This past week, I ran across a story I first read over 15 years ago. I remember liking it then, just as I like it now.
There is a story of two brothers, John and Joe, who lived on adjoining farms. They worked side-by-side for over 40 years, sharing machinery, trading labor and goods as needed. Then one day, the long collaboration fell apart. It began with a small misunderstanding, but it grew into a major difference. It finally exploded into an exchange of bitter and angry words, followed by weeks of silence.
The rift moved from weeks into months. Then, one morning there was a knock on John’s door. He opened the door to find a man with a carpenter’s toolbox. John asked, “May I help you?”
The man replied, “I’m looking for a few days’ work. Do you have a few small jobs here and there I could do for you?”
John thought for a moment and answered, “Yes, I do have a job for you.” Leading the man out into the yard, John pointed over to his brother’s farm and said, “Look across the creek at that farm. That’s my neighbor. In fact, he’s my younger brother. Two weeks ago there was a meadow between us. One we shared for over 40 years. As you can see, he destroyed the meadow and built a creek to separate us. I can’t bear looking in his direction.”
“So, here is what you can do for me. See that pile of lumber by the barn? I want you to build me a fence, an 8-foot fence, so I don’t see his place or his face anymore.”
The carpenter said, “I understand the situation. Show me the nails and the post-hole digger and I’ll be able to build just what you need.”
So, John, before leaving for the day, helped the carpenter get the materials together. The carpenter worked hard all that day; measuring, sawing, and nailing. He finished his work just as John was returning. John’s eyes opened wide and his jaw dropped. The carpenter had not built a fence. He had built a bridge.
The bridge stretched from one side of the creek to the other. It was a fine piece of work, with wide steps, smooth handrails, and a bench to sit upon.
It was at that moment, Joe, came toward them. With hand outstretched and a smile on his face, he said, “John, you are quite a fellow to build this bridge, after all, I’ve said and done.”
The two brothers stood at each end of the bridge, and then they met at the bench in middle. They started by taking each other’s hand, but they ended in an embrace. As they were offering each other words of confession and forgiveness, they noticed the carpenter hoist his toolbox onto his shoulder.
John called out, “Please wait! Stay a few days. We have other projects for you.”
“I would love to stay, but my work here is done. I must be going. I have other bridges to build.”
Take a moment to imagine your church as a bridge. What needs to be in place to “bridge” the creeks, the barriers, and the thoughts and emotions that keep the people in your church from connecting with the people in your community?
Imagine your church as a bridge. What if you extended an invitation to hurting and hungry people offering faith, hope, love, and dignity? What would need to be overcome, set aside, or changed to extend such an invitation?
Imagine your church as a bridge. What if you extended grace to the people on the outside just as God has extended grace to you? What fear or anxiety would you have to overcome?
The reality is, Jesus the Carpenter, has not only built the bridge, but Jesus is also the bridge. God has come over the Jesus bridge to us. Although in our good intentions, we have built a beautiful place along the river, God’s relentless love, will not allow our creeks, our ideologies, our rituals, nor our requirements to get in the way of God’s love for God’s people. When we least expect it, the carpenter shows up to give us what we need.
Imagine Jesus as the bridge. We’re expecting a fence and he builds a bridge. A bridge of grace. His toolbox? A Roman cross. His outstretched hands looked out upon those who hang him there and declared, “Father forgive them, for they know not what they do.” His work? Grace!
So, what if the Jesus bridge is grace? Let me ask you again, what fear or anxiety would you have to overcome? What would you have to set aside to extend grace to hurting and hungry people? How much grace do you need to offer faith, hope, love, and dignity to the people in your neighborhood, community, or city?
Let me offer a suggestion. Give the carpenter the materials, he will build just what you need.
Now, imagine your church…