Murmuring and Discontent

A Sermon by the Rev. James P. Cooper

But he answered one of them and said, ‘Friend, I am doing you no wrong. Did you not agree with me for a denarius? Take what is yours and go your way. I wish to give to this last man the same as to you. Is it not lawful for me to do what I wish with my own things? Or is your eye evil because I am good?’ (MAT 20:13-15)

I.    We can think of many times when the children of Israel Murmured against the Lord
A.    As in the children’s talk where they were without water in the wilderness and they murmured against Moses until he struck the rock at Mt. Horeb.
B.    The story of the Prodigal son is familiar to all. The parable is wonderful in the way it il-lustrates the Lord’s mercy toward us when we sin, and the joy He feels when we turn away from evil. But more to the point in this discussion is the response of the brother who stayed at home.
1.    LUK 15:25-32 Now his older son was in the field. And as he came and drew near to the house, he heard music and dancing. So he called one of the servants and asked what these things meant. And he said to him, ‘Your brother has come, and because he has received him safe and sound, your father has killed the fatted calf.’ But he was angry and would not go in. Therefore his father came out and pleaded with him. So he answered and said to his father, ‘Lo, these many years I have been serving you; I never transgressed your commandment at any time; and yet you never gave me a young goat, that I might make merry with my friends. But as soon as this son of yours came, who has devoured your livelihood with harlots, you killed the fatted calf for him.’ And he said to him, ‘Son, you are always with me, and all that I have is yours. It was right that we should make merry and be glad, for your brother was dead and is alive, and was lost and is found.’ “
C.    Who of us believes that the brother was satisfied by that answer, was able to put aside his feelings and fully join into the celebration?
D.    Another familiar parable where the Lord is seen as the owner of a vineyard hiring la-bourers. The vineyard is the world, and the pay at the end of the day is the reward of eternal life in heaven. Some labour from down to dusk, some labour only half a day, and some only one hour, and yet all receive the same pay.
1.    MAT 20:8 So when evening had come, the owner of the vineyard said to his steward, ‘Call the laborers and give them their wages, beginning with the last to the first.’ And when those came who were hired about the eleventh hour, they each received a denarius. “But when the first came, they supposed that they would receive more; and they likewise received each a denarius. And when they had received it, they murmured against the landowner, saying, ‘These last men have worked only one hour, and you made them equal to us who have borne the burden and the heat of the day.’ But he answered one of them and said, ‘Friend, I am doing you no wrong. Did you not agree with me for a denarius? Take what is yours and go your way. I wish to give to this last man the same as to you. Is it not lawful for me to do what I wish with my own things? Or is your eye evil because I am good?’ So the last will be first, and the first last. For many are called, but few chosen.”
E.    While we can understand the lesson that those people who have lived in ignorance but who find the truth late in life can also be welcomed into heaven is a wonderful and merciful teaching, I cannot think of anyone who has heard this parable and who has not insisted that there is some-thing wrong with it, something unjust.
II.    Not Fair – He’s too nice
A.    I think that sometimes we feel a lot like the Pharisees.
1.    Here’s this person, who’s supposed to be the Messiah, and He is spending all his time with the wrong people!
2.    His disciples are common labourers and fishermen.
3.    He visits the home of publicans and sinners.
4.    He goes to parties and drinks wine.
a.    Shouldn’t the Messiah act with more dignity?
5.    And He teaches about how He loves the lost sheep more than the 99 who live ordinary, orderly lives!
6.    And He teaches that those who labour in His vineyard all their lives do not get a greater reward than those who stumble through a life of sin and decadence and only find the Word at the last minute.
B.    Sometimes we fall into thinking about our church like the Pharisees thought about theirs, that it is some kind of exclusive club for those who “follow the rules” where sinners are not welcome. Sometimes we feel like the prodigal son’s brother. We re-sent the fact that other people seem to be able to have their cake and eat it too:  they get to “enjoy” all the excitement of a life of crime, and they get to go to heaven too.
III.    Perhaps the pleasures of a disorderly life are overrated
A.    Drugs/alcohol
B.    Personal relationships
C.    Business problems
D.    Marital troubles
E.    Personal lives
F.    Effects on children, other members of the family
IV.    What is it that makes people in these disorders turn their lives around?
A.    LUK 15:14 But when he had spent all, there arose a severe famine in that land, and he began to be in want. Then he went and joined himself to a citizen of that country, and he sent him into his fields to feed swine. And he would gladly have filled his stomach with the pods that the swine ate, and no one gave him anything.
1.    Remember that his brother thought he was having fun.
2.    Where were all his friends on whom he had spend his inheritance? They had left him penniless, and then abandoned him.
3.    No one gave him anything.
4.    He was physically, emotionally, and spiritually alone. His life was worse than that of the swine he was tending.
V.    What turns people around is that they recognize that their lives have become a living hell.
A.    When we see someone who has had disor-der or tragedy in their life get a fresh start, the hells sense that they are about to suffer a defeat. They rush into our minds with thoughts that are unkind and unworthy. They make us question the clear teaching of the Word, both in its literal and internal sense. The hells wish to make us angry with our brother without cause.
B.    It is the devils in hell that want to make us think that people in disorder are having fun – when a moment’s reflection on our own states of disorder would remind us that states of disorder are brief moments of se-cret pleasure balanced by days and weeks of anger, self-loathing, and guilt. What’s to be jealous of in that?
VI.    What we are really looking for is forgiveness
A.    The Lord is genuinely forgiving
B.    HH 509 speaks of leaving deeds, both good and bad, behind in death.
1.    And yet no one in the other world suf-fers punishment on account of the evils that he had done in this world, but only on account of the evils that he then does.
2.    All the deeds of the body are left be-hind with the body. The foolish mis-takes are never again brought up — unless they are actually a part of the ruling love, in which case they will be acted out again in the spiritual world.
C.    But we do not forgive easily
1.    We remember the pain. We dwell on the hurts. We have a hard time letting go of the past and moving on.
a.    Even though we ourselves have need of forgiveness.
2.    In order to be forgiven the things that we ourselves have done, the Lord tells us that first we must be forgiving. We pray to the Lord that He will forgive us, as we forgive those who have trespassed against us.
VII.    Let us look to our own relationships
A.    Let us search out the anger and resentment there. Let us see if we have been murmuring and complaining against others or even against the Lord. Let us recognize that anger and resentment for what it really is:  a symptom of a state of tempta-tion in our own lives. The problem is not in the Lord, or in His government of the world, but in us and our failure to rise above our own petty concerns to look for the eternal good in our neighbour, for it is the good that is the neighbour to be loved.

But he answered one of them and said, ‘Friend, I am doing you no wrong. Did you not agree with me for a denarius? Take what is yours and go your way. I wish to give to this last man the same as to you. Is it not lawful for me to do what I wish with my own things? Or is your eye evil because I am good?’ AMEN.

First Lesson:  Mat 20:1-16
“For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire laborers for his vineyard. {2} “Now when he had agreed with the laborers for a denarius a day, he sent them into his vineyard. {3} “And he went out about the third hour and saw others standing idle in the marketplace, {4} “and said to them, ‘You also go into the vineyard, and whatever is right I will give you.’ So they went. {5} “Again he went out about the sixth and the ninth hour, and did likewise. {6} “And about the eleventh hour he went out and found others standing idle, and said to them, ‘Why have you been standing here idle all day?’ {7} “They said to him, ‘Because no one hired us.’ He said to them, ‘You also go into the vineyard, and whatever is right you will receive.’ {8} “So when evening had come, the owner of the vineyard said to his steward, ‘Call the laborers and give them their wages, beginning with the last to the first.’ {9} “And when those came who were hired about the eleventh hour, they each received a denarius. {10} “But when the first came, they supposed that they would receive more; and they likewise received each a denarius. {11} “And when they had received it, they complained against the landowner, {12} “saying, ‘These last men have worked only one hour, and you made them equal to us who have borne the burden and the heat of the day.’ {13} “But he answered one of them and said, ‘Friend, I am doing you no wrong. Did you not agree with me for a denarius? {14} ‘Take what is yours and go your way. I wish to give to this last man the same as to you. {15} ‘Is it not lawful for me to do what I wish with my own things? Or is your eye evil because I am good?’ {16} “So the last will be first, and the first last. For many are called, but few chosen.” Amen.

Second Lesson:  HH 509
Every evil carries its punishment with it, the two making one; therefore whoever is in evil is also in the punishment of evil. And yet no one in the other world suffers punishment on account of the evils that he had done in this world, but only on account of the evils that he then does; although it amounts to the same and is the same thing whether it be said that men suffer punishment on account of their evils in the world or that they suffer punishment on account of the evils they do in the other life, since every one after death returns into his own life and thus into like evils; and the man continues the same as he had been in the life of the body. Amen.

The Stream of Providence

An Extemporaneous Sermon by the Rev. James P. Cooper
British Academy Summer School, Purley Chase
July 25, 1999

We are gathered here today because we hold in common the belief that it is important to learn about the world in the light of the Word.

The British Academy Summer School is the main opportunity for students in Europe to experience the principles and ideas that are unique to the Academy movement and New Church Education.
The need for education in general is obvious. Everyone needs training in certain skills to be able to function in the world.

What we are really concerned with is why the particular form of religious education that has been developed by the General Church and the Academy movement is so important.

In the first lesson, we heard the story of Naaman.  Naaman was a man who was a leader in the most powerful nation on earth at that time. Afflicted with leprosy, he knew that unless he could find a cure somewhere, his career was over. He would not be permitted to come near to the king any more, for fear of giving his disease to others.

Faced with a disease that would destroy his career he turned to the healers, the wise men of Syria (a thousand years later, wise men from Syria would follow a star to Bethlehem), but even their wisdom was not sufficient to cure Naaman.

The fact that he was such a powerful man and yet he was willing to consider going to an insignificant little country like Israel indicates how desperate he was for help.

An important man, he no doubt traveled with a caravan carrying his own lavish living quarter, many animals and servants, and the rich gifts he would give to the person who was able to cure him. No doubt he expected a welcome and a cure that befitted someone of his high rank – something really spectacular, something worthy of his important stature.

Instead, Elisha doesn’t even meet with him personally, but sends a message for him to go wash seven times in the muddy, meandering waters of the Jordan river.

Naaman takes it as an insult.

It’s too easy! He has a big, important problem! He wants a big, important (perhaps even costly) solution.

Fortunately, a servant manages to calm him down, reason with him, and Naaman does follow the prophet’s instructions, washes in the Jordan, and is completely cured.

Naaman’s leprosy represents a spiritual problem. It represents what happens when a person knows what the Word teaches but turns away from it. Such a person falls into evil states that literally begin to “eat him up” just as leprosy eats away the skin, because he knows better, but he does evil anyhow. Such a person falls into this mistake when they think they have learned something about life that is better than what they learned from the Word. Naaman put his faith in the scientific knowledge represented by the healers of Syria – and it did not help.

How often do we try to solve our spiritual problems with natural, scientific remedies?

All you have to do is walk into any shop and you will see lots of magazines that will tell you how to live right and be happy – until next month when the next issue of the magazine will tell you all the new things to do, think, or wear.

For Naaman to be healed, he has to give up his reliance on worldly knowledge, and humbly accept the plain teachings of the Word

Once Naaman stops his lashing out with his mind, trying to make everything fit the way he thinks it ought to be, and lets himself be guided by the words of Elisha, the prophet of Israel, he allows himself to be guided by the Lord through the Word.

As soon as he starts working with the program instead of fighting it, he is healed.

Quickly. Easily. Completely.

The house built on sand vs. the house built on the rock.

In the Word, a house represents the human mind.

Sand is really just a collection of a lot of little rocks.

The main difference between a rock and sand as a foundation is how they are organized.
Sand is not organized. Nothing holds the grains together. As soon as any force is applied to them, they shift and move.

(Quicksand is just ordinary sand. What makes it dangerous is the presence of a gentle upward flowing stream of water. The individual grains are lubricated by the water and form an elastic soup that can be very dangerous).

Sand does not provide a good foundation – unless you add a little cement. When sand is organized into cement, it can be a good foundation.

What binds the little truths represented by the grains of sand together, what cements them into a stone that can become a strong foundation on which to build a mind, is the affection for truth – a gift from the Lord that enables us to be affected by truth, to see and fell that it is something we need, to long for it, and to make it our own.

This is a picture of how important an underlying structure of truth from the Word is to bring order to individual truths of all kinds so that they can be formed into a healthy, useful human mind.
Imagine for a moment what it was like for the early European explorers as they began to sail westward toward the New World.

Poor ships, no maps, no reliable way to plot their location. For the first few trips, sailing for the New World was quite literally a leap of faith.

After a few years, when the trip had been made a number of times and the various explorers had begun to compare notes, they began to notice certain things about the trip. Most important, they noticed that some routes made it to the New World a lot faster than others.

They put their various experiences together and realized that the whole Atlantic Ocean had a clockwise spin!

Out on the sea, without reference to land or any other way of determining your position, a 3 knot current cannot be sensed. But if you happen to be sailing in a ship that only goes 6 knots, it makes a huge difference in the amount of time the trip takes if you sail with the current instead of against it.

European explorers quickly learned that to get to the New World quickly, go south.
To get home to Europe quickly, go north.

Whether you know about it or not, whether you like it or not, the Gulf Stream is a force that brings order to the North Atlantic.

If you work with it, you beat your competitors to the markets and you become rich and successful.
If you work against it, you sail until you run out of food, the crew mutinies, and they throw you overboard.

AC 129:  Anybody can recognize that the basic assumptions a person makes, even when completely false, govern him, and that all knowledge and reason buttress those assumptions.
We see that this principle is true from the way that some people are optimists, and others pessimists. They interpret everything that happens to them and their friends according to their basic assumption about the way the world works.

A person whose basic assumption is that they will be saved through their faith alone sees the world very differently than someone who hears the Lord’s own words about the necessity of bearing good fruit, and that we will be judged by our deeds.

This basic belief colors and affects everything they do and thing.

Reflect for a moment on how much whether or not a person believes in God affects everything about their life.

AC 129 continues:  …But the true order is for a person to become wise from the Lord, that is, from His Word. In that case everything follows as it should, and he is also enlightened in matters of reason and of fact.

Everything we’ve been talking about today is centered around this idea.

There is a lot of information we must know in order to survive.

In order to use that information it has to be organized. There has to be a structure that every detail of it relates to.

The wonder of it all, and the reason we are here today is in what has been accomplished through the doctrines of the New Church, in that a way has been seen to bring science and religion into a partnership.

We look to the Word to tell us why.

A heaven from the human race. All else fits into that underlying concept.

The “Big Bang” and the development of the stars and planets.

The evolution of life on Earth.

That the Divine Providence works and permit those events that are for our eternal benefit, not necessarily for comfort and wealth in the world.

We look to science to tell us how things work;

Just as it does not work to go to the Word to discover how to build a locomotive, neither does it work to go to science for instructions about how to live a spiritual life.

Rev. W. Cairns Henderson wrote in New Church Life1 “education in Academy Schools in not a series of religion courses in which the subject-matter of the various fields is used only for illustration. It is the organizing and presentation of that subject-matter in the light of the revealed principles which lead to the truth about it.”

The central principle of New Church Education throughout the world, from the newest Pre-Primary school in Soweto, to the elementary schools around the world, to the various summer schools, to the halls of higher education in Bryn Athyn or Manchester, we look to the Word to provide the underlying organizing structure for all the information we gather.

When you organize your knowledge in the right way

Your house (mind) is built on a rock, not sand.

Like Naaman, you find healing and comfort for the things that trouble you.

Like sailors riding the currents to the New World, you are in the “stream of Providence.” (AC 8478:4)

Each of you is the captain of the ship of your own life.

The purpose of the church, and New Church schools, is to provide you with a chart that maps out the currents and the shoals.

Whether we like it or not, the Lord has created the universe with a particular current, all things in the natural universe are organized in a certain way so that we are drawn to eternal life in heaven.
Your choice is to look at the charts and decide whether you want to use and benefit from the hard-won experience of others who have gone this way before so that you may find the easy route to the “new world” of heaven, – or instead go your own way and struggle against the current.
It should be recognized that Divine providence is overall, that is, it is present within the smallest details of all, and that people in the stream of providence are being carried along constantly towards happier things, whatever appearance the means may present. Those in the stream of providence are people who trust in the Divine and ascribe everything to Him. (AC 8478:4)
Amen.

1st Lesson:  2KI 5:1-5, 9-15
Now Naaman, commander of the army of the king of Syria, was a great and honorable man in the eyes of his master, because by him the LORD had given victory to Syria. He was also a mighty man of valor, but a leper. {2} And the Syrians had gone out on raids, and had brought back captive a young girl from the land of Israel. She waited on Naaman’s wife. {3} Then she said to her mistress, “If only my master were with the prophet who is in Samaria! For he would heal him of his leprosy.” {4} And Naaman went in and told his master, saying, “Thus and thus said the girl who is from the land of Israel.” {5} Then the king of Syria said, “Go now, and I will send a letter to the king of Israel.” So he departed and took with him ten talents of silver, six thousand shekels of gold, and ten changes of clothing.… {10} And Elisha sent a messenger to him, saying, “Go and wash in the Jordan seven times, and your flesh shall be restored to you, and you shall be clean.” {11} But Naaman became furious, and went away and said, “Indeed, I said to myself, ‘He will surely come out to me, and stand and call on the name of the LORD his God, and wave his hand over the place, and heal the leprosy.’ {12} “Are not the Abanah and the Pharpar, the rivers of Damascus, better than all the waters of Israel? Could I not wash in them and be clean?” So he turned and went away in a rage. {13} And his servants came near and spoke to him, and said, “My father, if the prophet had told you to do something great, would you not have done it? How much more then, when he says to you, ‘Wash, and be clean’?” {14} So he went down and dipped seven times in the Jordan, according to the saying of the man of God; and his flesh was restored like the flesh of a little child, and he was clean. {15} And he returned to the man of God, he and all his aides, and came and stood before him; and he said, “Indeed, now I know that there is no God in all the earth, except in Israel; now therefore, please take a gift from yourservant.”Amen.
2nd Lesson:  Mat 7:24-29
“Therefore whoever hears these sayings of Mine, and does them, I will liken him to a wise man who built his house on the rock: {25} “and the rain descended, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house; and it did not fall, for it was founded on the rock. {26} “But everyone who hears these sayings of Mine, and does not do them, will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand: {27} “and the rain descended, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house; and it fell. And great was its fall.” {28} And so it was, when Jesus had ended these sayings, that the people were astonished at His teaching, {29} for He taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes. Amen.

3rd Lesson:  DP 186
If man saw clearly the operations of the Divine Providence he would go contrary to God and also deny Him, because man is in the delight of self-love, and this delight constitutes his very life. Therefore, when he is kept in the delight of his life he is in his freedom, for freedom and that delight make one. If, therefore, he perceived that he is constantly being led away from his delight he would be enraged as against one who desired to destroy his life, and would regard him as an enemy. In order to prevent this the Lord does not manifestly appear in His Divine Providence, but by it He leads man as silently as an imperceptible stream or favoring current bears a vessel along. Consequently, man does not know but that he is constantly in his own proprium, for man’s freedom and his proprium make one. Hence it is clear that freedom appropriates to man what the Divine Providence introduces; but this would not take place if the Divine Providence made itself evident. To be appropriated is to become part of the life. Amen.