At this time of year a lot of families set off for the seaside. Picture the scene: excited children, scampering on to the beach with their buckets and spades and starting to dig. Soon other family members join in the fun. Sandcastles start to appear, from the slightly wobbly ones built by toddlers, who have as much fun knocking them down again, to the more ambitious building projects of older children, young people, mums, dads and young-at-heart grandparents. By the afternoon there are some impressive forts and castles, decorated with pebbles and with flags flying from the turrets.
All too soon it is time to leave. When the sand has been shaken out of the shoes, damp towels and swimsuits have been rolled up, the picnic baskets packed and all the other paraphernalia of a day at the seaside collected together, the tide may be starting to come in. Families head back towards the camp site, caravan, cottage or hotel. If they return next day all their carefully constructed castles will have been washed away.
Sandcastles can withstand neither tide nor rainfall. A lot of children learn a song, complete with actions, about the wise man who built his house upon the rock, and the foolish man who built his house upon the sand. The song is based on the teachings of Jesus. This lesson in house-building conveys a meaning. Jesus is stressing the importance of building our lives upon a firm foundation.
Many believers, non-believers and honest doubters agree that it is good to try and build our lives on principles such as honesty, integrity, consideration and kindness towards others. Wise parents teach these values to their children, recognising that they need guidance as they grow up, and some rules about what is, and is not, acceptable behaviour. Children feel secure if they know where the boundaries are, even if toddlers and teenagers may go through a stage of rebellion. Yet we also need to distinguish between petty rules and regulations, and those which help us to build our lives on something solid that will help us to live our lives well.
For believers, this means trying to live as God wants. Christians see God’s nature revealed most fully and perfectly in Jesus Christ. We try to follow not only his teachings and guidance, but also to follow Jesus himself. We see Jesus as more than a wise teacher who lived a very long time ago. We believe he is also present with us now. At the end of Matthew’s Gospel Jesus promised his followers that he would be with them always. This all fell into place on the Day of Pentecost when the Holy Spirit came in power upon the early Church, enabling a rather motley crew of disciples, with all their faults and frailties, to have the courage and motivation to go out and tell others about Jesus. We celebrated Pentecost, the Festival of the Holy Spirit at the end of May this year. The Holy Spirit helps Christians today to know that the promises Jesus made to his first disciples are for us too. We know that we often make mistakes, and we need the help and guidance of the Holy Spirit as we try to live our lives in the way God wants.
I hope you have a good summer, whatever your plans, whether you will be building sandcastles, having a more exotic type of holiday, or even if you are staying at home. Yet, some people may be going through a difficult time, feeling rather battered by the storms of life. The firmer the foundation on which we build our lives, the better we are able to withstand those storms.
May God bless you all.
Revd. Glynis Hetherington