June 20, 2021 Building Bridges: No Boundaries by Pastor David

2 Corinthians 8:7-15 Now as you excel in everything—in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in utmost eagerness, and in our love for you—so we want you to excel also in this generous undertaking. 8 I do not say this as a command, but I am testing the genuineness of your love against the earnestness of others. 9 For you know the generous act of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that by his poverty you might become rich. 10 And in this matter I am giving my advice: it is appropriate for you who began last year not only to do something but even to desire to do something— 11 now finish doing it, so that your eagerness may be matched by completing it according to your means. 12 For if the eagerness is there, the gift is acceptable according to what one has—not according to what one does not have. 13 I do not mean that there should be relief for others and pressure on you, but it is a question of a fair balance between 14 your present abundance and their need, so that their abundance may be for your need, in order that there may be a fair balance. 15 As it is written, “The one who had much did not have too much, and the one who had little did not have too little.”

We take a moment to allow the breath of God to move through us and allow us to open ourselves to the message God would have us hear today. 

June 20, 2021 Building Bridges: No Boundaries

Twenty-five years ago, Cathy and I walked into the parlor of St. Luke church. District Superintendent Alfred Johnson introduced us to the Pastor Parish Relations team. I think Elaine McDermott and Sue Lomax were there. I don’t remember who else. Everybody was very nice to each other. There were definitely unsaid concerns on both sides though. The PPRC was concerned that I would come in and change things too fast. I was worried that suburban ministry just wasn’t for me. All my ministry had been in the city. Friends were teasing me that I would last at St. Luke about 2 years - 3 max. 


As it turned out, since I had just adopted a child, I was not in a hurry to change things at St. Luke and the people here were very patient with me, and we got along fine for a couple of years, and then a couple more, and then a few more. I waited for things to sour somehow - and they never did. 
I can’t help being in a reflective mood as we approach the 25 year celebration next week. I’m not retiring - or dying. This milestone is an amazing time to look back and reflect on what has made 25 years possible- 25 good years (picture before the bridge is built).


I was telling Terri yesterday that early on I decided that an important part of my ministry was going to be building bridges between the suburbs and the city. Since I continued to live in West Philadelphia and had so many connections there, it seemed like a good thing to do. As it turned out, folks out here were receptive to those connections and appreciated that part of my ministry.

 
At least you appreciated it enough to give me permission and room to continue to do the work of building bridges and doing the anti-racism work that I have been so passionate about. I kept growing and people here kept growing and learning and it has been a very fruitful time - especially in the last few years. It has turned out to be the right time to do this work of building bridges between city and suburb, and among religious groups. 

Building bridges is what I see Paul being focused on as well in this letter to the Corinthians. It sounds like a stewardship talk and indeed this passage is often used by preachers during stewardship season - because Paul was trying to get the people of Corinth to meet a pledge they had made a year before he wrote this letter.


He was trying to raise money for the Jewish community in Jerusalem. From what he says, the urban Jewish community needed help. Even more than that though, Paul was trying build bridges between the Gentile converts he had been recruiting and ministering to out in the hinterlands and the Jewish folks he had left behind back in Jerusalem. This was a crucial mission. The whole religious experiment hung in the balance. He felt that building the bridge back to the Jewish community he had come from was critical to keep peace and to make new things possible. It was not easy going.
Paul tried to convince the Corinthians to give out of their abundance, first by flattering them, then by comparing them to another community that was giving more, and finally, and most effectively, by giving them the example of Jesus, who gave up everything so they could be liberated. Paul puts it, “though Jesus was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that by his poverty you might become rich.” 

Paul was correct that his society was at a turning point. The Christian movement was part of a major change that began to turn from a society based on honor and shame, to one based on compassion and care. We are still working on that, and today we are still being called to build bridges between and among communities. And we are called to walk on them.


The declaration of Juneteenth as a national holiday this week is just one more sign of the kind of bridges being built between suburb and city, between rich and poor, between white and Black people. The changes that are happening, seem to be happening quickly to some, and to others seem like they are long past due. Those of us on the reluctant side of history, find ourselves sometimes frightened about the pace of change and what the change is going to mean for traditions and lifestyles that we hold dear. 


You may have heard the condemnation of “critical race theory” as the indication of some of that fear. I’ll be glad to tell you what critical race theory is and what that argument is about sometime. I listened in on three local school board meetings this week and each one of them had mention of critical race theory, with hardly anybody knowing what they were talking about. 


It’s simply a sign of the level of fear in our society - fear of change, fear of accountability, fear of not just building bridges, but actually walking on them. Paul’s words may actually speak to the fears and help us find our way to make new connections. Paul says, “I do not mean that there should be relief for others and pressure on you, but it is a question of a fair balance between 14 your present abundance and their need, so that their abundance may be for your need, in order that there may be a fair balance. 15 As it is written, “The one who had much did not have too much, and the one who had little did not have too little.””


Paul calls for a fair balance as he seeks to build bridges between the old society and God’s new reality. We seek a fair balance as we build bridges between the old society and a new reality. These changes are happening and they will go better if we flow with them rather than let our fears guide us to anger and trying to obstruct the building of bridges. This week the state will pass their budget and we are working to have included that fair funding for schools all across the commonwealth. A fair balance is not likely to be reached, but we keep moving that direction.


God is the one building the bridges, whether we are aware of them or not. God has been among us encouraging a fair balance, encouraging a sharing and an easing of fears. God just wants us to try out the bridges that are being built as a blessing for all people. We are blessed to be in a place to help each other past our fears to the new reality God is inviting us to. This is God’s good news.


For our responsive song we are going to sing a song that I heard almost every day growing up. My father would sing “Are Ye Able” in the shower almost every day. I can hear him today singing it with confidence and strength. Are ye able, said the master, to be crucified with me? The song overestimates our abilities to walk with Jesus, to step onto the bridge that God is building for us - especially if it involves sacrifice, but I can hear my Dad singing it, and I admire his intention and his desire to follow the way of Jesus. Maybe we can sing or hear this old favorite with a little of that confidence and promise that we will step out in faith. 

Responsive Hymn:  530 Are Ye Able