“Price Point”

Luke 14.25-33

In the Name of God: Creator, Redeemer and Sanctifier. Amen.

“Which of you, intending to build a tower, does not first sit down and estimate the cost, to see whether he has enough to complete it? Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it will begin to ridicule him, saying, ‘This fellow began to build and was not able to finish.’”

I remember preaching on this text some years ago. At that time, the stonework on the tower of our church needed major repair, and we were trying to draw up a restoration plan and raise the money to fund it.

“Which of you, intending to build a tower, does not first sit down and estimate the cost?” We had to be sure that the contractor we hired could do the highly-skilled work of repairing the old landmark stones that make up our tower. And we had to be careful to have contingency funds on hand, in case the project went over budget.

In the words of the Gospel: we had to “count the cost.” We had to determine the maximum amount of money we could expect to raise, and we needed to get a bid for work that fit our budget.

Or, to use a term from modern business: we had to determine a “price point” that was acceptable to us. Retailers use this term to refer to the amount of money that the average consumer will pay for a given item.

Coffee lovers who will spend $3.50 for a tall café mocha may balk at paying $4 for the same drink. They aren’t willing to move up to the higher price point.

In the Second Lesson, Jesus observes that people go through the same mental process when they think of religion. People weigh the value of their spiritual commitments.

Indeed, counting the cost may be especially important in matters of faith–precisely because the price we pay for our obedience to transcendent values is so great. As Jesus warned, “Whoever does not carry the cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.”

This warning was pertinent because, at the time Jesus was preaching, people were just beginning to join his religious movement. The Greek word for “conversion” literally meant, “turning around;” converts to the Gospel found that their lives were upended. They could no longer look at things the way they used to. Those who followed Jesus were on a new pathway.

In fact, one early name for the Church was “the Way.” They would follow the road of discipleship, even though, on that way, they had to carry crosses.

But if heavy burdens are required of Christians, no wonder that people hesitate to commit themselves to a life of faith! Even minor disruptions in one’s habits are troubling. If religion requires giving time and money to help others, for example, non-churchgoers may decide that they would rather focus on their own problems. They count the cost and they decide that the price of faith is too high.

As the Gospel suggests, though, this resistance to change and sacrifice is perfectly natural. It has nothing to do with that favorite target of preachers, the consumer society. Human beings always—in every time and place—cling to what feels good.

It’s natural to want creature comforts, whether you live in a cave, or in a house in Beverly Hills or in the Garden of Eden. What is not natural is taking up a cross!

In other words, even if America were not consumer-oriented, we Christians would still be presenting a message that isn’t immediately appealing. Skeptics will need to be convinced that choosing religion is worth it.

So when we present our message, we shouldn’t bother to rail against materialism. What we Christians really have to do is to show people that they have spiritual needs, and that they are happier when they make the effort to fill these needs.

Fortunately, there are plenty of reasons why practicing religion is worth the cost. Those who have been pushed out of their comfort zone to help others find that they are rewarded with a sense of accomplishment and new connections with new people.

Another reason for religion is offered in a new book by the head of the Gallup Poll organization. He claims that religion has a bright future in America because recent research indicates that religious people are healthier than non-religious people.

Scientists don’t know why this is true. Maybe religious practices are better for you than other life choices. For example, meditation is recommended by cardiologists.

In any case, the study concludes that if America were more religious it would have better health. The author even says that it might pay corporations to give special bonuses to employees when they attend church four times a month!

I find this idea far-fetched—though I would also note in passing that at one time in the 1980’s Incarnation had three members over 100 years old! But the author’s basic point is sound, as believers will confirm: there are benefits to religious practice.

This is true even when we modify the more extreme demands sometimes made for Christianity. In the Second Lesson, Jesus advises his disciples to give up “all their possessions.”

In fact, this admonition was followed literally only in few particular circumstances. Some congregations in the early church seem to have kept all possessions in common. And down to this day, orders of monks and nuns have communal property.

Yet the majority of Christians recognize the seductions of the things they own, and the distracting temptations of the things they wish they owned. While it does little good to rail against consumerism, it’s healthy for us to keep material things in perspective.

And perspective is what Jesus is talking about here. We have to see the big picture in order to count the cost.

As it happens, our church tower once again needs stonework repair. The Vestry and Building Committee are looking at various bids and options; we have established a Spire Fund; and we have begun to raise money. We now have to determine a plan we can pay for and a contractor who can carry out the plan.

But our broader spiritual perspective reminds us that we aren’t just working for ourselves; we are building the future of our community in which this landmark is located. And a greater vision can also help us personally.

The value of a given religious act lies not just in its immediate payback. Spiritual practices often have a cumulative effect; only after they become ingrained habits do they give us a more satisfying life.

On a given Sunday, you may come home after church feeling that the weather was dreary and so was the sermon!

But if you remember that faith is for the long haul—as Scripture says, faith is “the promise of things not seen”—then you file the morning’s worship back in your soul, you see it as contributing to your future peace – and you go on to your next spiritual challenge.

For you can be sure that God’s blessings will appear. The followers of God’s Son will be rewarded. Faith pays in this life and the next. And that’s a price point that you can afford.

Amen.


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