Readings: Matthew 8:5-11,13, Revelation 21:9-14, Secrets of Heaven 1032:2, Heaven & Hell 318, 56 (see below)
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Photo by Rahul Pandit: https://www.pexels.com/photo/heart-book-art-on-bokeh-photography-1884326/
Welcome to our continuing series: Exploring Mission. Each week we will be exploring an aspect of our church’s mission statement. We are doing this so we can connect ourselves to the WHY of our community, to ground ourselves in the spiritual principles that can give our work together its meaning. Today we will consider the part of our mission statement that says that we are:
This section of the mission statement speaks to the many different ways we can connect to the Divine. It is the work of the church to support each person’s spiritual growth, and many times that work is enhanced when it is done in community, when we can be exposed to other’s ideas and experiences, when we walk the path together. Because we understand salvation (notedly such a loaded word - but that is a conversation for another time!) to be a progressive journey, this work of supporting each other in community, in reflection and growth, is one that is ongoing, and one in which we hope we can, even in a small way, partner with the work that God is already doing.
We do this work in openness to the many ways that such support can be manifested. One of the most beloved doctrines of the Swedenborgian church (or at least it is one that often comes up when I talk to people about what they love about the tradition) is that we believe that anyone, of any faith or tradition, who lives a life of integrity and kindness will find a place in heaven. We believe in a universal salvation, based on the quality of a life lived, and not on creeds or stated belief.
The traditional (though not necessarily universal) Christian stance has been that a person must believe in Jesus (and specifically Jesus’ sacrifice for the forgiveness of our sins) in order to be saved. Without this statement of belief, regardless of context or opportunity, a person is condemned to hell. This belief has been the genesis of a historical missionary fervor, and the justification for conversion, assimilation and sadly, destruction, of many indigenous cultures around the world. But many throughout the years, including Swedenborg, have balked at this construct. Their objection: is this what a loving God would do? Or how a loving God would set things up?
The theologian Rob Bell, in his book Love Wins, poses the question this way: What if the missionary gets a flat tyre? and the connected more difficult underlying question: would God put one person’s salvation in another person’s hands? Or, in the random intersection of fate, birth and timing?(p9)
Swedenborg would say, of course not. To him, there was no way that a loving God would condemn many millions to hell because they were not, by chance, born into the right tradition, in the right country, at the right time. To him, it was pretty simple, (and I quote now from Heaven and Hell #319), People can realize that non-Christians as well as Christians are saved if they know what constitutes heaven in us; for heaven is within us, and people who have heaven within them come into heaven.
Swedenborg posits a salvation based on integrity, fidelity, kindness and conscience, no matter the tradition. The question for anyone is how diligently have we attempted to follow the precepts we understand to be true, and to serve our neighbor with love. This is what creates heaven within us, this is what saves.
So, it is not at all surprising to recognize that it was a Swedenborgian who founded the Parliament of World Religions in 1893. A loving God would make many paths towards salvation, many paths towards eternal happiness. This is pictured so beautifully in our Revelation text with the twelve gates to the city, a metaphorical dozen different ways to enter the heavenly realm.
Why does this all matter? Well, the history of Christianity is littered with atrocities large and small whereby adherents have justified all kinds of evil actions because of the way that a theology of selective or partial salvation very easily dehumanize others. This plays out within us more than we might realize. Swedenborg writes:
 It is extremely common for us to form an opinion about some religious tenet and then judge that other people cannot be saved unless they believe what we do, even though the Lord forbade this (Matthew 7:1, 2). However, much experience has taught me that people of every religious persuasion are saved as long as they have acquired a remnant of goodness and seeming truth through a life of love for others.
 A life of neighborly love involves thinking well of people, wanting what is good for them, and feeling personal joy in the notion that others too are saved. If we wish to see no one saved but those who believe as we do, and particularly if we resent any other arrangement, our life is not one of neighborly love. (Secrets of Heaven #2284)
I want to circle back to that joy, that personal joy in the notion that others too are saved, even if their path is different. Rob Bell points out that “whenever people claim that one group is in, saved, accepted by God, forgiven, enlightened, redeemed—and everybody else isn’t—why is it that those who make this claim are almost always part of the group that is “in”?(p3)
This is a super common and human foible, a dynamic recognizable beyond religion too. We want the safety of knowing that all is good for us, while also feeling the superiority of being right and more so, having something of value that other people do not.
But that arrangement of things, as Swedenborg points out, is just simply not built on neighborly love, not built on the notion of a truly loving God. We spoke more generally last week about how variety, personal variations in love and faith, contribute to the very formation of heavenly joy. And now today, as we heard in our earlier Swedenborg reading, we learn that variations in worship and the love of God, also contribute to the perfection of heaven.
Certainly, for a God of love, who wants to save as many people as possible, of course such a God would make as many ways to heaven as possible. This is a utilitarian and common sense thing for God to do. But the other side is that God makes all the possible ways for the sake of our eternal joy as well. We can be blessed by each other’s devotion, and forms of devotion. We can be blessed by each other’s interpretations of scripture. We can be blessed by each other’s explanations of theology, be opened up to new insights that we might not otherwise have found.
I personally find this really exciting, and here at the Church of the Holy City, we commit to seeing the world that God has made, including all of the many spiritual traditions within it, with eyes of joy.
5 When Jesus had entered Capernaum, a centurion came to him, asking for help.
6 “Lord,” he said, “my servant lies at home paralyzed, suffering terribly.”
7 Jesus said to him, “Shall I come and heal him?”
8 The centurion replied, “Lord, I do not deserve to have you come under my roof. But just say the word, and my servant will be healed.
9 For I myself am a man under authority, with soldiers under me. I tell this one, ‘Go,’ and he goes; and that one, ‘Come,’ and he comes. I say to my servant, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.”
10 When Jesus heard this, he was amazed and said to those following him, “Truly I tell you, I have not found anyone in Israel with such great faith.
11 I say to you that many will come from the east and the west, and will take their places at the feast with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven.
13 Then Jesus said to the centurion, “Go! Let it be done just as you believed it would.” And his servant was healed at that moment.
9 One of the seven angels who had the seven bowls full of the seven last plagues came and said to me, “Come, I will show you the bride, the wife of the Lamb.”
10 And he carried me away in the Spirit to a mountain great and high, and showed me the Holy City, Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God.
11 It shone with the glory of God, and its brilliance was like that of a very precious jewel, like a jasper, clear as crystal.
12 It had a great, high wall with twelve gates, and with twelve angels at the gates. On the gates were written the names of the twelve tribes of Israel.
13 There were three gates on the east, three on the north, three on the south and three on the west.
14 The wall of the city had twelve foundations, and on them were the names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb.
Secrets of Heaven 1032:2
 The mercy of the Lord is infinite, and does not suffer itself to be limited to those few who are within the church, but extends itself to all in the whole world.
Heaven and Hell 318
…So anyone who thinks from any enlightened reason at all can see that no one is born for hell. The Lord is actually love itself, and his love is an intent to save everyone. So he provides that everyone shall have some religion, an acknowledgment of the Divine Being through that religion, and an inner life. That is, living according to one's religious principles is an inner life, for then we focus on the Divine; and to the extent that we do focus on the Divine, we do not focus on the world but move away from the world and therefore from a worldly life, which is an outward life.
Heaven and Hell 56
Further still, heaven is where the Lord is recognized, trusted, and loved. The different ways he is worshiped - in variations that stem from the difference of activity from one community to another - do not cause harm but bring benefit, because they are a source of heaven's perfection.