Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Sermon About Seeing the Lord in Other People

This Sunday at the Bryn Athyn Cathedral Rev. Grant Odhner gave a thought-provoking sermon about seeing the Lord in other people. The title of his sermon was "You Have Done it to Me" and was based on the parable of the goats and the sheep where the king says to the sheep, "inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me" (Matthew 25:31-40). He used that text and a number of other interesting texts to explore how, without our awareness, the Lord is present with us all the time.

The text that I found most interesting, though, was a narrative account that I don't remember reading before about a conversation that Swedenborg had with some people sitting under a laurel-bush (True Christian Religion 461). They have a conversation about "how a person can do good coming from God, and yet do it exactly as if of himself." Grant wove this into the sermon as part of a broader discussion of how we can make progress in acknowledging that the Lord is the One Source of Life—in us and in other people.

Collection of Images of Swedenborg

In this week's Bryn Athyn Post Marvin Clymer writes,
If you would like to see a photograph of Emanuel Swedenborg you are not alone. Unfortunately (or Providentially), he was never photographed, primarily because the first camera was not invented until 67 years after his death. So how do we know what he looked like? Fortunately (Providentially), prominent members of society in the 18th century, including Swedenborg, hired artists to paint their portraits. If more paintings were needed artists often painted copies of the original portraits. In the case of famous people, like Swedenborg, artists created their own renditions many years later based on earlier paintings. Naturally, some were more accurate than others. A nice collection of images of Swedenborg can be viewed online in Swedenborg Library Digital Collections.
Check out the Swedenborg Library Digital Collections and the collection of images of Swedenborg.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

A Divine Compliment Sandwich?

Have you heard of a "compliment sandwich" or "feedback sandwich"? Here's a snarky definition from the Urban Dictionary:
When someone tries to ease the blow of a criticism by delivering it between two insincere compliments.
Scot: "Liza, I love your hair. Your work sucks. Where did you get that sweater?"
Liza: Thanks for the compliment sandwich, Scot.
This can be seen as an insincere, beating-around-the-bush approach to managing/manipulating people, but it also has a grain of truth in it. In work-related and private relationships I think we do need to make sure that we don't just criticize people all the time. We also need to sincerely acknowledge people for what they're doing right.

Anyway, the reason I bring this up is because I recently read the letters to the 7 churches in Revelation 2-3 and saw a similar pattern in the way the letters were written. Take a look at the structure of the first letter.
[Introduction / Who the Letter is From]
To the angel of the church of Ephesus write, "These things says He who holds the seven stars in His right hand, who walks in the midst of the seven golden lampstands:

[Compliment(s) / Acknowledgment of What They're Doing Right]
I know your works, your labor, your patience, and that you cannot bear those who are evil. And you have tested those who say they are apostles and are not, and have found them liars; and you have persevered and have patience, and have labored for My name's sake and have not become weary.

[Criticism / Explanation of Consequences / Explanation of What to Do]
Nevertheless I have this against you, that you have left your first love. Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent and do the first works, or else I will come to you quickly and remove your lampstand from its place—unless you repent.

[Second Acknowledgment of What They're Doing Right]
But this you have, that you hate the deeds of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate.

[End / Explanation of Reward]
He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To him who overcomes I will give to eat from the tree of life, which is in the midst of the Paradise of God." (Revelation 2:1-7)
These same basic elements are in all the letters. Can we consider this the Divine approach to delivering criticism?

As a proto-priest/pastor it seems important to me to remember when I'm preaching or counseling to not just focus on people's problems but also talk about what people need to do to deal with the problem, what rewards they'll receive if they do, and what people are already doing right. After making some bad decisions some people lose hope of ever being good people and so don't think it's worth trying; but the loud and clear message of the letters to the 7 churches is that everyone has something going for them and everyone can change.