Sunday 31st July 2016
Year C, The Tenth Sunday after Trinity
Holy Trinity, Hurstpierpoint
Ecclesiastes 1.2; 1.12-14; 2.18-23
Luke 12.13-21

An extremely well educated friend of mine who might be expected to spend her leisure time reading philosophy or listening to Haydn String Quartets actually spends a lot of it completing immensely complicated jig-saw puzzles supplied to her in plastic bags so that she does not see the picture; but when she inserts the last piece she does not stand back, as might be expected, to admire her handiwork, but immediately sweeps the pieces back into the bag. Few of us are so forensically dedicated to the process, rather than to the product. Most of us, at least outside major bureaucracies, want product at the end of a process and are upset if things don't work out as we would like. I particularly remember the huge amount of work I put into negotiating the construction of an eye clinic on a Caribbean island which was trashed within a week of its opening by Hurricane David; and I remember a fleet of eye health vehicles we supplied to Uganda being requisitioned by a new government after a military coup. I think of one or more such incidents every time I sing the second verse of that magnificent Robert Bridges hymn lyric "All my hope on God is founded"; let me remind ourselves of it:

Pride of man and earthly glory,
Sword and crown betray his trust;
What with care and toil he buildeth,
Tower and temple, fall to dust.

That is the essence of our Reading today from the Book of Ecclesiastes; it is not our efforts that are in vain it is our hopes for what our efforts will achieve. We, who struggle in our humble ways, in the Grace of God, to strive to build the Kingdom on Earth as it is in heaven, are process people after all, created to struggle and created to fail. History and experience should both teach us about our own futility but pride, the cause of our initial downfall, has bequeathed us this imperfect world; and pride is the cause of our failure to see our own futility.

Nonetheless, we are so knowing about the man in the Gospel of Luke who builds himself bigger barns with the smugness which only the very rich can carry off. He apparently doesn't know what's coming; but we do. And yet we don't seem to think it's coming to us.

This is not to say that we should shirk human endeavour but simply that we need to put it into perspective, not only in the sense that our tastes and habits should be moderate but more specifically in the sense that we evaluate ourselves and what we do with clear-sightedness, bearing in mind three concepts:

If the author of the Book of Ecclesiastes was indeed King Solomon, he turned out to be no better than those he so directly chided: yes, he was immensely clever in the case of the disputed baby; but he was lured by sexual lust into turning away from God and his political legacy was the inevitable disintegration of his kingdom from which it never recovered. It is a story we recognise as it is difficult to think of any politician, other than Churchill, who left office more popular than when he or she took it; and this is because, no matter what good they might do, it is never enough. As we give them the jobs to do that we won't do ourselves, they are bound to disappoint. But there is another, more fundamental reason. Solomon didn't know the precise formulation of the Second Law of Thermodynamics but he instinctively knew it that, in one of its formulations, things break down over time and that putting things together in one place simply uses energy from another; from its very beginning, creation has slowly been winding down.

But as Christ entered history to save us, so he left history with his promise of everlasting life; as he suffered for us, as well as with us, so he promised to put an end to suffering; as he was of the Godhead that created our universe with a fatal flaw, so he lived in the flawed universe in solidarity with us as well as for us. Thus, our necessarily imperfect world will be transformed when the Kingdom of God is realised. Whatever else the Crucifixion means to us, this meaning - often called the "classical model" - is the most important but it has frequently been obscured by our obsession with moral sins rather than the redemption from what some call "original sin". The obsession arises, I think, because while we know that only God in Jesus can save us from original sin, the power to define what moral sins are and to mete out punishment is irresistible. While the triumph of Jesus over death can be understood in many ways, I always go back to the cosmic meaning of the crucifixion rather than to more subjective interpretations.

In that context, it is easier to be content with our lot and to do our Kingdom building modestly and faithfully, expecting nothing, and never admiring our own handiwork. My friend of the jig-saws may just have a point.