At last there was a knock at the door. A courier arrived with a telegram for Mr. Einstein. He quickly opened the letter and discovered that, indeed, he had won the Nobel Prize.
All this time, the courier continued standing at the door waiting to be paid. Einstein, although known for his brilliant mind, could also be quite absent-minded. He reached in his pocket to pay the courier only to find out he had no money. What was he going to do? Looking around the hotel room, he found some hotel stationary on a desk and quickly wrote a little note to which he signed his name. Handing it to the courier he said, “One day, this piece of paper will be worth a great deal of money.”
Well, Einstein was correct because, just last year, that little scrap of paper with Einstein’s autograph on it sold at an auction for $1.6 million.
That story got me thinking about what we value in life. Most of us value things that are worth a lot of money.
It’s always fun to watch “Antiques Roadshow” on PBS. Ordinary people bring all kinds of items in for experts to evaluate. Sometimes the items seem impressive but turn out to be duds — worthless fakes or fabrications. But other times, people really hit the jackpot when their old, worn-out antique turns out to be worth thousands of dollars!
Like most of you, I, too, have certain things that I value. One of my favorites is a signed autographed photo of “Mr. Cub,” Ernie Banks. The long-time home run hitter for the Chicago Cubs was at a mall near where I grew up in the Chicago area and he actually signed his name on the photo right in front of me, along with the words, “To John, Best always!” That picture still hangs in my study.
Another “treasure” I have is a signed home run ball I caught off the bat of Frank Thomas of the Chicago White Sox. This happened back in 1991, just after the opening of the new Comiskey Park (now Guaranteed Rate Field) and was the first home run hit by a White Sox player at the new ball park. So, what I actually did was exchange the home run ball for an autographed one from Frank Thomas. Besides signing it, Frank wrote, “Nice catch, John!” That ball sits in a case on one of the bookshelves in my study.
Yes, I admit it — I love baseball. And both of those baseball souvenirs mean a lot to me. I don’t have any idea what those autographs are worth, but they’re worth a lot to me.
You probably have things that you value, too. They may have sentimental value, like a quilt your mom made or an old table or dresser that has been in the family for generations. Or you may have a piece of prime real estate on Lake Michigan or a 48-foot Riviera Sport Yacht valued at more than a million dollars. Those are all nice things to have. No one could dispute their monetary value.
And, let’s face it, so many of the things we value have a huge price tag. Money always seems to be “the bottom line.” Or, as one credit card company puts it: “What’s in your wallet?”
But wallets and money and possessions don’t last forever — just like we don’t last forever — at least not physically. I’ve officiated at enough funerals to testify to that. And yet, at those funerals, almost without exception, survivors of the departed long for the words of comfort and assurance of eternal life more than anything else. To know that, and to live and die in that assurance, give a peace in one’s soul like nothing else. The apostle Paul calls this “the peace that passes all understanding.” (Philippians 4:7)
That is the ironic part of the Gospel. Although it is of infinite value, it costs nothing. It is free. God gives it to us as a gift. Although “the wages of sin is death, the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 6:23) To know that truth and to trust in the grace of God is of more value than anything this world can offer. Things like choice real estate or fancy yachts — not to mention autographs of Einstein or Ernie Banks — pale in comparison.
Jesus’ instruction still holds for today: “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (Matthew 6:19-21)
— The Rev. John Koedyker is the pastor of congregational care at First Reformed Church of Grand Haven.