Easter Breakfast Sermon

Wednesday, March 26th, 1997 - Rediscovering Integrity

"REDISCOVERING INTEGRITY." In "City Ethics 1997", Dr Simon Longstaff, the Executive Director of the St James Ethics Centre says Sydney is facing a "slow slide back into greed..into the infamous practises of the 1980's." Dr James Dobson, founder of Focus on the Family, says "integrity is the word for our times! It means keeping our promises, doing what we said we would do, choosing to be accountable, and taking as our motto, "semper fidelis" the promise to be always faithful." If there are tides in the affairs of men, this is the time to rediscover integrity.

Integrity is the bedrock of social relationships. When we can no longer depend on one another the future becomes bleak. We say "When the time comes, you can count on me." But we are discovering we cannot trust governments, corrupt police, many friends, and sometimes our church. There is a dearth of integrity. We despise the person whose private life does not reflect his public image. We despise the politician who misappropriates public money. We despise the policeman who solicits bribes. We despise the school-teacher who is a paedophile. We despise the educated business-woman who tells racist jokes. We despise the family man who abuses his wife and rages at his children.

We do not accept hypocrisy between public talk and private action, between moral claims and immoral acts, between open demands and closed deeds, between inclusive statements and exclusive works. What you are is not what you say you are, but what your deeds show you are. Your word must be your bond. That is integrity. With God, integrity counts! But personal integrity is a rare commodity.

Insurance companies state one out of every five motorcar writeoffs are deliberate acts by the owners. Workers Compensation cases are inflated by bogus claims. Female absenteeism for sickness and injury peaks four times a year, just prior to each lot of school holidays. We live in a deceitful society, where truth is hard to find. Apart from the church, few are calling for a new standard of public morality, community behaviour, and personal ethics.

The key is the practice of intentional integrity. You can have a better family life and career success by being a person of intentional integrity who consistently applies ethical standards to conduct. You need to avoid the pitfalls of conditional integrity. You must not compromise personal character, competence, or commitment. Do not capitulate to conditional integrity when under fire, being honest only when it's convenient. This is promoted as the way to get on in life, marriage, and business. Yet we see the tragic results of selective dishonesty. Small lies, deceptions, and improprieties lead to fraud, theft and serious social problems.

1. POLITICAL LEADERS MUST HAVE INTEGRITY. Few professions have fallen so low in public perception as politics. Politicians are suspected of lying, immorality and hypocrisy. The Morgan Gallop Poll (No 1706) reveals only 14% of people trust a politician's word. Senator Matt Colston's rorts of Federal parliament's travel and living away from home allowances reveals the lack of integrity in the life of one who offered to lead this nation, and who said to his electors, "Trust me." They did, and he repaid them with a disgusting lack of integrity.

Former Senator Graham Richardson said lying was necessary about leadership and policy splits. It is "what is required of modern successful governments". But the Westminster system levies heavy punishment on MPs who lie in the Parliament. The political system in a democracy becomes corrupt if politicians do not tell the truth. Lying makes political management of the news easier, but it also creates crassness, deceit and opportunism. As the SMHerald said: "One of the justifications for parliamentary privilege is that the Parliament must be a place where the truth is spoken, fearlessly if necessary. The acceptance of lying as a political weapon corrupts the political process." (SMH Editorial 1.11.94)

Our Premier is an expert on the life and character of Abraham Lincoln. "Honest Abe" suffered more political defeats than any politician I could name before becoming President of the United States. The one thing that caused people to finally vote for him, was that on a matter of great principle, they knew he was a man of complete integrity.

2. BUSINESS LEADERS MUST HAVE INTEGRITY. Business leaders are expected to show integrity in the way they handle shareholders investments. In Victoria Brian Quinn was charged with misappropriating $6 million from Coles Myer. He joins a long list of Australian businessmen to stand before the courts: George Herscu, Laurie Connell, Christopher Skase, Alan Bond - indeed some of Australia's finest businessmen chosen for terms of rest and recreation by some of Australia's finest judges. Integrity is demanded of business leaders. The Australian Financial Review a few weeks ago, called for caution and vigilance in the Sydney business community.

Why? "Because nearly everybody senses the changes that are afoot. There is little that can be measured. However, people don't need a thermometer to know that it's getting hot. Consistent anecdotes from reliable sources are a good indication that serious matters are to be addressed." The editorial goes on to list a number of danger signs in our commercial and financial life. Peter Drucker said: "People might know too little, perform poorly, lack judgment and ability, and yet not do too much damage. But if they lack character and integrity, no matter how knowledgeable, how brilliant, how successful, they destroy. They destroy people, the most valuable resource of the enterprise. They destroy spirit. And they destroy performance." Business leaders must have integrity.

3. CHRISTIANS MUST HAVE INTEGRITY. The 1980's saw public scandals among Pentecostal evangelists, and the 1990's have seen moral scandals among Catholic Christian Brothers. There is no place to hide such disgraceful conduct. As Professor Charles Birch, formerly of Sydney University, says, "The notion of integrity is the root meaning of the word religion - religare, to bind together. As the chasm between our inner intentions and outer acts, our pretensions and our practice, deepens, so does our hunger for wholeness. When personal integrity falls apart, we become vulnerable to whatever solution is presented to us. Today I sense a deep need for a coherent faith that can meet our deep need for integrity." ("On Purpose" Charles Birch, NSW Press Uni).

Jesus understood this fundamental. He gave clear instructions for His disciples to be people who live with integrity.

36"I tell you that men will have to give account on the day of judgment for every careless word they have spoken. 37For by your words you will be acquitted, and by your words you will be condemned." The follower of Jesus must demonstrate integrity by the way he or she acts and speaks. Character is tested by conduct. What is said reveals what is in the heart. Words reveal thoughts. If you are inherently evil it will out. Bad trees cannot produce good fruit. The only way forward, is not by guarding your speech, but by changing your heart. If we were rugby league players, we would all be sent off to spend time in the sin-bin!

In Hebrew the word integrity is "thummim". On the ceremonial breastplate worn by the High Priest were gemstones known as the Urim and Thummim. "They shall be over Aaron's heart when he goes in before the Lord"(Exod. 28:30). There were times when a high-level decision could not be made "until a priest could consult with the Urim and Thummim" (Ez 2:63). Thummim suggests integrity was required to stand before God. God wants every Christian to be protected with the "breast-plate of righteousness" (Eph. 6:14) as Paul puts it. Before we come before God, our heart should be covered with integrity.

4. JESUS DEMONSTRATED PERSONAL INTEGRITY. When Jesus stood in the judgement area of the palace of the Governor Pilate on that first Good Friday He had already been dragged through a series of illegal trials. He had been examined in the High Priest's House by old Annas, the godfather of an ecclesiastical dynasty. He was dragged next door and before the current High Priest, Caiaphas his soninlaw. The bones of Caiaphas were discovered just last year.

After being hit and abused, Jesus was roughly taken to the Council chamber of The Sanhedrin where a hastily assembled group, met illegally in a predawn assembly to hear the High Priest's report of his examination of Jesus. Before the Sanhedrin, Caiaphas declared that it was essential for the sake of the nation that Jesus be put to death immediately and charged him with blasphemy, threatening to destroy the temple, disturbing the peace, claiming to be king, and representing himself as the Son of God. They did not want a fair trial. What they wanted was a verdict of death!

The Sanhedrin had no power to crucify Jesus, so they sought the Roman Governor to grant execution quickly before the people were aware what was happening. In so doing they were walking all over human rights in this travesty of justice! Truth, justice, integrity were being sacrificed for expediency. Pilate asked: "Are you the king of the Jews?" Jesus answered, "Does this question come from you or have others told you about me?" Pilate replied: "Do you think I am a Jew? It was your own people and chief priests who handed you over to me. What have you done?". Jesus said: "My Kingdom does not belong to this world; if My Kingdom belonged to this world, My followers would fight to keep me from being handed over to the Jewish authorities. No, my Kingdom does not belong here!". So Pilate asked him: "Are you a king then?". Jesus answered, "You say that I am a King. I was born and came into the world for this one purpose, to speak about the truth. Whoever belongs to the truth listens to me.". "And what is truth?" Pilate asked." Without waiting for an answer, he walked out to the Jews and washed his hands of the whole matter. (18:3338)

Truth was integral to the nature and purpose of Jesus "I was born and came into the world for this one purpose, to speak about the truth. Whoever belongs to the truth listens to me." Jesus claimed that His character in coming into the world was integral to the propagation of truth."I was born and came into the world for this one purpose, to speak about the truth." He was a person of total integrity. Further His task was to speak the truth. "...this one purpose, to speak about the truth." No one ever accused Jesus of speaking a lie. But this means more: it means not only speaking the truth but speaking about the Truth. Further still, His followers were those who would listen to truth. "Whoever belongs to the truth listens to Me." Jesus claimed that those who belonged to truth would listen to His word, and those who sought after truth would ultimately find Him.

A person who does not listen to truth nor seeks the way of Jesus will never live the truth. People who ignore truth cannot be trusted. Those who live by the values of this world sneer at the necessity of truth: "And what is truth?" they ask with Pilate. Their characters are untouched by truth, their tasks do not take truth into account, and neither do they listen to truth. The point is clear: ignore truth and you pay! In a deceitful society people lie and cheat motivated by greed, that is their nature. But those who follow the way of Jesus Christ commit their lives to Him knowing that truth is essential to character, that truth is essential in the fulfilling of our purpose, and that those who listen to truth belong to Jesus Christ. This Holy Week recommit yourself to Jesus Christ. Rediscover integrity through Jesus Christ!

Gordon Moyes

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