Giving to the Lord

A Sermon by James P. Cooper

April 18, 2004

Every man shall give as he is able, according to the blessing of the LORD your God which He has given you (DEU 16:17).

One of the most precious images of the Christmas story is that of the Wise Men presenting their gifts to the Christ Child. They gave Him gifts as a symbol of their recognition of Him as their King, and their submission to His rule.

We note that giving gifts to the king is an ancient custom, and the Heavenly Doctrines teach that this was done to represent the acknowledgment that the Lord, the King of Kings, is the giver of all gifts. It is also true that this representative was perverted and lead to first to burnt offerings of things the people valued (God is in the sky, smoke goes up, things consumed in a fire aren’t here anymore, so they must have gone up with the smoke to God) until it descended even to human sacrifice. This happened because the people lost sight of what the act represented and began to think naturally and so believe that by sacrificing what they valued most, even their own children, that this would please God, and when God is pleased, He would send good weather and healthy crops and so bring them even greater wealth. We also know that the Lord instituted animal sacrifice with the Jews not because He enjoyed the sacrifices, but to provide a substitute for the human sacrifice that was going on in the nations around them, and which they were inclined to copy.

We know that He taught through Samuel that it was not the sacrifices that He loved, but our obedience. Unfortunately, those ancient people did not want to obey, they wanted to be able to remain in the simple requirements of the covenant, to perform certain rituals and enjoy the Lord’s protection in return. We also know that they were unable to do even that, and repeatedly fell into idolatry and other sins. These things happened to them because they loved the things of the world so much that they didn’t even believe that spiritual things existed.

Aside from the various offerings made at special occasions such as the birth of a child, the Jewish Church required an offering of a tithe, or a minimum of ten percent of each family’s produce. The practical reason was the need to support the priesthood, which could in turn organize and perform the various rituals of the Church which were quite varied and complicated and required a large number of people with specialized skills to serve the needs of the congregation of Israel. The spiritual reasons were that through their rituals, the angels of heaven were inspired to genuine, internal worship of the Lord, and that men would be compelled to learn simple charity.

We are asked to contribute to the church for exactly the same reasons:

It is of spiritual value for each of us to sacrifice what we value to the Lord.

It is absolutely essential that the uses of the church be supported.

It has become the practice in most Christian Churches to support the building of churches and a specifically trained, professional clergy through contributions. By the end of the Reformation in Europe, Sweden, like many European countries, had a state religion. A state religion received the financial support of the state, that is, churches were built and the clergy were paid by funds collected as taxes and administered by the Government.

This was certainly the case in Swedenborg’s day, as indicated in our lesson from the True Christian Religion where it says, “Taxes … are collected for the preservation and protection of their country and the Church” (TCR 430).

This also helps to explain why more is not directly said about contributions to the Church in the Heavenly Doctrines: in those days the common practice was to support the Church from public funds.

We have no intention of even thinking about the implications of having a state religion and state administered funds today. The whole concept of spiritual freedom set forth in the Heavenly Doctrines warns us against such a system.

Doctrinally, spiritually, it is far better for us to be left in freedom to join and support a Church according to our own conscience and needs. But with such freedom comes responsibility. The day of the state religion is over, and with it the financial support of the Church by the state. The freedom of choice is ours, and we earn that freedom by taking the responsibility of the financial support of our Church upon our own shoulders.

It is quite clear from the sense of the letter of the Word that we are to contribute to the physical and material welfare of the physical embodiment of the Church. We read in Exodus,

Speak to the children of Israel, that they bring Me an offering. From everyone who gives it willingly with his heart you shall take My offering (25:2).

They came, both men and women, as many as had a willing heart, and brought earrings and nose rings, rings and necklaces, all jewelry of gold, that is, every man who offered an offering of gold to the LORD (35:22).

 

 

The people came willingly, giving of their own treasure so that the tabernacle could be built. And we are told that they gave generously so that there was more than enough to complete the job. The children of Israel, so often complaining and difficult, were capable of acknowledging their debt to Jehovah for bringing them out of the slavery of Egypt and leading them across the wilderness into the promised land of Canaan, a land flowing with milk and honey.

As for us, while we may not have been slaves making bricks in Egypt, we certainly have been enslaved by our evils, we have had to pass through a wilderness of temptation, and, with the Lord’s constant guidance and help, can look forward to eventually entering the spiritual land of Canaan.

We too have a great deal for which to be grateful to the Lord. We should, therefore, heed the words of our text, that

Every man shall give as he is able, according to the blessing of the LORD your God which He has given you (DEU 16:17).

While on the one hand it is clear that it is extremely important for each of us to give as we are able, it is also extremely important that we not be compelled to give, for true freedom only comes through self-compulsion (See AC 1947).

It’s possible to compel someone to attend a church service, but they cannot be compelled them to listen with attention. External worship can be compelled, but you can never compel internal worship. That is why all the sacrifices that were commanded in the Mosaic Law were called ‘gifts’ and ‘offerings’ for the offerings of that Church represented internal worship. (See AC 1947)

The problem is that our intellectual acknowledgment of the need to contribute to the Church for our own good, and for the good of the Church is neatly balanced by our loves of acquiring and holding on to the riches of the natural world to the point of refusing to acknowledge the gifts we daily receive from God by any kind of gift in return.

Even the disciples themselves, being first of all Jews, had great difficulty understanding the importance of symbolically giving up the things of this world for the sake of spiritual life. We read from Matthew,

A woman came to Him having an alabaster flask of very costly fragrant oil, and she poured it on His head as He sat at the table. But when His disciples saw it, they were indignant, saying, “To what purpose is this waste (26:7-8)?

 

 

We need to see clearly and rationally that, in the long run, it is in our own best interest to give up the things of the world for the sake of spiritual things. We read from Luke,

Sell what you have and give alms; provide yourselves money bags which do not grow old, a treasure in the heavens that does not fail, where no thief approaches nor moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also (12:33-34).

 

Our reaction to the necessity of giving money to support the public good is actually a measure of our own spiritual states, a way to see who the neighbor is that we love, for as we read in our third lesson,

Spiritual people pay [taxes] with a good will, because they are collected to run the country, to protect it and the church…. Those therefore who regard their country and their church as the neighbor pay their taxes freely and willingly, thinking it wrong to cheat and evade them (TCR 430).

 

 

It becomes a question of whom we regard as the neighbor. A person who is wholly involved in natural things only, regards only their own household and their own family as the neighbor. A spiritual man sees that the Church is the neighbor in a greater sense because it is made up of many people and therefore able to perform greater uses. The natural man contributes “unwillingly and reluctantly” (TCR 430).

In the Word, when it speaks of gifts being offered to the Lord, it signifies the things that we offer to the Lord from our hearts, the things that we do from our own will because we love to do them. In themselves, gifts to the Lord through the Church are like all the things we do: if they are regarded apart from the intention behind them, they are nothing but gestures devoid life. On the other hand, if a person’s actions and the intention behind them are considered at the same time, the actions are a way of making the will manifest, and the actions testify as to the character. (See AC 9293).

The case is the same with gifts to the Church, in that it is the will or intention behind these gifts that the Lord looks at, for,

…Every one will receive judgment in the other life according to his deeds; namely, that it will be according to those things which are of the heart, and from this of the life. Gifts offered to the Lord were testifications of such things as are offered by the heart, which are those of faith and charity (AC 9293).

And in confirmation of this, the Writings offer the following passage from Paul in 2 Corinthians,

But this I say: He who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and he who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. So let each one give as he purposes in his heart, not grudgingly or of necessity; for God loves a cheerful giver (9:6-7).

 

 

The New Church is both internal and external. The internals of the Church are the doctrines, and the intentions behind our various actions, but such internals rest on the externals of the Church as a foundation. You can have all the good intentions in the world, but you must, eventually, give them life by committing them to action, or they don’t really exist. It’s like a marriage without hugs and kisses. The internal truths of the Church derive their life and constancy from the sense of the letter of the Word. Our love for the Lord needs to express itself through worship. The Lord’s Church, spiritual and heavenly in origin, needs to have a physical manifestation in order to exist, and that can only happen when men in the world work together to build it and support it.

Give, and it will be given to you: good measure, pressed down, shaken together, and running over will be put into your bosom. For with the same measure that you use, it will be measured back to you (LUK 6:38). AMEN.


First Lesson: MAL 3:1-10

“Behold, I send My messenger, And he will prepare the way before Me. And the Lord, whom you seek, Will suddenly come to His temple, Even the Messenger of the covenant, In whom you delight. Behold, He is coming,” Says the LORD of hosts. {2} “But who can endure the day of His coming? And who can stand when He appears? For He is like a refiner’s fire And like launderer’s soap. {3} He will sit as a refiner and a purifier of silver; He will purify the sons of Levi, And purge them as gold and silver, That they may offer to the LORD An offering in righteousness. {4} “Then the offering of Judah and Jerusalem Will be pleasant to the LORD, As in the days of old, As in former years. {5} And I will come near you for judgment; I will be a swift witness Against sorcerers, Against adulterers, Against perjurers, Against those who exploit wage earners and widows and orphans, And against those who turn away an alien; Because they do not fear Me,” Says the LORD of hosts. {6} “For I am the LORD, I do not change; Therefore you are not consumed, O sons of Jacob. {7} Yet from the days of your fathers You have gone away from My ordinances And have not kept them. Return to Me, and I will return to you,” Says the LORD of hosts. “But you said, ‘In what way shall we return?’ {8} “Will a man rob God? Yet you have robbed Me! But you say, ‘In what way have we robbed You?’ In tithes and offerings. {9} You are cursed with a curse, For you have robbed Me, Even this whole nation. {10} Bring all the tithes into the storehouse, That there may be food in My house, And try Me now in this,” Says the LORD of hosts, “If I will not open for you the windows of heaven And pour out for you such blessing That there will not be room enough to receive it. Amen.

 

Second Lesson: LUK 6:27:38

“But I say to you who hear: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, {28} “bless those who curse you, and pray for those who spitefully use you. {29} “To him who strikes you on the one cheek, offer the other also. And from him who takes away your cloak, do not withhold your tunic either. {30} “Give to everyone who asks of you. And from him who takes away your goods do not ask them back. {31} “And just as you want men to do to you, you also do to them likewise. {32} “But if you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. {33} “And if you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. {34} “And if you lend to those from whom you hope to receive back, what credit is that to you? For even sinners lend to sinners to receive as much back. {35} “But love your enemies, do good, and lend, hoping for nothing in return; and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High. For He is kind to the unthankful and evil. {36} “Therefore be merciful, just as your Father also is merciful. {37} “Judge not, and you shall not be judged. Condemn not, and you shall not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven. {38} “Give, and it will be given to you: good measure, pressed down, shaken together, and running over will be put into your bosom. For with the same measure that you use, it will be measured back to you.” Amen.

Third Lesson: TCR 429, 430

Some charitable duties are public, some domestic and some private. There is a difference between charitable kindnesses and charitable duties, like that between acts undertaken by free choice and those done of necessity. Still, by charitable duties we do not here mean the duties attached to office in a kingdom or republic, such as that of ministers to administer, of judges to judge, and so on, but the duties of every individual whatever his occupation. They come therefore from a different origin and are the result of a different act of will, so that those who are charitable do them out of charity, and in the opposite case the uncharitable do them out of lack of charity.

430. Public charitable duties are chiefly taxes and excise duties, which must not be confused with the duties of office. Those who are spiritual feel differently about paying them from those who are purely natural. Spiritual people pay them with a good will, because they are collected to run the country, to protect it and the church, and to pay for its administration by officials and governors, whose salaries and stipends have to be paid out of the public treasury. Those therefore who regard their country and their church as the neighbor pay their taxes freely and willingly, thinking it wrong to cheat and evade them. But those who do not regard their country and church as the neighbor pay them unwillingly and reluctantly, defrauding the collector and withholding money whenever they have an opportunity. For these people their home and their flesh are the neighbor. Amen.


Copyright © 1982 – 2005 General Church of the New Jerusalem.
Page constructed by James P. Cooper
Page last modified September 27, 2009

 

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