Sunday, June 22, 2008

The Cost

Grace Episcopal Church, Madison NJ
June 22, 2008 – The Sixth Sunday after Pentecost

Genesis 21:8-21
Psalm 86:1-10, 16-17
(Romans 6:1b-11)
Matthew 10:24-39

The Cost

A New Testament professor at General Seminary has written a book called Jesus’ Family Values. In the book she makes the point that, maybe surprisingly, Jesus does not place a lot of emphasis on the traditional family. Instead, Jesus is more interested in the new family that he was building, the new family that he continues to build – the community of his followers. And especially in the early days, and sometimes even today, becoming a follower of Jesus can come at the cost of a division in the family.

And cost is really what Jesus is talking about in today’s gospel. Jesus is telling his first followers and telling us that following him is going to come at a cost. Sometimes we sentimentalize Jesus as a groovy guy in a robe and sandals, but here’s Jesus saying “Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.” Sometimes we sentimentalize the Christian life as being happy-clappy, sitting around in a circle singing kumbaya, but here’s Jesus saying “whoever does not take up the cross and follow me is not worthy of me.”

This is tough stuff. Sometimes it amazes me that Christianity ever took off. I mean, Jesus really isn’t much of a salesman, is he? Jesus doesn’t sugarcoat what it means to be his follower. Jesus is brutally honest about the costs of following him. And yet we still baptize our children. We still come here week after week. We still call ourselves Christians.

Not much of a salesman Jesus continues his “sales pitch”, “Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.”

Are we sure we want to sign up for this?

“Those who find their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.”

With a sales pitch like that, isn’t it amazing that Christianity took off? Isn’t it amazing that anyone chose to follow Jesus? Isn’t it amazing that still people bring their babies to church, bring their babies to be baptized into the Christian life?

Of course, Jesus is not really making a sales pitch. Jesus is simply telling it like it is. If we choose to really follow Jesus there will be a cost. And we’re free - it’s up to us to weigh the cost and the benefit and make our decision.

I bet that lately many of us having been thinking a lot about costs. I joked to someone the other day that it figures that just when I move to the suburbs and have to drive more than ever the price of gas goes through the roof. But it’s no joke that many millions of Americans, including at least some of us here, are starting to have to think very carefully about costs and benefits.

I know that some of you work or have worked in the energy business and in the financial world, so you certainly understand much more about all of this than I do. I would be happy to go back to the old days of paying a dollar for a gallon of gas. But, we’re all facing the fact that oil is a very valuable commodity. And setting aside speculation and all the other machinations of the global market, the bottom line is simply that things of value come at a cost. Oil is becoming increasingly valuable and so it’s going to cost us. There’s seems to be no way around it. There’s no shortcut.

In Jesus, God offers us something very valuable. In Jesus, God offers us the fullness of life. It comes at a cost. Apparently there was no way around the cost even for God. The Cross reminds us that there was no shortcut for Jesus.

Jesus says, “Whoever does not take up the cross and follow me is not worthy of me.” Really following Jesus is going to cost us.

The first readers of the Gospel of Matthew understood the cost of following Jesus as they faced persecution from both their Jewish and gentile neighbors. And of course the history of the Church is filled with people who have paid a very high cost for following Jesus. I know at least some of you are familiar with this book, called Lesser Feasts and Fasts. It contains the readings and the prayers for the holy men and women who are commemorated on the Church’s calendar. When I started seminary one of the professors told us that we should get to know the people commemorated in this book – the great men and women who put everything on the line for Jesus. He said that they should become our friends.

One of the very best parts of serving here at Grace is that since we have at least one service everyday we always commemorate these faithful people. And when there’s a Eucharist on those days Lauren or I get to preach about these holy men and women. And so it’s only now that some of these men and women have become my friends – as I’ve thought about the cost that they paid and what that means for us.

And very often at those services we wear red – because we are honoring people who gave their lives for the faith. Just last Wednesday we commemorated Bernard Mizeki, an African Christian teacher who was brutally martyred in what’s today Zimbabwe back in 1896. A few weeks before that we recalled St. Barnabas, an early follower of Jesus, martyred in Cyprus. And back in April we remembered Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the great 20th Century theologian who was executed in a Nazi concentration camp.

Bonhoeffer had a lot to say about the cost of being a follower of Jesus. In his book The Cost of Discipleship he writes about what he calls “costly grace.” He writes “Costly grace is the gospel which must be sought again and again, the gift which must be asked for, the door at which a man must knock.” And then Bonhoeffer echoes Jesus in today’s gospel when he writes, “Such grace is costly because it calls us to follow, and it is grace because it calls us to follow Jesus Christ. It is costly because it costs a man his life, and it is grace because it gives a man the only true life.”

So what’s the cost for us? Most of probably are not going to be martyrs, though you never know. But, if our Christian faith isn’t costing us anything, we should probably give that some thought and some prayer.

And a good place to start is the Baptism service. (In a few moments) Elizabeth Mae McManus is going to be baptized into this costly Christian life. Her parents and godparents are going to make some pretty serious promises on her behalf. And all of us are going to promise to support Elizabeth Mae in this costly Christian life. And we are going to renew the promises from our own baptism.

So, what’s the cost for us? Take a look at the middle of page two of the program. Well, for starters, in the Baptismal Covenant there’s the cost of proclaiming by word and example the Good News of God in Christ. If we really do that, it’s going to cost us.

Then there’s the cost of seeking and serving Christ in all persons, loving your neighbor as yourself. Also very costly.

And finally there’s striving for justice and peace among all people and respecting the dignity of every human being. Think about what that might cost us.

In today’s gospel Jesus is brutally honest with us. In bold language Jesus warns us that following him is going to cost us. The cost may scare us away. But Jesus also reassures us. Jesus reminds us that we are of great value to God – this God who knows every time a sparrow lands – this God who has counted every hair on our head. This same God who loves us so much that he paid the cost of becoming one of us and paid the cost of dying on the cross..

So that’s the sales pitch. Are we ready to pay the cost? Are we ready to follow Jesus?