|| "Who do you say
that I am?" Jesus asked. Simon Peter answered, "You
are the Messiah, the Son of the living God." And Jesus
answered, "Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah! ... You are
Peter (petros), and on this rock (petra)
I will build my church..." Jesus then began to speak of
the rough road ahead. And Peter took him aside and rebuked him... "Get
behind me, Satan!" Jesus replied. "You are a stumbling
May these words of this Peter be like a rock,
Message preached March 4,
Long Green Valley Church of the Brethren
Glen Arm, Maryland USA
based upon Philippians 3:17 - 4:1
Order of Worship
We continue our journey of exploring what it means to be a "Servant of Christ." Last week I said that Service, a central concept for Brethren, is not just something we do, it is who we are - our identity. We are servants of the Lord. Jesus Christ is our magnetic north - we orient our lives to him, like a boy scout uses a compass to find his way in the woods. Servanthood is thus an orientation.
I suggest that we now focus upon the question, "whose are we?" Not who are we?, but whose are we? The answer may seem obvious, but the implications of it are not. To help us travel down this road, letís use the word "Accountability." Two months ago, our brother Gary Miller invited us (from the pulpit, no less) to hold him accountable for his health, particularly in getting his weight under control.
Accountability. Old Mr. Webster says that an accountable person is someone who is "subject to giving an account," that is, "to furnish a justifying analysis or explanation." To be accountable is to be "answerable." Answerable to whom? Ah, thatís the $100,000 question! To whom are we accountable? Now, before you jump right in there with your answer, letís look a bit more at the concept of accountability.
This word becomes very real somewhere near April 15th. Few of us in this nation can avoid that day of accountability. Many of us even pay "accountants" to help us figure out how much we owe. All those forms are a way of being accountable, though few of us feel very good about the end result. In the process, we want to be able to justify our deductions, so that if we are audited (that is - called upon to give an account) we can explain them away. Our goal is to get by with as much as we can without being penalized. Right?
You could say that thatís how our society views accountability in general - getting by with as much as you can without being penalized. To be honest, in my study of history, I havenít discovered a society that operated any different, have you? Call it human nature.
Now, letís return to the question: to whom are we accountable? Were you going to say "God"? Thatís sort of a given, isnít it. "Each of us will be accountable to God," wrote the apostle Paul in Romans 14:12. Of course, if we were to insert the above view of accountability in here, would it fit? That is, what does God desire of us? Does our Maker want us to seek to get by with as much as we can without being penalized? If so, I donít think I could write about being a servant of Christ. It wouldnít be good news to me. It would be slavery - involuntary servitude.
The truth, as I understand it, is that God desires so much more of us. By way of explanation, letís turn to a familiar story Jesus told, found in Matthew 25. In it, our Master spoke of two sets of people gathered before the throne on Judgement Day: those who reached out to the needy and those who didnít - the sheep and the goats. You know the parable, donít you? The surprise twist for both sets of folks was the thought that Jesus might be the stranger, the naked one, the sick person, the one in need of food or water. "We had no idea, Lord," they both said. "Precisely," came the reply, "when you reached out - or failed to reach out - to the least of these, you did so to me." Now, for part of this crowd, the knowledge that Jesus was among the needy would have made no difference. For the other group, it would have - for they were seeking to get by with as much as they could without being penalized.
Jesus told this story about the Great Judgement Day, in part, to throw on its head this mistaken view of accountability. I donít believe it was his intention to keep us scared about that time, to frighten us into obedience, into mercy, into justice. Some of us may walk away thinking that our salvation is totally in doubt up until the moment we give our final account. However, this is viewing accountability from the perspective of human society. If our concern is to get by with as much as we can without being penalized, well then - I guess it will be a judgement call.
Unfortunately, if it comes down to a judgement call, you know which way the coin is going to flip. None of us are going to be on the sheep side, folks. Not one. I donít mean to call us all a bunch of goats, but if weíre depending on our sheepís bleat to get us by - well, guess again. The point is this, we are not servants in order to gain access to heaven. We are citizens of Godís Realm already. Servanthood flips the concept of accountability on its head. For those who would follow Christ, accountability is no longer for getting by with as much as you can without being penalized. The purpose of accountability is now to become more like the One to whom we ultimately are to give our account.
Back to how our world views accountability. Have you ever noticed that when people talk about it - it often is in reference to somebody else? Itís people on welfare who need to be held accountable, or some large corporation, or politicians. Itís someone besides ourselves who we donít think is living right. "They" need to be held accountable. While this may be true, accountability applies to everyone - ourselves included. Didnít Jesus speak of taking the log out of our own eye before examining the speck in the eye of another? Before anywhere else, accountability begins at home.
Having said that, I recognize what weíve done with this idea. Instead of holding everybody else accountable, of being judgmental, weíve tended to jump to the complete opposite. Live and let live. Iíll live with my log, you live with yours. Thus, we all walk around carrying these huge timbers growing out of our eyes. Who sees a problem? Nobody - because weíve all grown blind.
Actually, these two extremes are spoken of in the Bible. In Paulís letter to the believers in Philippi, he wrote of both. On the one hand were the legal types, trying to get everybody else to obey Godís commandments. He had some rather strong things to say about them. Then he flipped to the other extreme. These people tended to spiritualize everything, to the point where it didnít matter what a person did on earth. "Live and let live," was their motto. The problem was, however, that when you consider yourself free to do anything - the stuff you freely do easily can become your god. Itís called worshiping the log. Paul had some pretty tough words for these folks, as well.
When it comes to accountability, neither extreme is helpful in the long run. We are accountable. None of us can escape that fact. Whether Judgement Day is April 15th or Good Friday, or that future time before the throne of God, all of us are accountable. Not just somebody else, but me and you. The good news is that accountability from a Christian perspective is not meant for punishment, but for growth in Godís grace. Our goal is to become more like the One to whom we ultimately are to give our account.
My favorite passage on accountability is from Paulís letter to the Galatians. There it makes clear that accountability is not just an individual thing, we are to help one another be accountable. Thatís a breath of fresh air, for we need each other to be the hand of Christ to us. This accountability is not for self-righteously judging others. Neither is it for getting by with as much as we can without being penalized. Itís for growth - becoming like Christ, transformation. Listen:
"My friends, if anyone is detected in a transgression, you who have received the Spirit should restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness. Take care that you yourselves are not tempted. Bear one anotherís burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ." (Galatians 6:1-2, NRSV) Eugene Petersonís new translation of these words is too good not to share. "Live creatively, friends. If someone falls into sin, forgivingly restore him, saving your critical comments for yourself. You might be needing forgiveness before the dayís out."
These words, like the ones from Jesus in the 18th chapter of Matthew, are not easy to put into practice. I know Iíve stumbled my way through them. How about you? Seeing anotherís transgression as our mutual burden is not a quick fix. It takes time. Paul reminds us of that in Galatians by relating it to sowing and reaping. Furthermore, we canít take the speck out of someone elseís eye. Ultimately, we are responsible only for our own log. Anotherís sin is our burden, though, insomuch as we love this neighbor as ourself and desire for them to grow and become like Christ. It is a sign that we are growing, too.
Thatís what accountability is all about: growing into servanthood. To be a Servant of Christ is to be accountable - accountable to God and, by the Grace of God, to one another.
Next week we will explore servanthood as obedience, which is a direction - not a conclusion. Letís continue traveling together as servants of the Lord.
(para traducir a espaŮol, presione la bandera de EspaŮa)
©2007(revision of ©1995) Peter
(you are welcome to borrow and, where / as appropriate, note the source - myself or those from whom I have knowingly borrowed.)
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