Lectionary Sermon for 23rd Ordinary C on Luke 14:25-33, Sept. 5, 2010

Luke 14:25-33

Price + Hidden Cost = Real Price

When I was young, my parents would watch the evening news on a black and white TVfrom one of 3 major networks.  In the car we had AM radio which gave the news on the hour – and gave “the rest of the story” (remember Paul Harvey?).   If you wanted to look at prices on Wall Street you had to get the paper, read very small print, and know how to interpret the little 3 letter corporation abbreviations.  Now there is cable TV, 24 hour news networks, FM, and more news than anybody can absorb.

But now, in addition to normal news about nations, sports, and disasters, we have something unheard of 40 years ago: business news on TV and radio.  We have entire programs devoted to the economy.  There is evidently an endless stream of experts who know exactly why what happened yesterday happened (though not so many can tell you much about tomorrow).

Hidden costs?

We are now inundated with information about prices, wages, markets, tax rates and on and on.   It seems that the more you know, the more you need to know, and the more you know you don’t know.  Now we are told that in addition to the obvious costs of things, there are hidden costs that must be uncovered and considered.

For example, the cost of Iraq war.  Now that combat operations have ended, does anyone know how much the war cost?  The Wall Street Journal reported that

“All told, the war in Iraq cost more than $700 billion, according to the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office.” (source: Wall Street Journal September 2, 2010 available on line here).

But that is just the dollar cost and only the dollar costs for the actual war.  The hidden costs to consider would take into account the more than 4,400 American men and women for whom the war cost their lives, and the cost to their husbands and wives, their parents and children.  Hidden costs would have to include the over 70,000 who have been injured, many severely, and the long-term effects of war trauma on returned soldiers and their families.  Of course the cost should take into account Iraqis in all these categories, not just Americans(!).

The same is true for everything.  How much are the hidden costs of imprisoning someone? or of capital punishment (the way we practice it here)?  How much does obesity cost, or  smoking?  How much does drug abuse cost us all?  What is the hidden cost of bad schools, or of teenage pregnancy, or of environmental pollution?

If we are thinking of hidden costs, we need to consider the hidden costs of cost-savings gone bad as well.  What is the hidden cost of buying a poorly made car?  What is the cost of insufficient health insurance?  What is the cost of a cheap house in a hurricane zone?  There are many times when the attempt to avoid costs backfires.  We may save money on the bridge we build today, and live to regret it tomorrow.

Jesus’ Cost Calculations

Jesus was cost-conscious.  As he looked at the crowds of people he encountered as he journeyed from his home base of Galilee in the North down to Jerusalem, he could see that they had been doing some calculating too.  The problem was, he could see that they had been making some basic math mistakes.   There were obvious costs that they were pretty good at calculating, but there were hidden costs that they were either willfully blind to or really couldn’t see.

In this context Jesus discuss cost-accounting.  He chooses to begin the discussion with some intense language.  First he speaks of hating “father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and even life itself”  If that were not shocking enough, he then says,

“Whoever does not carry the cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.”

All this is supposed to be a prelude to sober cost accounting: calculating whether you have enough in the bank to actually finish the tower before you being to build it, or whether  you can win the war before you start it.

Why all the language of love or hate, either-or, all or nothing, black or white?  Clearly he believed the stakes were high.  Accounting can have life or death consequences.  We need to look into this text to see what it means.

Family Values

We hear a lot about family values these days.  This text sits uncomfortably in the pro-family cheering section.   What could have made Jesus say such things about hating your own family?

Civil war does this.  It split families in our war between the states; brother againstbrother, father against son.  Civil wars always do.  There are those who join the opposition and those who fight for the status-quo.  The same was coming  in Jesus’ day – he could see it (as could almost everyone willing to look).

So yes; if it came to war, you’d have to choose.  Sometimes  your family may choose wrongly – if they do, you will have a hard choice to make.  What if your family joins the large band-wagon advocating violent rebellion?  What if they think war with Rome will solve their problems?

Jesus saw the people mis-calculating that the way of violent rebellion would be affordable.  He foresaw, however, that the costs would be incalculable.  The very objective of the war – to have security; to live on their land, conduct their business free from outside intrusion – is exactly what the war would destroy.  “War with Rome is not the way to make your possessions safe, it’s the way to lose them all,” Jesus was saying.  If that’s what your family wants and demands of you – well, you have to choose.

This was the first time, but it would not be the last time that a solid majority opinion, the consensus view, the “party-line” perspective that had won the day was diametrically counter to the way Jesus was teaching.  Majorities can be wrong; self-destructively wrong, even as the notes of their “impending victory” song are  ringing and the flags are waving; ask Germany.  Ask Japan.  Ask Italy.

What does it cost to follow Jesus?  There have been times and there will be times when the cost of following Jesus is precisely the one named by consensus herd as it punishes nay-sayers for being traitors.  Triumphalists can be quite touchy; they can be quick with crosses.  It has happened before; why should it not happen again?

The costs of the alternative?

If following the way of violent rebellion is too costly, what about the alternative?  What about the way of following Jesus?  Was it free of cost?

Jesus spoke in dark terms of taking up ones own cross as the cost of following his way.  Why would anyone do that?  If cost-calculation was the subject of the day, a cross was about as high a price as you could imagine.  What benefit could possibly justify that investment?

At this point in the discussion usually someone points out that this cannot possibly mean what it says about crosses and all – it’s just exaggeration for effect.  Right?

Sometimes you get catalogues in the mail that have hundreds of products –  from backscratchers to foot massagers, from slippers to fleece blankets.  It’s all very cheap stuff of poor quality.

Question: is the kingdom of God cheap?  Is it a discount offer?  Is it a single-serving of forgiveness and a ticket to heaven for the small price of a bit of Sunday time and a few bucks off the top each month?

What do you get for your investment in the Kingdom, and what do you lose if you decline the offer?

The price of hope

Most of us were here yesterday for a Memorial Service.  We call these services “Witness to the Resurrection.” Why?  Because we are not like those who have no hope, those for whom this life is all there is.  How much is hope worth?  Alternatively, what is the  hidden cost of hopelessness?  How much is it worth to have a community of people around you when you are at the end of your earthly life, who love you, who visit you, who encourage you right up to the end?  On the other hand, what is the hidden cost of loneliness?

The Call Today

Jesus is calling us to consider the cost of following him   But he is also challenging us to consider the cost of not following – including the hidden costs.

What if following Jesus today means that we must resist pressure to do what the herd thinks is best?  What if the herd even includes our own families?  What if the herd wants to listen to the economics news all day, every day, until maximizing personal wealth becomes the end-all goal of life?

What if market analysis is all that is heard by the herd, and there is never the sound of pain, the cry of the widow, the orphan or the stranger, the moaning of the crippled, the blind and the lame?

What if following Jesus to Jerusalem means rejecting the notion of national exceptionalism and violent nationalism?  What if following Jesus means self-denial, self-sacrifice, and cross-bearing?  What if the herd on the TV and the radio is rushing towards the cliff, and all the while mocking and deriding everyone who refuses to join the race to the edge?

But what if the cost of not following Jesus is even greater, the damage deeper, the consequences less imaginable?   Best to get the pencil out, sit down with the calculator, and pay attention to hidden costs.

Count the cost; both ways.

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