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Barking Dogs and Holding Rudders

Barking Dogs and Holding Rudders

Tuesday, June 5, 2012 — Week of Proper 4, Year Two

Boniface, Archbishop of Mainz, Missionary to Germany, and Maryr, 754

Today’s Readings for the Daily Office (Book of Common Prayer, p. 969)

Psalms 45 (morning) // 47, 48 (evening)

Ecclesiastes 2:16-26

Galatians 1:18 – 2:10

Matthew 13:53-58

[Go to for an online version of the Daily Office including today’s scripture readings.]

“All is vanity and a chasing after wind” we read today as the Teacher is finishing his prologue of Ecclesiastes. The wise and the foolish alike die, he says. Maybe I am wise and industrious. So what! I may leave it all to a fool. “There is nothing better for mortals than to eat and drink, and find enjoyment in their toil.” Enjoy life as much as you can, remembering the nearness of death. One doesn’t work to become rich — you can’t take it with you and a fool may get it when you die. One doesn’t work to create something great or become powerful. You’ll die like anyone else. But as you can, find enjoyment in the work you do for its own sake. That’s enough.

Eat and drink. And find enjoyment in your toil. Be wise. Die. That’s about as good as it gets. Be satisfied with that, he says.

Today is the feast of St. Boniface, who built on the foundation of St. Willibrord in Frisia, areas along the coast of the North Sea now parts of Denmark, Germany and the Netherlands. Willibrord had labored for around 50 years to plant the church in that area, but virtually nothing had survived from his labors.

Here’s a portion of a letter that Boniface wrote to Cuthbert, Archbishop of Canterbury, as Boniface was trying to succeed where Willibrord had seemed to fail.

My dear brother, I fear we have undertaken to steer a ship through the waves of an angry sea, and we can neither succeed in our task, nor without sin abandon it… In the Church of which I have oversight, I have dug the ground over, manured the soil, but I am conscious that I have failed to guard it. Alas, all my labor seems to me like a dog barking at the approach of thieves and robbers, but because he has no one to help him in his defense, he can only sit there, whining and complaining… I take refuge in the words of Solomon: ‘Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not rely on your own insights. In all your ways, think on the Lord and he will guide your steps…’

Let us never be dogs that do not bark, nor silent bystanders, or hired servants who flee at the approach of the wolf. Instead let us be watchful shepherds, guarding the flock of Christ. And as God gives us strength, in season and out of season, let us preach to the powerful and powerless alike, to rich and poor alike, to all people of every rank and of whatever age, the saving purposes of God. (quoted in Celebrating the Saints, Robert Atwell, Canterbury, 2004, p. 303-4)

Mother Teresa said, “God doesn’t require us to succeed; he only requires that you try.” The Teacher of Ecclesiastes would add to that an invitation to enjoy the work as you can. Sometimes we get into situations where success does not seem to be an option, only faithfulness. We can only hold on, we cannot steer. In his letter to Cuthbert, Bonface amplifies his situation of trying to steer in an angry sea, saying, “it is our duty not to abandon ship, but to control the rudder.”

We are reading Paul’s letter to Galatia, a fierce and at times furious defense of his gospel which is under attack. Paul is trying to hold on to the rudder, asserting that the Gentile converts in his congregation will not submit to circumcision or follow the Jewish law no matter what.

Today we read also of Jesus’ teaching in his hometown synagogue, where the locals refuse to let him grow up. Jesus fails there.

“All is vanity and a chasing after wind.” (Ecclesiastes) “We did not submit to them even for a moment.” (Paul) “And [Jesus] did not do many deeds of power there, because of their unbelief.” (Matthew)

Life is hard. Life is mysterious. Eat and drink. Be wise. Enjoy your work as you can. Accept death. That’s enough, says the Teacher of Ecclesiastes. Hold on to the rudder, says Boniface. Persevere, says Paul. Sometimes even Jesus can’t succeed, says Matthew.


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