Easter 3, 1 May 22
“Diamonds are a girl’s best friend,” so sang Marilyn Monroe. They were stedfast, she opined, unlike men who just grow cold. Part of the wonder of most diamonds is that they are naturally made, I understand, the result of rock cooling at such a slow rate that these things of beauty and great value are formed. The pursuit of some pearl of great price gives purpose to many people’s lives: be it money for a particular venture, silverware for your team’s trophy cabinet, career progression, top marks in the upcoming exams, whatever it might be. Seeking to do well and to fulfil our potential can indeed be to the glory of God. But these targets can also become idolatrous where we fail to consider our life without whatever it is we are pursuing or indeed without the quest itself and when we fail to meet our obligations to God and others.
I want to try to offer some thoughts about work today. The first thing to say is that we all have work - we could use the word “labour” in this context - whether we are employed or not. Our work could be our daily chores which are needed if we’re to function: putting the bins out, washing our clothes, buying food, paying bills. Our work could be a duty we owe to particular individuals: people we are care for, our children, sick relatives or neighbours. Our work will be for many of us largely what we are paid (and perhaps employed) to do. Sometimes the work might be enjoyable: but just because you like cooking doesn’t mean it is less of a task to be done. Sometimes we might hate our work. It might be something creative, that which we knit or sow or paint or build.
Our starting point when we think about work is that it is part of the expression of the dignity we are given as human beings. This dignity is because we - you and me, my brothers and sisters - we are the crown of creation. One of my favourite psalms, Psalm 8 has the glorious meditation on our place within the created order: “When I look at the heavens … what are human beings that you are mindful of them? … Yet you have made them a little lower than God, and crowned them with glory and honour.” This dignity is hallowed then in allowing us be called God’s children. Let us never forget what a privilege that is to be a child of God, loved by Him, given gifts by Him, allowed to share in an inheritance He reserves for us.
One of the problems we face when we consider our chores, our work, is that we fail to connect them with this dignity. This is why it is important people are respected in their work place, why people should be paid fairly, not because we are to have be arrogant or obsessed with how important we are but because otherwise it becomes too difficult to see work as an exercise of our God-given dignity. God creates as we see at the start of the Scriptures and man and woman share in that creativity in the opening chapters of Genesis through naming the animals and through tilling the ground for food. God rests on the seventh day and so again our rest is elevated, not just doing it when we feel we need to or because we’re entitled to it, but because it is a sharing in the divine scheme. This is our road map for life.
In Christ’s Resurrection we, my friends, are raised with the Lord and so - as we heard in our second reading on Easter Sunday from Colossians 3:1-4 - we are to set our minds on “heavenly things, not on the things that are on the earth.” This is an important way in which we change emptying the cat litter tray, changing nappies, washing out the bin, doing the tax return or whatever it is we least like doing. The priest George Herbert wrote the wonderful poem we sometimes sing as a hymn: “The man that looks on glass on it may stay his eye or if he pleases through it pass and then the Heaven espy. This is the famous stone that turneth all to gold, for that which God doth touch and own, cannot for less be told.” In other words we can train our eyes, our hearts and our minds to look beyond the drudgery of life here on earth and realise our divine vocation, our calling to be holy. Work is only difficult because we live in a fallen world, hence God says to Adam after he has sinned, “By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread until you return to the ground,” (Genesis 3:19).
Our understanding of work is an important background to our Gospel today when we see Peter after the Lord’s Resurrection going back to the office, as it were. Presumably he’d taken a bit of time out what with getting the donkey ready and following the Lord in to Jerusalem on Palm Sunday. He’d then been stuck in Jerusalem denying He’d ever met Jesus on Maundy Thursday evening and then being afraid, behind locked doors, as we heard last Sunday. Well, that can’t go on for ever. But notice something in today’s Gospel, Peter is rehabilitated by our Lord in the question he asks him three times, “Simon, Son of John, do you love me?” And Jesus uses his old name - not Peter, but Simon - and speaks of his biological, earthy origins: “son of John”. And this happens after Peter has gone back to fishing. Peter has not cut himself off from the normal life waiting for something to happen, he has to get on with it and in the midst of that normal routine, the Lord appears to Him: “Do you love me?” He asks.
Peter has gone back to his work of catching fish. We know from elsewhere that Paul kept up his job of tent making (Acts 18:3). The disciples heard the call of the Lord, followed the Lord but also kept up these other responsibilities and this gave them a financial independence, which Paul is keen to remind the Corinthians especially (II Corinthians 11:9). One of the odd things about parish priests is we’re not employed: we’re not given a minimum wage. The technical term is that we’re office holders and we’re given a generous allowance on which to live. Many of you, I know, find it a struggle to balance commitments of works and discipleship. Well, be comforted that St Peter and St Paul and so many others of the saints know exactly what that Cross looks like.
I want to digress slightly and talk about something I’m mulling over in my thoughts and prayers and I ask that you do the same. Many are worried about costs of food and utilities at this time: I won’t call it “cost of living” because life is about more than food and warm homes. Well, is there some way we as a Church family can support those in our community who are feeling this especially at the moment? I was thinking maybe, for example, that we could have a drop-in one day a week where we could offer food and hot drinks and anyone could turn up and spend time somewhere warm. It wouldn’t have to be for deep and meaningful conversation: we could just have the radio on if we wanted. We could perhaps have a sign up sheet so that folk from our congregations would commit to being around offering that hospitality for an hour or two that day. Have a think and a pray about it and let me know.
In exercising such compassion we are endeavouring to have hearts like our Blessed Lord, who was willing to die for our sakes. And it's this same impetus that compels us to think differently about how and why we work or do our chores: for through them we share in the creativity of God. God made this world we live in, not because He was being paid to do it or because it made Him feel better or because some other god had made a universe and He wanted to make one which was bigger and better to show off. It is an outpouring of His love, of His intelligence, of His reason, of His beauty to make this world. What we do with our hands is to reveal too our beauty, our intelligence, our reason and our love. I’ve never done any knitting but I love the image we have in the psalms which speaks of God creating human beings: “He has knit us together in the womb of our mother.” (). There is a care and a diligence here that we can marvel at when we consider this is who we are, this is how we are have been made. We each of us then have a label on us, not “Made in China” as so often, but “Made lovingly by God.”
When we see work as a sharing in the divine impulse to create we know that we do our chores, our labours not in our strength but with the power of Christ’s indestructible life at work in us. There are a couple of reminders of this in our Gospel today. First, it’s only when Jesus tells them to throw the net out that they catch any fish: until then it has been quite fruitless. Secondly, we see that Peter’s response to Jesus’ question could have been very different. He says, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.” Well, if we remember that only a few days earlier Peter had denied ever having met the Lord it seems an odd thing to say: if anything our Lord knows that Peter has let Him down. But the chief apostle is not unaware of this and so his statement is one of supreme trust in the compassion and love of our Saviour: “you know that I love you.” That can’t be a statement made in arrogance or self-congratulation, but only aware of his sin and knowing in Christ he can build something better.
All that we build should be to God’s glory. This in stark contrast to the Tower of Babel, if you recall, from Genesis 11. The Tower is, true enough, to be something impressive but the stated purpose of it is to get up to Heaven and to acquire fame. This must not be the purpose of our work or our plans for where we live or for the things we buy otherwise we, like those who built the Tower of Babel, will become confused and estranged from one another and from God.
Diamonds may be a girl’s best friend, I wouldn’t know. But they are to be found among the many natural treasures of the world God has made. May our work, our revision for exams, our tidying of our room be a recognition that we as those whom God has made in His image are to share in His creativity and so know His eternal purposes. Amen.