All About Perception

Posted: August 7, 2018 in Uncategorized

All About Perception

Pentecost 12B

John 6: 35, 41-51

I chose the title for today because it suggests that the way we view the world can either limit our horizons or it can expand them to eternity. It also touches on the dilemma we face today as we wrestle with the nature of truth as being less about certainty than it used to be. We begin our look at this with the story in John about Jesus being the bread of life and along the way I want to show you a comic clip that I think suggests why perception is important to consider and how it influences our world view. We begin with the gospel where the crowd that surrounded Jesus became angry at what they perceived as arrogance, if not blasphemy, on his part.

How dare he call himself the bread of life? The way they saw him didn’t fit with this claim. Wasn’t this the kid that grew up down the street? Wasn’t he the same one we used to have to run home when it was supper time? You know, the one who was so smart. Wasn’t this that carpenter Joseph’s son? How can he satisfy us? Do you remember that time he got lost in Jerusalem? How is he making such a claim? After all, he is one of us. In John’s story he told of himself as the bread of life, something that would last far longer than the bread we eat or the bread that had been fed to the multitude, something that satisfies the hungers of our souls. But they couldn’t see it. Do we have the right perception?

This talk of having come down from heaven only confused them. They had seen him grow up like us all, though he had been born during that oppressive census the Romans took that made people scatter all over to the cities of their heritage. They thought he had a mother and a father just like all of them. If they had seen more than the carpenter’s son, they might have heard and understood the depth of the good news. The challenge is that when we limit our world to what we know or have experienced, we can miss the vastness of God’s grace. Karl Barth wrote, “Were we to hear only of a god who measures up to our rule and is able to do what we can also do for ourselves without him, what need have we of such a god? Whenever the church has told us of such a tiresome little god it has grown empty. I wonder if that’s why the western church is in decline? Is that why people are not coming to church anymore? Because of our perception perhaps? And it seems to be happening despite our radical daring, our yearning for the living God that will not be denied.” How can we find the bread that will satisfy?

I want to show you a video clip now that I think asks us to examine a perception that might be getting in the road. As you watch notice the feelings that you have about its appropriateness, about what it is saying about God and Jesus and what it is showing of their nature and of their humanity.

Watch video

In the lectionary letter to the church at Ephesus for today, there is a challenge at the first of the fifth chapter that sets a high standard:

“Therefore, be imitators of God as beloved children, and live in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering, a sacrifice for God.”

There is an ancient legend of a man with a scarred face who in trying to hide his scars had a mask made to cover his face. It appeared as a saint. He falls in love in the legend. Years later his past is revealed, and an attempt to reveal what he really looked like was made by ripping the mask away. His face had taken on the form of the saint’s face.

This is a claim that we become what we habitually imitate. We become what we make ours just as the bread we eat. The thoughts that fill our minds, the loves that fill our souls–these are creating who we are. If we fill our hearts and minds with the trivial, the faddish, the debase, we’re making ourselves a smaller person. When we accept without question the perceptions that drive us we risk developing the wrong ideas about ourselves and our potential as human beings. That is why it’s so important for what role models we choose for ourselves and our children. If the all blacks are the only role models we will benefit from the value of sport and good sportsmanship but we will also accept a high level of physical on life as a norm. We will become the patterns by which we live. Alternatively, if we fill our hearts and minds with the Jesus Way and attempt to love as he loved and to care as he cared, we are creating a perception based on values that can seek with confidence a peace filled world and a world where love is the motivator, vehicle and purpose of life. We get a glimpse of eternity, a glimpse of the possibility of the impossible. We becoming imitators of God. And I would say co-creators with God. We become one with a Creativity God

John Wesley once wrote, “First let us agree what religion is. I take religion to be, not the mere saying over of so many prayers, morning and evening, in public or private, but a constant ruling habit of the soul, a renewal of our beings in the image of God, a recovery of the Divine likeness, a self-increasing conformity of heart and life to the pattern of our most holy redeemer.” The week before last I suggested we are what we eat and again today that fits. We have come to make some hard choices that fill our days and thus fill our hearts and minds. We have to be selective about what will be the bread on which we feast. It is one thing to survive, to just get by…like the manna that got the children of Israel through the wilderness. It is another to feast on that which will last forever.

We have to ask, “What is our perception of God and Jesus and how does that perception shape our world view and how does that perception influence our thinking? What do we have to change to move out for God to move in?

In our letter to the church in Ephesus–in the chapter before the challenge to imitate God we find a list of things not compatible to God being the bread on which we feed. In verse 25 we read, “So then, putting away falsehood, let all of us speak the truth to our neighbours….” But what is this truth. In Jesus time it would have been less about literal certainty and more akin to perception. They did not have such an obsession with certainty as we have. Such certainty was not likely let along expected.

I suspect that when Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth and the life.” He was speaking less about himself and more about a perception of what he was. It is the Way, the common and eternal and the purpose of living that he is on about. We are first of all challenged to deal honestly about what we know, think and do. Truth or humility, authenticity and integrity or if you like faith or trust that builds humanity and is the bond that makes community possible. Mark Twain put it well, saying, “When in doubt, tell the truth.” In other words, say you don’t know, that’s the truth. Anne Lindbergh wrote, “The most exhausting thing in life is to be insincere.” I want to suggest that to be absolutely certain is to be dead.

In verse 27 of that fourth chapter of Ephesians, we read, “Do not make room for the devil.” The challenge is that if we will fill up our lives ahead of time with the right things, we’re answering the questions in advance. This need for certainty can hide the truth.

There is the old story of the farmer and his mule. In order to save money, he tried mixing in sawdust with oats. About one-fourth seemed to work. Then he tried half. That seemed to work, so then he tried three-quarters, which seemingly had no effect. The farmer went to all sawdust. Two days later the mule died. The farmer commented, “That mule ate himself to death.” We need to be cautious on what is filling our lives. At first it may not seem to matter, but what we are filled with will be what we are.

Søren Kierkegaard told a parable of a community of ducks waddling off to duck church to hear the duck preacher. The duck preacher spoke eloquently of how God had given the ducks wings with which to fly. With these wings there was nowhere the ducks could not go. With those wings they could soar. Shouts of “Amen!” were quacked throughout the duck congregation. At the conclusion of the service, the ducks left commenting on the message and waddled back home. But they never flew. The perception of what souring was and needed was limiting fulfillment.

The challenge is also to realize the power of our words in creating our perception. Our words have the power to tear down or build up. Jesus used his words when he saw something of value in others. He saw stability in old Simon, a disciple in Mary Magdalene, a friend in Zacchaeus, and he say these things as build their self-esteem.

The power of words to encourage, to show appreciation, to express care–these same words can be twisted to tear down, to hurt, even to destroy. And, of course, the way to control the words is to make sure we are filled with the right things. We need to feast on the bread of life and to remember to build the loving, the measure of which we are filled with will show in our lives.

Then as we further tease out this living the way of Jesus we see that as we fill ourselves with the bread of life, we develop a skill of forgetting and forgiving. We can’t move on until you unload. Bitterness and wrath and wrangling leaves little room for God. Arguing over the certainty of something is unhelpful.

In the book The Hiding Place, Corrie ten Boom recounts the moment when the experience of such forgiving came to her. It happened in a church in Munich where she was the guest speaker. Out of nowhere there stood before her a former Nazi SS agent who had guarded the shower floor at the prison camp where she and her friends had been processed and exposed to many indignities and cruelties. The man reached out his hand to shake hers as he expressed his appreciation for her message, but Corrie ten Boom kept her hand at her side. Angry feelings surged through her, but she realized how wrong they were. She prayed, tried to smile, struggling to raise her hand but nothing happened. She breathed a silent prayer, “Jesus, I cannot forgive him. Give me your forgiveness.” She described what happened. “As I took his hand, the most incredible thing happened. From my shoulder along my arm and through my hand, a current seemed to pass from me to him, while into my heart sprang a love for this stranger that overwhelmed me. And so, I discovered that it’s not on our own forgiveness that the world’s healing hinges, but on his. When he tells us to love our enemies, he gives, along with the command, the love itself.”

I think I would want to say that she discovered that when we love our enemies we discover the depth of love that forgiveness invites. And thus, we are both forgiven and forgiver, challenged to be kind, tenderhearted, and forgiving.

Jesus’ promise in our Gospel from John today is if we will eat of such bread, if we question our perception, if we avoid the trap of a certainty that is oblivious to perception we will live forever. Amen.

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