22 Oct 2017
What doesn’t kill us makes us stronger

15 Oct 2017
This Too Shall Pass

8 Oct 2017
The Simple Truth: Head, Heart and Hands

1 Oct 2017
Humility – Staying close to the ground

2 Jul 2017
Welcoming the Silence

25 Jun 2017
Always Uniting…

18 Jun 2017
Are you ready for harvest?

11 Jun 2017
Don’t Blame it on the Snake

4 Jun 2017
Words Beyond Words: Breath Beyond Breath

28 May 2017
Seeing with new eyes

14 May 2017
Grace, Gracious and Graceful

30 Apr 2017
A Time for war and a time for peace

23 Apr 2017
Faithful Doubting

16 Apr 2017
God became human so that we could become divine!

12 Mar 2017
Wind of the Spirit

12 Feb 2017
From the Mountainside: The Impossible Dream?

22 Jan 2017
Grounding our Life and Faith

25 Dec 2016
That Humanity should become Divine

11 Dec 2016
Joy is for Everyone

4 Dec 2016
The Mingling of Water and Spirit

27 Nov 2016
Living Fully in the Present Moment

16 Oct 2016
Persistence and Justice

9 Oct 2016
Gratitude and Thankfulness

2 Oct 2016
Standing in the Tragic Gap

25 Sep 2016
Rich Man, Poor Man

4 Sep 2016
The Gift of Freedom

21 Aug 2016
A Hidden Wholeness

14 Aug 2016
We all need wise words to live by

31 Jul 2016
When Less is More

24 Jul 2016
Developing Healthy Relationships

17 Jul 2016
Died Wise

10 Jul 2016
Meeting Strangers on the Road

3 Jul 2016
On the Road Again

29 May 2016
Faith is the Answer

22 May 2016
The Way of Wisdom

15 May 2016
Icons and Stained Glass Windows – Inner light

8 May 2016
Unity and Oneness

1 May 2016
A Hidden Wholeness

24 Apr 2016
Lest we forget: What?

17 Apr 2016
God became human so that we could become divine!

3 Apr 2016
Thank God for St Thomas!

27 Mar 2016
Living life’s great contradictions

20 Mar 2016
Message of Peace

13 Mar 2016
Living Fully, Loving Wastefully

6 Mar 2016
Come Home, all is forgiven

28 Feb 2016
Simply, leave it alone

21 Feb 2016
Why do we “kill” our prophets?

7 Feb 2016
Keeping your Head in the Clouds

Sermons

A Hidden Wholeness

01 May, 2016 John 5:1-9 Easter 6 By Rev Dr Christopher Page


The divided life, at bottom, is not a failure of ethics;
it is a failure of human wholeness. ~Parker Palmer

Introduction
When I was accepted as a Uniting Church minister I was required to complete three reading courses to be orientated toward my new tradition.  First, I had to complete a course in Uniting Church studies which was an introduction and analyses on the Basis of Union.  I am sure all here are very familiar with it!  Secondly, a reading course in liturgy, which I have also completed.  And thirdly, a reading course in ethics and the sacraments.  I hope I wasn’t singled out as a person who needed a refresher course on ethical behaviour!  Anyway there was no time limit on fulfilling these requirements.  So while I’ve done the first two, I am just beginning the third and hopefully will be finished by the middle of the year.

I have been reflecting on the reading for the course on ethics.  Some may know that in philosophical and theological circles there is often a lot of debate about the differences and the similarities between ethics, morals and values.  We know they overlap, but we also know that they each have their own distinct qualities.  I am not going to spend time on the history of these theological ramblings, rather I’d like to make the connection between what we call ethics, integrity and wholeness.  And then the story of the man beside the pool of Bethsaida.

Integrity and Wholeness
When it was years into construction, a 112-metre span of the Westgate Bridge, between piers 10 and 11, collapsed and fell 50 metres to the ground and water below.  It happened at 11:50 am on 15 October 1970.  Thirty-five construction workers were killed and 18 injured, making it Australia's worst industrial accident. 1 

What a terrible tragedy, which I am sure many will remember.  Why did the bridge span fall?  I am sure there are very, very technical reasons of which I have no knowledge.  But I want to suggest that it collapsed because of a lack of “integrity” in the way the design and the construction came together.  At its heart integrity means “unity, wholeness, coherence, cohesion, undividedness, togetherness and solidarity".

I don’t think that it is too much of a leap here between the integrity, the coherence of a material object, and human integrity.  In the human being one of our greatest longings is to be whole, so that all the fragmented and discontinuous parts of my life are integrated and have integrity.

Human Wholeness
Many writers have suggested that there is a hidden wholeness within all of us.  That is to say, that the journey of life is to discover that actually everything belongs.  It is easy to see that life is good or bad; right of wrong; joyful or sad… But when we reflect on our experience, I think we will often find that what we thought was bad, in fact turned out to be helpful or necessary.  Or on reflection, in our times of sadness we can discover that it has made us more responsive and compassionate.

It is one of the great mysteries of life that suffering is necessary for there to be hope and joy.  Martin Buber, the great Jewish Hasidic scholar, tells the story of the Angel whose desire was to rid the earth of suffering.  After his failed attempt he returns to heaven; God says to him:

Behold a truth which is known to me, and only to me, from the beginning of time, a truth too deep and dreadful for your delicate, generous hands, my sweet apprentice — it is this, that the Earth must be nourished with putrefaction and covered with shadows, that its seeds may come forth — and it is this, that souls must be made fertile with flood and sorrow, that through them the Great Work may be born.” 2


Wisdom must lie in the capacity to integrate some of the great paradoxes of life.  And of course the most difficult is the presence of suffering and evil in our world and the nature of love, health and wholeness.  The Swiss psychiatrist Carl Jung wrestled deeply with this dilemma when he wrote:

"There is no light without shadow and no… wholeness without imperfection. To round itself out, life calls not for perfection but for completeness; and for this the "thorn in the flesh" is needed, the suffering of defects without which there is no progress and no ascent."

The Sick Man at the pool of Bethsaida
It doesn’t take much to see that the sick man by the pool had a miserable and definitely imperfect life.  Like many in the ancient world he was an outcast and his only community were like-minded sufferers.  If you visit Israel today you can actually see this very pool.  It is now 10 metres below ground level, as the city has grown up around it.  

There are two great truths implicit in this story.  The first is that it begins and ends with a criticism of legalism.  The reference to the festival is part of a continued attack by the author of John on religious rituals which are without what I would call 'relationship'.  And it ends with the challenging words, “This occurred on the Sabbath day”.  Again, law and legalism are being placed over compassion and wholeness.  Better to leave this man in his misery than to break the law!

But in between we have another story:

One man was there who had been ill for thirty-eight years.  When Jesus saw him lying there and knew that he had been there a long time, he said to him, "Do you want to be made well?"

Not an idle or thoughtless question, “do you want to be made well?”  This is where some of what I have just said comes together.  Isn’t Jesus asking the man, “Do you want to be made whole – complete?  Most often this passage is seen as a story about curing someone of their disability.  But it can be interpreted much deeper than that.  I know of people who are dying of incurable diseases and yet they are whole.  In fact, the disease is what has brought them to this place of integration.  The shadow cast over their life has been brought into the light and their imperfection has made them whole.

So the question is asked - and by inference it is asked of us - “Do you want to be made whole, or are you happy enough to remain where you are in your incompleteness?"  We shouldn’t answer that question too quickly because there may be a high cost to changing one’s life and even one’s way of being in the world.  If you want to link wholeness with integrity then to be whole is to live an ethical life.

The sick man answered him, "Sir, I have no one to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up and while I am making my way, someone else steps down ahead of me."

So dismissing the need to follow the ritual and to be washed in the pool, Jesus gazes into the eyes of this incomplete man, this man whose was not integrated into his own life or his community and says to him:

"Stand up, take your mat and walk."  At once the man was made whole, and he took up his mat and began to walk. Now that day was a Sabbath.

Just in case you forgot, Jesus put wholeness, integrity, completeness above the religious law of the day.

The quote on this morning’s Order of Service by Parker Palmer, “The divided life, at bottom, is not a failure of ethics; it is a failure of human wholeness", fits well with the words of WB Yeats’ famous poem Second Coming, “Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold."  In the undivided life there is a centre of hidden wholeness that holds us and provides the integrity needed to hold things together.  It is from this centre that our wellness comes.  And it is the wellspring of wisdom that knows all things good and bad; joy and sorrow; anger and peacefulness; and even hope and despair; all belong together and can be integrated into a whole, imperfect and yet complete life.

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https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/West_Gate_Bridge

2  Martin Buber, The Angel and the World's Dominion

 

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