Sunday Sermon – 28 July 2019

Chesterfield Anniversary

An anniversary, be it a personal one, or a community one as today, is, among other things, an occasion for reminiscence and historical musing.

The Church I attended as a child in Stalybridge, close by Manchester, was built in 1870, the Sunday school pre-dating this by some five years. I recall thinking as the anniversaries approached and then passed 70 years, that perhaps one day I would see the hundredth anniversary. Well I have. That has come and gone.

And now in this ancient chapel today, perhaps the thought crosses ones mind that on this, the two hundred and ninety sixth anniversary of the building, one would like to be present at the three hundredth.

Though an anniversary is simply a date. Like a birthday, nothing is dramatically different from the day before, for change and aging are continuous, imperceptible from one day to the next. But there is nevertheless a sense of occasion in celebrating an anniversary, and to look to entering a fourth century of development is an exciting prospect. I should like to be part of those celebrations.

Of course, the founding of this dissenting chapel has already entered its fourth century. It goes back over three hundred years, to 1662, when secrecy had to be observed in worship to avoid persecution. John Billingsley and James Ford, vicar and curate respectively, dissenters of conscience, chose the hard path of putting honest belief before material security. and preached accordingly.

It is hard for us to grasp that in Chesterfield as in other places throughout our land men and women, and their families, risked imprisonment and persecution in order to worship God in their own way. To be told what one ought to believe is one thing. To be compelled under threat of criminal indictment to encompass and proclaim those beliefs is a monstrous act of tyranny.

Some of course took the extremely hazardous step of sailing in small ships, enduring unbelievable discomfort, to start new lives across the Atlantic Ocean, where they might worship as they chose. The fortitude, determination and strength of character of those early non-conformists, whether emigrants or not, and amongst the latter were those who built this Chapel, is a source of wonderment to us today, a humbling memory for us to cherish.

Our times today are seen as troublesome and anxious – threats of war, inflation, violence, poverty and the rest. But perhaps we ought to think back to the times when our forefathers were meeting and founding this Chapel. It was by no means a time of quietness.

Animosity between Catholic and Protestant was intense. The land had seen Civil War with neighbour fighting neighbour. A King had been tried and beheaded. Law-breakers were cruelly put to death, or imprisoned in vile jails. Life was hard for most people, with disease, malnutrition, hunger and poverty common experiences.

But our dissenting fore-fathers risked further hardship in order to worship in a manner of their choice, and according to their conscience. Their courage, which at the time some no doubt referred to as obstinacy, mulish stupidity or in similar terms, is something which we must not forget today as we worship in freedom, and with no fear of prosecution for our beliefs.

What a lot of history has been encompassed in the years this Chapel has stood. When it was erected this area was largely agricultural. The industrial revolution, as it was to be called had not yet started. The building of the railways was decades ahead, as was the building of the canals which preceded them. As the first worshippers came to this building, the French Revolution and the Napoleonic Wars were a hundred years into the future. The battles of Trafalgar and Waterloo would not be fought for more than a century.

Not for nearly a hundred and fifty years would Charles Dickens publish his novels. There were no daily papers. Indeed, even if there had been, few people could have read them. Universal state education was not to start for close on two hundred years. The transmission of voice and music through radio would not come until half a dozen generations had been born and passed away. The cinema likewise was far into the future, and even more distant the now ever-present television.

Neither electricity nor gas was available to light the chapel for most of the first two hundred years of its life, and it would be nearly two hundred and fifty years from its founding before a motor car would be used to convey congregational members to and from worship.

It is doubtful that even in their most fantastic flights of imagination, those early worshippers, or indeed many who followed them, could have envisaged the terrible slaughter on the fields of France and Belgium that were the first World War battles of the Somme, Amiens, Ypres and the rest.

Certainly they would have thought the idea preposterous that men and women should fly through the air to distant parts of the continent to lie on beaches in the sun. A holy day had not then extended in to a fortnight or more holiday. One day of rest was the most many ever took at one time unless ill-health prevented labour.

The everyday lives of those who founded this Chapel were far removed from ours not only in time, but in the manner. Work and survival played a large part. No formal education for the majority, an expectation of life, at most, of barely 50 years, little in the way of entertainment, a monotonous diet, long days of toil.

And yet they built this chapel in faith. They worshipped here and thanked God for what they had. In order to worship they had to endure, if not persecution, then certainly derision. They came, not because they had to, quite the reverse pressures were upon them, but because they believed and trusted in a God of mercy. Truth was more important than physical discomfort, conscience than the opinion of others.

Yet though the lives of those original worshippers and of those who for decades followed them, were worlds away from our own, in essential respects they were the same.

In Shakespeare’s play, The Merchant of Venice, you will recall that Shylock, the Jew, makes the point to his tormentors that though his race and religion are different, his feelings and emotions are the same as theirs. “If you prick us, do we not bleed”

Though the life-style and generation of our founding fathers were different from ours, without doubt, their feelings, fears and hopes were fundamentally the same. They desired peace, they wanted a secure future for their children, they sought shelter and food, they feared disease, they found love and tranquillity within the family and community.

But these are largely material desires. We should find much more in common with those who bequeathed us a legacy. They built this Chapel not merely that they might find joy within a community of like minded neighbours. They built a spiritual home.

The peace they sought and found was not merely an absence of aggressive attack, but an inner peace – “that peace which the world can neither give nor take away”. The security for their children was bound up in a desire that the children’s feet should tread a path of righteousness all the days of their lives. The food and shelter they sought was not only to sustain a physical life, but to feed and nurture a spiritual existence. If they feared disease which decimated their physical bodies, much more were they anxious about a malignancy which could destroy the soul of man. Love was found within the family, but its expression relied upon the sure conviction of the love of God.

I am sure all of us here today have the hope that worshippers will gather here for the coming three centuries as they have done for the same period in the past. Perhaps our optimism is clouded by the fear that it might not be so. It would be sad if pessimism prevailed. But much sadder would be our failure, and the failure of future generations to lose sight of those central fortresses of faith held by those brave families or individuals who founded and built this place

And what were those strongholds? Not to sacrifice truth to expediency. Not to fear man, but rather to love God. That worship is the nourishment upon which faith feeds and by which it is sustained. That love of God and love of neighbour are not separate, but indivisible parts of a whole. That our duty, our obligation, is not merely to the present, but to bequeath to the future the wisdom of the past, modified by the experiences of the present.

These and other tenets were the bricks of faith with which those long dead built this Chapel, both in a physical sense but also in a metaphorical sense. That this building as a symbol of the devotion of brave men and women should continue is important. That the unseen temple built from bricks of truth shall be safe-guarded is imperative. In both may God preserve our coming in and our going out.

C.J. Rosling

Chesterfield 4 November 1990

Sunday Sermon – 21 July 2019

On the Other Hand

I know I exasperate people but I just can’t help it. I must have been created that way in the beginning. Having been like I am for what I suppose I have to admit is over three-quarters of a century, I fear I am not going to change now. “What is it?” you ask, “which irritates others.” I just cannot stop myself from throwing into the conversation where a proposal is being made, “…but, on the other hand”. Take that occasion a couple of weeks ago. Wearing my hat, as the saying goes, as a school governor, I was in discussion with the head of the school. An excellent head-teacher who is clear about her aims and objectives, and who is resolute by nature, purposeful in seeking the best for staff and pupil alike; and having given due thought to what she ought to do, makes up her mind and is not easily deflected. My opposite in every particular.

She explained what she was proposing, and why, but before I could stop myself I was ‘but on other-handing’. She patiently demolished my arguments, then added, “and stop being so reasonable”. Expressed differently, from time to time similar statements are made in my domestic surroundings.

Again, I can’t help making excuses for other people. I think of it as an attempt to be fair-minded; others call it being argumentative. Perhaps spending too much time doing crosswords has conditioned me not to see the world in a straight-forward way. There always has to be an alternative way of interpreting events, some other reading of what appears to be the straight-forward clue presented. I have I’m afraid, this compelling urge to make the smooth places rough.

Strange to harbour this quirk of behaviour, this defect of character. After all I was brought up, like I can believe all us here, within a framework of rules, taught to respect the law, defer to authority. In scripture lessons I learnt the ten commandments which certainly didn’t permit any shilly-shallying. No “on the other hand” in those tablets of stone. Rules are about absolutes; black is black and white is white, and ne’er the twain shall meet, to misquote Kipling. Silk purses and sows’ ears are incompatible. The boundary between right and wrong is sharp and clear. Or so I learnt; later to so preach to the children in my care when I became a school-teacher.

Except I know now that life is much more complicated than simple rules lead us to believe. Questions rise to lips.

Take the apparently uncontroversial sixth commandment, for example, Thou shalt not kill. Accepting this is to be applied to the human race rather than the animal kingdom in general – otherwise mouse traps and fly sprays would be banned, and the diet of a large part of the population would alter drastically – there are still many opportunities to argue for and against. The pro and anti abortion argument, euthanasia, use of life-support machines, with-held medical treatment, stem cell research, are all issues round life and death with strong, sincere opinions offered and then challenged.

“Thou shalt not kill, but need not strive, Officiously to keep alive”

wrote Arthur Dean Clough in his alternative Decalogue. Ethical dilemmas around what is officious and what is compassion are the source of fierce argument. And contradictory interpretations on the right to life are not a recent phenomena; wasn’t the woman taken in adultery to be stoned to death? By order of the religious leaders who were guardians of the holy laws. The sixth commandment brings a sackful of ‘on the other hands’ to keep one going for months.

Thou shalt not steal seems plain enough, but what is and is not theft? I shall leave aside the well-worn excuse, “I didn’t take it, I only borrowed it.” Clough’s Decalogue contains the couplet,

Thou shalt not steal; an empty feat
When it’s so lucrative to cheat.

But are theft and cheating of the same order? Does one encompass the other? A definition of cheating includes deception, says Chambers dictionary. Then is all deception wrong? Which one of us would unwaveringly argue that is so, when compassion dictates that the truth will cause needless distress to some-one we love? Is enjoying the fruits of the labour of the peasant working in a sweat-shop for poverty wages a form of theft? Should we therefore abstain from buying and deny the labourer his meagre income? Oh dear, I’m already muddled and confused.

It is sometimes said, or at least implied, that as one grows in maturity and begin to stockpile experience, decisions, life choices and the ability to make sense of the world around becomes easier. But as far as I am concerned, that is at best only partially true. In many respects, life becomes much more problematical. The boundaries become blurred, the grey area lying between the black and white wider, more prominent.

To covet is a verb not in general use these days. To wish, or to long for, my dictionary gives as its meaning. One can appreciate that longing can lead to desire to own a neighbour’s possessions; a desire which may become obsessive, leading to foul deeds. There is a line surely between wishing to acquire similar goods to those owned by ‘her next door’, and actually laying false claims to her possessions. The urge to replicate another’s material goods is sometimes referred to as keeping up with the Jones’.

To quote Clough’s ironic verse once more, “Thou shalt not covet; but tradition approves all forms of competition”. However, Quentin Crisp warns us, “Never keep up with the Jones’, drag them down to your level, it’s cheaper”. Somewhere in all that mixture there must be one or two ‘on the other hands’. But don’t worry, I will resist exploring them today.

Our fore-bears were part of a movement described as non-conformist. They were men and women proud of a tag which labelled them as independent in thought. Collectively, they rejected the demands to subscribe to a doctrine laid down by others. Yet the title is only a partly true description, for in one respect they were strongly conformist. Their reference book was the bible, both old testament and new. Remember the Sabbath day and keep it holy, the Mosaic tablets enjoined, so they did; disapproving of and reprimanding those who failed to conform to those standards. Failure to conform, it was abundantly clear, was sinful, as was hanging out the washing on a Sunday, which I doubt my mother would ever have done, even under the threat of death.

We today, descendants of non-conformists, spend much of our time conforming, rightly so, for too much revolution leads on to anarchy.

Yes, as I have grown in knowledge and experience, but perhaps not in wisdom, some certainties have grown weaker; doubt and confusion increased. Wandering along the road, stumbling from time to time, I am never too sure that the sign-post is absolutely accurate, to be trusted with complete confidence.

But where is all this journey through what one of our old hymns pictured as “the night of doubt and sorrow” leading to.

My head-teacher friend is right. You mustn’t spend your life being so reasonable that you never decide on any course of action. Endless debate at the crossroads means going nowhere. Rooted to the spot and forever dithering. One recalls another oft-quoted passage which refers to the “on the other hand” debate. The passage begins, “To everything there is a season, a time to every purpose under heaven”.

We do need the framework of rules, sometimes even rigid and unchallenged rules, if we are to journey through life not circling round aimlessly, or stuck for ever in the same place. But everything has its season, and occasions have to be found to explore alternative options.

I watched a mother with a toddler in the super-market car park the other day. The child wanted to race across to the car some distance away. The mother insisted that the little girl held her hand and walked, thus restrained, across the intervening space. No argument. No perhaps there might be a case to be heard. The unbending rule was imposed. Quite rightly too, for danger lurked as vehicles came and went. Freedom to run joyfully was not apposite. The season was not ripe, though it might be so at another at another time in another place.

Our expanding bank of experience, together with the maturity which hopefully the passing years bring, expands the range of choices. At the core the laws of life embody absolute values which must remain unchallenged, or we become as amoral beasts of the field, self-centred, lacking compassion, indifferent to any needs except those of our own. And rules for living are not only about ‘shalt not’, there is also a hefty section on ‘must do’. It is significant that Jesus is quoted as signalling that the great commandments fell into that latter category, positive rather than negative.

Some of our hymns and prayers mention not wishing that our lives should be made easy. Well, growth in experience certainly doesn’t do that, as the number of choices to be made grows. Opportunities for examining ‘on the other hand’ multiply. Some of the old certainties move into the ‘almost certain’ column, or the ‘yes, with qualification’ section, even into the ‘well, maybe’ or the ‘open to doubt’ category.

Come to think about it, perhaps I needn’t be so apologetic about being an ‘other hander’. At the right time, and in the right place, it is surely not the worst defect in my character. Provided there are those who keep reminding me not to be too reasonable, maybe I shall come to no harm. Possibly even do a bit of good. But, on the other hand…..

C.J. Rosling
Hucklow 15th January 2005

Sunday Sermon – 14 July 2019

I can do it when it isn’t There!

Over forty years ago, I was a class teacher in a City elementary school in what was one of the more deprived areas of Sheffield. The class was one of fifty-five eight and nine year olds, whose ability ranged from the very bright to, how shall I put it, those who found that new knowledge was gained rather slowly.

Among the latter group was John. I am afraid I have forgotten his surname, and even if I remembered it, I should respect his privacy and keep it to myself. John, who must now be in middle age, probably a father himself, possibly a grand-father, was a cheerful, happy, pleasant child by nature. But, to put it gently, had not yet reached the top flight of intellectual achievers.

When it came to reading and writing, he struggled. In arithmetic he was still at the stage of using material aids for the simplest of calculations. All primary teachers meet many Johns and their sister equivalents in the course of a career. But John remains in my memory after others have faded from it, because of something he said one morning over four decades ago. No doubt he has long forgotten the incident, but my memory is fresh.

This particular morning – it must have been morning because arithmetic was always done in the first part of the day, when allegedly minds were still fresh, and ready to tackle mathematical problems with vigour – John, that morning, for the umpteenth time, was trying to master subtraction. He had his pencil, well chewed at the end, notebook, rather dog-eared, and box of counters, like tiddley wink tokens, on his desk in front of him.

Faced with deciding what remained when five was taken from eight, he would count out eight tiddley winks from his box. Then he picked out and removed five of them; reckoned one by one those that were left, and then carefully wrote the figure 3 in his book, hopefully the right way round, but more commonly facing back to front.

That morning, after completing several of these sums, he told me he could now do them without using counters. I was sceptical, but decided to test him. I put the box of counters under his desk and asked him to take three from nine.

He carefully counted eight fingers and a thumb, sticking them in the air as he called out the numbers from one to nine. Then, as he called, one, two, three, three digits went down. A careful count showed that six appendages remained upright. Pleasure lit up his face as I confirmed that he had the right answer. He had done as he promised, and completed the calculation without counters.

Mischievously, I then asked him to take four from twelve. He counted up to ten on fingers and thumbs, discovered that he had run out with some way still to go, so, nodded his head twice saying eleven, twelve as he did so. Two more nods as he intoned, one, two; the right thumb and forefinger went down on three, four respectively; it was a simple matter then to count the remaining digits and come up with the right answer of eight. All done again without counters and with two fingers short. It was a proud moment for him.

But that isn’t the whole story of why I remember John. I remember him for what happened next. For suddenly, his face wreathed in smiles and with joy shining from his eyes, he said “Eh, Sir” (teachers still were referred to as Miss or Sir in those days), “Eh Sir, I did it when they weren’t there.” Or perhaps being Sheffield, “…when they wasn’t there!”

Though his observation was perhaps not strictly accurate, we both knew what he meant, and recognised what had happened. John had glimpsed for a moment a great mathematical truth. Those who are mathematicians, know that mathematics frequently deals with the abstract, with what is “not there”.

For example, mathematicians often speak of infinity, which is that place where you can no longer add one to a number to make it still greater, for an infinite number is one that has already reached its maximum size; it is the place where tram-lines come together and meet, or so my physics teacher once told me; it is where recurring decimals stop repeating themselves. It is a place of wonder and miracles. In John’s language, infinity “isn’t there”, but nevertheless has a reality. Whole books are written about infinity, science and mathematics depend upon it, and, not least, the love of God is infinite.

But John’s vocabulary didn’t include infinity. He was experiencing that moment of joy that comes with a sudden insight. Archimedes, as every school-child is taught, jumped out of his bath crying “Eureka” as he discovered the truth about the displacement of water, a phenomena upon which all ships depend if they are to float; John, knowing no Greek didn’t shout, “Eureka”, but cried, “I can do it when it isn’t there”, as he stumbled upon abstract thought.

To be present at a moment of discovery is a joyous and humbling thing. To observe a child experiencing the ecstasy of knowledge revealed, is to see heaven. To subtract numbers that aren’t there maybe little enough in itself. To have it suddenly revealed for the first time that it can be done, is to become a Columbus discovering a new land.

Traditionally, both wise men and shepherds went to see a lowly born child. To see a new-born child is to also experience joy, wonder and peace, which is probably why they flocked to see the babe in a manger. They saw, as all see as they look upon a child, what isn’t apparent, but what hope and faith leads them to believe is there, a seed called potential waiting to germinate. One sees the future; one has a glimpse of an infinity of time and power that we call eternity.

That is why Simeon said as he viewed the new-born Jesus brought to the Temple, “Now let thy servant depart in peace”. Simeon felt complete and secure for he had seen what John might have said, “wasn’t there”; he glimpsed a hope for the future that lay in the presence of a new-born child.

Much that gives meaning to life, in John’s phrase, “isn’t there”. One cannot put truth, righteousness, compassion, tolerance, wisdom, love and a multiplicity of other qualities in a tin box on the desk, as with plastic counters. These qualities are intangible, abstract, but though “not there”, are the building blocks on which a whole and complete life is built.

Those abstract nouns cover qualities which may be hard to define, elusive to categorise. But we know what we mean by them, we are aware when they are present. Without them life is the poorer, like a Christmas pudding without the fruit; a stringy turkey without the trimmings.

John used that which “wasn’t there” to face up to a problem and arrive at a satisfying ending. The imaginary counters that John saw in his mind’s eye were useless in themselves, but were essential props to be taken up and manipulated in order to reach a joyful conclusion. They might not be visibly there, but paradoxically, their presence was essential.

Job asked, “What is wisdom; where is the place of understanding?” Qualities that were real enough, but they “weren’t there”. And yet, unless they are present, the peace and goodwill we mouth at Christmas-tide, and crave for throughout the year, is not achievable. Understanding is the key, a box of counters if you like, that enables peace to be achieved. Wisdom it is that consolidates the answer, and writes it in the book.

Two thousand years ago was born one who grew up to announce, “A little child shall lead them”. He knew, as we know, that it is a child who questions interminably. It is a child who from time to time stumbles against a door of understanding and pushes it ajar. Sometimes we are privileged to be present at that moment and share in the deep joy, as a new vista unfolds before the discover’s eyes.

Perhaps John thought of the Creator of all Things as the being that “isn’t there”. For his definition of “isn’t there” was that which is not concrete and material, but yet enabling, and real. “Out of the mouths of babes and sucklings ….”

Our children are brought to be christened in the presence of the invisible but real, seen not with the physical eye, but with inner vision. That which “isn’t there” enables us to perform minor miracles, whether it is John manipulating numbers that only he could see, or the adult facing the burdens that threaten to overwhelm.

In a few minutes a young child will come to be dedicated here. We trust that she may be, as all children should be, taught to see and understand that which “isn’t there”, but by which all life is given meaning. May we all dwell under the protection of the infinite, whom, unless we become as children ourselves, we may not know is there. Invisible, though all pervasive, it is the power that gives life.

C.J. Rosling

Fulwood 29 December 1996
Fulwood 9 Dec. 1990
Upper 16 December 1990
Mexborough 20 January 1991

Sunday Sermon – 7 July 2019

I know the Price, but what is the Value?

From time to time I am asked, as others who lead occasional services are asked, “How do you decide upon the subject for the address, or sermon?” I can’t say how others respond, but I don’t find it an easy question to answer. That is because there are so many answers. Sometimes a thought seems to arrive out of the blue; sometimes I have read a book or a passage from a book and want to share my thoughts about it; sometimes the idea arrives out of an occasion – anniversary, Christmas, a birth or a death, for example; sometimes thoughts have been rumbling round for quite a while before bursting forth; sometimes…. but I could go on for ever, so I will come to the point. Though a general answer may be difficult, I know exactly what started me off this time. It was a newspaper cutting, yellowed and crumpled, which I unearthed at the back of my desk drawer. I must have cut it out from a paper or magazine ages ago and stuffed it in the drawer. Then forgotten about it. I can’t remember doing it, and I have no idea what prompted the action. I don’t even know which paper it came from, or on what date.

But there it was. I empathised with the sentiments expressed on the discoloured scrap of newsprint. So I typed my sermon title carefully at the top of the page “I Know the Price, but what is the value?” Now I will share the contents of the cutting with you – but not quite yet. If I read it out now you might all stop paying attention, so I will hang on to it for a little while. But I will tell you what is written up it……. eventually.

Arguably the most familiar quotation on the topic of price and value is Oscar Wilde’s description of a cynic: a man who knows the price of everything and the value of nothing. An obsession with price isn’t reserved to the cynic. We have all come across the bore of either sex who insists on informing you of the high price of each of his or her highly expensive possessions. For them, price determines value. Such a person often seeks to be admired, envied even, because their goods have high figure price labels. “I paid – quoting a substantial figure – for this”, they say, implying that value can only be obtained at a price, and they are willing and able to pay it.

That might be dismissed as a pretty harmless conceit. So it is if it remains as a piece of self-indulgence which doesn’t hurt others, and may indeed give the rest of us private amusement. But more often than not, a further step is taken, whereby it is assumed that perceived value of possessions is equated with moral superiority. Wealth and goodness are thereby depicted as being hand in hand, really one and the same. That is why Jesus used the analogy of a camel squeezing though the eye of a needle, maybe a little exaggeratedly, when assessing the chances of a rich man entering the kingdom of heaven. It is why Jesus spoke warmly of the widow donating her mite, but coolly of the rich man ostentatiously flaunting his wealth. And, I trust, why the verse from the Victorian hymn “All things bright and beautiful” has been quietly dropped. The one which ordains that the “…rich man in his castle, the poor man at his gate” with each group understanding they should accept the judgement God has made about their status in life. Failure to separate price and value may lead to difficulty if self-regard overlooks the importance of humility.

There are plenty of examples where a very high price-tag is reflective of very high value in every sense. For instance, art galleries and museums are full of fine examples. A painting, a sculpture, a piece of exquisite craftsmanship may command huge sums. This may be in part because of rarity, or uniqueness, as well as for beauty and design. The work of art may be said to be priceless. Priceless, because it contains something of the soul and the vision of its creator; if lost it could not be replaced. It may be copied, reproduced by others, but it cannot be created again as a unique work. Its value lies in that originality of thought which produced something unique, an exquisite thought or design, that made others gasp with joy, and behold with wonder. Though cost may determine the barter price, value is much more than that.

In front of me, on the wall of my room as I write these words, is a water-colour. It was painted by a local artist and depicts a scene on the moors at the edge of Sheffield, not far from where I live. I value the picture and enjoy looking at the lonely landscape and the cloud formation. If it went into a shop for sale it might fetch just a few pounds, or quite possibly not. Equally possibly, it would be passed by for months. Pleasant and pleasing though it is, it is by no means a work of genius, a masterpiece. Yet it has great value, to me at least. It is irreplaceable. It was a surprise present given to me several years ago by colleagues with whom I had worked as chair of a committee over a decade or more. It was a kindly, unexpected gesture by kindly companions. Hence its value. It represents companionship, love and affection. I look at it and recall faces, some no longer living, with whom I had laughed, sometimes argued, who had been as loyal to me as I hope I was to them. More valuable than gold, yea than much fine gold.

Frequently value, as distinct from cost, has, amongst its components, the best of human character. Love, affection, dedication, sacrifice, blood, sweat, tears, joy, exhilaration.

These are qualities without price, for they are not for sale. They have a value greater than expensive consumer items lining the shelves of the super-market or department store.

You remember the Old Testament story I read earlier in the service, of David and his longing to drink from the water from the well of Bethlehem? In the end David adjudged the value of the water when it was brought to him too great for him, and could not drink it. It became a sacrifice to be made to the Lord. The value lay in the fact the men had risked their very lives to bring it, simply to please him.

Earlier this week I took a coach journey. On the way back, a summer day, we paused for a short time at the head of Monsall Dale, looking at the valley spread out below. I am sure you are all familiar with that splendid view. How would you cost it? To pose the question evokes bewilderment or hilarity. Then, how would you value it? As a priceless jewel, elixir for a jaded spirit, a place in which to think upon eternity? What ever the personal response, it is surely to think of value in a different way than in monetary terms. Peace, serenity and beauty defy pricing.

Not least to be valued is freedom. We worship free from constraint, though that was not ever the case. Laws protect us, our rulers are elected, our judges are independent as is our press. The value of freedom is much unappreciated, unless or until it is denied.

There is a familiar line in a prayer, couched in archaic English construction, which goes, “Teach me to love what Thou dost love” I construe that to mean, “Let me learn what to value, what may not be costed”.

All right, I’ll tell you about this cutting now. It refers to a statement by the late Robert Kennedy, a member of the American Kennedy clan, whose brother was President, assassinated in Dallas in November 1963 when evil darkened a sunny day. Robert himself was to meet an equally tragic, violent end. Here, in this quote, Robert is responding to economists who saw human achievement in purely material terms.

He said,

“The gross national product does not allow for the health of our children, the quality of their education or the joy of their play. It does not include the beauty of our poetry or the strength of our marriages, the intelligence of our public debate or the integrity of our public officials. It measures neither our wit nor our courage, neither our wisdom nor our learning, neither our compassion nor our devotion to our country. It measures everything, in short, except that which makes our life worthwhile”.

Of course that passage is not a comprehensive list of what makes life worthwhile, we might all add a bit here and a section there, but it makes, elegantly and movingly in my opinion, the central point; that to know the price is not a guide to true value.

Now you know what spurred me to talk about this today.

C. J. Rosling 21 May 2004

Hucklow 23 May 2004