I want to share a poem for you written by Will Allen Dromgoole entitled, “The Bridge Builder.”
An old man going a lone highway,
Came, at the evening cold and gray,
To a chasm vast and deep and wide.
Through which was flowing a sullen tide
The old man crossed in the twilight dim,
The sullen stream had no fear for him;
But he turned when safe on the other side
And built a bridge to span the tide.
“Old man,” said a fellow pilgrim near,
“You are wasting your strength with building here;
Your journey will end with the end day,
You never again will pass this way;
You’ve crossed the chasm, deep and wide,
Why build this bridge at evening tide?”
The builder lifted his old gray head;
“Good friend, in the path I have come,” he said,
“There followed after me to-day
A youth whose feet must pass this way.
This chasm that has been as naught to me
To that fair-haired youth may a pitfall be;
He, too, must cross in the twilight dim;
Good friend, I am building this bridge for him!”
This simple poem comes with a clear moral message. A message which is all about caring for others. It’s all about loving your neighbor and especially when there is no obligation to do so. This old man has lived his life and is near the end of it. And even though he won’t be using the bridge, he thinks about and builds the bridge for those who will need it who will come after him.
Jesus, continuing his conversation from a few chapters ago, a conversation which we got in on a couple of weeks ago when we heard the parables of the lost sheep, the lost coin. We then moved on through last week to the parable of the lost son and the parable of the shrewd manager. This morning, our gospel lesson is about another rich man. But instead of talking about life in this world, Jesus shifts His focus and is taking us out of this life as He brings us into the next one.
If you remember from the gospel reading, you have a rich man who is dresses in purple and fine lines who lives in luxury every day (Luke 16:19). The rich man had it all, he was living the life to the fullest, he didn’t have a care to worry about, he was simply living the dream.
But right outside of the gated entrance to his home you had this other man, this beggar named Lazarus. Lazarus is covered in sores. He’s starving as he longs to eat the scraps and whatever else which falls from the rich man’s table. Lazarus is so weak that he can’t keep the dogs from licking his open sores.
Both of these men die. When Lazarus died, angels carried him to Abraham’s side. When the rich man died, he went to hell. Lazarus is enjoying the blessings of eternal life in heaven while the rich man in hell is in torment and is suffering miserably.
While in hell, this suffering rich man looks up and in a distance he can see Abraham with Lazarus at his side. He calls out for them to have pity on him. “Send Lazarus over here to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue. I am in anguish in these flames” (Luke 16:24 NLT). A simple, kind thing to do right? Look at Abraham’s response though. “Son, remember that during your lifetime you had everything you wanted, and Lazarus had nothing. So now he is here being comforted, and you are in anguish. And besides, there is a great chasm separating us. No one can cross over to you from here, and no one can cross over to us from there” (16:25-26 NLT).
It’s like Abraham wants to help, but he can’t. The rich man then asks for Lazarus to go and talk to his family so that they don’t have to suffer like he is, but again, Lazarus can’t. The chasm is too wide, its unbridgeable.
This great chasm separates these two men. We get this as we understand chasms too, right? There is this unbridgeable gap between individuals, within families, within marriages. We try to reach across such gorges in search of relief and healing, but too often they are just too wide, too broad, too deep.
And sometimes the chasm is not between us and another person. Sometimes the unbridgeable chasm is between the life we are living now and the life we thought we would be living. Being far from what we imagined, there could be all sorts of emotions which one deals with. There is agony, despair, and loneliness. And as rough as this or the chasm between individuals and families is or can be … there is yet another chasm which far exceeds them.
It’s the chasm which Jesus speaks about in the parable this morning. The chasm which separates the people of God in heaven from those who suffer eternal torment apart from God’s love and peace. Telling about this chasm though points to what Jesus was doing with the parable in the lives of His hearers. Verse 30 is the key. “‘No, father Abraham,’ the rich man said, ‘but if someone from the dead goes to them, goes to his brothers, they will repent’” (16:30). We finally get to what is at the heart and center of this chasm. Repentance, recognizing and confessing one’s sinfulness.
Jesus traveled the road from heaven to earth. He traveled the road of life in perfection and fulfilled every aspect of God’s law. Jesus suffered the tortures of being mocked, betrayed, beaten and crucified. He suffered hell and anguish as he hung up there on that cross. He did this so that He could build a bridge across the rift, the chasm which exists between man and God. Isaiah says, “Your iniquities, your sins, have made a separation between you and God” (Isaiah 59:2). And being that you and I through our sin have caused this separation … there is no way we can close it up. There is no way for us to get to God.
So for you, for me, Jesus, in the twilight dim, crosses through the chasm that is vast and deep and wide. He crosses through the sullen stream and as He does I can just hear Satan be like, “Why? Why are you doing this? You’re wasting your time, you’re wasting your strength to build this bridge. You never again will pass this way. Why build this bridge at evening tide?”
You see, through His life, through all the suffering and excruciating pain which Jesus goes through leading up to Him going to the cross and while He is on the cross, Jesus, near the end of His days, is caring for others, is loving you and me, when there is no obligation to do so. Jesus goes through the pain and misery of the sullen stream and victoriously comes out on the other side. By Christ’s victorious resurrection, Jesus has once and for all conquered the sullen stream of sin, death, and Satan. And then safely on the other side, with the wood of His cross, Jesus builds a bridge across this great chasm. Jesus builds the bridge from sin and death to eternal life with God so that you can successfully cross in the twilight dim.
But you haven’t crossed this bridge yet. Which means, there is work to be done. You individually and you and I as the Church are the means by which God continues to bridge the chasm for those who have not yet turned to God in repentance. Jesus builds the grand bridge from death to eternal life, but you and I, with help from the Holy Spirit, are mini bridge builders as we help others come to the saving knowledge of Jesus as their Savior. Amen.
The peace of God, which surpasses all human understanding, guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord, now and forever. Amen.