In the recent film The Monuments Men, George Clooney gathers together a group of art experts during World War Two and drafts them into the US Army. This rag tag platoon’s eventual role is to join the Allied advance across Europe and save the art works stolen from occupied countries by the Nazis.
Actually, although it sounds a bit far-fetched, this plot is based on a true story. For a real life crew of soldier art hunters did save from destruction countless looted art objects. Indeed, in the process, discovered the hiding place of Hitler’s entire gold reserves.
And so in its way this film’s storyline reminders of the human responsibility to conserve beauty; beauty made either by the hands of divinely gifted humans or directly by God.
This duty too is made very clear in Psalm 8. For it starts by proclaiming the glorious magnificence of the heavens and of the earth. It goes on to place humans in pole position of beings – exalted creatures possibly uniquely able to perceive these wonders and appreciate this divinely bequeathed treasure trove.
But then the Psalm hints that this mighty role also confers a burden – the weight of being careful stewards of creation – the charge of being meticulous curators of the life far and near – the obligation of being God’s coregents of planet earth. For this is the honour, price and give back for being able to understand that well -known stanza from one of William Blake’s poem’s:
To see a world in a grain of sand
And a heaven in a wild flower,
Hold infinity in the palm of your hand
And eternity in an hour.
In the Monuments Men film, Donald Jeffries played by Hugh Bonneville, better known as Downton Abbey’s Earl of Grantham, bravely sacrifices himself in a failed effort to save Michelangelo’s Madonna of Bruges from the retreating Germans. In real life, this did not happen. However, two of the real Monuments Men did perish in the war. One was Ronald Balfour who was in fact the real-life counterpart of actor Hugh Bonneville’s character Donald Jeffries. He died from a shell burst while trying to move parts of an historic church’s medieval altarpiece to safety.
Here is a reminder perhaps that even amongst beauty there is adversity and ugliness. We too can feel that sometimes as we are struggle to maintain the summer’s glory against both the ravages of other humans and time itself. For, somehow, this season seems to be slipping through our fingers and we powerless to stop it. For even in our moment of celebration we sense that decay from whatever source is under the surface and just round the corner. Every happiness then is in risk of being lost. Every beauty is threatened with being marred. Perfection is ours to behold but not to hold onto.
Whilst these scary eventualities aren’t raised in the Psalm, this scriptural piece does return its view from humans to God at its end. Put simply, it is pointing out that the wonder of creation doesn’t now stand unaided – it and we are ultimately owned by the majestic Lord whose name is in all the earth.
And this is the very point made by Christ in our reading from Matthew. For it realistically acknowledges that we all have worries. Fears for ourselves, concerns for our families and anxieties about our earth and all its creatures. So often the way out of these problems are not clear. What decision should we make about this or that is perplexingly complex. No surprise then we are often dismayed as to how to preserve the summer and rebut more wintery thoughts and possibilities.
And whilst Christ does not dismiss these dreads as groundless, he does offer a strategic plan for coping with them. For he says – seek God’s kingdom first and foremost, look for what and who is righteous and not self-serving and limit your alarm to what is in our immediate line of sight. But above even these, bring your trepidations to the Lord, bring them to the Lord in prayer, bring them to the Lord and leave that burden there. For then endless summer will survive in your winter. For then we will assist God and not usurp him in his action. For then we may feel something of Solomon’s splendour surrounding our lives despite any threatening darkness. Since by living in the God we see in Christ Jesus, we can indeed celebrate this Summer and leave autumn to trouble itself.