Mothers in Scripture

 

A Mothers’ Day Sermon by Rev. James P. Cooper

Toronto – May 9, 2010

  1. Today is mother’s day. How can we make this a chance to give proper honour to the use of motherhood, rather than make it a “Hallmark” holiday full of clichés?
  2. “The first of the church” is the life of charity[1] We learn about relationships, and the way to bring charity to life, through our mothers.
  3. There are a lot of stories about mothers in scripture. Our focus on motherhood today seems to be a good time to see what the Lord has to say about mothers and motherhood in the Word.
  4. Rather than go through chronologically, I’m going to jump around a bit and group the stories by the kind of mother that is being presented.
  5. We’ll start at the bottom and work our way up.
  6. First, Examples of bad mothers.
  7. The bad mother in the Solomon story
  8. (1 KI 3:16-28) Now two women who were harlots came to the king, and stood before him. {17} And one woman said, “O my lord, this woman and I dwell in the same house; and I gave birth while she was in the house. {18} “Then it happened, the third day after I had given birth, that this woman also gave birth. And we were together; no one was with us in the house, except the two of us in the house. {19} “And this woman’s son died in the night, because she lay on him. {20} “So she arose in the middle of the night and took my son from my side, while your maidservant slept, and laid him in her bosom, and laid her dead child in my bosom.

    {24} Then the king said, “Bring me a sword.” So they brought a sword before the king. {25} And the king said, “Divide the living child in two, and give half to one, and half to the other.” {26} Then the woman whose son was living spoke to the king, for she yearned with compassion for her son; and she said, “O my lord, give her the living child, and by no means kill him!” But the other said, “Let him be neither mine nor yours, but divide him.” {27} So the king answered and said, “Give the first woman the living child, and by no means kill him; she is his mother.” {28} And all Israel heard of the judgement which the king had rendered; and they feared the king, for they saw that the wisdom of God was in him to administer justice.

  9. Jezebel (2KI 9) – leading everyone into idolatry.
  10. When Athaliah the mother of Ahaziah saw that her son was dead, she arose and destroyed all the royal heirs. (2KI 11:1)
  11. Herodias, wife of Herod, who forced her daughter Salome to ask for the head of John the Baptist in revenge for John calling attention to her murder and adultery.

III. Examples of pushy mothers

  1. Rebecca
  2. Isaac’s wife, mother of Esau and Jacob.
  3. There are all kinds of reasons for this story to work in the internal sense. It illustrates the difficulty of defining the relationship between good and truth and how truth is first in time, but good is first in end.
  4. But in the letter we have Rebecca encouraging and helping Jacob to deceive his father and receive a blessing that was not rightfully his.
  5. Bathsheba
  6. The child she conceived in adultery with David died in infancy. After she married David she gave birth to Solomon.
  7. As David neared the end of his life he refused to name an heir, preferring that his sons fight it out amongst themselves in the time-honoured way.
  8. Bathsheba conspired with Nathan the Prophet to trick David into naming Solomon as his heir.
  9. The mother of the disciples James and John.
  10. (Mat 20:20-21) Then the mother of Zebedee’s sons came to Him with her sons, kneeling down and asking something from Him. {21} And He said to her, “What do you wish?” She said to Him, “Grant that these two sons of mine may sit, one on Your right hand and the other on the left, in Your kingdom.”
  11. She didn’t know what she was asking. Right hand means heaven, left hand means hell!
  12. It made the other ten angry.

IV.Examples of good mothers

  1. Moses’ mother who managed to protect her son from the law that all male children were to be killed – and got paid for it!
  2. Hannah who gave Samuel away – and in giving away that which she desired the most, received many more blessings.
  3. (1 Sam 1) …{4} And whenever the time came for Elkanah to make an offering, he would give portions to Peninnah his wife and to all her sons and daughters. {5} But to Hannah he would give a double portion, for he loved Hannah, although the LORD had closed her womb.
  4. {8} Then Elkanah her husband said to her, “Hannah, why do you weep? Why do you not eat? And why is your heart grieved? Am I not better to you than ten sons?”
  5. {10} And she was in bitterness of soul, and prayed to the LORD and wept in anguish. {11} Then she made a vow and said, “O LORD of hosts, if You will indeed look on the affliction of Your maidservant and remember me, and not forget Your maidservant, but will give Your maidservant a male child, then I will give him to the LORD all the days of his life, and no razor shall come upon his head.” {12} And it happened, as she continued praying before the LORD, that Eli watched her mouth. {13} Now Hannah spoke in her heart; only her lips moved, but her voice was not heard. Therefore Eli thought she was drunk. {14} So Eli said to her, “How long will you be drunk? Put your wine away from you!” {15} And Hannah answered and said, “No, my lord, I am a woman of sorrowful spirit. I have drunk neither wine nor intoxicating drink, but have poured out my soul before the LORD. {16} “Do not consider your maidservant a wicked woman, for out of the abundance of my complaint and grief I have spoken until now.” {17} Then Eli answered and said, “Go in peace, and the God of Israel grant your petition which you have asked of Him.” {18} And she said, “Let your maidservant find favour in your sight.” So the woman went her way and ate, and her face was no longer sad.
  6. {19} Then they rose early in the morning and worshiped before the LORD, and returned and came to their house at Ramah. And Elkanah knew Hannah his wife, and the LORD remembered her. {20} So it came to pass in the process of time that Hannah conceived and bore a son, and called his name Samuel, saying, “Because I have asked for him from the LORD.”
  7. {24} Now when she had weaned him, she took him up with her, with three bulls, one ephah of flour, and a skin of wine, and brought him to the house of the LORD in Shiloh. And the child was young. {25} Then they slaughtered a bull, and brought the child to Eli. {26} And she said, “O my lord! As your soul lives, my lord, I am the woman who stood by you here, praying to the LORD. {27} “For this child I prayed, and the LORD has granted me my petition which I asked of Him. {28} “Therefore I also have lent him to the LORD; as long as he lives he shall be lent to the LORD.” So they worshiped the LORD there.
  8. After this she had three more sons and two daughters.
  9. The good mother in the Solomon story.
  10. Who would rather see the child taken from her and live than continue the argument and have the child divided.
  11. The Shunammite woman who provided housing for Elisha, but had no son. He promises that she will conceive a son with her husband, and it happens, to their huge delight.
  12. (2 KI 4:18-24) And the child grew. Now it happened one day that he went out to his father, to the reapers. {19} And he said to his father, “My head, my head!” So he said to a servant, “Carry him to his mother.” {20} When he had taken him and brought him to his mother, he sat on her knees till noon, and then died.
  13. {21} And she went up and laid him on the bed of the man of God, shut the door upon him, and went out. {22} Then she called to her husband, and said, “Please send me one of the young men and one of the donkeys, that I may run to the man of God and come back.” {23} So he said, “Why are you going to him today? It is neither the New Moon nor the Sabbath.” And she said, “It is well.” {24} Then she saddled a donkey, and said to her servant, “Drive, and go forward; do not slacken the pace for me unless I tell you.”
  14. She would not stop until she found Elisha, and until he had come with her to the home.
  15. Elisha raised the boy from the dead.
  16. Joseph was a foster father, but Mary was a real mother. She bore the Lord under her heart, and gave birth to Him.
  17. Mary “pondering” in her heart
  18. Mary and the 12 year-old Jesus.
  19. (Luke 2:40-49) {42} And when He was twelve years old, they went up to Jerusalem according to the custom of the feast. {43} When they had finished the days, as they returned, the Boy Jesus lingered behind in Jerusalem. And Joseph and His mother did not know it; {44} but supposing Him to have been in the company, they went a day’s journey, and sought Him among their relatives and acquaintances. {45} So when they did not find Him, they returned to Jerusalem, seeking Him.
  20. !!!
  21. {46} Now so it was that after three days they found Him in the temple, sitting in the midst of the teachers, both listening to them and asking them questions. {47} And all who heard Him were astonished at His understanding and answers. {48} So when they saw Him, they were amazed; and His mother said to Him, “Son, why have You done this to us? Look, Your father and I have sought You anxiously.”
  22. She’s not impressed that He’s teaching the masters – she had lost her child for 3 days. She’s been badly frightened and is not afraid to show it.
  23. He went back to Nazareth with them, and “was subject” to them.
  24. Sometimes it’s okay for parents to show that they are frightened and angry.
  25. Mary and the first miracle – rebuked, but still supportive as in the Children’s talk.
  26. What part did Mary play here?
  27. Is she the affection in the church that enables the truth to be done?
  28. The Lord as “mother”
  29. (ISA 66:13) As one whom his mother comforts, So I will comfort you; And you shall be comforted in Jerusalem.”
  30. (JER 50:12) Your mother shall be deeply ashamed; She who bore you shall be ashamed. Behold, the least of the nations shall be a wilderness, A dry land and a desert.

VI.“Motherhood” in each one of us:

  1. (Mat 12:46-50) While He was still talking to the multitudes, behold, His mother and brothers stood outside, seeking to speak with Him. {47} Then one said to Him, “Look, Your mother and Your brothers are standing outside, seeking to speak with You.” {48} But He answered and said to the one who told Him, “Who is My mother and who are My brothers?” {49} And He stretched out His hand toward His disciples and said, “Here are My mother and My brothers! {50} “For whoever does the will of My Father in heaven is My brother and sister and mother.”

VII.The church is the mother of all:

  1. AE 9:5: When Jesus therefore seeth His mother, and the disciple standing by whom He loved, He saith unto His mother, Woman, behold thy son. Then He saith to the disciple, Behold thy mother. And from that hour the disciple took her unto his own home (John 19:26, 27).
    By “mother” and by “woman” is here meant the church, and by “John” the good of charity; and by the things here said, that the church will be where the good of charity is.

VIII.The point is the incredible richness of the Word; how something so familiar and so essential to life in the natural world as motherhood can be used to illustrate so many different kinds of spiritual concepts.

  1. Perhaps that’s the spiritual reason for there being so many aspects to natural motherhood.
  2. Let’s leave church today – many of us to go celebrate with mothers, grandmothers, and mothers-in-law – reflecting on the many ways that each of us relates to that concept.
  3. Giving birth to ideas.
  4. Protecting what is good and innocent while providing for growth
  5. Caring for the natural, emotional, and spiritual needs of others.
  6. Giving life – through the instrumentality of the church – to the truth of the Word in the world, providing for the Lord’s living presence among all people everywhere. Amen.

 

Hear now the Word of the Lord as it is written in …

First Lesson:  EXO 2:1-10

And a man of the house of Levi went and took as wife a daughter of Levi. {2} So the woman conceived and bore a son. And when she saw that he was a beautiful child, she hid him three months. {3} But when she could no longer hide him, she took an ark of bulrushes for him, daubed it with asphalt and pitch, put the child in it, and laid it in the reeds by the river’s bank. {4} And his sister stood afar off, to know what would be done to him. {5} Then the daughter of Pharaoh came down to bathe at the river. And her maidens walked along the riverside; and when she saw the ark among the reeds, she sent her maid to get it. {6} And when she had opened it, she saw the child, and behold, the baby wept. So she had compassion on him, and said, “This is one of the Hebrews’ children.” {7} Then his sister said to Pharaoh’s daughter, “Shall I go and call a nurse for you from the Hebrew women, that she may nurse the child for you?” {8} And Pharaoh’s daughter said to her, “Go.” So the maiden went and called the child’s mother. {9} Then Pharaoh’s daughter said to her, “Take this child away and nurse him for me, and I will give you your wages.” So the woman took the child and nursed him. {10} And the child grew, and she brought him to Pharaoh’s daughter, and he became her son. So she called his name Moses, saying, “Because I drew him out of the water.” Amen.

Second Lesson:  Luke 2:15-20

So it was, when the angels had gone away from them into heaven, that the shepherds said to one another, “Let us now go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has come to pass, which the Lord has made known to us.” {16} And they came with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the Babe lying in a manger. {17} Now when they had seen Him, they made widely known the saying which was told them concerning this Child. {18} And all those who heard it marvelled at those things which were told them by the shepherds. {19} But Mary kept all these things and pondered them in her heart. {20} Then the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things that they had heard and seen, as it was told them. Amen.

Third Lesson:  CL 396:1-2

…if parents did not receive that influx also in their souls and in the inmost levels of their minds, the innocence of their little children would fail to affect them. An equivalent and comparable element must exist in another for communication to take place, and to bring about reception, affection, and so conjunction. Otherwise it would be like a tender seed falling on flint, or like a lamb thrown to a wolf.

That, now, is the reason for the statement, that innocence flowing into the souls of parents joins itself with the innocence of little children.

[2] The fact that this conjunction is occasioned in parents through the instrumentality of the physical senses, but especially through that of touch, is something we can know from experience. As for example, that the vision is inmostly delighted by the sight of them, the hearing by their speech, and the sense of smell by their fragrance.

Evidence that the communication and thus conjunction of innocent states is occasioned especially through the instrumentality of touch is clearly seen from the gratification of carrying them in one’s arms, and from their hugs and kisses – especially in the case of mothers, who are delighted by the resting of their mouth and face upon their bosoms, and at the same time then by the touch of their hands there; in general, by their suckling at their breasts and nursing; and in addition, by the patting of their naked body, and by their untiring work of diapering them and washing them upon their knees. Amen.

Here end the lessons. Blessed are they who hear the Word of God and keep it. Amen.

 

 

[1]AC 1091

Living Courageously – Week 7

A Contemporary Service Talk by

The Rev. James P. Cooper

I.       Review Previous weeks.

A.   A drought throughout Samaria caused by Ahab and Jezebel’s idolatry – Elijah was miraculously fed by ravens

1.     Idolatry is not just worshipping statues of made-up gods, something that happened a long time ago. We have idols too:  money, success (in sports or business), expensive toys (for grown-ups and children), bossing other people around – and so forth.

2.     When your mind is focussed on these kinds of things, things from the Lord and the Word are blocked out. These truths are represented by water, so our selfish idolatrous states are represented by a drought.

a.     But even then, the Lord loves us and sustains us with little truths, small blessings:  the morsels of food brought to Elijah by ravens.

B.   Famine that results from the drought – and the Widow’s obedience that provides her with oil and flour that do not run out.

1.     When you turn away from the Lord’s truth, you don’t know how to do what is good, how to be charitable. This is represented by a famine.

2.     But, when the Widow obeys Elijah’s request to give him bread, when she is obedient to the Word in the small way that she is able, she is rewarded with a never-ending supply of flour and oil, representing the Lord’s nourishing love and care.

C.   When the Widow’s son dies – Elijah restores him with the breath of life.

1.     As we move through our life there are struggles; things that we love may even seem to die, but when we turn to the Lord in His Word, He will breath new life into our activities and uses.

D.   Elijah versus the prophets of Baal.

1.     A contest to prove once and for all that Jehovah was God, and that the various idols were nothing and had no power.

2.     There will always be challenges, questions. Our faith in the Lord will be tested because there are so many other people out there who want us to do things their way.

3.     But who really knows what is best for us? A person who worships idols (wealth, power, his own intelligence) or the Creator God who made us to live forever with Him in heaven?

a.     There’s no contest, is there.

E.    Finding Courage – out of the cave.

1.     Frightened by Jezebel’s promise to kill him, Elijah flees into the wilderness where he hides in a cave until the Lord can calm him and draw him out.

2.     Again, the Lord reminds us that the road to spiritual life can be bumpy with surprising turns. Just when we think we’ve accomplished something great, the evil spirits attack and we feel weak again.

3.     And in the story the Lord shows us that what draws us out, what brings us back into spiritual health, is being useful to others.

F.    Convicted by Conscience – Ahab and Naboth.

1.     In this part of the story, Ahab represents our spiritual state, and how we sometime want things that we should not have. When Elijah confronts him, it shows us how we need to constantly evaluate the things we do, to look at them from the Lord’s point of view, to be guided by a conscience that is built up of truths that we know from the Word.

G.   This week we come to the end of the series as Elijah goes to heaven in a whirlwind after passing his mantle to Elisha.

1.     (Picture:  Lesson 7, Level A or B, page 4)

II.    (2 KI 2:1-18)

A.    On the day that Elijah was to enter heaven, it was well known among the prophets. As Elijah and Elisha travelled to Bethel, the sons of the prophets kept asking Elisha if he knew that Elijah was leaving; and he repeatedly refused to stay behind but stayed with Elijah until they reached the banks of the Jordan River.

B.    {8} Now Elijah took his mantle, rolled it up, and struck the water; and it was divided this way and that, so that the two of them crossed over on dry ground. {9} And so it was, when they had crossed over, that Elijah said to Elisha, “Ask! What may I do for you, before I am taken away from you?” Elisha said, “Please let a double portion of your spirit be upon me.” {10} So he said, “You have asked a hard thing. Nevertheless, if you see me when I am taken from you, it shall be so for you; but if not, it shall not be so.” {11} Then it happened, as they continued on and talked, that suddenly a chariot of fire appeared with horses of fire, and separated the two of them; and Elijah went up by a whirlwind into heaven. {12} And Elisha saw it, and he cried out, “My father, my father, the chariot of Israel and its horsemen!” So he saw him no more. And he took hold of his own clothes and tore them into two pieces. {13} He also took up the mantle of Elijah that had fallen from him, and went back and stood by the bank of the Jordan. {14} Then he took the mantle of Elijah that had fallen from him, and struck the water, and said, “Where is the LORD God of Elijah?” And when he also had struck the water, it was divided this way and that; and Elisha crossed over. {15} Now when the sons of the prophets who were from Jericho saw him, they said, “The spirit of Elijah rests on Elisha.” And they came to meet him, and bowed to the ground before him.

1.     The mantle is an important element of the story, a sign of Divine power and authority.

a.     And it is important to understand that the power is in the mantle, not the person who holds it.

b.     You can see this represented in the fact that our ministers wear a “mantle” when conducting worship. We call it a “stole” but it is given and worn as a reminder of the Lord’s presence in this work.

c.      But we don’t need to have a piece of cloth to have the power.

i.       Each one of us who reads the Lord’s Word with affection and delight is covered with a mantle of truth that connects us with the Lord and at the same time protects us from the evil spirits.

ii.     As we go through life and learn more things from the Word, the mantle grows in its power to protect us and guide us not just when things are going well, but in the difficult times as well.

III. There will be times when we think and feel that things are not going so well for us, when we are not sure about what to do. But that is when the Lord is closest.

A.   We are never more free than when we are using our own rational minds to make choices, and the most important choices are made in temptation.

B.   We can also learn from the story of Elijah’s temptation that our Heavenly Father has infinite patience with us. He never gives up. He leads us gently, constantly by giving us just those things that we genuinely need, and when we need and ask for them. He sent an angel, a messenger, to feed and care for Elijah in the wilderness, and then, when Elijah was ready, called him to the cave in Horeb, and then from the cave to the entrance. Little by little, giving exactly what Elijah needed, and only when he was ready to receive it in freedom, the Lord led him out of his states of despair.

C.   Let us then remember to ask ourselves, when we struggle in temptation and feel like we are totally alone, to ask ourselves, as the Lord asked Elijah, “What are you doing?”

D.   When we hear those words in our head, let’s remember Elijah in the cave, and how the Lord drew him out and back into a life of use through His tender care.

1.     And remember that this story is His promise to each one of us that He will care for us in the same way. Amen.

Fire From Heaven

 

(Elijah Series, week 4)

A Sermon by the Rev. James P. Cooper

Toronto, Feb. 14, 2010

Review first three weeks.

Drought – Fed by ravens

Famine – Widow’s oil and flour that do not run out

Widow’s son dies – he is restored with the breath of life.

Week 4:  Elijah versus the prophets of Baal.

The literal sense was touched on in the children’s talk.

The Lord ends the drought. Elijah comes out of the wilderness and returns to Samaria.

Elijah goes to Ahab and Jezebel and challenges them to a contest. It will be Elijah against 450 prophets of Baal and 400 prophets of Ashtoreth.

Baal seems to represent a “male” idol. Gifts to Baal led to prosperity in your farm or business.

Ashtoreth is a “female” idol, and was often the centre of so-called “fertility” cults. Gifts to Ashtoreth were to ensure fertility for wives and farm animals.

Why hold the contest? The reason is simple. To prove once and for all whether Baal is god, or Jehovah.

And Elijah came to all the people, and said, “How long will you falter between two opinions? If Jehovah is God, follow Him; but if Baal, follow him” (1KI 18:21).

The rules of the contest are simple. Each group is to prepare an altar with a burnt sacrifice. Each group will call on their god; the one who answers with fire “is God.”

Elijah allowed the prophets of Baal to go first.

From morning until noon, the 450 prophets pleaded and leaped about their altar. But “no one answered.” (18:26)

Elijah mocks them, saying, “Cry aloud, for he is a god; either he is meditating, or he is busy, or he is on a journey, or perhaps he is sleeping and must be awakened” (18:27).

From noon until evening they prayed even harder, cutting themselves with knives until their blood flowed. “But there was no voice; no one answered, no one paid attention” (18:29).

That’s such a powerful line. When you worship idols you will find that, in your time of need, that there is no voice, no one to answer, no one pays any attention.

Of course the result was spectacularly different when Elijah called on Jehovah, as we read in the children’s talk.

Then the fire of Jehovah fell and consumed the burnt sacrifice, and the wood and the stones and the dust, and it licked up the water that was in the trench (18:38).

Now when all the people saw it, they fell on their faces; and they said, “Jehovah, He is God! Jehovah, He is God” (18:39)!

Game over, gold medal awarded!

This particular story has a number of applications on several levels.

Simple version:

God is real and He has real power.

Worshipping idols (whatever they may be) isn’t going to work in the long run.

Longer version.

When a temptation, test, or trial sends you into a “wilderness state.”

Even though you feel completely powerless and alone, yet the Lord keeps you going with bits and hints of love and truth.

As you heal and gain strength, as you gain a clearer vision of what the problem is and what you may have to do to fix it, you move out of the wilderness and into a state of simple obedience where you find a greater abundance of more satisfying spiritual food, the widow’s flour and oil.

Not scraps brought by scavenging birds, but actual tasty, nourishing bread.

As your state improves, delightful things that you thought had been lost for ever have new life breathed into them.

Now, having had time to think about the situation, to prayerfully seek an answer in the Word, to gather the strength of your resolve to do what needs to be done to get things back on the right track, and with the Lord standing shoulder to shoulder with you, you confront the evil that drove you into the wilderness in the first place.

Mt. Carmel – a range of low mountains from the Mediterranean Sea to the south-east, known from ancient times as a place of vineyards. The name in Hebrew literally means “God’s vineyard.”

As a mountainous area, it also attracted Canaanites who loved to worship Ashtoreth in the “high places.”

AR 316 “Carmel” signifies the spiritual church because there are vineyards there.

It’s the perfect place to stage the contest, because it represents the spiritual church and a centre of idolatrous worship.

A picture of a mind with mixed motives, a place where the holy and profane both exist at the same time.

But can they live there forever, or will not one have to win out over the other?

Just as the prophets of Baal danced and pleaded all day, but no one paid them any attention at all, we discover that evil doesn’t have the power it once had over us. We look it in the face and see that it is nothing when in the presence of the Lord.

The fire that Elijah calls from heaven?

AR 599. …the greatest signs [in the Word] were made by fire from heaven; whence it was a common expression among the ancients in confirmation of anything, when the attestation of truth was spoken of, that “they could bring down fire from heaven and testify it;” by which was signified that they could testify even to that extent.

In modern language, we sometimes talk about “lightening striking” someone to represent their sudden, blinding awareness of the truth of something. And what is lightening but “fire from heaven?”

We climb the mountain – approach the Lord – and turn to Him in His Word, and in a flash of clarity, like fire from heaven, we see the true path, the potential for new spiritual life that has been eluding us while we were mired in our evils.

And we need to remember what the whole point of this contest was:  it was to determine what was going to rule your life. Baal and Ashtoreth represent the different kinds of falsities and evils to which we are all inclined, and they can be conveniently grouped under “the love of self.” There are 450 prophets of Baal, and 400 followers of Ashtoreth arrayed against Elijah.

Standing opposed to all that power is Jehovah in His word – represented by Elijah. Just Elijah.

We know how that feels, to try to hold to something right and good when the tide of culture and public opinion is going the other direction. It’s hard. It’s lonely. It’s Elijah on Mt. Carmel.

And we find that that’s enough.

The light dawns, the lightning strikes, the fire comes down from heaven, and we see and feel the power that comes from going to the Word for guidance, and then putting it to work in our life.

AC 3417 a single angel has greater power than myriads of infernal spirits, yet not from himself, but from the Lord; and he has it from the Lord in the proportion that he believes that he has no power from himself, thus that he is the least;

This brings us around full circle. Elijah shows us that we have power, real power to effect change in our internal, spiritual lives. But where does this power come from? It comes from the Lord, and the more we acknowledge that the power comes from the Lord the greater it is.

And isn’t that, in fact, the point of the story? That our real spiritual power comes when we turn away from the loves of self and the world. – when Jehovah wins the contest over Baal and Ashtoreth!

Now would be a good time for a lightening flash.

But the flash is not enough. AC 3417 finishes with:  and this he can believe insofar as he is in humiliation and in the affection of being of service to others, that is, insofar as he is in the good of love to the Lord, and of charity toward the neighbour.

Once you come to the place where you can love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your strength, and all your mind, you will then be able to begin to love your neighbour as yourself, to begin to live in mutual love, which is the life of the angels in heaven.

This is what the Lord teaches in every story of the Word. Amen.

First Lesson:  (Children’s Talk)

Second Lesson:

No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will be loyal to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon [or “riches”]. (Matthew 6:24)

[The two disciples on the road to Emmaus finally recognized Jesus and knew He had risen.] And they said to one another, Did not our heart burn within us while He talked with us on the road, and while He opened the Scriptures to us? (Luke 24:32)

Third Lesson:  TCR 403, 399

When our love for heaven constitutes the head, our love of the world constitutes the chest and abdomen; and our love for ourselves constitutes the lower legs and feet, then we are in the perfect state we were created to be in. In this state the two lower categories of loves serve the higher category the way the body and everything in it serves the head.

Therefore when the love for heaven constitutes the head, this love flows into our love for the world, which is chiefly a love for wealth, and takes advantage of that wealth to do useful things; our love for heaven also flows through our love of the world into our love for ourselves, which is chiefly a love for having a high position and takes advantage of that high position to do useful things. Therefore an inflow from one love into the next allows the three categories of love to join forces in order to do useful things. (True Christian Religion 403)

There are two loves from which all the kinds of good and truth come into being, as from their sources; and there are two loves which are the sources of all evils and falsities. The two loves which are the sources of all the kinds of good and truth are love to the Lord and love towards the neighbour. But the two loves which are the sources of all evils and falsities are self-love and the love of the world. When these two latter loves are dominant, they are the exact opposites of the two former loves. (True Christian Religion 399)

The Widow’s Obedience

 

(Serving God First)

Living Courageously Week 2

Olivet Church, Toronto

Rev. James P. Cooper

I.       This sermon is the 2nd in a series of 7 in the “Living Courageously spiritual growth program based on the events in the life of the prophet Elijah.

A.   Last week we were introduced to the main characters in the series, and learned that it takes place in the 9th Century BC in the northern kingdom of Israel. 

1.     Elijah is the prophet of the Lord.

2.     Ahab is the king of Israel, and he is married to Jezebel.  They are both worshippers of the Canaanite god Baal (2 syllables).  Even worse they are trying to encourage all the people in their kingdom to worship Baal too.

B.   This shocking lack of true faith on the spiritual level has representatively led to a drought on the natural level.

1.     Ahab and Jezebel blame Elijah for the drought, so he has fled into the wilderness where he hides, being fed by ravens.

2.     We learned that the mixture of good and evil, true and false in the representative setting indicates a human state where the motives behind our actions are mixed and need to be examined.

II.    The drought was severe. There are almost no “artesian” well or springs in Israel. Except for those few living on the shore of the Sea of Galilee or the banks of the Jordan River, all the drinking water is captured and stored rainwater.

A.   Because it didn’t rain, the crops died. Soon there was neither water to drink nor food to eat, and the people were dying.

B.   Rain represents the way the Lord flows into the world from heaven with the truth that we need to do what is good. The drought represents that this inflowing truth has stopped – but what stops it?

1.     Whenever the Lord sends a prophet to announce a drought in the land, it is always in response to some horrible evil being committed by the people, or by a king who is leading his people into evil. 

2.     Although it seems that it is the Lord who is withholding the good rain, the fact is that it is the evil that the people are doing is causing the drought.

a.     …For it is well known that every good of love and every truth of faith flows in out of heaven, that is, from the Lord through heaven, with man, and that it flows in continually; … These both flow in so far as evil and falsity do not obstruct; it is these that shut heaven so that there is no influx; AE 644:2

b.     …That the rain was withheld, and consequently there was a famine in the land of Israel for three years and a half, under Ahab, because they served other gods and killed the prophets…. was a representative, and thus a significative, that no Divine truth flowing in out of heaven could be received because of the falsities of evil, which were signified by “other gods” and by “Baal,” whom they worshiped. “Killing the prophets” signified also the destruction of the Divine, for a “prophet” signifies in the Word the doctrine of truth from the Word. AE 644:8

III. The Widow

A.   The drought in the land of Canaan represents the spiritual state of people who are being disobedient.

1.     The results of turning away from the Lord, of being in a state where there is a spiritual drought is pictured by the widow gathering sticks with which to prepare the last meal for herself and her son.

a.     And yet it is this woman, at the end of a deadly crisis, who is to be the one to save the life of the prophet Elijah!

B.    … The famine that was in the land because there was no rain, represented the vastation of truth in the church; the widow in Zarephath represented those outside of the church who desire truth; the cake which she was to make for him first, represented the good of love to the Lord, whom, out of the little she had, she was to love above herself and her son; the barrel of meal signifies truth from good, and the cruse of oil charity and love; Elijah represents the Word, by means of which such things are done. AC 4844:12

C.   … That “a woman a widow” denotes one who is in good, and longs for truth, is evident from … what is related of her in the first book of the Kings…. [7] Obedience, and the longing of good for truth, are described by her giving water to the prophet at his bidding, and afterward by her first making a cake for him out of her own little supply, and then for herself and her son; and that thereby she was enriched with the good of truth is signified by “the barrel of meal not being consumed, and the cruse of oil failing not;” for in the internal sense “water” denotes truth; “meal,” truth from good; “oil,” the good of love; and “a cake” made of these, truth conjoined with its good. From all this it is clear that “a widow” denotes one who is in good and longs for truth. Good and its longing for truth is described by the charity toward the prophet, which was greater than toward herself and her son. “The prophet,” as before shown, denotes the doctrine of truth.   AC 9198:6,7

1.     A wife generally represents good, and her husband represents truth. A widow is a woman whose husband has died. A widow then represents someone who would like to do what is good and right but cannot because she doesn’t know how.

D.   Where is her salvation?

1.     She longs for truth – the knowledge to put her loves into action, but there is no truth for her, symbolized by the lack of rain – no truth from natural sources.

2.     So the Lord provides the truth that she longs for through another way – the prophet Elijah. And, is sometimes the case when we go to the Word for help, the answer is not what we expected or wanted.

E.    Remember when Naaman, the Syrian commander, came to Elisha looking for a cure for his leprosy (2KI 5:1-19)?

1.     Elisha told him to wash in the Jordan and he was terribly insulted. He was a big, important man, and he was expecting a big, important cure!

2.     Fortunately for him, one of his servants convinced him that since he would have done the big thing, he should at least try the little thing – and he was cured because he was obedient to the higher authority of the Lord in the Word and did not continue to be led by his own feelings of what “ought” to be.

F.    Rather than giving the widow the food which she believes she needs, Elijah demands that she give him what little food she has – with the promise that if she does, she will have all the food she needs – a symbol for eternal life. This is the real test of faith, the ultimate temptation.

1.     Elijah represents the Word

2.     He tells her to do things that sound strange

3.     She’s starving, and he asks her for her food

4.     But when she obeys anyhow, acting in a way that seems to be against her own enlightened self interest, against her own human prudence, she is saved.

G.   We note that a similar thing happens just a few chapters later, where Elisha causes a widows oil and flour to continue without ceasing so that she could sell it and prevent her sons from being sold into slavery (2KI 4:1-7

1.     On several different occasions, I have spoken with people who told me of personal experiences that have a similar feel, people who, in spite of deep financial problems, were moved to take the Lord’s words to heart, and to give freely of what little they had, and in each case their lives were blessed in some unexpected way.

H.   These incidents are similar in that they all revolve around our trust in the Lord.

1.     We must have confidence that the Lord wants only what is good for us, we need to trust that He knows what is best, what will lead us to heaven. 

2.     We can’t always understand why the Lord asks us to do something. Sometimes the things He asks of us seem strange or unreasonable.

3.     We need to remember that without the Lord, without the truth of the Word to lead us, our eternal spiritual life is at risk.

4.     If we obey the Lord in simple faith, He will literally save our lives.

5.     If we reach out to others by compelling ourselves to do what is good, even when it seems to us to be contrary to our own personal needs, we will find that our good will be multiplied like the widow’s flour and oil, and our spirits will be nourished until the drought is over.

IV.What’s coming next week.

The widow’s son dies, and Elijah brings him back to life, a picture of how things we lose sight of things that we once believed to be good and true, but if we turn back to the Word, shunning evils as sins, new life can be breathed into them.

Second Lesson:

(Mat 6:1-4)  “Take heed that you do not do your charitable deeds before men, to be seen by them. Otherwise you have no reward from your Father in heaven. {2} “Therefore, when you do a charitable deed, do not sound a trumpet before you as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may have glory from men. Assuredly, I say to you, they have their reward. {3} “But when you do a charitable deed, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, {4} “that your charitable deed may be in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will Himself reward you openly.

Third Lesson:

TCR 746:  It is written in the wisdom of the wise that no one is wise or lives for himself alone, but for others also; whence comes society, which otherwise could not exist. Living for others is being useful. Uses are the bonds of society; these bonds are as many as there are good uses, and in number uses are infinite. There are spiritual uses, which pertain to love of God and love to the neighbor; there are moral and civil uses, which pertain to love of the society and community in which a man lives, and of the companions and citizens with whom he lives. There are natural uses, which pertain to the love of the world and its necessities; and there are bodily uses, which pertain to the love of self-preservation for the sake of higher uses.

Elijah Fed by Ravens

(The Intention of the Will)

Living Courageously Week 1

A Sermon by the Rev. James P. Cooper

I.       This is the first of a series of 7 sermons supporting the Living Courageously spiritual growth program. Each of the 7 weeks will begin with a sermon on some aspect of the Elijah story as found in the 1st and 2nd books of Kings.

A.   Elijah lived in the 9th Century BC, about 850 years before the Lord was born. He lived in the kingdom of Israel after it had separated from the kingdom of Judah at the death of Solomon.

B.   The temple in Jerusalem was in the kingdom of Judah and therefore inaccessible to the people in the kingdom of Israel.

C.   If the king of Israel wanted to keep his position, he had to make sure that his people didn’t drift back to Judah, he had to make sure that they had something even more exiting and interesting to worship in the northern capital of Samaria. So, after the division of the kingdom, we see each successive king of Israel borrowing idolatrous practices from the surrounding Canaanites and encouraging the people to follow them. This, of course, was exactly the opposite of what the Lord had in mind for them when He brought them out of slavery in Egypt, across the wilderness, and brought them into a land to call their own, a land of milk and honey.

D.   The king of Israel at the time of Elijah is Ahab, son of Omri. Ahab’s wife is Jezebel, the daughter of the king of Tyre.

E.    Ahab and Jezebel worshipped Baal. There are even indications that they were the main supporters of the priesthood of Baal.

1.     You may be surprised to learn that there are groups that still worship Baal, and that there is even a web site dedicated to worshipping Baal.[1]

F.    So, we can see that the sense of the letter is setting us up for a monumental battle between good and evil, between Elijah and Ahab, between Jehovah and Baal.

II.    (1 KI 16:29-33) In the thirty-eighth year of Asa king of Judah, Ahab the son of Omri became king over Israel; and Ahab the son of Omri reigned over Israel in Samaria twenty-two years. {30} Now Ahab the son of Omri did evil in the sight of the LORD, more than all who were before him.

A.   He walked in the sins of Jeroboam, married Jezebel, and put a statue of Baal in the temple in Samaria. Ahab did more to provoke the Lord to anger than all the other kings who were before him.

B.   Ahab, by promoting the false worship of Baal was substituting falsity for truth. Since truth is represented by water, the way that the incredibly lack of truth in Ahab’s kingdom could be represented was for there to be a severe drought – a lack of water/truth.

1.     So, seeing the story from our perspective, seeing the big picture, we can say that the cause of the drought is the falsity of Baal worship introduced by Ahab and Jezebel.

2.     The Lord sent Elijah to announce the situation to Ahab. He said, “there shall not be dew nor rain these years, except at my word.[2]

C.   We also know that human nature being what it is, Ahab and Jezebel were unable to accept the blame themselves, and instead blamed the messenger – Elijah.

1.     So the Lord spoke to Elijah and sent him into the Wilderness where he would be safe until the danger passed.

III. This is one of the places in the Word where the lesson is both extremely important and non-intuitive.

A.   Our natural response to a perceived attack is to defend.

1.     We have lots of stories in the Word where people use the sword of truth to slay the dragon, or defeat the enemy. Our natural instinct is to believe that the Lord wants us to fight against evil, and that’s true – but the fighting valiantly and defeating the enemy part comes later.

2.     But listen to this:  he who does not search out any evil with himself and flee from it as a sin against God, which is done solely by repentance, after death becomes a demon[3]

a.     There are lots of other passages that say the same thing.

b.     Evil is a powerful, dangerous thing. If we try to stand up and face it alone, we put ourselves in grave spiritual danger.

c.      The Lord wants us to turn and run, to flee for our lives when we come face to face with evil.

d.     When Saul tried to kill David, he flees into the wilderness.

e.      When Absalom rebels against King David, David’s response was to flee into the wilderness.

f.       Here, Elijah flees into the wilderness during a drought.

B.   Why?

1.     In the Word, the “wilderness” state represents our feeling that we are alone (in a deserted place), that we don’t know what to do (lack of truth represented by a lack of water) and that we are feeling unloved – or unloving – (represented by little food).

2.     Our normal mode is to go about our daily business through habit our routine. We can often go days or weeks without really examining our motives because we are not be asked to make a difficult or unusual decision.

3.     Then, usually without warning, something happens to draw our attention to a problem that’s been sitting there all along and we’ve been ignoring.

4.     There are lots of other places in the Word where this happens, but in the Elijah series it’s shown as the way that idolatrous worship has been creeping into their way of life.

a.     First, they stop worshipping in Jerusalem

b.     Then they start worshipping Canaanite gods in the high places

c.      Then the king marries a Canaanite woman.

d.     It built up over time, but suddenly it is all too much, and Elijah is sent to bring a judgement.

5.     When we are suddenly awakened, as it were, to the true state that we have fallen into, it can be a very painful and embarrassing thing. We want to go somewhere and hide.

a.     If we were to fight at this moment, we would be striking out blindly and perhaps doing harm to people we love.

b.     And so Elijah flees into the wilderness where he can rest, gather his resources, and prepare for the coming battle.

IV.The wonderful thing about this story is that fleeing into the wilderness is not the end of the story.

A.   It’s not about the angry God sending us into the wilderness to punish us for being bad.

B.   It’s about the loving God sending us someplace safe, someplace away from our spiritual enemies, away from further damage where we can begin to heal. He tells us over and over in His Word that we are to flee from evil.

1.     1 KI 17 {5} So he went and did according to the word of the LORD, for he went and stayed by the Brook Cherith, which flows into the Jordan. {6} The ravens brought him bread and meat in the morning, and bread and meat in the evening; and he drank from the brook.

C.   We need to think about how Elijah is being cared for.

1.     Ravens are birds, so they can represent truth or doctrine, but they’re not nice birds. They’re big and black and don’t have a nice song.

2.     Ravens are carrion eaters and scavengers. What does that tell us about the quality of the bread and meat that they brought to Elijah?

3.     And the brook? It’s not a big refreshing spring that would represent the Word, rather it’s just seasonal run-off, and about to fail.

D.   This sounds pretty bad – but remember this is a step up from being murdered by Ahab.

1.     We can also imagine Elijah, in hiding, being thankful for the food at first, but eventually wanting something better.

E.    This is exactly the point.

1.     Each time we have a temptation, a spiritual combat, each time we are brought tumbling down and begin to see ourselves as others see us – as the Lord sees us – the Lord is gently leading us in small, appropriate steps, from the spiritual place where we are to the place where we ought to be.

a.     Mediate goods: things that are not in themselves good, but lead to good, are acceptable to the Lord.

b.     It’s not where you start from, but where you are headed; it’s the journey that’s important.

2.     He doesn’t condemn us for not being angels. He knows that we are dust[4] And so He leads us with those things that will be exactly suited to our spiritual states.

3.     Elijah, hiding in the wilderness, begins to look at the food being brought by the ravens.

a.     It’s food, but not very high quality.

b.     Just like our motives. We like to think that we act from good motives and probably on the balance our motives are pretty good.

c.      But what this story is telling us is that the Lord is asking us to look at the food we’re eating, to look critically at its source, and to see if we can make some better decisions and move to a better place.

d.     We’re not ready to take on Ahab and Jezebel yet, but we can at least get ourselves out of the wilderness with the Lord’s gentle care and leadership.

F.    More about that part of the journey next week. Amen.

First Lesson:

(This reading is previous to that of the Children’s Talk, and explains why the Lord caused a drought.)

(1 KI 16:29-33) In the thirty-eighth year of Asa king of Judah, Ahab the son of Omri became king over Israel; and Ahab the son of Omri reigned over Israel in Samaria twenty-two years. {30} Now Ahab the son of Omri did evil in the sight of the LORD, more than all who were before him. {31} And it came to pass, as though it had been a trivial thing for him to walk in the sins of Jeroboam the son of Nebat, that he took as wife Jezebel the daughter of Ethbaal, king of the Sidonians; and he went and served Baal and worshiped him. {32} Then he set up an altar for Baal in the temple of Baal, which he had built in Samaria. {33} And Ahab made a wooden image. Ahab did more to provoke the LORD God of Israel to anger than all the kings of Israel who were before him. Amen.

Second Lesson:

(Mark 10:35-37) Then James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came to Him, saying, “Teacher, we want You to do for us whatever we ask.” {36} And He said to them, “What do you want Me to do for you?” {37} They said to Him, “Grant us that we may sit, one on Your right hand and the other on Your left, in Your glory.”

(Mark 10:41-45) And when the ten heard it, they began to be greatly displeased with James and John. {42} But Jesus called them to Himself and said to them, “You know that those who are considered rulers over the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. {43} “Yet it shall not be so among you; but whoever desires to become great among you shall be your servant. {44} “And whoever of you desires to be first shall be slave of all. {45} “For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.”

Third Lesson:

AC 4145 [2] With everyone who is being regenerated good is at first intermediate good, for the purpose that it may serve in the introduction of genuine goods and truths. But once it has served that use it is separated; and that person is guided towards good which flows in along the direct line of descent. So a person who is being regenerated is perfected gradually.

For example: a person who is being regenerated believes at first that the good which he thinks and which he does begins in himself, and also that he earns some reward, for he does not yet know, or if he does know does not comprehend, that good is able to flow in from some other source. Neither does he know of or comprehend any other possibility than that he should be rewarded because he does it of himself. If he did not believe this at first he would never do anything good. But by this means he is introduced not only into the affection for doing good but also into cognitions concerning good and also concerning merit.

And once he has been guided in this way into the affection for doing good he starts to think differently and to believe differently. That is to say, he starts to think and to believe that good flows in from the Lord and that he merits nothing through good which he does from the proprium. And when at length true affection lies behind his willing and doing of what is good he rejects merit altogether and indeed loathes it, and he is moved by an affection for good for the sake of what is good. When this state is reached good is flowing in down a direct line.


[1]Www.baal.com – really!

[2]1 KI 17:1

[3]AR 458

[4]Psalm 103:14

The Loaves and Fishes

 

A Sermon by the Rev. James P. Cooper

Toronto, Nov. 22, 2009

And when He had taken the five loaves and the two fish, He looked up to heaven, blessed and broke the loaves, and gave them to His disciples to set before them; and the two fish He divided among them all. So they all ate and were filled. (MAR 6:41-42)

I.       Mark Chapter 5 is all about various miracles performed by the Lord.

A.   But Chapter 6, in contrast, starts out telling us that He was unable to do miracles in His own home regions because they thought of Him as Jesus, the carpenter’s son.

1.     This is important because it helps us to focus our attention on why the Lord did these miracles, and even more importantly, why it’s important for us to be reading about them today.

a.     If we don’t believe the Lord has the power to save us, we won’t ask for His help.

b.     And, He tells us that He will stand at the door and knock, but we have to invite Him to come in.

c.      The free will choice is ours alone – and the nature of our eternal spiritual life hangs on that decision.

B.   (7-13) He sends out the disciples two by two, and they are able to heal the sick.

1.     Here we see that the disciples are able to do miracles of healing.

a.     Why? Because people associate them with the Lord and believe that they administer His power.

C.   (14-29) At this point in the chapter, the ministry of John the Baptist comes to an abrupt end as he is executed by Herod.

1.     It was clear from the start that his ministry was only for the purpose of preparing the way for the Lord and that it would have to come to an end once the Lord got His ministry going.

a.     Signifies the strength of the power of evil in the world at that time and the imperative need for the Lord to be there.

2.     Herod, representing evil, shows his power over John the Baptist, and Jesus responds by showing His own power, and the extensive support that He had from the people.

II.    The miracle of the loaves and fishes (as we briefly mentioned in the children’s talk) starts in a deserted place with many people coming to hear Jesus or be healed. The disciples flee, without taking time to eat. 

A.   There seems to be an element of being surprised by the crowds and running away without a plan, without taking provisions for the journey.

1.     The disciples were surprised, but Jesus could not have been.

B.   They escape the crowds by getting in a boat and heading for a deserted place.

1.     And Jesus, of course, knew that the disciples were taking them right back to the crowd, but He allowed it.

C.   The crowds anticipated where they were going, ran ahead, and were waiting for them when they arrived.

a.     They were like sheep without a shepherd, so Jesus took pity on them and began to teach.

D.   At the end of the day, the disciples suggest that the teaching end, that the people be sent away so that they could find food for themselves in the villages in the surrounding country.

a.     It is specifically stated “for they have nothing to eat.” (MAR 6:36)

b.     Jesus tells the disciples, “You give them something to eat.

c.      The disciples, knowing that they left in a hurry without even bringing food for themselves ask Jesus if He means that they should take “200 denarii” and go into the village to buy the food.

i.       A denarius is a common coin, and in the New Testament it is used to represent a day’s wages for a labourer.

ii.     So, ask yourself how much a labourer ought to get for a full day’s work today, then multiply that by 200, and you’ll get a sense of what that question meant. It represented a lot of money, for a lot of food.

E.    Jesus then told them to find out how much food could be found in the group. Remember, the disciples did not bring any themselves. By asking the people, they were able to come up with 5 loaves of bread, and two fish.

1.     They were told to sit on the grass in groups of hundreds and fifties.

a.     In general 5 means few, and 10 means more in relation to truths, so this odd detail which seems to add nothing to the story tells us that among the group the Lord was serving there were people who had “more” truth, and those who had “less.” Put another way, this feeding or sharing of bread is for everyone, no matter what their state of truth is, so long as they want it and they believe the Lord can give it to them.

F.    He blessed and broke the loaves and gave to the disciples. The bread and fish were thus divided to the whole group.

1.     And lest you begin to think that they got little bites, they took up 12 baskets of fragments afterwards. After feeding 5,000 people there was more left over than they started with.

G.   Modern Bible critics have suggested that the real miracle here was that He was able to get the people to reveal and share food that they had hidden in their pockets.

1.     The point is that it was supposed to be a miracle, not a sharing group, to think of it this way takes all the power of it away!

2.     And the set-up for the story makes it quite clear that everyone was moving from place to place in a spontaneous way, this wasn’t a planned outing where people would be carrying a meal or two in a hidden pocket just in case.

a.     The people were going about their daily work when they heard that Jesus was near. They dropped what they were doing and ran to see Him, then when he left in a boat, ran to see Him at His new place.

3.     He created the world! He created bread from dew and fed a million people in the wilderness for 40 years! Why do we struggle with stretching a few loaves of bread?

H.   Immediately following this miracle, we hear that He walks on the water to join the disciples in the boat (no mention of Peter), and then landing in Gennesaret, crowds besiege Him, and as many as touched Him were made well.

1.     He responds to the death of John the Baptist with three powerful demonstrations of His power over disease, and His power over natural phenomena by creating food and walking on the water.

III. So, where do we go with all this?

A.   AE 617 [4] From this, too, it is evident that “to eat” signifies in the spiritual sense to receive in the will and to do, from which is conjunction; for the Lord by doing the Divine will conjoined the Divine that was in Him with His Human, and thus appropriated the Divine to His Human. To this may be referred:  The Lord’s feeding the five thousand men, besides women and children, with five loaves and two fishes, and when they had eaten and were filled they took up twelve baskets of fragments (Matt. 14:15-22; John 6:5, 13, 23). Also His feeding four thousand men from seven loaves and a few fishes (Matt. 15:32, et seq.).

1.     This miracle was done because previously the Lord had been teaching them, and they had received and appropriated to themselves His doctrine; this is what they ate spiritually; therefore natural eating followed, that is, flowed in out of heaven with them as the manna did with the sons of Israel, unknown to them; for when the Lord wills, spiritual food which also is real food but only for spirits and angels, is changed into natural food, just as it was turned into manna every morning.

B.   Miracles don’t convert unbelievers into believers.

1.     All you have to do is look at the adventures of the children of Israel as they were freed from Egypt and proceed into the wilderness and you can see ample evidence of that.

2.     But miracles can and do provide support and reassurance to those who do believe – or who want to believe.

3.     And perhaps, most important, they show that the Lord has the power to do amazing things. This gives each one of us the confidence – the faith – that if we approach the Lord for help and healing in our spiritual lives that He can in fact provide it. Amen.


Hear now the Word of the Lord as it is written in …

First Lesson:  EXO 16:11-31

And the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, {12} “I have heard the complaints of the children of Israel. Speak to them, saying, ‘At twilight you shall eat meat, and in the morning you shall be filled with bread. And you shall know that I am the LORD your God.’” {13} So it was that quails came up at evening and covered the camp, and in the morning the dew lay all around the camp. {14} And when the layer of dew lifted, there, on the surface of the wilderness, was a small round substance, as fine as frost on the ground. {15} So when the children of Israel saw it, they said to one another, “What is it?” For they did not know what it was. And Moses said to them, “This is the bread which the LORD has given you to eat. {16} “This is the thing which the LORD has commanded: ‘Let every man gather it according to each one’s need, one omer for each person, according to the number of persons; let every man take for those who are in his tent.’” {17} Then the children of Israel did so and gathered, some more, some less. {18} So when they measured it by omers, he who gathered much had nothing left over, and he who gathered little had no lack. Every man had gathered according to each one’s need. … {31} And the house of Israel called its name Manna. And it was like white coriander seed, and the taste of it was like wafers made with honey. Amen.

Second Lesson:  Apocalypse Explained 430 [15]

He who does not know that “twelve” signifies all things cannot know the arcanum that is signified by:  The twelve baskets of fragments that remained from the five loaves and two fishes with which the Lord fed five thousand men besides women and children (Matt. 14:5-2; Mark 6:37-44; Luke 9:12-17; John 6:9-13). Each particular here, with the numbers themselves, is significative; “the five thousand men besides women and children,” signify all who are of the church that are in truths from good; the “men” signifying those who are in truths, and the “women and children” those who are in good; “loaves” the goods and “fishes” the truths of the natural man; “eating” spiritual nourishment from the Lord; the “twelve baskets of fragments” the knowledges of truth and good therefrom in all abundance and fullness. Amen.

Here end the lessons. Blessed are they who hear the Word of God and keep it. Amen.

 

Mary and Martha

A sermon by the Rev. James P. Cooper

Toronto, May 10, 2009

“Lord, do You not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Therefore tell her to help me.” (LUK 10:38)

I.             The 10th chapter of Luke begins with the Lord sending out 70 disciples to spread the news, to carry His message far and wide.

A.         Then we read how a lawyer asks the Lord how he can earn eternal life. That’s a pretty important question, so we should pay close attention to the Lord’s answer.

1.           Jesus asks what the lawyer understands the law to be.

2.           He answers, “Love the Lord with all your heart, soul, strength, and mind; and love your neighbour as yourself.”

3.           Jesus says to him, “Do this and you will live.”

4.           But he, wanting to justify his lack of care of the neighbour, asks Jesus, “who is my neighbour?”

B.          Jesus does not let this tossed off comment go. He answers that question by telling the lawyer the parable of the Good Samaritan.

1.           We all know the outline of the story well. The key to understanding it is knowing what a “Samaritan” was.

a.            When Nebuchadrezzar’s army carried the best and the brightest people of Judah off into captivity in 586 BC, the dregs of their society were left behind.

b.           The sickly, those too old or young to survive the journey, and those thought to be too unintelligent to be useful were left behind to fend for themselves.

c.            Suddenly without any religious or civil leaders, those remaining in the central part of Israel known as Samaria, formed partnerships with the Canaanites around them, intermarrying and borrowing aspects of their religion. They had no choice.

d.           When the other Jews returned from Babylon the gulf between the Samaritans and the “true” Jews was enormous.

2.           It must have been extremely painful for the lawyer to admit that the Samaritan, lowest of the low, was the hero of the story rather than the priest or the Levite

C.          And then again the Lord says, “Go and do likewise.” Be like a Samaritan instead of a respected lawyer, or priest, or Levite? That’s just crazy.

1.           Or maybe it’s the religion and culture that created people too arrogant and selfish to help someone in obvious need that’s crazy.

2.           With this as a background, the next thing mentioned in Luke is His visit to the home of Mary and Martha.

II.          Once the Lord began His public ministry, He didn’t have a home. He travelled from one village to another. He and His disciples did not have jobs in the traditional sense. They depended on the hospitality of the people they met to invite them into their homes and feed them. When that didn’t happen they slept where they could find shelter (as in the garden of Gethsemane), and gathered the gleanings of the fields for food.

A.         One place He was invited to stay was the home of Mary and Martha. They were sisters who lived together in a little village on the Mt. of Olives, near Jerusalem. When the Lord was passing through, Martha invited Him to stay with them.

B.          When we read the part that says that Mary sat at His feet and heard His word, remember that this is the same women we read about in the lessons, a woman whose life was in a terrible state, but was transformed by the Lord’s forgiveness. 

III.      LUK 10:38-42 Now it happened as they went that He entered a certain village; and a certain woman named Martha welcomed Him into her house. {39} And she had a sister called Mary, who also sat at Jesus’ feet and heard His word. {40} But Martha was distracted with much serving, and she approached Him and said, “Lord, do You not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Therefore tell her to help me.” {41} And Jesus answered and said to her, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and troubled about many things. {42} “But one thing is needed, and Mary has chosen that good part, which will not be taken away from her.”

IV.      To understand the full meaning of this story we need to remember its placement in the chapter. Immediately before this was the question from the lawyer about how to get to heaven, followed by an example of how love to the neighbour is expressed.

A.         This little story is also part of the bigger question, how we are to prepare ourselves for heaven. And, it’s especially useful because we can apply it in so many different ways to our own lives and situations.

1.           For example, in the relationship between husbands and wives in marriage.

a.            Husbands and wives can both feel, like Martha, that they are carrying the greater burden of some marriage chore while the partner rests or does something that seems – at lest to the other spouse – to be less important.

b.           This raises the question of how we determine what’s really important, and how we set our priorities.

B.          We also feel this conflict between the immediate pressing needs of the natural versus the more distant, long term needs of our spiritual life in the way we balance the thoughts and feelings in our own minds and hearts. We feel it in the struggle that everyone feels as they try to balance the natural and spiritual aspects of their own life. We feel it as frustration when we’re trying to do something that we feel in important and needed but others don’t share our vision and commitment.

C.          And sometimes it’s just purely selfish, because we don’t like it much when we think that we are doing all the work while the other people seem to be having all the fun. 

D.         We would be mistaken to think that the Lord is teaching us that preparing a meal and caring for the home is not important. It’s just that we need to step back from time to time and view things from the Lord’s perspective, the eternal view.

1.           In regard to the care for the morrow, the focus on our day to day physical needs, AC 8478 says, But a person who views it from … the internal sense, may recognize what concern for the morrow is used to mean – not concern to obtain food and clothing for oneself, and also resources for the future; for it is not contrary to order to make provision for oneself and one’s dependants. But people are concerned about the morrow when they are not content with their lot, do not trust in God but in themselves, and have solely worldly and earthly things in view, not heavenly ones.

2.           The purpose of Divine revelation is so that we can see and be reminded of these things, be reminded of the need to stop from time to time to try to step back see things from an eternal perspective.

V.         The two women, Mary and Martha represent different parts of our own lives, two different ways that each of us serves the Lord.

A.         Martha represents that part of us that is busy, that wants to do something, be active, that is fully involved in the needs and uses of the natural world.

B.          Mary represents the spiritual element, the part of us that is dominant when we feel like sitting still and being quiet so we can think about the future and what we need to do to achieve our long term spiritual goals, and so forth.

C.          And how do we know the difference between our natural and spiritual uses?

1.           We learn the really important differences, the spiritual truths that feed the rational degree of our mind from the Word, by doing the “Mary” work.

2.           Therefore, when Mary sat as His feet, He would not take away the “good part” – the part that comes from Him through the Word.

3.           The “Martha” work isn’t bad, but we need to recognize that like all the other things of the natural world, those things exist only to serve spiritual goals. In that sense, they are of less value.

VI.      There are so many things about living in the natural world that distract us that we tend to be like Martha – thinking that the “house” things are more important.

A.         The point of this story is to remind us of our need to be like both Martha and Mary at various points in our lives – and to keep those parts in balance.

B.          How are love to the Lord and love of the neighbour expressed in our words and deeds?

1.           To do our chores and take care of our natural needs and responsibilities, and

2.           AND To look to the Lord by reading the Word, thoughtfully.

a.            To see the evils within us in the light of the Word, and to approach the Lord in humility and love, asking for His forgiveness.

b.           To begin a new life and to reflect on spiritual things.

C.          In this way, we can both live in the world happily, and by living an orderly live in the world, prepare ourselves for eternal life in heaven. AMEN.


First Lesson:  LUK 7:36-50

Then one of the Pharisees asked Him to eat with him. And He went to the Pharisee’s house, and sat down to eat. {37} And behold, a woman in the city who was a sinner, when she knew that Jesus sat at the table in the Pharisee’s house, brought an alabaster flask of fragrant oil, {38} and stood at His feet behind Him weeping; and she began to wash His feet with her tears, and wiped them with the hair of her head; and she kissed His feet and anointed them with the fragrant oil. {39} Now when the Pharisee who had invited Him saw this, he spoke to himself, saying, “This man, if He were a prophet, would know who and what manner of woman this is who is touching Him, for she is a sinner.” {40} And Jesus answered and said to him, “Simon, I have something to say to you.” So he said, “Teacher, say it.” {41} “There was a certain creditor who had two debtors. One owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. {42} “And when they had nothing with which to repay, he freely forgave them both. Tell Me, therefore, which of them will love him more?” {43} Simon answered and said, “I suppose the one whom he forgave more.” And He said to him, “You have rightly judged.” {44} Then He turned to the woman and said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I entered your house; you gave Me no water for My feet, but she has washed My feet with her tears and wiped them with the hair of her head. {45} “You gave Me no kiss, but this woman has not ceased to kiss My feet since the time I came in. {46} “You did not anoint My head with oil, but this woman has anointed My feet with fragrant oil. {47} “Therefore I say to you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven, for she loved much. But to whom little is forgiven, the same loves little.” {48} Then He said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.” {49} And those who sat at the table with Him began to say to themselves, “Who is this who even forgives sins?” {50} Then He said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you. Go in peace.”

Second Lesson:  LUK 11:1-2

Now a certain man was sick, Lazarus of Bethany, the town of Mary and her sister Martha. {2} It was that Mary who anointed the Lord with fragrant oil and wiped His feet with her hair, whose brother Lazarus was sick.

Third Lesson:  SE 1573, 1574

1573. About those who are too much engrossed in household cares. I saw a small dwelling quite deep under the left foot, toward the front. There was a large room, with furniture that I did not see, and a long hallway leading from it, as is customary. Through the hallway a woman small in stature, and ugly, was going out.

1574. When I asked what this meant, I was told that people who had overzealously devoted themselves in the life of the body to household chores occupy little dwellings like this, and remain engrossed in their domestic concerns. Indeed, very many of them are from among the common people, exemplified by old women who, even though they are not their responsibility, take those chores upon themselves, neglecting, like Martha, the better things, such as matters of faith [Luke 10:38-42].