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

Standing in the Tragic Gap

02 October, 2016 1 Corinthians 1:18-24 Pentecost 20 By Rev Dr Christopher Page


…we live in a tragic gap -- a gap between the way things are and the way we know they might be. It is a gap that never has been and never will be closed…we must learn to stand in the tragic gap, faithfully holding the tension between reality and possibility.
~Parker J Palmer

Introduction:
It wasn’t until my teenage years that I began to take church and religion seriously. That’s not to say that as a small child I wasn’t religious, I was. But it was a religion of experience and a beautiful feeling of what I would call “enchantment.” This world was rich and full of the presence of something I would call divine or a mystery. Was it God, the sacred, or just life itself? I’m not sure, but there was nothing I had to do, it all came to me unbidden. Not perfect or complete or understandable, it was just there.

Then in my teenage years I was told, or perhaps I just realised for myself, that I had to think about this experience of the divine, or the sacred, or God. So I took religion very seriously. I sought, as many gathered this morning would have done, to find the right answer to the questions that perplexed me. If I just studied the Bible more, then everything would become clearer and understandable. And many things did become clearer and understandable. I learned the history of the people of Israel; the words and teachings of Jesus. And I also discovered how the world would end, not with a “whimper but with a bang,” to misquote T.S.Eliot.

But there remained many things that were mysteries and not easily accessible to the enquiring mind. Among these were the strange paradoxes; the seemingly irreconcilable tensions and distinctions between the notion that all of life is of grace and gift and yet those who prospered were the ones who worked the hardest. But then I saw the people who worked hard and failed or fell on hard times through no fault of their own. In our small church on the corner of Lumley Street and Logan Road I heard the stories of compassionate and loving people. Bill Smith (name changed), whose wife died leaving him to care for four young children, then losing his job some months later. And the falling into depression and despair were not told. Bill was a man dedicated in his faith. Our prayers for him and his family were honest and passionate and yet I know he never recovered from those painful experiences.

That experience and several others showed me the truth that to be authentic and genuine one must live in what has come to be called the tragic gap between what is and what could be; between what we desire for ourselves and others and what life brings to our doorstep.

The Foolishness of God
There was a tradition in the church where I grew up that the last hymn of the Good Friday service was a rousing rendition of “Up from the Grave He Arose”. I recall a conversation I overheard as a young man after a Good Friday service where a visitor to the church asked the Minister why the congregation sang an Easter Day hymn on Good Friday morning? From my recollection the minister said something like “Well, people can only take so much gloom and doom in one service. So it is good to give them a bit of hope at the end.”

You know, I understand what he was saying and I also know that the liturgical purists would be horrified at such a blatant disregard for the celebration of suffering and despair. But for me it is a reminder that we all stand in the tragic gap between the bad news of death and the good news of resurrection; between the reality of human suffering and the hope of burgeoning new life; and between the “reality” that death is not the end and the unexpectedness and unpredictability of life emerging in the most remarkable places.

That’s the tension of life: will it work or will it not work out? Will there be something left after this disaster or will life as I have known it be washed away? I think the author of this letter to the Church at Corinth was on to something when he debunked the naïve notion that human thought and perfect reasoning will work it all out. And I paraphrase:

…the symbol of death on a cross, as the possibility of new life, is foolishness to those who can’t see it, but to those of us who are being redeemed by this message, it is all-powerful. You can have the wisdom of those who think they are wise any day. But I would rather take the foolishness of God!

Living in the Tragic Gap
I am sure that to live today with truth and authenticity, we must stand between what we may see as opposites and hold them in tension and resist the temptation to collapse one into the other. And that is not an easy place to be. I put the picture of the cross on the cover of this order of service this morning because it is a reminder that the founder of our religion, the pioneer of our way of being in the world, had to stand and live within the tragic gap of what was and what could be.

The symbol of Jesus’ arms spread. In one hand he holds a world of pain and suffering; a world of violence and hate. But he does not abandon that world to its ultimate fate. In his other hand he holds the new world of forgiveness and compassion; of hope and wholeness. But neither does he collapse into that new world order, for if he did he would desert the world he lived in and was willing to die for. It does seem foolishness to hold on to both the good and the bad; the true and the false; the right and the wrong; the respectable and the unrespectable. And yet what has the wisdom of this world that tries to expunge the bad; eliminate the false; annihilate the wrong and crush the unrespectable brought us? Surely more violence, more pain and more unhappiness?

Ok, enough doom and gloom for a Sunday morning. I do want you to leave here feeling better than when you entered. But I also want each person, and myself included, to know that life is not easy. Perhaps you all know the famous quote attributed to the former Prime Minister Malcolm Fraser? He was quoted as saying, “Life wasn’t meant to be easy!” This was used by the newspapers of the day to demonstrate that he was cold and uncaring. Some years later he told an interviewer that he was actually quoting George Bernard Shaw who said “Life is not meant to be easy, but my child take courage: it can be delightful.”

I would love to sit with that for some time…. But my child, take courage: it can be delightful. The remarkable thing is that when we see life as it is; when we see all of life, not just half of it - life as both love and despair, joy and sadness, hope and fear - we actually see life and we begin to live fully. There really is little point living half a life. That is the good bits; the fun bits and the bits that keep us from embracing the tensions every life brings. The author and poet Stephen Levine brushes against this in his poem, We Walk through Half our Life:

We walk through half our life
as if it were a fever dream
barely touching the ground
our eyes half open
our heart half closed.

Not half knowing who we are
we watch the ghost of us drift
from room to room
through friends and lovers
never quite as real as advertised.

Not saying half we mean
or meaning half we say
we dream ourselves
from birth to birth
seeking some true self.

Until the fever breaks
and the heart cannot abide
a moment longer
as the rest of us awakens,
summoned from the dream,
not half caring for anything but love.

 

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