Monday, September 6, 2010

Cost-Benefit Analysis

Sermon from September 5, 2010
(Pentecost 15 – Year C)
Luke 14: 25-33
St. Alban’s Episcopal Church, Waco, Texas

When I was a student in the College of Business Administration at the University of Texas, I took a variety of classes to prepare me for the business world.
In the Business School at UT, we were taught how to make decisions, decisions that would have financial ramifications.
One of the methods that I learned to use in making business decisions is to run a cost-benefit analysis.

A cost-benefit analysis is actually quite simple.
Essentially, you make two columns on a piece of paper.
In the left hand column, you write down all the costs associated with a decision, and in the right hand column you list all the benefits of that decision.

For example, if you are contemplating opening up a hamburger joint, on the cost side you would list the estimated costs of renting a space in a shopping center, the cost of kitchen equipment and dining room furnishings, the cost of food, the cost of hiring employees as cooks and wait-staff.
And in the benefit column, you would estimate the price you would charge your customers for hamburgers and how many hamburgers you think you could sell.
Then you add up all the estimated costs.
You add up all the estimated benefits.
And if the costs are greater than the benefits, then it is a bad decision.
But if the benefits are greater than the costs, then it is a good business decision.

Now I have looked carefully in my Bible.
However, I have not found any evidence that Jesus attended the School of Business at the University of Texas.
Yet I do see evidence in Scripture that Jesus understands the importance of running a cost-benefit analysis when making important decisions.

In Luke’s Gospel, Jesus gives us a comprehensive list of the costs that we must include in our analysis.
Jesus gives us a list of costs that we must not underestimate.

Jesus warns us that when we follow him, our discipleship could cost us the love and inclusion of those in our very own families:
Because father and mother, wife and husband, brother and sister, all of these relationships become secondary when our relationship with God becomes primary.
Jesus warns us that when we follow him, our discipleship could cost us our money and our possessions.
Because when we leave behind our stuff, then there is more room for God to fill our hearts.
Jesus warns us that when we follow him, our discipleship could cost us our very own lives, as we voluntarily take up the cross.
Because when we open our hearts to die, then we are born to eternal life.

As Jesus walks toward his own Cross, Jesus warns us that we should not underestimate the costs of following him.
Yet the timing of our cost-benefit analysis is also a key component in our decision about whether we should follow Jesus - or not.

Soon after Susan and I got married, just like many couples, in our minds, we ran a cost-benefit analysis on whether or not we should have children.
Yet the timing on when this analysis is performed can make a huge difference as to the results.

When running a cost-benefit analysis for having children, the costs must be estimated for diapers and baby clothes and new furniture for the nursery.
And if the couple is having difficulty conceiving, costs for in-vitro fertilization and/or adoption costs must be estimated, as well.
Not to mention the costs for ballet lessons and soccer uniforms and college tuition and new clothing every year that reflects the latest trends.
Before becoming a parent, from a purely economic standpoint, the costs of having a child far outweigh the benefits.

Yet, if you were to re-run your cost-benefit analysis at a different time, when your baby looks sweetly into your face and says “Da-Da” for the very first time,
Suddenly the equation changes and the benefits at that moment certainly outweigh the costs.

And if you were to re-run your analysis for having children at an even different time, when your orthodontist breaks the news about the cost of a complete set of braces on your teenager’s teeth, then the cost of having children, at that moment, seems to outweigh the benefits.

And if you were to re-run your cost-benefit analysis at yet an even different time, when your adult child is all grown up – and when he calls or texts you and says:
“Hey, Dad, I just wanted to tell you that I love you,”
Then suddenly all the costs seem to melt away and the intangible benefits become priceless.

You see, while it is important to never underestimate the costs, the timing of when we do our cost-benefit analysis is also important.

For the timing of Jesus’ difficult words that we hear this morning, detailing the impossible costs of following him, are spoken before his death on Good Friday and his resurrection on Easter.
Jesus’ hard words on discipleship are spoken before we are able to estimate the innumerable benefits of a post-Easter faith.

The Apostle Peter, who was one of Jesus’ most passionate followers, ran several different cost-benefit analyses.
Peter paid a heavy cost, leaving behind family and possessions to follow Jesus.
Yet when Jesus tells Peter that being a disciple means that you must die, Peter protests, thinking that the cost is too big.
So, using a very good business decision-making model, on the night before Good Friday, Peter distances himself from Jesus;
And Peter winds up denying even knowing Jesus, three times around the campfire.
Yet when Peter re-ran the cost-benefit analysis again, after Easter, the intangible benefits far outweigh the costs, as Jesus forgives Peter for all of his sins.

Judas, who was the follower of Jesus who betrayed him, never got the chance to re-run a cost-benefit analysis after Easter.
Instead, Judas counts the impossible costs and views the Cross of Jesus as a colossal business failure.
So Judas hangs himself for his perceived failure in underestimating the costs, before he could re-run his analysis and see the benefits of forgiveness that Easter would bring.

And even Jesus himself, on the night before he died for us, ran a cost-benefit analysis.
On the night before Good Friday, Jesus goes to the Garden of Gethsemane to pray.
The cost of his painful Cross seems impossible, as Jesus prays in agony:
“Father, please let this cup pass from me.”
Yet when Jesus re-ran the cost-benefit analysis after Easter, the intangible benefits far exceeded the costs.
And today, the resurrected Jesus has defeated the power of death and is seated at the right hand of his Father.

This morning, when you and I decide if we should follow Jesus, we now have an advantage in our timing.
We have an advantage in our timing in that we can run our cost-benefit analysis by factoring in the benefits of a post-Easter world.
Therefore, while separation from family and friends is a cost of following Jesus,
The benefit, post-Easter, is that we receive a new and larger family of love: the rag-tag, riff-raff family of God.
While giving our money and our possessions away is a cost of following Jesus,
The benefit, post-Easter, is that we receive freedom, freedom from the things of this world.
While being crucified with Christ is a cost of following Jesus,
The benefit, post-Easter, is that we are raised with Christ through Baptism into a new life of forgiveness and grace.

You see, you don’t need a bachelor’s degree in business administration to run a cost-benefit analysis on whether or not you should follow Jesus.
Just gaze at the Cross of Jesus Christ - do not underestimate the costs.
Then look into the Empty Tomb and re-run your analysis, factoring in your resurrection to eternal life.

Add up those two columns and you will see:
The costs of following Jesus are huge,
But the eternal benefits - far exceed the cost.


1 comment:

  1. Great sermon! Sorry we were out of town this weekend and had to miss it, but the blog is a great way to catch up.