Changelessness and Change

Changelessness and Change

A Sermon by the Rev. James P. Cooper

Mitchellville, August 8, 2004

“Change” is a word that is charged with emotional content. Sometimes we fear a change. Sometimes we long for a change and joyously greet it when it comes. And sometimes we grudgingly accept change because we can see that after all, it is for the best – but we still don’t like it very much.

The Lord Himself is unchanged and unchanging. His love cannot grow because it is already Infinite, and His wisdom cannot increase because He is already all-knowing, for He is Wisdom Itself. He is not affected by time because He is the Creator of time, and stands outside of it. We perceive the passage of time. We can speak of things that have happened in the past, and we can plan for things that we expect to happen in the future, all the while living minute by minute in the present. However, the Lord does not have a “past” or a “future.” To Him all things are seen in the present. Because He is therefore able to see our entire lives, both past and future, as now, He is able to understand us better than we can understand ourselves, and at the same time He is able to provide opportunities for us to choose to think and to do things that will be specifically suited to our spiritual states.

The Lord Himself is changeless, but He created change for us, so that we might freely, as if of our own power, turn away from being merely natural and sensual people, and turn toward being spiritual and celestial people.

Change provides contrast in our lives. People who live next to a busy highway soon find that their brains have “tuned out” the noise from the cars and trucks. They find that they can go about their lives as if the highway was not there. The only time they even notice the noise is when a visitor asks them how they can stand all the noise, or when, for some reason like a snowstorm, it suddenly stops.

The same thing is true of our spiritual states. If the angels were to live lives of continuous unrelieved bliss, they would at first become bored, then desperate, and finally unconscious! The rational mind derives its name from the ability to compare one thing to another, to see the ratio or relationship between truths. If all things were the same, if there were no changes of state, then the rational degree of the mind could not function any longer. Since we have consciousness by means of the rational degree of the mind, if it were closed we would become unconscious.

People who live in perpetually snowy lands can become temporarily blind when their eyes cannot detect any contrasts in the entirely whitened out scenery. The brain simply gives up trying to sort out information that is not distinguishable and waits until something comes along to establish a contrast and a point of reference.

We rejoice in the changing of the seasons because these changes in weather, scenery, and activities allow us to contrast one state of our live with another, allow us to plan to make changes for ourselves at these regular landmarks in our lives. As the farmer plants new seed in the spring, so we may vow to begin a new use. As the homemaker plans spring cleaning, so we may be reminded to practice self-examination in preparation for the next Holy Supper. As we watch the leaves turn from green to brilliant colors and then fade away, we understand the message that even in death there is celebration and the promise of new life to come.

Change brings variety and delight into our lives. Change even makes it possible for us to go to heaven, for we are born full of tendencies to evils of every kind, and with all manner of sensual and natural desires. We have to redirect our lives, change our loves if we are to become angels of heaven! God intends that every one of us is to live with Him to eternity in heaven. If we are to enter heaven as our God intends, then we must first cease to do evil, then learn to do good. This is a most profound change, but a change for the better.

We all have a tendency to fear change, because change can take us away from what is known, familiar, and comfortable to something that is unknown, unfamiliar, and therefore very frightening. We establish associations with people and places that make certain locations feel like “home” to us, and other places make us feel very uncomfortable. Some people are more perceptive of this kind of sphere than others, but many people experience spheres when they travel, feeling very much at home in some places, and distinctly uncomfortable in other places – even when they are visiting with close friends or dearly loved family!

We also have very strong affections to things because they remind us of something pleasant, such as the mother who is past childbearing years who yet keeps a small box of infant’s clothes hidden away. To give them away, even though her rational mind says that there is no reason to keep them any longer, is more than her affections can bear, for giving up these soft little garments would be a powerful ultimate sign that a beloved part of her life is over. This would be the kind of change that would be fought, consciously or unconsciously, the kind of change to be feared.

Over the years, each of us builds up a repertoire of ideas that become as real and important to us as the family home, or the baby clothes. We begin to hold these ideas not because they are either useful or true, but because we have always held them. Because our affections are all tied up with these ideas, that is, because we love them not because they are true but because they are our own, we respond with anger to anyone who opposes these ideas.

We all have had the experience of trying to teach something to someone else, an idea that we sincerely thought would benefit them. We presented the idea in as gentle and rational way as we could, and they turned on us in anger! Usually, since our own loves are being challenged, we responded to their anger in kind, and the communication ended. The reason this happens is that everyone has strong affections for their own ideas and beliefs, and when we speak, we must speak with sensitivity and care for those loves – which can be extremely difficult when we don’t know what they are!

We love who we are. Every thought, every belief, every part of our being is bound in place by loves. Some of these loves are good, and some of them are evil. Every time we make a decision to change some aspect of our life, we are at the same time making a decision to kill one of our loves. It may be an evil love that should be destroyed, but it is still a part of us, and it hurts to remove it. It’s like having a splinter in your finger. After a minute it stops hurting so much, and we begin to anticipate the pain of digging it out. Immediately, we begin weighing the cost of digging it out against the cost of leaving it in. We sometimes seriously think that it would be better to learn to live with the splinter than to endure the pain of digging it out. Can we not see the spiritual danger that we face when we begin to think that we would be better off leaving a sin in place than trying to bear the pain of removing it through the combats of temptation? But at least when we make that decision, it comes from within – and we can accept it.

What really causes us to fight against a change is when we believe it is being imposed upon us from without, either by circumstances or by the deliberate action of another person or group of people. Then, our freedom feels challenged, and the Lord has designed us to fight to the death to protect our own spiritual freedom.

Our lives are full of changes. Some we welcome with joy, such as the first buds of spring after a bitterly cold winter. Some changes we wish to avoid, such as giving up one of our many bad habits. Some changes cause tremendous fear and stress because we feel that they are being forced on us by powers outside of ourselves and beyond our personal control. This reminds us of one of the great ironies of life in this world: how easy it is for us to see the need for change in others, and how sure we are that we do not need to change at all.

How many people have married, knowing full well that the partner has really annoying habits, in the belief that their love will mold the partner into more what they had in mind in the first place. The fact that this seldom works leads us to jump to the conclusion that people don’t change – but that cannot be true either, or the whole doctrine of regeneration would be without purpose. The truth is that the doctrine of freedom teaches that only those things that are received with affection and in freedom remain. Change can be accomplished, but it must come from within, from the knowledge of what is genuinely true, and the desire to bring oneself into a life in harmony with the truth.

Sometimes we fight change, sometimes we welcome it. How can we learn to approach change so that we can fight only those changes which might harm our spiritual growth and life, and welcome those changes which will bring us delight, rational thought, and freedom? How can we tell the difference? We have to ask ourselves to look to the use that the change may bring.

What will be its long-term benefits?

Will it bring a more peaceful state into the marriage?

Does it lead to the life of heaven?

What will be its short-term benefits?

Does it solve a particular problem that has been disturbing the home and distracting our minds from more important things?

What are the costs in economic, human, and spiritual terms?

Can the Lord’s will be seen in this change?

Can we accept that the change is in the Lord’s Divine Providence and allow ourselves to accept it until such time as another choice and change become available?

Will making this change bring our life more into harmony with the Lord’s will as it is seen in the Word, or does it favor self?

These are difficult questions to ask of ourselves. They are even more difficult to answer honestly, for sometimes the answer will put our will in conflict with our rational thought-and, when so challenged, the will immediately demands that the thought process begin again – it cannot tolerate loosing.

As we fight these battles within our minds, we feel that we are alone, and perhaps even confused by the way things are constantly changing and shifting in our lives. Both our internal states, and the states of the world and the people around us. In our own personal uncertainty, we search for something sure, a rock to become the foundation of our thought.

The very fact that we are free to fight, to change, to search for answers is proof that the Lord is always there, helping us, protecting our freedom and rational thought. We can search the world over, and we will find lots of opinion and lots of fads to follow, but they are not the firm foundation we need to provide security for our spirits. That firm foundation is the bedrock that the Lord told Peter that His church would be founded on: the doctrine we have from the Word which is unchanged and unchanging forever.

They will perish, but You will endure; Yes, all of them will grow old like a garment; Like a cloak You will change them, And they will be changed. But You are the same, And Your years will have no end (PSA 102:26,27). AMEN

First Lesson:

(Mat 21:33-46) “Hear another parable: There was a certain landowner who planted a vineyard and set a hedge around it, dug a winepress in it and built a tower. And he leased it to vinedressers and went into a far country. {34} “Now when vintage-time drew near, he sent his servants to the vinedressers, that they might receive its fruit. {35} “And the vinedressers took his servants, beat one, killed one, and stoned another. {36} “Again he sent other servants, more than the first, and they did likewise to them. {37} “Then last of all he sent his son to them, saying, ‘They will respect my son.’ {38} “But when the vinedressers saw the son, they said among themselves, ‘This is the heir. Come, let us kill him and seize his inheritance.’ {39} “So they took him and cast him out of the vineyard and killed him. {40} “Therefore, when the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those vinedressers?” {41} They said to Him, “He will destroy those wicked men miserably, and lease his vineyard to other vinedressers who will render to him the fruits in their seasons.” {42} Jesus said to them, “Have you never read in the Scriptures: ‘The stone which the builders rejected Has become the chief cornerstone. This was the Lord’s doing, And it is marvelous in our eyes’? {43} “Therefore I say to you, the kingdom of God will be taken from you and given to a nation bearing the fruits of it. {44} “And whoever falls on this stone will be broken; but on whomever it falls, it will grind him to powder.” {45} Now when the chief priests and Pharisees heard His parables, they perceived that He was speaking of them. {46} But when they sought to lay hands on Him, they feared the multitudes, because they took Him for a prophet. Amen.

Second Lesson:

(AC 8853) Every man has something of his own which he loves above all things. This is called that which rules, or if you will, that which reigns universally with him. This is constantly present in his thought, and also in his will, and makes his veriest life.

(8854) As for example, he who loves wealth above all things, whether money or possessions, is continually revolving in his mind how he may procure it; he inmostly rejoices when he acquires it; he inmostly grieves when lie loses it; his heart is in it. He who loves himself above all things is mindful of himself in everything, thinks of himself, speaks of himself, acts for the sake of himself; for his life is a life of self.

(8855) A man has as the end that which he loves above all things; in each and all things he has regard to this; it is in his will like the hidden current of a river which draws and hears him away, even when he is doing something else, for it is what animates him. It is this which one man searches out in another, and also sees, and according to it either leads him, or acts with him.

(8856) When a man is being regenerated, charity is implanted by means of faith, even until it becomes that which rules; and when charity has become this, he has a new life, for it is then continually present in his thought, and continually in his will, nay, in every single thing of them, even when he is meditating about other things, and when he is engaged in business.

(8857) The case is the same with love to the Lord. When this love is that which rules, it is present in every single thing of the man’s life; as for instance with him who loves his king, or his parent, his love toward them shines forth in their presence from every feature of his face, it is heard in every expression of his speech, and is seen in his every gesture. This is meant by having God continually before the eyes, and by loving Him above all things, with all the soul and with all the heart.

(8858) A man is wholly such as is the ruling principle of his life; by this he is distinguished from others; according to this is formed his heaven if he is good, and his hell if he is evil; for it is his veriest will, and thus the very being of his life, which cannot be changed after death. From all this it is evident what is the nature of the life of one who is regenerate, and what is the nature of the life of one who is not regenerate.

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