Today we come to the end of this series on eight movements of faithful growth with this reflection on the movement toward accountability. I have to admit that I’m grateful this is the last piece of the framework. It is a helpful place for the series to end since accountability ties the other seven movements together, and has also been the focus of our Sunday readings the past few weeks as we have approached Advent. And so as a way of concluding the series and preparing for the start of Advent on Sunday, I’d like to explore the theme of accountability here through both of these lenses.
First, accountability ties the other seven movements of growth together. The first four movements focused on moving away from handing responsibility for our lives to others: Hiding behind facades means we care more about how we are perceived than about being truly seen for who we are; If we are controlled by ‘shoulds‘, it means we have deferred to others’ sense of right and wrong instead of taking responsibility for our own desires and actions; If we change who and how we are in the world in order to fit in, we are allowing others to control our values and identity; And, by people-pleasing, we hand over even our sense of self-worth and value to others. In moving away from these things, we take responsibility for ourselves — our values, our actions, and beliefs. And only then can we truly be accountable before ourselves, our communities, and God.
Likewise, the last three movements we’ve looked at are about being willing to receive the world and all it has to offer, trusting that we are strong and resilient enough to take it, and that God will be with us through it all.
The point is that the life we have been given is a precious gift and not to be wasted.
And this, serendipitously enough, has been the theme of our recent Sunday readings. The season of Advent, which starts this coming Sunday, is all about preparing, waiting, and watching. The lectionary readings the past few weeks have brought up these themes for us — sort of like a skydive instructor reminding students of everything they have to do before opening up the hatch.
- On All Saints Day we were reminded that the “saints” are those who, in every generation (including and especially our own), persevere faithfully through the trials of all that the world throws at them. Who are the saints? They are the ones who showed up for themselves, for each other, and for God, and refused to back down or give in, no matter the cost.
- The next week, we heard Joshua present the Israelites with a choice as they settle in the Land of Promise: Worship whomever or whatever you want, but make your decision. They have to choose who it is they want to be, what they value, and where their hearts will be.
- We also heard the story of a group of bridesmaids, half of whom were caught unawares by the groom’s arrival. They forgot the basics and ended up missing the wedding.
- Then, we heard Paul comparing the coming of Jesus to a thief in the night and reminding the Thessalonian Christians that they are in fact “children of the day” and need to act like it. The daylight, he tells them, is for seeing clearly and doing the work set out for them.
- Then, the Parable of the Talents reminded us that we are responsible for what we’ve been given and expected use it wisely. We are not all given the same lot in life, but no matter how big or small the sum entrusted to us, it is for us to invest it. No matter how rich or rocky our soil, it is our soil to farm and we are expected to bear fruit.
- And, this past week, the readings for Reign of Christ Sunday challenged us to remember what it means to be citizens of God’s Kingdom. If we are truly recipients of God’s faithful love, then that love will naturally flow out from us to others. If we have received the Spirit’s fire, then we will burn brightly.
It’s almost as if the lectionary is trying to tell us something.
God expects us to be accountable for our lives.
Growing in faith doesn’t mean “believing harder,” but expanding our capacity to show up. And the more consistently we are able to show up, the better account we will be able to give before God. We won’t feel the need to hide behind facades or deflect responsibility by saying we were just doing what we were told or what everyone else was doing. Rather, when we meet our Maker, we will be able to say, ‘Yes, I only had one talent, and yes, I was afraid of losing it because life has been hard and has taught me that opportunities are scarce, and success scarcer still; but I didn’t let that stop me and this is what I did with what you entrusted to me.”
These are great and timely reminders for us as we both enter into Advent and start thinking ahead to the new year.
The series was inspired by reflecting on the nature of faith and what religious beliefs, practices, and communities are for. Are they about controlling ideas and behaviours, as seems so often to be the case? Or, are they intended to help us grow up into maturity, and to help us show up no matter the circumstances? Over the past few weeks we’ve explored one framework for looking at what the latter approach might look like. It speaks of a God who longs not for passive followers toeing the line and obeying the rules, but for active participants, fellow-workers in the world, co-creators of the future, and full citizens — heirs even — of God’s Kingdom. And so, I hope you’ve found this exploration the past few weeks of these eight different aspects of faithful growth beneficial.
And so there’s nothing else to say now as we enter Advent but “Let’s go!” Let’s grow, together, in faith.