Based on Job 2:1-10, Hebrews 2:5-12, Mark 10:2-16
Integrity…how would you define this word? The Online Dictionary offers three definitions: “(1) adherence to moral and ethical principles; soundness of moral character; honesty; (2) the state of being whole, entire, or undiminished; and (3) a sound, unimpaired, or perfect condition.” Living a life of integrity, then, is living a life that is whole, honest, moral, abundant and true to how we were designed. Yet very few humans have ever lived a fully integrated life – a life that is an accurate reflection of the image of God that resides within them.
The Quaker, spiritual teacher and author, Parker Palmer, in his book entitled, “A Hidden Wholeness” has this to say about his journey towards integrity, “…I yearn to be whole, but dividedness often seems the easiest choice. A ‘still, small voice’ speaks truth about me, my work, or the world. I hear it and act as if I did not. I withhold a personal gift that might serve a good end or commit myself to a project that I do not really believe in. I keep silent on an issue I should address or actively break faith with one of my own convictions. I deny my inner darkness, giving it more power over me, or I project it onto other people, creating ‘enemies’ where none exist.
I pay a steep price when I live a divided life – feeling fraudulent, anxious about being found out, and depressed by the fact that I’m denying my own selfhood. The people around me pay a price as well, for now they walk on ground made unstable by my dividedness. How can I affirm another’s identity when I deny my own? A fault line runs down the middle of my life, and whenever it cracks open – divorcing my words and actions from the truth I hold within – things around me get shaky and start to fall apart….”
Our scriptures speak to us this week about how we are created and called to be fully integrated in mind, body and spirit. Job is the unknowing pawn in a bet between the angelic Adversary and God. Even after losing all that he had and his health he still maintains his integrity towards God. Jesus is teaching about having integrity of faith and in our personal relationships – understanding that we dis-integrate when we deny someone access to Jesus or when we do not live fully into who we are created to become. The writer of the letter to the Hebrews teaches about the need for us to integrate the truth that God has made us slightly lower than the angels and because of that we have great responsibility to steward God’s creation with integrity. Before we go any farther, let us go to God now seeking the courage to live through all life’s seasons with integrity…
Jesus is debating with the Pharisees again in our Gospel reading from Mark. The teachers are trying to see how much Jesus knows about the law of Moses, but Jesus once again turns the question on its head. Jesus points to the real issue at hand regarding the divorce decree of Moses – that it was written because humans did not or could not adhere to their marriage vows with integrity. Jesus goes on to point out that it is the little children that can remind us about how to live with integrity and thus receive the blessings of the kingdom of God.
The writer of the letter to the Hebrews is quoting Psalm 8 in our reading today. Noting that we are created by God just slightly lower than the angels and in charge of stewarding all God’s creation. Yet even though we have such lofty pedigrees, we are still inferior to God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. We are made to be in service with God through Jesus and the power of the Spirit; service which will take us through the cross into salvation. Jesus provides the path to our integrity by freeing us to live abundant lives of service.
We are told in the first verse of the Book of Job that the title character, “…was blameless and upright, one who feared God and turned away from evil….” He becomes caught up in a bet over his integrity between God and one of the angels known in Hebrew as “ha satan” and in English as “The Adversary”. In the first chapter, The Adversary destroys Job’s family and fortune, fully expecting that Job would curse God. Job, however, in response to his losses says, “…Naked I came out from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return there. The LORD has given and the LORD has taken. May the LORD’s name be blessed….” Job still has his health which The Adversary takes away in our reading – again on a bet with God that Job will curse God. Job’s response to his wife telling him to curse God and die says, “…Shall we accept good from God, too, and evil we shall not accept?…” Through all the trials and travails, Job’s integrity towards God remains intact.
How can we understand the integrity of Job and use his witness as a model for living our lives? This week in the Hazelden Betty Ford’s “Thought for the Day” comes this helpful word. “…In recovery; we’re learning a new behavior. It’s called Being Who You Are. For some of us, this can be frightening. What would happen if we felt what we felt, said what we wanted, became firm about our beliefs, and valued what we needed? What would happen if we let go of our camouflage of adaptation? What would happen if we owned our power to be ourselves? Would people still like us? Would they go away? Would they become angry?
There comes a time when we become willing to take that risk. To continue growing, and living with ourselves, we realize we must liberate ourselves. It becomes time to stop allowing ourselves’ to be so controlled by others and their expectations and be true to ourselves – regardless of the reaction of others. Before long, we begin to understand. Some people may go away, but the relationship would have ended anyway. Some people stay and love and respect us more for taking the risk of being whom we are. We begin to achieve intimacy, and relationships that work. We discover that who we are, has always been good enough. It is who we were intended to be….”
Brother and sisters, living with integrity into who we are intended – who we are created to be, is the sum total of the teachings of the Bible. It is absolutely the good news of Jesus the Christ. Job and Jesus lived their lives with integrity. Clinging to the truth of their belief in a loving and redeeming God through all that life (and some divine powers) could throw at them. We all struggle with our dis-integration, our dividedness that Parker Palmer wrote about. Yet, the spiritual journey toward salvation (i.e., growing into the mind and heart of Jesus) is all about integrity – about becoming “whole, entire and undiminished” through God and in God no matter what happens in life. We do indeed pay a steep price when we live lives without integrity. Job and Jesus show us the way to become who we were created to be – will we risk following them? May God give us courage and strength for the journey to integrity! Amen and amen.