Just Pebbles and Sand

Bible Text: Matthew 7:24-27, 1 Peter 2:4-8 | Preacher: Rev.M. | Series: Getting to Know Me | This morning we are continuing in our current sermon series for August titled, “Getting to Know Me”. Through these four weeks I am going to be preaching on some of my favorite passages from Scripture. It is my hope that this will help you get to know more about me and how I understand faith, love, God, and humanity’s relationship with God and one another. Last week I preached about forgiveness, both of one another and of ourselves. Today’s message is titled, “Just Pebbles and Sand”.

For as long as I can remember I have loved and collected rocks. All kinds of rocks. Small ones, big ones…pretty much anything I could fit in my pockets usually. I especially loved hunting for rocks near beaches because there I would find some truly beautiful ones that had become smooth after years of being tumbled in the waves and the sand.

Around the time I turned 12 my mother enrolled me in a class through our local park district that taught one how to cut and polish stones. And I LOVED IT!
I got to work with some awesome and amazing stones like onyx, agate, tiger’s eye, and one of my all-time favorites – obsidian. Needless to say, my love of rocks has only grown, and I keep them close to my heart. Literally. I have several crosses that holds pieces of agate and other stones that I cut many years ago.

So, when I think of the many analogies that we tend to assign to God, I am sure you can guess which one might be my favorite…God is our rock!

In our first reading from the first epistle of Peter, we find the author telling the churches to whom the epistle is written about Jesus using the metaphor of a living rock and a cornerstone. “Come to him, a living stone, though rejected by mortals yet chosen and precious in God’s sight,” and “See, I am laying in Zion a stone, a cornerstone chosen and precious; and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame.”

So why a cornerstone? What’s the big deal about that? Well, in ancient building practices of that time, the cornerstone was the principal stone placed at the corner of the edifice, or building. The cornerstone was typically one of the largest, most solid, most carefully constructed stone of any used in the entire structure. So, using this analogy of a cornerstone was done to help people understand that Jesus needed to be at the core of their lives, and his teachings at the center of how they lived.

In our second Scripture reading today from the Gospel of Matthew we find Jesus delivering the Sermon on the Mount. And we hear Jesus as he is teaching the crowds that have gathered along the hillside. Now just like many of the lessons that Jesus taught, there is good news and bad news that he offers. In this case, the bad news is for those who do not obey the words and lessons that he offers.

Jesus compares that the situation of such a person who does not obey the words and lessons he offers to that of someone who has built his house on sand. Now something really important to know in this situation is that even though storms in the area of Palestine where the people were listening to Jesus were infrequent, when they did occur, they could be exceptionally violent.

Have you ever made a sandcastle at the beach? Ever made it a little too close to the water? And then a big wave comes by…yeah, you get the picture. Now image building a house on the beach. In Florida. During hurricane season. Not exactly the best idea, right? That structure would be done in just a few minutes when a storm hits. If you have ever seen the videos on the news or online of some of the storms that they get down there you know exactly what I am talking about. Not very safe or sound. Kind of a scary visualization, right?

But was Jesus just talking about sand in the literal sense? In truth, the sand is a metaphor for the teachings and practices of humanity. The sand is when we worry more about things like how perfect our holiday table looks than enjoying the time with our family and friends, and the blessings we have been given. The sand is when we focus more on obtaining the luxuries of this world for ourselves than on helping those who cannot even put enough food on the table or find suitable shelter.

The more I think about it, this sand that Jesus speaks of is not just a poor foundation for building a shelter. It almost sounds more to me like a pool of quicksand that drags us down and suffocates us. It is the trappings of a world that does not lead with love as Jesus did, but instead is inwardly focused and centers its attention on gaining only for the individual.

But all is not lost or doom and gloom. Prior to this terrifying warning of losing stability and being washed away in the storms of life, Jesus offers us the good news – the hope – that he brings. He tells that crowd, “So then, anyone who hears these words of mine and obeys them is like a wise man who built his house on rock. The rain poured down, the rivers flooded over, and the wind blew hard against that house. But it did not fall, because it was built on rock.”

And he is not just talking about any old rock here. No, he is talking about himself, about God. He is talking about the solid foundation for faith and love that can only be found through his saving death and resurrection. He is talking about always being a place of safety and strength for us, no matter how bad the storms we encounter in our life. Even in those darkest, most frightening moments, Jesus is our rock and he always will be.

He is the rock that stands tall above the sand. The teachings and love of Jesus is the foundation that we should build our lives upon, our love upon, and our faith upon. Jesus is the surface that does not crack, does not wash away, does not shatter, no matter how bad or violent the storm may be. He is everlasting to everlasting and will always our strong foundation.

It is interesting that Jesus would choose to end his sermon, or teachings, in this way. He could have simply said that people need to follow his teachings because that was what God wanted. But rather he uses this powerful metaphor about foundations of homes and storms. He knew in that time and place that using that metaphor would connect with that group of people. They would not only understand him but would be able to understand his words within their own context. Speaking in this way Jesus shows his authority in what he says and how he says it.

I was once asked by a child of my past congregation, “What kind of rock would Jesus be?” I thought about this question for some time a few years ago and went through the many options in my mind. Would Jesus be a diamond, one of the most beautiful stones known to mankind? I could make that argument when we consider that diamonds are also used in tools and other technologies, not just jewelry. Diamonds help play many roles in our world, and unfortunately, just like the Christian faith, have been at the center of a great deal of bloodshed and fighting. No, I don’t think a diamond is the best comparison.

Maybe emerald, or ruby, or topaz? What about opal, or amethyst, or even sapphire? No, I think while those too are all potential candidates, there is instead one rock that fits as a perfect metaphor for Jesus. And that rock is a geode.

Let’s examine this a bit closer. On the outside, a geode can look just like any old rock – nothing special or anything to get excited about. Very often you can walk right by them and not even realize it. Experienced geode hunters know certain signs to look for, but most people just see a rock siting in the dirt or off in a field.

But when you open it up, you are exposed to some of the most beautiful crystal formations and colors ever seen! The bands of colors, the different layers that formed, and the thousands upon thousands of crystals that sparkle so wonderfully when the light hits them just right.

So just how does Jesus match up to a geode? Let’s start with the ordinary outside. On the outside of a geode, you tend to have just a plain old looking rock. On the outside of Jesus showed his humanity. To many people he probably just looked like any other person of the day.
But then on the inside of a geode we find those beautiful crystals. And on the inside of Jesus, we find his divinity and his love and power. When Jesus opened his mouth and spoke, he shared what was inside him – a beautiful and unconditional love for humanity and all of the world.

But there is more! If we remember that we are made in God’s image, then are we too like a geode? I would say yes, but in a little bit different way than Jesus is. While we on the outside might just seem like ordinary humans just like Jesus may have appeared to some, we too hold something special inside. But while Jesus held within him his divinity and that he was part of the triune God, we hold something else inside. And that something is God’s love.

We are God’s children; we are loved by God and through the power of the Holy Spirit we come to know God and God’s love. And when that happens, we also hold God’s love inside of us to share with the all the world. When we live as Jesus lived, and love each other like Jesus loves all of us, it is then that our beautiful insides sparkle and shine for all of the world to see God’s love.

As I close the message this morning, I would like to share a story with you. It is one that I have heard many times over my life, with subtle variations from time to time. It is one that holds a great deal of meaning for me and I even have a small poster of it I keep at home. It is my hope that in this story you too will find some meaning and take away something for your own life.

A professor of philosophy stood before his class with some items in front of him. When the class began, wordlessly he picked up a large empty mayonnaise jar and proceeded to fill it with rocks about two inches in diameter. He then asked the students if the jar was full.

They agreed that it was.

So, the professor then picked up a box of pebbles and poured them into the jar. He shook the jar lightly and watched as the pebbles rolled into the open areas between the rocks. The professor then asked the students again if the jar was full.

They chuckled and agreed that it was indeed full this time.

The professor picked up a box of sand and poured it into the jar. The sand filled the remaining open areas of the jar. “Now,” said the professor, “I want you to recognize that this jar signifies your life. The rocks are the truly important things, such as God and faith, family and friends, health and relationships. If all else was lost and only the rocks remained, your life would still be meaningful. The pebbles are the other things that matter in your life, such as work or school. The sand signifies the remaining “small stuff” and material possessions.

If you put sand into the jar first, there is no room for the rocks or the pebbles. The same can be applied to your lives. If you spend all your time and energy on the small stuff, you will never have room for the things that are truly important.

Pay attention to the things in life that are critical to your happiness and well-being. Take time to get medical check-ups, play with your children. Go for a run. Write your grandmother a letter. There will always be time to go to work, clean the house, or fix the disposal. Take care of the rocks first – the things that really matter. Set your priorities. The rest is just pebbles and sand.

Let us never build upon the sand, but always and everywhere upon the eternal rock, Jesus Christ. May we always place our foundations of his love and grace. Amen.