Welcome Home: Where you are perfectly safe!
Christ the King, Palm Coast, FL ~ Pastor Jay Zahn ~ Luke 19:11-27 ~ Sunday, November 10, 2019
Accountability. What comes to mind when you hear that word? Do you think about being called into an authority’s office to answer for what you’ve done? Getting a report card or performance review that grades what you’ve done? Having someone else point out what you could be doing better? How do you feel about these kinds of things? Do you get a pit in your stomach?
Accountability can produce some very strong reactions. But they aren’t all negative. There are many people who intentionally enter into accountable relationships. Like having an accountability partner who gets regular reports on what they’re looking at on their computer or their phone. Or an accountability group that talks about specific addictions, like Alcoholics Anonymous. Or stepping on a scale in a room where other people see the results, like WeightWatchers. Or hiring a life coach who will hold them accountable for the goals they’ve identified. The truth is many people voluntarily get involved in these kinds of accountable relationships all the time! And the reason they do it isn’t because they want to pile on feelings of self-loathing for their failures. They aren’t masochists who find pleasure in the pain of being judged or rejected.
Accountability produces strong reactions, both negatively and positively. What accounts for the difference? And, even more importantly, what does it take to experience accountability in an incredibly positive way?
In today’s Gospel, Jesus tells a story that sheds light on the differences and invites us to embrace accountability as an extremely positive thing. The facts of this story are pretty easy to understand. A man of noble birth is going away to be named king of the country. While he’s away, he calls ten of his servants, and he gives them all a relatively small amount of money: about 100 days’ wages. He gives them simple instructions: “Put this money to work until I come back” (Luke 19:13) so that when he returns they can give an accounting of what has happened with the money. Everything that follows in this parable flows out of these simple details.
Jesus is telling the story because he wants people to be ready for when he returns on the ultimate day of accountability: Judgment Day. This story is also good for us because every single one of us is in this story, represented by one of the different types of people described in the story. There are only three possibilities. You are either a true servant, a false servant, or an enemy of the man of noble birth. The key difference between these different categories is found in their attitude toward accountability to the man of noble birth. Let’s take a closer look at their hearts to better understand our own.
Category One: Rejection — “But his subjects hated him and set a delegation after him to say, ‘We don’t want this man to be our king.’” (Luke 19:14). This category of people makes it abundantly clear they don’t want to be held accountable. In fact, they outright reject the idea that they must give an account. That’s a very tempting way to think, isn’t it? You can avoid accountability by simply rejecting the concept. Or, as in this case, the authority of the person to whom you are accountable. Here’s why this is so tempting: because for awhile it may appear like this approach works. Whether that’s rebelling against God and his rules for living or living at odds with the rules of dieting, for awhile it can seem like you’re getting away with it. But the reality is: sooner or later you will be called to account. Whether that’s struggling to fit into your clothes because the calories have added up over time or being forced to recognize Jesus as Judge when he comes again at the end of time. Please hear me: I’m not saying this to be harsh. I’m saying it because it’s true. Even if you don’t believe it, that doesn’t change the reality that there are certain things in life for which we are and will be held accountable.
The fact that you’re here today, voluntarily gathered around God’s Word this morning, tells me you believe this is true when it comes to your relationship with the Lord. I’m interpreting your presence here today to mean that you recognize that you will be called to give an account to God for your life. In terms of Jesus’ story you identify with the servants who knew they were accountable to the man of noble birth (in real life that man is Jesus). This is a good thing!
That said, I must also call your attention to the truth that not every servant of Jesus is a good one. That truth shows up in the report of the 3rd servant, the servant who has been negligent with the mina he was given. This servant doesn’t debate that he must give an accounting of what he’s done with the mina, but listen again to the kind of report he gives: “‘Sir, here is your mina; I have kept it laid away in a piece of cloth. I was afraid of you, because you are hard man. You take out what you did not put in and reap what you did not sow.’” (Luke 19:20-21). A pair of renowned social psychologists provide helpful insight into what is going on here: “Most people, when directly confronted by evidence that they are wrong, do not change their point of view or course of action but justify it even more tenaciously. Yet mindless self-justification, like quicksand, can draw us deeper into disaster. It blocks our ability to even see our errors, let alone correct them.” (Mistakes Were Made (But Not by Me) by Tavris and Aronson pp. 4-10).
A person in this place presents a challenging and frustrating situation when it comes to accountability! Here’s why: such a person recognizes they are accountable but that doesn’t motivate them to live in responsible ways. This is self-deception. You believe your own lies so completely that when any data, even when it comes from a higher authority, when any data comes to you that threatens the lies you believe, you dismiss it. Even turning it back on the one who is trying to point out the facts of the matter. Making excuses and defending why you didn’t do what you were supposed to do isn’t living accountably. It’s living in denial.
There is only one way to confront denial: brutal truth! “His master replied, ‘I will judge you by your own words, you wicked servant! You knew, did you, that I am a hard man, taking out what I did not put in, and reaping what I did not sow? 23 Why then didn’t you put my money on deposit, so that when I came back, I could have collected it with interest?’” For this servant it was too late for the day of reckoning had already come. Though Jesus could return at any moment, he hasn’t returned yet. Hear and heed this truthful warning while there still is time. That means more than just acknowledging you will be held accountable. It means actually living accountably today because doing so prepares you to give a good account on The Day!
How so? Here is the truth about accountability: it’s not about fear! It is about learning trust and healthy intimacy in complete safety. Do you see these qualities in the faithful servants? They weren’t afraid to be accountable in working for the man of noble birth because they felt safe and secure in their relationship with him. Did you pick up on it their responses to him: “Your mina has earned” (Luke 19:16, 18 NIV). While the man of noble birth was away they lived accountably because they appreciated the gift they had been given and the opportunities this gift gave them. They look forward to the day of reckoning because they’re excited to share what his gift has accomplished!
In our lives the mina represents the Word of God. In the Word we learn the truth about the man we will be called to give account to when he returns. He more than just a man of noble birth, he is the eternal Son of God. The One who so loved us that He voluntarily made himself completely accountable for you and me before Heavenly Father. That's what the Word teaches. So much so that the Father actually punished him for any of your unfaithfulness, for all of your shortcomings and failures. By being fully accountable for you, Jesus also takes away whatever fears or feelings of being under judgment or in danger of rejection that accountability to him evokes in you!
In fact, in calling to you to live fully accountable to him each day, he’s actually using accountability to cure our hearts that are hurting and struggle with trusting. Because accountability, at its core, is about learning to trust and relearn healthy bonding. That’s the kind of health and healing Jesus works in our souls. That’s what his Word works in us more and more as we work in it and with it each day! This is why our Savior calls us to willingly live our lives accountably to him each day! The comfort and peace that we receive from him moves us to embrace an accountable lifestyle before him!
Do so by working in his Word daily and faithfully! Live like this because you are aware of just how good and generous a King it is that you serve. Teaching 8th grade catechism this last week, I asked the students if any parents or grandparents promised to reward them if they got good grades. Several students raised their hands. I asked, “Are they required to reward you for getting good grades?” “Of course, not!” was the unanimous response. “So why do you think your parents/grandparents would promise you a reward for getting good grades?” There were lots of good answers, like: “They want to encourage us to give our best.” “They want to keep us motivated through the whole year.” “It’s their way of telling us how important school is.” I thought this was the best one: “Because they really want us to succeed!”
This is what Jesus is saying to you in this story too! The man of noble birth gives rewards to his faithful servants, not because he owes it to them, but because he is so pleased at what they’ve done with what he’s given them and because he wants them to thrive and flourish: “Well done, my good servant . . . Because you have been trustworthy in a very small matter, take charge of ten cities” (Luke 19:17 NIV). “Take charge of five cities.” What gifts of grace! What grace and comfort to also hear the same commendation given to both servants, even though they brought differing returns. It’s not just the big names in the history of God’s church who will receive rewards. Every one of God’s faithful people have this to look forward to!
And those gracious rewards further motivate us to stay focused and stay faithful in working with the Word Jesus gives us right now. What kind of blessings will receive as you dig into the Word and learn more and more of what it says for your own life right now? What good things will Jesus work in you as more and more of his Word forms the attitude of your heart, shaping to a greater extent the way you see and understand the world? What increase will God bring about through you as his Word works its way through the whole of your life, defining your character, directing your attitudes, guiding your choices, and shaping your decisions, flavoring even the words you choose to use and the kinds of things you decide to talk about? How will your generous King reward you for working out your schedule to set aside and guard as sacred time spent with the Lord in his Word? What kind of growth of his Kingdom will be bring about through you as you work to spread the Word of God, sharing it with those in your life, and generously supporting others who spend their working lives sharing it with even more people still? What kind of blessings will God work out for us here and now? What kind of rewards will he bestow on that great and final day of accountability? I cant’ say exactly. But this I can say for certain: I’m excited to find out and I can’t wait to see how Jesus will bless us going forward and reward us forever! Amen.