THE VALUE OF WORK

THE VALUE OF WORK (Labor Day)
A Sermon by Rev. Brian W. Keith
Preached in Glenview, Illinois September 4, 1988

“Everyone who has been faithful, sincere and just in his employment and work in the world is received in heaven by the angels … ” (Divine Wisdom XI:4).

This quote, taken from the Heavenly Doctrines, is useful to reflect upon this Labor Day weekend, when we recognize and give honor to all whose hard work and effort make up the backbone and strength of this country. A day of parades, family cookouts, and rest are how we celebrate the occasion. While this is a secular and not a religious holiday, there are spiritual implications to our employments. For our work, be it caring for children, running a business, or blue or white collar employment, has a significant impact upon who we are and what we become.

An emphasis found throughout the Scriptures is the importance, the value, of work. In the creation story we are told that “the Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to tend and keep it” (Gen. 2:15). Even in the very beginning the Lord expected people on earth to work, to take care of things. Then in the fundamental principles governing life, the Ten Commandments, the Lord says, “six days you shall labor and do all your work.” Yes, one day is for the Lord, but the others are for our work (see TCR 301). And when the Lord sent out the seventy to proclaim the Gospel to all, He told them not to take much money or garments, “for the laborer is worthy of his wages” (Luke 10:7). He expected that they would be rewarded. “A tree is known by its fruit” (Matt 12:33).

It is not hard to see how valuable work is in our lives. Vacations are delightful, but where would we be without work? When we are forced to be idle due to extended illness or unemployment, how do we feel? Is it not frustrating? And how often does it lead to depression? For the feeling of being useless, of having no meaning, can rob us of our self-esteem, can destroy our desire to do anything. This is why retirement can be a challenge to many. People who had been accustomed to hard work suddenly find themselves without any need to get up in the morning. Until a sense of usefulness is discovered in other ways, retirement can seem like a pointless waste.

The hellishness of being without any use in life can be seen both in the faces of the long-term unemployed who seem to have surrendered, and in the excessively rich. Now wealth has nothing whatsoever to do with whether one gets to heaven or not. But people who had led useless lives here because of their wealth not wealth they earned through their own labors, but usually inherited, which enabled them to avoid all useful employment find little happiness in the spiritual world. For they had spent their days finding new and more exciting ways to amuse themselves, usually in destructive ways. They cared only for themselves, and looked down on others who labored hard (see SD 2501). While some may complain that they have to work to earn a living, it is actually a blessing of Providence that we need to find jobs and are not tempted through wealth to be useless.

Being able to work, to find gainful employment outside the home, or devote one’s attention to rearing a family and taking care of a home, is a vital way the Lord has provided for us to learn to be useful. For what value would our lives have if we sat around waiting to be entertained? We can talk and talk about what we believe, about what ought to be done, but if we do not do it, what is the point? Genuine charity, genuine love for others, exists in what we do for others. And our jobs, when we perform them justly and fairly, become our life of charity (see AC 8253e).

To have regular work establishes a pattern, a structure, for our lives. As the Heavenly Doctrines note, “the love of use and devotion to use holds the mind together lest it melt away and, wandering about, absorb all the lusts which flow in from the body and world through the senses with their allurements, whereby the truths of religion and the truths of morality with their goods are scattered to all the winds” (CL 16:3). Put simply, having to work keeps us out of trouble. It occupies our time; it keeps us busy.

More than that, working is a means the Lord utilizes to teach us to be useful (see Faith 25). Providence oversees the process of growing up and finding work that all might be productive. For initially each child has a delight in learning. In the course of education most students discover subjects or skills that draw their attention. After graduation, their delights lead them to find work in these areas. As novices, though, they are not particularly capable (who would trust a first-year doctor with complicated brain surgery, or an untried mechanic with an engine overhaul?). There is much more to learn. More information and experience is required. But as that is gained, as there is some mastery of the business at hand, then that initial delight is renewed. An affection for the work grows, which is an affection for being useful. From work, people are able to learn how to help others how to be productive how to do something useful for others.

This is especially seen in the story of Jacob. Jacob had to flee his home after he had stolen the birthright and blessing from his older brother Esau, who rightfully deserved them. Without land, without herds, he had nothing; he was nothing. Then he saw the beautiful Rachel, the woman he desired for a wife. Laban agreed to the marriage and to Jacob’s offer to work for him for seven years for Rachel. “So Jacob served seven years for Rachel, and they seemed but a few days to him because of the love he had for her” (Gen. 29:20). Unfortunately for Jacob, after the seven years he found himself married to Leah, the older sister. But after agreeing to another seven years of labor, he was permitted to marry Rachel also. Then, in need of flocks and herds, he agreed to work for Laban another seven years that he might acquire some. Thus, at the end of over twenty years of work, Jacob returned home a wealthy man.

What happened in those years? In addition to acquiring a family and wealth, the work was the means the Lord used to change Jacob, to mature him. For when he finally returned home he submitted himself before his older brother, recognizing his seniority. This could not have happened unless he had grown through the work unless he had developed a new set of priorities.

As Jacob learned to be useful, we do also. Often with selfish goals at first, as we put effort into our jobs, as we learn to be more productive, the Lord can change our attitudes, can gradually shift the emphasis away from reward to a joy in doing something good for others. This is the delight in being useful. It is a heavenly quality. It is actually being of service to the Lord.

In the book of Revelation, letters are written to seven churches. To the church in the city of Ephesus praise is given for “your works, your labor, your patience … and you persevered and have patience, and have labored for My name’s sake and not become weary” (2:2,3). Spiritually, laboring for the Lord means striving with zeal to do what is right, to speak what is true (see AE 102). This is done in all our works as we attempt to act fairly with others, to provide goods and services which will benefit them.

It also means that all uses are ultimately derived from the Lord. As we perform to the best of our abilities in our jobs, we are serving the Lord, doing His work. For all uses have their life, their value, because they are part of the Lord’s way of helping people. The Lord enables people to participate in His Providence. He operates through human efforts to bring about heavenly ends. So He is present in every single aspect of useful interactions between people, guiding them so that spiritual life may grow.

What this means is that there is no meaningless labor on this earth. Each job, from the most poorly paid menial work to the most exalted executive position, contributes to the Lord’s purpose in creation. He will use every facet of our labor, of our efforts to do our jobs well, to further in some way a heaven from the human race. Although in a materialistic culture we tend to measure our worth by what we are paid, that is not how the Lord looks at us. Rather than look at how highly or lowly esteemed our position is, the Lord sees in each of us how fair we are trying to be, how dedicated we are to doing our jobs well. This determines our quality, the worth of our labors.

What job we do is then not as important as our approach to it. Is it simply a way to earn money to buy more things? Or is it a way to be of service? There are many who, though poor and perhaps seen as less productive members of society, develop heavenly qualities because they “are content with their lot, and are careful and diligent in their work, who love labor better than idleness, and act sincerely and faithfully, and at the same time live a Christian life” (HH 364).

While many jobs are relatively unrewarding in this world, our attitude toward them can make them better or worse. If we focus on the money earned, the prestige acquired, or rapid advancement possibilities, we are likely to become dissatisfied. But if we focus upon the use we are doing, then almost any job can have its delights, its sense of reward. If our love is for being useful, then we will search for better ways to do it perhaps changing jobs or seeking higher positions but these will be but means, not the end itself.

For through our work we can participate in the Lord’s Providence, we can learn to care for others, and can have heaven created within us. This is why the Heavenly Doctrines teach that “everyone who has been faithful, sincere and just in his employment and work in the world is received in heaven by the angels.” Not that just by working hard we somehow buy our way into heaven, but that through our labors, our service to the Lord, the truths of religion can come to life.

As the psalmist said, “Blessed is everyone who fears the Lord, who walks in His ways. When you eat the labor of your hands you shall be happy, and it shall be well with you” (128:1,2). We eat the labor of our hands as the rewards of use are manifest in our lives. From a love of serving others we devote ourselves to our work. We seek ways to help. We grow in our delight in being useful, in bringing others happiness. And we are blessed with a happiness that the angels know, a happiness which can exist only where there is love for one another, even as the Lord has loved us. Amen.

Lessons: Psalm 128, Luke 10:1-12, AC 7038

Arcana Coelestia 7038

“That they may serve Me.” That this signifies elevation into heaven in order to perform uses therefrom is evident from the signification of “serving Jehovah,” or the Lord, as being to perform uses; and as this is said of those of the spiritual church who have been saved by the coming of the Lord, and who before His coming were in the lower earth and were afterward elevated into heaven (n. 6854, 6914), and thereby came into a state of performing uses, therefore by “that they may serve Me” is signified elevation into heaven in order to perform uses therefrom. That “to serve the Lord” denotes to perform uses is because true worship consists in the performance of uses, thus in the exercises of charity. He who believes that serving the Lord consists solely in frequenting a place of worship, in hearing preaching there, and in praying, and that this is sufficient, is much mistaken. The very worship of the Lord consists in performing uses; and during man’s life in the world, uses consist in everyone’s discharging aright his duty in his station, thus from the heart being of service to his country, to societies, and to the neighbor, in dealing sincerely with his fellow, and in performing kind offices with prudence in accordance with each person’s character. These uses are chiefly the works of charity, and are those whereby the Lord is chiefly worshiped. Frequenting a place of worship, hearing sermons, and saying prayers are also necessary; but without the above uses they avail nothing, because they are not of the life but teach what the life must be. The angels in heaven have all happiness from uses and according to uses, so that to them uses are heaven.

That happiness is from Divine order according to uses can be seen from the things in man which correspond to those which are in the Grand Man, as those from the external senses, namely, from sight, hearing, taste, smell, and touch, which as has been shown at the end of many chapters are correspondent. These senses therefore have delights exactly in accordance with the uses which they perform; the most delightful is the sense of conjugial love, on account of its greatest use, because from this comes the propagation of the human race, and from the human race, heaven; the delight of taste follows next because it serves for the nourishment and thereby for the health of the body, in accordance with which is the sound action of the mind; the delight of smell is less, because it merely serves for recreation, and thus also for health; the delight of hearing and that of sight are in the last place, because they merely take up those things which will be of service to uses, and wait upon the intellectual part and not so much the will part.

From these and other like facts it becomes plain that it is uses according to which happiness is given in heaven by the Lord, and that it is uses through which the Lord is mainly worshiped. From this it is that John lay on the Lord’s breast at table, and that the Lord loved him more than the rest; but this was not for his own sake but because he represented the exercises of charity, that is, uses. John represented these (n. 2135a, 2760, 3934).

THE PARABLE OF THE LAMB

THE PARABLE OF THE LAMB

A Sermon by Rev. James P. Cooper

Preached in Westville, South Africa July 19, 1992

“As the LORD lives, the man who has done this shall surely die!” (2 Samuel 12:5)

David was the greatest of the kings of Israel. It was David who alone could unite the kingdoms of Israel and Judah. It was David who had the strength and the military knowledge to capture the mighty city of the Jebusites and make it his capital, which he then named “Jerusalem,” meaning “possession of peace.” David was known as an able leader of men, a great military genius, a man of great religious passion, and a wise judge over his people. When David was performing his office as king of a united Israel, he, more than any other king in the whole of the Word, represented the royalty and power of God.

On the other hand, David the man was capable of great passion, great cunning, and great cruelty. No other character in the Word shows the contrast between a man and his office so powerfully as David. David first saw Bathsheba while he was walking on the roof of his palace and he saw her bathing on the roof of a neighboring building. Abusing his kingly powers, he commanded that she be brought to him. Later, when David discovered Bathsheba’s pregnancy, he first ordered her husband Uriah home from the battle so he could spend the night at home with her and so believe the child to be his own; but when he refused to spend the night in comfort with his wife while his men and officers were still in battle, David gave orders to put this valiant and loyal leader of men into the hottest part of the battle, and he ordered the other men to then withdraw from him, leaving him to his death. Ironically, Uriah’s sense of honor and respect for his comrades-at-arms was what made it necessary for David to kill him, and even worse, Uriah’s bravery and skill as a warrior were turned against him and used to destroy him. It was this deliberate deception and the use of Uriah’s own honor and virtue to destroy him that sets this crime apart.

David as king represented the Lord. In this context David had committed terrible sins, so we can know that David the man does not represent the Lord, but instead what is opposite to the Lord: a love of self so powerful that it can convince itself that it is above civil, moral, and spiritual law, and so full of the desire to rule over others that it wants to overthrow the Lord Himself and rule in His place. The love of self is seldom so fully developed in people still in the world, but with a little careful and honest self-examination, we all can recognize some degree of this love of self in ourselves.

Everyone comes into selfish states from time to time. The Lord knows this, for He knows our nature. The question is, how does the Lord provide for us to find our way out of these selfish states? How can order and equilibrium be restored to our lives without also destroying our spiritual freedom?

We can see how the Lord gently leads even our most hateful and destructive states in the way that Nathan the prophet brought David back into order. He does not accuse David. He does not threaten him. Nathan simply presented truth to David, and then let him judge himself in comparison to the truth. And so the Lord provides for our states. He has given us the Word in such a form that it does not intrude into our lives. The books lie passively on the shelf until we ourselves pick them up and open them, and even then, unless we read with a genuine desire to learn from the Lord, the Divine within them will be invisible. The Lord never forces Himself into our lives unbidden. We must invite Him in.

Also like the Word, Nathan spoke to David in a parable, a story that contained many hidden levels of meaning, but that did not accuse David of any crime or challenge his authority as a king in any way. The whole of the Word is written in parables, and the Lord Himself says that while in the world, He did not teach except in parables. A parable is a passive way of making a point; that is, the point will not be seen at all unless it is looked for.

Nathan told the story of a rich man who stole the ewe lamb of his poor neighbor so that he could have a nice dinner for a guest. The story was told so that obviously it was not just any lamb, but a family pet as well. The parable was carefully crafted to stir our sympathy for the poor man and his family, and inflame our anger for the cold-hearted rich man who could murder and eat a lamb that was practically a member of the family!

The doctrines tell us that the rich represent those who have many truths and goods from the Lord through the church but who do not put them to any use in their life. They disregard the things of the church. In comparison, the poor are those who, due to circumstances, do not have any good or truth, but still they long for them and wish to have them from the Lord. Those few truths that they do have they love and cherish and bring into their lives.

The image of the little ewe lamb contains many powerful images which are to lead us to think about the opposite of selfishness, that is, the complete and utter trust in the Lord and willingness to follow Him. While all lambs represent innocence (see AC 3994:3), a ewe lamb in particular represents the holiness of innocence (see AC 2720:6). More images were given to illustrate that we are to think about this in terms of the ideal state of our relationship with the Lord. The lamb was like the man’s own daughter, and a daughter represents goods. It ate his food, which represents that he gave it spiritual nourishment, that is, he gave it the things that it needed for spiritual life and growth. It drank from his own cup, that is, he gave the inmost truths that it needed. It lay in his bosom, which means it was conjoined to him by love and mercy.

These images tell us that if we are willing to follow what the Lord teaches in the Word, He will nourish us with spiritual food, He will quench our thirst for spiritual truth, and eventually we will be conjoined with him to eternity in the life of heaven.

On the other hand, there is the symbol of the rich man, the man who has acquired many goods and truths in his lifetime but has hidden them away, as it were, and does not live according to them. Such a man will, when his crimes are discovered, be condemned, that is, he will go to hell.

It is interesting to note that there is an additional penalty upon him: he will also be required to restore the lamb fourfold because he had no pity. No one can replace such a loss, and what would four lambs be to a rich man? How could this add to his punishment when he has already been condemned to death? The only reason that this additional punishment is mentioned is for the sake of the internal sense, for it tells us something further about our own states. The lamb was to be restored fourfold because the man had no pity. On the other hand, the Lord has compassion for everyone, and He teaches that anyone who does not also have compassion for others cannot be conjoined with Him, for all conjunction is of love. You cannot be conjoined to someone if your loves are totally different (see AC 904:2). It is also true that those people who have been gifted with a sense of perception know that whenever they feel compassion toward another, they are admonished by the Lord and their conscience to render aid. In this we are reminded of the parable of the Good Samaritan (see AC 6737).

Another aspect of evil that is brought out by this parable is how the evildoer so often commits his evils so that they are obvious to many, yet he can convince himself that they are not known to others. It seems that in his own mind David actually believed that he could take Bathsheba from Uriah, have her become pregnant while Uriah was away at battle, and then order his soldiers to abandon Uriah so he would die in battle without anyone noticing this chain of events. How often does it happen that we do things that we think are secret when yet they are well known to our friends and family who, out of friendship or embarrassment, have simply declined to mention them? It’s likely that we have all known people who have practiced a vice in what they believed to be secret when yet it was obvious to all what they were doing. We will speak more about this in a few moments. This shows how powerful self-deception and self-justification can be.

David believed that he could hide his adultery by committing murder, but his foolishness and sinfulness were painfully obvious to all. It is true that some evils can be kept secret in the world, but when in the spiritual world, as spirits enter the second state, the state of their interiors, they no longer care what others think, and their behavior becomes one with their interior loves. In this way all spirits can see their evils, and those who are good can reject them. Eventually all sins, whether done in secret or openly, will be made known. “But I say to you that for every idle word men may speak, they will give account of it in the day of judgment” (Matt. 12:36); also “For there is nothing covered that will not be revealed, nor hidden that will not be known. Therefore whatever you have spoken in the ear in inner rooms will be proclaimed on the housetops” (Luke 12:2,3).

We often find ourselves in a position like that in which Nathan the prophet found himself. We don’t know whether David and Nathan were friends, but Nathan was the chief prophet of the Lord, and so he would have a position of some respect in David’s court. He was no doubt free to come and go, and was frequently present to give counsel on important decisions. Also, in his office as a priest, Nathan was under a moral obligation to act as a watchman and condemn David for his open sin and call him to repentance. But, as a man, Nathan was afraid. David had already killed one important and powerful counselor because of his infatuation with Bathsheba. Was there not good reason to suspect that David might even kill the Lord’s prophet under these circumstances?

Do we not also find ourselves in a similar situation from time to time where we see a friend or loved one traveling on a course which we clearly see to be headed for disaster? We feel conflicting emotions. On the one hand we want to say something to make our friend stop doing what we know to be evil or foolish. On the other hand, we are reluctant to say anything that our friend will regard as critical because he or she may then be angry with us and say hurtful things. This puts us in a very unhappy state as we try to decide between two difficult paths. Our conscience will not allow us to let the evil go on, and our natural affection for our friend does not wish to say anything that might cause pain.

When we find ourselves in these circumstances, it could be helpful to follow Nathan’s example. As a priest, he had to condemn David’s sins. As a man, he feared for his own life. So he found a middle ground; he used the parable of the lamb to cause David to judge himself. The important principle that is illustrated here is that it is the truth that judges people, not other people. By presenting the truth to David, David judged himself in the light of that truth, and because he saw himself in the light of truth, there was no anger, no need for revenge upon Nathan.

The parable of the lamb, and the circumstances that made it necessary, give us a complete and powerful picture of the love of self and the evil and cruelty it is capable of when allowed to run unchecked. As David himself said while unknowingly condemning his own actions, “The man who has done this shall surely die” (text). There can be no spiritual life for the person who puts himself above all things in the world, above the needs of all people in the world, and who in his heart wishes to pull the Lord down from His throne and rule in His place (for all these things dwell in the interior degrees of selfishness). Unless unless such a person is led to the truth in the Word to judge himself in its light; unless he can see his evils for himself; unless he prays to the Lord for help in removing them; unless he shuns them and begins to live a new life. Then he will not die. “Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall be as wool. If you are willing and obedient, you shall eat of the good of the land; but if you refuse and rebel, you shall be devoured by the sword; for the mouth of the LORD has spoken” (Isaiah 1:18-20). Amen.

Lessons: 2 Samuel 12:1-7, Mark 1:1-11, AC 904:2

Arcana Coelestia 904:2

The presence of the Lord is predicated according to the state of love toward the neighbor and of faith in which the man is. In love toward the neighbor the Lord is present, because He is in all good; but not so much in faith, so called, without love. Faith without love and charity is a separated or disjoined thing. Wherever there is conjunction there must be a conjoining medium, which is nothing else than love and charity, as must be evident to all from the fact that the Lord is merciful to everyone, and loves everyone, and wills to make everyone happy to eternity. He therefore who is not in such love that he is merciful to others, loves them, and wills to make them happy cannot be conjoined with the Lord, because he is unlike Him and not at all in His image. To look to the Lord by faith, as they say, and at the same time to hate the neighbor is not only to stand afar off, but is also to have the abyss of hell between themselves and the Lord, into which they would fall if they should approach nearer, for hatred to the neighbor is that infernal abyss which is between.