The Kingdom's Cost/Benefit Ratio
By The Rev. Daniel Mangler
How many of you have received letters that began this way? "Congratulations! You have already won one of the following three valuable gifts. The above number is yours alone, and when matched with our master list it will indicate which of these valuable gifts is yours. To claim your gift simply stop by our development office, take a tour of our property, and listen to a presentation by one of our salespersons."
We receive those often, and I bet you do, too. A typical list of prizes is: a new car, a $500 savings bond, or a Soundesign Home Stereo Center. Now I will bet you dollars to donuts that 99.9% of the “valuable gifts” given will be last one, that turns out to be a $29.95 AM/FM radio that they paid $10 for. For that $10 gift you and your spouse may need to spend hours touring their vacation facility. I typically turn these offers down because the cost/benefit ratio is simply not favorable.
To my regret I have not always been so wise. Many summers ago our family took advantage of one of these promotional offers while we were on vacation. We had stopped at Wall Drug in South Dakota, and there was a person in a booth offering 3 days and 2 nights free camping at a new camping resort in Rapid City just for touring their facility, Hart Ranch, and listening to their sales presentation. Carolyn and I discussed the cost/benefit ratio and figured a couple hours of our time was worth the free camping. What we hadn't counted on was the verbal abuse we had to endure when, in the end, we said that their program simply did not meet our family's needs. So whenever I hear of something free just to listen to a sales pitch, I add into the cost factor not only the time and perhaps expense, but also the possible embarrassment that I might need to endure just to receive their "valuable gift". As you can see the elements that go into a cost/benefit decision are many.
Just think how much of your life you spend making decisions of this cost/benefit type, and of course some are more significant than others. The Main Moon Chinese restaurant in Loveland offers a buffet for $7.95. Both Carolyn and I judge the benefit of the buffet worth the cost. When I bought our Jeep I had to judge the benefit of owning a jeep against the hefty down payment and three years of monthly payments. That took a bit more discussion.
In this morning's gospel Jesus tells two parables of men who faced significant cost/benefit decisions. The one discovered a treasure in a field. It must have been worth a great deal, because he went and sold everything he had so that he could buy that field and thus obtain the treasure. The other, a merchant whose business it was to seek out fine pearls, found one so valuable that he, too, went and sold all that he had so that he could buy it. In both cases the cost was everything, but the benefit judged to be worth it. And Jesus said that the Kingdom of God is like these.
Jesus comes offering the Kingdom of God, but with the Kingdom there is a cost... everything you have and everything you are. But don't misunderstand. Jesus does not come selling the Kingdom of God for your lifetime of enjoyment. Jesus comes giving the Kingdom freely. He paid for it on the cross and now gives it as a gift. The Kingdom itself is the cost.
That's confusing so let me illustrate with a story. Mark and Joan Conally were a wealthy couple living in Boston. Mark had made millions and was still young enough to enjoy what it could buy. They owned an estate in the wealthiest part of Boston, plus a summer home on Cape Cod and a cabin in upstate New York. They lacked nothing when it came to cars, boats, jewelry, or other extravagances. What they lacked was a child to love and with whom to share their wealth.
They could adopt, certainly, and with their money they could easily cut through the red tape and time that most couples must contend with. But Mark and Joan were as generous as they were rich. Rather than adopt an infant, who would be in great demand anyway, they sought out, through the social service agencies, an older child, one who perhaps had been abused and/or abandoned by his own parents. They found such a boy in ten-year-old Terry. Terry's home life is too brutal and involved to detail, but it had turned him into the streets where trouble is the rule and not the exception. The Conally's had learned of Terry through his juvenile probation officer to whom the courts had given him following some shoplifting and vandalism.
Mark and Joan sat down with Terry and told him what they wanted to do; they wanted to adopt him but they would leave the decision to him. He could not do anything to convince them to adopt him; they had already made that decision. He needed only to consider that, in agreeing to come into their home, his life would be radically changed. He would be their son now, and his life would be conformed to theirs. He could hold nothing back. To gain the wealth of his new life, he would have to turn his back on the poverty of his old one.
This is what it means to say that there is a cost to receiving the Kingdom of God that Jesus offers freely. Jesus does not demand that we earn it, but it is clear that once received, all of life will be transformed by it. In that sense, there is a cost to this free gift. Is the cost/benefit ratio worth it? Well, what is the cost?
The Kingdom's cost is every penny you own, every hour that you have, and all the love you can give. It isn't that you must give every penny you make to the church, although a significant percentage will be so given, but rather every penny spent must be spent in God-pleasing ways. It is to give control of your checkbook to God.
The Kingdom’s cost is every hour that you have. That doesn't mean that every waking hour must be spent at church, teaching Sunday school, and doing committee work, although a significant amount of your time will be so spent. It does mean that being part of God's kingdom is like living in His house, always in His presence, and accountable to Him for all opportunities to do his will.
And the Kingdom's cost is all the love you can give. That doesn't mean that God is so jealous that He will not allow you to love anyone but Him. What it does mean is that we love as He loves, without reservation and without qualification. As God gives us His love freely, so we are to love others freely.
Are the benefits worth such a cost? What are the benefits of belonging to the Kingdom of God?
Belonging to the Kingdom of God means never being alone in a world where danger is at every turn. It is facing every threat in the knowledge you do so in the power of God. It is facing every sorrow in the confidence that Jesus can bring good even out of evil. It is the experience that in your weakness God is your strength.
Belonging to the Kingdom of God means living as the creator of all life has designed you to live. If you want to use a computer program to its fullest capacity, put it in the hands of the one who wrote the program. If you want to live life to its fullest, put it into the hands of the one who created it all. That's what belonging to the Kingdom of God does.
And belonging to the Kingdom of God is to enlist in an eternal enterprise. While still bound in time and space, we become citizens in a kingdom for which the boundaries of time and space are erased, and we live on in it in glory for eternity.
In both parables Jesus told there is neither reluctance nor hesitancy in the decision to give up everything for the treasure in question. In both cases the treasure is judged worth what must be given for it. In haste and with joy they sold everything to possess it. May we so respond as Jesus comes offering us the Kingdom of God. Amen.
May the peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.