“A Shift in Perspective”

A Sermon by the Rev. James P. Cooper
Toronto: SHIFT week 2

I.    The SHIFT program follows the story of Jacob as told in the book of Genesis.

A.    To briefly review what’s gone before, we remember that Isaac and Rebekah are the parents of twin sons.
1.    Esau, the elder, is rough, hairy, a hunter; he is his father’s favourite.
2.    Jacob is more what we would call “bookish.” He prefers to stay in camp, and is favoured by his mother.
3.    Esau is entitled to the birthright and the blessing due the eldest.
a.    When Jacob asks for the birthright as payment, he arrogantly gives it away because he can easily take it back again.
b.    On the other hand, when Rebekah conspires with him to get the blessing as well, it does seem that Esau is hard done by, which ex-plains why Rebekah warns Jacob to flee.
4.    As dramatic as all this is, what we need to remember is that on the spir-itual level this story is giving us instruction about the balance between good and truth, our desires and our thoughts.
a.    Each one of us has two distinct parts to our mind, called the will and the understanding.
i.    As children, we are led primarily by our native will represented by Esau.
1)    It’s rough, and difficult. “I WANT it!!”
2)    Giving away the birthright for a bowl of stew indicates how the will, without the regulation of the intellect, can do foolish things.
a)    It’s not good at long term planning. It is unable to defer gratification.
ii.    But then, if all goes according to the Lord’s plan, the understand-ing part of the mind kicks in – Jacob gets the birthright – and as we become rational adults, the intellectual side begins to rule over the will side.
1)    We develop maturity, or the ability to delay gratification, to work for a long term goal.
2)    The ability to do something that we don’t want to do.
3)    The ability to not do something that we want to do.
iii.    And the promise of the story in the sense of the letter is that these two parts will be reunited at the end of life, a reformed Esau representing the new will, will be reconciled to his brother Jacob.
iv.    Our subject for today is the first of the steps in the process that leads to the reconciliation.

II.    (GEN 27:42-45) And the words of Esau her older son were told to Rebekah. So she sent and called Jacob her younger son, and said to him, “Surely your brother Esau comforts himself concerning you by intending to kill you. {43} “Now therefore, my son, obey my voice: arise, flee to my brother Laban in Haran. {44} “And stay with him a few days, until your brother’s fury turns away, {45} “until your brother’s anger turns away from you, and he forgets what you have done to him; then I will send and bring you from there. Why should I be bereaved also of you both in one day?”

A.    Jacob is sent out of Canaan to Haran, to the family home where Terah had settled after leaving Ur, to find a wife who is not a Canaanite.

III.    (GEN 28:1-21) {10} Now Jacob went out from Beersheba and went toward Haran. {11} So he came to a certain place and stayed there all night, because the sun had set. And he took one of the stones of that place and put it at his head, and he lay down in that place to sleep.

A.    Here, Jacob represents our own spiritual states.
1.    He’s separated from home and family, headed toward an uncertain fu-ture, and he’s in the wilderness.
a.    It’s easy to think of those time when each of us left our parents and struck out on our own; and these are the states the Word is speaking to, but
b.    These are states that reoccur throughout life.
i.    Big things like the birth of a child, being asked to move to another city, the death of a family member.
c.    But these states are also cycles that come from smaller events, too.
i.    A change in job description; a child moving to a new school; al-most anything that disrupts or adjusts the status quo making us feel uneasy and in need of reassurance, anything that upsets our perspective, our view of how life ought to be progressing.
B.    When these questions come, when we find ourselves in a spiritual or men-tal “wilderness” we seek for direction and guidance.
1.    In our story, Jacob rests his head on a rock.
2.    Throughout the Word, a rock is a symbol of the fundamental truths of the Word. What better thing could there be to rest one’s mind upon?
3.    Don’t know what to do, don’t know where to go? Go back to the Lord’s own instruction book for life.

IV.    {12} Then he dreamed, and behold, a ladder was set up on the earth, and its top reached to heaven; and there the angels of God were ascending and descending on it.

A.    When Jacob dreams, it represents how when we rest our minds on the Word, we are given peace and insight into our situation and what we need to do to resolve it.
B.    The picture of the ladder with angels ascending and descending that is given in the Word describes the way the Lord communicates with us.
1.    The English word “angel” comes from the Greek word “” which means “messenger.”
2.    The ladder itself represents the Word. It’s base rests on the earth. It’s written in human language and uses examples and stories about people like ourselves with problems and failings.
3.    At the top of the ladder is the Lord.
4.    The angels, the messengers, are our prayers and thoughts ascending to the Lord and being returned in the form of enlightenment and inspira-tion.

V.    {13} And behold, the LORD stood above it and said: “I am the LORD God of Abraham your father and the God of Isaac; the land on which you lie I will give to you and your descendants. {14} “Also your descendants shall be as the dust of the earth; you shall spread abroad to the west and the east, to the north and the south; and in you and in your seed all the families of the earth shall be blessed. {15} “Behold, I am with you and will keep you wherever you go, and will bring you back to this land; for I will not leave you until I have done what I have spoken to you.” {16} Then Jacob awoke from his sleep and said, “Surely the LORD is in this place, and I did not know it.” {17} And he was afraid and said, “How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven!” {18} Then Jacob rose early in the morning, and took the stone that he had put at his head, set it up as a pillar, and poured oil on top of it. {19} And he called the name of that place Bethel; but the name of that city had been Luz previously.

A.    When Jacob lies down to sleep with his head resting on a stone for a pillow, it is a picture of how we trust in the Lord, how we support our minds with His truth even when we are in the wilderness, even when we are feeling alone and afraid.
B.    But after the dream, after the time we spend searching the Word, reflecting on what we find there, and opening our hearts and minds to what the Lord can provide, we begin to feel the Lord’s love within us. We recognize the new path that has been opened to us and we feel good about it.
C.    Olive oil — any kind of fat or oil — represents love. Jacob anointing the stone with oil represents how when we begin to live according to the Lord’s truth, He gifts us with delight. We begin to feel the delight that comes from good that is married to its own truth. We can begin to see the truths no longer as just cold facts, but we begin to see them in a new way, as the holy tools that the Lord provides for us to use to do good to the neighbour.
1.    This delight, or love, moves us to give willing service in the place of grudging obedience. Our perspective is shifted to the love of service in-stead of the hope of reward or the fear of punishment.

VI.    This story starts out with a terrible, wrenching situation, a family that is torn apart by lies and anger.

A.    The dream indicates that when seen from the Lord’s perspective, it was not a tragedy but actually an important step in the plan.
B.    Our journey from earth to heaven MUST have wrenching, difficult mo-ments.
1.    They are called temptations,
2.    Battles between loves that live in our own heart.
3.    They are accompanied with real pain.
4.    And yet it is in the midst of that pain, in the midst of that battle that we are the most free because we are acting from our rational minds.
5.    Each victory – for these battles happen throughout our live – shifts us a bit closer to the heavenly goal; each battle can be seen from the growing spir-itual perspective.  
6.    We begin to see the end in view, and that helps us understand and tolerate the painful steps that are needed.

VII.    {20} Then Jacob made a vow, saying, “If God will be with me, and keep me in this way that I am going, and give me bread to eat and clothing to put on, {21} “so that I come back to my father’s house in peace, then the LORD shall be my God. Amen.  

First Lesson:  LUK 7:36-48

(Luke 7:36-48) Then one of the Pharisees asked Him to eat with him. And He went to the Pharisee’s house, and sat down to eat. {37} And behold, a woman in the city who was a sinner, when she knew that Jesus sat at the table in the Phari-see’s house, brought an alabaster flask of fragrant oil, {38} and stood at His feet behind Him weeping; and she began to wash His feet with her tears, and wiped them with the hair of her head; and she kissed His feet and anointed them with the fragrant oil. {39} Now when the Pharisee who had invited Him saw this, he spoke to himself, saying, “This man, if He were a prophet, would know who and what manner of woman this is who is touching Him, for she is a sinner.” {40} And Jesus answered and said to him, “Simon, I have something to say to you.” So he said, “Teacher, say it.” {41} “There was a certain creditor who had two debtors. One owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. {42} “And when they had nothing with which to repay, he freely forgave them both. Tell Me, therefore, which of them will love him more?” {43} Simon answered and said, “I suppose the one whom he forgave more.” And He said to him, “You have rightly judged.” {44} Then He turned to the woman and said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I en-tered your house; you gave Me no water for My feet, but she has washed My feet with her tears and wiped them with the hair of her head. {45} “You gave Me no kiss, but this woman has not ceased to kiss My feet since the time I came in. {46} “You did not anoint My head with oil, but this woman has anointed My feet with fragrant oil. {47} “Therefore I say to you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven, for she loved much. But to whom little is forgiven, the same loves little.” {48} Then He said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.”

Second Lesson:  AC 3690:3-5

[3] How remote they are from matters of doctrine that are Divine may be seen from an example taken from those historical tales. When at first someone knows merely that God came down on Mount Sinai and gave Moses the tablets on which the Ten Commandments were written, and that Moses smashed them and God wrote similar commandments on another set of tablets, and this historical de-scription in itself delights him, his life is governed by external truth and is remote from matters of doctrine that are Divine. Later on however when he starts to take delight in and have an affection for the commands or precepts there, and lives ac-cording to them, his life is now governed by actual truth; yet his life is still remote from matters of doctrine that are Divine. For the life he leads in keeping with those commands is no more than a morally correct life, the precepts of which are well known to everyone living in human society from the life of the community and from the laws existing there, such as worship of the Supreme Being, honour-ing parents, not committing murder, not committing adultery, and not stealing.
[4] But a person who is being regenerated is gradually led away from this more remote or morally correct life to life that comes closer to matters of doctrine that are Divine, that is, closer to spiritual life. When this happens he starts to wonder why such commands or precepts were sent down from heaven in so miraculous a fashion and why they were written on tablets with the finger of God, when they are in fact known to all peoples and are also written in the laws of those who have never heard anything from the Word. When he enters into this state of thinking he is then led by the Lord, if he belongs among those who are able to be regenerated, into a state more interior still, that is to say, into a state when he thinks that deeper things lie within which he does not as yet know. And when he reads the Word in this state he discovers in various places in the Prophets, and especially in the Gospels, that every one of those precepts contains within it things more heavenly still.
[5] In the commandment about honouring parents, for example, he discovers that when people are born anew, that is, are being regenerated, they receive an-other Father, and in that case become His sons, and that He is the one who is to be honoured, thus that this is the meaning which lies more interiorly in that commandment. He also gradually learns who that new Father is, namely the Lord, and at length how He is to be honoured, that is to say, worshipped, and that He is worshipped when He is loved. When a person who is being regenerated possesses this truth and lives according to it, a matter of doctrine that is Divine exists with him. His state at that time is an angelic state, and from this he now sees the things he had known previously as things which follow in order one after another and which flow from the Divine, like the steps of a stairway, at the top of which is Jehovah or the Lord, and on the steps themselves His angels going up and coming down. So he sees things that had previously delighted him as steps more remote from himself. The same may be said of the rest of the Ten Commandments.

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