ODBLOG: “The Truth Shall Make You Free” -Rev. Renee Machiniak

“Heavenly intelligence is a deeper intelligence arising from a love of what is true-not for the sake of any praise in the world or any praise in heaven, but simply for the sake of the truth itself, because it is profoundly moving and delightful. People who are moved and delighted by the truth itself are moved and delighted by heaven’s light; and if so, then they are also moved and delighted by divine truth and actually by the Lord himself, since heaven’s light is divine truth, and divine truth is the Lord in heaven.”*

-Emanuel Swedenborg, Heaven and Hell §347

Would you agree that we are in times that are anxiety producing, distressing and unsettling? Of course we are. It might feel like we are a ship in the wind without an anchor. Every day, we hear things in the news that are supposed to be facts and then we don’t have any way to evaluate them and what they will ultimately mean. We feel rudderless. 

What’s missing is to hear from people who value the truth for its own sake and who want to stick to that. People who don’t want to embellish, don’t want to exaggerate, don’t want to just get close to the truth, they want to say it just as it is, which then, by the way, points to probabilities in the future. That’s what gives us more meaning and a strong sense of where we are led and where we’re at, and where we need to go. That’s what’s missing today, and has been missing for a long time, the truth. Plain and simple. 

Then, we will all stop acting like Pontius Pilate who said “What is truth?” as Divinity stood right before his eyes. He was one of the Lost ones. He didn’t sense goodness. And the Lord was silent because he knew Pilate didn’t want to know the truth it takes courage to see and speak the truth because we may not always be popular or acceptable when we do. 

If we lose our appetite for the truth, for its own sake, we begin our journey into a lost, lifeless place. Valuing truth for its own sake gives us integrity. It orients us to reality, to what is real, and the Lord is the very real. Valuing Truth for its own sake, psychologically, keeps us in touch with ourselves at various levels of our being, and then, we can be in touch with each other, truly. 

Now moving to another aspect of truth, which is that at relevant times, in our own lives, it’s critical that we speak truth, in appropriate ways, or life gets out of order and chaotic. Sometimes gradually, and sometimes an obvious life-changing ways…

For example, when a friend hurts your feelings, you don’t talk with them about what happened and how you feel, and the friendship cools off. Over time, you call each other less and less often and when a life tragedy hits there is no one to go to. Love is sacrificed then. Love is one of the first casualties when truth is set aside. 

Perhaps the highest spiritual practice is to face reality as it is, or another way to say this, to face into the Lord who is reality itself. When we do this we are truly free we are free. So how do we do this? How do we face the truth, even when it hurts or upsets us? Jesus said, “open your hearts and open your eyes”. Do not worry about opening your mind because your mind would automatically be opened if you open your heart and your eyes. See what is before you, what is actually being shown to you, and let your heart teach your mind. 

All the secrets of the universe, God’s universe, emerge from the faithful and loving heart. Swedenborg guides us about the truth saying that we live in this world understanding varying degrees of truth or appearances of Truth. 

The closer we are to god, the closer we approach the truth, absolute truth which is only glimpsed here in time and space, so the most effective and efficient method of acquiring truth is to build our relationship with god.

*Swedenborg, Emanuel. Heaven and Hell. Translated by George F. Dole. West Chester: Swedenborg Foundation, 2000.

Rev. Renee Machiniak has been the minister of the Royal Oak Church of the Holy City for the past 25 years, serving as a staff chaplain for both Beaumont Hospice and Oncology for 9 years and now a volunteer chaplain with Beaumont’s Ovarian Cancer Support Group and the Royal Oak Police Department. She resides in Royal Oak Michigan with her husband, Joe, her parents, Rev. John and Sharon Billings, and dog Gertie.

“The Psychologist and the Mystic” -Rev. Hannah Hill

In this essay, Rev. Hannah R. Hill discusses the subtle and not-so-subtle influences of the writings of Emanuel Swedenborg on the ideas and works of the great psychologist William James, author of The Varieties of Religious Experience.

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The Psychologist and the Mystic – Rev. Hannah Reynolds

Rev. Hannah R. Hill is an ordained Baptist minister through a Cooperative Baptist Fellowship. She has been an active wedding officiant in the Atlanta area for four years; marrying the straight, the queer and all those who love each other.

Hannah completed her undergraduate studies at Bryn Athyn College, where she fell in love with Swedenborgian theology. She graduated from Columbia Theological Seminary in May of 2017, and has been a student at the Center for Swedenborgian Studies in Berkeley.

She has several blogs, has served as a research assistant on a published paper and in general likes talking about books. She has a two-year old named Steven.

“Resurrection Within: The Invitation of Easter” -Rev. Thom Muller

In this Easter sermon, Rev. Thom Muller explores Swedenborg’s esoteric interpretation of the Easter narrative, and how it relates to our own inner life.

Click below for a PDF version of Rev. Muller’s Sermon:

Rev. Thom Muller is pastor of Hillside, an Urban Sanctuary, in El Cerrito, California, as well as junior editor of Our Daily Bread. His passions include the intersection of spirituality and psychology, interfaith theology, and the Western esoteric tradition. He was ordained into the ministry of the Swedenborgian Church of North America in 2016, upon receiving his theological education at Bryn Athyn College of the New Church and the Center for Swedenborgian Studies / Pacific School of Religion at the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley, CA.

“Holy Humor and Inner Resurrection” -Rev. Kit Billings

“Holy Humor Sundays” are an opportunity for ongoing celebrations of the greatest miracle in human history — Jesus’ resurrection — and they also give each of us an opportunity to celebrate, and give thanks for, our own smaller resurrections in this world and this life. 

From time to time in our earthly lives, many of us have been dead or felt dead—from illness, depression, physical injuries, emotional wounds, severe disappointments, the loss of loved ones, or even major financial losses.  And yet, miraculously we have come alive again and again, and endured our hardships, while looking forward to even greater blessings ahead.  These personal resurrections happen because the Lord continues regenerating us within the pattern of His glorification and resurrection, which came into being on that first Easter morn.

In True Christianity n. 99 our theology puts it in this clear light:

“During the battles or conflicts within us, the Lord carries out an individual act of redemption, much like the all-encompassing redemption he brought about while he was in the world. While he was in the world, the Lord glorified his human manifestation, that is, made it divine, through battles and inner conflict. In a similar way within us individually, the Lord fights for us while we are undergoing inner conflict and conquers the hellish spirits who are assaulting us. Afterward he ‘glorifies’ us, that is, makes us spiritual.”*

Now let me share with you a remarkable story from an anonymous, harried pastor in Alaska who was trying to bring together his fractured, divided church.  The church was in turmoil with a heavy, discouraged spirit.  For several years the pastor had tried everything, without success, to bring the various squabbling cliques together.  He finally decided to try a Holy Humor Sunday celebration on the Sunday after Easter in 2009.  The service was filled with joyful songs and hymns and inspiring Scripture readings celebrating the resurrection of Jesus Christ.  Members were encouraged to tell their favorite jokes.  And practical jokes were played on the pastor and others.  And truly, you see, everybody had a lot of fun.

The entire congregation rallied around the resurrection of Jesus.  Their Holy Humor Sunday service brought everyone together in a spirit of good cheer and camaraderie.  “The response was overwhelmingly positive,” the pastor wrote.  “The congregation needed to know that they could come to worship and just ‘let go’ for an hour, and that it was possible to come to church and feel very good again.  People have been talking about the service all week.  And some, who said they had intended to leave the church and go to another church, said they had decided to stay. “The Holy Humor Sunday service was just what the doctor ordered for our church. It provided much-needed healing.”

For centuries in Eastern Orthodox, Catholic and Protestant countries, the week following Easter Sunday was observed by the faithful as “days of joy and laughter” with parties and picnics to celebrate Jesus’ resurrection.   Churchgoers and pastors played practical jokes on each other, drenched each other with water, told jokes, sang, and danced.  The custom was rooted in the musings of early church theologians (like Augustine, Gregory of Nyssa, and John Chrysostom) that God played a practical joke on the devils of hell by raising Jesus from the dead.  “Risus paschalis – the Easter laugh,” the early theologians called it, reminds us all during our Covid-19 pandemic that no matter how dark life appears at times, still we can count on the Lord rising up and stepping out of His tomb.  It is extremely likely that at various times in our own life journeys that we also will feel as if all hope is lost, forgetting that it was after the Lord’s severe and painful experience of the end of Holy Week, He wound up surprising our world with His resurrection into His fully glorified state of Being!

So, because our Lord was risen from His tomb, so are we meant to rise up again and again and again into spiritually high and glowing states of being when we choose not to give up on God’s power to make us truly live again!  The Lord’s Easter morning rising and walking out of His tomb was the greatest miracle of all, when God-in-Christ rose up and walked out of what had been seen as His tomb forevermore.  We sometimes may feel stunned and shocked at first when our lives plunge into hardship, loss and pain—just as the women and disciples were on that first Easter morning.  We too may try to hide behind “locked doors” within us.  But then, just as Jesus did with the eleven, He proves yet again that nothing can stop Him from reaching us with His love, glory and strength—and then even the “doubting Thomas” part of us will test the Lord, and upon hearing and feeling the Lord in His Divine-Humanity, we too can proclaim with all sincerity as Thomas did, “My Lord and my God!”

In The Easter Book (Harcourt Brace, 1954), written by the Rev. Francis Weiser, it is noted that Easter Monday was traditionally a holiday in Orthodox, Catholic, and Protestant countries.  It was a day of special festivities: games, Emmaus walks in the country, picnics, pranks, practical jokes, and “drenching customs.”  On Easter Monday, for instance, boys drenched girls with water, and the girls retaliated by drenching the boys. Easter Monday is still observed as a holiday in 125 countries, including the United Kingdom, Canada, and the state of North Carolina.

Rev. Weiser also observed: “In the early days of Christianity, all of Easter Week was one continuous feast…a week of intense happiness and spiritual joy.”  Easter Week celebrations went on for centuries until they faded away in the last century in increasingly secularized societies.

Let me ask you to take another long look at the drawing of the Lord laughing on the front of our bulletin this morning.  When you meditate on and pray to your Lord and Savior, do you allow for Him to smile and laugh with you sometimes?  If not, then I heartily advise you to change your ways…immediately…because God’s Word is loaded with stories and illustrations of simple humor and laughter, as part of our journeys of life within God’s love.  The most obvious example of this to me is in the story of an elderly couple named Abraham and Sarah, who thought their dream of having a child to fulfill God’s promise of countless generations would never happen.  Then the Lord sent His angel messenger to inform them that soon they would conceive and bear a son—but when Sarah heard this good news, she laughed out loud.  And God knew that her laughter was natural and also He knew that His promise to them would come true, that one day their future generations would number like the stars in the night sky, 

It’s true my friends, love, humor and laughter together are part of God’s plan for us.  Social scientific research shows that when people laugh and play together, a feeling of deep, internal unity grows, reflecting the truth of our Old Testament reading today:  “How good and pleasant it is when God’s people live together in unity!” (Ps. 133:1)**   Among many blessings I receive as your minister, whenever I get to spend time with you (in your homes, over lunch and during meetings), the vast majority of the time at some point during my time with you, we wind up laughing and giggling at something we have found humorous.  And you know what?  During and after our laughter and glee, then I feel the wisdom of Psalm 133, of how pleasant it truly is when God’s people dwell together in unity—in the unity and bonding that flows from being good and useful together, and being willing together to ride the wave of some humor and laughter, in the Lord’s Spirit of unity.

Indeed friends, how good it is when God’s people dwell together in unity, especially within the new life of Jesus Christ Risen and Glorified, whose Divine-Humanity changed the course of life on Earth and in Heaven, FOREVER, for the better. 

*Swedenborg, Emanuel. True Christianity. Translated by Jonathan S. Rose. West Chester, PA: Swedenborg Foundation, 2010.

**New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

Rev. Kit Billings, his wife Penny, and their daughter Julia moved to LaPorte, Indiana in 2012, where he is Pastor of the LaPorte New Church, a historic Swedenborgian sacred space.Kit enjoys ministering with people of all ages, and supporting others in their journey of growth with the Lord.

“Hell is Not Eternal – Unless We Want It to Be” – Rev. Hugh Odhner

In this Sermon, delivered at the Philadelphia Society of the Lord’s New Church, Rev. Hugh Odhner engages a theme that has occupied Swedenborgian theologians throughout the centuries: The question of the “Eternity of the Hells”. In Swedenborg’s cosmology, are hellish states static and eternal, or does the process of regeneration continue to draw us towards divine love and wisdom?

Click below for a printable PDF version of Rev. Odhner’s sermon:

Hell-is-Not-Eternal-Rev.-Hugh-Odhner

The Rev. Hugh Odhner is minister at the Lord’s New Church Philadelphia Society. A bridge-builder between the different Swedenborgian branches, he has preached at several Convention ministries, including the Church of the Holy City in Washington, D.C., and has been a regular attendee and lecturer at Fryeburg New Church Assembly for many years. He lives with his wife Denise in Bryn Athyn, PA.