Happy Are You If You Do Them

A Sermon by James P. Cooper

If you know these things, happy are you if you do them. (John 13:17).

Our subject for today regards an incident that took place in the final week of the Lord’s life on earth, during the days between His triumphal entrance into Jerusalem when He was received as a king, and the time when the crowds, disappointed in the kind of Messiah He turned out to be, shouted for His crucifixion.

During this final week, the Lord was very much aware of the fact that His final and most grievous temptation was quickly approaching. This was the event for which He had been preparing during His whole life on earth – and yet still He prayed that the cup might pass from Him, because it was going to be a terrible battle.

The disciples seemed mostly unaware of the impending drama. Certainly, they could not imagine that the prophet who could see at a distance, heal the sick, calm storms, walk on water, and raise Lazarus from the grave even though the body was decomposing, would allow Himself to be meekly led like a lamb to the slaughter.

The Lord’s intention was to warn them, to prepare them for the events that were sure to follow, so that once they had a chance to look back on them, they could see that it was all according to the Lord’s Divine plan from the first. He taught them the parable of the wheat, which showed that the grain of wheat had to die, to be ground into flour, before it could live as delicious and nourishing bread. He taught them that if He was to be lifted up (JOH 12.34) on the cross, he would draw all peoples (ibid.) to Himself. The gospel of John then records that the fact that the disciples did not recognize the possibility of crucifixion was another fulfillment of prophecy. And finally, He taught them again that He and the Father who sent Him are one, and that He came into the world to save the world, not to destroy it (JOH 12:44-50)

Having taught them that He is Jehovah God, the Creator of the Universe, Jesus did an amazing thing – He humbled Himself before His disciples. He put aside His clothes, wrapped Himself in a towel, and proceeded to wash His disciple’s feet, and dry them with His towel (See JOH 13:2-5).

In our modern society, we would be highly embarrassed and upset under similar circumstances. Perhaps such ministrations were far more common in those days – but even so, we know that Simon Peter was unable to endure this in silence. First he questioned that the Lord should be washing His feet. Jesus said to Him, If I do not wash you, you have no part with Me. (JOH 13:8) Then, accepting that he must have his feet washed, jumped to the other extreme, and insisted that the Lord wash his hands and his head as well! (See JOH 13:9) Jesus told him that it was sufficient to have only his feet washed.

Having finished, the Lord rejoined them at the table, and asked them if they understood what He had done to them. (JOH 13:12) He said that He had given them an example, that they should do to one another as He had done for them. He said, Most assuredly, I say to you, a servant is not greater than his master; nor is he who is sent greater than he who sent him. If you know these things, happy are you if you do them. (JOH 13:16,17)

Every one of us wants to be happy, and we try to find our happiness in a tremendous variety of ways: through our work; through our homes; through the accumulation of wealth; through the spending of wealth and acquiring material possessions; through holidays in exotic places; and when these fail, through our children’s lives. It’s not so much that we fail to achieve our goals, but that when we reached them we found that they did not really satisfy, that they did not bring real, lasting happiness, but somehow we expect that they will bring happiness to our children!

The reason for this is that it was the hells, speaking through our hereditary tendencies to evils of every kind, that led us to believe that the acquisition of things would lead to lasting happiness. On the other hand, the Word teaches a simple, effective formula for happiness: You are happy when you serve others.

There are more than 200 places in the New Testament where the Lord teaches that it is His will that we serve others, that our spiritual quality is to be judged by things that we do, that insofar as we do good things to other people, we are doing them to the Lord. The Heavenly Doctrines put it this way: true worship consists in the performance of uses, thus in the exercises of charity. … That from Divine order, happiness is according to use…. (AC 7038)

There can be no other answer. All would agree that heaven is the highest state of happiness. Throughout the Word the Lord teaches that heaven can only be reached through love to the Lord and love towards the neighbor, for the more we humble ourselves through service to others, the more we are raised towards and conjoined with God.

We also know that heaven is a kingdom of uses. Those who enter heaven believing that it is a life of feasting, or continuous prayer, or whatever, are allowed – in fact, compelled – to feast or pray continuously until they cannot stand it any longer, until they long for something useful to do. And then, when they understand the true source of happiness, they are prepared for a life of variety and pleasure to eternity through service to others.

The Divine Love of God needed people to love. His Divine Wisdom conceived the plan of the universe, both spiritual and natural. When the Divine Love and Wisdom were united in this, the universe was created. In His great love for us, the Lord has given us a part in creation. Through marriage, the husband, representing wisdom, and the wife, representing love, come together and provide the forms into which new life from the Lord can flow. As creating the universe was God’s greatest pleasure, so the delights of marriage and the use of creating new angels for heaven are the greatest delights for mankind. Sadly, some mistake the pleasures of marriage as a function of the body and the natural world, and so are deceived into wasting their lives pursuing pleasures that only decrease as they draw farther from the use they are intended to serve. The delights and pleasures of marriage are entirely spiritual, and come from the joint uses of creating and rearing children, and service to the married partner. When a marriage is in this order, there is genuine lasting happiness, for Conjugial love excels all other loves in use, and consequently in delight. (AC 5053)

From time to time we all fall into states of unhappiness, boredom, or indifference. The causes of such states are extremely varied and could be natural, emotional, or spiritual. At such times the simplest tasks become insurmountable burdens; we seem unable to summon the emotional energy to accomplish anything, and so we sink further and further down, seemingly unable to change our state for the better. In order to end such low states, we need to understand that we actually have no control over our emotions, but that they are the Lord’s alone. The Heavenly Doctrines explain this through an analogy to the heart and lungs.

Our lungs correspond to our intellect, or the understanding. Most of the time they operate involuntarily to make sure that we have an adequate supply of oxygen in our blood. At other times, as when we swim, or speak, or sing, we take voluntary control of our lungs. The heart, on the other hand, is completely involuntary. We cannot, just by thinking about it, raise or lower our pulse.

We can, however, have a kind of indirect control. We can increase our pulse by exercising, or reduce our pulse by resting quietly while listening to peaceful music. The same principles apply to changing our emotional states. We cannot simply decide to be happy when we are in an unhappy state – but we can decide to do something that will make us happy. We can know, in our understanding, that if we want to be happy we should be useful, and we can further compel ourselves to do it even if we do not wish to. This is the great freedom the Lord has given us: we can do things that we don’t want to do, because we know we should. Our intellect can override our will. If we could not do this, we could never be saved from our desire to do what is evil.

The Lord tells us throughout the Word that if we wish to be happy, we must serve others. Even in our states of unhappiness and depression, we can know this, and know that it is true. We can then compel ourselves to get up and do something useful for someone, even when we don’t want to, and the exercise will raise our emotional “pulse” and bring us back to a state of happiness, as the Lord works in secret ways to change our loves to suit the choices we have made in freedom from what we know to be true from the Word.

The only conclusion we can reach, from careful study of so many passages in the Word, is that if you want to be happy, both in this world and the next, you will find true happiness through being useful to others, for to do truth (which is found in the Word) is to perform uses. (DLW 251:2)

When Peter asked the Lord to wash his head and hands as well as his feet, the Lord told him that it was enough that the feet be washed to make one completely clean. (See JOH 13:8-10) The reason for this is that the feet represent the sensual, the lowest of the three degrees of the mind. Only the sensual degree of the mind can be corrupted by loves of self and the world, for the higher degrees, the spiritual and celestial, are protected by the Lord. If the feet are washed, that is, if the sensual is brought into order, if the loves of self and the world are shunned, then it is opened to influx from heaven through the celestial and spiritual degrees above it, and the mind comes into heavenly order and the consequent delights.

Our task is to look to the Three-fold Word for direction in our lives, and to choose to do what we know we should, no matter what we want to do. We must heed the clear warning of the Word that if we focus our attention on the pleasures and objects of this world, we will never achieve real satisfaction. We must wash our feet, that is, shun the loves of self and the world, and look instead to serving others, for if we do, we will begin to be introduced into states of genuine, lasting happiness, and our states of depression will be less frequent and troubling. For when those in Heaven who are in mutual love are performing uses, and doing goods to others, they are in such joy and happiness that they then for the first time seem to themselves to be in Heaven. This is given them by the Lord, and to each one according to the uses. (AC 6388) I have given you an example, that you should do as I have done to you. If you know these things, happy are you if you do them. (JOH 13:15,17) AMEN.



1st Lesson:

(John 13:1-17) Now before the feast of the Passover, when Jesus knew that His hour had come that He should depart from this world to the Father, having loved His own who were in the world, He loved them to the end. {2} And supper being ended, the devil having already put it into the heart of Judas Iscariot, Simon’s son, to betray Him, {3} Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into His hands, and that He had come from God and was going to God, {4} rose from supper and laid aside His garments, took a towel and girded Himself. {5} After that, He poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet, and to wipe them with the towel with which He was girded. {6} Then He came to Simon Peter. And Peter said to Him, “Lord, are You washing my feet?” {7} Jesus answered and said to him, “What I am doing you do not understand now, but you will know after this.” {8} Peter said to Him, “You shall never wash my feet!” Jesus answered him, “If I do not wash you, you have no part with Me.” {9} Simon Peter said to Him, “Lord, not my feet only, but also my hands and my head!” {10} Jesus said to him, “He who is bathed needs only to wash his feet, but is completely clean; and you are clean, but not all of you.” {11} For He knew who would betray Him; therefore He said, “You are not all clean.” {12} So when He had washed their feet, taken His garments, and sat down again, He said to them, “Do you know what I have done to you? {13} “You call me Teacher and Lord, and you say well, for so I am. {14} “If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. {15} “For I have given you an example, that you should do as I have done to you. {16} “Most assuredly, I say to you, a servant is not greater than his master; nor is he who is sent greater than he who sent him. {17} “If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them. Amen.

2nd Lesson:

8521.[2] The good of truth existing with those who belong to the spiritual kingdom has been implanted in the understanding part of the mind; for in that part the Lord fashions the new will, which exists in a person when he has the will to act in accord with the truth he has absorbed from the teachings of his Church. And when he wills and does that truth it becomes good residing with him, which is called spiritual good, and also the good of truth. He indeed believes that this is positively the truth, because he has faith in what he has been taught. But he has no perception to see for himself whether it is the truth apart from that which he seems to himself to have as a consequence of having proved it for himself, partly from the sense of the letter of the Word and partly from the misconception that lend support to a preconceived notion. He fails however to consider that nothing, not even actual falsity, is incapable of receiving proof that makes it look like the truth. So it is that all people without exception, … believe that their doctrines are the truth.

All this shows the essential nature of the truth that is converted into good with very many members of the Church. None among them can see whether a teaching of their Church is true except those who have an affection for truth for the sake of useful services in life. Those who have this end in view are enlightened by the Lord constantly, not only while they live in the world but also afterwards. They alone are the ones who are able to receive truth, for the Lord leads them by means of good, and through that good He enables them to see truth and so believe it. All this demonstrates the origin and nature of good as it exists with those belonging to the Lord’s spiritual kingdom. But good as it exists with those belonging to the Lord’s celestial kingdom has been implanted not in the understanding part of the mind, but in the will part. Those with whom this good resides know from inward perception received from the Lord whether something is true. Amen.


Copyright General Church of the New Jerusalem, 1982 – 2008
Author, Rev. James P. Cooper, M. Div.
Page last modified October 21, 2008

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