July 12, 2013 Tom Berlin

Sand Castles

I am on vacation at the beach, where I have pledged not to do email or phone calls but to just relax and have some downtime. Between the phone and Internet, it is possible to just work anytime I want, right through vacation. Sometimes that is a lifesaver, but mostly it is a way to avoid the commandment to observe Sabbath times in life. Every day seems to be a workday in America and I came here hoping to just go fallow for a week.

My lovely daughters, their friends and I built a sand castle, which we do every year. It attracted a group of surrounding little kids who soon took ownership of various parts of the construction process. Eight-year-olds can be tough foremen, wanting sand moved here and there, moats dug deeper or wider and whole portions of the castle crushed and rebuilt if something looks a bit off. Everyone had ideas, many of which were good, so the building that began in the morning soon extended into the afternoon. They did give us a lunch break, for which I was grateful. By the end of the day, the castle was lovely. A full city with a large citadel in the center, a seahorse medallion on each side and sea grass flags flying from the towers.

After our work had been fully admired and the kids had to go back to their cottages, we relaxed. We sat close to the castle, because you have to guard against the random children who are castle crushers, who don’t use their powers for good. The human propensity to destroy is on display here as much as the one to create. We became sentinels. We read our books and napped with one eye open for those who might bring harm to the kingdom.

This is the problem with sand castles. No matter how hard you work, no matter how tall or wide you make them, they are fragile. They are so terribly temporary. They are not built to last. Bring a rainstorm, or a barnstorming four-year-old, or heaven help you, high tide, and soon there will be just beach, and no trace of the sweat of your brow. This is not just the way of sand castles; it is the way of our work and life. I am reading Jerusalem, by Simon Segbag, a daunting book that traces the history of the sometimes holy city from the time of Abraham to the current period. In 40 year increments. Jerusalem is a city that has been built up, torn down, established, conquered, demolished, raised, razed, and reconstructed more times than I can count. Here is a real lesson from that book: it does not matter if you are Caesar, Sultan, King, Caliph, Count, or Queen, the stuff you do in this life does not last. Even people with serious power, whose authority stretched across the known world, whose likeness was embossed on coins, were building sand castles. They had it all, some even used it for good and creative purposes, but one day the rain fell, the tide changed or some despot came out of nowhere to stomp all over their stuff.

Which is why I need to take some Sabbath time. It reminds me that I am not indispensable and that the world will go on without me just fine one day. Sometimes the idol I worship is me and my sense of importance to my little world. It is commanded both for my good and possibly in the hope that I will gain a bit of perspective. It is interesting to me that Jesus spent time in Jerusalem at one of its high periods, when King Herod, who was a serious castle builder, ruled it. Jesus owned nothing, wanted only the essentials, and told people not to pine for the things of this world, but for heaven, the eternal city, not built with human hands, but by God. And while all those rulers have come and gone and I can’t recall many of their names after reading that book any more than people will recall mine in 100 years, people are still talking about Jesus, and he is still changing lives. Sabbath has left me longing for heaven, and hoping I can point more people in the direction of the one thing that actually lasts.

Tom Berlin

Rev. Tom Berlin is the Lead Pastor of Floris United Methodist Church. Tom was raised in the beautiful Shenandoah Valley and has lived in Virginia most of his life. He is a graduate of Virginia Tech and his Master of Divinity is from the Candler School of Theology at Emory University. He has co-authored three books and is the author of several small group studies. Tom and his wife Karen have four daughters.

Comment (1)

  1. Patty Morell

    You, young man, sand castle builder, and International Man of Danger, are also one pretty amazing writer! Thanks for this wonderful reminder of what is most important!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *