Who or what do you value most? Whose picture is on your refrigerator? Probably your children or grandchildren, spouse and maybe a few friends. And, of course, the Saints or LSU game schedule.
Matthew in the New Testament captures a great truth in a brief sentence: “You are more value than many sparrows” (Matthew 10:31). I could paraphrase that and say, “You are more value than many LSU games or wins.” If I use that analogy, you are worth millions. People matter; all people, not just these on this side of the ocean. Not just “black” or “blue” or whatever group. All people. “People first, then things and then money,” said Suze Orman on television. Right on.
I value my faith, which may not be as strong as I’d like, but I’m still on the discovery journey. I believe none of us can escape the wonderful Grace of God. For God is “the Hound of Heaven” who is determined to find us, whatever our “lostness” may be.
Bishop Will Willimon is one of my favorite authors and speakers. His book, “Who Will Be Saved?” has inspired me. Here’s a quote: “God has mercy on us. He says ‘Yes’ to us. He wills to be on our side, to be our God against all odds…We don’t know who we are until we know who God is and what God has created us for.” “For God has imprisoned all in disobedience so that he may be merciful to all” (Romans 11:32).
On a late September Sunday in 1957, the great theologian Karl Barth preached the above thoughts to the prisoners in the Basel jail. The title to his sermon was simply “All”, according to Willimon. Then Barth notes that his all is without qualification—Gentiles, atheists, believers, nonbelievers, those who have been formally incarcerated and those who sit in judgment upon them all. Barth then confesses that sometimes he is guilty of wishing that this “all” did not include the people beside him or in front of him or behind him who he doesn’t like. Then he says that the one great sin from which we shall try to escape is to exclude anyone from the “yes” of God’s mercy. “All of us are prisoners; all are shown mercy.” No one can escape the love of God.
Disobedience is our primary enslavement, says Barth. We have relegated God to the “man upstairs” so we can “go our own ways” downstairs. But, “even if we make our bed in Sheol (hell), God is there” (Psalm 139:8). Willimon defines “hell” as separation from God.
We make careful distinctions between Gentile and Jew, male and female, north and south, Republican and Democrat, black and white, rich and poor, etc. Such distinctions are destroyed in the inclusive embrace of God’s love. It’s sometime hard to accept that we are not God’s favorite race, or denomination, or religion. Alas, God doesn’t play favorites. God is at work in all religions. “All the ends of the earth shall see the salvation of our God” (Isaiah 52:10). Whatever we believe, we celebrate our “faith” as something very valuable. Faith, family and people stand at the head of my parade.
Another strong value of mine is art. I believe art captures the soul of a nation or a person. It gives us a window into the interior of personalities and reflects our values as well. Nothing reflects the nature of a person as much as art does. You can tell what Clementine Hunter valued, for example—baptism, church and scenes from everyday life. I remember the first and only time I met Clementine Hunter of Melrose. We moved to Natchitoches in the mid-seventies where I served as senior pastor of the FUMC. I had never heard of Clementine Hunter, and I embarrassed myself when I asked, “What child is this?” as I pointed to a Hunter painting in a friend’s home. “I’ll have you know this is Clementine Hunter original,” she said with a reluctant smile. (Well, excuse me please). So later, I drove to Melrose to buy one of her works only to discover that she had none for sale at that time. But she told me, as we stood on the steps on her house trailer, that I could go inside and see some of her art, but it would be “25 cents a look”. I paid my quarter and looked. Clementine valued her work, even before they became famous because they reminded her of the things that were important to her.
What we hang on our walls reflect the things that are significant to us. Isn’t it strange how our values shape up? We confer value on certain paintings, no necessarily because of the painting itself, but because of the painter. If Picasso painted the underside of a cattle truck, it would sell because of his name. We confer value on all kinds of things. Truman Capote’s ashes sold at auction for over $40,000. One of Marilyn Monroe’s low-cut blouses sold for a million! (I’ve had clothes that even Goodwill wouldn’t accept.)
Another thought comes to mind, and that’s the value of friends. We all need them, not only because enjoyable social contacts can increase our lifespan, but because of their intrinsic value. A close friend can be a source of real happiness that can last a lifetime. These are not your everyday acquaintances. You are “there” for that person through thick or thin. These are what you may call “soul friends”. He or she is someone with whom you can share your deepest heart and reveal the hidden intimacies of your life with complete trust. A soul friend creates the kind of trust that cuts across the boundaries of culture, convention and categories. Even though you may not see this person for months or even years, you can simply plug in where you left off and enjoy knowing that you are accepted and understood—a real blessing. A “soul friend” sees beyond wealth, status, religion, politics and anything else that might be a deterrent.
Another value is time. The end of our time on earth comes to each of us, so we need to value each day as a gift—a gracious, undeserved gift. Death confers value on our days. “There’s a time to be born and a time to die,” declared the writer of Ecclesiastes in the third chapter. As we grow older, we see how precious time really is.
So, let us examine our values. During this seemingly endless election year, you can’t help but look at your own values. We don’t have to have an election to tell us what’s important, or to remind us of our priorities. Just consult your brains and your heart of hearts. After much prayer and thought, it has become increasingly clear to me that my values are not Trump’s values. I have friends on both sides of the fence, but if friendship is based on political decisions, it’s not very deep. Of course, both candidates are flawed mortals like the rest of us, but Clinton’s flaws are, to me, far less serious and in a different class altogether. Let’s keep praying for our country and our leaders, present and future, whoever they may be.
“You shall seek me, and find me, when you shall search for me with all your heart” (Jeremiah 29:13). Amen.