How many of us can remember the first thing we either bought with our own money or earned somehow? It was a "must have" and we worked and toiled, mowing, raking, shoveling or delivering ourselves to death just to earn enough money to buy that "must have." Mine was an Optimus Prime Transformers figure complete with the Autobot battle trailer. So often those things we worked for so hard as children to buy just simply didn't amount to what we expected them to be, in fact often they're cheep and break easily and then we're left holding nothing that cost us everything. One of my favorite all time movies is "A Christmas Story". We've all seen it I'm sure. It's the movie with the Ralphie and all he wants for Christmas is a Red Rider BB Gun. One of my favorite scenes in this movie is when Ralphie is eagerly awaiting his special Little Orphan Annie Decoder Ring to arrive in the mail. After downing buckets of Ovaltine and waiting in agony for 6 long weeks the secret decoder ring arrives in the mail. As soon as he gets it he turns on the radio and listens to the Little Orphan Annie broadcast. Towards the end of the broadcast the anticipation builds, the secret code is given and Ralphie rushes to the bathroom (the only place a 8 year old boy can have any privacy of course) and reads the decoded message. The message of course was not one of intrigue or suspense, but an advertisement that simply read, "Be sure to drink your Ovaltine!" Not what little Ralphie had expected it to be :(. Many of us know this same feeling of waiting so eagerly to achieve something or to buy something we are certain will make us happy only to be disappointed. My Transformer broke not to long after buying it. This seems to be the case with most of the "must have" items children long for...BB Guns jam...action figures lose their pieces and Barbie Doll heads pop off...and we never get what we expect.
Ben Franklin shared a story similar to this from when he was a boy. He tells of a whistle that he would pass in the store front window in town. Everyday he would pass by and long for that whistle. He decided that he would work, and work hard, and save ever penny he earned in order to someday purchase the whistle. Well the day came he had earned enough money to buy the whistle. He went into the store a purchased it and was as happy as could be, but it wasn't long before he realized that the whistle was not worth what he had paid for it, he had essentially paid to much for his whistle. The whistle was a waste of money, but the lesson he had learned was not. He learned that often the things we long for in life aren't worth the price we pay to obtain them. So for the duration of his life he would look upon his friends and colleagues who strove, longed for and even lusted after power, prestige and success and would simply remark, "My friends, you are paying to much for your whistle." I'm wondering this week how much are we paying for our lives "whistles"?
The first rule in Econ 101 is simple, you cannot yield a profit without first making the risk of investment. Some investments are risker than other's, but unless you invest you get no profit. In many ways it's the old saying, "you reap what you sow" and it extends into all area's of life. You want the best lawn on the block? Start feeding, seeding and mulching your way to front lawn glory! Want to get into Harvard or Yale or any good college? Start studying extra, research topics and pay attention in class. Want a healthy marriage and family life? Spend time with your wife and kids. By prepared to play catch when you'd rather watch the game, be ready to spend money on things you don't think the family needs and be at peace with the fact that you'll be reading "Good Night Moon" ten times a night for the next 12 years. It comes down to one simple statement...Life costs. The question is are you investing in the right things?
In our passage this week Saint Paul remarks on the whistle in his life that ultimately cost to much. It was a whistle of piety, discipline and self-righteousness that he had invested his life in. Paul was a devote and radically committed Jew. He felt that everyone should be as devote as him. He also invested in his Roman Citizenship and his Jerusalem Hierarchal political correctness and if you did not agree with this, if you did not commit yourself to this type of Judaism that he did, than you deserved death. Paul was a Jewish Terrorist. His world view of absolutism wasn't much different than the Islamist extremist the world deals with today. Paul was willing to kill innocent people to further what he considered the cause of God. In a way this was a good thing though. It demonstrates that God can use anyone, even religiously motivated terrorist, like Saul of Tarsus, like Islamic extremist to spread his message of love and acceptance. This was the nature and character of Paul...Until...until Jesus. Paul testifies to an experience that causes him to realize that he was paying to much for his whistle. He realized that his radical form of Judaism and his devote Torah Fundamentalism was worthless...that is without the breath of God.
We all have a tendency to do or to be like Paul was...investing in the wrong things, over paying for our whistle and underpaying where it counts most. Some of us do this to the extent that it cost us our lives, our families and our friends. we invest in careers, financial goals and success to the point where we lose what really matters. One of my favorite songs is "The cats in the cradle". This is a story about a father who invest in all the wrong things and ignores the pleading of his son to play catch, come to games, and attend graduation. Then when the son is older he has not time for his dad and then the cycle repeats with his son. The man in the song has paid to much for his whistle and has failed to invest in what matters. The beauty of Saint Paul's Damascus road conversion is that he got it. He realizes that he is paying way to much for his whistle and is willing to throw his whistle away in exchange for a crown. Not a beautiful shiny crown of gold, but one made of thorns, not one of glory, but one of suffering and hard work.
The only thing worth investing our lives in is God and others and Saint Paul explains to his first century audience as well as us 21st century folks that it is only by the divine love and grace of God that we are able to do this. So this week the scripture invite us to use the grace divine to transform our lives and stop paying to much for life's pretty whistles and start investing in what matters. Amen