Service to Others


Pause:  Make Space for God, Week 7

A Sermon by the Rev. James P. Cooper

Toronto, Nov. 14, 2010

(Mat 25:40) “And the King will answer and say to them, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me.’

I.      For week 7 of the “Pause” series, we are asked to reflect on the question, “How does the Lord want me to serve others?”

A.  To help us think about this, in the children’s talk we considered one of the many stories in the New Testament that talks about the importance of serving others, because by doing so we are serving – and thus showing our love for – the Lord Himself.

B.   The difficulty for us is going to be seeing this story in the correct context, the challenge of balancing the appeal of the literal sense to the less obvious – and more difficult to attain – teaching of the internal sense.

1.    When we hear the Lord say in the Word that by showing charity to various kinds of needy people, we are showing love to him, the temptation is to rush out and begin to collect food and clothing to give to the poor.

2.    The problem is, that’s the easy way out. Reflect for a minute on whether it is easier to write a cheque for $100 to some charity or to actually figure out a way to help someone’s spiritual life and then follow through with that plan. Or figure out a way to make the teachings of the New Church widely known, for the Word tells us that it is the truths of the New Church that people are hungry and thirsty for!

3.    Sometimes we’re tempted to think that it would be Christian charity to “be nice” to everyone without regard to the kind of life they live. That’s the spiritual equivalent of letting a child eat nothing but desserts because that’s what he likes. It’s the spiritual equivalent of taking down all the stop signs and traffic lights because people find it inconvenient to slow down all the time.

4.    Just as it’s important for children to grow up in a structured environment so that through loving external control they can learn how to control themselves and be useful members of society, it’s important for adults to check their behaviour against the gold standard – the Ten Commandments.

II.   In John 12:8 the Lord says, “For the poor you have with you always, but Me you do not have always.”

A.  There will always be opportunities to provide care for others in the world.

B.   The purpose of revelation is to show us that there is more to this concept, that while we need to care for the poor in the obvious, natural way, there are other ways that are not apparent to people, but need to be revealed. Once revealed and followed, they lead us to a higher level of Charity. For example:

C.   AE 118 [3] In the Word, “the poor and needy” are mentioned here and there, also the “hungry and thirsty.” By “the poor and needy” are signified those who believe that of themselves they know nothing; and also those who are destitute of knowledge because they have not the Word; and by the “hungry and thirsty” are signified those who continually long for truths, and long to be perfected by means of truths.

D.  If we are supposed to be taking care of spiritual hunger and thirst, why did the Lord speak about the hungry and the thirsty in the Gospels? Here’s a passage from the Arcana that speak to that question:

E.   AC 2417:8 [Because the teachings about faith alone are more appealing and have taken the first position, the teachings about charity have been almost lost.] Yet it was the [doctrine of charity] that was fostered in the Ancient Church.

1.    “They went so far as to categorize all kinds of good that flow from charity towards the neighbour, that is, to categorize all in whom good was present. In doing so they made many distinctions to which they gave names, calling them the poor, the wretched, the oppressed, the sick, the naked, the hungry, the thirsty, the prisoners or those in prison, the. sojourners, the orphans, and the widows. Some they also called the lame, the blind, the deaf, the dumb, and the maimed, and many other names besides these.

2.    “It was in accordance with this kind of teaching that the Lord spoke in the Old Testament Word, and it explains why such expressions occur so frequently there….

3.    “This is why those names have quite a different meaning in the internal sense.

F.    AC 3419:3 Who at the present day knows what charity is which is devoid of all self-regard and repudiates all self-interest?

1.    “Who knows what is meant by the neighbour – that individual persons are meant who are to be treated each one differently according to the nature and amount of good that resides with him? Thus good itself is meant, and therefore in the highest sense the Lord Himself….

2.    “And because there is no knowledge of what charity is and of what is meant by the neighbour, there is no knowledge of who are really meant in the Word by the poor, the wretched, the needy, the sick, the hungry and thirsty, the oppressed, widows, orphans, captives, the naked, strangers, the blind, the deaf, the lame, the maimed, and others such as these.

3.    “Yet the matters of doctrine which existed with the Ancients taught who each of these really was and to which category of the neighbour and so of charity each belonged.”

G.  AC 3419:4 Anyone who keeps rigidly to the sense of the letter believes that if he merely gives bread to the hungry, brings afflicted outcasts or wanderers into his house, and clothes the naked, he will on that account enter into Jehovah’s glory, or into heaven.

1.    “Yet those actions are solely external, which the wicked also can perform to merit the same.

2.    “But by the hungry, the afflicted, and the naked are meant those who are spiritually such, thus differing states of wretchedness in which one who is the neighbour may find himself and to whom charity is to be exercised.”

a.     And there are many more passages such as these that make the point abundantly clear that our call is to care for those who are hungry and thirsty for spiritual things as well as those who are needy in the natural sense.

III.We need to make a careful balance. 

A.  It would be wrong to say that it’s all about spiritual things, so we can ignore those who are in natural need. We do live in the world, and we are supposed to care for those in need.

B.   At the same time, we have to be careful to hear the other things the Lord says, and not just focus on this one command.

C.   The revelation of the internal sense of the Word is a miracle surpassing all others.

1.    Love the neighbour according to his good.

2.    Identify what he really needs – is he poor, thirsty, in prison – and provide the kind of help that is appropriate to that spiritual state.

3.    But in the end, it’s important to remember that it’s not faith that saves, but deeds of charity in which faith can be implanted.

4.    If you cannot do anything else, for whatever reason, if you can at least be kind to others in this life, true faith can be implanted in that basic charity when you get to the other world. But, the reverse is not the case.

D.  AC 4663:  [2] … “The fruits of faith are nothing else than a life led in keeping with what faith commands, and therefore it is a life in keeping with what faith commands that saves a person, not faith apart from life. For a person takes with him after death every state of his life, so that he is like what he was when in the body…. “Everyone retains in the next life the essential character he has acquired during his lifetime; and it is well known that it is not possible to get rid of one’s essential character, for if one does so, no life at all remains.

E.   “[3] This then is the reason why solely the works of charity are mentioned by the Lord, for anyone who practices the works of charity … possesses the ability to receive faith, if not during his lifetime, then in the next life. But anyone who does not practice the works of charity, or lead the life of faith, has no ability at all to receive faith, neither during his lifetime nor in the next life….

F.    So, how does the Lord want us to serve others? 

1.    Look for the good in others, for it is their good that is the true neighbour.

2.    Serve that good in whatever way is appropriate considering who the person is, and the tools and abilities that you bring to the situation. But don’t do nothing.

Inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me. (text). Amen.

First Lesson:  (ISA 58:1-8) 

“Cry aloud, spare not; Lift up your voice like a trumpet; Tell My people their transgression, And the house of Jacob their sins. {2} Yet they seek Me daily, And delight to know My ways, As a nation that did righteousness, And did not forsake the ordinance of their God. They ask of Me the ordinances of justice; They take delight in approaching God. {3} ‘Why have we fasted,’ they say, ‘and You have not seen? Why have we afflicted our souls, and You take no notice?’ “In fact, in the day of your fast you find pleasure, And exploit all your labourers. {4} Indeed you fast for strife and debate, And to strike with the fist of wickedness. You will not fast as you do this day, To make your voice heard on high. {5} Is it a fast that I have chosen, A day for a man to afflict his soul? Is it to bow down his head like a bulrush, And to spread out sackcloth and ashes? Would you call this a fast, And an acceptable day to the LORD? {6} “Is this not the fast that I have chosen: To loose the bonds of wickedness, To undo the heavy burdens, To let the oppressed go free, And that you break every yoke? {7} Is it not to share your bread with the hungry, And that you bring to your house the poor who are cast out; When you see the naked, that you cover him, And not hide yourself from your own flesh? {8} Then your light shall break forth like the morning, Your healing shall spring forth speedily, And your righteousness shall go before you; The glory of the LORD shall be your rear guard.

Second Lesson:  AC 4956

Essentially charity towards the neighbour is an affection for goodness and truth and a recognition of oneself as being nothing but evil and falsity. Indeed the neighbour is one and the same as goodness and truth, and to have an affection for these is to have charity, while the opposite of the neighbour is evil and falsity, which a person who has charity turns away from. Anyone therefore who has charity towards the neighbour is moved by an affection for goodness and truth because they come from the Lord, and such a one turns away from evil and falsity because these come from himself. When he does this, humility is present in him as a consequence of his recognition of what he is in himself; and when such humility is present his state is one in which goodness and truth are received from the Lord. These essential ingredients of charity are the message in the internal sense of the following words used by the Lord,

I was hungry and you gave Me food, I was thirsty and you gave Me drink, I was a stranger and you took Me in, naked and you clothed Me around, I was sick and you visited Me, I was in prison and you came to Me.

Except from the internal sense no one can know that these words hold the essential ingredients of charity within them. The ancients who possessed teachings regarding charity knew these things, but at the present day matters such as these seem so far-fetched that everyone will be astonished by the assertion that those words hold the essential ingredients of charity within them. What is more, the angels present with a person do not perceive those words in any other way, for by ‘the hungry’ they perceive those led by affection to desire good, by ‘the thirsty’ those led by affection to desire truth, by ‘a stranger’ those wishing to receive instruction, by ‘the naked’ those acknowledging that no goodness or truth at all is present within them, by ‘the sick’ those acknowledging that within themselves there is nothing but evil, and by ‘the bound’ or ‘those in prison those acknowledging that within themselves there is nothing but falsity. All these if taken as a whole mean the aspects of charity described immediately above.


Jesus in Samaria


A Sermon by the Rev. James P. Cooper

Toronto – May 23, 2010

Introduced by the Children’s talk.

I.       Two main issues

A.   “True Jew” vs. Samaritans

B.   Water vs “Living Water”

II.    (John 4:16-42)  Instruction about marriage.

A.    {16} Jesus said to her, “Go, call your husband, and come here.” {17} The woman answered and said, “I have no husband.” Jesus said to her, “You have well said, ‘I have no husband,’ {18} “for you have had five husbands, and the one whom you now have is not your husband; in that you spoke truly.”

B.   Compare to the passages (in MAT 22:30, MAR 12:25, and LUK 20:35) where the Sadducees ask about the woman with 7 husbands.

1.     Because of the financial necessity for a woman to be associated with a man who could legally hold property, Mosaic law made the provision that a widow should marry her husband’s brother(s) so that the heir would have a family connection to the dead father.

a.     It makes a certain kind of sense in their context.

2.     But the Sadducees weren’t asking about Mosaic law.  They didn’t believe in a life after death and they were trying to make the Lord’s teaching about the life after death look ridiculous.

a.     He didn’t teach that there was no marriage in heaven, He taught that there was no marriage as they conceived of it.

C.   Returning to the woman by the well, this little incident also shows us that the woman had examined her own life, and in her heart of hearts she knew that even though events might have been dictated by circumstances, what happened to her was not a marriage.

1.     Being self-aware, learning to honestly reflect on your own behaviours and motives, is an important step in the process of reformation and regeneration.

III. Instruction about the church.

A.    {19} The woman said to Him, “Sir, I perceive that You are a prophet. {20} “Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, and you Jews say that in Jerusalem is the place where one ought to worship.”

1.     Back to the “True Jew” vs Samaritan thing.

2.     The Lord is using this to open His church to the Gentiles (anyone who is not a true Jew) as well as the Jews.

a.     Since the word “gentile” is mostly used in Scripture, we have come to think that it means “non-jew” but what it really means is “those who do not belong to your own church.”

b.     That makes a lot of sense.  You would approach the people who are already believers (the disciples) in one way, those who have no previous knowledge in a different way.

c.      The Lord was showing that it was important for Him to be with the disciples to give them the special training they would require to build the church, but He also reached out to gentiles: children, and Samaratins, and sinners

d.     So, does the Lord indicate to us the first and most important thing to teach to the gentiles?  He does.  That Jesus is the Creator God.

B.    {21} Jesus said to her, “Woman, believe Me, the hour is coming when you will neither on this mountain, nor in Jerusalem, worship the Father. {22} “You worship what you do not know; we know what we worship, for salvation is of the Jews. {23} “But the hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for the Father is seeking such to worship Him. {24} “God is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth.” {25} The woman said to Him, “I know that Messiah is coming” (who is called Christ). “When He comes, He will tell us all things.” {26} Jesus said to her, “I who speak to you am He.”

C.   An important revelation, a clear statement.

1.     One that the woman apparently believed based on what He had revealed to her in their conversation, and her behaviour that followed it.

2.     {27} And at this point His disciples came, and they marveled that He talked with a woman; yet no one said, “What do You seek?” or, “Why are You talking with her?” {28} The woman then left her waterpot, went her way into the city, and said to the men, {29} “Come, see a Man who told me all things that I ever did. Could this be the Christ?” {30} Then they went out of the city and came to Him.

IV.Having talked about water/truth, it’s now time for a balancing teaching about food/good.

A.    {31} In the meantime His disciples urged Him, saying, “Rabbi, eat.” {32} But He said to them, “I have food to eat of which you do not know.” {33} Therefore the disciples said to one another, “Has anyone brought Him anything to eat?” {34} Jesus said to them, “My food is to do the will of Him who sent Me, and to finish His work.

1.     First we talk about the general doctrine that food has to do with good, with being charitable.

2.     But then it switches focus and comes back to the theme of the gentiles.

3.     The obvious indication is that one of the ways that we can do good is to reach out to the gentiles, for the “fields are white” – there are lots of people who have not yet heard what they need to hear about the Lord and who will be receptive when they do.

B.    {35} “Do you not say, ‘There are still four months and then comes the harvest’? Behold, I say to you, lift up your eyes and look at the fields, for they are already white for harvest! {36} “And he who reaps receives wages, and gathers fruit for eternal life, that both he who sows and he who reaps may rejoice together. {37} “For in this the saying is true: ‘One sows and another reaps.’ {38} “I sent you to reap that for which you have not labored; others have labored, and you have entered into their labors.”

1.     Here’s a tie back to the parable of the sower.  The Lord is sowing the Word throughout the world in ways that we cannot even imagine, and sometimes that seed will fall onto fertile ground.

2.     Our job is to harvest that ripe crop for which others (the Lord and the angels) have laboured, but we are permitted to bring them into the barn.

C.   {39} And many of the Samaritans of that city believed in Him because of the word of the woman who testified, “He told me all that I ever did.” {40} So when the Samaritans had come to Him, they urged Him to stay with them; and He stayed there two days. {41} And many more believed because of His own word. {42} Then they said to the woman, “Now we believe, not because of what you said, for we ourselves have heard Him and we know that this is indeed the Christ, the Savior of the world.”

1.     Some gentiles will be introduced into the church by means of the Lord’s own words, others through their contact with believers.

a.     All are welcome.

b.     That’s why we are to picture the Holy City with 12 gates (all) facing in all directions that are never closed.

V.   No miracles here.  Just simple words of truth.

A.   First truth

B.   Then teaching about good – and an example in His kindness to the woman.

C.   Then they were ready to receive the idea that Jesus was the Messiah.


A.   Self awareness:

1.     Knowing that we need more information (going to the well, Jacob’s well represents the Word.).

2.     Knowing that our lives are not in the best order they could be (5 husbands).

B.   Being open to new truth.

1.     At the well, the presence of the Lord takes the truth to a new level.

2.     Instead of being fearful of the changes that might result, she listens actively, asking questions for clarification.

C.   She tells others of her insights.

D.   These things lead to a change in their beliefs, a change in their life, a place in the new church that is being established by the Lord.  Amen.


First Lesson:  GEN 33:17-20

(Although Jacob’s Well is not mentioned by name in the Old Testament, the following passage documents Jacob obtaining the land on which the Lord later spoke to the woman of Samaria)

And Jacob journeyed to Succoth, built himself a house, and made booths for his livestock. Therefore the name of the place is called Succoth. {18} Then Jacob came safely to the city of Shechem, which is in the land of Canaan, when he came from Padan Aram; and he pitched his tent before the city. {19} And he bought the parcel of land, where he had pitched his tent, from the children of Hamor, Shechem’s father, for one hundred pieces of money. {20} Then he erected an altar there and called it El Elohe Israel. Amen.

Second Lesson:  AE 483:12

That Divine truth from the Lord is meant by a “fountain” the Lord Himself teaches in plain words in John:

     When the Lord sat by Jacob’s fountain in the field of Samaria, He said to the woman of Samaria, Everyone that drinketh of this water shall thirst again; but whosoever shall drink of the water that I shall give him shall not thirst forever; but the water that I shall give him shall become in him a fountain of water springing up unto everlasting life (4:5-20).

It is clear that the “water” that the Lord gives does not mean water, but Divine truth; for it is said that in drinking of the water the woman of Samaria came to draw, one thirsts again, but not of the water that the Lord gives. That “that water shall become in him a fountain of water springing up unto everlasting life” means that in that truth is life. That there is life in truths when the Lord gives them may be seen in this article above. The Lord said these things to the woman of Samaria, when He sat by Jacob’s fountain, because by the “Samaritans” the Lord meant the Gentiles that were to receive Divine truths from Him; and by the “woman of Samaria” a church constituted of such; and by “Jacob’s fountain” Divine truth from Himself, that is, the Word.  Amen.