On Faith & Accountability

Good Tuesday morning!  I hope everyone survived the grossness that was this weekend’s weather.  At one point I dramatically proclaimed to Bruce that it “is NEVER going to cool off and in 20 years we are going to have to tell our children about that one time in New England when summer just didn’t end and we no longer had four seasons, it was just hot all the time.”

I tend to get irrational when it’s hot outside.

A trip to the beach yesterday helped a lot!  Bruce was able to come down and meet me after work, so he fished while the sun was setting while a friend of mine and I watched him and drank wine from the beach. #necessary

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Anyway, here is my sermon from Sunday!  We golfed in a charity tournament in the afternoon so I didn’t get a chance to post until now.

We are still working through our “Why I Come To Church” series and this week’s subject was accountability.  Enjoy!

***

Sarah Weaver
Rehoboth Congregational Church
Rehoboth, MA
August 14, 2016
Sermon Series: Why I Come To Church: Accountability

Matthew 12:30-37

On Faith And Accountability

Nothing like preaching on blasphemy and condemnation when we have guests in the church for a baptism, right?

I have to be honest: I had a moment on Thursday afternoon when I seriously considered finding a new scripture to preach on this morning. Surely there has to be something in the bible that I can use to talk about accountability where Jesus does not refer to people as a “brood of vipers,”[1] right?

But then I thought about the fact that being held accountable for something – anything, really – is not always supposed to make us feel comfortable. I would be willing to bet that the Olympic athletes competing in Rio right now had moments in their training – training where they were being held accountable for their fitness, endurance and skills – where they felt uncomfortable. Michael Phelps did not win a gold medal this week and then win a qualifying race 35 minutes later because his training always made him feel comfortable. I think it is okay for us to feel a little bit uncomfortable when we talk about accountability because that means we are doing it right. That means something is happening, changing and getting stronger. That means God is at work in our lives.

Let’s back up for a second and look at the context of what was happening so we have a better understanding of why Jesus went on this particular rant in our scripture.

Leading up to this passage, Jesus healed a blind and mute demonic man; which, to be fair, was not a normal occurrence. This healing raised some eyebrows among crowds of people wondering how Jesus had done it. They started to ask one another if Jesus was, in fact, the Son of David; which, as I am sure you can imagine, did not go over well with the Pharisees, who were trying to keep control and stay in power.

So the Pharisees, in an effort to contain the “Jesus situation” (my words, not theirs), immediately responded by making the claim that Jesus’ healing of this man was actually the work of Beelzebul, who was the ruler of the demons.

This is what set Jesus off on a rant.

Jesus starts off by essentially saying, first of all, you guys really are not that intelligent (my words, not his), because why would the ruler of the demons cast out this demon? But then (and this is where we come in this morning) Jesus goes on to put that aside and talk about what it actually means to live into this incredible truth that the Holy Spirit, in fact, was what drove out this demon. Jesus talks about what it means to be filled with the Spirit; to be with Jesus and to spread something good in the world.

To hear Jesus say, “Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters”[2] is kind of harsh because there is a very clear delineation between what it means to follow Jesus and what it means not to. And, let’s face it, here in our New England congregationally rooted church, we do not always like being told what to do.

You know, we’re big fans of the option.

But – this is also a reminder of just how important it is for us to actually practice our faith. We have to put something into it if we want to get something out of it. We have to be intentional about strengthening and living out our faith, because there are so many other things in this world that can capture our attention. Jesus calls out the Pharisees for their false claims, not by denying the fact that something powerful was going on, but by confirming the presence of the Holy Spirit and saying that whether or not we choose to live by this spirit matters.

Faith is important. How we live our lives in accordance to our faith matters in this world. Jesus spoke with such strong conviction because he wanted to convey just how important it is for us to be held accountable for our faith.

Jesus said, “Either make the tree good, and its fruit good; or make the tree bad, and its fruit bad; for the tree is known by its fruit.”[3] In other words, the choices we make in our lives matter. The fruit that we bear – fruit that comes from what we say, how we act and the priorities we set in our lives – matters.

And I know it is hard to balance faith and life in this crazy world that we are living in. I know that sometimes it is easier and more convenient to bear bad fruit. I know that it is often time consuming and more complicated to do what God is calling us to do.

But Jesus said that it matters; that we need to bear good fruit.

And this is one of the reasons that we come to church. We come to church so that we are held accountable for our actions, our words and our priorities. We come to church so that our faith and the Gospel are always at the forefront of our minds as we go through our day-to-day routines. We come to church so we can surround ourselves with other people who are also trying to ground their lives in faith and God’s love. We come to church so that others hold us accountable as well. We come to church so that sometimes we feel a little bit uncomfortable, knowing that our discomfort means that God is at work.

We want to be that good tree; we want to bear good fruit. And so we come to church so that we can hold ourselves accountable for our spiritual health; and so others can help us on this journey.

When my mom and I were in Hungry last month, we met a couple from Tel Aviv. They were both born in the United States and chose to move to Israel about 20 years ago in order to be more connected to their Jewish faith. One night, we found ourselves in a discussion about their Friday night Shabbat dinners. In hearing them talk about how wonderful it is for them to unplug and be together as a family and for their friends and friends of their children to join them, week after week, I started to feel a longing for a similar experience.

And so I shared that with them. I told them that, in year’s past, I have attempted to create a Sunday Night Dinner tradition with friends, but never made it past the first week. I said that I believe, in my faith, we are also called to gather around a table and break bread together. I wondered, out loud, how many of the world’s problems could be solved if we just took the time to stop, give thanks and share a meal with our family, our friends and even our enemies. I promised I would try again. I soaked up everything they could tell me about their experiences and without me even realizing it, I invited them into my journey and asked them to hold me accountable.

So fast-forward to last Sunday, Beatles Sunday. My alarm went off at 6AM (playing Let It Be, of course) and I jumped out of bed so excited about the worship service that we had planned. There was a lot to do before the 9AM church bell rang. I looked at my phone and there was a message from one of our new friends that said:

How’s the Sunday dinner project going? Thinking of you in Jerusalem!

So here is something that you may or may not already know about me: I am very enthusiastic when it comes to the ideas and the passion and the conviction. But sometimes I kind of lose it on the follow through.

In other words, I had not even made myself a peanut butter and jelly sandwich since I got back from Europe, let alone organized a Sunday Night Dinner.

I left for church without responding (it was Beatles Sunday, after all, there were saxophones to be played!), but I just could not shake the feeling that this was an opportunity; that I was being held accountable for something that I said I wanted to do, that I believe my faith is calling me to do.

Confessional time: After Beatles Sunday was over, all I wanted to do was drink a mimosa, take a nap and then wake up and scroll through Facebook, reading everyone’s comments about how wonderful Beatles Sunday was.

But that feeling would not go away. And so – 20 minutes into my failed attempt to take a nap when I was still wide awake and staring at my ceiling, I sighed, rolled over, grabbed my phone and texted my friends.

An hour later, I was making meatballs.

Accountability is not a bad thing; it is simply an opportunity for us to rise up to the standards that we set for ourselves and the goals that we have and to humbly ask others to help us do the same. Accountability gives us the grace-filled chance to live into this call that Jesus is making, to bear good fruit and to spread the Good News in the world.

It often comes up in bible study that coming to church is like a weekly “re-set” button for us. We go out into the world and we do the best that we can, but sometimes we slip and we fall short of the potential that God has given to us.

But this is why we come to church: To hit the re-set button. To jumpstart us back into the light of God and onto the journey of living into our faith. To have a safe space where we can honestly look in the mirror at our own reflection and see where we have fallen short, but still be reassured that we are loved, cherished, forgiven and full of potential.

So here are my thoughts on accountability: I think we should come to church and not be afraid to hold ourselves accountable for our spiritual health. We should ask others to hold us accountable (and try not to be offended if they do). We should set goals for ourselves and tell others what those goals are so they can help us achieve them. We should go back to the basics of what scripture calls us to do – love God, love others, bear good fruit, break bread with others, spread kindness and pray without ceasing – and use these basics to spread the foundation for their lives that we are leading.

And then, every week (or – most weeks, remember this is a guilt-free church!), we come to church so we can assess, adjust, reset and recharge.

You know, lately I have heard a lot of people say that they do not know what is happening to our world today. But, in living in this world, we are also creating it; and we can make a difference. We can make things better.

So let us hold one another and ourselves accountable for the lives we lead and the faith we cultivate. Let us bear good fruit; and let us spread God’s love in the world.

Thanks be to God!
Amen.

[1] Matthew 12:34, NRSV
[2] Matthew 12:30, NRSV
[3] Matthew 12:33, NRSV

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