Steward of the Barn–Ecclesiastes 2:18-21

I think Jim might drive by our house, pictured above, from time to time. I don’t know that he does. I haven’t seem him, but it seems reasonable that he might. About 15 years ago, Jim bought a decrepit but structurally sound former dairy barn and turned it into a wonderful home.

He refinished the original floors on the main level, preserving the rough, stained nature of a place where work had been done for decades. He installed staircases to the loft and to the basement. Where only smallish windows had allowed the sun in, he put in large ones that fill the open hayloft with light.

Jim also installed a greenhouse on the south side of the barn, equipping it with fans and thermostats. When it gets too cold in the greenhouse, a fan pulls warmer air in from the basement. When it gets too hot, a fan pulls that air out. He didn’t settle for ordinary heating and cooling but opted for a geothermal heat pump system. So far, our utility bills have been quite reasonable. One other bit of overbuild was in the electrical system. Jim put in far more capacity than we will ever need or use, but should we ever want to run a commercial kitchen, a server farm, and several welders simultaneously, it’s nice to know that the amperage is available.

Our work today is necessary, but it is not permanent.

Why did Jim leave this marvelous place? It wasn’t because he or his wife didn’t like it anymore. You could tell talking to them that they still maintain a love for the barn–which is why I envision him driving by on occasion. Apparently, he found that the work and expense of maintenance were just more than he could continue. Still, he recalls how he turned vision into reality, so he (maybe) drives by. That’s what takes me to Solomon today:

I hated all my work that I labored at under the sun because I must leave it to the one who comes after me.  And who knows whether he will be wise or a fool? Yet he will take over all my work that I labored at skillfully under the sun. This too is futile. So I began to give myself over to despair concerning all my work that I had labored at under the sun. When there is a person whose work was done with wisdom, knowledge, and skill, and he must give his portion to a person who has not worked for it, this too is futile and a great wrong.

All of my work, efforts that seem so significant, so permanent, so necessary, will one day be passed over to someone else. Will that person care for things the way that I do? Or will they allow what I’ve labored to create to be swept into the dustbin of history?

If Jim’s happiness depends on his work here outliving him, then he may or my not be pleased with how things turn out. If my happiness depends on whether my students continue to follow the lessons I so carefully placed in front of them, then I’m almost certain to be disappointed.

Our work today is necessary, but it is not permanent. Like so much in Ecclesiastes, it is a vapor, futile.

The Master Builder (Hebrews 3:4-5)

For every house is built by someone, but God is the builder of everything. “Moses was faithful as a servant in all God’s house,” bearing witness to what would be spoken by God in the future.
(Hebrews 3:4-5)

Penny and I drove from Tulsa to Kansas City today. Along the way, we enjoyed the sights, such as they were. We delighted to (but did not stop in at) the McDonald’s bridging I-44. We oohed and ahhed at the fifteen-foot morel mushroom somewhere north of Joplin. But mostly we admired barns in various states of repair.

One barn that I always enjoy is a large masonry structure just outside Harrisonville, Missouri. Back in my childhood, some clever wag tagged that building’s wall with “Draft beer, not our boys.” Today, that sentiment is, like the draft, long gone, but the barn still stands, apparently unused, in a similarly unused pasture.

Somebody spent a good deal of time and money building that barn. They built it to last. Since it looked to be old and unused forty years ago, my surmise is that its builder has long ago gone to his reward. If he were still doddering about, he could certainly look with satisfaction upon his handiwork.

Some buildings seem designed for the long haul. The Tower of London is approaching its 1,000th birthday. The Great Pyramid is many thousands of years old. But by and large, the buildings erected by human hands crumble back to earth within a relatively brief span of years, especially if they’re not carefully maintained.

Compare that with the “building” of God. Besides being almost infinitely larger and more complex, God’s handiwork not only endures but replenishes itself. According to the scientists, the Sun will one day burn itself out, but within reasonable time spans, God’s creation, left to its own devices, will just keep on humming, presumably for millions of years.

We sometimes have to remind ourselves that the building is not the Church. In Moses’ day, the Tabernacle was neither the entire creation or the Creator. Neither the tent nor its successor building could contain that Creator.

I wouldn’t want to serve a God who could be fully contained or fully comprehended.