I am a pastor, but I also have a part time job in the Air Force Reserves. Recently, I was doing some reserve duty in Northern California. To catch the plane home, we flew out of San Francisco. On the drive to the airport, we crossed three bridges.
Because it’s located on a 50-mile long bay, the San Francisco area is home to many famous bridges. There’s the Golden Gate plus four other major, regional bridges and several more minor, local bridges.
Bridges come in all shapes, styles, and sizes. But, they all have the same purpose: access.
They link people, groups and regions that would otherwise be separated.
Repeat after me: “I am a bridge builder.”
Go on, say it out loud …
That’s what you were created to be—a bridge builder. Look at you, everything about you was designed for bridge building. Your eyes, they aren’t just highly attuned instruments for detecting light and color. Your eyes, when they contact the eyes of another human being, they have power to instantly build a relational bridge. You’ve sensed this power when you’ve inadvertently locked eyes with a stranger, and you quickly looked away, because you weren’t ready to build that bridge.
You are a natural builder. You can’t help it. Your vocal chords, your mouth, your ears, they’re all designed for bridge building. Even a small smile, even a brief, but meaningful exchange of words with another human being can quickly build a bridge.
You’ve acknowledged your innate power as a bridge builder any time you’ve ignored or avoided someone. You’ve sensed it when you isolated someone or when you were isolated; when you refused or were refused access.
Repeat after me, “I was built … to be a bridge builder.”
A bridge overcomes isolation by providing access.
God, our Creator, is a bridge builder by nature. He is an accessible God. From the moment God created our first father and mother, Adam and Eve (whom, by the way, Jesus described as real people in Mark 10:5 – 9, not as fictitious, symbolic proto-humanity), God showed Adam and Eve that He is by nature a builder of bridges. God built a bridge to them by His Word. He gave them free access.
“See all this,” God said, pointing to the world he had created by His Word, “I give you all this as a free gift” (see Genesis 1:27 – 30; 2:16).
In effect, God said, “I give you myself as a friend, as a confidant, a Father.”
By building this initial bridge to Adam and Eve, God gave them an awesome power to become bridge builders, like him.
In time, Adam and Eve acquired another power. The power to isolate themselves.
“I heard the sound of you walking in the garden and I hid myself,” Adam told God (Genesis 3:10).
Adam had acquired the terrifying power to become a destroyer of bridges.
Islanders and the Mainland
Imagine a group of islands connected to the mainland by a major bridge. The islands don’t have enough resources to support life on their own. But, a major bridge was built and it provided a way to sustain life there, and soon the islands are settled.
The Islanders have built dozens of local bridges to connect their islands. There’s a growing sense of island identity and independence. They start to see the main bridge to the mainland as a sign of oppression. They protest and petition to have the bridge dismantled.
The representative from mainland warns them, “If you isolate yourselves, your society will die.”
The islanders shout, “That’s mainlander propaganda! We demand you tear down that monstrosity immediately!”
So they broke down the bridge.
The islanders refused to believe they had just been condemned to death.
“As long as we work together,” they said, “we’ll be fine.”
In Need of Access
The human race has been telling itself this lie for generations. If we just keep building local bridges to connect our islands, we will be okay. But we don’t have the resources to make it on our own. Without access to God, we are condemned to eternal isolation.
One of the Latin words for priest is pontifex.
The word pons, in Latin, means bridge. So a priest, a pon-tifex, is a bridge-builder.
This is why the Bible calls Jesus our high priest (Hebrews 4:14).
Jesus is the pontifex maximus.
He rebuilt the bridge between God and humanity at the construction cost of his own life.
When God the Father raised Jesus from the dead, He insured this bridge, eternally. God has given you free access to him through Jesus. Jesus is the bridge-builder. Jesus is the bridge. Jesus is calling you to build bridges for him.
The Bible calls us, the church, a royal priesthood (1 Peter 2:9). We are, together, the king’s pontifex.
This is one of the reasons why Lutherans (and many other Protestants) don’t call their pastors priests. It is to highlight the truth that every baptized person is a priest, a pontifex, a builder of bridges.
I mentioned that I serve in the Air Force Reserves. I am not a chaplain. I am an aircraft maintenance officer. My job is to help keep big cargo airplanes flying safely and reliably.
That sounds like a very nonspiritual part time job for a pastor. And let me tell you, this job puts me in contact with some very unspiritual sounding, salty characters.
They’re mechanics. And they’re in the military. What would you expect?
My job, in that context, is not, in the first place, to preach sermons to them.
My job is to help them fix airplanes. It’s a worldly vocation, done with worldly people.
And yet, even in that vocation, I am still a priest, a bridge builder.
Let’s go back to the mainland and island metaphor. It’s true, the islands cannot live without the major bridge from the mainland. That bridge (the bridge Jesus built from God to humanity) is the most important bridge.
At the same time, the bridges that connect the islands are also important. These bridges are how we share the resources of the Mainland. They are how we distribute the blessings of God (the Mainland) … both physical and relational blessings, both temporal and eternal blessings.
As a preacher of the church, my full-time focus is to point to the main bridge. God gave his church the office of preaching—along with the offices that support this office, teachers, evangelists, musicians, diaconal servants—God gave the office of the ministry to keep the church focused on Jesus, the main bridge.
When I go to serve in the Air Force Reserve, I step into a different vocation. And yet, I remain a pontifex, a bridge builder for Jesus. The same is true for the people in my congregation. They do not hold the office of public ministry, but they are priests. Their focus is on building and maintaining the local bridges that connect the islands.
They manage contracts and transact sales. They treat patients and change parts, broker deals and balance check books, change diapers and serve food.
They deal with salty people in these local bridge building projects. It’s true, these are not the main bridge. They will help meet temporary needs, but none of these bridges, in themselves, will meet anyone’s deepest need.
However, when our deepest need has been bridged in Jesus, this network of local bridges becomes the pathway for Jesus to connect with islanders who’ve isolated themselves from him.
During my week of Reserve Duty in the Bay Area, I hung out with aircraft mechanics.
I was talking with a group of them and asked, “What’s something about your job that makes you proud?” Several said they took pride in seeing how something they did helped launch an airplane to carry cargo or passengers to somewhere they were needed around the world.
The last person to answer was a young crew chief. A crew chief is a basic mechanic who does a lot of monotonous jobs like changing tires, checking oil, and installing safety wire (safety wire is used in aviation maintenance to tighten nuts and bolts so that they don’t shimmy lose in flight).
So, this crew chief told me,
“I don’t really see how I affect the mission. But I just installed some safety wire on a job. And when I was done, I looked at it and thought, That’s some damn good safety wire.”
Repeat after me: “I am a bridge builder.”
No matter how small the job, everything you do can be bridge-building for the King.
I thank Professor Bob Kolb for teaching me that pontifex means bridge builder. See chapter XVI, “The Church” in his excellent book, The Christian Faith.