Building Bridges

WISDOM READINGS:

John 10:1-16
‘Very truly, I tell you, anyone who does not enter the sheepfold by the gate but climbs in by another way is a thief and a bandit. The one who enters by the gate is the shepherd of the sheep. The gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep hear his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes ahead of them, and the sheep follow him because they know his voice. They will not follow a stranger, but they will run from him because they do not know the voice of strangers.’ Jesus used this figure of speech with them, but they did not understand what he was saying to them.
So again, Jesus said to them, ‘Very truly, I tell you, I am the gate for the sheep. All who came before me are thieves and bandits; but the sheep did not listen to them. I am the gate. Whoever enters by me will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture. The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly. ‘I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. The hired hand, who is not the shepherd and does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and runs away—and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. The hired hand runs away because a hired hand does not care for the sheep. I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father. And I lay down my life for the sheep. I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd.

Rumi
My religion is, to live through Love.

Message – “Building Bridges”

The passage from John is a familiar one to a large number of us. The passage about Jesus being the Good Shepherd and his caring for his sheep. The author tells us Jesus calls his own by name, and his own follow because they know his voice. We are told in the story; Jesus used this figure of speech and they did not understand.

It is common for me as well, especially in the Gospel of John. The author of John has a lofty, poetic, even sometimes surreal feel to it. I can often get lost in the words and it is often difficult to discern what story is trying to convey.

However, he goes on trying a little different tact. “I am the gate for the sheep,” the author tells us Jesus says, “I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me.” And at the end of the reading today, we hear the words, “I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold. I must bring them also.” It is an interesting comment, subject to much interpretation.

In today’s context I hear those words as we continue to live into this different, sometimes confusing, sometimes painful, sad, uncertain, grief laden, and disconnected reality. What does it mean, “There are others that do not belong to this fold?” As I read, I ponder the word “other” … different, not like me, not like you. That even though we share a common humanity within the context of community, and we struggle to be one, we are different, we are diverse, we do not all think the same, believe the same, we do not all know the same things, practice the same, we are different. And sometimes those differences collide.

Watching the news, experiencing our communities and churches I look across the landscape of all that is going on right now. Listening to briefings, watching as armed protestors storm state buildings, some abiding by distancing and wearing masks, some not, some churches gathering for worship in person, and struggles, grief, and pain with a church in conflict. I titled my message Building Bridges as a message of hope in the midst of heartache, anger, and a feeling of uncertainty about the future.

It is not easy to build a bridge when it feels like the world, our nation, our community, and our church is broken. It is not easy to build a bridge when it feels like the bridges we already have are crumbling beneath our feet. And in the midst of all of this, the priority of coming together today here at FUMC to celebrate our seniors. We are in difficult times, and yet we choose to celebrate these gifted seniors and their accomplishments and hopes for the future.

So, how do we get from the “othering” of our existence, through the conflict, struggle, heartache, anger, and grief to find common ground on which to not only move toward healing, but to celebrate today? Bear with me for a few moments…
I want to share a story by Malik Mirza

There was a father who left 17 camels as an asset for his three sons. When the father passed away, his sons opened up the will.

Will of the father stated that the eldest son should get half of 17 camels while the middle son should be given 1/3rd (one-third). The youngest son should be given 1/9th (one-ninth) of the 17 camels.

As it is not possible to divide 17 into half or 17 by 3 or 17 by 9, three sons started to fight with each other. How can they divide their father’s inheritance?

How does one divide 17 camels among three sons as prescribed in their father’s will?

Building bridges in the midst of conflict and the unknown in which our country, community, and church exists is difficult work. Community itself is difficult work. It takes vulnerability and courage to be willing to share one’s grief, support, anger, hope, questions, and concerns in the midst of conflict and uncertainty and to listen, hear, and stay engaged in the process toward hope and healing when everything seems so broken and crumbling around us. Community is hard work, especially when it feels broken.

The story continues…

So, three sons decided to go to a wise man.
The wise man listened patiently about the whole matter of dividing 17 camels as follows:
½ to the eldest son, 1/3rd to the middle son and 1/9th to the youngest – How is it possible?
So, the wise man, after giving this thought, brought one camel of his own and added the same to 17. That increased the total to 18 camels.
Now, he started reading the deceased father’s will.
Half of 18 = 9. So he gave the eldest son 9 camels
1/3rd of 18 = 6. So he gave the middle son 6 camels
1/9th of 18 = 2. So he gave the youngest son 2 camels.
9 plus 6 plus 2 is 17 and this leaves one camel, which the wise man took away.

In the story, beginning the journey toward healing and resolution is to find the 18th camel, or the common ground. Once a person is able to find the 18th, the common ground, it facilitates a beginning of moving forward to finding resolution to the struggles our nation, community, and church face. It is difficult work, and at times, it is not easy at all. Community is hard work.

What is 18th camel? What is our common ground? Perhaps our common humanity and place in the world and our nation. Perhaps it is our desire to be an active force in the community for mercy, justice, and compassion. Perhaps it is our deep love of this church and our desire to find ways to heal our wounds.

Perhaps it is looking toward those like our seniors this morning. These youth, and so many others, should be a part of our common ground. It is common to say the youth are our future. I prefer to say, especially as I have watched and listened to our youth and these seniors here at FUMC with their strength, passion, grace, and commitment, I say these are not just our future… these three, Abby, Ellie, Blake… and so many others are our now, and we should be listening to them about building bridges and healing broken communities and hope. Keep them in your prayers, keep our church, our community, our nation, and our world in your prayers.

Think on these things. I am grateful for you. Amen.