Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Sunday Sermon: Costs and Benefits

Reading: Mark 5: 1-20

Everything we do has costs and benefits. In each decision we make, we weigh the pros and cons, coming up with a little balance sheet. For example, it’s late. If we order pizza, we don’t have to cook and there’s only a little clean up afterwards. There’s a bonus, too, in that it comes to us. On the other hand, we have to spend the money, we’re not eating food we already have, and we always eat too much pizza when we order it.

Even decisions that seem automatic have costs and benefits. Do I go to the bathroom right now or wait five minutes to finish this task? In all situations, we weigh costs and benefits and then make a decision. That’s what the people did in today’s gospel story. Jesus gets into a boat and he crosses over to the “country of the Gerasenes”. This means that he is expanded his ministry into Gentile territory.  How do we know that? The presence of pigs is a big clue. This isn’t one or two pigs- it’s 2000- the livelihood (and food) of most of the village. This village also has a town crazy man, who has been plagued by demons for years. When the original readers of Mark’s gospel heard this story, they would have picked up on several different things we need explained. A legion is a group of six thousand (6,000) Roman soldiers. Not only, then, does the man have a large number of demons, but the story is constructed to have the hearers think about how Rome has “possessed” their land. They would also recall how they, like the Gerasene demoniac, had hoped the Messiah would bring an exorcism. However, in this story, the people weigh the costs and benefits of having Jesus in town and the cost is too great.

Pigs (livelihood)
Healed Man
6000 demons gone
Community order
God in their midst

What does it cost the Gerasenes to have Jesus in their territory? First, it cost their livelihood. Pigs can swim, but apparently not demon-possessed pigs. It’s like Jesus
shut down the mill- this affects the whole town- not just the man who came for healing. This is very high cost. Secondly, Jesus brings change. He takes the livelihood of the town and heals the crazy man, he upsets the order of things and how they’ve been handled for years. Lastly, Jesus is messing with their stability. They have an understanding of God, through either their own practices or what Jewish leaders tell them. They probably have a town hierarchy. Jesus rocks the boat in a big way.

On the plus side, they do have a healed man who can be restored to family and friends, if they’re accepting of him. They are rid of 6,000 demons. (Though, it’s arguable that they demons were really only bothering one person.) They have God in their midst. (But do they know that?) Finally, again, Jesus is bringing change. Change to the status quo can be a huge benefit, if people are able to accept it. The people of the town weighed this situation in the balance and they were afraid. The benefits did not outweigh the costs that they could see, so they ran Jesus out of town.

That’s okay, though, because Mark is a sixteen chapter gospel and this is only the start of chapter five. After this, people will totally be able to perceive what Jesus has to offer and they will laud him as Emmanuel, God-with-us…

Wait, what? That’s not how it will happen?

Well, what about today?

God in our midst
Physical resources
Your life is not your own

We too have to weigh the costs and benefits of our life in faith. Believing in God, trusting in Jesus, and relying on the Spirit all take their tolls. The first cost is the greatest. It takes time to be in relationship, whether deep or superficial. It takes time to pray, to listen, to help, to praise, to wrestle. Sometimes we just want to sleep in or do it tomorrow or wait until the kids leave home.

In faithful living, we sacrifice certainty. While we continue to believe in scientific discovery, expanding human knowledge, and deeper intellectual understanding, we also come to know that there are just some unknowns, some mysteries that will always be beyond human comprehension. We don’t understand how Jesus is present in communion or how God acts in baptism, we only know that these things have been promised to us and we go on in faith.

In faith, we circle the reality that we are not in control. Each of us has to remind ourselves of this daily, just as we are reminded of the One who is. In remembering that all we have is a gift, we spend our physical resources. The costs of money, energy, goods, and services are part of what living faithfully entails. Each expenditure reminds us, again, that our life is not our own.

These huge costs are weighed against the benefit of relationships- with our Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer and with other people. Faith brings us into unexpected quarters and finds us with unplanned allies. We are encouraged, enticed, and sometimes forced to interact and commune with those whom God loves, even if we do not know how that’s possible. In these relationships, we encounter Emmanuel, God-with-us. Jesus promises to meet us in people all around us and so he shows up, invited and unexpected.

Just like for the Gerasenes, Jesus brings change. Salvation is an event and a process and we who are being saved are also being changed, becoming more fully the people God intends us to be. In the life of faith, we are participants in this change through obedience, repentance, and boldness in love. We are brought more fully into the light no darkness can overcome. We are consoled in our knowledge of grace, our belief in the life of the world to come, and God’s work in Jesus Christ.

We constantly weigh these costs and benefits. Do the benefits outweigh the costs? We all want to say, “Amen! Hallelujah!” Yet, we know plenty of times when we were unable to perceive the benefits or unable to bear the costs.

There is one more being in this scenario. One other who weighs costs and benefits and makes decisions.

Relationship with all creation

God’s desire is for relationship with the entirety of creation, to bring justice and peace to the world that God has created and loved. What does it cost God to have that relationship? It costs everything.

We cannot know the mind of God, but if we consider the actions of which we know…

The outpouring of the Trinity into the creation
The frustration we see in the histories and in the prophets
The hope with which God comes into our world as Jesus the Christ
The triumph over the power of death and the grave
The continuous expectation that creation will respond to grace and mercy

How is this any less than everything?

We look at our cost and benefit list and it seems difficult. And it is. That’s true. We are only able to incur the costs because we have already received the benefits. This is the knowledge we have that the Gerasenes did not, because we are Easter people- already rejoicing in resurrection.  

We are able to pay the costs because we have been loved first, received grace first, been born out of a desire and call for relationship. We are able to love because we have first been loved… by the One who is Love.

The thing is, God has decided repeatedly… on your behalf, on mine, for the sake of the world… the cost is worth it. Every. Time. 


1 comment:

Lisa Smith Fiegel said...

Thanks for this posting. I really appreciated hearing some commentary on the text, especially because Mark's version isn't in the lectionary. (But maybe in narrative lectionary?!) I was assigned to preach this text at the Byberg Preaching Workshop, where I am now. So it was great to read your reflections; thanks!