Perceptions: Bear with One Another

First in the “Life’s One Anothers” series on relationships.
Delivered June 29, 2003 by Rev. George Antonakos.

Sermon Text:
Ephesians 4:1-6
and Luke 11:33-36

Video Clip: The Lion King
(Yawning sounds)
Pumbaa: Timon.
Timon: Yes.
Pumbaa: Ever wonder what those sparkling dots are up there?
Timon: I don’t wonder, I know.
Pumbaa: What are they?
Timon: They are fireflies, fireflies that got stuck up on that big, bluish black thing.
Pumbaa: Oh gee, I always thought they were balls of gas burning billions of miles away.
Timon: Pumbaa, with you, everything is gas.
Timon: Simba, what do you think?
Simba: Well, uh, I don’t know. (Voices plead, come on, tell us)
Simba: Somebody once told me that the great kings of the past are up there watching over us.
Timon: Really? You mean a bunch of royal dead guys are watching us? (Laughter) Who told you something like that? (Laughter) Pretty dumb huh, (more laughter) aw, you are killing me.
(Simba leaves sadly)
Timon: Was it something I said?

Remember what we said in the beginning that how we see, makes all the difference and I think that is what we’re seeing there, the different perspective of things. I am going to start with a prayer and then we are going to look at Ephesians, chapter 4 which is going to be put on the back burner as I go into my sermon, ok. But, let’s start with a prayer.

Lord, thank you for opening the eyes of the blind, both literally and spiritually. Lord, we come here today from so many different perspectives. We come from so many life experiences. We come from situations that are known and unknown, and we pray,as Mandy prayed a little earlier, that you would help us to release these burdens to you, and that your Spirit would help us understand your Word as more than just words, but actually your message to us in our hearts. We pray it in Christ’s name. Amen. Ephesians, Chapter 4, verses 1-6. Here Paul is talking about the importance of unity, ok?

As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit- just as you were called to one hope when you were called-one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.

Keep that one tucked away, especially the bearing with one another.

When I announced in the News and Views a few weeks ago that I would be doing a summer series on relationships, I had no idea how long it would last. Now, I know. I know it’s going to be three weeks, because I am going to preach this week on bearing with one another and next week when we do communion, it’s going to be comfort one another, and then two weeks of course we have already announced, John will be here to preach his inaugural sermon and then the last week I will be here will be July 20th. That will be my swan song, and we will speak about loving one another. The greatest message of Jesus. His ultimate commandment to us. So, why this series? Because unity is the greatest gift that we can offer to God. It’s the gift that Jesus prayed for. He said, Lord I pray that you would make them one, as I and you are one. It’s the greatest gift that we could give to a new pastor. It’s the greatest gift we could give to any pastor, to be united in purpose and in vision and in values. It’s the greatest gift that leaders of a congregation can give to people. To be united, and all on the same page marching towards one vision. That’s why we are preaching this one another series of three weeks.

Will you agree with me that people are different? We are so different here. We have different needs. You know depending on where you are in your life cycle; your needs will change. We have different perceptions about the way things happen. We can see the same event and can put a completely different spin on it. Perceptions are what they are called and sometimes our perceptions are not accurate and that is why we call them misperceptions. We see something and we don’t see it exactly as it is. But, if the perceiver believes what they see, the perceiverbelieve it’s true, then it’s true. Then it is reality. And so we have the axiom, perception becomes reality. But misperceptions cause so much misery in life. Undiscovered or unexplored perceptions of one another create so much conflict in the world and in the body and in the church even. I am thinking of a family situation where there can be misperceptions. Thinking of a daughter named Vicki who said one day as she was contemplating going to college and wanted to go farther away to school because it really was an expert kind of school for her discipline, what she wanted to study, but all she said was, I want to go away to college. Her parents heard something different. They never bothered to check it out. They thought she meant, I want to get away from you and I want some distance so I can sow my wild oats, but nobody ever said anything. All they said was, We want you to go to school closer to home. And, for her whole senior year, nobody ever checked out their perceptions and it led to arguing and misery. That’s what can happen. We can misperceive situations. We can perceive others differently than they are. We can have wrong perceptions about ourselves, plus or minus and we can misperceive our understanding of God. And Jesus knew this. And that’s why he was confronting some religious leaders who were rather stubborn, who needed a perception adjustment about themselves and about God. And I hope that what he said to them will help us to see more clearly too. And that’s why we are turning to Luke, 11 for our gospel lesson today. And just three or four short verses,verses that maybe you have heard before. It is rather well known and then three of the gospel writers use this metaphor, especially the beginning one. Luke 11:33-36:

“No one lights the lamp and puts it in a place where it will be hidden, or under a bowl. Instead he puts it on its stand, so that those who come in may see the light. Your eye is the lamp of your body. When your eyes are good, your whole body also is full of light. But when they are bad, your body is also full of darkness. See to it then that the light within you is not darkness. Therefore, if your whole body is full of light and no part of it dark, it will be completely lighted, as when the light of lamp shines on you.”

See the other gospel writers use this metaphor of putting a lamp on a lamp stand. Nobody puts it under a bushel or in the basement or whatever, or in a hidden place. Matthew and Mark, the other gospel writers, use it in different contexts. In Matthew and Mark it is talking about the message of Jesus and the ministry of disciples that will take place. Jesus says, I want your light to shine so that people may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven. Well, Luke takes a little different spin on this and he puts it in a different context. And in Luke, I think this is what 11:33 means when he says no one lights a lamp and puts it on a place where it will be hidden. Because Jesus had just been arguing with stubborn religious leaders who say that they see, but they don’t see. So here is what I think 11:33 means. That in Jesus Christ, God has given us a light, which is not hidden. It is plain for anyone who will look and who will see and if a person has an open, honest heart, they will receive the light of God in Jesus Christ and it will illuminate them. It’s not hidden. It is sufficiently clear if we will just look. God is not playing a game of catch me if you can. He is not playing hide and seek. He wants us to know him and to love him. His message is out in the open and it will illuminate any who believe by accepting his Son, receiving the gift of his salvation, accepting and returning his love and walking with him and following him. To the Pharisee’s Jesus was basically saying, you guys if you were truly receptive to spiritual light, you would accept me because the scripture says, I am the light of the world. He who follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life. He says that if you guys if you did, your whole person, verse 36, your whole body would be full of light. There would be no darkness. You know what he is talking about, you would be filled with the light of Gods love and people would no longer stumble over you. They would be drawn to you because everybody needs love. That’s what he is saying. See, light and love are the same things.

Most of us want to be light bearers. We start by receiving the true light, which is Jesus Christ. At the end of our journey, if we have walked with God and we nurtured our relationship with God and vice versa, we will be full of light, like verse 36 is saying. In fact, in Proverbs, Chapter 4 in verses 18 and 19, the Bible says this, “the path of the righteous is like the first gleam of dawn, shining ever brighter till full light of day.” Listen to this, “the way of the wicked is deep darkness. They don’t even know over what they stumble.” And so from the beginning when we accept the light of Christ our hearts are illumined, but we don’t, I mean we are just starting and then at the end if we walk with God we are fully lighted. Now in between is called our spiritual journey and two factors will determine how bright your spiritual journey becomes. Two factors and those factors are found in verses 34 and 35. They will determine how well you will grow spiritually and it will determine the quality of your relationships.

Here’s the first one. The first factor is described in verse 34. He says, “your eye is the lamp of your body and when your eyes are good, your whole body is also full of light. When your eyes are bad, your body is full of darkness.” The first factor is this. It’s not just what we see, it’s how we see that makes all the difference. Jesus talks about an eye being good or an eye being bad. Those translations are really not that illuminating. They are not that helpful. The words good and bad should be better translated I think as “wholehearted.” Actually the King James says, “if your eye is single,” but that doesn’t help much either. It basically means, if your eye is singly generous and receptive, whole-hearted. In fact, Paul used it in Ephesians when he was trying to tell Christian slaves to serve their masters with singleness of mind, not begrudgingly, but generously from the heart. So what Jesus is saying here is that a good-eyed person, so to speak, is open, sincerely open and generous toward the truth and toward life and is willing to act on it when they see it versus when your eye is bad and that word has not an idea or connotation of generous, but a connotation of begrudging. It’s an attitude that says something like, “even if I was convinced that Jesus was the Lord of the universe, I still wouldn’t yield. I still would have a grudging sense to my way of seeing things, because I want to rule my own life.” It’s an attitude that won’t yield and Jesus referred to this, remember in Mark’s gospel, Jesus said to the Pharisee’s, he said look it’s not what goes into your body from outside that defiles you, it is what comes out from the heart and then he made a big list of things. Do you remember his list? Greed. Deceit. Ludeness. Slander. Arrogance. Envy. Ah, when he got to envy if you look at the Greek word there, it actually literally means, an evil eye. We have heard that term, they have given me the evil eye? Right? But this is different. This is an eye that is not generous to light, it’s begrudging. It’s closed. And we even say that person is a closed person or that person is an open person to others or to God or to the truth. It’s a grudging stubbornness that won’t be moved by compassion or the compassionate one. Do we see life in God with openness or with a closeness? You know how we perceive determines how we think and how we think determines what we believe and how we believe determines how we live.

Let’s say for instance, two friends are in the same company and they are both vying for the same promotion and one gets it and the other one doesn’t. It’s just the way it goes. The person who gets the promotion now becomes the supervisor, they were equal before, but now the person who gets the promotion is the supervisor of what was once equal, the other person. The supervisee has a choice. Will they perceive the situation generously? Or will they perceive it begrudgingly? They could perceive it any kind of way. They could say something like, I lost out. That would be one way to perceive the situation. They could perceive it by looking at themselves and being harsh to themselves internally and saying, I am no good. Or they could look at the other person and say, you’re a creep. They could project it out there. Or they could say, you know what we are still on the same team, I am going to make this person the best supervisor that anybody ever saw because we are friends. You see, you have a choice everyday. Whether we are going to perceive openly and generously or narrowly and closed, grudgingly or generously.

I remember Rick Warren’s phrase when he was talking about small groups that some people will test our perceptions and some people test our patience. He used the phrase, we have to have an EGR quotient. Right? “Extra Grace Required” when certain persons push our buttons or when they aggravate us or when they are annoying. Remember he said, if you don’t know who it is in the small group that is like that, it is probably you. Right? So, how we see makes so much difference and I want you to look at this video clip. It is from the “Emperor’s Club.” Maybe you have seen it. Kevin Kline is a very gracious, very sensitive, very patient teacher and he encounters a student with an attitude. Tell me how you see this clip when it’s done. Okay?

Headmaster (?): Mr. Hundert, I would like you to make the acquaintance of Mr. Sedgewick Bell.
Mr. Hundert: It is a pleasure to meet you Mr. Bell.
Headmaster: Well then, carry on Mr. Hundert. Nice to meet you son.
Mr. Bell: Thank you sir.
Mr. Hundert: Gentlemen, I would like you to welcome a new member of your class, Mr. Sedgewick Bell.
Class: Hi, come in.
Mr. Bell: And the sign said this was a boys school!
Class: It is a boys school.
Mr. Bell: So, why is everyone wearing dresses?
Mr. Hundert: These are not dresses, this is a toga. It is a loose outer garment ..
Mr. Bell: worn by citizens of ancient Rome. I know, I was kidding with you.
Mr. Hundert: A toga was bestowed on young men in recognition of their transition from childness to manhood, so please come in and sit down and have a seat behind Mr. Brewster.
Mr. Bell: You know what, I actually think that I am good here.
Mr. Hundert: Mr. Bell, have a seat. Now before I forget tomorrow we will begin on Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar. I expect you all to be familiar with the play. Mr. Bell, I would like you to look at the role of Brutus, the noblest Roman of them all. Mr. Masoudi, you have a lean and hungry look, you will read the part of Cassius.
Woman: He is the son of Hiram Bell, the senior senator from West Virginia.
Mr. Hundert: Well, whoever the father is, the son is a bit of a ??? (sounds like Visigoth?)
Woman: That bad?
Mr. Hundert: I don’t think so, just new school bravado, that’s all. He will be fine.

Did Mr. Bell happen to push any buttons out there? You know when I first saw this film, I was like, I want to jump through the screen and strangle this kid, right? Because we perceive, we have a certain way of seeing behaviors of other people. Did the teacher, the professor, Kevin Klines character, did his patience inspire you? Did his openness of vision and his evaluation of him afterward, oh its just new school bravado, you see. We have a choice of how we will see one another, and how we will bear with one another. That’s the first thing that the scripture is teaching us. How we see is as important as what we see.

The second thing is found in verse 35. The second factor of growth in our relationship with God and relationship with one another. Where Jesus then says, by way of command in verse 35, “see to it then that the light within you is not darkened.” See, we all go around this. Does anybody here think that they are full of darkness? No. We all think we have a certain measure of light. Jesus is saying, you better check it out. In fact, the words see to it is where we get the word “scope.” That’s the Greek word. If you heard the word, you would think scope. Not, the mouthwash, it’s the ability to see. We say, scope it out. Kids say, scope it out. Jesus says, scope yourself out. Look with an honest heart. And that is the second factor. Brutal self-evaluation. Not to the point of being morbid, but to the point of being honest. When you get on your scale, don’t you calibrate it to zero? That’s what he is saying. Calibrate to zero. Don’t make it five pounds lighter. Assess yourself honestly. Check it out, what’s in your heart. You see the sign of a person who is spiritually honest and spiritual in general is that they know that there are still pockets of resistance, pockets of darkness in their hearts. It’s why the Psalmist in Psalm 19:12 prayed this. “Who can discern his errors? Who really can discern ones own errors. Forgive. Forgive O Lord my hidden faults.” On the other hand, the Pharisee’s were self-righteous. They thought they were full of light. They didn’t send out much light at all. But they thought they were full of light. And yet, Jesus said no. You don’t see well, you don’t see the light of the world, and so your body is full of darkness. Scope yourself out because at least the truth which in turns leads to freedom, which in turn leads to peace in our relationships with others.

A month ago our program staff went over to Grace Fellowship Church to hear John Orkbird who is the teaching pastor of Willow Creek Community Church. He was teaching, and he was there in person and he was advertising for a leadership conference that was soon to take place there in August 7-9, a great leadership summit conference and so we went over to hear him. And, he was talking about leadership and one of the things he mentioned was how imperative brutal self-assessment is in organizational self-assessment if leaders are going to provide space for themselves and for others to grow. And, he said that many times in a congregation we suffer from terminal niceness that we never really say the truth. Now, when I am talking about perceptions of one another and being tolerant, believe me I am talking about the grey areas of preference. I am not talking about whether a behavior is sinful or not. When a behavior is sinful, we need to be able to go and speak the truth in love like the scripture says. But he backed up his sense of we need to be brutally self honest by quoting a survey result and he was trying to illustrate that we all have a self serving bias in each of our hearts and he said it was a survey of 829,000 high school students, asked the question, rate yourself above or average on your ability to get along with others. What percentage of 829,000 high school students rated themselves below average in their ability to get along with others? What’s your guess? Zero. Zero. 90% of college professors in the same survey rated themselves above average. Now, I went to college and I don’t think it was 90%, maybe you do too, but you know maybe they would do that with pastors and it would be the same thing, you know? We all have a self-serving bias. We distort our perceptions. And we bend our self-image to our favor. You see a godly person knows this and adjust, compensates and says you know what, I need to step back from my positions. So where do we get the light from? Thy word is the lamp unto my feet. We will never grow in our spiritual life apart from God’s scripture, apart from the light of the Lord.

And then the Spirit on the other hand, listen to Proverbs 20:27 when it says “the lamp of the Lord searches out the spirit of a person and it searches out its inmost being.” You see, word and spirit are the way to get the perceptions clear and we have a choice. We can decide to believe our perceptions and be not at peace, or we can believe the Word of God and the Spirit of God correcting us and be at peace in our relationships. Remember, that truth leads to freedom.

Now, I said all that to challenge you this way. From Ephesians, remember that statement in Ephesians 4, “in all humility and gentleness and loneliness forbear with one another in love.” What does that mean? Literally, it means put up with. Isn’t that a great statement? All you brothers and sisters and Christians out there, you just go on and put up with each other. That is basically what he is saying. That sometimes we have to put up with each other in all love, of course. Now, Jesus used this very word in Luke, Chapter 9, verse 41 when he said these words. He looked at the unbelieving generation that surrounded him and he said, O perverse and unbelieving generation, how long will I be with you and what did he say then, and put up with you. Doesn’t that encourage you? That Jesus himself in his humanity was tested to the limits of his endurance with us and he put up with us and literally he hung in with us. He loved us. He endured our pain and our shame and our guilt. And so, God tells us brothers and sisters in all that same humility forbear with each other. Sometimes it means you put up with each other, but that requires being suspect of our own perceptions. That allows us to be more forbearing, to become a more forbearing person.

Ernie Pyle, maybe some of you already know was a famous World War II correspondent. He was a well-known writer. He tells a story of his youth when he was growing up on his farm and it was near Mothers Day, and so he decided to go and cut roses for his mother to give her and they had wild roses that grew out in back of their place. So his dad was farming and he went out, he went through his own yard and then there was a little higher grassy field, kind of weedy and he went to where his dad was and he said, “Dad can I borrow your knife?” And he borrowed his dad’s knife and he told him what he was going to do. He said, “I am going to cut mom some roses, but I sure hope that I don’t see any snakes,” because he was deathly afraid of snakes. Well, he went out and he cut some roses down and he was bringing roses in one hand, the knife in the other and he was walking back toward the house. He was about 10 feet from the yard, from the back lawn and wouldn’t you know right across his path was a tiny little black snake, but to him it looked like a boa constrictor and he froze right in place. He dropped the roses, he dropped the knife, he was petrified. His mother looked out the back window and said, “Ernie it’s time for dinner. Come on in.” He couldn’t move. He said, “If you paid me I couldn’t move.” “Ernie, you come in. Its dinner time, come on in.” He won’t take a step. He can’t take a step. She doesn’t understand the grass is high. She doesn’t get it. “Ernie, if you don’t come in you are going to get the licking of your life.” And sure enough he stood still and she came out and gave him the licking of his life and sent him to bed without dinner. Later, her husband came in, his dad. He had found the roses, found the knife. He came in and set them on the table and he talked about Ernie’s deathly fear of snakes and then it hit her what had happened. She went an apologized to him, but later on he writes in his book, I heard my mom cry herself to sleep that night and I think the thing that got her the most was the roses. You see, she saw a stubborn boy, but in his heart he was petrified. He didn’t know what to do and she made a judgment and it led to misery. Receive the true light of God. When you do, let that light shine in your heart so that you can grow through the word and the spirit and then put others in the best light possible, so that we will grow in unity and glorify God.

Let’s pray. Our Lord, we know that we all jump to conclusions. We all misperceive things and probably the most difficult situation of all is when we misperceive your love and we think of you as a grudging God and exacting task master, and yet Lord you are the most generous because you gave all to us. Help us have good eyes, generous vision before bearing with one another in love to produce the unity of the Spirit which you desire so deeply, so that the world might know that you have been sent and that you dwell in our midst. For we pray it in Christ’s name. Amen.