2 Timothy 2:8-15
In the spiritual war that surrounds us, the battle is often waged on the field of perception. What is the field of perception? It is how we perceive our circumstances from either the perspective of the world or the perspective of God.
I want to begin with a story: A farmer and his son had a beloved stallion who helped the family earn a living. One day, the horse ran away and their neighbors exclaimed, “Your horse ran away, what terrible luck!” The farmer replied, “Maybe so, maybe not. We’ll see.”
A few days later, the horse returned home, leading a few wild mares back to the farm as well. The neighbors shouted out, “Your horse has returned, and brought several horses home with him. What great luck!” The farmer replied, “Maybe so, maybe not. We’ll see.”
Later that week, the farmer’s son was trying to break one of the mares and she threw him to the ground, breaking his leg. The villagers cried, “Your son broke his leg, what terrible luck!” The farmer replied, “Maybe so, maybe not. We’ll see.”
A few weeks later, soldiers from the national army marched through town, recruiting all the able-bodied boys for the army. They did not take the farmer’s son, still recovering from his injury. Friends shouted, “Your boy is spared, what tremendous luck!” To which the farmer replied, “Maybe so, maybe not. We’ll see.”
This is a battle fought on the grounds of perception. The difference in this tale from the battle we fight is that when a Christian fights this battle, the Christian has a promise. A promise I will carefully state now: “We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose.” (Rom. 8:28 NRS)
Notice, I said I will state this promise carefully. because it is a promise that if it is misused if it causes pain or distrust. It is hard to see the good when a loved one dies. It is hard to see the good in personal suffering. It is hard to see the good in illness, violence, mental anguish and human sin. Never, ever say this promise to a person in such a situation. To do so is to profane the love of God.
What God is saying is that no human tragedy goes unnoticed. No human wrong is ignored. God will take that which has been bad and will use it in ways beyond our comprehension to bring about the ultimate good, even when we might not know the outcome this side of eternity. This is perhaps our greatest tool of faith we can develop. It is a tool we most definitely will need to use at certain points of our life.
Paul tells Timothy, “Remember Jesus Christ, raised from the dead, a descendant of David–that is my gospel, for which I suffer hardship, even to the point of being chained like a criminal. But the word of God is not chained.” (2 Tim. 2:8-9 NRS) Paul, imprisoned for his faithfulness, his obedience, his sacrifice for his Lord, is fighting the fight of perception and winning. Paul is encouraging Timothy to fight as well.
However, our ability to win this fight is one of faith when we enter the battlefield of perception, we must first understand it is a fight the enemy is used to winning. Sometimes the only way we can even know we have been attacked and lost is when we lie devastated from wounds of deception, ignorance, complacency, delusion, and just plain selfishness in our own lives. The enemy capitalizes on these things and gloats over our suffering.
Take the covenant people of Judea. They lost the battle of perception by thinking false gods could help them. Thinking that military alliances could help them. Thinking that their cultural approach to their religion could keep them from being overtaken and exiled from their country. But it did. When they woke up, it was too late. For seventy years they lived in exile.
What did God tell them? Accept this captivity. Pray for the good of the land. Live your lives as you should. But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the LORD on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare. (Jer. 29:7 NRS) This is the perception you must have.
Why, why did God give this to Jeremiah to say? Why, because the first thing we need to do when we find ourselves knocked down by the temptations faced in perception or the results of letting the enemy knock us down is realization and acceptance of our situation.
In Psalm 66, the Psalm for today, we find a prayer lifting God’s glory as well as speaking to the danger we face in arrogance. “For you, O God, have tested us; you have tried us as silver is tried. You brought us into the net; you laid burdens on our backs; (Ps. 66:10-11 NRS) The Psalmist cries out that God has done this. No, God did not do this. God allowed this. God allowed this so that the people might wake up. If you were to read the rest of this Psalm you would see that the Psalmist is led to cry out for forgiveness and God does hear. This is the way out of the trap of a false impression. This is the path to true perception.
Last week the text of the lectionary spoke on faith. The apostles wanted more faith. The problem is God has already given them access to all the faith they would even need, not as a possession, for faith cannot be concocted by human effort. Faith is a state of being grown through trust. Faith is a duty, an expectation, an obligation that gives us true perception and defeat our demonic foes. When God enters our life we have access to all the faith we need, we just are too deceived to understand.
There is a prayer that can help us in “our awareness that the God’s gift rather than our accomplishment gives us the confidence expressed by Paul: “I have the strength for everything through him who empowers me” (Phil. 4:13).” This prayer is the Prayer of Examen. It is a prayer founded upon the recognition of God’s love for us, our gratitude, our realizing how we need God to help us win the battle of perception through the power of discernment, and the promise of God’s forgiveness when we fail. It is a prayer of reflection and realization of this fallen world in which we live. An unexamined life is a spiritually defeated life.
The gospel story today is the account of ten lepers. Leper were likely the most isolated, feared, and hopeless people of their time. Yet, in this perception of hopelessness they take a chance and seek out Jesus. Jesus heals them all and the leave. Only one comes back, a leper who was also a Samaritan. He comes back and gives praise to God. You see the others had the perception that the leprosy was their battlefield. It wasn’t. Their battlefield was a state of mind that would allow them to walk away from a gift of healing without a word of thanks to what only an act of God could make happen. Only one understood. Only one perceived.
We live in a world in which perception is becoming more powerful. Deep fakes can create lies that are believable. We are continually being manipulated by mega data. We sold a bill of goods by people who serve their own interests and, likely out of ignorance and arrogance are serving the darkness that is drawing closer and closer. God has given all so much but way too many think it is not enough so they seek to live in a deceptive perception that for someday they must account.
Will it be asked of us, “Then Jesus asked, “Were not ten made clean? But the other nine, where are they?” (Lk. 17:17 NRS) Will we be the one who understood or the nine who walked away?