Asking for Help


(Path of Integrity program, week 4)

A Sermon by the Rev. James P. Cooper

Toronto – October 14, 2012

  1. The story from the Word for this week comes from Genesis 42.
    1. As was explained in the children’s talk, Joseph has risen to power in Egypt and implemented his plan to store up the excess grain produced in the good years to use in the time of famine.
    2. One could presume that there were seven good years in Canaan as well, but Joseph’s brothers, not aware of the coming lean times, did not store up enough food.
      1. As shepherds, they really couldn’t. Sheep can’t be put in storehouses against future need.
    3. As their own supplies dwindle, they hear that there is food for sale in Egypt.
      1. We’re not certain where in Canaan Jacob’s camp was, nor are we certain where in Egypt the food was being sold, but a reasonable guess would be a journey of about 400 KM each way. On foot. Across the Sinai wilderness in a time of famine.
        1. So, one can have some sympathy for Jacob being reluctant to send Benjamin on the trip if he is not really needed.
        2. On the other hand, what is the message to the other ten? Again, the youngest of them is being put at the head. They cannot but think that he will be getting the inheritance of the firstborn.
        3. Jacob has made it clear that he considers Rachel to be his one true wife, the sons of his other wives suspect they may be in for a rough time.
    4. While it is not said in the text, one has to assume that Joseph is expecting his family to come to Egypt, and it would not be hard to have border guards looking for a group of 10 shepherds from Canaan claiming to be brothers and report them to Joseph.
      1. As said in the children’s talk, Joseph terrifies them by calling them spies, and sends them back to Canaan to bring Benjamin down to him in Egypt.
  2. The story is interesting and dynamic, but the point is to figure out what all this means for us and for our own spiritual progress.
    1. The big, overshadowing point in all this is that the powerful, nomadic, fiercely independent brothers (here a symbol for each one of us) have been brought to a point where they are no longer to keep themselves alive by their own efforts and they are forced to ask Joseph (the Lord) for help.
    2. How many of you have heard – and perhaps repeated to others yourselves – the phrase, “the Lord never gives you more than you can bear.”
      1. What’s the first thing that’s wrong with this saying? That the Lord gives you troubles. Everything we know about the Divine Providence tells us that He is continually striving, in the most minute detail, to lessen the effect of evil in our lives. The trouble comes from hell, by means of other people. Not God. Ever.
      2. What is the source of the saying? Guess what. There are no passages in the Bible that teach that we are not given more than we can bear. Not surprising, because it’s not true.
      3. There are no teachings in the Heavenly Doctrine that say this (although I have seen it in some New Church collateral literature). Again, not surprising.
      4. What we do find, however, is many many teachings that tell us that in order to regenerate, we must first examine ourselves to find evils, and then we are to pray to the Lord for forgiveness and help in removing them.
      5. And in the doctrine of the Divine Providence we can see that one of the reasons the Lord allows us to experience trouble is so that we won’t be lulled into thinking we don’t need his help.
        1. The 40 spies at the beginning of the Exodus
          1. Caleb and Joshua want to go into Canaan immediately. They are the only ones who get that it is Jehovah that is doing all the fighting for them.
        2. Jericho and Ai at the end.
          1. The big, fortified city falls easily because Jehovah knocks the walls down.
          2. The little city does not fall because they are trying to do it on their own.
        3. In fact, the whole story of the Exodus from Egypt and settling in the land of Canaan is a series of examples of success when they ask the Lord for help and follow His path, and failure when they try to do it on their own without His help.
        4. Why does the Lord speak about David as the greatest king of Israel?
          1. His personal life was a mess, but when it came to his office as King, he did what the Lord asked.
  3. The Heavenly Doctrines tell us that we are able to change, that we do not have to just accept who we are, or accept a fate chosen for us by others. We have free will, and we can choose our own destiny. There are a few simple steps to follow as laid out for us in the True Christian Religion. We need to examine our actions and motives in the light of the Word; we need to recognize and admit to those things that we are doing and thinking that are contrary to the Lord’s will; and then begin a new life by not doing or thinking them any more (See TCR 528).
    1. For this to happen, there must first be the acknowledgement that there is such a thing as sin, and that it may exist in our thoughts and feelings.

      No one in the Christian world can be without the knowledge of sin, for there every one is taught from infancy what evil is, and from childhood what is the evil of sin. All young persons learn this from parents and teachers, and also from the Decalogue, the first Book placed in the hands of all throughout Christendom; and in the subsequent stages of life, from public preaching and private instruction at home, and in all fullness from the Word. They learn it also from the laws of civil justice, which embody the teaching of the Decalogue and other parts of the Word. For the evil of sin is evil against the neighbour; and evil against the neighbour is also evil against God, and this is sin.

      The knowledge of sin, however, is of no avail unless a man examines his own actions, and sees whether he has committed any particular deed, either secretly or openly. Before this is done it is all mere knowledge, and what proceeds from the preacher is only sound, passing in at one ear and out at the other; and it finally becomes nothing more than the expression of pious thought, for the most part unreal and fanciful. But it is altogether different when a man examines himself according to his rational conception of sin, and, coming upon some evil, says to himself, “This is a sin,” and abstains from it through fear of eternal punishment. Then for the first time the instruction heard in the church, from sermon and prayer, claims his attention and enters his heart; and the man from being a pagan, becomes a Christian.

    3. We like to think that being a good person, a member of the church, is about being “charitable” – and it is. But reflect on this for the moment. The first of the church is charity, but the first of charity is to shun evils as sins. Unfortunately for us, we love our sins. And that’s what throws our spiritual life into the crisis represented by the Brothers in Canaan, starving.
    4. Coming to Egypt represents the need to approach the Word to gain knowledge to solve the problem, whatever it may be.
    5. Buying grain from Joseph represent our need to ask the Lord for help.
      1. Remember who these men were. Their hardness is a picture of our own stubbornness and need to do things our own way.
      2. The famine, the temptation that brings us to the realization that we cannot act entirely on our own, is a permission that the Lord allows because it breaks our stubborn state and bring us to the realization that we actually need the Lord’s help, that we cannot do it by ourselves….
      3. And that the Lord, ever merciful, is standing there with open arms, ready to forgive and give us what we need.
    6. The process is not simple, nor is it easy.
      1. The brothers still have to hike 400 KM back to Canaan, deal with their father, and come back again a second time to again confront “the man” who will eventually reveal himself to them as Joseph.
        1. Like in the garden of Gethsemane, the disciples could only see the Jesus as the Lord when they were in the right state. So here, the brothers cannot recognize Joseph until the earlier states of evil are broken.
        2. But that’s something to consider next week as we continue this series. Amen.


First Lesson:

(Continuing from the Children’s talk)

GEN 42 {21} Then they said to one another, “We are truly guilty concerning our brother, for we saw the anguish of his soul when he pleaded with us, and we would not hear; therefore this distress has come upon us.” {22} And Reuben answered them, saying, “Did I not speak to you, saying, ‘Do not sin against the boy’; and you would not listen? Therefore behold, his blood is now required of us.” {23} But they did not know that Joseph understood them, for he spoke to them through an interpreter. {24} And he turned himself away from them and wept. Then he returned to them again, and talked with them. And he took Simeon from them and bound him before their eyes. {25} Then Joseph gave a command to fill their sacks with grain, to restore every man’s money to his sack, and to give them provisions for the journey. Thus he did for them. {26} So they loaded their donkeys with the grain and departed from there. {27} But as one of them opened his sack to give his donkey feed at the encampment, he saw his money; and there it was, in the mouth of his sack. {28} So he said to his brothers, “My money has been restored, and there it is, in my sack!” Then their hearts failed them and they were afraid, saying to one another, “What is this that God has done to us?” {29} Then they went to Jacob their father in the land of Canaan and told him all that had happened to them, saying: {30} “The man who is lord of the land spoke roughly to us, and took us for spies of the country. {31} “But we said to him, ‘We are honest men; we are not spies. {32} ‘We are twelve brothers, sons of our father; one is no more, and the youngest is with our father this day in the land of Canaan.’ {33} “Then the man, the lord of the country, said to us, ‘By this I will know that you are honest men: Leave one of your brothers here with me, take food for the famine of your households, and be gone. {34} ‘And bring your youngest brother to me; so I shall know that you are not spies, but that you are honest men. I will grant your brother to you, and you may trade in the land.’” {35} Then it happened as they emptied their sacks, that surprisingly each man’s bundle of money was in his sack; and when they and their father saw the bundles of money, they were afraid. {36} And Jacob their father said to them, “You have bereaved me: Joseph is no more, Simeon is no more, and you want to take Benjamin. All these things are against me.”

Second Lesson: TCR 226

1. The Word is not understandable without a body of teaching, because the Word’s literal meaning consists entirely of correspondences whose function is to allow spiritual and heavenly things to coexist in it and every word to be a container and a support for these spiritual and heavenly contents. Therefore in the literal meaning divine truths are rarely naked; instead they are clothed and are called apparent truths. There are many things in the literal meaning that are adapted to the grasp of simple people who do not lift their thoughts above the kind of things they see before their eyes. Some things seem like contradictions, although when the Word is viewed in its own spiritual light there is no contradiction. Furthermore, in some passages in the Prophets there are collections of names of people and places from which no meaning can be extracted. Since this is the nature of the Word’s literal meaning, it is clear that it cannot be understood without a body of teaching.

[2] Examples may illustrate. We read that Jehovah relents (Exodus 32:12, 14; Jonah 3:9; 4:2); and we also read that Jehovah does not relent (Numbers 23:19; 1 Samuel 15:29). These passages cannot be reconciled without a body of teaching. We read that Jehovah inflicts parents’ sins on their children to the third and fourth generation (Numbers 14:18). Yet we also read that parents are not to die because of their children nor children because of their parents, but all die in their own sin (Deuteronomy 24:16). A body of teaching brings these passages out of disharmony into harmony.

[3] Jesus says, “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; if you keep knocking it will be opened” (Matthew 7:7, 8; 21:21, 22). Without a body of teaching, people might believe that we are all going to receive whatever we ask of anyone. On the basis of a body of teaching, however, we know that it is whatever we ask of the Lord that we will be given. The Lord in fact teaches this: “If you live in me and my Word’s live in you, ask for whatever you want and it will be done for you” (John 15:7).


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