Striving for Eternal Goals


Striving for Eternal Goals

A Sermon by James P. Cooper

Then they brought young children to Him, that He might touch them; but the disciples rebuked those who brought them. But when Jesus saw it, He was greatly displeased and said to them, “Let the little children come to Me, and do not forbid them; for of such is the kingdom of God. Assuredly I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will by no means enter it.” And He took them up in His arms, put His hands on them, and blessed them. Mark 10:13-16

Let us recall the image of the Lord as described in the first lesson and repeated in our text, the image of the Lord surrounded by the little children. The Lord had been teaching the crowds as was His custom. According to the account in Mark, He was at that time in the region known as Judea on the other side of the Jordan. He had been teaching the Pharisees His new doctrines concerning marriage, that man and woman had been created to become one, and that once joined in marriage, should not be separated by any human act. And as He argued with the Pharisees, the people from the surrounding towns and villages heard that He had come, and they began to gather ‘round. We can imagine that they were somewhat excited by the news of His presence, and brought the children to see the famous teacher.

Remember that the Lord was already famous for healing the sick and other miracles. These simple people believed that His touch could bring good health or good fortune to their children, so they began to press in around Him, pushing their children towards Him. Like parents in any time and any place, they wanted their children to have the best, were eager for their children to receive something that might give them an advantage, something to help them do well in their lives.

The disciples were not only students and ministers of the Lord, they were also His bodyguards. They saw that this session of instruction and argument with the Pharisees was rapidly being turned into something else – possibly a riot! So they rebuked the people, and began to send the children away. There must have been much shouting and argument, because the parents really wanted their children to be touched by the Lord. Eventually there was enough noise and commotion that the Lord turned away from the subject of His discussion with the Pharisees and used this opportunity to give a different lesson to the crowd. He taught them that His words are not just for adults, but for every one of every age.

He also used this opportunity to teach the gathered crowds that the delightful states that we perceive when babies and little children are with us are states of heaven, of innocence, of willingness to be led by the Lord. We find children delightful because, like angels, children want to learn about the Lord, they want to follow His teachings, they wish to be affirmative towards things that are from the Lord in the Word. The Lord taught us that we need to be like little children, innocent, curious, affirmative, and charitable if we are to come into His heavenly kingdom.

The Lord taught us in many ways and in many places that children are His gift to us, and we have certain responsibilities toward the children under our care. New Church Education in its most general sense is the care and education of children according to means and forms set forth in the threefold Word.

Many people identify New Church Education with such things as

                  1. schools, or
                  2. personal growth, or
                  3. learning, or
                  4. a school that begins the day with morning worship, or
                  5. a school that adds religion classes to its regular curriculum, or perhaps
                  6. a school that has all of these things and also teaches its regular courses with a distinctive philosophy.

New Church Education is involved in all of these things, and is also much more than these things.

New Church Education begins with young men and women as they begin the process of finding a married partner who will share the same faith and ideals as they themselves hold. Once they are married, they begin their life’s work of compromise and growth that makes the home. It is here that the seeds of New Church Education are sown, as a young couple consciously, idealistically, looks forward to having, raising, and educating their own children. What goals do they set for themselves? What do they consider to be the most important things for their children? What part will the Lord and His church play in their lives?

The home that they build, the attitudes that they develop, their hopes and dreams for their own future and the future of their children yet to be born, will all have a profound effect on the environment in that home, and the Writings are quite clear that the environment in which children are raised has a powerful effect on their spiritual growth. So profound is the effect that if parents are selfish and worldly, they can actually “shut the doors of heaven” for their own children. And the Writings reveal the sad fact that this is not an unusual or exceptional thing, but that it is the result of the present spiritual state of the world. We read in the Arcana, The present quality of the men of the Christian Church was exhibited to my view by means of representations. … There appeared children who were being combed by their mothers so cruelly that the blood ran down; by which was represented that such is the bringing up of little children at this day (AC 2125).

While we aren’t told specifically what this scene represents, we can work out a reliable message. We know that hair represents external matters, or external truths. Combing the hair signifies putting these external things into order, so this brutal scene, revealed to us to show the state of the quality of men in the world tells us that there is an excessive or obsessive concern for external things, to the point of causing real harm to the child. What are these external things that cause this tension and cruelty today?

                  1. Having the right signs of material success,
                  2. the right clothes,
                  3. the best grades,
                  4. the right school
                  5. to be a top achiever in sports.

We are being told by the Lord in the Word that our obsession with external signs of success and material possessions can cause serious spiritual harm to our children!

All parents know that however many gifts you may give a child, they always want something more, something else. Natural gifts are like natural water: no matter how much you drink, you will soon be thirsty again. As Jesus said in John, Chapter 4, Whoever drinks of this water will thirst again, but whoever drinks of the water that I shall give him will never thirst. But the water that I shall give him will become in him a fountain of water springing up into everlasting life. (John 4:13,14) Wise parents do not lead their children to seek natural water, but they lead them to seek living water, to search out those things that are of eternal value.

This is a serious responsibility, and parents need help to accomplish it. This is why the New Church has developed its school system: to assist the parents in keeping the promises made at baptism to instruct children in the moral virtues, and in the spiritual truths of the church. The school does not take on these responsibilities in place of the parents, but serves as an extension of the home to assist the parents in their responsibility. The primary responsibility for the education and care of children rests with the parents, to whom the children were given by the Lord.

Recall for a moment our second lesson, where education in heaven is compared with education on earth, and the example is given of boys being incited to fight by their parents. We are told that by extinguishing the natural states of mutual love and innocence by inciting them to compete so fiercely amongst each other that they were actually fighting, they initiate the children into hatred and revenge. This shuts them out of heaven, for heaven is a place of mutual love – those who delight in revenge and hatred cannot live there. We are given the warning: Let parents therefore who wish well to their children beware of such things (AC 2309).

And who among us does not wish well to our children? Or what man is there among you who, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will he give him a serpent? If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask Him! (Matthew 7:9-11) New Church Education is the philosophy, the means, by which parents can provide the environment at home and in school which will nurture and protect those states of innocence and mutual charity that children are endowed with from birth – and are the keys that open the gates of heaven.

New Church Education begins in the home and continues throughout life. It begins with parents who provide a home that is physically, mentally, and spiritually clean and fit for children. The signs of a healthy environment are parents who teach and consistently encourage prayer, family worship, and regular attendance at church and Sunday School; who at home speak about the world and life with confidence in the Lord and His Divine Providence, who speak to their children about the Lord’s influence in their lives frequently and without embarrassment.

Again, the Heavenly Doctrines tell us what it is that the Lord wants us to do for our children. We read from the Arcana, From infancy until childhood, and sometimes till early manhood, by instruction from his parents and teachers a man is imbued with goods and truth; for he then learns them with avidity, and believes them in simplicity (AC 5135). If we do our part by bringing the Lord and the Word into the daily life of our home, the children will do their part by learning to Love the Lord and trust in His guidance. They will be preparing themselves each day for life in heaven, for everything that happens to us, from the day of our birth onwards, has an effect on our spiritual life.

The child’s education should centre around a number of specific spiritual ideas which he is pre-disposed to eagerly learn and believe. They are the following:

                  1. That there is a God, and that He is one.
                  2. He has created all things;
                  3. That He rewards those who do well, and punishes those who do evil;
                  4. That there is a life after death, in which the evil go to hell and the good to heaven, thus that there is a hell and a heaven, and that the life after death is eternal;
                  5. That he ought to pray daily, and this with humility;
                  6. That the Sabbath day is to be kept holy;
                  7. That parents are to be honoured;
                  8. That no one must commit adultery, murder, or theft
                  9. And other like things.

These things man imbibes and is imbued with from early childhood; when he begins to think from himself and to lead himself, if he confirms such things in himself, and adds to them things which are still more interior, and lives according to them, then it is well with him (AC 5135).

The Lord has not asked all parents to become theologians, nor has He asked them to give up all worldly pleasures. There is nothing that is very difficult in this list of things to teach our children, for it is essentially a restatement of the Ten Commandments with instruction about eternal life added to it. Anyone can, if they wish, create a home environment based on the Ten Commandments, teach children to say the Lord’s prayer each day, to take them to church each Sunday, and to regularly read to them from the Word. At stake is nothing less than the eternal welfare of our children.

This, then, is the real purpose of New Church Education: not to provide a an exclusive private school within which to hide from certain unpleasant aspects of life in the world, but to prepare children for a rewarding life in the world, followed by eternal life in heaven.

New Church Education is a life-long process that begins before the child is born, and reaches its maturity when that child grows up and begins to prepare for his own children. It is not difficult to do, but it is extremely important. What man is there among you who, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will he give him a serpent? If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to you children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask Him! (Mt. 7:9-11) Amen.

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

First Lesson: MAR 10:1-16

Then He arose from there and came to the region of Judea by the other side of the Jordan. And multitudes gathered to Him again, and as He was accustomed, He taught them again. {2} The Pharisees came and asked Him, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?” testing Him. {3} And He answered and said to them, “What did Moses command you?” {4} They said, “Moses permitted a man to write a certificate of divorce, and to dismiss her.” {5} And Jesus answered and said to them, “Because of the hardness of your heart he wrote you this precept. {6} “But from the beginning of the creation, God ‘made them male and female.’ {7} ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, {8} ‘and the two shall become one flesh’; so then they are no longer two, but one flesh. {9} “Therefore what God has joined together, let not man separate.” {10} In the house His disciples also asked Him again about the same matter. {11} So He said to them, “Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her. {12} “And if a woman divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery.” {13} Then they brought little children to Him, that He might touch them; but the disciples rebuked those who brought them. {14} But when Jesus saw it, He was greatly displeased and said to them, “Let the little children come to Me, and do not forbid them; for of such is the kingdom of God. {15} “Assuredly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will by no means enter it.” {16} And He took them up in His arms, put His hands on them, and blessed them. Amen.

Second Lesson: Arcana Coelestia 2309

From what has been adduced we can see what is the nature of the education of little children in heaven, namely, that by means of the intelligence of truth and the wisdom of good they are introduced into the angelic life, which is love to the Lord, and mutual love, in which loves there is innocence. But how contrary is the education of little children on earth, with many, has been evidenced from this one example. I was in the street of a great city, and saw little boys fighting with one another. A crowd gathered and looked on with much pleasure; and I was informed that the parents themselves urge on their little boys to such fights. The good spirits and angels who saw these things through my eyes were so averse to them that I perceived their horror, especially at the fact that the parents incite them to such things saying that thus in their earliest age they extinguish all the mutual love and all the innocence which little children receive from the Lord, and initiate them into hatred and revenge; consequently that they deliberately shut out their children from heaven, where there is nothing but mutual love. Let parents therefore who wish well to their children beware of such things. Amen.

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

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