Friday, February 18, 2005
by Pastor Ron Jetter
Be prepared at all times to give account for the hope that is in you, yet do it with gentleness and reverence. - I Peter 3:15
Accounting is not my profession, yet giving account is part of what I do each day.
My denomination has some very strict guidelines with respect to accounting for (a) finances and (b) the safety of children. As a pastor, for example, I cannot receive, disburse or count offerings at any time. This is done by four different people. Two count the offerings (a rotating list made up only of those elected to our governing board, which itself changes each year). A third deposits all funds and a fourth disburses all funds. Each year an audit is conducted to protect all involved and to ensure that proper procedures are used. Financial reports are always up-to-date and available to any and all members of the congregation. It is transparent. It engenders trust among the people because they know there is a specific system in place to ensure that the offerings they give are used in the way they intended: to fund the mission to which our Lord Jesus Christ has called us.
The second set of policies and procedures deals with ensuring that children are safe when in our facilities and when attending activities sponsored by our church away from our facilities. Preventing abuse and neglect doesn't happen by accident. It happens through some very specific and intentional actions. First, staff and volunteers undergo a background check. Second, our building has been modified to ensure that there are no secret places where an adult or older youth might take a younger child. All classrooms and offices have windows. Third, we provide training and information to parents. Fourth, because we have six scout groups at our church, we follow their guidelines for "the two-adult rule" and "the buddy system."
We extend this to our Sunday School, ensuring that children don't wander off alone. Fifth, we post the phone number of Child Protective Services in all Sunday School rooms. It is our policy and the policy of our denomination that suspected abuse or neglect be investigated by the State, not by the Church. In other words, we don't just hold ourselves accountable, we invite outside accountability. We make it as uncomfortable as possible for an abuser to work into a position of trust with children. Sixth, we see to the physical safety of children by doing the obvious: putting chemicals out of reach, not putting tiny pieces of Legos in the nursery, ensuring that furniture is in good condition, and that ladders and tools are put away.
We are learning to maintain vigilance in order to ensure that church be a place of caring and safety for kids, not a place where they can be harmed.
But Peter calls us to be aware of a different kind of accounting, as if some aspect of our lives will be reviewed in an audit. He specifically uses accounting language for a reason. Accounting is meant to ensure that things are done properly, according to plan. In this case, it's God's plan that we experience hope, and that hope itself have a visible, tangible effect on our lives. But how do we give account of the hope that is in us? First, we recall that the hope within us is not of our own doing. The Holy Spirit of the living God gave us the faith to believe in Jesus Christ, in whom we have hope. As the hymn goes, "My hope is built on nothing less than Jesus' blood and righteousness - no merit of my own I claim but wholly lean on Jesus' name."
Our relationship with Jesus brings hope into our lives, changing the way we look at ourselves, our neighbor, our world. I recall C.S. Lewis writing about how the presence of Jesus Christ in the world makes us heavenly beings, and this is true not only of me but of every other person I meet. I need to treat them with the proper care and respect due a heavenly being in whom God's Spirit dwells.
This becomes the way we account for the hope that is in us then. Hope affects our interactions with others. Hope drives us to form caring communities where mutual consolation and spiritual nurturing occur. Hope drives us into the world where the stranger we meet learns of hope from the quality of our caring.
Note that Peter gives a caution here: "do it with gentleness and reverence." We do not beat people over the head with the stick of the Law to drive them to Christ. We give them the carrot of the Gospel to lead them. Gentleness is related to kindness and it is born of respect. To bring hope to others, we must respect them. To bring hope to others we must also respect and "fear" God, for this is true reverence. In fact, the way we care for all creation speaks of reverence or lack thereof.
I am pretty sure that on the Day of the Lord when I stand before my maker to give account, the Almighty and Eternal One will not care how clean I kept my car, or whether there were weeds in my lawn. But I may be called then to account for the hope that is in me.
I know I am called to account for it now, by sharing that hope with those who need it most, by naming that hope, giving it the name above all names, the name at which every knee shall bow and every tongue confess as Lord: Jesus Christ.
- Pastor Ron Jetter of Our Saviour's Lutheran Church of Sunnyside