the Presbyterian Church of Coraopolis

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The latest Sermon from Reverend Tom

Pressing Perceptions 1/23/2021

Sermon Message for Saturday, January 23, 2021 & Sunday, 24, 2021

Prayer For Illumination: Prepare our hearts, O God, to accept your Word. Silence in us any voices but your own, so that we may hear your Word and also do it; through Christ our Lord.  Amen.

Scripture Lesson:  Jonah 3: 1-5, 10 (Page 926)

Sermon Message: ‘Pressing Perceptions’

Perceptions change over time. For instance, if you’ve ever gone back to your childhood home, things undoubtedly look ‘different!’ The physical world we remembered does not now seem quite so large and perhaps overbearing. Actually, lots of things change our perceptions during our lifetimes. Where we live, how we interact with one another, our health, our level of income even our degree of education. Quite importantly, our ‘beliefs’ change our perceptions.

Today we read of a prophet from God who believed that God had sent him to warn the Assyrian people of their need to change. There is more to be shared regarding Jonah. But first, let’s ponder some of the spiritual perceptions taking place back in the time Jonah lived, around the 8th century BC.

Prior to the prophet, Jonah, God had called Moses to lead the people of God; Israel, out of slavery, in Egypt, and into the Promised Land of Canaan. You may recall the Sinai covenant these rescued people had with God. This covenant is more commonly known as the Ten Commandments.

Time and time again the people of God would ‘drift away’ from their perceptions regarding the 10 Commandments. Perceptions of those 10 commandments would become watered down, minimalized, explained away, ignored and sometimes blatantly disobeyed. In turn this led to severe unrest and hurting behaviors among the people. Things would get ‘bad’ as they sometimes do. When things first ‘get bad’ there is unrest, rivalry and conflict that eventually grows over time. In the history of the Bible and in the history of the world, sometimes things become so ‘pressing’ that intervention is warranted.

During our lifetimes we have experienced the goodness associated with living our lives in accordance with the Ten Commandments and the teachings of Jesus Christ. We have also experienced times in our world’s history and in our own lives, when enmity has been so severe intervention has been required. Some of our ancestors survived the Great Depression or times of war. Our nation has a history of contentiousness, demonstrations, and quickness to ascertain that one group is superior or sees things ‘better’ than another.

Religion, in general, is supposed to help unite people’s beliefs in their higher power. The Christian religion has long been a full measure of secure beliefs and foundational truths. Don’t we know though, not all followers of God share the same perceptions?

Back in Jonah’s time varying perceptions became so oppositional that divine intervention was being called for.

The Book of Jonah is one of 66 books which compose the Bible. The Bible is full of indicatives, stories, and narratives. It is also a book of imperatives; commands to repent and to follow and change behaviors. The prophet, Jonah, was called by God to go to Nineveh and command the Assyrian nation to repent. Throughout spiritual history the ‘call’ to repent due to extreme hurt, sin and wrong in the world AND the petitioning for Divine intervention, came to be known as the “day of the Lord.”

Spiritually speaking, the “day of the Lord” is a day of reckoning. Prophets are sometimes sent by God to warn people of this impending “Day of the Lord.”

The prophet, Jonah, didn’t want to go where God called him to go. Perhaps you recall Jonah’s story. At first Jonah ran away from the Lord when he experienced God’s call and directive to go and preach to the people in the great city of Nineveh. He ran to a seaport where he bought a ticket for a ship going to a different port altogether. However, while at sea the Biblical account informs us that God sent a great wind and a violent storm culminating in Jonah being tossed overboard and being swallowed up by a whale. While Jonah was in the belly of the fish he prayed to the Lord. The Lord answered his prayers, the fish expelled Jonah from its’ mouth, and he landed on dry ground.

A second time the word of the Lord came to Jonah and this time his perceptions were different, perhaps more ‘pressing!’

Sometimes our perceptions also become more ‘pressing’ when we’ve been through something great and perhaps tragic. The ‘day of the Lord’ may come upon us at any time and during any season.

There are some further lessons to be learned from Jonah and some spiritual insights to be gained.

Jonah was by most accounts a good man. He was close to God. So close that God called him to go to the city of Nineveh and warn the Assyrian people that unless they change and repent of their wickedness, they would face destruction. God knew Jonah and Jonah knew God. Jonah was less than perfect, as are we in some respects. Truth is Jonah did not want to go to Nineveh and inquire of the Assyrian people to repent not because he feared their destruction. Nor was Jonah fearful of going. He knew and well understood how merciful God really was and Jonah did not want the Assyrian people to be blessed by God’s mercy. Jonah saw them all as being a ‘hopeless case’ and thought they should ‘get what’s coming to them!’ Jonah wanted to keep his closeness to God to himself. He simply did not want to share God with ‘those people!’

Sometimes our most ‘pressing perceptions’ need to be addressed by God. Jonah did not have a ‘corner on the market’ so to speak with God. Surely there are people in our lives, effecting our world, that we would much rather not deal with. Worst still would be our seeking to ‘hold back’ God’s care and message to them as Jonah first endeavored to do.

Our newly elected president has inquired of us to work towards unity. The theme of unity is not something new to this or any other president nor ruler. Unity is a Biblical calling and a spiritual reality.

The Bible is clear; “How good and pleasant it is when God’s people live together in unity!” -Psalm 133:1

‘Unity’ is more, so much more than saying or affirming; “I like you. I will tolerate you, or I will at least TRY to get along with you.” Unity, from the Bible, starts with confronting our pressing perceptions that we somehow ‘know God best.” Or the perception that we may THINK God loves us more.

Turn towards the heart of God and perceive. It is not God’s desire to destroy the Assyrians in Jonah’s time nor any people nor groupings of people in our time. Rather, it remains God’s will and design to bring people, all people, and all nations of the world into a larger family of peoples who are returning to their Creator in worship and submission and the recovery of full human joy.

Yes, God still intervenes in life, our lives and in the life of the world. This Biblical theme of ‘the day of the Lord’ is hoped by some to be a time whereby ‘all Hell breaks loose’ and sets things straight…The “day of the Lord” is no less than re-creation itself. Sure, it might take direct intervention of God into human history to bring it about. But when it happens things will be set right. All things. Everything.  God may call upon any of us to help His ‘cause.’ We love the Lord, and the Lord loves us. Yet, we must remember, we do not hold a ‘corner on the market’ so to speak of knowing and loving the Lord. Along with God calling others into repentance, even entire nations, God shall gain our attention as well as He calls each of us into repentance.

Some of our pressing perceptions now need to change. Life, recent life has well taught us that. The world and each of us are still learning how our most pressing perceptions need to change. We have been stricken down by a virus that continues to scare us, overwhelm us, convict us, even humble us. Our previous perceptions regarding ‘who’ is our neighbor, around the world or around the corner are constantly changing, for the better. Our nation’s political environment has changed and today we are being afforded a further opportunity to change, to repent from our past and pray for Divine guidance into our future with our Creator is now before us.

Spirituality teaches us, from a Biblical perspective re-creation begins with repentance. When repentance comes it can be a devastating thing.

For many years a consumer mentality has gripped our society.  It’s kind of like we’ve been drugged into believing that we are okay on our own, that we have all the means and resources necessary to see us through any ‘jam’ in life’s river. However, in a culture guided by consumption we’re not really going anywhere. We have been led to instead believe we do not need to repent. Leastwise according to modern psychology, but only to obtain. We have been led to believe in our society that we do not need to change our ways, only our strategies. Our pressing perception had been that we do not need some outside power to help us, only to encourage us. For far too long we’ve allowed ourselves to believe in ourselves mainly and adhere to the pressing perception that we are okay on our own. Thank you!

It’s not that our faith has failed us but that we have somehow failed our faith. Our pressing perceptions had been to escape religion and anything at all that might require something more of ‘our’ precious time and further commitment.

As the Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu put it “the longest journey begins with the first step.” We’ve known for the better part of a year that we need to heal our world, not just our land, from the devastations associated with this COVID-19 pandemic. Deep inside we’ve always known that some of our most pressing perceptions, as incorrect as they may have been and possibly still are, needed addressed then changed.

Clearly the Bible affirms Jesus Christ came to the Jews and the Gentiles, meaning to ALL people. Jonah was guided, somewhat, by his pressing perceptions that he did not want God to be merciful to those Assyrians, just in case they did repent. Jonah was guilty of a do-it-yourself religion. Grace has no place in the self-satisfaction of a do-it-yourself religion. Jesus himself said he did not come to gather the so-called righteous. That is the ones who are satisfied with who they are and where they are at. Jesus did instead say he came to call sinners to repentance.

Repentance leads to re-creation of a soul, a life, a family, a nation, even a world. A re-created life is a healed life.

Maybe you are not guilty of the worst of sins. Jonah was called by God a second time. God’s making use of us is some of the best evidence of his being at peace with us.

May our most pressing perceptions become our prayer that God can and will use us, perhaps even address us, or at least change us, as needed to cause light, God’s light to shine in dark regions.

God perceives us and yet he understands. Amen.