The Price is Wrong

The First United Presbyterian Church
“The Price is Wrong”
Rev. Amy Morgan
July 28, 2019

Luke 14:25-33
Now large crowds were traveling with Jesus;
and he turned and said to them,
26‘Whoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother,
wife and children,
brothers and sisters,
yes, and even life itself,
cannot be my disciple.
27Whoever does not carry the cross and follow me
cannot be my disciple.

28For 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?
29Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish,
all who see it will begin to ridicule him, 30saying,
“This fellow began to build and was not able to finish.”
31Or what king, going out to wage war against another king,
will not sit down first and consider whether he is able
with ten thousand
to oppose the one who comes against him with twenty thousand?
32If he cannot, then,
while the other is still far away,
he sends a delegation and asks for the terms of peace.
33So therefore, none of you can become my disciple
if you do not give up all your possessions.

In thirty-eight years, the game show The Price is Right had never seen a contestant guess the exact value of prizes in the Showcase Showdown.  For those of you who might not be Price is Right fans, the Showcase Showdown is the finale of the game show.  Two lucky contestants get the chance to bid on a showcase of products – luxury vacations, cars, pool tables, high-end bikes.  Whichever contestant comes closest to the actual retail price of the items in their showcase without going over, wins. 

Several people over the years had come close – within $10 of the actual retail price on packages worth tens of thousands of dollars.  But only one person has ever been perfect.

On September 22, 2008, Terry Kneiss guessed the correct retail value of a camper, a jukebox and a pool table to the dollar - 23,743 dollars, to be exact.

Terry had been studying The Price is Right for some time before he became a contestant.  He knew the cost of a grill and the cost of a can of Mushroom Soup.  In the end, knowing the cost of things won Terry four vacations, thousands of dollars, and several luxury items.  Knowing the cost of things changed his life.

While we may not all share Terry’s love for The Price is Right, many of us share Terry’s concern for knowing the cost of things.  We calculate the cost of sending our kids to college practically before they’re even born.  We calculate the cost of retirement versus working a few more years.  We calculate the cost of in-home nursing care versus residential care.  We even calculate the cost of death – cremation versus burial, cherry casket versus walnut.  It doesn’t matter if you’re rich or poor, thrifty or a spendthrift.  Everyone, on some level, is concerned with cost. 

The leaders of this church spent last Saturday discerning the cost of being 1st on 4th, The Heart of Christ in the Heart of Loveland; the cost of maintaining an historic building on the corner of 4th Street and Jefferson. They considered prayerfully and carefully if we can afford to continue ministry in this location. At the moment, they believe we can, but the process of that discernment will continue. 

But the question for the Session last Saturday, and the questions we continue to explore together, are only partially about a building – capstones and boilers, carpet and lighting. Sure, we need to know if we can afford to build the tower, so we don’t end up with projects half done and the funds dried up. But I trust those are answers we can sort out pretty easily. We can calculate the cost of worshipping, serving, and growing in faith on the corner of 4th and Jefferson, now and into the future.

But we also have to consider whether or not we’ve got enough soldiers in this battle. The battle against all that seeks to destroy Christ’s ministry in this place. The forces of extremism and institutionalism. The winds of apathy and hopelessness. The erosion of neighborliness, kindness, and peace. The decay brought about by hatred and prejudice.

This battle is not fought with swords and spears, assault weapons, drones, or tanks. We don’t need soldiers hopping into fighter jets or directing smart bombs. This battle is not about violence and bloodshed, and it will cost us more than our lives. Our enemy is not some “other,” “out there.” We are at war with our pride and convictions; our self-righteousness; what contemplatives call the “false-self” or what C.S. Lewis called our “natural self.”  

Lewis says the “natural self” tries to do what is good or right or moral. But at the end of the day, after we’ve done what we think we have to do to be good, we hope there is something left over for our “natural self,” that we can indulge some of our natural desires and inclinations that have been restricted by goodness.

But the Christian way, Lewis argues, “is different: harder, and easier. Christ says, ‘Give me All. I don’t want so much of your money and so much of your work: I want You. I have not come to torment your natural self, but to kill it…Hand over the whole natural self, all the desires which you think innocent as well as the ones you think wicked – the whole outfit. I will give you a new self instead. In fact, I will give you Myself: my own will shall become yours.”

Calculating what it will cost us to be the church, here in this time and this place, is a greater equation than we can complete with bids and quotes, with pledges and membership statistics. Each of us must contemplate whether or not we can afford to give up our whole selves, whether we can give up our will to acquire the will of Christ.

Jesus talks about giving up our possessions, all of them. Because he knew how intimately we associate who we are with what we have. If we have nothing, in this society or in just about any other, we are nothing. We have nothing to protect. Nothing to maintain. And nothing to provide us with any sense of self-sufficiency. Our possessions are so much more than things. Our whole identity, our sense of our “natural self,” is defined, in large part, by where we live, the car we drive, the stores we shop at, the clothes we wear, the brands we are loyal to.

Jesus seeks to kill that identity in order to give us a new one. An identity rooted and grounded in love, as Paul says. An identity that experiences the goodness of life now and eternity now. An identity that isn’t anxious about building towers and isn’t at war with itself.

Harder, and easier. “Take up your cross and follow me,” says Jesus. And “my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

Folks who are part of the Centering Prayer group here are familiar with the practice of the Welcoming Prayer. The Welcoming Prayer invites whatever may come every minute of every day, without trying to control or restrict them or react out of natural compulsions. Our false self - those identities constructed around selfish desires and inclinations, identities burdened by possessions and privilege and pretense – cannot withstand the recognition of God’s presence in all things. The Welcoming Prayer dismantles that false self. It leads us to give our will to God so that God’s will may become ours.

Welcoming the alarm that wakes us out of a peaceful sleep, the news of bickering and deadlocked politicians, the friend who does nothing but gripe and complain, the family member who only calls when they need money – the list goes on and on – welcoming these experiences as an opportunity to experience God’s presence and action in our lives is unthinkable for most of us.

But it is one path to discovering the cost of following Jesus. It is one path to giving up our whole selves to God. It is one path to being remade in God’s image through the love of Jesus Christ.

I wish I could tell you that church is just the place where you come to be loved and not judged, supported and cared for, upheld and empowered. It is all those things. And it is all those things FIRST. As the first letter of John says, “we love because God first loved us.”

We don’t walk through these doors for the first time thinking about how much money we’ll need to pour into this building or how much love we’ll need to share with others to overcome the darkness we see in ourselves and others. We don’t start calculating the cost of discipleship until we’ve experienced the love, forgiveness, peace, and hope of God.

But people do experience that here. You all have experienced that here. And so the church is more than just a place where we are loved and supported. It is also the place where the cost of following Jesus is calculated and paid.

Some of us might have considered at some point what our commitment to the work of Christ here will cost us. We might calculate it in our annual pledge or gifts to special offerings, donations of time and expertise, service to the church in ordered ministries or on committees. Many of you gave of your time and energy last week for the Art Hub Camp, and many others have helped plan our church picnic this afternoon. Folks have been helping to get our nursery up and going again and helping with plans to hire a new youth ministry worker. Our discipleship costs us time and energy at the Community Kitchen, 137, and the Nappie Project.

This church can’t ask anything more of you. When that call comes asking you to serve as an elder or deacon, when your friend asks if you’ll help with the next church event, when stewardship time rolls around again – we are not going to ask anybody to give more.

We don’t want more, because Jesus doesn’t want more. More implies that there is something we can hold back for ourselves. More means that we’ll have something left over after we’ve done our duty, given our fair share, fulfilled the expectations. If we try to give more, we’ll end up with less. 

C.S. Lewis says that if we want to try to give more of ourselves and hold anything back, one of two things will happen. We’ll either burn out and give up; or we’ll be so resentful about what we give that it would be better for ourselves and others if we hadn’t bothered.

So we won’t as for more. We’re going to ask for all. The church is the only place that can do that. Ask for all your energy, time, money, love, life. Because Jesus asks for it.

This is a harder thing to ask for. And easier.

The cost of ministry at 1st on 4th is high. We do a lot with a little. We ask a lot of every person here, and to your credit, you deliver. Generously and enthusiastically. You are capable of being all in, of holding nothing back. That is why we’re here today and why I’m confident we’ll be here for a long, long time.

The only path forward – for each of us individually and for the church – is complete surrender. Allow God to plow up the whole field and plant something new.

To begin that process, I’d like to give you all the opportunity to just sample the practice of the Welcoming Prayer. We’ll go through one practice of this prayer together, and there are copies of a longer prayer in the fellowship hall if you want to continue this practice in your daily life.

We’ll begin now with getting centered in our bodies. I invite you to close your eyes. Sit in a comfortable position. Take a few deep breaths, opening your heart, inviting God’s Spirit to flow in you and through you and connect you to the breath of all who are sharing this sacred time and space.

And now, I invite you to bring to mind an experience that brought up some big emotions in you. A time recently when you felt out of control in your emotional state. Perhaps it is something in the past. Or perhaps it is something you are feeling right now about something that is going on in your life. Where in your life are you feeling out of control? Helpless? Angry? Hurt? Unappreciated? Overwhelmed?

Focus on those big feelings, sink into them, experience the sensations of those feelings and the thoughts that arise from them.

Now, welcome God into the midst of those feelings, emotions, thoughts and sensations. Out loud or in your mind, say “welcome.”

And now, you may let go by saying, again out loud or in your mind:
“I let go of the desire for security, affection, control.”
And “I let go of the desire to change this feeling or sensation.”

You may repeat those phrases if you need to.
 “I let go of the desire for security, affection, control.”
“I let go of the desire to change this feeling or sensation.”

Letting go of our natural self, our false self, our possessed self, is hard. And it is easy. It is the cost of following Jesus. Giving up everything.

Calculate that cost, practice and be attentive to it. Give as much of your time and attention to it as Terry Kneiss gave to The Price is Right. Because knowing the cost of things, especially the cost of following Jesus, just might change your life. Amen.


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