Killy and I travelled and saw a lot last year but one of our most memorable moments was when we visited the Christmas Fair at Waddesdon Manor in December. It was our first time at Waddesdon and we didn’t know what to expect. We arrived early on a cold, wet day only to discover that hundreds of other people had had the same idea! There was a bus from the carpark to the manor but, given the length of the queue for it, we decided to walk to the house instead.
Arriving there chilled and damp we found that the first stall of the fair was selling cups of hot spiced apple: definitely something we needed. However, here there was another long queue and I realised that it was made up of ten men and women with Down’s syndrome and two helpers. It soon became obvious that not only was it a long queue but it was going to be a slow-moving one as they all wanted to pay individually, something that the vendor clearly wasn’t enthusiastic about. I acted on impulse. I tapped the shoulder of one of the women helpers and said, ‘My wife and I would like to treat you all to a Christmas drink.’ She was so astonished that she asked me to repeat what I had said. When I did she then told the entire group. The result was a quite overwhelming surge of emotion. One-by-one everyone hugged Killy and me, expressed their joy and gratitude and told us we were their friends. The result was that, for the rest of our day at Waddesdon, whenever we encountered the group they would run over and hug us, excitedly thanking us for the drink and for being their friends.
How much did that cost us? Well, the vendor was so astonished that he gave us a discount so that, including our own drinks, the bill was £25. How much was it worth to us? A lot more. When we returned home Killy and I both agreed that our encounter with this group and the way that we had been so warmly hugged, appreciated and valued had been the highlight of our day.
It’s an incident that made me think about how we view things. One of the problems of our modern world is that we instantly see things in terms of their cost, but not in terms of their worth. It’s easy to do. Cost, after all, is something measurable, immediate, tangible and quantifiable. Cost is a cold mathematical figure – it comes with a decimal point – that can be input in calculations, noted in accounts, pasted into a spreadsheet and evaluated simply in terms of profit or loss. In contrast, worth deals with warm things that aren’t rendered in terms of numbers: happiness, joy in hearts, smiles on faces, hugs and handshakes. Worth resists all attempts to be reduced down to mathematics. Cost is about price; worth is about pricelessness.
Now there’s another curiosity about cost and worth. Cost focuses only on the negative impact on the giver: it’s an outgoing that flows in one direction and nothing more. Worth, on the other hand, has not only a positive impact but one that flows in two directions: not just to the recipient but back to the donor. The warmth of worth blesses both sides. Indeed, it may even be that the act of giving rewards the giver the most. Certainly that’s what Jesus implies in that intriguing saying preserved in the book of Acts (20:35 niv): ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’
Thinking about this puts me at ease when I write to friends of Philo asking for financial support. It’s easy to talk about the cost of what we do, but that’s not the business that we are in. Our business is in terms of worth. And what has greater worth than the message of how to get a right relationship with God? St Paul talks about his knowledge of Christ as being of ‘surpassing worth’ (Philippians 3:8 niv). How do we cost something of such infinite and eternal value? I’m heartened, too, that giving blesses the giver.
So can I encourage you to think of your giving more in terms of worth than cost? And, if it helps you focus, let me suggest that you might think in terms of what Killy and I paid for those drinks. Now I know that for some of you £25 is a great deal and I will quite happily have your prayers instead. There are some of you who can only afford £25 a year, and I thank you for that. There are others who I know could easily donate £25 a month, a week or even a day. Thank you, too. And when you think of Philo think of worth and pray that we would be able to share what is priceless.
And just as our little gift blessed each member of that group at Waddesdon, and ended up blessing us, too, so may your giving also bring you blessing. May you realise that the worth of a thing can be far greater than the cost.
Revd Canon J.John