fact, at its very root is marriage love—conjugial love. That’s where all happiness comes from.

So love is important. And when loves breaks down, the results are often deeply painful. A little baby can die of lack of love just as easily as die of lack of oxygen. Physical affection, for a newborn, is essential.

A person who lives without love barely lives at all. Maybe there’s been a time in your life when you felt you had no connection with other people, where there was no one who really cared about you or where there was no one for you to care about. And if you’ve been in that place, you know how life is only half alive. And conversely, if you’re in love right now, you know what that feels like, too. It brightens everything. It sharpens everything. It increases your ability to enjoy all the other good things in your life.

So it’s important to understand love. And that’s something the world’s not very good at. While everyone can say, “God is love,” how many people really know what that means? Or that “love makes the world go round.” Well, how? How does it make the world go round? How do you love?

In the New Church, we have revealed to us an enormous amount of information—truth—about love. Truth that the rest of the world needs to hear–truth that we ourselves need to go back to over and over again–because love is the essence of life.

So, for instance, we read that to feel the joy of another person as one’s own joy is the definition of love. And conversely, that loving yourself in another person isn’t real love.

Now, what does that look like? Very often, we’ll do something for somebody because part of us understands that we’ll get something for it. Sometimes we’ll do something nice for somebody because they remind us of ourselves. They’re one of “our people”. We’re going to take care of “our own”. That’s not real love. It gives us a picture of love. But real love is sacrificial. Real love is doing something for somebody else purely for their benefit.

The Lord said that we are to love one another as He loved us. And you can go back throughout the entire Word and look at every single thing He did and know: He did it because He loves us. He loves you. And then He said, “Now, you go love in the same way.” Love selflessly. Love sacrificially. Love the way the Lord loves.

In True Christian Religion we read the three essential qualities of real love. The first one is it has to be directed at somebody outside of yourself. That makes sense. And in fact, that unlocks one of the most basic keys to understanding the meaning of the universe. We have it handed to us so we can glibly say, “Oh, well, the world was created so the Lord would have someone to love.”

That’s a deeply profound, powerful idea. Think about that. God is love itself. And for love to be real, there must be an “other” than the self to be loved, and so He created you. And He created the entire universe as a foundation and as a home for you, so He could love you.

So that’s the first part of love: there has to be one outside of yourself.

The second part is that love desires to connect with and to become one with its object. The Lord desires closer connection with you. Now, we’re told that we are meant to love the Lord: “Love the Lord your God.” That’s the first and greatest commandment. But how do you do that? Where is He? You can’t see Him. You can’t have Him over to your house. How do you love the Infinite?

Well, He tells us, over and over again. When He says, “Abide in My love,” He also says, “Keep My commandments.” If you want to become closer and closer to God—if you want to become one with the Lord—you read His Word. Get to know Him. His word reveals His mind, His inner thoughts, His affections. Spend time in His word and you will get to know Him, and you can come to love Him that way.

What does that have to do with how we love one another? Well, if you desire to love a person, then you need to connect with them, you need to draw closer to them. How do you become more one with a person? You spend time with them, and you get to understand them. Be curious about them. Listen to them. Connect with them.

Again, in Divine Love and Wisdom, in part of that definition of love, in addition to feeling the joy of another is one’s own joy, there is also the desire that what is yours becomes theirs. That whatever you have is for them as well. And that’s part of that joining together as well.

Now, the third part of love is that love desires to make its object blessed. In modern terms, that means to make happy. And not just frivolous happy, not the kind of happy you get when your favorite television show comes on, but deep, lasting happiness. The kind of happiness that you receive when somebody you deeply care about receives the one thing you knew they needed. The deep happiness that you get from having a job that does good to the world, that you’re good at. The deep happiness that you get from a lasting relationship, from 50 years of marriage. The happiness that you get from heaven.

So those are the three parts of love. Love desires some “other” as its object, to connect with and become one with, and to make happy. Again, that’s why the whole universe exists. We exist so that the Lord can make us happy. So that He can build a heaven from us.

So, what can you do to love another person? First of all, you can recognize that you really have to be loving of the “other” in that person. That means not just loving the parts in them that you best understand, or that you are most drawn to. This is especially important in marriage.

When a couple comes together in marriage, they’re drawn together by those parts that are alike. Those loves are in alignment with each other, but no two human beings are perfectly alike. So what happens (and this happens in marriage most intensely, but it happens in all human relationships) is, those parts which are not alike, over time, can come into conflict.

Another commandment the Lord gave about love was to “love your enemies.” On a deeper level what He was saying is, “You have to love those that disagree with you.” In fact, your spiritual enemy, on a very deep level, is somebody who disagrees with you over a matter of doctrine or truth. So even with deep philosophical, religious disagreement, the Lord says your answer is: to love.

So, you have a difference in taste as to what restaurants to eat out at. That’s nothing compared to a difference in doctrine, or theology, or religion. So yeah, you need to love that in the person, too. Even if you’re not a fan of Mexican, or they’re not a fan of Italian, work to appreciate what’s different in the other person, as well as what you recognize of yourself there. Try to connect with the other person. Spend time with them. Get to understand them. Try to see the world through their eyes.

We have this beautiful image given in the book, Marriage Love—or Conjugial Love—of husbands seeing through their wives’ eyes. In particular, seeing other women through their wives’ eyes as a means of not looking at other women inappropriately. We can generalize this. Try to see the world through another person’s eyes.

There is something here so basic to how we work that it can surprise you once you start working on this. You see, the way we tend to operate, just because of our nature, is that when we’re in a conversation there’s a part of us that’s listening to what the other person is saying, looking for advantage of some sort. Whether it’s, “There’s something I want to say; how can I fit it in?” or, “Which part of this is interesting to me, that I can steer the conversation towards?” or, “How can I make myself look good by responding to this?” That’s not the whole thing that goes on in our minds, but that’s a big part of it.

How often does somebody ask you for advice, and your first instinct is to suggest something that might be of benefit to you? It doesn’t necessarily mean you say it, but we all have a voice that speaks that way. It’s one of a couple of voices. Once you start paying attention to that, it can be surprising how often it speaks up. Also, once you once you start paying attention to that, you can then push it aside, and you can become more selfless in how you listen to another person.

The Lord also said (in our reading from John), that there is no greater love than the love of one person laying down their life for another. That’s truly sacrificial love. When the Lord said this, purely on a literal, natural level, He was foreshadowing the Crucifixion, where He literally laid down His life.

What is the Crucifixion a symbol of? What was going on, spiritually, there? Part of what the story of Easter is—part of what the crucifixion of Jesus Christ is all about—is what it looks and feels like to be spiritually born again, to regenerate. To face temptation and come out the other side a spiritually reborn person.

Why such a terrible image, such a painful image? Well, because that’s what it feels like. To face temptation means to look at something inside yourself, that does not belong, that is not in order with what God commands, and to give it up. Sometimes that feels like dying.

So how does this connect with love?

The number one thing you can do to improve your marriage, and more generally speaking, one of the number one things you can do to improve any relationship, is to work on your own spiritual growth. The health and beauty of any connection between two people, derives from the good of each of those people. You have no control over the good in another person; there’s nothing you can do about it. You are entirely responsible for your own spiritual growth.

If you want your marriage, your friendship—whatever relationship matters to you—to be happier, healthier, more useful, more productive, and better for other people, work on yourself. Work with the Lord on making you a better person, and, guaranteed, the world around you gets better. Rather then focus on what is a problem with the other person, look to yourself and say, “What can I do to improve things? What do I need to repent of?” And then turn to the Lord in prayer, and ask for Him to take that from you. And do the hard work of shunning evil. The more you do that, the better you will become at loving other people.

Here’s what happens when you do that. You become a more complete vessel for the Lord’s love. The more you work on your own spiritual growth—the more you repent, the more you allow the Lord to regenerate you, to recreate you as the spiritual being that He intends you to be—the more He can work through you. Every bit of evil that is removed from you clears the way for more good to fill you. Where the Lord is, good things happen.

If you practice becoming better at being a loving person, then you become a means for the Lord to be present in other people’s lives. You become a blessing to other people. Where you love other people, the Lord loves other people, because He is love itself. You can’t be loving to somebody else without the Lord being in that. So think about that.

How about if everyone here today, as a Valentine’s Day resolution—we don’t have those but maybe we should—as a resolution to become more loving, as something to do in this terrible, cold, snowy February, or as something to finish off the marriage conference that we’re having here this weekend, decide that you’re going to practice being better at loving other people. You’re going to choose one of these things. You can choose to be a better listener, or to try to see through other people’s eyes, or to listen selflessly. You can choose to work on becoming a better person. Find something in you that you know damages your relationships with other people and ask the Lord to help you take that out.

Pick any of these things and decide, “For the next four weeks, I’m going to give it special focus.” If you do this, and if we all do this, there will be a palpable change. That’s inviting the Lord into our community. It’s inviting the Lord into our marriages. It’s inviting the Lord into our hearts. The Lord has promised that He is standing at the door waiting for that invitation; all we have to do is give it, and He will come in. So do this, and you will become a blessing to those around you.


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Next Forgiveness Message This Sunday

This Sunday, 9:30am: “How to Win the Blame Game, part 2: Follow the Rules of Forgiveness”, at the Bryn Athyn Church School auditorium. Pass it on!

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