Who Switched the Price Tags?

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Almost a century after George Washington became the first president of the United States, a monument in his memory rose in the nation’s capital.
Now, more than a century later, the Washington Monument (at almost 555 feet) remains the tallest free-standing stone structure in the world.
The Monument’s designers wanted to honor Washington in the most extravagant way possible.  Therefore the capstone, which is about nine inches tall, was composed of an exceedingly rare metal.
No, not gold.  Nor silver.  Nor platinum.  The capstone of the Washington Monument is pure aluminum.
That’s right:  America’s most famous founding father is memorialized with the same material that catches rainwater from your roof and shunts it toward your downspout. 
In the 1880s, scientists were ignorant of two important realities concerning aluminum.  First, no one knew how to produce it in large quantities.  That made aluminum, ounce per ounce, more valuable than silver or gold.
Visitors at the 1855 World’s Fair stared at a display of aluminum bars as if they were looking at England’s crown jewels.  Napoleon III of France hosted a banquet where the most honored guests were given aluminum utensils, while everyone else had to settle for eating their soup with spoons of gold.
Second, scientists didn’t yet know that aluminum is almost literally as ordinary as dirt.  It is the most widely distributed metal on our planet, bound up with 270 other minerals.  After oxygen and silicon, it is earth’s third most common element.
A few years after the completion of the Washington Monument, metallurgists discovered how to turn an ordinary-looking rock called bauxite into all the aluminum the world would ever need. 
Aluminum’s value on the global market immediately collapsed, with little prospect that it will ever rise again.
Today you can go to bed knowing there’s probably more aluminum on your car’s wheel covers than there is at the top of the Washington Monument.   
One of life’s great dramas is discerning how much things are really worth.
When sociologist Tony Campolo was a kid growing up on the east coast, he and his friends dreamed of pulling off the ultimate stunt.  They would break into the local Five and Dime store in the middle of the night and switch all the price tags.  The following morning, shoppers would find appliances selling for a few pennies and cheap trinkets fetching top dollar.  In the end, they never found the courage to make it happen.
But what a group of pranksters didn’t dare attempt, our culture has accomplished with abandon. 
In his book Who Switched the Price Tags? Campolo wonders why so many of us fall for the lie that staying a few more hours at the office is a better investment than spending time with family members.  And what leads us to claim that God is the center of our lives, when we spend so many hours sitting motionless in front of the TV? 
If you own a smart phone, you can hold in the palm of your hand virtually all the knowledge humanity has ever acquired.  But far too many of us chiefly use this technological miracle to look at videos of kittens and to argue with people we have never met.  Keeping our price tags in the right place can be a lifelong struggle.
According to the book of Revelation (21:21), heaven’s main avenues will be paved with gold.  That may seem like an expression of opulence, but in truth it’s the Bible’s way of putting gold in its place. 
Think how many people have sacrificed everything in this world – including their own lives – trying to obtain as much of that shiny yellow metal as they possibly could.  But in heaven we will walk on it.  It’s worthy only for the soles of our feet.
It’s safe to say that in heaven our price tags will finally be allocated in such a way that God will be glorified. 
In the meantime, spiritual maturity might be defined as growing in our discernment, right here and right now, of the true value of our relationships and activities – and then living courageously in the light of those understandings. 
This Sunday evening, if you happen to be holding a cold beverage in a metal can while watching the Super Bowl, pause and think how quickly the value of something like aluminum can change.
And then thank God that nothing, in this world or the next, will ever surpass the value of his love and grace.