We again find ourselves having to make changes to our life and routines to abide by COVID restrictions. As with any change, there comes a mix of emotions ranging from welcoming the safety measures and caring for the vulnerable, to frustration that people’s livelihoods are being taken away and that there is such a negative impact on the economy. Both reactions have valid points.

The restrictions and resulting change affect many people and organisations of faith which will not be able to gather in community for a while again. There is an outcry among some who are pushing back and holding gatherings anyway, saying they are just trying to be obedient to their faith. It is admirable to stand up for what you believe, though this raises the question of whose authority do we follow first: God’s call to be obedient or our country’s call to protect life? Are both sides of the argument valid? Yes! So perhaps a useful question is, “Is there a way for two ‘clearly opposite rules’ to co-exist?”

This is where the teachings for the New Church share a perspective that we can use to navigate issues of God vs Country. The principle that comes to my mind, to compare the relationship, is that of internals vs externals. An example would be external worship (music, rituals, etc.) versus internal worship (self-examination, repentance, etc.). How do they co-exist? Which is more important? Can I have one with-out the other?

When we think of eternal worship, we think of church on a Sunday. The service includes music, singing, ritual, prayer, instruction, etc. Externals of worship involve the use of the 5 senses to draw our attention to the Lord, and provide the sphere that best allows for learning. The importance of external worship lies in acquiring knowledge from the Lord. However, knowledge is not faith, and so the externals of worship are only one piece of a bigger picture.

The spiritual principle expressed in the passage below, is that externals alone are lifeless ie: A relationship with the Lord requires more than just external actions.

With [a person] what is external or bodily is in itself something valueless unless that which is internal exists to give it soul and life. As is the character therefore of that which is internal, so is the character of that which is external.

Secrets of Heaven n.1795 – Emanuel Swedenborg

What the Lord is really pressing for in our lives is that the knowledge we have be used to guide our journey inwards. Knowledge is given to help us evaluate our own thoughts and intentions towards others. We are to become aware of the negative influence of the hells on our thoughts, and how they stir hurtful feelings against our neighbour. This pressing by the Lord is striving to move us from external worship (knowing) into true inner worship (living).

The principles expressed below shows the inner character of our heart and mind that is important to the Lord,

As is the character of the disposition and mind, so is the worth of all the things which come forth through that which is external or bodily. The things of the heart make man, not those of the lips and gestures.

Secrets of Heaven n.1795 – Emanuel Swedenborg

Even so, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a bad tree bear good fruit.

Matthew 7:17-18

True worship of the Lord is not about any specific outward expression or any specific place. True worship stems from the inner state of our heart and mind. It is quite possible for someone to attend church and inwardly be thinking hurtful thoughts against others within church. They are not in a state of worshipping the Lord. Worship is not in externals alone. The place, the rituals, etc. do not make worship to be worship.

We are in true worship when the importance of external things of our life fade, and our attention is drawn inward to awareness of what is in our hearts and minds. This means that we can be in true worship of the Lord no matter the outward influences on our life. We may not be in good health and can’t get to church. but can be in true worship in our bed as we interact with love, patience, and respect for our carers. We may be in lockdown and not be allowed to attend in-person church, but we can be in true worship as we pick up the phone to reach out with love to comfort family or friends.

True worship of the Lord is not determined or restricted by people, the place, or by time. True worship is free of any outward or earthly constraints.

So back to our question, “Whose authority do we follow first, God’s call to be obedient, or our country’s call to protect life? Do we have to have one or the other? Or should they co-exist?”

They must co-exist. We follow both authorities! We follow the Lord’s authority on the inner life of attitudes and feeling of mind and heart, and we follow the laws of our country in our outward actions. There are no outward laws that can restrict true inner worship.

Do we have to agree with the laws of our country? No. Can we push back against the laws of our country in orderly ways? Yes, we can. Do we have to be at church to obey God’s call to worship? No! Can the laws of the land ever restrict true inner worship? No!

The Lord calls us to true worship all the time, with the person right in front of us, and in every place we find ourselves.

The question, then, for each one of us as we move back into lockdown is, “How can I be in true worship as I face the challenges in life?” The answer is we do this by being aware of what is rising up inside us. Ask yourself, “What attitude am I carrying within my thoughts, are they critical or understanding of others? What love is ruling my heart; is it filled with anger or peace as I make my choices?”

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