Forgiveness...a Bridge to Everything

Sep. 17, 2017

Ex 14.19-31; Ro 14.1-12; Mt 18.13-35

Back in the 1970's Simon and Garfunkel had a number one song entitled, "Bridge Over Troubled Water." I was in seminary at the time in the San Francisco Bay area. I remember a local radio station had a contest where they played the song over and over and over again all day long, and the contest was to guess how many times they'd played the song throughout the day. The durability of the song through the years rests on its touching and moving lyrics.

That's exactly the situation of the people of Israel in the OT reading today. They needed a bridge to escape the advancing Egyptian army which intended to murder them and they had the placid Red Sea at their backs blocking any hope of escape. They were literally between the proverbial rock and a hard place. Even though God's hand was temporarily preventing the Egyptians from harming them...the question was how could they escape the wrath of Pharaoh's chariots and arrows? If only they had a way over the water they would be safe. So, God made a way where there was no way...God became for them a mighty bridge builder. And the waters parted and the people walked through the waters on dry land to safety...because God made a bridge to deliver them. And not only that, when the army of Pharaoh tried to use the same bridge, it collapsed and they were drowned in the Red Sea waters.

In the very next chapter of Exodus beyond this part of the story...after Pharaoh's army had been vanquished, Miriam, the sister of Moses grabs her tambourine and dances as she proclaims, "I will sing to the Lord, for he is lofty and uplifted; the horse and rider has he hurled into the sea. The Lord is my strength and my refuge; the Lord has become my savior." That's the way we are supposed to be...depending upon, counting upon the Lord for our deliverance. But what about those times when we don't use God's deliverance, but rather misuse the bridges which God provides? Here's an example.

Despair has driven some 1,600 people to jump from the Golden Gate Bridge since it opened in 1937. Desperate jumpers have come from all over the United States and the world to die there. It's estimated that the jumpers from the moment they let go of the rail to the moment they hit the water are traveling at 80 miles an hour. It tears apart their internal organs or pushes broken ribs into the heart or lungs. Others, if not killed by the impact, drown in the icy waters of the bay. These are people who, in a very perverse way, also see the bridge as a means of deliverance from trouble. Over the years, fewer than thirty people have survived the jump. Every single one of them reports that as they let go of the bridge railing and began the 220 foot tumble to the waters below, they all reported an overwhelming sense of regret sweep over them. So, in this instance a bridge is not a God given reprieve from life's troubles.

When God opened a way in the waters of the Red Sea, a whole nation was able to survive. It was to have been Pharaoh's holocaust...to eliminate, and annihilate this entire people. So, this bridge that God built was important because it provided a way for a whole people to survive. Sometimes peoples' hopes in God are mocked, belittled, or dismissed, but whatever the cost God wants to bring us over. Contrary to the case a few years ago, when Congress was asked to appropriate funds for a $380 million dollar bridge in Alaska. It was to have been longer than the Golden Gate Bridge and higher than the Brooklyn Bridge in NYC to connect the town of Ketchikan, Alaska with a nearby island where the Ketchikan International Airport and 50 people live. Since the ferry between island and mainland only carried about 500 people a day, it was anticipated that the bridge would carry very few people. Cynics labeled the project, "the bridge to nowhere". But here's the difference between the bridges that God builds and the ones we may or may not build...everyone, to a person who uses God's bridge to salvation and hope is important...even if it's just you or me! God wants to build a bridge for all of us to cross over to receive grace and to live in hope.

Sometimes things happen that leave us feeling isolated, deserted, or bereft of alternatives in moving forward with our lives. We may find ourselves hemmed in by debt or by harassment from vindictive or unloving people or the things on which we had pinned our hopes, just haven't materialized. These are the times when we need a bridge. When we look death in the face or when there seems to be no way forward, we need a bridge. The thing is when we forgive the debts of others, when we show love toward our neighbors, and when we forgive others as we have been forgiven... then we open a way for others and ourselves to find new life (as in the parable that Jesus tells in the gospel story today). Forgiveness leads to forgiveness...unless we refuse to cross that bridge. When Christ died for us, it was so that we could be God's grace-filled children. Jesus was pointing the way through him to this grace-filled life. Jesus was saying, "Like a bridge over troubled water, I will lay me down". Because Jesus is the way, the truth and the life...he is our bridge to God. Amen.


The Reverend WA Ray
St Thomas Church Diamondhead, MS 09/17/17