Epiphany 6 • 12 Feb 2017


Isaiah 58:1-9a
1 Corinthians 2:1-12
Matthew 5:13-20


Rev. Chris Udy



Nearly 100 years ago now,
TS Eliot wrote a poem called
The Hollow Men.
Part of it reads like this:

Between the idea
And the reality
Between the motion
And the act
Falls the Shadow
For Thine is the Kingdom
Between the conception
And the creation
Between the emotion
And the response
Falls the Shadow …

It’s not a straightforward poem,
and unfortunately it’s also quite pessimistic,
but it looks like Eliot is describing
that gap between the idea of something
and the way it appears;
the gap between plans on paper
and a finished building;
the gap between a recipe
and the meal that we put on the table;
the gap between words of the Law and true justice.
He says that it’s in that gap
between intention and execution
that the Shadow falls –
and when he writes ‘Shadow’
he uses a capital letter –
so he clearly means something significant.

My psychological hero Carl Jung
has a lot to say about the Shadow too.
He says the Shadow is what’s left out
when we make a choice
about what kind of person we’ll be;
what kind of life we’ll live;
what kind of world we’ll make.
When we make a choice – any choice –
we
don’t choose something else.
We might choose to play sport,
so we invest energy, time, effort
into practice and playing –
and that means we don’t have time,
or energy, or effort …
for study, or for music, or a friendship –
and if the choice we make is real,
if we have some talent or potential
in that area we didn’t choose,
we may have some curiosity,
maybe some regret,
maybe some sense of loss, some grief,
about the way we didn’t take,
and what we might have found there.
That’s the Shadow.
That was the path not taken,
and because we didn’t travel that road,
we can’t know where it might have taken us.
But still we wonder what might have been;
we wonder who we might have become,
what kind of world we’d have lived in as a result.

Usually we make the best choices we can.
We look for the brightest option –
the one that takes us closer
to what we think we want.
So most of the things we don’t choose
aren’t especially attractive.
That means the Shadow includes a lot of stuff
we are not too sad to leave hidden –
but sometimes things emerge from the Shadow
that we absolutely must pay attention to,
and we cannot become healthy
without addressing what we find.

Sometimes what emerges from the Shadow
is dreadful and profoundly shaming –
like this week’s news
about the number of children
abused by religious leaders in Australia.
Thousands of young people and their families
who have been hurt and harmed
by the choices of men – overwhelmingly men –
who had intimate power over them,
or had the power to respond
when children reported abuse.
There was, in the Church,
and not only the Catholic Church,
a decision, a shameful choice,
both to use the wonderful gift of trust
as an opportunity for predation
and utterly inappropriate gratification,
and then to cover it up,
to keep it secret, consign it to the Shadow,
in an effort to maintain their standing
and the influence and power of the institution.

What Carl Jung said
was that things pushed into the Shadow
don’t remain there.
They bubble up and emerge into the light,
and then we have to find some way
to name and face up to the evil done,
to work through the hurt, and the damage,
and to find some way to heal and reconcile.
What we’ve heard this week
has revealed a terrible wound –
both in those who’ve been abused
and in the Spirit and body of the Church –
and it will take love, and time,
and skill, and money,
to take the steps we’ll need to find our healing –
and it is
our healing – it’s for all of us.

Sometimes what emerges from the Shadow
is frightening and broken –
but sometimes it’s not.
Sometimes, as we’re making our choices,
we thing we don’t choose
has something good and true
and beautiful about it.
Sometimes we have to make our choices quickly,
or under pressure,
and we leave some potential, some gift, some strength,
to slip into the Shadow.
Carl Jung discovered
that the work of adulthood –
the life-task of maturity –
is often to go back
and pay attention to the Shadow;
to find a way to bring to light and integrate
those good and true parts of who we are
that never had a chance to grow –
and it’s in that illumination,
and in that integration,
that we move towards wholeness and peace.

That’s the process that Paul is describing
in his letter to the Christian community in Corinth.
He’d discovered that the community there
was fractious and divided –
the shadow was bubbling –
so Paul challenged the people there
to find their way to healing.
He said their jealousy and quarrelling,
their divisiveness and petty loyalties
were signs of childishness and immaturity.
They’d formed little parties
around their former teachers,
and they were squabbling
about who would be in control of their community,
who would wield the institutional power.
But Paul insisted
that these divisions were pointless and unhealthy.
What he had done, and what Apollos had done
was to work on a common purpose –
nourishing the life and growth
that can only come from God.
“We are God’s servants, working together” he said,
“you are God’s field, God’s building”.

Power plays and divisions, secrets and lies,
don’t lead to life and health.
God’s purpose – what Jesus called the Kingdom of God,
the reign of God –
cannot come from the abuse of power
or the exercise of divisive or dominating control.
We find our way to life through integrity –
through finding a perspective
that transcends our divisions –
that helps us rise above our differences –
to see that, ultimately, everything …
everything is connected.
So in the Sermon on the Mount
Jesus describes a way of life
that’s absolutely uncompromising
when it comes to challenging abusive power
and confronting our divisions.

“You’ve heard it said …” Jesus begins each section,
describing some part of the Law,
and then he goes on “but I say”,
and he goes much, much further
than the Law would seem to require.
“You’ve heard it said to those in ancient times
‘You shall not murder’ …
but I say that if you are angry with a brother or sister
you will be liable for judgement …
if you say ‘you fool’
you’ll be liable to the hell of fire.”
It’s not enough to hide behind
the words of the Law, Jesus says –
God’s purpose is for us to live in peace,
to live together with respect and compassion –
that’s the plan –
and if we make choices
that lead to anything less,
God’s purpose falls into Shadow.
Distant and disdainful politeness is not enough;
sarcastic dismissal is not enough,
the reign of God is revealed
when we live together in peace with justice.
“So if you want to offer something to God
and remember that you have a quarrel
with your brother or your sister,
leave the gift there, before the altar,
and be reconciled to your brother or sister.”

It’s tragic that what Jesus intends
as a way to bring light to the shadow
has been twisted by some –
especially those in the Church –
to cover up things they’ve done wrong.
Instead of encouraging self-examination
and confession, and reconciliation,
these verses have themselves been used
to cover up abuse
and to keep those who’ve been abused
from finding justice.
But that’s a universe away
from what Jesus intends.

You’ve heard it said, – Jesus continues,
‘you shall not commit adultery’
but I say that anyone
who looks at a woman with lust
has already committed adultery in the heart.”
The purpose of God is that men and women
live together in loving, trusting, honest relationships –
and nothing less will lead us to God’s healing.
But again, tragically,
these verses have been used
to justify self-loathing and social exclusion,
and also to bring shame and judgement
to ordinary, utterly human men and women.

Sometimes, again, there are voices in the Church
who decide that judgement and exclusion
is justified by the verses that come next:
"It was also said, 'Whoever divorces his wife,
let him give her a certificate of divorce.
But I say to you that anyone who divorces his wife, except on the ground of unchastity,
causes her to commit adultery;
and whoever marries a divorced woman
commits adultery.”
It’s worth noticing that these verses
are addressed especially to men,
because, when Jesus was speaking
it was almost always men
who used the Law to end a marriage,
and often the woman divorced was left destitute.
Jesus, in the sermon, seems to be saying
that there is no such thing
as an easy and painless end to relationship,
and something always remains –
there is always a connection –
often a distant, messy, and painful remnant –
of relationships that once were causes of celebration.
I think most of my family and friends
who have travelled that road would say the same –
and I deeply admire those
who find careful, gracious, respectful ways
to negotiate that difficult terrain.

Jesus insists that the words of the Law –
or any words, any set of beliefs,
anything we might try to hide behind
to avoid God’s scrutiny – or our own –
is finally pointless.
Even insisting that the words
of the Sermon on the mount
are some kind of code for condemnation
cannot lead to life.
God’s purpose is life – life as God intended –
life in full brilliant illumination –
life with integrity, and love,
and joy, and hope, and peace.

So when we use the words or ideas
of the sermon on the mount
to judge or condemn other people,
we’ve missed the point –
the sermon is for us,
to illuminate our own lives –
not to be used against others.
Jesus insists that the way to the kingdom of God –
the way to life in all its fullness –
will be found when we stop pointing fingers at others,
when we stop making excuses,
when we look at our own lives honestly,
and also with hope and grace.

Jesus calls us the light of the world,
so the light falls on us first,
and it lets us see,
in the shadow that’s inside us and around us,
people and things that need repair,
and good things we’ve forgotten as we grew.
And when we can bring all that wisdom together,
and when we let God’s grace lead us to healing,
then peace with justice grows,
and the reign of God is revealed,
and the kingdom of God has arrived.
The Hollow Men – TS Eliot

Between the idea
And the reality
Between the motion
And the act
Falls the Shadow
For thine is the Kingdom

Between the conception
And the creation
Between the emotion
And the response
Falls the Shadow
Life is very long

Between the desire
And the spasm
Between the potency
And the existence
Between the essence
And the descent
Falls the Shadow
For Thine is the Kingdom

For Thine is
Life is
For Thine is the
This is the way the world ends
This is the way the world ends
This is the way the world ends
Not with a bang but with a whimper.