Harmony and Providence

A Sermon by the Rev. James P. Cooper

“Which of you by worrying can add one cubit to his stature?” MAT 6:27

The Ancient Church was throughout the world. We see varying degrees of evidence of this in all ancient cultures in that they all have creations stories and they all have flood myths which are surprisingly similar to those in the book of Genesis.

AC 1285:2 In regard to what has been said of the first Ancient Church – that though so widespread throughout the world, its [doctrine] …was nevertheless one and its words one, that is, it shared one doctrine in its general aspects and in its particular details; but for all that, the forms of worship, internal as well as external, were everywhere divergent.

There are also indications in Native American religions that it, too, developed from roots in the Ancient Church. There is a subtle idea in Native American thought that can help to bring some of the doctrines into focus and show their connections to the Universal Truth that the Lord provides for the Church Universal, and further showed how the Jewish and Christian traditions have drifted away from this universal truth from the Ancient Church.

The idea has to do with our response to natural disasters. We might remember a time when there was an especially heavy snow. Or perhaps a storm that knocked out the electricity – and all the essential devices that it powers – for a number of days. But, for today, let’s take drought as an example – it’s more ‘Biblical’.

In the Jewish and Christian tradition and culture, the response would be to pray to God for rain to end the drought. (I’m not certain what the other Religion based on the Bible, the Muslims, would do in this case.) This may be where some of our funny feelings about the subject of prayer come from. Many feel that it presumptuous to pray to God to tell Him about our problem. How is it possible that an all-knowing God would have missed a drought (or war, or epidemic, or personal tragedy, or whatever). And what kind of God would He be if He didn’t already know that all He has to do to end a drought is to send rain?

When someone is sick, we pray that they may be made healthy again, in spite of the fact that we know that they cannot be truly healthy both in mind and body until the natural body falls away. So we find ourselves in the strange position of praying to God to keep a sick friend imprisoned in a failing body!

In such circumstances, many of us feel uncomfortable presuming to instruct God – with good reason. But, that certainly is our cultural reaction and habit. When something goes wrong, we pray to God to fix it, We implore Him to act in some way to put things back the way they were when we were happy (because we were always happier with the way things used to be….). No wonder some of us are unsure of what to pray for, and how to pray!

The Navajo people in Arizona have a quite different response. The Navajo sees the drought as something over which he has no control. So instead of praying to God to fix the drought (trying to enlist God’s help to enforce his view of how things ought to be), the Navajo would pray to God help him adjust himself to the drought, to accept it, to make whatever changes necessary in himself to return him to harmony with the world. We may note as an aside that this approach to disorder applies to people too. When someone in the Navajo community commits a crime – even a serious and violent crime, the Navajo regards them as sick, not evil. The community’s response is not to condemn and punish, but rather to try to return him to health and thus restore harmony to the entire community.

The familiar prayer used by Alcoholics Anonymous, called the “Serenity Prayer” carries a similar idea: It encourages you to pray for the strength to change things that can be changed, the patience to endure the things that cannot be changed, and the wisdom to know the difference. That the Serenity prayer ties closely with the teachings of the New Church which is not surprising, since Bill W (the founder of AA) was married to a member of the New Church.

The Heavenly Doctrines teach about this kind of harmony in communities or societies, when it teaches about the “stream of Providence.” The “Stream of Providence” was a favourite idea of Father Benade, so much so that for a while many people thought that he had coined the phrase. However, there are several places where the Writings use this identical phrase to teach that for us to find peace and contentment in this world, we have to search the Word for an understanding of God’s purpose for the world, and for us as individuals. Then do the spiritual work that is required to bring ourselves into harmony with God’s plan.

AC 8478:4 Be it known that the Divine Providence is universal, that is, in things the most minute; and that they who are in the Stream of Providence are all the time carried along toward everything that is happy, whatever may be the appearance of the means; and that those are in the Stream of Providence who put their trust in the Divine and attribute all things to Him; and that those are not in the stream of Providence who trust in themselves alone and attribute all things to themselves, because they are in the opposite, for they take away providence from the Divine, and claim it for themselves (emphasis added).

Is there anyone who cannot see that this is bound to be a lot more successful than to have each one of us petitioning God to adopt our particular plan – especially when you stop to think how many of us are doing it at any particular moment.

Let’s return for a moment to our text: “Which of you by worrying can add one cubit to his stature?” (text) This passage tells us that people have been unhappy with their height since the beginning of time. There are many things about our bodies that we do have control over through diet and exercise, but there are other things that are simply beyond our control. Now matter how much you worry about it, you’re going to be as tall as you’re going to be. So, you can either fuss and complain about it all your life, with no result, or you can bring yourself into harmony with the fact of your stature.

Rather than trying to change the world to fit our demands, we should be working to change ourselves to fit into God’s plan. If we can be successful in this, if we can realize that life on this earth is a lot easier if you work with the Lord rather than stubbornly fighting against Him all the time, we will begin to come into the state of the angels in heaven. There, the harmony of many working together for a common goal, united by a common love, is represented by singing in choirs.

We sing in church because it represents the mutual love of heaven. In order to sing well a choir, you need to have knowledge of the music, you need to pay attention to the director, and you need to listen to what your neighbours are doing so that you can adjust yourself to the quality of the tone.

Choirs are also important for finding one’s spiritual home. When the time comes to leave the world of spirits and find our eternal home, as we approach each society of heaven, we will hear the music that characterizes the ruling love of the people who live there. They all will, no doubt, be beautiful, but there will be one in particular that catches our attention and draws us in. Imagine walking along the path and hearing a song that touches your heart, a song you’ve never heard before, but you’ve known all your life. As you walk up the path, you begin humming along, finding your part. By the time you enter the city it’s a part of you, and you’re a part of it. You will know, by the music of the choirs, that you are truly in your spiritual home.

AC 2595 (cf. SD 3494) I heard the sound of a certain gyre, but coarser than usual, and from the sound I at once knew that they were from the Gentiles. I was told by the angels that they were Gentiles who had been raised up three or four days before. The gyre or CHOIR was heard for several hours, and it was perceived that even during the short time in which it was heard they were being perfected more and more. … Gyres or choirs exist when many speak together, all as one, and each as all….

Just as we need to pay attention to the other singers to be a part of a choir, we need to pay attention to each other here on earth to learn the things we need to know to prepare ourselves for heavenly life. And, we need to look to the director, to the Lord of heaven and earth, for His guidance, for His Providence, and allow Him to lead. Amen.

First Lesson: EXO 16:11-35

(Exo 16:11-35) And the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, {12} “I have heard the complaints of the children of Israel. Speak to them, saying, ‘At twilight you shall eat meat, and in the morning you shall be filled with bread. And you shall know that I am the LORD your God.'” {13} So it was that quails came up at evening and covered the camp, and in the morning the dew lay all around the camp. {14} And when the layer of dew lifted, there, on the surface of the wilderness, was a small round substance, as fine as frost on the ground. {15} So when the children of Israel saw it, they said to one another, “What is it?” For they did not know what it was. And Moses said to them, “This is the bread which the LORD has given you to eat. {16} “This is the thing which the LORD has commanded: ‘Let every man gather it according to each one’s need, one omer for each person, according to the number of persons; let every man take for those who are in his tent.'” {17} Then the children of Israel did so and gathered, some more, some less. {18} So when they measured it by omers, he who gathered much had nothing left over, and he who gathered little had no lack. Every man had gathered according to each one’s need. {19} And Moses said, “Let no one leave any of it till morning.” {20} Notwithstanding they did not heed Moses. But some of them left part of it until morning, and it bred worms and stank. And Moses was angry with them. {21} So they gathered it every morning, every man according to his need. And when the sun became hot, it melted. {22} And so it was, on the sixth day, that they gathered twice as much bread, two omers for each one. And all the rulers of the congregation came and told Moses. {23} Then he said to them, “This is what the LORD has said: ‘Tomorrow is a Sabbath rest, a holy Sabbath to the LORD. Bake what you will bake today, and boil what you will boil; and lay up for yourselves all that remains, to be kept until morning.'” {24} So they laid it up till morning, as Moses commanded; and it did not stink, nor were there any worms in it. {25} Then Moses said, “Eat that today, for today is a Sabbath to the LORD; today you will not find it in the field. {26} “Six days you shall gather it, but on the seventh day, which is the Sabbath, there will be none.” {27} Now it happened that some of the people went out on the seventh day to gather, but they found none. {28} And the LORD said to Moses, “How long do you refuse to keep My commandments and My laws? {29} “See! For the LORD has given you the Sabbath; therefore He gives you on the sixth day bread for two days. Let every man remain in his place; let no man go out of his place on the seventh day.” {30} So the people rested on the seventh day. {31} And the house of Israel called its name Manna. And it was like white coriander seed, and the taste of it was like wafers made with honey. {32} Then Moses said, “This is the thing which the LORD has commanded: ‘Fill an omer with it, to be kept for your generations, that they may see the bread with which I fed you in the wilderness, when I brought you out of the land of Egypt.'” {33} And Moses said to Aaron, “Take a pot and put an omer of manna in it, and lay it up before the LORD, to be kept for your generations.” {34} As the LORD commanded Moses, so Aaron laid it up before the Testimony, to be kept. {35} And the children of Israel ate manna forty years, until they came to an inhabited land; they ate manna until they came to the border of the land of Canaan.

Second Lesson: MAT 6:25-34

(Mat 6:25-34) “Therefore I say to you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink; nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food and the body more than clothing? {26} “Look at the birds of the air, for they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? {27} “Which of you by worrying can add one cubit to his stature? {28} “So why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin; {29} “and yet I say to you that even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. {30} “Now if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is, and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will He not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? {31} “Therefore do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ {32} “For after all these things the Gentiles seek. For your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. {33} “But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you. {34} “Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about its own things. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.

Third Lesson: AC 8478

EXO 16:19 And Moses said, “Let no one leave any of it till morning.”

….those [who] have care for the morrow [are those] who are not content with their lot; who do not trust in the Divine, but in themselves; and who have regard for only worldly and earthly things, and not for heavenly things. With such there universally reigns solicitude about things to come, and a desire to possess all things and to dominate over all, which is kindled and grows according to the additions thus made, and finally does so beyond all measure. They grieve if they do not obtain the objects of their desire, and feel anguish at the loss of them; and they have no consolation, because of the anger they feel against the Divine, which they reject together with everything of faith, and curse themselves.

[3] Very different is the case with those who trust in the Divine. These, notwithstanding they have care for the morrow, still have it not, because they do not think of the morrow with solicitude, still less with anxiety. Unruffled is their spirit whether they obtain the objects of their desire, or not; and they do not grieve over the loss of them, being content with their lot. If they become rich, they do not set their hearts on riches; if they are raised to honours, they do not regard themselves as more worthy than others; if they become poor, they are not made sad; if their circumstances are mean, they are not dejected. They know that for those who trust in the Divine all things advance toward a happy state to eternity, and that whatever befalls them in time is still conducive thereto.

[4] Be it known that the Divine Providence is universal, that is, in things the most minute; and that they who are in the Stream of Providence are all the time carried along toward everything that is happy, whatever may be the appearance of the means; and that those are in the Stream of Providence who put their trust in the Divine and attribute all things to Him; and that those are not in the stream of Providence who trust in themselves alone and attribute all things to themselves, because they are in the opposite, for they take away providence from the Divine, and claim it for themselves. Be it known also that in so far as any one is in the Stream of Providence, so far he is in a state of peace; also that in so far as any one is in a state of peace from the good of faith, so far he is in the Divine Providence. These alone know and believe that the Divine Providence of the Lord is in everything both in general and in particular, nay, is in the most minute things of all.

Copyright © 1982 – 2006 General Church of the New Jerusalem.
Page last modified September 27, 2009

1AC 8478, DP 186, HD 276, AC Index 16

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