Philippians 1: 21-30 (NRSV)
21 For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. 22 If I am to go on living in the body, this will mean fruitful labour for me. Yet what shall I choose? I do not know! 23 I am torn between the two: I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far; 24 but it is more necessary for you that I remain in the body. 25 Convinced of this, I know that I will remain, and I will continue with all of you for your progress and joy in the faith, 26 so that through my being with you again your boasting in Christ Jesus will abound on account of me.
27 Whatever happens, conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ. Then, whether I come and see you or only hear about you in my absence, I will know that you stand firm in the one Spirit, striving together as one for the faith of the gospel 28 without being frightened in any way by those who oppose you. This is a sign to them that they will be destroyed, but that you will be saved – and that by God. 29 For it has been granted to you on behalf of Christ not only to believe in him, but also to suffer for him, 30 since you are going through the same struggle you saw I had, and now hear that I still have.
One of the most startling things about these letters of Paul is that his primary concern is not to continually mull over the struggles and pains of his present situation. I often take myself to a place where I can imagine him dealing with the only two certainties in his life: His chains, and his pen. Yet, the more we delve into that image, the more we get the opportunity to see that what Paul really cares about is the body of Christ – the people who love the Lord with all of their heart and soul and mind and strength, finding a place to stand together in unity.
I once heard a story of two brothers who lived on adjoining land. Despite being close siblings all of their lives, they had seriously fallen out. The relationship fell apart and became bitter and silent.
One morning a carpenter came knocking at the door and asked for a few days of work.
One brother decided to take him up on the offer and get him to build the highest fence between his land and that of his other brother because he no longer wanted him in his life, nor see his face.
The carpenter worked all day and night at the very edge of the brothers’ land, sawing and measuring and nailing. At sunset the brother came to inspect the carpenter's work and his jaw dropped. There was no fence.
A river separated the two brothers’ pieces of land and the carpenter had built a bridge that extended from one side to the other. It was beautiful, with ornate handrails and fine craftsmanship.
At that moment the other brother saw what was happening and ran across the bridge with tears in his eyes. ‘Dear brother, you are a better man than I. I never considered building a bridge because of what happened between us.’
As they embraced, the carpenter attempted to leave. ‘Please stay, the brothers said’ ‘Thank you kindly, I would love to stay,’ said the Carpenter, ‘But there are so many bridges to be built.’
Whenever there is a hint of disunity, remember this: the ground is even at the foot of the cross.
Lord of unity,
preserve our hearts
keep us in love with you
and in love with each other
Give us the task to be builders of bridges
rather than builders of walls.