On this Father’s Day I’d like to salute the many wonderful fathers of this congregation, from all generations. In an age when fathers are often ridiculed, and when many fathers are abdicating their spiritual responsibilities and leaving it to the mothers to take their children to church, teach them the Bible and values and so forth, we are blessed to have many wonderful fathers who take a lead role in this area of their families’ lives.
Today I would like to talk about a very important subject – integrity. There are two chapters of the Bible that I really like being able to read at funerals when I think the words fit that person’s manner of life. One is Paul’s chapter on love in I Corinthians 13 and the other is the Psalm about integrity which I just read.
A minister told his congregation one Sunday that his sermon the following week would be about the sin of lying, and he encouraged everyone to read the 17th chapter of Mark in preparation for it. So the next Sunday when he stood for the sermon he asked people to raise their hands if they had read Mark 17 as requested. Almost every hand went up. He looked around at them and said, “Mark has only 16 chapters. So let’s talk about lying.”
And let’s talk about integrity. Webster’s Dictionary defines it as “firm adherence to a code of values.” A popular definition says, “Integrity is doing the right thing when no one else is watching.” Madelyn Haney writes, “Integrity is when what you do, who you are, what you say, what you feel, and what you think all come from the same place.” Lest there be confusion, being a person of integrity does not mean that you are perfect and never make mistakes. Nicole Guillaume says, “Everyone makes mistakes, but only a person with integrity owns up to them.”
This last statement is an important one for allowing us access to Psalm 26. I don’t know about you, but there are not many days, if any, when I could say to God with a clear conscience, “Vindicate me, O Lord, for I have walked in my integrity, and I have trusted in the Lord without wavering.”
We know enough about David’s life and shortcomings to know that there were plenty of days on which he could not have said that with a clear conscience either. So I take this to be a prayer about a specific time in his life when he has been falsely accused and turns to God to clear his name. There is courtroom language throughout the Psalm: Vindicate me, prove me, try me, test my heart and mind, redeem me, be gracious to me.
Being accused of something is a very disorienting experience, especially if it is not true. The first problem is that a fair number of people are going to assume you are guilty, because otherwise surely someone would not have accused you of doing it. Where there is smoke there is fire. It can be very difficult to prove that you did not do something, and even more difficult to undo the damage which the accusation has already done to your reputation. The second problem is that if the matter comes to a court of law there are so many variables out of your control which can swing the verdict. Who is the most convincing liar on the witness stand? Which attorney can win the hearts and minds of the jury and the judge? What are the backgrounds and life experiences of the jury members who will decide your guilt or innocence? There are many walking free who should have been convicted, and a number of others who are behind bars and should not be. I can certainly imagine in such a time of doubt and uncertainty turning to God who alone knows the whole truth and begging for justice. “O God, you’ve seen it all, you know I am not guilty of this. Don’t let me be swept away. Redeem me.”
I can think of a time in David’s life when he might have prayed such a prayer. He had risen quickly from being a shepherd to being a major figure in Israel. It started when he volunteered to go out against the Philistine giant Goliath and took him down with a slingshot. He then became a mighty military leader who led Saul’s army against the Philistines with great success. He also became close to King Saul, who loved him and loved his music and called for him to play whenever his soul was troubled.
But things began to go wrong when Saul’s subjects began to pay more attention to David than to him. He heard the women singing, “Saul has slain his thousands, David his ten thousands.” David’s approval ratings in the polls soared past Saul’s, and where Saul used to see an assistant, a friend, a man fighting on his side, a person who soothed his soul, now all he could see in David was a threat to his kingship. So King Saul served as judge and jury and determined that David was guilty of trying to usurp his throne, and he set out to kill him, to eliminate the threat.
David could not understand it after all he had done for Saul. He left town, not wanting to raise his hand against God’s anointed king, but also not wanting to have his own life taken by him.
Saul pursued him and David stayed one step ahead of him. David has opportunities to kill Saul but was unwilling to do so. On one occasion he cut off a piece of Saul’s robe to show him how close he had been and yet spared his life. But even this did not deter Saul. It is easy to imagine David praying this Psalm to God in this context. He had done nothing wrong, but was under a death sentence. Only God could help him, could know the absolute truth about his innocence.
Actually, though, many people could see the truth. Saul’s own son Jonathan knew that David walked in integrity and his father did not. They were as close as brothers, and Jonathan helped David escape his father’s wrath. Saul’s daughter was married to David and helped him escape. Because of David’s integrity, people were ready to embrace him as their king when Saul died. The easy path would have been to lop Saul’s head off when he had the chance. David’s integrity would not allow him to do that. Later in life, of course, he began to compromise his integrity, particularly in the affair of Bathsheba and Uriah. But at this point he was a man of integrity, and although he felt that God was the only one who could judge him rightly, actually many could see the truth clearly. They could also see the truth about Saul, even if many were afraid to admit or act upon that truth. As Haney said in the earlier quote, “Integrity is when what you do, who you are, what you say, what you feel, and what you think all come from the same place.”
Dwight D. Eisenhower said, “The supreme quality for leadership is unquestionably integrity. Without it, no real success is possible…” Perhaps this is the real reason for the tremendous leadership void we experience in so many areas of life. Here are a few other good quotes. “Integrity is choosing your thoughts and actions based on values rather than personal gain.” “Wisdom is knowing the right path to take… integrity is taking it.” “People may doubt what you say but they will always believe what you do.”
Former Senator Alan Simpson said, “If you have integrity, nothing else matters. If you don’t have integrity, nothing else matters.” Samuel Johnson wrote, “The true measure of a man is how he treats someone who can do him absolutely no good.”
Billionaire investor Warren Buffet says, “In looking for people to hire, you look for three qualities: integrity, intelligence, and energy. And if they don’t have the first (integrity), the other two will kill you.”
Holocaust survivor Eli Wiesel writes from personal experience, “One person of integrity can make a difference.” Dennis Waitly writes, “A life filled with integrity – even if it lacks the trappings of fame and fortune – is a shining star in whose light others may follow in the years to come.” Chuck Swindoll adds, “Nothing speaks louder or more powerfully than a life of integrity.”
I know I am beating this to death, but it is because we all need a tremendous amount of reinforcement to make good choices when faced with those difficult decisions. The temptation is huge to cut corners, to grasp for more, especially when no one is looking. Integrity is doing the right thing when no one is looking.
The word for this Father’s Day is “integrity.” If this sermon has meant something to you, maybe you will want to pull this sermon up on the web site in the coming week and copy a few of these quotes I have used and put them in strategic places in your work place or on your bathroom mirror. One last quote to leave you with: “Live so that when your children think of fairness, caring, and integrity, they think of you.”
In the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen.
David J. Bailey June 15, 2014
Central Presbyterian Anderson, SC