We who live in Somers Point and the surrounding mainland area of Southern New Jersey are seeing life return to normal fairly quickly following Hurricane Sandy. In fact, if it were not for reports from our friends and family that live on the barrier islands, we might think this storm was not as bad as many have made it out to be...
This has led some to an obvious conclusion--the barrier islands did their job. They take the brunt of storms and thereby protect the mainland. Theoretically people would live on the mainland, and the islands would be more or less vacant land masses that protect people from storms.
That said, I am deeply grateful for the economy of the islands. I find the Ocean City Boardwalk a place I can count on to get away, touch the power of God in the waves, the wind, and the vastness of the ocean and miles of beach.
It is in this context that I hear the words that many have remembered again: "The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash.” (Matthew 7:27) Of, course this describes the house of the foolish man who built his house on sand.
Some of us are tempted to cite this teaching as words of warning that rebuilding on the barrier islands of New Jersey is foolish--in fact some go so far as to say that Jesus said that it should not be done. But I'm afraid we miss the point.
Jesus, though we know he was a carpenter, was not giving construction advice. He was pointing to people's experiences of the natural world and drawing spiritual conclusions. He wanted his hearer to imagine two houses side by side--both experienced the rain, the wind, and the waves - one stood and the other fell. The one that stood had the strong stone foundation while the one that fell was built directly on the sand and was easily washed away. Jesus' message was not to build in a place where the waves will not crash - the waves will certainly crash - they do not discriminate, they hit houses on the rock as well as houses on the sand.
We should not think that building on the barrier islands = the sand, or the corollary is that building on the mainland = the rock.
I used to live in Indiana, where several random tornadoes would randomly rip through neighborhoods destroying one house and sparing the one next to it. I lived in North Carolina where an Ice Storm knocked over trees and put us all in dark for more than a week. Less than a year later, we caught the edge of a hurricane that caused significant wind damage to various properties. In the southeast there are hurricanes, in the west there are fires, in the Midwest tornadoes, in the north there are blizzards... all can cause very real damage. There are many other unknowns that can hit anyone, anywhere, anytime... These are the rains, waves, and flood that Jesus is talking about - he is clearly speaking in a parable here - using the physical to discuss the spiritual.
The conclusion Jesus wants his hearers to draw is not whether or not to build on the beach... Rather where do we build our spiritual lives - do we rest on the foundation of the things of this world (the sand--whether literally sand or not) or on the foundation of Christ and the Reign of God (the rock--whether literally the rock or not).
I would suggest that there are some who lost homes on the barrier islands of New Jersey whose live are truly built on the cornerstone of Christ--the solid rock... I've met them. And there are others who live on the mainland whose houses were spared that have their spiritual lives build on the sand of the things this world provides (I've met them as well).
Should we rebuild on the barrier islands? That is for individuals and private businesses to decide--I suspect we will, and who knows when the next storm will come - it doesn't much matter from a scriptural point of view.
What we should know and remember is that wherever our physical homes are located we should be wise to establish our lives on the spiritual rock of Christ. So that when the storms come - literal or figurative - we will have a firm foundation on which to stand - even if our physical home is washed away.