Sermon: Those Who Are With Us
I preached this sermon on Sunday, March 13, 2011 at the Olivet New Church in Toronto.
THOSE WHO ARE WITH US
Readings: 2 Kings 6:8-23; Mark 9:36-41; Arcana Coelestia 5036
“So [Elisha] answered, “Fear not, for those who are with us are more than those who are with them” (2 Kings 6:16).
All of us go through times when we feel alone. Maybe we feel alone when we reflect on the tiny size of the New Church compared to all the other religions in the world. Maybe you feel alone when you try to express yourself and no one seems to get what you’re saying. There are times when we feel alone even when we’re surrounded by friends or family. The truth is, all of us feel alone in some context, in some situation. No matter how integrated into a group we seem to be, there are times when we feel that we’re on our own.
We can especially feel alone at the times when we most need help – at the times when we are faced with obstacles and challenges. Most of us know the feeling of having to take on a struggle in our life, with a sense that we’re going into battle by ourselves. We know something of the feeling that Elisha’s servant must have had as he looked outside his master’s house and saw the entire city of Dothan surrounded by Syrian warriors.
Imagine what that would have been like for Elisha’s servant, who was only a boy or a young man. We read that he “arose early in the morning and went out.” Imagine stepping out of your door early in the morning and seeing a hostile army completely surrounding your neighbourhood. Now, where we live now, that seems almost absurd; but in other places in the world, this is still a real possibility. Imagine the fear of seeing that enemy army – and imagine how much greater the fear would be if you knew that the army had one goal in mind – to get to the house that you are in and destroy you and the people you are living with. We can understand why the servant boy cried out to Elisha, “Alas, my master! What shall we do!”
We’ll probably never experience this literally, but all of us have at some at some time feel like we are alone against an impossibly large force. We may feel it when we think about our tiny church trying to change the entire world. Or on a personal level, when we struggle to change habits that have the weight of years and decades behind them. When we see our own evils, we can feel overwhelmed – when we see how deeply ingrained our selfishness really is it can seem to be a great army arrayed against ourselves alone.
The servant boy felt almost completely alone, but he did have his master with him. Elisha represents the Lord’s Word, and the Lord himself as the Word. We have the Lord’s word with us; we know that the Lord is present with us always, and never leaves us. We are never alone. But sometimes even that intellectual knowledge does not comfort us. The servant boy knew the immense power that Elisha had wielded, the miracles he had done – but he still feared for his life. Sometimes when we’re faced with seemingly impossible odds, the Word doesn’t seem like enough, and it’s hard to feel the Lord’s presence. But even then, we can turn to the Lord in prayer; and we can still follow and serve the Word, just as Elisha’s servant followed him and cried out to him.
The boy was afraid and cried out to Elisha. But Elisha told the boy, “Do not fear; for those who are with us are more than those who are with them.” Those who are with us are more than those who are with them. Those who are on our side are more than those who are against us. Our allies are more numerous and more powerful than the allies of our enemies. The Word teaches this – but it is not always easy to see. It was certainly not easy for the servant boy to see – perhaps Elisha did have great power, but how could he possibly say that those who were with them were more than those against them? Weren’t they only two against an army?
And so Elisha prayed to the Lord, “Jehovah, I pray, open his eyes that he may see.” And the Lord opened the boy’s eyes, and he saw that the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire.
The Writings for the New Church reveal that this story actually happened as described, and that the servant’s eyes really were opened. His spiritual eyes were opened, and he was seeing into heaven. He was actually seeing an angelic army, an army that really was present there. In the lower heavens, angels appear to ride horses in chariots when they are representing truth. They are arrayed for battle against the forces of evil and falsity.
There’s a passage from the book Arcana Coelestia that describes the internal sense of this story. It says that the king of Syria represents falsity, and his army represents falsities of doctrine – but the mountains full of horses and chariots of fire represent the good and true things of doctrine from the Word (AC 4720). The good and true things of doctrine from the Word might sound abstract, and it certainly sounds different from seeing angels. But the reality is that one of the best ways to picture good and truth is to picture the angels who embody those different forms of good and truth (see, e.g., AC 4096:5, 2015). Because the reality is that every good intention we have, and every true thought that enters into our mind, flows in from the Lord through a society of heaven. The angels themselves acknowledge that none of the good and truth is from them – but it does come to us through them, as well as directly from the Lord.
This is a powerful way to think of the Lord’s army that is on our side. Think of all the different perspectives that your different friends offer when you go to them for help. All of them offer something unique, something different – and the more perspectives that we’re offered, the more clearly we start to see. And now think of the vastness of heaven. Angels from throughout the universe, from the beginning of human life, all offering a different perspective, a different good, a different truth. When we read the Word, we are connected to all these different forces. Many of them act in us even when we are unaware of it – the passage we read earlier says that the angels fight for a person, even though that person is unaware of it.
When we feel alone, we can go to the Lord’s Word and actually bring about the presence of His angels, who convey His love and wisdom to us in a thousand different ways, the way a prism reflects all the colours of light. Those who are with us are more than those who are with them. We never face a struggle alone – we have an army on our side. And this can be especially helpful when we’re feeling despondent about being able to make a difference in the world, or even in one person’s life. It’s true, on our own we may be able to have little effect. But we can choose to lend our aid to one side or the other. We can stand with the Lord’s army, or we can stand with the army of hell.
Those who are with us are more than those who are against us. When we align ourselves with the Lord’s Word, we have the power of the societies of heaven on our side. But there is more than this. When we look around at the church, we may feel small – there are not many members of the organization. But the Lord’s church exists in a universal form as well as a specific form. And the Lord’s church exists wherever people are worshipping God and living in charity. There is a brotherhood and sisterhood of those who are striving for good. We are not alone in this world. We see it when there is a natural disaster and hundreds of thousands of people say, “What can I do to help?” There are hundreds, thousands, millions of people who are taking a stand against cruelty, against injustice, against hatred. There are millions of people who quietly face their own demons every day: husbands and wives who fight against their tendencies to dominate their spouses; business people who fight to be honest even to their own disadvantage; lawyers and judges and politicians who fight in themselves to put justice ahead of personal gain. These are our brothers and sisters. When the disciples came to the Lord complaining that someone else was casting out demons in the Lord’s name, He said to them, “Forbid him not; for there is no one who shall do a mighty work in My name, and can readily speak evil of Me. For he who is not against us is for us.” All those who do the Lord’s will are on the side of good.
And all those people who are striving to follow the Lord really do stand with us, even if they’re on the other side of the world. We all right now inhabit the spiritual world as well as the natural world, and when we share the same loves as another person in this world, our spirits are joined together, no matter how many miles there are in between. It is not only angels and spirits of people who have passed on that lend us aid by allowing the Lord to flow through them – it is the spirits of others still living who are in similar love and wisdom (see AC 1277). Those who are with us are more than those who are against us.
Those who are with us are more than those who are against us. But this is true only if we are putting ourselves on the Lord’s side. There are times when we realize we have lent our aid to the other side. There are times when we give into the voices telling us to cut someone else down, to control someone else, to steal or lie – and we take the side of hell. But realizing that we sometimes take this side can give us compassion for those who seem to be in the enemy’s army. Because this story does not end with the angelic army destroying the Syrian army.
We have all seen people taking the side of the enemy – from the large scale to the small. We’ve seen husbands yelling at their wives; we’ve seen parents mistreating their children; we’ve seen people cheat and lie and steal – and then rationalize everything they’ve done. When these people are doing these things, they are taking the side of the enemy. And in those situations, we can find ourselves thinking of those people as our enemies – and going even further, to wish harm on them. We may not realize that in doing this, we’re throwing in our lot with the army of falsity and evil. People are not the enemy – evil and falsity are.
The Syrian army in particular represents people who are in false doctrine. There are plenty of examples of this – the doctrine that God is angry and punishing, the false doctrine that it doesn’t matter how we live so long as we believe. And falsities like this do affect the way people live. A person who believes that God is angry is more likely to act angry himself – the idea of God changes the way we act. And falsities like hurt the truth in the Lord’s Word. The Syrian army seeks to destroy Elisha, the representative of Lord’s Word.
At this point we might expect a great battle between the Lord’s army and the Syrian army. But that is not what happens here. Elisha prays that the Lord blind the army of the Syrians. His prayer reflects a spiritual reality. People who go to the Word and follow the Lord in truth can see evil for what it is, and see goodness for what it is – just as Elisha’s servants eyes were opened. The light of heaven allows them to see things for what they really are. But those who are in falsity and evil are blind. They do not understand what it is to be good, and they are even blind to the evil that they are in. The Syrian army is blinded not as punishment, but as a result of the falsity that they represent.
With the Syrian army blinded, Elisha had a chance for revenge. But he did not take it. Instead, he led the blind army to the city of Samaria, the capital of the northern kingdom of Israel. And there, their eyes were opened. The Syrians found themselves at the mercy of the king of Israel – but they could see again. The Writings tell us that their journey into Samaria represents instruction from the Word. They change. They learn. Their eyes are opened.
When he saw his enemy at his mercy, the king of Israel asked Elisha whether he should kill them. But Elisha says no – they were to be given food and water, and even great provisions! They were to be treated as friends. They returned to Syria, and that troop of Syrians did not again attack the people of Israel.
And here we see the full meaning of Elisha’s words to his servant – that “those who are with us are more than those who are with them.” It is not only that the Lord’s army is fighting on their side – but even those who are now against them have the ability to change and join their side. What mercy the Lord has! And this is the final piece of hope for us. Those who seem to be opposed to what is good and true can change. They may be misguided now – but this does not mean they cannot learn. And when they do learn, we are strengthened by their addition to the forces of good. And when we find ourselves, to our own shame, fighting on the side of the Syrians, we can have confidence that we can join the other side.
The king gave a feast for the Syrians who have arrived in Samaria. This attitude – rejoicing over a conversion from blindness to sight – reflects the Lord’s teaching that there is more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine who have no need of repentance. And there is joy when people come into heaven. There is joy when people put themselves on the side of the Lord.
Everyone who enters heaven makes heaven stronger. Everyone who enters the church makes the church stronger. The angels rejoice when newcomers enter heaven – a passage from Heaven and Hell says,
Moreover, every society of heaven increases in number daily, and as it increases it becomes more perfect. Thus not only the society becomes more perfect, but also heaven in general, because it is made up of societies…. Therefore, the angels desire nothing so much as to have new angel guests come to them. (HH 71)
Every addition to the Lord’s kingdom – to heaven and the church – allows for the Lord to more fully act through heaven into people’s hearts and minds.
We are not alone. We have an opportunity and a choice. The Lord has invited us to join His heavenly army, not an army of vengeance or hatred, but an army of love and mercy, an army of truth and justice – the heavenly host. If we join ourselves to the Lord, He will be present with us, and give us aid through His angels. We are not alone. We pray that the Lord open our eyes, so that we may see this truth: no matter how many overwhelming the forces of falsity and evil may seem, “those who are with us are more than those who are with them.”