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)

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.

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