What Is The True Cost?


Here are my thoughts for the 15th Sunday after Pentecost.  I will be preaching at Dover UMC in Dover Plains, NY, next week (service is at 11:00).

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I could not help but think how ironic this week’s Gospel reading is. (1) Jesus speaks of people building something and how proper planning requires a consideration for the total cost of the project. At a time when we are talking about the cost of rebuilding New Orleans and the Gulf Coast this is a highly appropriate reading.

If one considers the extent of damage that occurred when Katrina came ashore two years ago, it would seem logical that one should rebuild the homes and buildings so that the next time there is a storm such as Katrina there won’t be as much damage. The lessons learned when Hurricane Andrew destroyed, demolished, and devastated south Florida in 1992 told us that. Now, as rebuilding takes place, it seems that some have learned the lesson while others have apparently not.

When the state of Mississippi legalized gambling, it was stipulated that the casinos would be on riverboats. It only made sense to do this because when there was gambling in the state before, it was on the riverboats that traveled up and down the Mississippi River from St. Louis and Cincinnati to New Orleans. But, the riverboats that they built the casinos on bore little resemblance to the 19th century palatial palaces of the river. In fact, they were nothing more than glorified johnboats, flat bottom shallow draft boats on which a structure could be built and transformed into a casino. When Hurricane Katrina struck the Gulf Coast, these modern riverboats were wrecked beyond repair or recognition.

So, when the rebuilding began, the gambling industry (I refuse to use the politically-correct term “gaming”) petitioned the Mississippi legislature to change the legislation prohibiting them from building their casinos on land. Because of the money that the casinos generate, the legislature obliged. Now the new casinos on the Mississippi Gulf Coast are bigger, brighter, and more extravagant than before and on land. They will probably withstand most of what the next hurricane may bring.

I just wish that the same could be said for the rebuilding of homes and lives in the towns surrounding the casinos and over in Louisiana. There was a time when the best and the brightest sought to serve this country. Now it seems as if only the worst and the dimmest work in the government. The federal agency directing the rebuilding efforts is FEMA, the Federal Emergency Management Agency. All one has to do is look at how FEMA handled the aftermath of Katrina two years ago and how they are managing the rebuilding effort today.

This agency, in its efforts to prevent corruption and a waste of money, has decided that any federal money can only be used to replace what was destroyed, not correct any deficiencies in the design. Things haven’t gotten done because it is more important to adhere to federal regulations than it is to do things right. Somewhere along the line, thinking about tomorrow was removed from the process. This is not new; there have been countless instances where laws were passed and regulations created to solve an immediate problem but compounded the problem over the long term.

But it isn’t just the government where thinking processes are limited. This past week Mattel announced that they were again recalling toys made in China because there was lead in the paint on the toys. We have known about the effects of lead, especially when it comes to our young, for many years ago. We have gone to great lengths to remove lead from the environment; yet we don’t seem to insist that countries where things we buy follow the same rules. All that seems to matter is that the companies that sell what we buy don’t have to spend a lot of money; that way, the profit margin remains high.

As long as our concern is on the short term; if we do not think about the long-term consequences of our actions, we will find out what this past week has told us. Our constant concern for the present will only bring increased misery in the future.

The Gospel reading also speaks of planning for war. Jesus asks, “What king would go to war against another king without first sitting down with his counselors to discuss whether his army of 10,000 could defeat the 20,000 soldiers marching against him?”(2) Considering this statement in the context of the previous statement about the cost of building something, are we ready to assume that the present conflict was carefully thought out? While we may have had a numerical superiority in terms of troop numbers and it was clear that our weapons and abilities clearly were better than the opposition we faced, we need to be reminded that there were other assumptions made.

We were told that our troops would be welcomed as liberators. Now we are treated more as invaders. We were told that our troops were properly equipped. But then we were told that we would fight the fight with what we had. Then we found out that the troops did not have the right type of armor or the armor they did have offered insufficient protection for the type of weapons the opposition would fight with. Time and time again, we hear of local groups having fund raisers in order to send basic supplies to troops because they do not have such supplies.

It isn’t so much that the reasons for this war were so transparently lies. It isn’t so much the fact that persons who attacked this country six years ago were in no way connected to Saddam Hussein and Iraq or those they haven’t been caught and brought to justice. It isn’t so much the fact that drums of war are still being beat and each day the beat gets louder. And it isn’t the fact that war is a part of our culture. It is the fact that we seem to enjoy the war and we cannot imagine the cost that war brings.

We send our troops off to fight with shouts of joy and acclamation. We bring them home with parades and celebration. But the wounded come home and are forgotten (see “Supporting Our Troops – The Tragedy of Building 18”); the dead come home in the middle of the night and many times their families are not allowed to receive them with the honor they so deserve. We easily sing “When Johnny Comes Marching Home” in celebration but we forget the darker side to this song.

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When Johnny comes marching home again

When Johnny comes marching home again, Hurrah! Hurrah!

We’ll give him a hearty welcome then, Hurrah! Hurrah!

The men will cheer, the boys will shout, the ladies they will all turn out, and we’ll all feel gay

When Johnny comes marching home.

Let love and friendship on that day, Hurrah! Hurrah!

Their choicest treasures then display, Hurrah! Hurrah!

And let each one perform some part to fill with joy the warrior’s heart, and we’ll all feel gay

When Johnny comes marching home.

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The writer of this traditional celebratory song took the tune from an Irish folk tune, “Johnny, We Hardly Knew Ye”, a tune with a much darker side.

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Johnny I Hardly Knew Ye

With your drums and guns and guns and drums, hurroo, hurroo

With your drums and guns and guns and drums, hurroo, hurroo

With your drums and guns and guns and drums,

The enemy nearly slew ye

Oh my darling dear, Ye look so queer

Johnny I hardly knew ye

Where are your eyes that were so mild, hurroo, hurroo?

Where are your eyes that were so mild, hurroo, hurroo?

Where are your eyes that were so mild, when my heart you so beguiled

Why did ye run from me and the child?

Johnny I hardly knew ye

Where are your legs that used to run, hurroo, hurroo?

Where are your legs that used to run, hurroo, hurroo?

Where are your legs that used to run, when you went for to carry a gun?

Indeed your dancing days are done

Johnny I hardly knew ye

Ye haven’t an arm; ye haven’t a leg, hurroo, hurroo

Ye haven’t an arm; ye haven’t a leg, hurroo, hurroo

Ye haven’t an arm, he haven’t a leg,

Ye’re an armless, boneless, chickenless egg

Ye’ll have to put with a bowl out to beg

Johnny I hardly knew ye

They’re rolling out the guns again, hurroo, hurroo

They’re rolling out the guns again, hurroo, hurroo

They’re rolling out the guns again, but they never will take our sons again

No they never will take our sons again

Johnny I hardly knew ye

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It is not just the cost of wars and their aftermath that bother me. It is not our failure to put the needs of people above corporate interests when it comes to rebuilding homes and lives. It is the cost we pay for own selfishness and greed.

Greed is not necessarily the accumulation of wealth and “things”. It can also be the unwillingness to pay for quality or to pay workers the proper wage. It is the unwillingness to think about what you are doing and how what you are doing will affect others.

Greed is not necessarily the accumulation of wealth and “things”. It can also be the unwillingness to pay for quality or to pay workers the proper wage. It is the unwillingness to think about what you are doing and how what you are doing will affect others.

Paul, in his letter to Philemon (3), doesn’t say it but I think he implies that Philemon should do the right thing. Now, some might say that Paul should never have sent Onesimus back. After all, Onesimus was a slave and slavery is one of those things where our own greed and attempts to lower our costs matters more than anyone’s concerns. But, no matter what our thoughts about slavery are today, when Paul wrote that letter to Philemon slavery was legal and Paul was not about to engage in civil disobedience. But Paul admonishes Philemon to do the right thing. We can only assume that this meant giving Onesimus his freedom. I think it is time that the church again needs to be the voice of the right thing; I think that it is time that we, as a church, do as Paul did and speak of doing the right thing.

Unfortunately, somewhere along the line the church has lost its voice. The church has been co-opted by society and will only say those things that people want to hear and which enables them to pursue what they want to pursue. The message has become more “what’s in it for me?” than it has “how I can be Christ’s servant?”

I know that there are churches, pastors and congregations, individual people who hear the Gospel and take it to heart. I know there are people who have measured the cost of carrying the Cross and accepted that cost. I know that there are people who let the Gospel lead their lives. Yet, when you look around, you do not see those people.

When you look around and listen, you hear and see preachers telling you how God will make you rich. But the Bible warns us against accumulating wealth. You hear and see preachers speak of an exclusive church where only those with the correct lifestyle and appropriate economic status are welcome. But Jesus was always among the outcasts of society, much to the displeasure of society’s political and religious leaders. They see and hear preachers who preach hatred and war when Jesus is called the Prince of Peace.

You hear preachers speak of the inviolability of the Bible yet you can read any number versions of Bibles from the same period of time and detect seeming inconsistency within any particular Bible. You hear of preachers who speak out against science because it contradicts the Bible and you have to wonder we are still living the 17th century when the church sought to ban the formation of the heliocentric theory of the universe because it contradicts the Bible.

Many people today see the church as close-minded. It was bad enough when the church of the 17th century penalized Galileo for his stand as to the nature of the universe. For many people, the church’s attitude is still the same; the church either ignores or rejects science. And many in science have rejected the church. This division of faith and reason is again an example of one’s not using all the gifts that one has been given by God.

When you look around, you see young people turned off to church because of its hypocrisy of life style or teaching. Can you blame them for doing so? What do they see when they see a church? Is it no wonder that the current younger generation looks for solace in comfort in other venues.

You cannot blame the youth of today for turning away from the church; you cannot blame many on the left for turning away from the church. The church itself is to blame for many of the problems that it faces because it has created them.

The church was once a powerful force in the drive for equality in this country. From its very beginning, the church demonstrated that empowerment through the Holy Spirit could bring about change. It was true at the beginning when Christians were persecuted for refusing to acknowledge the Roman Caesar as a god. It was true when early settlers of this country refused to worship in a church not of their own choosing. It was true in the 1960’s when it was the church that led the drive for equality and called out against the inequity of the Viet Nam war.

But along the way, the church got tired and it got confused. There were those who felt that the church had no business getting involved in the secular world. The church is not of this world and should not get involved. So be it if others are in pain, in suffering or oppressed. To relieve the pain, end the suffering and free the oppressed is not the business of the church. There were those who thought that such efforts went against the nature of the Gospel. All that was and is important is that we make all the people Christ’s disciples. Many times this was done at the point of the sword or the barrel of the gun. Many times it was done to people who had genuine and viable faith in God through their own religion. How many of those identified as Christian leaders today spoke out against the Civil Rights movement of the 1960’s? How many Christian leaders today say or suggest that those in poverty have only themselves to blame?

The time has come for the church to heed the words of Jeremiah in today’s Old Testament reading (4). The time has come for the church to look at itself and remake itself, again in the image of Christ on earth. The time has come for the church to be the servant of Christ and the representative of God on earth. Some will have a hard time doing this; their form is like the pot that has been put into the kiln and fired. The only way to change the pot is to break and start over again with fresh clay.

But many of us are like the clay that is on the potter’s wheel. Our form is not complete and we have not been put in the kiln to be fired; we can change.

Change does not mean responding to society’s pressure and becoming what society wants us to be. Change means returning to an understanding of what the Bible says. This means delving into the word and learning the word, not merely repeating words that someone wrote down. We were created in the image of God so we have the ability to think and create. We are not created as God so our abilities are limited.

This change is not merely in making the worship service more “user-friendly”. That is part of the problem today. This change is in the very nature of the church, to seek the Spirit which empowers us and gives us the ability to move beyond our own boundaries. Some will not accept this change for they have been hardened by the fire of life and are unwilling to be broken. But there are those who can change; there are those who have yet to be formed by the potter.

This change will not be easily and it will not be cheap. Some will say that we cannot afford it; it is too expensive and too time-consuming to make the change. They are unwilling to pay any cost. But the price of everlasting life, the price for victory over sin and death has already been paid. The true cost will be in terms of how willing you are to take up the Cross and complete the mission of Christ on earth.

(1) Luke 14: 25 – 31

(2) Luke 14: 31

(3) Philemon 1 – 21

(4) Jeremiah 18: 1 – 11

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