Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Counting the Cost

Long ago, even before I was a pastor (can there have been such a time?), I was a member of a congregation with a new pastor.  The pastor had put together a long-range planning committee, and they had been meeting for a few months, talking to people about their hopes and dreams for their community and their congregation. 

Then, one evening, the committee was ready to tell us about their findings.  They talked about our neighborhood, both the children and the seniors who lived among us.  They talked about this piece of property that the church had owned for a long time, a property that we never knew exactly what to do with.  They had this wonderful dream, they said, something we could not do right now, but maybe could work toward doing someday, of building a senior high rise on that property, with, perhaps, a day care center in the middle of it.

There was quite a buzz in the fellowship hall while the members of the little church dared to dream a big dream. 

But then, one older gentleman got up and cleared his thoat.

He began to read,

"For which of you, intending to build a tower, does not sit down first 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."

Well.  I can tell you one thing:  the buzzing stopped, and no one got up to say anything to the elderly gentleman.  And that senior high rise was never built, as far as I know.

At least no one would be able to ridicule us sometime down the line, because we began to build something and could not complete it.

Maybe the Senior High Rise with the day care center wasn't what Jesus had in mind for our congregation anyway.  It's hard to know, when you begin to follow Jesus into the world:  sometimes it turns out that you heard wrong, and that wasn't what God wanted you to do at all.

But I can't help wondering what Jesus had in mind, when he spoke these words to the large crowds that were gathering.  I can't help wondering what Luke had in mind, when he made very sure that this scene was included in his gospel.  Did he mean he wanted us to count the cost and then give up, so that there was no possibility that anyone would laugh at us when we failed?

Because Jesus seems to indicate that the cost of discipleship is more than we have, that there is every possibility that we'll build a foundation and then find out that we are totally spent.  There's the distinct possibility that we'll find ourselves in a position of being laughed at, regarded as failures, regarded as foolish, as we follow Jesus.

Rally Sunday is coming up.  It's usually a big attendance day, with balloons, and registrations for Sunday School, and food.  The "program year" starts out with a bang, and with high hopes.

But somewhere along the line, things usually thin out a bit.  I'm not exactly sure why this happens.  Other obligations crowd out the first enthusiasm of September.  People count the cost, and somehow what we are offering doesn't always measure up.  Or, as a person whom I love dearly said to me, "I don't go to church because it doesn't add value to my life."  Ouch.

Even after all these years, I'm still trying to get my brain around these words from Luke.

All I can say right now, is ... I don't think Jesus wants us to quit.


PS (PSanafter-thought) said...

I read that passage today at our Study and wondered: in 1 1/2 weeks, we will be voting, finally, about our church remodeling project. There is work that needs to be done because of part of the building that needs to come down. But it turned out that the estimates were so high in comparison to what we had anticipated and the economy has been hard on the church, of course. What to do, what to do??? And, it looks like we will not be there for the vote.

Mompriest said...

I think its true for many that church does not add value to life. Gives me pause to think and wonder 1. what is meant by value? I can think what it would mean to me, but to those who say this, what do they mean? What would value look and feel like?

2. If churches could find out what is meant by "value" would churches be willing and able to develop that? Or would it fall into fear like the man who took the wind out of the sail over the "cost" of this innovative exciting dream - I mean, was it REALLY about the money? or was it about some other kind of fear?

I once had a vision to offer an after school program in our mostly unused church building - with computer stations and sofas, television, ping pong and basketball, and food - for the middle school crowd that really needed a safe place to go - all latch key kids. One parishioner said to me, "BUT I don't want take care of kids after school, that's too much work."