6th after Pentecost / Proper 8 — 30 June 2013
[Track 2] 1 Kings 19:15-16, 19-21 | Psalm 16 | Galatians 5:1, 13-25 | Luke 9:51-62
“No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the
Have you ever gone into a restaurant that charges maybe twenty or twenty-five bucks for a steak; bad enough, but that's just a la carte; and you discover after you've had a beverage (depending on whether you have a glass of pinot noir or a Diet Coke) and an appetizer and soup and a salad and dessert and coffee and the sales tax and the tip, that the two of you have just dropped coming up on a hundred bucks! But you can't really complain: the prices were all right there in the menu; you've nobody to blame but yourself if you're shocked when the tab comes. (That’s why my wife and I often go to the Midtown Family Restaurant in
Iowa City, on the east edge of town just off Scott Boulevard. (That explains why it’s named the Midtown Family Restaurant.) We call it the “Codger Café.” You all know the kind of place it is. We like it.
You’d probably like it.)
Or buying a new car. The hyped-up ads on TV talk about a base price of, say, $22,499, but we all know perfectly well that by the time you get any kind of optional features on it at all and pay transportation and dealer prep and sales tax, by the time you drive the thing off the lot you’re talking thirty thou. Step up to the model you really wanted, and you’re pushing forty. You may not like that, but you understand that that's how it is. It's all right there on the sticker on the car window.
There is a profession among the many jobs and occupations and professions in the world, a profession called “cost accounting.” Some of you probably know a good bit more about it than I do. Are or were any of you cost accountants? As I understand it, a cost accountant uses his or her special financial and analytical skills to determine, for instance for a manufacturer, exactly what it costs to make the product – not only the direct costs for materials, wages, overhead, and so on, but all the hidden indirect costs that can swallow up any hope of profitable return. Continual monitoring of costs is necessary if a company is to succeed. Or, a manufacturer may have an idea for a new product; but before they can put it into production they must have some notion as to what it will cost to make it, what it will cost to distribute it, what it will cost to advertise it so people will know about it, and therefore what price they will have to sell it for in order to make a profit. And they must then judge whether enough people are likely to want the product at that price to make it worthwhile for the manufacturer to get into this market at all. The cost accountants provide the data and the analysis for the decision. I assume that cost accountants are reasonably well paid, and are worth it.
In today's Gospel Jesus is also talking about cost accounting, and about sticker shock, and about reading the menu. People come to Jesus and say, “I want to follow you, Lord.” But Jesus says, “Can you meet the cost of following me? Do you know what following me involves? Are you prepared to put God's sovereignty ahead even of your home and family if need be? Remember, if you come with me, that I’m homeless – I don't have anywhere to lay my head! I don't promise you a rose garden - at least not without a lot of thorns! No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the Reign of God.”
A lot of people seem to want to be followers of Jesus, but when they discover what it costs, they are surprised, upset, hurt, dismayed, even angry. Apparently they didn't read the menu. We promised to follow Jesus, but we sometimes forget just where it was that Jesus went – and where following Jesus is likely to lead us.
A rich young man once came to Jesus once, and asked, “What do I need to do in order to have eternal life?” Jesus looked at him and saw what he needed, and he told him. “What you need is to sell off everything you own, and then come and follow me.” “Oh, no, I can't do that!” said the rich young man. And so he went away. And Jesus let him go.
I think many folks come to the Church because they expect to get something out of it. They expect to be given something. They expect simply to be ministered to. They come as customers. They think “church” is something which somebody else is supposed to do for them – not something that they are to be and to do for the world, on behalf of God. They come to the Church, but they don't count the cost of discipleship.
Well, heck, we don't care why people first come into the Church. Any old reason will do to start with. Jesus wants a crack at us any way he can get us. But we need to be warned! Once we’re here, God will start drawing us into God’s reasons for bringing us here -- and what our reasons were don't really matter so much. God cares a lot about what we need. God does not care a lot about what we think we want.
Oh, yes, we’ll get something out of Church. We’ll get a ministry – not a ministry for us to receive, but a ministry for us to do, all of us. Christian ministry is primarily something the Church does to, for, in the world - something we the Church do to, for, in the world, in God's cause. And ministry within the Church, our ministry to each other, much of the particular ministry of those who are ordained within the Church, is primarily for the purpose of equipping us all and strengthening us all for our shared ministry in the world.
But we must count the cost. Following Jesus can be a very expensive business. The Body of Christ is a glorious Body, but it still bears the wounds of the Cross. No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for God's Reign. Real discipleship costs us everything we have, everything we are. In return, God gives back to us everything we can be!