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An Obstacle to Spiritual Growth
By the Rev. David Sonmor
Swedenborgian minister serving the Western Canada Conference
From the August, 1994 Issue of Our Daily Bread


Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, "Who do people say that the Son of Man is?" And they said, "Some say John the Baptist, but others Elijah, and still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets." He said to them, "But who do you say that I am?" Simon Peter answered, "You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God." And Jesus answered him, "Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father in heaven. And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven." Then he sternly ordered the disciples not to tell anyone that he was the  Messiah.

From that time on, Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and undergo great suffering at the hands of the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him, saying, "God forbid it, Lord! This must never happen to you." But he turned and said to Peter, "Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; for you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things."

Then Jesus told his disciples, "If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it. For what will it profit them if they gain the whole world but forfeit their life? Or what will they given in return for their life?

"For the Son of Man is to come with this angels in the glory of his Father, and then he will repay everyone for what has been done. Truly I tell you, there are some standing here who will not taste death before they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom."

Matthew 16:13-28

Reading from Swedenborg:

There are two principles, one of which leads to folly and insanity, and the other to all intelligence and wisdom. The former principle is to deny all things, or to say in the heart that we cannot believe them until we are convinced by what we can apprehend or perceive by the senses; this is the principle that leads to all folly and insanity, and is to be called the negative principle. The other principle is to affirm the things which are of doctrine from the Word, or to think and believe within ourselves that they are true because the Lord has said them" this is the principle that leads to all intelligence and wisdom, and is to be called the affirmative principle.

Arcana Coelestia n. 2568


Jesus said, "If anyone will come after me let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me."

Denial is a principle or practice that generally has a negative connotation to it. But we shall see today that there are two sides to it. Denial has been recognized in modern counseling for a number of social and personal maladies, as being a stumbling block to growth and healing. When people are facing terminal illness the first thing they have to overcome is the denial that what they have is terminal and will result in their death. When people first face the break-up of a marriage or love relationship, the first thing they tend to do is to deny it is happening. Some will remain in impossible relationships for years, denying that there is anything wrong - and thus do not take any measures to correct the problem and let it deteriorate until it indeed is irreconcilable.

People who have loved ones who are dying or have recently died often deny that it is happening or has happened and so carry their grief for extended periods of time. They continue to suffer and so affect those around them in a negative way rather than helping them. The bad news about denial is that some of us experience so much of it that we become reluctant to even attempt recovery and just succumb to what ails us. Denial literally means "I can't believe this is happening to me. It must all be a big mistake or a bad dream and so tomorrow everything will be back to normal."

The good news about denial is that it is a wonderful mechanism that allows us to feel only as much pain as we can tolerate without being totally overwhelmed. Pain that is too great is put into our "denial bag" and held until we are strong enough to experience and learn from it. So it is a part of our human makeup that can help us with emotional and mental survival.

There is also a distinction that we can make between denying ourselves certain things that are harmful to us, and denying the reality of what is happening in our lives. The book of Proverbs make this distinction in its use of the term deny: "Two things I ask of thee, deny them not to me before I die: remove from me falsehood and lying; give me neither poverty nor riches; feed me with the food that is needful to me, lest I be full and deny thee, and say, `Who is the Lord? or lest I be poor and steal, and profane the name of my God."

When we consider "denial" in relation to our spiritual growth and development, what kinds of things are we talking about? First of all it is about God. If we deny the existence of God, then nothing can convince us that there is religion or anything spiritual. The whole concept of religion requires that we acknowledge that God exists. In Divine Love and Wisdom Swedenborg writes:

How important it is for us to have a correct idea of God can be known from the truth that the idea of God constitutes the inmost thought with all who have religion, for all things of religion and all things of worship look to God. And since God is involved, universally and in worship, there can be no communication with the heavens unless there is a fair concept of God.

So if we deny there is God then we deny any possibility of there being a spiritual world and also of ourselves as being spiritual in our makeup. Some of us may acknowledge there is a God but will deny that there is a spiritual world and that we have a life in that world. Luke said that they are "like the Sadducees who deny that there is any resurrection." How can we be healed spiritually if we deny the very fundamental things that make up humanness? It is the same with not being able to heal emotionally because we continue to deny the reality of things going on in our lives, or not being able to heal a physical illness because we deny we are sick and don't seek medical treatment.

Often we feel we must understand every thing intellectually or with our natural mind or else it is not valid. But spirit is best understood with the spiritual side of our mind and so we must acknowledge it exists within us before we can understand it. Therefore, to grow spiritually, we must first believe in the Lord and in the heavenly kingdom and in our own spirituality. We must stop denying these basic elements of life. The next step then is how to stop denying. Jesus said deny yourself and take up your cross and follow Him. In this sense we must deny that our physical nature and all the things that cater to it is our true self and acknowledge that our true self is our spiritual being that expressed itself though our thought and affection our thinking and loving. We must accept that love and truth and the way we express them are our real substance and that this is where our efforts should be directed, not our natural pleasures. The cross that Jesus refers to in Luke is the temptations we face in live and must work to overcome.

To the next sermon:
Angels of Heaven - Thy Will Be Done

Music: Dreams 
Margi Harrell

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