Sunday, August 23, 2009

Building Bridges ... and not just in the sky!

It’s not something you can see from Cheltenham.

I saw it only once in the fortnight we were in Cornwall.

But when I did see it, there it was in all its splendour!

The Milky Way streaks across the sky and it’s quite possible to see why the Chinese thought of it as a mighty river.

Look at the stars of the summer triangle and the wonderful Chinese story of the herd boy and the weaving girl separated by the impassable river has to be one of the best of the stories of the night sky!

The Chinese story has the great bird, we think of as Cygnus, the Swan, flying the length of the river and as the bird’s wings span the river so the herd boy and the weaving girl are able to meet each other once again!

Lovely story.

When I look for Cygnus the swan, I always see a cross. Not for nothing is that constellation sometimes known as the Northern Cross.

I love that picture of Christ as the bridge builder across the impassable chasm!

That verse in 1 John 4.9 says it all … God showed his love for us by sending his only Son into the world.

It works for me in a number of ways.

There are times when we can feel as if there is an impassable gulf between us and God.

God stands for all that is good. We strive after all that is good. But time and again we fall far short of the ideal. There seems to be a gulf between us and God.

Christ is the one who bridges that gulf. On the one hand he is one with God and in Christ’s teaching we can see all the good God wants us to live by in our lives.

But at the same time he touches us in all our weakness with a wonderful forgiving love. Christ embodies God’s way of goodness, but his love reaches out to those who most blatantly fail to follow that path – to Zacchaeus he offers a forgiving love that gives him the opportunity to begin all over again, to the woman caught in adultery he refuses to condemn and offers a new start, supremely on the cross of those who have carried out his execution he says, Father forgive them.

As 1 John 4.9-10 goes on to say, God showed his love for us by sending his only Son into the world … to be the means by which our sins are forgiven. Look to the cross and see the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world and find that it is as if the cross bridges the gulf between us and God. We are forgiven, we may begin all over again – and discover a new way of living in God’s way for the world.

There’s another way for me when a chasm opens up between us and God. We build up in our mind’s eye an image of God as all knowing, all powerful, all loving. That’s God, over there. The other side of the chasm.

But over here in the real world things go wrong, things fall apart, things are not as they should be. And a gulf opens up between us and God. On the large scale, but closer to home as we are aware of sadnesses that creep up and then sweep us away as they overwhelm.

It’s not enough to have a picture theoretically of God as all knowing, all powerful, all loving. If that’s just a sense of God that you have the chasm is indeed impassable at times.

I want to focus on the one who bridges the gap. I want to focus on Christ. For me it is as if in Christ this God who is all-powerful, all seeing, all loving comes alongside us – crosses over to our side of the chasm if you like. Look to Christ and what do you see, one who shares with us in our weakness and frailty. So when a close friend, Lazarus, dies, Jesus too weeps. In those moments of agony on the cross, Jesus too cries out, My God, my God why have you abandoned me?

Jesus is with us, feeling with us, sharing with us precisely at that moment when we can but weep, precisely at that moment of feeling God-forsaken. He is there sharing in our every weakness.

He is the strength alongside to help us through the difficulty.

Both of these images are captured by the writer of the letter to the Hebrews

He speaks of Jesus as ‘the great High Priest’ What is interesting is to unpack the idea of the priest. In Latin the word for priest is Pontifex. That in turn comes from two words, pons, meaning bridge, and facio meaning to make. The priest is the ‘bridge-builder’ the one who bridges the gulf between us and God. And Jesus is the great high priest, the supreme bridge builder who bridges the gap. He does so because he knows our every weakness, and shares the very vulnerability that makes us so intensely aware of the chasm.

Hebrews 4:14-16

Let us, then, hold firmly to the faith we profess. For we have a great High Priest who has gone into the very presence of God — Jesus, the Son of God. Our High Priest is not one who cannot feel sympathy for our weaknesses. On the contrary, we have a High Priest who was tempted in every way that we are, but did not sin. Let us have confidence, then, and approach God's throne, where there is grace. There we will receive mercy and find grace to help us just when we need it.

That image of the cross spanning the chasm is so powerful.

It is such a powerful image … and a wonderful invitation. Feeling a chasm between us and God because we cannot live up to the ideal? Feeling a chasm between us and God because events are overwhelming us? Look to Christ, cross over that bridge that spans the chasm and with confidence let us approach God’s throne, where there is grace. There we will receive mercy and find grace to help us just when we need it!

And when we find that grace, and find the help we need … what then?

That then has to make a difference to us. The picture of the cross spanning the chasm works in a third way for me as well.

The promise of grace and help just when we need it, leads on to the challenge – our task is to be ‘bridge-builders’, and to support the work of bridge-building. It was wonderful to welcome Peter and Yousef to our Palestinian Supper evening on Wednesday, when we raised £1502-50 for the people Joanne supports in Bethlehem. It was Peter who organised our visit to the Scout group – and it was great beside the pictures of the Bethlehem scout camp in the corridor to talk about building partnerships with the scouts in Bethlehem.

Then on Friday and Saturday I stumbled across the East West Divan Orchestra at the Proms. The Jewish Daniel Barenboim spoke of the way he had got together with the Muslim Edward Saieed 10 years ago with the intention of getting Arab and Israeli muicians together to talk to one another and to listen to each other’s stories. Little did he dream then that ten years on a Promenade concert would include Saeed’s nephew as the pianist and Barenboim’s son, Michael, as the violinist in a piece by Alban Berg in three parts, Love, Friendship and the World. Those young people get together and they fiercely support their own perspective on the Middle East – but they listen to each other’s very different narrative. And maybe in the making of music something happens where differences exist side by side and yet in harmony with each other.

Where are the bridges we can be involved in building?

So much to pass on at Highbury

If you give a little love you can get a little love of your own

A blessing shared at Highbury

Now and the Future at Highbury

Dreaming Dreams Sharing Visions at Highbury

Dreaming Dreams Sharing Visions

Darkness into Light