Grace to you, and peace, brothers and sisters, from our Lord Jesus, who is always among us.
Once upon a time, two brothers who lived on adjoining farms fell into conflict. It was the first serious rift in their 40 years of working together. What began with a small misunderstanding, grew into a major difference, and finally exploded in an exchange of bitter words… followed by weeks of silence.
One morning, there was a knock on the older brother’s door. He opened it to find a man with a carpenter’s toolbox. “I’m looking for a few days’ work,” he said. “Would you have a few small jobs here and there that I could help with?”
“Yes,” said the older brother. “I do have a job for you. Look across the creek at that farm. That belongs to my younger brother! Last week, there was a meadow between us, but he took his bulldozer and dug a small river to divide us.
“Well, I’m going to do him one better. See that pile of old lumber? I want you to build an eight foot high fence between us. Then I won’t need to see his place… or his face… anymore.”
The carpenter said, “Show me the nails and the tools, and I’ll do a good job for you.”
The older brother had to go some distance to town, so he left for the day. At sunset, when he returned, his eyes opened wide, and his jaw dropped. There was * no * fence * there * at all.
The carpenter had built a bridge that stretched from one side of the river to the other, handrails and all! And his younger brother was walking across the bridge toward them his hand outstretched. “You’re quite the guy,” he said, “after all that I’ve said and done.” The two brothers met in the middle, and shook hands. Then they turned to see the carpenter leaving. “No, wait!” said the older brother. “Stay a few more days. I have a lot of other projects for you.” “I’d love to,” the carpenter said, “but I have many more bridges to build.”
In our Gospel text for today [Matthew 18:15-20], Jesus gives us and all his followers a blueprint for building bridges.
Like the brothers in the story, there are times when we may need some help figuring out how to bridge a gap that has widened and affected a relationship. God cares about us, and God cares about our relationships, and God knows it can be hard to bridge those gaps. So it’s good news for us that God wants to help.
The first relationship that needs a bridge is our relationship with God. At the beginning of our worship services, we take some time to reflect on how we have fallen short on living as God’s children. It’s kind of like God taking each of us aside individually, gently laying on our hearts where we’re at fault.
Jesus came to our world to mend the bridge between God and us, to restore our relationship with God. We confess that we mess up, that we aren’t perfect, and God assures us that… through Christ… we are forgiven. God takes the initiative— through Jesus— to build a bridge to us.
Today’s Gospel points to building bridges within the Church. There are times in every church when people don’t see eye to eye, when someone says or does something that offends another, and that can affect our relationships. Jesus is talking here about when this happens in the Church, but of course, this kind of thing happens outside the church, too— in relationships with family, coworkers, neighbors, and others. When it happens, we can look to this blueprint that Jesus gives us and build a bridge. We may be tempted to stop talking to each other, like the brothers did in the bridge story. But Jesus encourages us not to abandon the relationship, but to speak gently from the heart, to listen deeply, to work at repairing that relationship.
There are other places where God might call us to build or repair a bridge. One thing I’m hearing from some leaders is your desire for more bridges between this congregation and our community. I have a few ideas already, but if you have any ideas or insights, I would really love to hear from you.
We also can be thinking about building and repairing bridges between us and those farther away. That may be neighboring towns, or our general area. It could include strengthening relationships within our Synod. Maybe there are ways we can connect with other Christians across the U.S. or around the world.
But the most important point in today’s Gospel reading is the last verse. Jesus says, “Where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.”
It is a true blessing to know that Jesus is among us, no matter how many or how few are gathered. It’s a true blessing to feel Christ’s presence with us when we’re with God’s people, here and out in the community.
This is why Jesus calls us to carefully tend our relationships. When we gather— wherever we gather, we are Christ’s body, and how we relate with one another has an impact on our witness to Christ’s love. When people see how we love one another— and that includes how we treat both Church members and members of the wider community— that will affect whether they might be drawn to our faith community, or whether they might turn away.
God is always present with each of us individually. When we’re in relationship with others, Jesus is present with us in a special way— we can embody Christ wherever we are, we can be “God with skin on” for one another.
As we begin our new partnership— as God’s people and your new pastor— let us give thanks for Christ’s presence among us, and build bridges that will be a blessing for everyone.
Amen! Thanks be to God!