My Yoke is Easy


An Extemporaneous Sermon by the Rev. James P. Cooper, Toronto, Feb. 17, 2008

(Mat 11:28-30) “Come to Me, all you who labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. {29} “Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. {30} “For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.”

  1. Introduction
    1. Most of us enjoy the challenge of crossword puzzles, and take pride in being able to harder and harder puzzles that use increasingly obscure clues.
    2. There are people who can get quite involved with the secret messages passed between partners in a game of contract bridge.
      1. What does it mean when you bid “1 no trump” when your hand is strong in spades?
    3. I enjoy flying because it requires managing a number of diverse systems (talking on the radio, managing the engine, keeping an eye on the weather, not getting lost, and controlling movement through 3 dimensional space) all at the same time. And the easier it looks to the passenger, the more successful the flight.
    4. There are people who enjoy puzzles like Sudoku!
    5. Someone recently sent me an e-mail full of questions that were asked of second graders and their cute answers. One of them was:
      1. What ingredients are mothers made of? And the answer was, “God makes mothers out of clouds and angel hair and everything nice in the world and one dab of mean.”
    6. Now think about that one for a minute. It’s really cute. It probably made you chuckle or laugh out loud – which means that you understood it. But, if you analyze the words, it’s complete nonsense. “Clouds and angel hair?” “A dab of mean?” Nevertheless, we can interpret it, derive meaning out of it, and enjoy it – and e-mail copies of it to 100 of our closest friends….
  2. The point that I’m trying to establish is that human beings are pretty clever! When we’re not engaged in our actual work, we challenge our minds with symbolism and puzzles, with hobbies that are exacting and challenging.
    1. Here’s a passage from the New Testament where the Lord is recognizing how amazingly smart we are when it comes to working out something as complicated as the weather, but when it comes to Religion we are quite capable of ignoring the simple and the obvious!
    2. (Mat 16:1-4) Then the Pharisees and Sadducees came, and testing Him asked that He would show them a sign from heaven. {2} He answered and said to them, “When it is evening you say, ‘It will be fair weather, for the sky is red’; {3} “and in the morning, ‘It will be foul weather today, for the sky is red and threatening.’ Hypocrites! You know how to discern the face of the sky, but you cannot discern the signs of the times. {4} “A wicked and adulterous generation seeks after a sign, and no sign shall be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah.” And He left them and departed.
      1. He’s apparently angry because the Pharisees (and by extension mankind in general) can figure out all kinds of complicated things – but they don’t seem to get it when He tells them they need to be kind to each other, to lay up treasures in heaven instead of the earth, and that His kingdom is NOT of this world!
    3. Now here’s the hard teaching: We can be like the Pharisees and the Sadducees when we tell each other that “we don’t understand these complicated doctrines of the New Church.”
      1. AC 9399 [2] …Divine Truth emanating from the Lord … is the Light which enlightens the human mind and composes its inner sight, which is the understanding…. This Divine Truth is also meant in John, He was the true light which enlightens every person coming into the world. He was in the world, and the world was made by Him, but the world did not know Him. John 1:9-11. This refers to the Word, which is Divine Truth emanating from the Lord. [3] Every person in the world who is sound in mind has the ability to learn God’s truth, and consequently has the ability to receive it to the extent that he departs from evil ways…. (emphasis added).
        1. The idea that the Word is difficult to understand is from hell. It is the product of self-justification and the desire to continue in our favourite evils. The passage says, in essence, that everyone who shuns evils as sins will be led by the Lord to understand the Word. Simply at first, but as the process continues over a lifetime, eventually even the deepest heavenly secrets.

      2. The problem is not that the truths are too difficult, but that our lives are too full of other things – natural things.
        1. If we truly wish to understand the Word, all we need do is shun evils as sins against the Lord, and He will flow in with the Divine truth and will work in secret ways to adapt our minds to receive it!

    4. Heaven and Hell 359: Since a man can live outwardly as others do, can grow rich, keep a plentiful table, dwell in an elegant house and wear fine clothing according to his condition and function, can enjoy delights and gratifications, and engage in worldly affairs for the sake of his occupation and business and for the life both of the mind and body, provided he inwardly acknowledges the Divine and wishes well to the neighbour, it is evident that to enter upon the way to heaven is not so difficult as many believe. The sole difficulty lies in being able to resist the love of self and the world, and to prevent their becoming dominant; for this is the source of all evils. That this is not so difficult as is believed is meant by these words of the Lord: Learn of Me, for I am meek and lowly of heart, and ye shall find rest to your souls; for My yoke is easy and My burden is light. Matt. xi. 29, 30. The Lord’s yoke is easy and His burden light because a man is led by the Lord and not by self just to the extent that he resists the evils that flow forth from love of self and of the world, and because the Lord then resists these evils with the man and removes them. (emphasis added).
      1. How many of us hear something like this and immediately begin building a list in our heads of all the “hard” doctrines to try to prove that this is wrong and we’re safe to carry on thinking the way we always have.
    5. Let’s go back to the Word and see what else the Lord has to say about this.
      1. (Mat 22:36-40) “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the law?” {37} Jesus said to him, “‘You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ {38} “This is the first and great commandment. {39} “And the second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ {40} “On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets.”
        1. Everything in the Word – everything – is summarized by these two ideas.
      2. AR 490. And I will give unto My two witnesses, signifies those who confess and acknowledge from the heart that the Lord is the God of heaven and earth, and that His Human is Divine, and who are conjoined to Him by a life according to the precepts of the Decalogue. The reason why these are here meant by “the two witnesses,” is, because these two are the two essential [doctrines] of the New Church.
    6. The True Christian Religion is the “universal theology of the New Church.” It covers everything you need to know – including the details if you need them – in 14 chapters.
    7. The first five are all about the Lord and His Word. The next five are about how love the neighbor. The last four identify some things that where the New Church makes a significant departure from the what the doctrine of the Christian Church has become after 2,000 years of tinkering.
      1. God the Creator
      2. The Lord the Redeemer
      3. The Holy Spirit and the Divine Operation
      4. The Sacred Scripture or the Word of God
      5. The Ten Commandments
      6. Faith
      7. Charity
      8. Free Will
      9. Repentance
      10. Reformation and Regeneration
      11. Imputation
        1. Not grace, but the Lord imputes good, hell imputes evil.
      12. Baptism
      13. The Holy Supper
      14. The Second Coming
      15. The Memoribilia – the doctrine of the spiritual world
      16. If one repents, reforms, and regenerates, one will have an eternal marriage in heaven – Conjugial Love.
  3. Conclusion
    1. Yes, there are some really interesting and complicated doctrinal issues we can discuss.
      1. Creation by means of the Spiritual Sun
      2. The doctrine of the Limbus (which we like to joke about but is actually not all that difficult).
      3. The Nature of the Resurrection Body.
      4. The Nature of Spiritual Substance.
    2. None of these doctrines are essential for your salvation, but are there because there are those who want and need to pursue these things as they master the simpler things.
      1. The Lord created heaven for EVERYONE.
        1. That means that it must be possible for anyone of us to be able to figure out how to get there.
        2. But you do need to make some effort, you need to remove the impediments from the world, and to apply the good sense that the Lord gave you.
    3. HH 533. That it is not so difficult to live the life of heaven as some believe can now be seen from this, that when any thing presents itself to a man that he knows to be dishonest and unjust, but to which his mind is borne, it is simply necessary for him to think that it ought not to be done because it is opposed to the Divine precepts. If a man accustoms himself so to think, and from so doing establishes a habit of so thinking, he is gradually conjoined to heaven; and so far as he is conjoined to heaven the higher regions of his mind are opened; and so far as these are opened he sees whatever is dishonest and unjust, and so far as he sees these evils they can be dispersed, for no evil can be dispersed until it is seen. Into this state man is able to enter because of his freedom, for is not any one able from his freedom to so think? And when man has made a beginning the Lord quickens all that is good in him, and causes him not only to see evils to be evils, but also to refrain from willing them, and finally to turn away from them. This is meant by the Lord’s words, My yoke is easy and My burden is light (Matt. 11:30)…. (emphasis added).

First Lesson: LEV 19:1-18

(Lev 19:1-18) And the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, {2} “Speak to all the congregation of the children of Israel, and say to them: ‘You shall be holy, for I the LORD your God am holy. {3} ‘Every one of you shall revere his mother and his father, and keep My Sabbaths: I am the LORD your God. {4} ‘Do not turn to idols, nor make for yourselves molded gods: I am the LORD your God. {5} ‘And if you offer a sacrifice of a peace offering to the LORD, you shall offer it of your own free will. {6} ‘It shall be eaten the same day you offer it, and on the next day. And if any remains until the third day, it shall be burned in the fire. {7} ‘And if it is eaten at all on the third day, it is an abomination. It shall not be accepted. {8} ‘Therefore everyone who eats it shall bear his iniquity, because he has profaned the hallowed offering of the LORD; and that person shall be cut off from his people. {9} ‘When you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not wholly reap the corners of your field, nor shall you gather the gleanings of your harvest. {10} ‘And you shall not glean your vineyard, nor shall you gather every grape of your vineyard; you shall leave them for the poor and the stranger: I am the LORD your God. {11} ‘You shall not steal, nor deal falsely, nor lie to one another. {12} ‘And you shall not swear by My name falsely, nor shall you profane the name of your God: I am the LORD. {13} ‘You shall not cheat your neighbor, nor rob him. The wages of him who is hired shall not remain with you all night until morning. {14} ‘You shall not curse the deaf, nor put a stumbling block before the blind, but shall fear your God: I am the LORD. {15} ‘You shall do no injustice in judgment. You shall not be partial to the poor, nor honor the person of the mighty. In righteousness you shall judge your neighbor. {16} ‘You shall not go about as a talebearer among your people; nor shall you take a stand against the life of your neighbor: I am the LORD. {17} ‘You shall not hate your brother in your heart. You shall surely rebuke your neighbor, and not bear sin because of him. {18} ‘You shall not take vengeance, nor bear any grudge against the children of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the LORD.

Second Lesson: MAT 11:25-30

(Mat 11:25-30) At that time Jesus answered and said, “I thank You, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that You have hidden these things from the wise and prudent and have revealed them to babes. {26} “Even so, Father, for so it seemed good in Your sight. {27} “All things have been delivered to Me by My Father, and no one knows the Son except the Father. Nor does anyone know the Father except the Son, and the one to whom the Son wills to reveal Him. {28} “Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. {29} “Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. {30} “For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.”

Third Lesson: AR 490

And I will give unto my two witnesses signifies those who confess and acknowledge from the heart that the Lord is the God of heaven and earth and His Human is Divine, and who are conjoined to Him by means of a life in accordance with the precepts of the Decalogue. These are they who are understood here by the ‘two witnesses’ because these two are the two Essentials of the New Church.

[3] Something shall be said here concerning conjunction with the Lord by means of a life in accordance with the precepts of the Decalogue. There are two tables upon which those precepts have been written, the one for the Lord, the other for man. The first table has as its content that not many gods are to be worshipped, but the One. The second table has as its content that evils are not to be done. Therefore when the One God is worshipped and a man does not do evils there is conjunction; for in so far as a man desists from evils, that is, is actively repentant, so far he is accepted by God and does good from Him.

The Battle with Amalek

A sermon by the Rev. James P. Cooper

And so it was, when Moses held up his hand, that Israel prevailed; and when he let down his hand, Amalek prevailed. But Moses’ hands became heavy; so they took a stone and put it under him, and he sat on it. And Aaron and Hur supported his hands, one on one side, and the other on the other side; and his hands were steady until the going down of the sun. (EXO 17:11-12)

A common idea that has been frequently heard in the church is that “the Lord doesn’t give anyone a greater burden than they can carry.” If one thinks at all critically, it becomes immediately obvious that this can’t be true because, first and most important, the Lord doesn’t give us burdens. Every effort of His Divine Providence is to guide us away from troubles, It is His good pleasure to carry all our burdens for us, if we will allow Him to. As we read in the third lesson, after discovering a sin within one’s self during self examination, we are to “implore the Lord’s help” in shunning that sin, because we cannot do it without His help.

It is true that sometimes it may appear that He is testing us by sending one financial or personal disaster after another our way. The Word is written according to appearances, and it sometimes appears that God is angry, or punishes. But that cannot be so, because it is against His very nature, and against His laws of Divine Providence.

It is also true that if troubles cannot be avoided without compromising our freedom of choice in spiritual things, He is able to turn them so that some good can come from them, somewhere – but not necessarily to the one who suffers the trouble. It could be our children, our extended family, or complete strangers who benefit by looking at was happened to us and thereby avoiding making the same mistake.

In the work the Divine Providence, paragraph 320 reminds us that it is our tendency as human beings to believe that anything that happens inside our head has it’s source there; that good, charitable ideas come from our own inherent goodness and did not flow in from the Lord through heaven. We also take credit for the evil thoughts that flow in from hell, and make them our own too! It would be so much easier to flee from evils if we could see the devil’s face as he whispered those thoughts into our head – but that would be an external reformation only, like the temporary burst of faith that comes with seeing a miracle, not the internal reformation which is what we need to prepare properly for the life of heaven.

This passage from Divine Providence (and the others like it) are not given to make us feel bad about our failures, but to help us have a healthier, more successful approach to the troubles that confront us in our lives. Let’s reflect on this as we think about Moses leading the children of Israel out of Egypt, struggling to find their way across the wilderness of Sin in the Sinai peninsula, when they are attacked by the Amalekites.

The situation is this: As soon as the children of Israel had fled Egypt and crossed over into the Sinai peninsula, they marched south as quickly as they could – partly to get a lot of distance between themselves and the Egyptians (both to prevent the Egyptians from attacking them again, and to prevent the cowardly among them from running back to the “flesh pots” – plentiful food – of Egypt). Along the way they complained about being hungry, and were provided with manna and quails to eat. They also complained about the lack of water. At Marah the bitter water was made sweet, and then at Rephidim the Lord commanded Moses to strike the rock and water gushed forth. Still at Rephidim, well in the south of the wilderness, getting close to Mt. Sinai, they are attacked by the Amalekites.

Thinking purely from the natural sense, we can have some sympathy for the people in the land. Exodus tells us that there were “six hundred thousand” fighting men in the group that left Egypt. Add in women and children and you have about the same number of people that are presently in Toronto – more than two million people. Imagine being a resident of the land and looking over the wall of your little fortified city and seeing a mob of two million people heading your way. You would be justified in thinking that it was not a good thing; that they would consume the land itself as they passed over it like a plague of locusts. Anything you could do to turn them aside would be justified. The Amalekites could see this hoard of invaders heading their way. They armed themselves to try and turn the human tide, to save themselves and their towns.

As Amalek’s army comes to meet the Hebrews, we are introduced to Joshua. Joshua must be a relatively young man at this point because he will be Moses’s assistant and commander in chief for the Forty years the Hebrews are in the wilderness, and still be able to lead them during their conquest of Canaan. For such a young man to be given such responsibility, his talents and ability to lead must have been remarkable and immediately seen. And, Moses’s choice was no doubt Divinely inspired!

In studying the passages in the Heavenly Doctrines that relate to this story, what emerges is the importance of the rod in the hand of Moses as a symbol of the Lord’s power, and His presence with them. The “rod” or “staff” is an important image in the Old Testament. One cannot think of many pictures of people of that time without seeing some kind of walking stick or staff in their hand. In such cultures, little boys are sent out to care for the flocks and their only tools are the sticks they pick up along the way. Shepherd boys are also known to while away the hours play fighting each other with sticks. The result is that they become quite good at it, and they carry some kind of stick with them for the rest of their lives as a very effective means of self protection.

In the book of Revelation, we are given the image of the son born to the Woman clothed with the Sun, who will rule the nations with a “rod of iron.” The leading idea here is that a person’s hand represent their power, their ability to perform uses of all kinds. A rod or staff extends the reach of the hand, it has the effect of multiplying the power of the hand many times. It’s why a king carries a scepter. So, to put a rod or staff in the hand of Moses – who represents the Prophetic Word and the Law of the Lord – is to be seen as a symbol of the great power of the Lord’s truth to fight against, overcome, and defeat the falsity represented by the army of Amalek.

AC 8605. Israel prevailed. That this signifies that then the fighting truth conquered, is evident from the signification of “prevailing,” as being to conquer; and from the representation of Israel, as being those who are of the spiritual church, here those who fight from truths against the falsities from interior evil.

It sounds so easy. The enemy is coming. All you have to do is go stand on that hill and hold your rod up in the air. As long as you do, our side will win. Easy.

If only it were that easy to defeat falsity. Isn’t it true that we start our spiritual battles full of energy and good intentions? But it doesn’t take long before our arms become heavy, it doesn’t take long before we find ourselves struggling to maintain headway.

When Moses looked out on the field of battle as his arms became leaden and began to drop, he saw the people that he was charged to protect began to die at the hands of the Amalekites – and even with that driving his motivation, still he could not do it by himself.

It wasn’t as if he was a boy facing a giant.

It wasn’t as if he was facing a huge enemy army armed with just a pitcher and a trumpet.

All he had to do to win the battle and protect his people was to stand there holding a stick in the air.

And he couldn’t do it.

Have we ever felt like Moses? Have we ever faced a burden that the hells told us we ought to be able to manage by ourselves and stubbornly refused to ask for help? Have we seen our friends and family hurt by our stubbornness. Many of us allow ourselves to fall into this trap. That’s why the Lord gave us this story about Moses. The burden was too heavy for him to manage by himself, so Moses asked for help.

EXO 17:12 But Moses’ hands became heavy; so they took a stone and put it under him, and he sat on it. And Aaron and Hur supported his hands, one on one side, and the other on the other side; and his hands were steady until the going down of the sun. {13} So Joshua defeated Amalek and his people with the edge of the sword.

And what happened to Moses? Was the Lord angry with him for his failure? No. Emphatically not, because in asking for help he didn’t fail, he succeeded. By asking for help he set in motion the process that brought the other things that were still needed into the picture.

The Lord wants us to act “as of self” – that means as if we have the power ourselves, but yet knowing that we do not. It’s like the guy driving a bulldozer. All he has to do is move a couple lever forward and he can literally move mountains. The power to accomplish regeneration is the Lord’s, the decision is ours.

Truth, even Divine Truth, does not have power in the abstract, it needs ultimation, to rest in and be supported by the things of the world, the vessels that receive it.

AC 8609. And they took a stone. That this signifies truth Divine in the ultimate of order, … here truth in the ultimate of order, because it was put under him and he sat upon it….

AC 8610. And put it under him, and he sat upon it. That this signifies correspondence with truth in the first of order, can be seen from the fact that this stone supported Moses, and by Moses is represented truth in the first of order, or the truth Divine which proceeds immediately from the Lord….

AC 8611. And Aaron and Hur. That this signifies truths in order, is evident from the representation of Aaron and Hur, as being lower truths in successive order relatively to the truth that is in the first of order which is represented by Moses….

AC 8612. Held up his hands. That this signifies the upholding of the power of the fighting truth, is evident from the signification of “hands,” as being power, here the power of the fighting truth which is represented by Joshua. That the upholding of the fighting truth is what is signified by “Aaron and Hur holding up the hands of Moses,” is because Joshua prevailed through the uplifting of the hands of Moses.

Moses was unable to hold his arms up long enough to defeat Amalek. He did not realize that he needed help until he saw Amalek’s soldiers killing his own people. Then he accepted help. The truth, represented by Moses, was unable to defeat the falsity represented by Amalek by itself; it required the assistance of the staff, the rock, Aaron, and Hur.

Remember Divine Providence 278 from the third lesson? Here’s a shorter passage that delivers the same message:

Apocalypse Revealed 531: Actual repentance is to examine oneself, to recognize and acknowledge one’s own sins, to take the responsibility, to confess them before the Lord, to beg for help and power to resist them, and in this way to give them up and lead a new life, and to do all these things as from yourselves.

The man of the church is not able to defeat interior falsity simply with his own intellect, by his own effort. He needs to know this – which he learns by seeing his arguments destroyed – that the purpose of the battle is to teach him that he needs the Lord’s help, that he does not live by himself, or through his own power.

Behold, I stand at the door and knock. The Lord is there, offering His Divine assistance, but we have to be smart enough to ask for His help. The wise among us will do it sooner, rather than later. Amen.

First Lesson: EXO 17:8-16

Now Amalek came and fought with Israel in Rephidim. {9} And Moses said to Joshua, “Choose us some men and go out, fight with Amalek. Tomorrow I will stand on the top of the hill with the rod of God in my hand.” {10} So Joshua did as Moses said to him, and fought with Amalek. And Moses, Aaron, and Hur went up to the top of the hill. {11} And so it was, when Moses held up his hand, that Israel prevailed; and when he let down his hand, Amalek prevailed. {12} But Moses’ hands became heavy; so they took a stone and put it under him, and he sat on it. And Aaron and Hur supported his hands, one on one side, and the other on the other side; and his hands were steady until the going down of the sun. {13} So Joshua defeated Amalek and his people with the edge of the sword. {14} Then the LORD said to Moses, “Write this for a memorial in the book and recount it in the hearing of Joshua, that I will utterly blot out the remembrance of Amalek from under heaven.” {15} And Moses built an altar and called its name, The-LORD-Is-My-Banner; {16} for he said, “Because the LORD has sworn: the LORD will have war with Amalek from generation to generation.” Amen.

Second Lesson: Rev 3:14-22

“And to the angel of the church of the Laodiceans write, ‘These things says the Amen, the Faithful and True Witness, the Beginning of the creation of God: {15} “I know your works, that you are neither cold nor hot. I could wish you were cold or hot. {16} “So then, because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will vomit you out of My mouth. {17} “Because you say, ‘I am rich, have become wealthy, and have need of nothing’; and do not know that you are wretched, miserable, poor, blind, and naked; {18} “I counsel you to buy from Me gold refined in the fire, that you may be rich; and white garments, that you may be clothed, that the shame of your nakedness may not be revealed; and anoint your eyes with eye salve, that you may see. {19} “As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten. Therefore be zealous and repent. {20} “Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and dine with him, and he with Me. {21} “To him who overcomes I will grant to sit with Me on My throne, as I also overcame and sat down with My Father on His throne. {22} “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.”’ “ Amen.

Third Lesson: DP 278

… In order that man may examine himself an understanding has been given him, and this separate from the will, that he may know, understand and acknowledge what is good and what is evil; and also that he may see the quality of his will, or what it is he loves and desires. In order that he may see this his understanding has been furnished with higher and lower thought, or interior and exterior thought, to enable him to see from higher or interior thought what his will is doing in the lower or exterior thought. This he sees as a man sees his face in a mirror; and when he sees it and knows what sin is, he is able, if he implores the help of the Lord, not to will it, but to shun it and afterwards to act against it; if not wholeheartedly, still he can exercise constraint upon it by combat, and at length turn away from it and hate it. Now, and not before, he first perceives and also feels that evil is evil and that good is good. This then is what is involved in examining oneself, seeing one’s evils and recognizing them, confessing them and afterwards desisting from them (emphasis added). Amen.

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