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Building Bridges

Louisenie Desauguste, preaching

FBC’s Martha Stearns Marshall preacher for 2016*

 

Once upon a time there were two brothers John, the older brother, and his younger brother, Bob, who lived on adjoining farms for 40 years.  Their father passed the farm down to them, and they shared machinery, and traded labor and goods as needed without a hitch.

This makes me think…Have you ever experienced something like that where you have been living with somebody or working with somebody for years and never got into any serious fight? Well, I have, not for 40 years, but I have.  I have my best friend; we have been friends for many years, but we have never gotten into any serious arguments. We know one another so well, and we exchange opinions, we advise one another, and we used to study together. She is the one who made all my dresses, I have always loved every single one of them, because she knows my taste. We are such good friends, I am like a member of her parents’ household. I can order what kind of meal I want her mom to cook. We are just very good friends who assume that we really know one another. Has that ever happened to you? It is beautiful to have such a relationship with your spouse, children, friend, or co-worker, isn’t it? Oh, let’s continue the story, yeah, as I said the brothers were living on the same land for 40 years. That is amazing, isn’t it?

But one day they fell into conflict. It was the first serious fight, in 40 years of farming side by side. Yes, just one day something happened, then the long collaboration fell apart. It began with a small misunderstanding, and it grew into a major difference, and finally it exploded into an exchange of harsh words followed by weeks of silence.

I don’t think you were expecting that, were you? Forty years of living in great collaboration, but now a small misunderstanding led to weeks of silence. Does that surprise you? Have you ever been with somebody for years and thought you knew one another so well and suddenly something came up and you realized you were on the opposite sides and then what happened? When you get into a fight with a friend, a spouse, or co-worker, etc. What happened after the fight? That causes pain, sadness, anger, withdrawal.  So after weeks of silence, what do you think happen? Let’s keep going with the story of the two brothers!

One morning there was a knock on John’s door. He opened it to find a man with a carpenter’s toolbox. “Good morning, sir. I’m looking for a few days’ work,” he said.
“Perhaps you would have a few small jobs here and there. Could I help you?”
“Yes,” said the older brother. “I do have a job for you. Look across the creek at that farm. That’s my neighbor.  In fact, it’s my younger brother. A few weeks ago there was a fight between us and he took his bulldozer to the river levee and now there is a creek between us.

Let’s stop here for a moment, friends…..
Isn’t that what we do, most of the time when we discover that someone’s belief, political view, faith, is not the same as ours? Sometimes, we create a creek between us to keep us safe? We do that because we want to be at peace. We do that because we want to hang out with people who look like us, who act like us. We don’t have to look very far to find example of those creeks or those barriers, because we have them everywhere. We have so many barriers–between, Republican and Democrat, black and white, men and women, poor and rich, homosexual and heterosexual.

So John continues “Well, Bob may have created the creek to spite me, but I’ll go him one better. You see that pile of lumber curing by the barn? I want you to build me a fence – an 8-foot fence – so I won’t need to see his place anymore. Cool him down, anyhow.”

John was taking revenge.
I have to confess, I do that sometimes, if I fall into disagreement with somebody that I care about, I might just go quiet, I might withdraw. I might even build a wall, so I don’t get hurt anymore.
Sometimes it happens in church- Is there anybody who has not been hurt by the Church? You know sometimes, church hurts more than any kind of other hurt, because we don’t come to church to get hurt or hurt others, and yet it happens. And it is amazing how many fences get drawn inside the churches when people start getting hurt. We stop going to church or stop going to that particular church. So whenever we get hurt we often build a fence to protect ourselves. We stop talking to the people who’ve hurt us. We don’t want to see them. We don’t want to be around them.

Sometimes, we build fences because we want to take revenge or we create the creek to show that you can be more spiteful. In the story of the two farmers, John decided to build the fence because he wanted to show the younger brother, Bob that he can go him one better. …

The scripture in Ephesians that we just read in the beginning of the sermon is about two divided groups. Christianity in the early church was divided into two polarized camps: the Jews led by Peter and James in Jerusalem and the Gentiles led by Paul. These two groups were opposed to one another. Between Jews and Gentile there was a dividing wall. “Dividing wall of hostility” the fence is the Mosaic Law. The Law divided non-Jewish peoples from the Jews and was a cause of enmity, hostility and hatred between them. It was also a barrier which stood between the non-Jewish peoples and God. There was an actual sign in the Temple at that area where Gentiles could not go further. Only Jews were admitted, and the sign there said “No man of another race is to enter within the fence and enclosure around temple. Whoever is caught will have only himself to thank for his death which follows.” They were referring to the Gentiles. (Word Biblical Commentary, Volume 42)

Think about those signs that divide people today. There are all kind of signs that have divided us. Signs that say no Muslims, no Syrian refugees, no women in our pulpit, no person of a different color in my neighborhood, no homosexual in my church. You and I have heard about the Westboro Baptist church in Topeka, I have watched a video online, and I saw them holding signs that say some awful words to hurt others.

You may also have heard about Rev. Cynthia Meyer, the pastor of Edgerton United Methodist Church, not so far from where we are worshipping today. She came out to her congregation on the first Sunday of this New Year, telling them that she had a female partner. This obviously took her congregation by surprise, and they are in need of our prayers as they try to remain in community together, and receive guidance on how God is calling them to respond to their pastor. Instead of prayers, the Westboro Baptist Church showed up soon after with their signs of hate trying to build a wall of division down the middle of the church and the Edgerton community.

Paul says these barriers are abolished in God’s true, spiritual temple. “Around the time Paul was writing these words, he was arguing for racial unity in Christ, Jews and Syrians were massacring each other in the streets of Caesarea, a city where he had been a little while earlier. (Acts 23:23)  Here Paul does not simply mimic a common stand against racism in his culture; he condemns racism and segregation of a religious institution even though he has to challenge his culture to do so.”

Friends, have you ever wanted to shut somebody out so badly that you wanted to bulldozer and create a creek separating you from that person; you wanted to make sure there is no way you would have contact with that person? Who are the people you want to shut out? Who would you want to stay away from? Who are the ones that are not safe to allow into our lives?

It’s unfortunate but true, that enmity and hostility are a regular part of our human experience. We’re all too familiar with hostility, from the grandest scale, to the smallest. From the wars and violence between nations in worldwide conflict, to the strife and disputes between co-workers on the job, to the fighting that goes on in the family, between brothers and sisters–yes, even at church, we also experience enmity and hostilities. From the first hostilities that broke out between Cain and Abel, until today, humanity has shown no shortage of enmity, even though we’re all created of one blood–a common human race descended from Adam and Eve.  So now, returning to the two brothers….

So, the carpenter said, “I think I understand the situation. Show me the nails and the post-hole digger and I’ll be able to do a job that pleases you.”
The older brother had to go to town for supplies, so he helped the carpenter get the materials ready and then he was off for the day, working in distant fields.  The carpenter worked hard all that day measuring, sawing, nailing.
About sunset when the farmer returned, the carpenter had just finished his job. The farmer’s eyes opened wide, his jaw dropped.  There was no fence there at all.

It was a bridge.

In Ephesians, Paul declares that Jesus has become a uniting bridge between the Jews and Gentiles in the early church. Through His death He has reconciled us to each other and to God. God gave us not the bridge we wanted, but the one that we needed. Eugene Peterson wrote: “Jesus is eternally and tirelessly bringing everything and everyone together. The energy of reconciliation is the dynamo at the heart of the universe.”  “You are no longer strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief cornerstone, in whom the whole building, being fitted together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord, in whom you also are being built together for a dwelling place of God in the Spirit,” (Eph. 2:19-22).”

Jesus is the greatest bridge builder the world has ever known. He offered himself as a bridge, so we can know God through him. When the church understands and follows Jesus’ heart, it becomes a community of Spirit. Paul spelled it out in the most radical way he knew how: “Jews and Gentile, male and female, slave and free, you are all one in Christ. You’re all part of the same big family.”

It is great that the carpenter built a bridge instead of the fence, but how did he come up with the idea?
Some people are so good at building bridges. We know people who are just naturally-gifted in bringing people together. We have them in our church, in our neighborhood, and in our family. I know many of them. I have an uncle–that is his role; whenever there is a conflict in my family, he is the one who can bring peace. He is the bridge builder. He just sits people down, instigates forgiveness, and helps every family member make a new start. I recall one time when I was very angry with my father. And we weren’t speaking with each other. My father told my uncle, and my uncle came over. He sat me and my father down, and he had us tell what had happened between us. He told me that we both needed to forgive one another, and he just sat there until we did!
To go back to the story…….

So John saw a bridge stretching from one side of the creek to the other! A fine piece of work handrails and all – and his younger brother, was standing of the other side, viewing the bridge from his side. He shouted across, “My brother, you are quite a fellow to build this bridge after all I’ve said and done to you.” He looked down and noticed the creek he had built now filled with water.
The two brothers stood at each end of the bridge a long time looking across at each other. And then the older brother took a step, followed by the young brother, until they met in the middle. Neither certain what would happen next, the younger brother extended his hand, and then the older brother. From a handshake to a hug, they embraced each other, and the animosity between them melted away. They turned to see the carpenter hoist his toolbox on his shoulder. “No, wait! Stay a few days. I’ve a lot of other projects for you,” said the older brother.
“I’d love to stay on,” the carpenter said, “but, I have many more bridges to build.”
God help us build bridges instead of barriers. Amen!

 

* Every year, we invite a woman to the pulpit, in intentional celebration of the legacy of Martha Stearns Marshall, a Baptist preacher in the 1700’s who preached in spite of a culture who suggested that God could not have called her to preach because she was a woman.  This year, we invite Louisenie Desauguste, a Central Baptist Theological Seminary student, who has partnered with FBC as she trains to return to her native Haiti as a missionary.

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