“Connecting with God”

Toronto, October 26, 2008

A Sermon by the Rev. James P. Cooper

 I.                  This is week 3 of the “Building Healthy Relationships” campaign.

a.     During the first week we were encouraged to reflect on the many blessings in our lives – even some things that may not have seemed like blessings at the time.

b.    During the second week we were encouraged to look within our words and actions and think about our motives and intentions.

c.     This week we will be thinking about how we are connect with, or how we communicate with God.  Our primary means of communication with Him is prayer.

II.               I was brought up in the years just following WWII which means that the war experience had profoundly affected my teachers and all the adults I had contact with.  They were convinced that it was essential that children be taught to memorize passages from the Word because in times of danger – and they meant actual physical warfare where death was imminent – these passages would come to mind and give comfort.

a.     It also gave rise to the saying “there are no atheists in a foxhole.”  We get that, we understand that when one is in imminent danger of death of dismemberment, we remember the prayers of our youth, pray them fervently, and hope that He hasn’t forgotten who we are after all those years of neglected communication…

b.    The more modern version of this phenomenon is what happened in classrooms across the United States as the events of September 11 began to unfold and people from all walks of life, from all religions, realized that they had no way to comprehend what was happening to them, no chart on the wall listing emergency procedures so in their fear and uncertainty, they turned to prayer.

III.           However, there’s a lot more to prayer than simply an appeal for help in the midst of trouble (although that’s part of it).  Prayer, simply put, is speech to God from God.

a.     From God”?  Prayer should arise from those things in you that from God, things that you have learned from the Word, have tested with life’s experiences, and know in your heart to be good and true.

i.      Don’t pray that your enemies will suffer,

ii.      Don’t pray that you’ll win the lottery,

iii.      Don’t pray that the Leafs will win the Stanley Cup.

iv.      But do pray that His will be done on earth and in heaven.

v.      Do pray that your own states can come into harmony with the situation in which you find yourself.

1.    In time of drought, don’t pray for rain, for that is presuming to tell God what to do.  Instead pray that you can become accustomed to dry times.

IV.           Let’s think for a moment about praying to God.  To whom are you speaking to when you pray?

a.     One can easily imagine that a person who has put very little thought into their religious life could, in a moment of fright or danger, be moved to pray that God will save him.  But to whom is he praying?  Some cosmic force?

b.    God went to some trouble to address this issue by taking on a human body and coming to earth as Jesus Christ, the Divine Human.  He knew that we needed to put a Human face on His infinite creative power so that we could relate to Him in some meaningful way, as a friend, a confidant, our Heavenly Father.

c.     So in the New Church we do not pray to Jesus so that He will pass the message on to His Father because He and His Father are one.  We are to call His face, His personality, His power, and His love to mind when we pray.  We pray to Jesus Christ and call on His name not in the hopes that He will pass the message on, but because it is our faith that He Himself is God the Creator.

V.              So, when we pray to the Lord Jesus Christ, what do we pray for?  We should pray that the Lord’s will be done.

a.     Thinking back to the first week of the campaign when we were talking about the Ten Blessings, remember that one of our blessings is to be meek, that is, how we are truly humbled when we see ourselves in relation to the power and wisdom of God.

i.      Who are we to presume that we should tell God what to do?

ii.      Who are we to think that God doesn’t know that there are  people who are poor, and hungry and sick?

iii.      Who are we to think that God would not know to care for these people if we didn’t remind Him of His responsibilities?

iv.      It’s not God that needs the reminding – it’s us!

b.    We need to remember the “blessing” of meekness, and stop praying to tell God what we think He ought to be doing, but praying to God to ask how we can direct our own lives to fit better into His Divine plan.

c.     We live in the world of nature, and it has a strong influence on us.  We think that this is all there is, so that natural health and wealth are the goals we should seek.  Prayer that God’s Will, not our, be done, helps us to remember that His ends are eternal and spiritual, and that we need His help to understand and promote them.

VI.           So we pray for spiritual nourishment, we pray for the wisdom and experience to see things from an eternal point of view, to regard the things of heaven as more important and more real than the things of the world (See AC 3726:4, SE 3685, 3686, AE 1218)

VII.       We can also pray for the Lord to heal our spiritual wounds.

a.     The temptation is to think about our physical complaints, but unless they are putting our spiritual life at risk they are of secondary importance to our spiritual ills.

b.    We discover our spiritual ills by being self-reflective, by studying what the Lord says in the Word about our actions and our motives, and then using our rational minds to weigh the evidence and see if we measure up to His standards – or not.  We also call this “self examination” and it’s the first step on the path to heaven.

VIII.    When we examine our spiritual lives, if we do it right, we will discover that we are coming up short, we then need to pray to the Lord to ask to be forgiven.

a.     His answer will be, if you wish to be forgiven (and we all need to be forgiven for something), first be forgiving.

i.      Forgive us our debts as we also forgive our debtors.”

ii.      Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.”

IX.           Once we begin to work on our spiritual states and learn to look inward, we begin to be aware of the influence that the evils spirits have had in our lives.  At this point it’s appropriate for us to pray to the Lord for power to resist these evil influences.

a.     We all know how important it is to have support from other people when we are trying to break bad habits, or begin healthy lifestyles.  By praying for protection, you’re making God your own personal sponsor, you’re involving Him in the process, there’s someone outside yourself to answer to if you fail, and that gives you more strength to succeed.

b.    So, when you are dealing with temptations to do things you know you should not do, pray for the Lord to use His power to protect you.

X.              And finally, we should pray with gratitude.  We know intellectually that God the Creator is responsible for all the wonderful things we enjoy every day, but only as we turn inward and begin to work on our spiritual lives to we really begin to feel and appreciate all the things that He does for us.

a.     And, as our gratitude grows and matures over time, we should remember to not just be grateful in words only, but to show our gratitude through our actions.

i.      Using your rational mind to weigh your decisions before you act so that your actions are according to God’s laws.

ii.      To go ahead and do the things that you know you should do, even though it may be difficult or embarrassing.

XI.           We’re going to close with a passage from the True Christian Religion which summarizes the need for and power of prayer in our lifelong process of spiritual growth.

a.     TCR 539. There are two obligations incumbent on one after self-examination: prayer and confession. Prayer should be that the Lord may have pity, grant the power to resist the evils of which one has repented, and supply the inclination and affection for doing good, since man without Him cannot do anything (John 15:5). Confession should be that one sees, recognises and acknowledges one’s evils, and reveals oneself as a wretched sinner. There is no need to list one’s sins before the Lord, nor to pray that they may be forgiven. There is no need to list one’s sins, because one has examined them and seen them in oneself; consequently they are present to the Lord, because they are to oneself. The Lord has also guided the person in self-examination, disclosed the sins, and inspired sadness and together with this an effort to desist from them and begin a new life.

 

AMEN.

First Lesson:  PSA 61

(PSA 61)  HEAR my cry, O God; Attend to my prayer. {2} From the end of the earth I will cry to You, When my heart is overwhelmed; Lead me to the rock that is higher than I. {3} For You have been a shelter for me, A strong tower from the enemy. {4} I will abide in Your tabernacle forever; I will trust in the shelter of Your wings. Selah {5} For You, O God, have heard my vows; You have given me the heritage of those who fear Your name. {6} You will prolong the king’s life, His years as many generations. {7} He shall abide before God forever. Oh, prepare mercy and truth, which may preserve him! {8} So I will sing praise to Your name forever, That I may daily perform my vows.

Second Lesson: LUK 22:39-46

Coming out, He went to the Mount of Olives, as He was accustomed, and His disciples also followed Him. {40} When He came to the place, He said to them, “Pray that you may not enter into temptation.” {41} And He was withdrawn from them about a stone’s throw, and He knelt down and prayed, {42} saying, “Father, if it is Your will, take this cup away from Me; nevertheless not My will, but Yours, be done.” {43} Then an angel appeared to Him from heaven, strengthening Him. {44} And being in agony, He prayed more earnestly. Then His sweat became like great drops of blood falling down to the ground. {45} When He rose up from prayer, and had come to His disciples, He found them sleeping from sorrow. {46} Then He said to them, “Why do you sleep? Rise and pray, lest you enter into temptation.”

Third Lesson: AC 3726

[4] Spirits themselves equally with men are forms, that is, consist of continuous forms, but of a purer nature, and not visible to the bodily sight. And because these forms or substances are not visible to the bodily eye, man at this day apprehends no otherwise than that knowledges and thoughts are abstract things; hence also comes the insanity of our age-that men do not believe that they have a spirit within them which is to live after the death of the body, when yet this spirit is a substance much more real than the material substance of its body; nay, if you will believe it, the spirit, after being freed from bodily things, is that very purified body which many say they are to have at the time of the Last Judgment, when they believe that they shall first rise again.

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