If you’ve ever bought a house or a car or refinanced a debt you know there is a lot of paperwork. In that mountain of papers was a form called the “truth in lending” form. It’s required by law to tell you how much it REALLY costs over time to do what you’re doing. The form takes total dollars you borrowed and multiplies it by the interest rate across the number of months of the loan. Most of us just sign and try not to think about it. What really matters is getting the thing we need for ourselves and our families. But though we ignore it there is a staggering amount that represents the true cost of our commitment. That’s why a lot of times there is another form called the right of rescission- you have time to change your mind and back out if you think it is too foolish to commit.
Our willingness to just sign on the dotted line reflects how we’ve become immune to those numbers. Every day media analysts try to get us to think about the real costs of our decisions-the real cost of the war on terror, the real cost of the cleanup in the Gulf of Mexico, the real cost to us of our trade deficit with China, the real cost of the economic crisis in our country. But frankly, I can’t even wrap my head around numbers in the billions and trillions. Can you?
We proclaim that we are followers of Christ and we talk about helping the poor, being peacemakers, caring for creation and being committed to justice. We want to live these out, but our world quickly tells us this cost is too great.
Today we hear that people in growing numbers have been flocking to Jesus. By our standards he should realize capitalize upon this. Instead he speaks words that will thin the crowd. He tells people who say they believe to count the cost- read that fine print. Because to really be a disciple we must “hate our family,” stop building towers, stop being warriors and kings, and be ready to walk away from all we possess. Strong language that takes on our preference to put ourselves in the lead and that tells us there is a difference between saying “I believe” and “I commit.” It involves being willing to separate ourselves from following the usual people and forces that guide our choices and let get behind Jesus’ lead instead.
This change in vision involved hard words then and maybe even harder today for a consumer driven society like ours where the word “sacrifice” is not very popular. It’s Labor Day weekend, on a holiday initiated to focus on dignity of workers and fair trade that has become all about those towers and wars and consumption. While we think nothing of the costs of our world, rethinking our views about labor and trade and many other things in light of the cross will cost us. Maybe it’s too foolish to try. After all, our ways of doing business are complicated. Yet this is a part of our walk of discipleship- it really gets messy.
I was talking with a business consultant about how the store where we can get good stuff cheap regularly violates fair labor standards and immigration laws. We should stand against this. But while at church we can say this is injustice, that retailer is a client of the consultant and its store is the closest to home. It both pays for and provides for the needs of the consultant’s family. What is the right response as a disciple? Which path would you walk? Lest it seem like I am just judging another, I surveyed my own world in a given day. Starting with breakfast-cereal with some raisins and milk. The raisins came from California where a migrant worker who picked the grapes is paid substandard wages and may be here illegally. My milk comes in a plastic jug that takes that oil rig in the Gulf to be made. I discovered my bowl was made in China, where I’m sure no one is paying attention to fair labor and where industrial pollution has destroyed most of the rivers. The bowl was purchased at a store where most of the people employed are only given enough hours to be part time so the employer doesn’t have to offer health insurance. Getting dressed I looked at the labels in my clothes-nothing made in the USA though some fair trade. And it took me awhile to look at all those things because I have a lot.
When I looked at my world, I noticed how easy it becomes to focus upon building our own towers and empires and stockpiles. We are always looking to climb higher, looking beyond or looking inward, yet our eyes are not open to who is in front of us. We think about numbers not faces. I thought about how complicated it would be to change my lifestyle. I started counting the cost of living more faithfully, I realized would cost me a lot more money and take a lot more time. But maybe we’re too busy hanging onto what we have to have. So much so that our hands aren’t open to God’s possibility. I would have fewer choices if I changed my habits. In one way I would be renouncing possessions. But to really think about more permanent change is a challenge!
There’s the weight of that cross- just one example of the challenge in taking what we hear in here and building upon it out there. To stop letting our vision lead the way. If I really started living out a lifestyle that honored the dignity of others in fair trade and the care of creation it would be a struggle and some might even mock me. True discipleship involves being willing to sacrifice our wants and our self-esteem.It’s clear in so many ways that we can’t be those noble selfless disciples. As Martin Luther once said,” I believe I cannot by my own understanding or strength believe in Jesus Christ or come to Him.” We can’t make that commitment.
This is exactly where the good news steps in. Bearing the message of the cross into where we are, where we live and work, is not to show our leadership or to earn something, but as a sign that we follow the one who by the cross demonstrated God’s compassion and love. The other times besides our story today where we hear about foolishness and cost is the story of the cross and of the Jesus who is mocked because he saved others but can’t save himself. Our gracious God knows our limitations, but in compassion and love took on the cost of claiming us and then gave us task of discipleship anyway.
A disipleship that risks living out in words and actions God’s compassion and love even when it means standing with people in need, or devoting ourselves to God’s creation. Even when it means to standing over against the world of our family of co-workers, loved ones, employers and media that tell us it’s OK to do otherwise. Knowing we will struggle.
When we wonder how we might even begin to live a truer walk of discipleship, it is in prayer, in worship and in studying God’s word we are given guidance. In this way we are empowered by the Spirit. As we grow in faith, we will continue to find ourselves driven into the world despite our resistance and reluctance to serve others to share our gifts and talents and witness to God’s redeeming word. It is challenging to keep that long term commitment, but it is because we have a God who has not given up on us that we can live with a sense of daring we couldn’t manage on our own.