Hold On to Your Thread

“Hold On to Your Thread,” Susan Ryder


Luke 6:27-36
Jesus said, “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. If anyone strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also; and from anyone who takes away your coat do not withhold even your shirt. Give to everyone who begs from you; and if anyone takes away your goods, do not ask for them again. Do to others as you would have them do to you. If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. If you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. If you lend to those from whom you hope to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, to receive as much again. But love your enemies, do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return. Your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High. Be compassionate, just as God is compassionate.”

Luke 10:25-28
Just then a lawyer stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he said, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” He said to him, ‘What is written in the law? What do you read there?’ He answered, ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.’ And Jesus said to him, ‘You have given the right answer; do this, and you will live.’

The Way It Is
William Stafford
There’s a thread you follow. It goes among
things that change. But it doesn’t change.
People wonder about what you are pursuing.
You have to explain about the thread.
But it is hard for others to see.
While you hold it you can’t get lost.
Tragedies happen; people get hurt
or die; and you suffer and get old.
Nothing you do can stop time’s unfolding.
You don’t ever let go of the thread.

As we move on with our consideration of what it means to be a people of integrity, one of the things that occurs to me about how we have come to understand how Jesus lived his life was the consistency of his values. Both passages I read from Luke also appear similarly in Matthew, and they exemplify a steadfast commitment to a certain set of core values that seemed to be at the heart of Jesus’ ministry – a thread he followed and never let go of. I love that image from Stafford’s poem – “You don’t ever let go of the thread.” What were some of the things that were part of the thread Jesus held on to? Loving God and loving others; being compassionate; doing unto others as you would have them do to you. Most of the parables he told followed this same thread, as did his sermons and actions. That, for me, is a large part of what it means to be a person of integrity – the way we act in alignment with our values, honestly and faithfully.

Integrity stems from the Latin word ‘integer’ – meaning whole and complete. So integrity requires an inner sense of “wholeness” and consistency of character. When you are acting with integrity, people should be able to visibly see it through your actions, words, decisions, methods, and outcomes. When you are “whole” and consistent, there is only one you – not a “work” you and a “home” you and a “friend” you. At your very basic foundation, you are the same. You bring that same you wherever you are, regardless of the circumstance. You don’t leave parts of yourself behind – you follow the same thread. Your values remain constant, for the most part. As Arthur Gordon wrote, “Basically, the word [integrity] means wholeness. In mathematics, an integer is a number that isn’t divided into fractions. Just so, a person of integrity isn’t divided against him or herself.” No one is perfect, of course, and at times we may stray from our core values when life throws challenges our way – but for the most part we stay on course, we keep holding on to that thread. As we observe the birthday Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. this weekend, he is someone I think of as a person of integrity. His core values inspired a vision for a better world, a dream that he shared with all of us as he lived his life committed to equality, justice, and non-violence.

Since last spring, small groups have been meeting to dig deeper into our worship themes – this month and next groups are meeting to ponder what it means to be a people of integrity. The group I am part of met this past week, and one of the exercises we could choose from invited us to identify what we consider our top five core values from a list of 48. After we chose, we were to give a blank copy of the same list to someone close to us and ask them to pick the five they consider our core values, without letting them know which ones we picked. Then we were encouraged to discuss the similarities and differences, and why we picked the ones we did, and share insights from the experience with our group. Integrity and value-clarity go hand in hand – but do we really take the time to name and bring our core values into awareness? And do our self-proclaimed values match how others see us? This exercise invited us to wrestle with both of these questions.

After I chose my five from the list, I gave a copy of the list to Bob, asking him to choose the five he thought were my core values. Of the five I identified for myself, he chose one that was the same – fairness. I am ALL about fairness – my tombstone, if I have one, will say “But that’s not fair!” Three of the others were different words but had similar meanings – he chose honesty and I chose authenticity; he chose social justice, I chose compassion; he chose job security, I chose financial stability. Only one was different – I chose humor/fun, while he chose loyalty. Both are true. I found it to be an interesting exercise, and was pleased that for the most part, Bob’s list of my values mirrored mine. It felt good to know that I was living my values out loud, and that they were recognized by the person closest to me. My hope is that they are also recognized by others who are not as close to me as Bob. I think about those who met Jesus for the first time, and were so moved by the way he lived out his core values that they dropped everything to follow him. And while I’m not looking for disciples, I appreciate confirmation that values I hold dear are noticed by others – I think that’s a key element of having integrity – that we are what we others see.

One of the insights I had discussing the results with my small group was that my values hadn’t really changed over the years – in fact, most of my values are the same as they were 50 years ago, and are similar to values my parents had. Perhaps that’s because our values, our integrity, aren’t simply something we build; they are something already there, something we build upon, something instilled in us at an early age, if we are lucky.

I want to invite you to take the values exercise – those of you in small groups can consider this a chance to get your homework done early! In your bulletin is a sheet with values – for the next few moments, I invite you to mark your top five core values. You certainly have more than five values – for the purpose of this exercise just pick your top five.

As you look over your list, a few questions for you to consider –

From your selected five values, which one would like to live into more fully?

What were your parent(s) five core values? In what way are your and theirs the most same and the most different?

Which of your core values are most directly and deeply related to your faith? i.e. which value would not be on the list if it wasn’t for your faith?

What’s the newest value to make it on to your list of top five? Which value did it “replace”? Did that happen consciously? Or did the shift sneak up on you?

Link to online values inventory