• Pastor Kim

Sermon 9/8/19

As I showed the kids during children’s message, here is a

book called “Duck! Rabbit!” The cover shows an illustration

that could be described as either – though, I’m sure many of

you will vehemently argue for one animal or the other. It

depends on what your perspective is – maybe you like ducks

better, so that’s what you see. Maybe you believe ducks must

have yellow bills, so you see a rabbit. Maybe you’re able to

see the duck and the rabbit (in which case you are a 9 on the

Enneagram).


If you see a duck and you wanted to convince a rabbit-seer

that it is a duck, how would you go about doing that? Would

you do it as the book starts off? Would you simply be

persistent – invoking 1 st -grade style arguing?

“It’s a duck.”

“It’s a rabbit.”

“No, it’s a duck.”

“No, it’s a rabbit.”


Would you try convincing the other person by sheer force of

will?


“It is a duck and you WILL see it as a duck, or ELSE!”

I don’t think that’s the best way to go about it.


Would you try explaining why you see it as a duck – pointing

out how the bill could be coming out from the side and where

the eyes would be and so forth?


Your perception is how you see something in the world –

whether it be a global issue, like the fair trade market, or a

smaller topic, like the cover to a children’s book. We have

perceptions about people (family members, people in the

grocery story, the Pope). We have perceptions about

organizations (other churches, schools, non-profits,

restaurants). We have perceptions about situations (marriage,

vacations, grief). Our perceptions are shaped by our history,

by what we can see/hear/experience in the present, and very

often by what others say.


Struggles can come in when we feel our perception is being

challenged or we feel the need to strange another person’s

perception, particularly when it is harmful to others.


I’m sure each of us has experienced a time when another

person has tried to force our perception to change. It

normally doesn’t go very well. Even when we say our

perception has shifted simply to appease the enforcer of the

change, in reality it hasn’t. A true shift has to come from

within.


In preparing for our upcoming Just Faith series, I was

intrigued and encouraged by their suggestions for dialogue

among the group - that the point is not to convince someone

to join “our side,” but instead to understand the different

perspectives.


We often approach debates on perception of any situation

with an intent to change the other person’s mind. After all,

we know best, right? ;)


What could happen in society if we shifted to listening to the

other person’s perspective more? Not that we have to change

our thinking, but just that we simply understand where they’re

coming from.


An amazing documentary you may have seen is “Accidental

Courtesy.” It is about Daryl Davis, a Jazz musician who is

black and who befriends members of the KKK. These are

sincere friendships. He believes, as our words for reflection

state, that ignorance breeds fear. Our perceptions of people

get stuck in fear when we are ignorant of people’s stories.


I respect his efforts because he is hoping to truly build

understanding between people who are very different. And

he’s doing it in a way that is showing respect in the most

difficult of situations.


Paul’s letter to Philemon also is an example of trying to build

understanding between different perspectives.


The cast of characters are as follows: Paul, who is in jail

while writing this letter. (Actually, almost half of Paul’s

letters included in the New Testament were written while he

was incarcerated.) While there, he encounters Onesimus, a

slave. He was from a nomadic tribe, perceived to be

barbarians, who were often enslaved. Onesimus was a slave

of Philemon.


We aren’t told exactly why Onesimus is separated from

Philemon – perhaps Onesimus was sent to serve Paul in

prison. Perhaps Onesimus escaped from Philemon.

Whatever the reason, Paul writes this letter asking that he

return to Philemon. And so our cast is Paul, Onesimus, and

Philemon.


Paul appeals to Philemon “through the basis of love” that he

welcome Onesimus as he would welcome Paul. He is asking

that Philemon shift from seeing Onesimus as a slave to seeing

him as a “dear brother.” He is asking that Philemon change

his perception of Onesimus. He is asking that Philemon’s

perception of Onesimus change from “less than” to “equal,”

from “unworthy” to “worthy,” from “useless” to “useful.”

The name Onesimus actually means “useful.” Biblical

literature often does this – using a play on words and their

meaning. So, literally, Paul is re-introducing this man to

Philemon as beloved, worthy, and useful.


Paul’s tactic is to appeal out of love; though, he admits he

could “be bold and order you to do what you ought to do.”


Instead, he recognizes that any true, sincere change needs to

be voluntary.


What I love about Paul’s appeal here is that it is an appeal to

humanity. The book of Philemon is a letter from one human

being to another on behalf of another human being. Person to

person. These are God’s people standing up for one another

in love. This is profound for us to hear because this is what

faith applied looks like!


Paul is calling his readers (including us) to see every human

being through the lens of the gospel message of freedom and

dignity, to shine the light of the gospel on every situation and

then to listen for how God is still speaking.


At Lynnhaven Church, we state that everybody, every person,

is beloved – no matter gender, ethnicity, religion, sexual

orientation, or political background.


It is sometimes easier to cast a blanket of worthiness and

understanding over large groups of people, but we should also

do it for individuals.


We need to ask ourselves who are the people, the individuals

in our lives, we have perceived to be useless that God is

calling us to recognize as useful? Who are the people in your

circle - of friends, at work, in your family, at church - of

whom you need to change your perception? That person you

just thought of and said “there’s no way,” think about that

person again…and ask yourself if the Divine Being of this

world would agree with your perception of them.

Changing our perception doesn’t mean we agree with their

actions. It means we see them as humans, just as we are.


In yoga practices, at the end of a session, participants often

end with “Namaste.” It translates literally as “I bow to you”

and holds the meaning “the spirit in me honors the spirit in

you.” So much of our holding a loving, Christ-like perception

of the people around us is to honor the spirit within them – for

us to not only see them as whatever label they fit under, but

for us to see them for the spirit they have within.


Certainly, that spirit is formed by the things they have

experienced in life - yet, their worth goes beyond whatever

category they fit into or whatever label is given them. In

some cases, we are even called to help shift that label –

perhaps from slave to brother, from homeless to housed, from

refugee to neighbor.


As Christ-followers, we are called to do the work of

advocating for others, much like how Paul wrote a letter to

Philemon, or having those tough conversations with loved

ones. We have the responsibility to call one another to

faithfulness, to be true to who we are as followers of Jesus. In

a sense, that's what Paul is saying to Philemon: to remember

who he is as a follower of Jesus.


There’s a discomfort that arises with this...shining the light of

the gospel on our culture, on our lives, and then especially on

others...shining light on a different perspective. I don’t know

about you, but I don’t want to tell other people how they need

to live their lives, especially with a heaping layer of God-guilt

on top! Where is the line between coming off as self-

righteous and invoking change?


We have Paul’s example of appealing on the basis of

Christian love in this letter, even though we actually don’t

know the outcome of the letter, whether Philemon did change

his perception of Onesimus...and we have the example of

Jesus. (always, right?)


Jesus changed perceptions of people through his actions. He

talked to the woman at the well – a woman, a Samaritan, and

perceived to be “loose” because she was married more than

once. By talking to her, he showed she was beloved. Also,

Christ said that the children should be welcomed into his

presence – otherwise, children were not viewed as worthy.

Jesus was constantly changing perceptions through his

actions.


As we advocate in this world to be more accepting and more

loving, let us be the example for that. From one human being

to another.


Scripture: Philemon

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Lynnhaven Colony
Congregational,
United Church of Christ

1-757-481-7674

 

2217 W. Great Neck Rd

Virginia Beach, VA 23451

2217 W

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