3 October, 2021 – Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 22
The Rev. Dr. Richard Burden
Sermon preached by The Rev. Dr. Richard Burden
Below is a DRAFT text of the homily. It may vary considerably from the recorded version. Please excuse typos and grammatical errors, and do not cite without permission.
In the midst of the noise and tumult—the hurly-burly—of life, one voice says: Give judgment for me, O Lord, for I have lived with integrity;
In the midst of the slings and arrows of life, another voice says: “Do you still persist in your integrity? Curse God, and die.”
Integrity is a big word. It’s an important word…And something that can be hard to hang onto, in the midst of all that life throws at us. Integrity is something we wish those above us had more of…it’s something we might believe those beneath us don’t have enough of. It’s something we might seek…believe we have…only to find it challenged…cracked…and broken like a potsherd on the ground when adversity comes around.
Integrity is something more than simply upholding an external moral code…integrity is about being whole…being complete…in an “unimpaired, unadulterated, or genuine state,” [quoted in Parker Palmer, A Hidden Wholeness, p. 8], and how many of us can claim that about ourselves—that we live our lives in an unimpaired, unadulterated, genuine state—with any consistency? With any honesty? With any integrity?
Children…very small children…have that kind of integrity. They are whole beings and what you see is what you get…what happens inside them is expressed immediately outside them, and outside stimulus immediately affects their inner world, without a whole bunch of filters and rationalities getting in the way. If they are sad, mad, glad, afraid…you know it…it all exists equally at the depths and on the surface of infants.
But then life happens…We grow up. We learn that the world is…complicated and often a very dangerous, unfair place…we need boundaries…to protect ourselves…and so this happens…(this is what author and spiritual teacher Parker Palmer—who is a Quaker—calls a Quaker powerpoint). This side is your interior life, our true self…and this side is what you’ll allow others to see…what you think you have to be in order to survive, if not succeed. We all know what living this kind of divided life feels like…it’s been called “the imposter syndrome,”… “fake it till you make it” … compartmentalization. And we all know there are consequences to living divided this way…consequences to our integrity and to the integrity of the wider world. Parker Palmer lists three primary ones.
- “our inner light cannot illuminate the work we do in the world.” Wanting to succeed…be seen as the best and brightest…”perfect”…means projecting very hard on this side of the wall and neglecting the soul on the other side.
- “when we live behind a wall, our inner darkness cannot be penetrated by the light that is in the world. In fact, all we see out there is darkness, not realizing how much of it is our own making.” There’s light and shadow on both sides, but living divided means it’s hard for our light to get out, or the world’s light to get in…
- the longer we do this…the easier it is for others to see through the duplicity…the lack of integrity…the very people who could help us start to disappear from our lives to protect themselves…or we remove ourselves from them because we’re afraid they’ll figure it out…that we really are imposters.
What do we do? In an effort to “fix” this divided life problem, to live a more integrated life, many of us strive to become “centered”…sounds good right?… around an idea…a community…a guru…and so we center by “circling the wagons”…creating gated communities…building structures to keep “us” (inside) separated from “them” (outside). “Teacher we saw someone casting out demons in your name but they were not with us, so we stopped them.” “Don’t bring that child close to the Holy One.” And from inside we try to claim, like the Psalmist: “ I have not sat with the worthless, * I do not consort with the deceitful…I will not sit down with the wicked.” Us/Them. Inside/Outside.
It might be centered but it’s still a wall. The only real solution…the only solution with any integrity…says Palmer is this…and it requires a twist…a Moebius strip. And a Moebius strip has no inside, and no outside…just a flow from one to the other. This is actually how reality works, says Parker Palmer…“whatever is inside us continually flows outward to help form or deform the world—and whatever is outside us continually flows inward to help form, or deform, our lives. […] there is only one reality. […] and we are constantly engaged in a seamless exchange between what ever is ‘out there’ and whatever is ‘in here’…for better or for worse. […And we either we do this wide awake and learn to live] in ways that are life-giving for ourselves and others, or we [behave reactively, and] unconsciously in ways that are […] dangerous and death-dealing to relationships, to good work, to hope.” [HW, p.47-48]
This, I think, is what Jesus is always trying to tell us—trying to show us. That there is no real difference between“in here” and “out there”…we have to become more like children…again…more transparent…more authentic…more “what you see is what you get.” But with adult capacities to handle all that life throws at us. “Truly I tell you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it.” Call it “beginner’s mind“…call it “post-critical naiveté” [Marcus Borg, Reading the Bible Again for the First Time: Taking the Bible Seriously But Not Literally]…whatever you call it, it’s where all of us who strive to live with integrity—who want to live more whole and integrated lives—eventually find ourselves wanting to be more and more. Seeking those places where our soul can show up, and breathe, and teach us who we are and how we are to be in the world.
How is your soul? Have you checked in lately? What wisdom does it have to offer you…to offer us? Are you, in the words of adrienne marie brown, “living a life [you] don’t regret? A life that will resonate with [generations past and], as many generations forward as [you] can imagine. [Are you] attending to the crises of [our] time with [your] best self, [are you part of communities that are doing our collective best to honor our ancestors and all humans to come.” amb, Emergent Strategy]. Are we able to say, with the Psalmist, “As for me, I will live with integrity”