Back before I went to seminary, I served as a part-time, co-youth minister at the Episcopal church in which I grew up. As is common, there was a non-stipendiary, retired priest who hung around the parish. He would fill in on the occasional Sunday, maybe teach a Sunday school class, and sometimes visit the sick. One day, as I was checking my mail, Father S approached me with an offer to teach a short course for our youth group kids on swear words in the Bible. “When Paul talks about garbage in Philippians, he actually uses the common Greek word for sh*t,” he explained, “the kids will most certainly find that interesting.”
Indeed they would, but so would their parents. My partner in youth ministry and I agreed to decline the invitation, but I often wish I would have asked him to teach that class just to me. As Christians, we often get all uppity around words that have come to be known as “curse words,” not thinking that even in our scriptures, we have examples of impassioned authors using harsh words to get their point across.
This Sunday’s Track 2 Old Testament lesson is just such an occasion. While Ecclesiastes is probably best known for its third chapter’s prominent place in The Byrds’ classic “Turn, Turn, Turn,” there is opportunity for bits and pieces of chapters one and two to be read in the duldrums of mid-to-late summer, and the brave preacher will delve into this text and its famous euphemism of “vanity,” which scholars suggest is more accurately translated as “bullsh*t,” or as my favorite Army Colonel would say
Not unlike the point of Sunday’s Gospel lesson, the author of Ecclesiastes is very clear that when we trust only in ourselves, the result is nothing but calamity, horse hockey, bullsh*t. We can toil all we want to, but until we invite God’s will into our work, it will amount to nothing more than chasing wind. We can build bigger barns, but until we follow God’s lead, they will collapse into ruin. As the Psalmist writes, “Unless the LORD builds the house, the builders labor in vain.”
Less controversial than suggesting all our work is useless crap, the Collect for Sunday turns this idea into is positive by asking God to be present in our work.
Let your continual mercy, O Lord, cleanse and defend your Church; and, because it cannot continue in safety without your help, protect and govern it always by your goodness; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.