Sunday, August 28, 2005

Proper 17A (August 28, 2005)

“If you have to ask, you can’t afford it.” Have you ever been to a restaurant like that? Usually the menu is in French. The Germans, being sensible, if unimaginative people, may also have unreadable menus but bratwurst and beer isn’t that expensive, and they will at least tell you how much it costs.

Or perhaps you’ve seen the great movie Breakfast at Tiffany’s and remember the scene in Tiffany’s when Audrey Hepburn has to explain to George Peppard why there are no price tags on any of the items in the display cases.

There are many things that life asks us to buy without telling us the price first.

We have to choose a career without knowing how much it will cost us. We know that if we want to be a lawyer, then we will have to go to college and law school, then spend an unspecified number of years putting in 60 to 80 hours a week before we finally become a partner and then go on putting in 60 to 80 hours a week. So far, so good. But there’s no way to factor in the hidden costs – the evenings and weekends we could have spent with our spouse and children or just walking in the park.

If we want to be a doctor, then we have to go to college and medical school and spend many years as a resident and fellow before finally we can hang a sign on our door that says, “The Doctor is in.” But there is no way to determine the toll it may take on our families.

What about something really risky like getting married and having children? Study after study tells us that married people are happier and live longer than single people, but statistics also show that about 50% of marriages end in divorce. When we start out on the path of courtship and marriage we can't know whether we're investing in bliss or heartbreak.

Jesus would have made a terrible used car salesman. He was no negotiator. The sticker price is exactly what you pay. “If you want to become my follower,” Jesus said, “you must deny yourselves and take up your cross and follow me.” Bottom line. No counter offers.

It sounds like a high price to pay, and it is. You must deny yourself and take up your cross. In short, you must let go of everything. And what do you get in return? You get it all back. “Those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.”

That’s the paradox. If we hang on to things, we will lose them. But if we let it all go and follow Jesus, we get it all back.

What are the alternatives? If we hang on to everything, then we lose it anyway. Do you know the story of the two men talking at the funeral of the billionaire Aristotle Onassis? One asked the other, “How much did he leave?” And his friend replied, “Everything. He left everything.”

When I read these words, I despair. I know just how selfish I am, and how reluctant I am to give up anything. But if we hear these words as a call to run off to Calcutta and join Mother Teresa’s Missionaries of Charity and spend the rest of our lives caring for the poorest of the poor, then we have misheard Jesus. He may in fact be calling you to do just that; only you can know. But Jesus calls very few of us to be Mother Teresas. He calls most of us to do exactly what we are doing—to be business people, and lawyers and doctors and teachers and priests and husbands, wives, and parents.

But remember: Just like Aristotle Onassis, you, too, will leave everything.

Fred Craddock once said that some are called to pay the price of discipleship in the lump sum payment of martyrdom, but most of us are called to pay it five and ten cents at a time. We are called to what may be the more difficult task of taking up our cross and letting go of our life every minute of every day.

The Mother Teresas and Dietrich Bonhoeffers and Martin Luther King, Jrs, stand out because of the dramatic way in which they paid the cost of discipleship. Most of the time we are called to exercise discipleship in the mundane business of everyday life and I suspect that it is as difficult and sometimes even more difficult to love the people we share a bathroom with than to love the crippled beggar on the streets of Calcutta.

The Christian journey is not like a fancy French restaurant. There is a price but you find out at the very beginning.

For sale (and not just one day only): Life everlasting and abundant. Price: Empty your pockets. The martyrs don’t even have to call the bank. They pour out everything right there. The vast majority of us, though, are on the installment plan – one day, one hour, one minute at a time.

Is this a deal you can’t pass up? You better believe it.