Opportunity Cost

November 3, 2013                                                Matthew 6:19-7:12

I don’t know whether or not I’ve shared this with you all before, but I remember one class in particular in college at EMU that fundamentally changed how I view the world.

You might think it was a religion class or a social work class, or an education class (did you know I started college as an education major?).

Believe it or not, when I started college I thought I might teach.

And the truth is, I took classes in all of those areas that really did change my understanding of the world a lot…but the class that I’m talking about this morning was during my short-lived career as a business major.

Actually, it was the class that made me want to be a business major in the first place!

Then I took some others that made me realize business wasn’t for me. 🙂

It was an economics class.

You don’t typically think about economics being that interesting, at least I don’t.

But I took economics, and that was where I first learned about opportunity cost.

Opportunity cost is the idea that any decision you make, it costs you the opportunity to do something different.

For example, the decision to come to church on Sunday morning, means you are not doing something else with your time this morning, or if I spend $1.50 on a cup of coffee, that’s $1.50 I can’t spend on anything else, ever again.

That’s one of the biggest lessons I took from that class.

It kind of revolutionized how I make decisions.

Up to that point in my life, I hated making decisions. I told myself it was because I wanted to keep my options open.

We Americans love our options, don’t we?

I was also afraid of failure, or making a mistake…so I would put off decisions, I would keep my options open, often until the decision ended up being made for me because I would let it go so long.

I still don’t like making decisions, but that class helped me understand that refusing to decide in itself is a decision.

And not deciding has an opportunity cost that’s often higher than simply choosing one thing over another.

For example, if you wouldn’t have made a decision this morning; if you would have refused to decide either way; to come or not to come…if you would have refused to choose how to spend your time, you’d probably end up not doing anything with your morning, and you probably wouldn’t be very happy about it, right?

You would have given up not one, but multiple opportunities.

This seems like common sense, doesn’t it?

Well, in this section of the sermon on the mount, Jesus kind of lays out some pretty important issues…and most of them, he talks about in terms of “this” or “that”.

For example, he talks about storing up treasure, and he teaches us not to store up treasure here on earth, but rather in heaven.

He talks about light and darkness…and teaches us to fill our eyes and therefore our bodies, with light.

He talks about how impossible it is to serve two masters; how you will either hate the one and love the other, or be devoted to the one and despise the other.

He talks about Worry: how you either worry, or you don’t.

“Do not worry about tomorrow” he teaches, “for tomorrow will bring worries of its own.

Today’s trouble is enough for today.”

In each of these teachings, it’s clear there is a decision that needs to be made.

And just like I learned in that college classroom, not making a decision is a decision in itself.

So let’s look at this first small section in a little more detail.

I think sometimes, we read the sermon on the mount, and we take it as such a high teaching, that we assume it’s beyond reach, you know?

Like maybe Jesus is just describing the ideal so that we know we’re never going to please God, so that we recognize our need for grace.

So we can read a section like this, and we can come away feeling hopeless.

“Do not store up treasures on earth” Jesus says. and I know I’ve already blown it.

After all, I’ve got three shovels at home. And that’s not even what I’d call treasure!

We’ve all got stuff, right? We’ve all got resources that we’re busy managing here on earth.

and if we’re not careful, we can think that just because we have resources, just because we have treasure ‘on earth’…that we’re off the hook as far as building up treasure in heaven.

If you’re like me, you might read this passage, and you might think that since you have treasure on earth, you’ve paid for it with an opportunity cost of gaining treasure in heaven.

(show of hands-anyone else ever have a sense of guilt about your possessions?)

But I wonder if that’s really what Jesus is getting at here. (I don’t think it is).

Let me tell you about my three shovels.

When we first got married, at some point within our first few years of married life, Christine’s parents gave us a shovel.

I brought it to show you.

I don’t know the history of this shovel. I don’t know if they bought it new, or if it belonged to one of their parents, or if they picked it up somewhere.

All I know is that this shovel has seen better days.

Most shovels come to a point…this has more of a bite in it…I’m not sure if it was broken off at some point, or if it’s just worn down from years of use.

The handle is pretty banged up…that’s because in our second apartment, the landlord took some money off the rent if we mowed the lawn and kept his driveway free from ice and snow in the winter, so when it would ice over, I’d use the handle end to chip the ice off of his brick driveway.

(That’s a good time, let me tell you!)

This shovel has had a long, productive life since long before we got hold of it.

But  we don’t use it much anymore.

When we moved here, this church had a big party for us…you all showered us with generosity at a housewarming party, and we received not just one, but 2 nice, new shovels that we’ve put to good use in the last 6 years in our garden and flowerbeds.

So now we have not one, but three shovels to use between the two of us.

I’m using shovels for this example, because in ancient times, tools would have been like treasure…much like in our own recent history; during the depression and even in the years since, the right tool for the right job…it’s worth it’s weight in gold, right?

So anyways, now we have two good quality, solid, basically new shovels that we use most of the time…and we have this one propped against a wall where we forget it’s there most of the time.

It’s getting rusty.

It’s not getting rusty just because it’s old.

It’s getting rusty because it’s not being used.

It’s getting rusty because we don’t really need this one anymore.

So we should give it away, right? Wouldn’t that be the righteous thing to do?

Isn’t that what Jesus is teaching here?

After all, as things are right now, I’m storing up for myself shovels here on earth, where rust is consuming at least one of them.

Then again, if I’m trying to be truly righteous, shouldn’t I really give away my two good shovels, since those are the ones people would likely be interested in, and I should keep this old, rusty shovel for my own use. That would be truly pious, right?

I don’t know about you, but I think I picked up some of that kind of thinking from my Mennonite roots.

If it’s nice, I should make sure someone else has it.

That’s how I grew up thinking I could gain ‘treasure’ in heaven.

But there is another way of looking at this teaching.

And that is, to look at what I’ve got, right? I’ve got three shovels, for example. I didn’t intend to own 3 shovels, but it happened. I’ve been blessed with more shovels than I ever thought I’d need.

But rust is consuming one of my shovels.

And the surest way to prevent rust from consuming my shovel, is to make sure the shovel is being used, right?

The only way for that to happen, when 2 people own 3 shovels, is to work with a friend, to build relationships as we work, to spread the wealth around and not worry too much about the question of ownership.

In the Kingdom of God, rust does not consume, moths do not destroy, thieves do not break in and steal…just maybe because they’re right there, working beside you, and they can take what they need without stealing it.

Don’t let your treasures rust! Put them in hands that can use them!

I mean that literally, and I mean it figuratively, too.

I’ve been talking about this rusty old shovel because it’s a safe, neutral representation of things that are much dearer to our hearts.

But the same holds true for the tools you carry within you…things like compassion that leads you to take a meal to someone, or generosity that leads you to give some money somewhere.

An ear to listen and a helping hand are overlooked treasures that all of us have to share.

Be open handed with your treasure, but take care of it too, so that it’s in good shape when you need it.

Your life is not about accumulation.

It’s not a contest, that whoever gets to the end with the most toys wins.

Rather, store up treasure in heaven, by using the tools, the treasure that God has given you, this treasure that isn’t really yours in the first place…use it to serve others before yourself.

For the Kingdom of God isn’t a once and done proposition.

It’s not just an inheritance we will one day receive.

It’s a reality we build with our hearts first, and our actions second.

It’s a way of being open-handed in this world, freely receiving, freely giving, allowing your life to be a conduit of God’s love.

Amen.

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