For What It’s Worth…Bridge Building
It was 7:33am on May 9th, 1980 and I was riding with my older sister Sherry to High School in St. Petersburg when the reports over the radio started coming in: The Sunshine Skyway Bridge had just collapsed into Tampa Bay. A storm-blinded freighter Summit Venture crashed into the support columns of the bridge, causing a 1,200 foot span of the bridge to collapse into the bay. We eventually came to learn that 35 people died that day as 6 cars, a truck, and a greyhound bus plunged 150 feet into the waters below. It took 7 years to rebuild that bridge, designed, of course, to withstand strikes from errant vessels - as they pass underneath the new bridge’s impressive arch.
Bridges play a rather important function in our life together: keeping us connected, facilitating commerce, opening channels of travel. So, it may surprise you to learn that we, as a country, are a little delinquent in maintaining these communal arteries. A 60 Minutes report in 2014 by Steve Kroft reached an unsettling conclusion: “Tens of millions of Americans cross over bridges every day without giving it much thought, unless they hit a pothole. But the infrastructure problem goes much deeper than pavement. It goes to crumbling concrete and corroded steel and the fact that nearly 70,000 bridges in America – one out of every nine – is now considered to be structurally deficient.”
I bring up the topic of bridges, because I find in “the bridge” a powerful reminder of our calling as disciples of Jesus. Jesus came and built a bridge which none of us could ever construct, crossing the chasm of sin and disobedience, to unite us with God. Just as physical bridges are needed in our life together as Americans so also are bridges needed in our life together as people of God.
So, if God’s love led Jesus to build a bridge for us, we should consider bridge building a very foundational calling of a disciple (one who seeks to follow). In continuing the mission of God in our world, we should take it as our daily challenge to continue the work of bridge creation and maintenance in the communities where we live. Sometimes we, as God’s followers, do that well and other times - not so much.
Why do we underachieve on this calling sometimes? One reason, I have observed, is that it is all too easy to fear (or even hate) the things of this world that we do not understand. It is a natural reaction - to be wary of things we don’t fully grasp, but if we are called to be bridge builders – well, that helps guide our direction as we interact with the “unknown.” As followers of Jesus, and as bridge builders, we are called to live in communion (in relationship). We are called to live in communion, not only with our sisters and brothers in Christ, but with everyone on this earth. How do we do that? - Bridge building.
Building bridges can be messy and controversial work. Paul certainly faced that challenge as he constructed bridges for the mission to the Gentiles – which caused quite a stir in the early Church. Paul rightly discerned God is about the work of breaking down barriers and uniting all people through the work of Jesus. The saying goes, “If you are going to build a bridge you have to get down in the water.”
Building bridges instead of walls is not easy, but bridge building is the work to which Jesus has called us.
Friends, this summer, build bridges not walls.