Olivet Society

Church of the New Jerusalem

In the Midst of the Storm

July 25, 2010

 

First Lesson: 1KI 19:1-10

And Ahab told Jezebel all that Elijah had done, also how he had executed all the prophets with the sword. {2} Then Jezebel sent a messenger to Elijah, saying, “So let the gods do to me, and more also, if I do not make your life as the life of one of them by tomorrow about this time.” {3} And when he saw that, he arose and ran for his life, and went to Beersheba, which belongs to Judah, and left his servant there. {4} But he himself went a day’s journey into the wilderness, and came and sat down under a broom tree. And he prayed that he might die, and said, “It is enough! Now, LORD, take my life, for I am no better than my fathers!” {5} Then as he lay and slept under a broom tree, suddenly an angel touched him, and said to him, “Arise and eat.” {6} Then he looked, and there by his head was a cake baked on coals, and a jar of water. So he ate and drank, and lay down again. {7} And the angel of the LORD came back the second time, and touched him, and said, “Arise and eat, because the journey is too great for you.” {8} So he arose, and ate and drank; and he went in the strength of that food forty days and forty nights as far as Horeb, the mountain of God. {9} And there he went into a cave, and spent the night in that place; and behold, the word of the LORD came to him, and He said to him, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” {10} So he said, “I have been very zealous for the LORD God of hosts; for the children of Israel have forsaken Your covenant, torn down Your altars, and killed Your prophets with the sword. I alone am left; and they seek to take my life.” Amen.

Second Lesson:  AC 2708:2

[2] In the Word ‘a wilderness’ can mean that which is sparsely inhabited and cultivated, or it can mean that which is totally uninhabited and uncultivated, and so is used in two senses. When it means that which is sparsely inhabited and cultivated, that is, where there are few dwellings, and where there are sheepfolds, pastures, and waters, it means that thing or those persons who, compared with others, have little life and light, as is the case with that which is spiritual or those who are spiritual in comparison with that which is celestial or those who are celestial. When however it means that which is totally uninhabited and uncultivated, that is, where there are no dwellings, sheepfolds, pastures, and waters, it means those who have undergone vastation as regards good and desolation as regards truth. Amen.


In the Midst of the Storm

A Sermon by Rev. James P. Cooper

          Be of good cheer! It is I; do not be afraid. (MAT 14:27, MAR 6:50, JOH 6:20)

The description of Jesus walking across a stormy sea of Galilee to join His disciples in their boat is recorded in three of the four gospels. Each version is similar to the others in the main elements of the miracle. However, it is interesting that only Matthew mentions Peter’s attempt to walk on the water too.

There are three main elements common to each description given in the gospels:  First, that having achieved a great success with His teachings and the miracles of the loaves and fishes, it was necessary to escape from the crowds, whom, we are told in John, were going to “take Him by force to make Him king” (JOH 6:15). The disciples were sent off in a boat to cross the sea of Galilee, while Jesus Himself slipped away into the mountains to pray.

The second element is that once the disciples were in the midst of the sea that night, a dangerous storm began to blow. It does not seem from the scripture that they were in immediate danger of losing their lives, but they were in some distress. It says that they were “tossed by the waves” (MAT 14:24), and that they “strained at rowing” (MAR 6:48) because “a great wind was blowing” (JOH 6:18) and it “was against them” (MAR 6:48).

The third and final element of the story is during the “fourth watch” (MAT 14:25), that is, just before dawn, Jesus came to them, walking across the water. At first they were afraid, thinking Him a ghost — which is about as reasonable an explanation as could be expected under the circumstances – but when they recognized that it was Jesus they were no longer afraid. In fact, Peter wanted to try it himself, and at the Lord’s invitation walked part of the way to meet Him before his confidence faltered. When Jesus joined them in the boat, the “wind ceased” (MAT 14:32, MAR 6:51), and, according to John, “immediately the boat was at the land where they were going” (JOH 6:21).

On the level of the historical sense, these events serve to enrich the image we have of Jesus Christ and the way that people reacted to Him and His teachings. We are surprised that the people wanted to “take Him by force to make Him king” (JOH 6:15). We are interested to hear that faced with a crowd that was becoming unruly through its own enthusiasm for Him, He used the same technique that famous people today use to avoid the crowds — He sent the disciples off in the boat, attracting the crowds, while He Himself slipped off into the mountains.

When word of the events of that night was added to the list of miracles already achieved it would have attracted the attention of ever more people, people who might not otherwise have ever made the effort to seek out the Lord and listen to His teachings. And of course, to those who already suspected that He was more than just a teacher, that He was perhaps a prophet with as much power as the fabled Elijah, these events simply served to confirm their belief in His power, and prepared them to receive the things that were yet to come.

The Pharisees, and others like them, no doubt passed these events off as lies designed to mislead the people and weaken their own hold on the power to control them, leading them to hate the Lord even more, and to continue to develop their plans to destroy Him. Such men could not be convinced by any miracle, for their whole mind was turned toward defending and protecting their own particular view of life, and any truth could be twisted to that end so that they did not even believe the evidence of their own senses if it was contrary to their belief.

Even the most cursory examination of this story makes its symbolism evident:  The disciples leave the Lord and venture out to sea. They are faced with troubles which become more serious until they are frightened. The Lord returns, they are no longer frightened, the storm ends, and they arrive safely at their destination. 

Such cycles occur frequently in our own lives. We get busy with the various activities of our lives and as it were forget the Lord. We face difficulties and temptations, and although we try very hard, we cannot make headway against them until we are frightened that we will fail. If we then turn to the Lord and invite Him into our lives by returning to order, the storm ends, the dawn breaks, and we begin a new cycle of life on a happy, optimistic note.

Clearly, since such an interpretation leads people to a life of order, and to have confidence that the Lord has the power to save them from life’s difficulties and lead them to a life of peace, it is therefore in harmony with God’s overall plan for the salvation of all men and is therefore a correct understanding of the lesson carried in the report of this event. This general understanding of the symbolic meaning of scripture can be brought into sharper focus by application of the Science of Correspondences revealed in the Heavenly Doctrines of the New Jerusalem – and this is an important point about using correspondences to understand the true meaning of scripture – the application of correspondences to a particular story produces a meaning that is rarely different from the meaning that can be derived by anyone who is honestly trying to see how scripture applies in their own life. What the Science of Correspondences does is draw out those meanings in a systematic and detailed way, and serves to aid our understanding of passages that otherwise have no meaning to us at all, as those in the prophets. 

The Writings do not add to the Word, but open it up in all its wonder, so that its Divine author can be seen ever more clearly. For example, we read in each of the three gospel accounts that the Lord sent the disciples off into the sea while He Himself went up into a mountain to pray (MAT 14:22,23; MAR 6:45,46; JOH 6:15-17). The Science of Correspondence tells us concerning these facts that in the Word there are two different kinds of wilderness, and they each mean different things. We use the word wilderness in several senses. To someone brought up in Paris, moving to any lesser city would be to live “in the wilderness.” It’s not really the wilderness, but relatively so, and we would understand that they did not mean it literally. On the other hand, there are places in the world that are utterly uncultivated and without inhabitants:  the great mountain ranges, the great deserts, the arctic wastes, and the seas. In the same way, when used in the Word, the word “wilderness” can mean either “the thing or those persons who, compared with others, have little life and light, as is the case with . . . those who are spiritual in comparison with . . . those who are celestial” (AC 2708) or it can mean “those who have undergone vastation as regards good and desolation as regards truth” (AC 2708). Therefore, the word “wilderness” used in the first sense, refers to those who are in a relative state of falsity and evil, but for whom we have every confidence that with work they probably can improve their spiritual state, while in the second sense it refers to those who are utterly without good or truth, and for whom there is little hope of reformation.

It can be seen that when the Lord went into the mountain to pray, it was a wilderness in the relative sense. It represented that He was entering a period of prayer, introspection and temptation. Because He was the Divine Being, it cannot be said that He was actually in a state of being without good or truth, but it can be said that He was relatively in a state of less good and truth. 

The disciples, on the other hand, taking their boat out into the uninhabited and uncivilized sea of Galilee were actually entering the other kind of wilderness to represent the state of the Jewish Church:  that it was without good, that the truths of the Word, given by Moses and the prophets had been perverted and profaned, that the Jewish Church was at its end.

The Word also specifically uses the imagery of night and storm to show the spiritual states of the people of that time, people who sought to learn the truth and do what was right, but because they were so misled by the self-seeking leaders of their church, were unable to discern right from wrong. Specifically, we are told that “this was done in the ‘fourth watch’ to represent the first state of the church, when it is daybreak and morning is at hand, for then good begins to act through truth, and then the Lord comes” (AE 514). 

We can see then that the disciples represent those people who, in any time and in any place, would like to know how to make their lives spiritually better, but simply don’t know where to turn for the answers they need. Such people are not scholars, or theologians, but they worry about their future, they worry about their children, and they want to do what is best for them.

The miracle of the Lord walking across the sea to the frightened, storm-tossed disciples, signifies His presence and love for even these, the most simple of people, those who know little but who are willing to hold to and obey those things they do know. Peter, the disciple who represents faith, represented the state of their faith when he tried to walk to the Lord. By itself, based on the limited knowledge then in their possession, that faith was not enough to support Peter, and he began to sink. But we must remember that the Lord quickly reached out His hand to support Peter and carry him back to the boat, saying, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?” (MAT 14:31) I believe He said these words to Peter gently, and with the affection of a father who is helping a beloved child try to do things that are as yet beyond his skill, patient in the knowledge that success will come with time, effort, and practice.

The meaning of this story is clear, no matter what level we study it on; whether the sense of the letter, the history of the church, the path of our own regeneration, or the Lord’s glorification:  Each of us, church, society, nation, or individual goes through cycles of light and darkness. There are times that we feel more powerful and effective than others, but it is the dark times, the sad times that worry us, that cause us to fear. Like the disciples, we struggle at our tasks, trying to make headway against the strong winds that try to drive us back. As we tire, we become aware of our own weaknesses, and we realize that by ourselves, without help, we will fail. The Lord cannot enter our lives without our invitation, and we are too full of the love of self and confidence in our own abilities to invite Him in when things are going well, and so, for the sake of our own spiritual lives, He allows the storms to blow, the waves the build, until we are once again aware of our own frailty. Once the true perspective is restored, once we can see ourselves as we really are, we are ready to accept the help that the Lord offers. And when we turn to the Lord, to the truths that He has given to guide our lives in the Word, the states that have been tormenting us are broken. The spiritual storm abates, and the sun comes out. When we bring ourselves into order, we are given a taste of heaven which is order itself. This pleasant state will continue as long as we continue in order. 

It is not the Lord’s will that we face problems in this world. Problems come to us from hell, and as the consequence of our own free choices. He permits certain problems, however, because they can serve to improve our spiritual character. From time to time, He even allows a storm to brew so that we can learn that there comes a time when we must admit to ourselves that we are not all powerful, but that we need the Lord’s help to overcome problems that we cannot overcome by ourselves.

Let us not leave the subject thinking about the storms, rather let us remember that the Lord came to them, miraculously, at the time of their greatest need. He comforted their fears, calmed the storm, and brought them safely into port. And in so doing, He told all people for all time that He would do the same for them. But when (Peter) saw that the wind was boisterous, he was afraid; and beginning to sink he cried out, saying “Lord, save me!” And immediately Jesus stretched out His hand and caught him, and said to him, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?” And when they got into the boat, the wind ceased. Then those who were in the boat came and worshipped Him, saying, “Truly, You are the Son of God.” (MAT 14:30-33) Amen.