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Sermon for October 4, 2009

The Price and Cost of Sacrifice
2 Samuel 24:18-24

“How much does it cost?” How many times have you asked that question? We are obsessed with the price of things. When we see a big house we ask, “How much does it cost?” When we see a luxury car, we say, “Look at the price tag on that!” A big part of shopping is the attempt to find the right price. Some of us will go through store circulars and drive for miles in order to save a few dollars on the price. Some stores even offer low-price guarantees. “If you find our item anywhere else for less, we will refund the difference.”

I know, I know. We are in an economic downturn. We are a nation of bargain hunters. But many people are not giving up on small luxuries. The Trumbull Starbucks seems busier than ever. I read that many people are keeping up their appearance during the downturn. While the demand for plastic surgery has decreased, nearly three out of four plastic surgeons who responded to a survey this fall reported that demand has increased for Botox. In one interview, a woman lost her job as a district sales manager for a bookstore chain She is $140,000 in debt. She has slashed spending and all but stopped eating out. But she hasn't given up her Botox injections. “It's like comfort food,” she says.

I’ve never been a good bargain hunter. Every once in a while, I’ll scout out a good deal. But my problem is that I don’t want my life filled with cheap trinkets. I know lots of people who do. That’s fine for them. I have a different philosophy: Don’t want to pay too much for something, and don’t pay too little, either. We like to think that a person who gets something for free gets the best value. But, that’s not usually the case. You can pay too little for something just as you can pay too much for it. I know someone who gets his room and board for free. Do you know what else? He’s homeless. His “free” room and board are provided by a homeless shelter. Are you envious? Of course not! I’m guessing you would not choose to wait in line to receive that kind of free service unless the wellbeing of you and your family depended on it. We feel pride in paying a fair price for the things we have. What we want out of life is not a handout, but a fair deal. We want to pay the right price.

The question this morning is, “What is the right price to pay for our faith?” How much should we be willing to pay for the spiritual resources that help us find meaning? Listen closely to my question. I didn’t ask if we should pay for our faith. I asked, “How much?” I assume each of us will pay. The issue is: what’s the price and cost of sacrifice?

Have you made a poor decision to protect your ego? It happens in today’s story. God fumes with anger because King David, once again, disobeys God. David calls for a census of the people. It seems innocent enough. However, the royal advisors know that the census results feed David’s self-worth. You can always be more proud of your mighty exploits when your membership rolls are high. The census also tells David how many eligible men to conscript into military service. If David drafts them, his army grows and he can conquer more territory. The census is a bad idea. David knows it. He counts the people anyway. And God is mad.

In our house, we play a game called “Would you rather . . .” We take turns asking another person a difficult question: would you rather be poor and popular or rich and hated? Would you rather eat worms or ants? God gives David a “would you rather” proposition: As a punishment, would you rather see your people suffer through famine, war, or plague? David chooses the plague, and then helplessly watches the agonizing death of 70,000 subjects. In heartache, David laments, “I alone have sinned. I alone have done wickedly, but these people, what have they done? Let your hands, O God, be against me.”

God tells David, “Go and make an altar to me. Make a sacrifice at the threshing floor of Araunah the Jebusite.” The threshing floor is a place where grain kernels are separated and ground into flour. While his people face scarcity and death, David travels to a house of plenty. Araunah, like a good citizen, offers the king his threshing floor, and everything that goes with it, for free.

If David had been a smart shopper, he would have said, “That’s a bargain I can’t pass up.” Instead, David says, “No, I don’t want it for free. I’ll buy these things from you. I’ll pay the right price. . . I will not offer burnt offerings to my God that cost me nothing.” David knows if he makes a sacrifice that costs nothing, he cheapens his relationship with God. He pays the farmer 50 shekels of silver and God ends the plague. Later on, Araunah’s Threshing Floor will be the foundation for the Jerusalem Temple. The location of one costly offering will forever accept the sacrifices of worshippers.

One of the ironies of the Christian faith is that it’s completely free and it costs us everything. Christ offers salvation for free. We can’t buy God. We don’t pay an entry fee to get into heaven. Nobody here ever sends a bill to church members. But, once we get in the door of a church and start publicly worshiping God, we are asked to give something sacrificial —a gift that costs us something. We want to pay the right price. Every year, we ask you to sit down and determine the right price. We all know that we can’t run the church without money. The question is always, “How much?” Like David, every one of us asks, “How much is the right price for me this year? We can’t have it all for nothing. So, what is my worthy gift?”

Running the church comes with a price and a cost. The price is the bottom line of our budget. Right now, it’s about $245,000. In the past five years, we have cut our budget by almost $15,000. $245,000 pays for heat, electricity, snow removal, staff salaries and benefits, insurance, cleaning, outreach, and other day-to-day expenses of running the church. There is also a cost. Cost reflects an item’s value in alternative uses. When money is tight, we channel it funds to one area of he budget as a priority over another area. There’s only a limited amount of money to spend every year, and it can go to a number of alternative uses. When the money gets used in one area, then there is less of it to use somewhere else. So, we make decisions of how to allocate scarce resources to their most valued uses.

Time has a cost. When time is consumed in one activity, there is less to use somewhere else. The cost of our time is its value in its alternative uses. Discipleship also comes with a cost. We choose to direct spiritual commitment to alternative uses. There are tons of people and places dividing our attention and resources. Worship has a cost. You can choose to be here. You can choose to stay home and read the paper on Sunday morning. You only get one Sunday each week, and you decide how its best spent.

But, how much should we give? Some people answer, “Not much,” “Not all,” “Not here,” or “Just enough.” Such people have a small vision for the church. A small vision is not expensive.

Can you imagine a church saying, “Let’s do the absolute minimum so that it doesn’t really cost us much and we can save our resources”? Imagine if our church decided to cut down on expenses so that we could make it a bargain for the members. We could say, “This month we finally have enough money. We don’t want anybody to give to this church. But down at the Methodist church, they hired a new staff member and they have a new program for children, so we want all our members to give down there instead of here for this month.”

Do you think that would be what God would have this church to do? I don’t want to belong to a church that has such puny vision, and I hope you don’t either. We need visions that reflect the right price for our church -- A vision that challenges our church.

Some people are proud that the practice of their faith costs them nothing. Can you imagine someone saying: “I’m so happy that I go to that church, and I don’t give a dime. I’m a member of that church, and I only attend 20% of the time. I’m a Christian, and I don’t serve anybody but me.”

“I give burnt offerings to God that cost me nothing.” Is that the kind of Christian you want to be? I didn’t think so.

In what will we invest our lives? Will our lives be devoted to giving or only to taking?
What is the price and cost of sacrifice for you? Think about it as we form a vision of who we are, as a church, and what we can do with generous gifts.


Works Consulted:
  • Anders, Dr. Mickey. “How Much Does It Cost?" http://www.pikevillefirstchristianchurch.org/Sermons/Sermon20020407.html
  • The Dictionary of Biblical Imagery. Downers Grove: IVP, 1998.
  • Sowell, Thomas. Basic Economics. New York: Basic Books, 2004.
  • Stackhouse, Max L., Dennis McCann, Shirely Roels, and Preston Williams. On Moral Business, Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1995.
  • "Keeping Up Appearances In a Downturn." http://online.wsj.com/article/SB122999145997128503. html?mod=rss_Lifestyle

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