Sunday 3rd March - Bishop's Installation Service ***Invitation Only***. See opening times for details.

A sermon on Integrity, one of the Cathedral's four core values.

Integrity

Preacher: The Very Revd Chris Dalliston, Dean of Peterborough, Sunday 17th February 2019

"The truth will set you free"

In this sermon series we’re reflecting together about the Cathedral’s new vision statement and especially the core values that underpin our plans and strategies as we look to the future.

Last week Canon Ian reflected on foundations and the need to build the Cathedral’s mission and ministry on firm footings.

Our Old Testament reading this morning offers us another, more organic, image to play with: a contrast between the desert shrub – an unpromising plant in an arid and challenging landscape compared to the abundant fruitfulness of the tree planted by water and sending out its roots by the stream.

Growth, in whatever way we wish to see it, depends on the environment we create, the values we inhabit and the nourishment that we draw on.

And as we have begun to plan for the future of this place it’s clear that we need to create a culture in which the Gospel can flourish and that establishing our core values is absolutely critical to that process. So generosity (all is gift), inclusivity, joy and this week integrity.

And in a way integrity is a key to everything. Integrity is about trust; about the confidence we have in one another and which we hope others will have in us. It’s about a commitment to be truthful and match our actions to our words.

To an institution – a community - like the church, integrity is of fundamental importance. And especially in a world where trust in institutions is at such a low ebb, we have to work hard to gain people’s confidence in order to be in any kind of position to speak with authority on the things we hold dear or the values we would have others ascribe to. "Let your yes be yes and your no be no" said Jesus – we have to really mean what we say be prepared to deliver on it.

A lack of integrity on the other hand undermines all the other things we might be able to be and to do. If we don’t feel sure that we can trust an institution or its representatives then things begin to fall apart –or like the desert shrub wither away. One of the striking things that the Gospels say about Jesus is that "he taught then as having authority and not as one of the Scribes" and Jesus’ accusation

or challenge to his opponents is that of hypocrisy – that they speak of the law and demand adherence from others but fail to live up to its standards themselves. Hypocrisy is a charge frequently levelled at the Church and at times rightly so. We are all human and we make mistakes – of course we do – "we have followed too much the devices and desires of our own hearts" as the BCP puts it. But that’s different from the kind institutional defensiveness that seems all too often to have characterised the Church - defending its interests and privileges or protecting its ‘own’ rather than looking to the needs of God’s little Ones. The safeguarding scandals that have beset many institutions have been particularly damaging to the Church because it is we of all people who should have been most alert to the needs of the vulnerable, most ready to right wrongs and acknowledge our failures. Of those to whom much is given, much is expected. Instead we have feared reputational harm and pulled up the draw bridge only to find that the harm of so doing has been far greater.

So yes, we need shape our common life with integrity and In all aspects of our life we need to face up to past failures and present weaknesses.

And we should do this not simply so we can tick a box marked ‘good governance’ or so we can congratulate ourselves on our probity but because of the liberation that moral consistency and truthfulness brings. In the passage in John’s Gospel where Jesus speaks of himself as the Light of the World he goes on to say: "The truth will set you free". Acting with transparency can seem to be risky – we can feel exposed to the scrutiny of others and fear we may be found wanting – but how much worse it can be when we try to cover up our deficiencies. Sir Walter Scot’s famous dictum ‘O what a tangled web we weave when first we practice to deceive’ has proved so often to be true. The more you try to hide an uncomfortable truth the worse it gets. Famously, in the Watergate scandal in the seventies but in so many other times and places from the Hillsborough tragedy to the demise of our own MP, it’s not the presenting issue that’s the problem so much as the attempt to cover it up.

Integrity of course is about much more than telling the truth and being open to scrutiny – it is about a whole disposition to practice what we preach, to be true to ourselves and our core purposes. In the New Testament reading we hear Paul challenging the Corinthians to recognise the inconsistencies in their preaching – "if Christ is proclaimed as raised from the dead, how can some of you say there is no resurrection from the dead?" What applies to Christ, says Paul, applies to all who are one with him. The resurrection is either true for everyone or no one. Then, in today’s Gospel, we hear St Luke’s version of the Beatitudes – rather terse and less spiritualised than Matthew: Blessed are you who are poor, you who are hungry, you who weep; these statements might seem crazy if it were not that Jesus lived in and among the poor and grief stricken and brought them to a place of new hope and deep blessing. That’s integrity!

As for us, in our new Vision statement we declare our core purpose to be:

To share the love of God in Christ Jesus, affirming life in all its fullness and drawing people into a relationship with him

And we go on to see that happening in our worship, through our hospitality in learning together and in serving the community and diocese in which we are set. Worship, Hospitality, Learning and Service - all things that characterise the Benedictine tradition which underpinned this place for so long and which continues to inspire us today.

In the end, if we are to flourish – if we are to bear fruit - it will only be because we hold fast to these priorities. All the other things we have to do: look after our buildings, get our finances in shape, improve our governance, important though they are, in the end these are just the means to those ends and to fulfilling that fundamental purpose of sharing the love of God in Christ Jesus.

So yes, integrity is vital in all our dealings; transparency and openness must be our aim, we must always strive to let the truth set us free and above all hold fast to the God who has poured out his love in generosity and joy so that all may experience the fullness of life His Son came to bring.

"Blessed are those who trust in the Lord. They shall be like a tree planted by water – it shall not fear when heat comes, in the year of drought it is not anxious and it does not cease to bear fruit".

Amen.

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