BRIDGES ~ Part I ~ Architecture

Characters, in order of appearance:
God Male Female

(As the scene opens, God is working at work bench, molding, sculpting, making God toys)

(The male enters.)

MALE: Dear God...I -

GOD: Yo.

(The female enters, almost running into the male.)

FEMALE: Wait! I'm first!

MALE: Why???

FEMALE: Ladies first, bucko.

MALE: What happened to "equality", being treated as an equal?

FEMALE: It is a lady's prerogative to change her mind...

MALE: Funny, I...

FEMALE: ...as well as the rules.

MALE: ...knew you were going to say that.

(The male and female pantomime shoring up a wall between them.)

GOD: Children...hello???

(Neither of them is listening to God.)

GOD: Do the words - I'M HERE FOR YOU - ring any bells???

(They stop their wall building and drop to their knees to pray.)

FEMALE: Thou magnificent Father to whom all power-eth and glory-eth are seen in all thy wonderest ways-eth. To whom-est, I, woman, made as Your perfect handiwork AFTER you made that first draft called MAN over there...

MALE: AHEM!!! I would like the beauty and poetry of the woman to whom is over THERE, to do me -- as well as the rest of the known world -- a very BIG favor and simply DISAPPEAR!

GOD: Sigh. Cats never give me this kind of problem.

FEMALE: A woman needs many things in life. Nothing major...

MALE: The world is a big place -- ha, well, I should be tellin' You, ha!...

FEMALE: ...something...simple...

MALE: ...full of dreams, living on the edge, yeah, pushing the edge of the envelope is HOW life should be lived!

FEMALE: ...like the TRUTH!

(Turning to her)

MALE: I never lied to you. I just never promised you anything except love and never a dull moment. You don't take risks.

FEMALE: You take too MANY of them. A woman wants to be held in security and in the knowledge that she will be fed, cared for, have a roof over her head, and NEVER EVER TAKE RISKS!

GOD: Excuse Me? May I interject...

MALE/FEMALE: NO!!!!!!!!

FEMALE: I want tradition. Because without tradition we are voyagers on an ocean of insecurity wherein we have no knowledge of what will happen next.

MALE: Cool, isn't it?

FEMALE: (sighs) Men. WHY did there have to be men???

MALE: In the dictionary beside the words logical and practical as well as BORING there's a picture of YOU!

FEMALE: If looks could kill, you'd be dead meat, bubba.

GOD: This is a real stupid question -- why can't you two get along???

FEMALE: The wall.

GOD: What wall? I didn't make a wall between man and woman.

FEMALE: It's right here! I'll show You. Geez, you're God, can't You...
(realizes to whom she is speaking)
Oops. Heh-heh. A little humor there.

GOD: No worries. I made humans, so I must have a sense of humor.

MALE: We made this wall to protect ourselves.

FEMALE: It's a dirty job, but somebody had to build it.

GOD: Protect? Build? What???

MALE: (starts to say something...hesitates, then) I swear I knew a minute ago.

FEMALE: These are walls that are defined by our differences...(turning to the male)...Which there certainly many of! (pauses) I - hate - you.

(The male, a little taken aback...stunned)

GOD: What is wrong with difference? Common ground is a good goal to explore...you shouldn't be building walls of separation. Be building foundations...

FEMALE: Foundation from what?

GOD: Start by...
(Seeing the male still in shock, walks over to him)
What's wrong?

MALE: She hates me.

GOD: (putting an arm around him) That just means she LIKES you.

MALE: (brightening) Cool.

FEMALE: Spare me.

GOD: That's the point, actually.

MALE/FEMALE: Hmmm?

GOD: Are you both REALLY happy with your wall?
(as they both grovel) REALLY???

FEMALE: Well...no...but it seemed like a good thing at the time.

MALE: She's cute but impossible.

FEMALE: He's male, clueless, which is, in fact, LATIN for male, but...
(stops, thinks) What was that about foundation?

MALE: Yeah, He didn't answer.

GOD: Oh, I always answer. Just some people don't listen. And some people don't wait for a reply.

MALE/FEMALE: ...oh.

GOD: Foundation for any relationship is bringing together the things which we can agree, communicate, live and breathe on. Constructing walls does nothing but separate the color, the wonderful world of what we could have...walls only keep out the light of what might be.

FEMALE: We need building blocks...

MALE: ...of a different kind of structure...

GOD: You need to learn to find, to use, common ground, to connect. And that's called a bridge.

MALE: That's a lot of doing.

FEMALE: (to the male) Yeah, a lot of getting out of your arm chair quarterbacking and turning off the world and tuning into God!!! Ha! Men!!!

(He almost had them, now they're getting nowhere again)

MALE: That's how we broke up, you know! You're so demanding!!! So tight with your thinking.

FEMALE: Have you EVER done anything in any practical way that was ever remotely...practical?

MALE: Ha! Better than being b-o-r-i-n-g!

FEMALE: Building bridges, ha! You couldn't spend two seconds in a row doing the same thing if it was merely BREATHING!

MALE: Oh, yeah???

(They both turn, arms crossed, and stare away from each other)

GOD: Humans. WHY did there have to be humans? I should have stopped after I made woodchucks!

~ CURTAIN ~


FROM WALLS TO BRIDGES
TEXT: Luke 5:12-15

Never fear. We will not abandon our distressed couple to such a lonely fate. In fact, God has revealed to me that if we work with them a bit each week for the next three weeks, God will help them find a way to bridge their differences. Funny how their broken relationship should surface just at the time of our stewardship campaign and our theme of building bridges.

If you remember our theme from last year, we actually are sitting at the same place as this troubled couple. We agreed last year that the walls which divide us need to come down. Now we sit with a pile of bricks at our feet and wonder what to do next. The answer, I think, is to build bridges.

You see, just because we have gotten rid of a wall does not mean we necessarily are connected either to God or to others. It's good that we're rid of the obstacle we put up, but often there are still gaps between us that take some work to overcome. They could be natural gaps arising from differences like personality, gender, race, or culture; or they could be gaps we created when we built walls of hurt, hatred, or misunderstanding. Even when those walls come down, there might still be holes left that need some attention. To overcome those gaps we need a bridge...a two-way structure that actually makes it possible for estranged individuals or groups to connect.

I think the Gospel lesson for this morning illustrates the point. It's a brief story, which is related in three of the four Gospel accounts. Jesus is hanging around town and a man with leprosy appears on the scene. To really understand this story, you need to know some things about leprosy in Jesus' day. The leper was an outcast because of his contagious disease. They were forced to live outside of town in a leper camp. Even as recently as the late 1800's there are descriptions of leper colonies in this country that would make your blood run cold, and I can't imagine it was any different 2,000 years ago. But the leper in Jesus's day had more than health issues to deal with. Not only was it a health issue, it was a religious issue. To have leprosy was to be in a state of what the Jews called "uncleanness," which meant they could not participate in the religious life of Israel...nothing unclean could enter the presence of God. To be "unclean" in Jesus's day was the Biblical equivalent of being excommunicated.

Not only was anyone with leprosy considered "unclean," but anybody who touched someone with leprosy would also become unclean. So the law developed that whenever a leper left the camp and came into town, he or she had to stop every few steps and shout "Unclean! Unclean!" so that people would not touch them by accident and become unclean or catch the disease. Given that there was no cure for leprosy, the leper spent life as an outcast...shunned by all without even minimal human touch. No one patted them on the shoulder, gave them a hug, shook their hand...nothing. And if they wanted even to see normal life, they had to interrupt every few seconds to cry "Unclean! Unclean!"

So Jesus is in town, and he probably hears the leper coming before he sees him. Soon the leper is not only in view, but has fallen down before Jesus with his face to the ground saying, "Lord, if you are willing, you can make me clean." At this point there is a huge gulf between them. Jesus is clean; the leper is unclean. Jesus is healthy; the leper has an incurable and terrible disease. Jesus is a religious leader; the leper is barred from religious practice. And from his side of the gulf, the leper falls down on his face and begs Jesus to bridge the gap. "Lord, if you are willing, you can make me clean."

From all of that, maybe you can understand the impact of what Jesus did next. Jesus reached out his hand...his healthy, non-leprous, holy and clean hand...and he touched the man. Even before he said anything, he touched him. The one who had not felt human touch perhaps for years, the one who was barred from the temple, the one whose presence made grown men flee...the leper felt the touch of God. "I am willing," says Jesus, "Be clean." Jesus bridges the chasm between himself and the leper and instead of Jesus catching the leprosy, the leper is healed.

Jesus is making a point. Jesus did not have to touch the man. First, he could have refused to heal him, but even if he chose to heal him, Jesus still didn't have to touch him. There are other places in the Bible where Jesus heals people from a distance, without ever laying eyes on them, let alone touching them. The touch is not necessary for the physical healing. But the touch says volumes more than would have been conveyed if Jesus just declared the man well. Jesus is physically involved with the healing. He makes a bridge with his body so that the side of life and health and God can be physically connected to sickness and death and humanity in its outcast state.

Jesus touching the leper is, in fact, what Jesus coming to earth is all about. What we celebrate at Christmas is God creating a physical bridge across the gulf that divided human beings from God. It is a bridge to spiritual health and wholeness; a bridge to life; a bridge by which we can reach God and God can reach us, and we will talk more about that in the coming weeks.

In the story of the leper is both a comfort and a challenge. The comfort is that when we are in the state of the leper...when we are cast out and cast down...when it seems like everybody runs at the mere sight of us...Jesus is willing to stop and put a hand on our shoulder. However much we may be separated from others, we need never be separated from God. However much we may feel dead and condemned, Jesus can still provide life and freedom. We need not be unclean forever. We need only to ask.

But there is also a challenge in Jesus' actions to those of us who claim to be disciples of Jesus. The role of the disciple is to learn from the teacher so that we might do the things the teacher does. In practical terms, that means that if Jesus' touches lepers, we need to be touching lepers. Many of you know the story of Father Damien. He did this in a literal sense as he became the priest of a leper settlement in Hawaii in the late 1800's. The Catholic Encyclopedia reports that Father Damien "not only administered the consolations of religion, but also rendered them such little medical service and bodily comforts as were within his power. He dressed their ulcers, helped them erect their cottages, and went so far as to dig their graves and make their coffins."

Not surprisingly, Father Damien eventually contracted leprosy himself and died in the same colony he went to serve 15 years earlier, reporting what an honor it was to die of the same disease as those he served. He was willing to build a bridge to the lepers by which he crossed to them and they could cross to him.

Of course not every calling is so dramatic or well-known. But if you say you are a follower of Jesus...which is what "Christian" means...you are called to build bridges, as Jesus did. We are called to reach out to the despised and rejected...to the ones who are feared and shunned...and to bridge the gap between them and us. Think about what that means.

Sending a check to those less fortunate is not building a bridge. Sending a check is a gift, and I'm not saying it's bad to give gifts. By all means we should be sharing our wealth with others. But I do want to say that our responsibility and our calling does not end with sending a check. Jesus made a bridge with his body. He was physically present with the outcast and reached out and touched the leper. When we send a check, it is a one way system. The money flows from us to them. A bridge is a two-way thing. It allows us to approach others, but it also allows others to approach us. To build a bridge is to be open to contact with the one on the other side.

This summer Donna and Bruce built a bridge when they went to Romania to care for AIDS babies. We began to build a bridge with an African-American congregation in Boston when Rev. Martin McLee and the dancers from Union UMC came to grace our tent revival. Whenever you have visited someone who was hurting; whenever you have swallowed your pride and made the first call to mend a broken relationship; whenever you have brought a meal, held a hand, or done anything for someone beyond your comfort zone, you have built a bridge.

As Barb plays the familiar hymn "He Touched Me," I invite you to take a few moments and think about what bridges God might be calling you to build. Who are the lepers that you run from? Is it a group of people? Is it a particular individual or a particular type of person? Who exactly is it that stands on the other side of a great gulf that neither of you can cross because there is no bridge? Are you willing to reach across? Are you willing to be reached? You can come to the rail to pray or sit in your seat and think or jot down notes or pictures on your bulletin. But reflect on these things.

Is God calling you to build a bridge?

Amen.

Skit 2002, Jim Goddard
Sermon 2002, Anne Robertson


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