…to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ…
Sand is sand, right? We can all imagine the geological process: a giant boulder fractures off a cliff or a mountain, tumbles down the talus slope, and into
a river. Then over countless years and miles, the boulder is rolled and knocks against other boulders, and becomes smaller and smaller, until it is reduced to sand. Sand is the tiniest of rocks, worn out of larger stones, which have worn out of even larger stones. On an ocean shore, the sand finally stops for a while, washed back and forth by the waves. Sand is sand, right?
Well, there are countless sands in the world—the black sands of Hawaii, orange sand in Malta, pink sand in Indonesia. Each sand is made of different stuff, and its color varies as much as the rock it comes from. And here’s another interesting sand: oolitic sand. The term ooid comes from the Greek for “egg” and it describes the shape of oolites—they are rounded, smooth, egg-shaped. Oolitic sand takes a different path than other sand. Instead of erosion, oolitic sand is created as minerals from the water, accumulates layer on layer over a tiny bit of something—a fleck of plant material or a fragment of shell. Over the years, the bits get bigger layers like rings on a tree. Some beaches in the Bahamas, and along the Great Salt Lake, are covered with oolitic sands.
Life can feel like we’re being tumbled, worn down and eroded. We start out feeling strong, and we end up battered and smaller than we thought we were. We’re ground almost to the point of oblivion. The metaphor of sand produced through erosion is not all negative—there are often things that need to be struck off our lives, so that we can be polished. But for the most part, we don’t benefit from the process of erosion. It’s a struggle—life is often marked by loss, by diminishment.
While it’s true that loss is inevitable for us as human creatures, our lives don’t have to be defined by loss. We can be sand of another type. Being part of a community of faith, part of the Christian family, means that we all have gifts that are meant to be used for the “building up” of each other. In Ephesians, Paul encourages the church to take on their gifts, to used the things God has provided, to build each other up.
Often, we are the boulders that knock against each other, we are the cause of each other’s erosion. We tear down and wear each other away. We do this through neglect or apathy, we do it through gossip or criticism. We hold grudges and bitterness toward others. Living in close relationship to those who erode instead of edify grinds us away, and to withdraw and isolate ourselves becomes a simple act of self-preservation. If we want any form of integrity or wholeness, we cannot live in those erosive conditions.
But that is not who we are meant to be. It is not who Paul calls the church to be, not who Jesus empowers us to be. Instead of erosive forces, we have the capacity to build up. If we can use our gifts in love, always with the aim of encouraging each other to greater and greater faith and maturity, then we can—layer upon layer—become the body Jesus intends for us to be.
It’s a slow process, the formation of oolitic sand. Each layer of mineral deposit is microscopically thin. Yet it does happen. As mineral-rich water washes over the shore, it lays another layer on the individual grains. Oolitic sand is notable in its uniformity. Each piece is unique, with a little different shape and color, slight variations of tone or texture. But overall, they are similar, there is a resemblance among the individual grains. Individuals who are built by the same process start to look alike—there is a family resemblance. As we find new ways to use the gifts God has given us, we will continue not only to share God’s love with the world, but we will continually build up the body—layer on layer. And in this process, we will all come to look more and more like our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.
See you Sunday, John!
Then Jesus told his disciples, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.” Matthew 16:24-25
The Brown Headed Cowbird is a “brood parasitic” species. Instead of building its own nest, and raising its own young, the cowbird will wait until another species of bird—a song sparrow, for instance—leaves its nest, then will lay its own egg in the nest, depending on the host birds to raise the cowbird chick. The theory is that the cowbird developed this trait because it needed to follow the wandering herds that would kick up insects for the cowbird to eat. It couldn’t commit to staying in one place to raise its own brood.
I’m not interested in pronouncing judgement on cowbirds, although my mammalian instinct to care for my young kind of makes the cowbird seem a little callous. In reality, its just doing what its species needs to do to survive. But it does make me think of commitment. Are we creating a culture of cowbirds, who cannot commit to anything beyond their own gratification?
We have become increasingly commitment-phobic in our culture. We are far more interested in having choices than in making a choice. We prefer the wide-open spaces of options, there are countless varieties of everything—we’re no longer limited to 31 flavors. The choices are endless; not content with 600 cable channels, we now have streaming service that allow us to watch whatever program we want, when we want. Online music services have tens of millions of songs available, with tens of thousands added daily. Have you been to a buffet restaurant recently?
There’s nothing wrong with options. It’s nice to have a choice in life—we don’t have to be like Oliver Twist, where our only option is to hope for a little more gruel. Having choices is great, if we finally make choices. But making a choice means we shut the door on all the other choices. Most of us can’t have it all—when we choose a Toyota, that means we can’t have a Honda, or a Volvo. We’re stuck with the Toyota. And the Toyota may be a great car, but we’re always tempted; advertisements are constantly questioning our choice…wouldn’t you really rather have a Mercedes? So, while we have to make some choices to get along, we may resist closing the door on all the other options—we fail to commit.
Our discussion in the Family Fellowship Bible Study last week centered on what it means to be a part of the community of faith. What does it mean to share our lives together? Well, to begin with, it demands a level of commitment. We have to commit to sharing our time, sharing our space, sharing our resources. This is one reason churches struggle. Life together in Christ demands commitment. And our culture is not interested in committing. We’re tempted to keep our options open. Sunday morning rolls around, and we mentally go through the list of things we could do with our time, instead of recognizing that when we give ourselves to Christ, we are also making a commitment to the body of Christ—the Church. When we privilege other things over sharing life with our Christian family, we deprive them of the gifts we might bring for the good of the body—the body doesn’t do so well when the kidneys decide they’d rather be somewhere else.
These verses from Matthew’s Gospel (they’re in all the Synoptic Gospels) indicate that following Jesus requires commitment. We can’t keep our options open. It’s making a choice, and following through. The temptation is to keep our life—to keep our options open, to make sure we have the chance to please ourselves. But to commit to Jesus means we give up on all the other choices we might make. We cannot serve two masters, or two hundred or two million. We can only serve one. The language of “take up your cross” is a little intimidating, and there may be times of real sacrifice when we choose to follow Christ. But more importantly, the cross is a symbol of commitment—Jesus was willing to commit to the path in front of Him, and ask the same of us.
Don’t treat the Christian life together like cowbird might treat it—leaving the responsibility to others. Make the choice to follow faithfully, in the company of sisters and brothers who have also made that choice. Being the body of Christ means we shut the door on other options, but those options all lead to death, and never committing is perhaps the worst death of all. While there is certainly sacrifice in the way of the cross, it is still the most joyous, the most grace-filled way. While it may not be easy all the time, we will never be disappointed with our choice when we commit to life together—with Jesus and with each other.
See you Sunday! John