Counting the Cost
Jesus often says things that are intended to startle us, things so surprising that we have to pause, and reflect, and ask ourselves, what could he possibly mean? That is certainly true of the first and last lines of our Gospel reading for this morning. If we want to be Jesus’ disciples, he tells us, we should hate our families and give up all our possessions. Surely he doesn’t mean that literally. But if not, what is his point?
The middle part of our reading helps.
If we want to build a tower, he reminds us, we estimate the cost. If we don’t have enough money to pay for it, we don’t build the tower. Or, if we are considering going to war, we try to figure out if we have the troops we need to win it. If we don’t have the troops, we don’t go to war.
That is clear enough. We do that in our own way.
As you may have noticed coming in, we have a growing hole in the entrance to our parking lot. Our wonderful Junior Warden put up a cone so that no cars would fall into the hole. Given that I park right beside the hole, I am grateful to him for that!
That was a few weeks ago. This week Bob did exactly what Jesus says in our reading. He got estimates to see how much it would cost to fix the hole. He made sure we had the money, which we do. Having counted the cost, we’ll get the work done. Hopefully it will be that simple.
But let’s keep going. Unfortunately, counting the cost is not always simple.
When my family first moved to Massachusetts in 2007, the Big Dig was in the news. As many of you know, the plan was to reroute I-93 into a tunnel in Boston, along with several related projects. According to the original estimate, the whole thing would be completed in 1998 for a total cost of 2.8 billion dollars. In fact, the project wrapped up in 2007, and the final cost when all the loans are settled will be something like 22 billion dollars. Inflation complicates the calculations, but the original estimates were off by A LOT.
Or take Jesus’ other example: war. A news article on Wednesday reported that we reached a peace agreement with the Taliban in Afghanistan which was intended to bring to an end what is now America’s longest war. Unfortunately, the same article also reported that the Taliban sponsored a suicide bombing attack that day, putting the peace agreement in immediate jeopardy. When we first invaded Afghanistan in 2001, I don’t think anyone expected the war to drag on for eighteen years and counting.
My point is obvious. We do our best to count the cost of whatever we plan to do. But we can never really know the true cost in advance. Every decision inevitably involves risk and therefore a leap of faith.
What is true for construction projects and military actions is even more obvious in personal relationships.
The easiest example in my life is marriage. When Carrie and I got married, twenty-seven blissful years ago, neither of us had any idea what we were getting into. We had been dating four years, so we knew each other pretty well. If you had asked me then, I would have said I had “counted the cost.” I thought I knew what I was doing. Carrie would have said the same.
How wrong we were! People change. Carrie had no idea she was marrying a future priest—poor her. I had no idea I was marrying a woman who would haul me up to Massachusetts—as it turns out, lucky me.
When we make a real commitment—and marriage is just an example—we can try to count the cost up front. But it never really works. Life is too complicated. Every real commitment involves sacrifices. And the fact is, we can never know up front exactly what those sacrifices will be.
So we commit, and we live with the consequences as best we can. And for some commitments, the consequences touch every single part of our lives. Marriage is like that. Having children is like that. But following Jesus is like that most of all.
Think about Jesus’ call to his first disciples. One day Jesus shows up on the shore of the Sea of Galilee and says to Peter and Andrew, “Follow me.” And, Mark tells us, “immediately they left their nets and followed him” (1:17-18).
Who knows exactly what Peter and Andrew were thinking? But I can tell you what they were NOT thinking. They were not thinking, “I’ll bet this man gets crucified in a couple of years. And I’ll bet we’ll get killed too at some point. Let’s do this!”
When Peter and Andrew followed Jesus, they took an enormous risk, and an entirely unknown risk. Only over time, did they come to understand exactly what that risk meant for them.
But from the beginning, long before they understood much of anything at all, Peter and Andrew must have known this: in committing to Jesus, they were venturing everything. They were committing their entire lives to Christ. And as a consequence, they left their families behind. They gave up their livelihoods. Eventually they gave up their lives.
As our reading for this morning begins, large crowds were travelling with Jesus. But most of those people had not yet made the commitment that Peter and Andrew had made. So Jesus invites them to make that commitment. But Jesus is brutally honest with them.
“All right,” Jesus says. “If you want to follow me, you should think about what it might cost you. And what it might cost you is everything. If you commit to following me, you are all in.”
Jesus says, “Following me changes you. And because it changes you, it changes everything about your life: your most important relationships; your material possessions; even how you think about your life itself. You should know that up front. Now, are you in?”
Jesus says that to us too. If we take his invitation seriously, it’s a little scary, and it is supposed to be.
Thankfully, most of us are not in fact called to leave our families, or to give up all of our possessions, or to suffer martyrdom. But Jesus makes no promises about that.
We are in the same boat as the people planning the Big Dig or the War in Afghanistan. We have no idea what the ultimate cost will be, but it may well be high. We are in the same boat as Peter and Andrew on the shore of the Sea of Galilee. Jesus invites us to follow without yet telling us where he is going.
But Jesus does make one promise, or maybe one set of promises. Jesus promises to be with us every step of the way. Jesus promises to bring us into right relationship with our Heavenly Father. Jesus promises to sustain us with his Holy Spirit. Jesus promises that the cross we carry in his name will turn out to be a light burden and an easy yoke because he will help us. Jesus promises us life and love and joy that we could not otherwise know. Jesus promises us that his way is the right way.
And so, with some fear and trepidation, but also with faith and hope and love, we commit. We commit to taking the next step in our journey with our Lord. May he bless us on the Way.
In Christ’s name. Amen.
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Rev. Dr. Harvey Hill
Third Order Franciscan