I have a ‘love-hate’ relationship with snow: I love to watch it fall and the beauty of the landscape covered in white, but I hate the cleanup and the sore muscles that follow. In the greater Boston area, we had three snowstorms in the last seven days with a total accumulation of about fifteen inches (granted, a small amount in light of the nine feet of snow we received two winters ago). I had the opportunity to walk from home to the church and back after one of the lesser storms and was gladdened by the numerous interactions with my neighbors, all equally annoyed by the need to clear the sidewalks, steps and driveways. Everyone was pleasant, as if our mutual burden of snow removal was uniting us as a community.
As I walked past neighbors shoveling and snow-blowing, I was greeted with pleasantries and smiles as if to say that we are all in this together. It was as if the community was coming together to protect and provide for its own: protecting the community from injuriestt due to slips and falls and providing the community with a clear path for travelling home. I passed by people of every size, shape and color with the same agenda – clean up the mess that nature had made as quickly and as easily as possible. It was great to see those with whom God has planted me working so well together.
The church, the kingdom of God experienced on earth, is like my neighborhood after a snowstorm. Just as nature makes a mess that needs to be cleaned up, our sin nature makes a mess that also needs to be cleaned up. Just as my neighbors all worked together to protect and provide for its fellow snowbound, the church works together to protect and provide for its fellow sinners. The church, like the shovelers I saw earlier this week, provides the sometimes back-breaking work of clearing the pathways to protect others from slipping and falling. The adversity we all experience draws us together as a community.
…for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God…. Romans 3:23 (NIV)
Just as a snowstorm strikes every house and driveway in my neighborhood indiscriminately, sin strikes every soul without favoritism; everyone is subject to the devastation of sin. Everyone slips and stumbles. Everyone gets caught in the unexpected and skids off course. Everyone is in the same trouble – we all need to help one another clean up the mess that the presence of sin has produced. We all, as part of the church, help one another clear the way from that which trips us up and fractures body and soul.
Like any metaphor, this image of the church can only be taken so far. Like snow, we simply move sin around so as to limit its damage. Unlike snow, sin will never just melt away and needs to be removed, and the only means of removing sin is faith in the death and resurrection of Jesus. As I see the piles of snow beside the road, I thank God that there are people in my community of faith who have moved the things that will damage my walk and I thank God that the presence and power of sin has been conquered by Christ.
We will continue to have shoveling to do, pathways to clear and messes to clean up, all so that the community will dwell in safety. May we never get weary doing this good work.