Welcome to today's worship service by the on-line Swedenborgian community.
Light a candle Open the Word
Creation Calls music by Brian Doerksen
video from BBC Planet Earth series
Matthew 5 [New Century Version]
13 "You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its salty taste, it cannot be made salty again. It is good for nothing, except to be thrown out and walked on.
14"You are the light that gives light to the world. A city that is built on a hill cannot be hidden.15 And people don't hide a light under a bowl. They put it on a lampstand so the light shines for all the people in the house. 16 In the same way, you should be a light for other people. Live so that they will see the good things you do and will praise your Father in heaven.
 (c) Our purpose is what we love above all else. We focus on it in each and everything we do. It exists in our will like a hidden current in a river that moves and carries things along, even when we are doing something else, because it is what motivates us. It if the factor that people look for and identify in others; then they use it either to influence the others or to cooperate with them. …
 (e) For each of us, all our pleasure, joy, and happiness comes from our dominant love and depends on it. This is because whatever we love we say is enjoyable, since we feel it that way. What we think about but we do not love we are also capable of calling enjoyable, but it is not the central enjoyment of our life. …
TC, #399, 2006
Dr. Wilson Van Dusen, psychologist and avid reader of Swedenborg, writes; The individual seeks and God responds. ... [God's] response is already there ; already occurring. It is only a matter of noticing it. If you conceive of yourself as a separate being, cut off from creation, you are in the midst of a misunderstanding. There is no separation possible; separation is an illusion of the ego.
How can we come to know God within community; to find the Divine that is ‘already there’?
Today we’ll talk about two types of community and look at how those in the community find their relationship with Spirit.
Fictional small-town Maine [Movie – Spitfire Grill] The story of this movie centers on Percy, a young woman, coming to the town of Gilead, ME, seeking to start over after being released from prison. She ends up living and working at an old, shabby local diner - the Spitfire Grill. She gets that opportunity when Hannah Ferguson (Ellen Burstyn) reluctantly agrees to employ her at the urging of the local sheriff, who doesn’t know what else to do with Percy. Percy endures considerable gossip about her in the town, as the villagers wonder why she was in prison and why she has come to their town. Then Hannah is injured in a fall, and it looks like the Spitfire will close. Instead, Percy becomes the primary force in keeping the grill going while Hannah is laid up.
Upon learning that Hannah has been trying for years to sell the Spitfire, Percy remembers reading about an unusual approach to selling property; run a $100 per entry raffle, asking each applicant to write an essay about why they want the Grill. The winner would get the Spitfire Grill with its attached house. Percy enlists the eager help of her friends from the Maine Department of Tourism (staffed by fellow inmates) to send announcements to newspapers around the country. It becomes wildly successful. Percy and Hannah get volunteers throughout the town to help read and judge letters. Soon the community is becoming united behind a common purpose.
However, after the money is collected from the raffle, it disappears. Percy is blamed, and the movie comes to a dramatic conclusion. At the end of the movie, we can see a community that has become stronger, less prejudiced, more bonded.
To me, it is clear that Spirit was at work in this community. It was not working through the usual religious institutions [the church was closed, but the building played an important role.] It did not involve traditional worship, but a song about the balm of Gilead was very important. Percy, especially, seems to relate to Spirit through nature, through friends, and through music. I had the sense at the beginning that the community thought that maybe they could help Percy find meaning in her life. In the end, it was more like Percy had helped the whole community find their common purpose together.
The Saddleback [Purpose Driven] Church Robert Putnam’s book, Bowling Alone; the Collapse and Revival of American Community, says that our communities of care and support are declining. He ends with the hope that new forms of connection will be developed in our society. One new community format inspired by this book is eHope, started by Jeffry Wood of Maine.
A follow-up book, Better Together; Restoring the American Community looks at some new emerging communities. One is the Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, CA – the purpose driven church of Rick Warren.
This is one of the largest of the megachurches. It was started in 1980 by Warren, just out of seminary. He wanted to find a rapidly growing area, and then start a church for the unchurched. He started from scratch to create a church, and now has about 50,000 members. It is located in a somewhat isolated spot on 74 acres that includes many acres of parking lots.
Most of the members live a rather isolated life in the suburbs, and have long commutes into work. They don’t have much community in their social or personal lives. However, they find it at Saddleback. They find worship services with wide screen videos, and personal sermons based on Biblical themes.
Many of the decisions about what programs to offer at the church came from market research. Some critics complain that this makes the church too much like an entertainment center. However, Warren argues that caring for people means attending to what they need. He argues that mainline churches use outmoded styles of worship with uncomfortable pews.
Saddleback has about 50,000 members. How can so many people meld into a community? There is really only one way that can work: small groups. Willow Creek, another well-known mega-church, is made up of cells that contain no more than 10 people and are led by a lay leader. These cells make up the basic unit of church life. Saddleback uses the same concept. If someone comes to Pastor Rick for pastoral care, he most likely asks -- Are you in a small group? If not, pick a night and a neighborhood.
This is not a casual comment on his part. Groups available include; couples, singles, single parents of teens, mothers of pre-schoolers, women, men, the deaf, volleyball and Bible study, women with breast cancer, men who care for women with breast cancer, families with an incarcerated loved one, sufferers of chronic illness. There are generally about 8,000 people in a group at any one time.
If you don’t have a small group, they promise to find you one in an hour. They have small group connection sessions where people share about themselves in a structured format, and new groups are formed from the bonding.
Warren says that the Gospel is about relationship. A member refers to a limb of a body; membership is being part of a body. The purpose of life, he says, is to be in community, to love, and to give. We have to choose between a life of personal pleasure and one of service to others.
One way a mega-church is different from a small, Protestant church, is that the latter is often focused on the pastor as the center of the church. Congregants have a one-to-one relationship with their minister. In program churches and mega-churches, the primarily connection of members is to their small group. They rarely have an individual relationship with the pastor.
They have a consistent and clear Biblical theology that is presented in all of the programs. They no longer have guest preachers because they don’t want a different message given from the pulpit.
There are people who are not comfortable in such churches. Some feel that they are too focused on entertainment and pleasing customers, and not sufficiently grounded in Biblical teachings. Others have complained of a kind of ‘bait and switch’ where one is invited in to enjoy the service without any obligations. However, as one moves closer to membership, it becomes clear that a great deal is expected of its members. The theology tends towards the conservative and evangelical, and is not always attractive to those who are on a spiritual quest with interfaith dimensions -- or Swedenborgian ones.
However, for the most part, the members feel that they are nurtured in the church, and that they are supported in serving others. Warren says the purpose of a Christian life is to serve others rather than to seek personal pleasure. In general, it appears that the membership does strive to live a life of service; and finds this life extremely rewarding and supportive.
Theological Considerations Swedenborg tells us that we should do those things which come from our dominant love.
399. (a) Our love is our very life itself. ,,,
 (c) Our purpose is what we love above all else. We focus on it in each and everything we do. It exists in our will like a hidden current in a river that moves and carries things along, even when we are doing something else, because it is what motivates us. It if the factor that people look for and identify in others; then they use it either to influence the others or to cooperate with them. … TC, 2006
Do we chose between service and pleasure – as Rick Warren says? Or should service be our deepest pleasure?
Swedenborg seems to suggest that giving to others and receiving joy are inseparable; true giving from our deep passions is joyful. Perhaps the communities where the members are in mutually beneficial relationshps combines service and joy. We have seen some examples today. Can we create this community – and others in our lives – to be the models for tomorrow -- where mutual needs are met?
How do the communities of your life compare to these concepts? How would you like them to be? What would you like for this community, and what are the possibilities for a real congregation in cyber-space?