We continue our sermon series about how to retain your integrity in the midst of conflict. By looking to how Jesus handled himself the last days before his crucifixion and resurrection, we look to him for our model of integrity. We’ve explored how to speak your truth even when being true to yourself may disappoint others and even when others disappoint us.
Today we look at the importance of keeping our integrity during shifting popular opinion. Maybe you know what it is to have a sudden falling out with a group of people. Once you felt like you really belonged and the next thing you know you all you get is cold shoulders. Anyone in leadership positions knows the vulnerability of how perception within an organization can shift so quickly and radically without regard for anyone getting to the truth of the matter. When a group turns, facts are not as important as the narrative being perpetuated by a few people. Did you notice in the scripture lesson how it says a few priests were inciting the crowd against Jesus? When people get their information from pot stirrers and agitators, the innocent—even Jesus himself, can’t get a fair break. It happens.
Being part of a group can destroy people’s inhibitions, making them do things they’d never otherwise do. They lose their individual values and principles and adopt the group’s principles. People even get swept up in rioting. Something kind of takes over in group thinking that is beyond rationality.
We are familiar with crowds always flocking to Jesus. People conclude that he must have really had some essential quality, some charisma that naturally drew people to him. Perhaps. But he also had his share of people who rejected him without ever giving him a fair shake. Including in his own home town of Nazareth. There is a story about how he came to preach there and one minute everyone was fawning all over him. Our hometown boy made good! The next thing you know, public opinion shifted, and they tried to throw him off a cliff.
On Palm Sunday he rides into Jerusalem to shouts of Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord. Hosanna in the highest. On Friday the crowds shouted Crucify him, crucify him. The first thing we realize is that he didn’t allow the shouts of praise to consume him and make him format his mission to please them. It’s one of those most basic life lessons. Don’t get caught up in the hype—good or bad.
He spoke his truth. He knew that most of what his movement was about would be hugely unpopular. He spoke a message of peace and nonviolence to a blood-thirsty culture who sought a militaristic messiah who would exact an eye for an eye punishment against their Roman oppressors. He demanded the poor and widows and orphans be provided for even if it meant some had to give more. He told the religious folks to come off their high horses of judgmentalism and notions of purity and exchange that extended God’s grace and love to everybody—even the people who aren’t like you.
He models for us speaking up for doing what is right, standing for people even if it results in the crowd turning against you. It took courage, right? I mean, how many times have felt like you should stand up for someone or some cause, to say something, to do something but you chickened out because you didn’t want to fall out with your crowd? How many racist or sexist jokes just slide by? What I cringe over are all the times I let that fear control me. Times I could have been more of a leader to my congregations advocating for people who were vulnerable because of their race or orientation or economic status or country of origin.
Often the greatest betrayal that is hardest to accept and work your way through is when you know you’ve betrayed your truest self, your best self. When you aimed for something loftier but succumbed to pressure, to your fears. You let others talk you out of being yourself, of living your life, of speaking your truth. Those are the moments we remember to examine what is influencing our decisions, make course corrections and remember to stand up for yourself and your beliefs.
Yeah, you can’t stand up every time for every cause. It would drive you and everyone around you nuts. There needs to be discernment about how best to achieve your advocacy, and sometimes we have to act in spite of our fears.
It’s a matter of strengthening your courage muscle. Small steps. Be clear about your priorities. What and who is important to you. Cultivate compassion for others. Read. Know their plight. Care about more people beyond self. Assume the best about them. Doing best with the resources they have available to them. Simple, small acts. Not everything Rosa Parks or the young girl, Malala, who faced down the Taliban dramatic. Small simple acts change the world and they help us preserve our integrity and be true to ourselves. Build courage muscle so that at the right moment and the right time you will do what is needed. You will be courageous in a way that makes a difference. What are small things you can do? Try something new. Learn something new. Drive through the traffic circle. Find a cause you believe in and communicate your views to a representative.
When you express your truth you will find that it’s possible to be like Jesus who had what the Buddhists value as a “strong back and soft front.” That is, he stood up for what he felt was right in the face of opposition. He spoke his truth. But he still had a loving and open heart toward those who opposed him. There’s a story about the rich man who rejected the teachings of Jesus. He couldn’t follow because he loved money more than doing what is right. The story points out that even though they disagreed and parted ways, Jesus looked at him and loved him and told him the truth. Even on the cross, he prayed for the forgiveness of his crucifiers. “Father forgive them, they know not what they do.” He models this civility, this love, this standing up without turning into a jerk. How many times have you been to something political, controversial where people out of their frustrations were rude and obnoxious and red-faced? Don’t let the ugliness of others’ behaviors turn you into a person who behaves in an ugly fashion.
Pay attention to who influences you. Did you notice in the scripture, when Pilate presents Jesus to the crowd, there were priests whipping up the crowd, instigating against Jesus? Instigators who get people all riled up, who shift opinion. They got people to trade in Jesus who never harmed a fly for the murderer Barabbas. There are always pot stirrers. Influence makers who have their own agenda. Part of being faithful is to make sure you have good ones in your life. Reliable sources.
I know one person who has a short list of people whose opinion of him really matters. It’s a list you’ve got to earn your way on. You’ve got to be a person of courage who gets out there and gives life your best shot. You’ve got to be someone pursuing your truth and who is supportive and really wants what is best for him. The big temptation is to put people on your list who shouldn’t be there. People who don’t have your best interests at heart, people who you can never please.
How much of your behavior is dictated by a go along to get along approach? You don’t want to make waves; you just bite your tongue a lot. Fit in as well as you can. Squeeze into the mold.
It’s interesting that a lot of the patterns that shape us come from how we reacted to that sense of loneliness, of wanting to belong way back in our middle school years. Everyone finds that time when they sense they don’t really belong. And trying to find that connection–they watch how the other kids act and behave. What they say, what they wear, everything. And they start adapting to it themselves.
Even when they try to assert their individuality, and rebel against the norm they just wind up copying the behavior, attitudes, and styles of the other rebels.
A large group of 8th graders was asked about this and they made the distinction between fitting in and belonging. Fitting in is about being accepted by others because you are like them. You think like them, you act like them, you believe like them, even dress like them. But belonging is different than fitting in. Belonging has to do with being fully accepted for being you–even if that means you are different from others. Fitting in means you have to be like everyone else, belonging means you are just accepted for who you are.
Many of those 8th graders talked about how they don’t feel like they belong in their own families. Maybe they just aren’t into the kinds of things that drive their parents and siblings.
So many people bounce around life never feeling like they belong. And when you don’t really have that sense of belonging you are more susceptible to doing things that aren’t really true to you just to fit in with a group. The new integrity that Jesus modeled about True belonging doesn’t require you to change who you are; it requires you to be who you are.
That’s the thing I love about Bay Shore Church is that this is a place where you can really belong. You don’t have to believe like everyone else believes. Our church is centered around a Bond of Union that celebrates the freedom each person has to find the truth that speaks to them. We support each other on the journeys. At any given moment a goodly percentage of the people who are part of our church wonder if there really even is a God. But they keep plugging away trying to find the truth for their own lives, find a way to enrich their spiritual lives, to do good in this world, to nourish their best selves.
You’ve got a secure base here. Now be courageous and be brave. Stand up for your truth. Stand up for yourself. Stand up for others. Stand up against the hatred and divisiveness of our world, the meanness of this age. Have the courage to be yourself, fully yourself.
When I think about this kind of integrity, I am reminded of that great poem that was displayed in one of Mother Teresa’s clinics in India:
People are often unreasonable, illogical and self-centered;
Forgive them anyway.
If you are kind, people may accuse you of selfish, ulterior motives;
Be kind anyway.
If you are successful, you will win some false friends and some true enemies;
If you are honest and frank, people may cheat you;
Be honest and frank anyway.
What you spend years building, someone could destroy overnight;
If you find serenity and happiness, they may be jealous;
Be happy anyway.
The good you do today, people will often forget tomorrow;
Do good anyway.
Give the world the best you have, and it may never be enough;
Give the world the best you’ve got anyway.
You see, in the final analysis, it is between you and your God;
It was never between you and them anyway.